Gaza, the Warsaw Ghetto, and Tim’s Cafe

Gaza, the Warsaw Ghetto, and Tim’s Cafe

July 20, 2014
Stina Pope

Once upon a time there was a country named Poland, and a lot of people lived there. Some of them were Christians and some of them were Jewish, and they mostly got along, and mostly just ignored each other. Then things changed, and the Christians that were in charge decided that Jews were responsible for the bad things that were happening with the economy, and they gave the police the idea to just look away if there was violence against the Jews. Finally, the Jews were only allowed to live in one small area, called a ghetto. We know it as the Warsaw Ghetto, where the Polish Jews made their last stand against the Polish military before being totally overrun and killed.

There was good reason for a Jewish homeland, the only problem was that there were already people there, people who had been there on the land for generations. Those people have been herded into a ghetto, and then criminalized for striking back. They are now being killed systematically, men, women and children. It is wrong. What was done to the Jews was wrong, and what the Israeli government is doing is wrong, and our government is wrong in not using the influence they have to stop the Israelis.

And I feel helpless in the face of so much evil.

Then there is Ukraine and Russia, and the Malaysian aircraft that did not follow the FAA ruling to go around Ukraine and got blown up by someone. Helpless and innocent people flying from one place to another, their grieving relatives in shock.

I feel helpless in the face of so much evil.

It goes on and on, the insane destruction of habitat for a little more money with no regard for climate change, the trafficking of people for sex and labor, the undocumented children confronted with angry adults, the shootings of children and adults in our cities, it goes on and on.

I feel helpless in the face of so much evil, I want to be a turtle, and pull myself back inside my shell so I don’t get hurt by all of this, but I cannot. I cannot.

How can we deal with all of this without losing our minds?

We have to claim hope, that is the big thing that the Way of Jesus offers!

How can we claim hope?

One article I read this week had to do with an ex-hooker who now helps sex workers off the street. She is a Christian, and she does this work because she understands that Jesus loves these women,. She offers them a way out, a way that honors them. She tells the truth, that the men who traffic women are doing evil, that it is hard to get out, that Jesus loves them no matter what. She also offers them something with no strings attached, a place to live while they recreate their lives.

There was something in this that gave me some hope, and some direction. One of the important pieces is that she tells the truth. There is no sugar-coating in what this woman says. It is important for us to tell the truth. When we see things that are not right, we need to tell the truth. When we hear someone say something that we know is not right, we need to tell the truth. We tell the truth because Jesus loves us, and loves “the other” just as much as he loves us.

We also look at the ways we have engaged in behaviors that are not healthy, even if those behaviors are “just” thinking. My friend Fritz wrote a poem, this was the last stanza:

People, we are what we think! Let us think peace into being,

With love that is life worthy the living and telling about.

Lord, you make all of us live and report what we learn,

giving us freedom to think what we know into being,

from the heart of love to the image and likeness of peace.

Help us to make all that the soul can perceive of an offering.

All-encompassing Spirit known in the wind and the light.

                                                               Fritz Jaensch, July 2014

Fritz challenges us to examine our lives, how we think, whether we forgive, whether we love, whether that love translates into action – because all of that makes a difference, we can make a difference.

With that as our background, let us go back and look at the lessons. In the Hebrew Scriptures, Jacob is running away. It is appropriate that he is running away, because he has been a very bad person, lying and cheating. Now let’s look at that carefully. What happens next? God comes to him – in the middle of his running away. He has not done anything “good” or “right” yet. He has certainly not made amends yet, that happens later. And God comes to him there. No matter what kind of mess we may have made of our lives, God is still willing to come stir our dreams and change our lives.

The other thing that Jacob does that I think is important is that he acknowledges that he has been on holy ground. But here’s the interesting thing! He does not know that he has been on holy ground until he has the dream! It looks just like normal ground to him. Once he has the dream, he acknowledges that something has changed, this is now holy ground. In fact, it becomes one of the big sacred sites. The name “Bethel” is bet (house) el (God).

What if we opened ourselves to “receiving” God, opened to God’s voice through our dreams? What might we hear? Sometimes people laugh nervously, and say things like, well, we put those people in the crazy house. But sometimes, people have a dream, and they tell others, and the others get excited, and then things start to change. One of the speeches we all know the title of is “I Have a Dream,” where MLK laid out his dream – but it was not his dream, it was the dream of God for the people, and the people heard it, and things started changing.

What if we acknowledged that the places we are when things are really rough, those are the wilderness places in which God visits us, those are in fact sacred places. We are not alone in those places, God is with us.

Finally, let us turn for a minute to the Gospel lesson. Jesus gives us the parable about the good grain and the weeds. The story is pertinent to farmers. The land is sown with seed, but more than good grain comes up. The workers come to the farmer, asking if he used good seed. He says he did, so they want to know what happened. An enemy has done this, that is, something out of our control. The result is that there are now weeds. Should we pull up the weeds? The workers want to know. No, the farmer says, because if you do that, the good grain will come up with the weeds. Just let them grow up together. When we harvest, we will separate them.

There have been some interesting midrash on this. Midrash is where you take the bones of a story and play with it. Barbara Brown Taylor suggests that the workers realize that the weeds have come up and that they are going to help the farmer out by taking care of them. However, when they get to the field, they cannot come to consensus on what is a weed. They find blackberries, for instance. In the end, the grain is harvested, along with the other interesting and unintended stuff that came up, and the hay that is left after the harvest is put in the oven to bake the bread. In other words, what looks like weeds, may well be something of worth. It is just not what was expected.

Dandelions are a great example of this. Most people I know consider dandelions a pest and take great pains to root them up. But they have a lot of nutrition in the leaves and roots, and you can make wine from the flowers. If I did not have enough money to buy kale, I would go out with my scissors and cut young dandelion leaves for my dark greens.

When we think about people in this way, this midrash says that while there certainly are people that do not fit the expectation of “good” and “productive” people, that everyone is needed. There is no one outside God’s economy, all are needed. We just have to figure out how. I saw a video about Tim’s Cafe the other day. Tim is a young man that owns a cafe. Nothing special about that, except that Tim has Down’s Syndrome. Tim offers hugs and food, and he is clear that the hugs are at least as important as the food. When he announced, at a rather young age, that he wanted to have his own restaurant, his parents were dubious, as one might well imagine. However, he has persevered, gotten everyone on board, and there it is, he has a restaurant!

So how to keep hope in our world? First, we need to think peace into being, and clear out all in our lives that does not lead to peace. Second, understand that God uses everything that grows, including us, and that focusing on peace and love is not just a trite saying, it is the answer in our world.