The Antidote to Hate Crimes

The stabbing of five people at an orthodox Jewish rabbi’s home in New York state during Hanukkah celebrations on Saturday added one more dreadful statistic to the wave of hate crimes associated with the resurgence of antiSemitism in the West. Then came news of a gun attack in a Texas church during service-time on Sunday. No doubt we shall be told in due course who the attackers were and what their motivation was thought to be. We in the U.K. will probably allow ourselves to wonder whether the frequency of mass shootings in the U.S.A. (see https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-50936575) has created a culture of indifference towards such violence, but we have nothing to be proud of when we consider the rise in knife crime in our own city streets. The fact is that the expression of hatred is becoming harder and harder to contain or neutralise. The kind of anger and abuse we find in social media easily translates into violent action, only we tend not to see or want to acknowledge the way in which it can affect both ourselves and others. There are no boundaries, it seems — except for some fashionable hate crimes which seem to draw a disproportionate amount of attention because endorsed by the celebrities of our day.

I was struck by the response of Mayor de Blasio to what happened in Monsey: he promised more security in Jewish areas, by which I presume he means more armed guards, and a programme of education in schools. As Rabbi Sacks sadly remarked, in a tweet published yesterday,

Antisemitism has returned within living memory of the Holocaust, and after more than half a century of programs of legislation, and education designed to ensure that it could never happen again.

Legislation and education don’t appear to have changed things, and while there are those who will say it was because a churchgoer had a gun on him that the attack in Texas was no worse than it was, some of us still find the thought of taking weapons into a place of worship highly questionable. Two thousand years since the birth of the Prince of Peace and we still have not learned that violence too often begets violence!

As 2019 races towards its close, we are faced with an ever starker choice. Do we want to be people of violence or of peace? Are we going to pass the poison on, or are we going to say, ‘No. I refuse to be part of that violence’? If our answer is ‘no’ we must be prepared for huge sacrifices. It will mean being extremely careful about how we speak or act, not in the sense of being cowardly but in the sense of being mindful how our words and deeds increase or decrease the stock of tension in the world. It may be ‘fun’ to denigrate others with our witty put-downs; it may be a relief to our feelings to disparage those with whom we disagree; it may even be a source of inner congratulation to have pointed out the wrongness of a policy or an individual’s behaviour, but we do need to think about possible consequences. It is no good lighting a touch-paper and then lamenting the fact that the building burned down. The only real antidote to hate-crimes comes from those who are not prepared to hate. Which will we choose?

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Easter Wednesday 2015

Predictably, immigration has turned out to be one of the major sub-themes of the General Election debate, and I wouldn’t mind betting that today’s gospel, Luke 24.13–35, is being quoted by many in support of the notion of welcoming the stranger in our midst.

The Emmaus story is challenging on many levels. We are all familiar with ‘Emmaus moments’ when the veil over the ordinary is lifted and we see, as for the first time, the true meaning of something. Broken bread and a shared cup become the Body and Blood of Christ and we understand, as never before, what that means. Someone speaks, and the words touch the very depths of our being. We long for Jesus to explain the scriptures to us, and then realise that he does so every time we open them or hear them read. He accompanies us every step of the way, no matter how long or lonely our way may seem. The stranger, the alien, is God in disguise.

Here this morning is an illustration of the Emmaus story that presents another kind of challenge. We are used to hearing about the prejudices of our ancestors, their anti-semitism and their hatred of those who were different. Our rediscovery of the Jewishness of Jesus is often regarded as a modern phenomenon, but I have a small collection of medieval images that make me question that. Here are Jesus and the two disciples breaking bread at Emmaus, and all of them are wearing the characteristic Judenhut or Jewish hat of the time. It is all the more remarkable because the illustration is thought to come from Norfolk, perhaps even Norwich, and is dated about 1190.

Supper at Emmaus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why is that remarkable? A mere forty years or so earlier the spurious story of William of Norwich had stirred up virulent anti-semitism. A hundred years later such anti-semtism was a major factor in the expulsion of Jews from England. But here, in 1190, we find an illuminator who has no hesitation in portraying Jesus as a Jew among Jews. It is worth thinking about that.

We are often quick to make assumptions; quick to condemn. Just as the Emmaus gospel encourages us to welcome the stranger in our midst, so its portrayal through the ages encourages us to examine more critically the attitudes we have inherited from the past. Immigration is something we must all think about and find a just and fair response to. Our starting-point might usefully be that of Cleopas: open about our hopes and fears, and ready to be convinced.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Violence

We are never very far from violence of one kind or another. Recently, trolling and online abuse have come to the fore; but every day, it seems, we read of bomb attacks, murders, abuse of the most vile kind. Acid is flung in the face of women who want to be educated, refuse to marry/don’t have large enough dowries, or simply want to help others but fail to observe local customs. Men who don’t conform to what is expected of them have their limbs broken or their heads bashed in. We wax indignant and call for controls and forget that violence originates in the heart.

Twitter is no more than a tool, a vehicle for self-expression. If what we want to express is violence, violence is what Twitter will express. Internet sites like ask.fm may generate a dynamic of their own, but again, if what is running through the minds of those who use them is cruel and violent, cruelty and violence is what they will show. If we want to lash out at others, either physically or verbally, that is what we will do, unless we ourselves are under control, unless we accept that there are restraints on our freedom. Don’t blame Twitter, blame the tweeter; don’t blame the gun, blame the person who fires the gun!

Today is the feast of St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, better known to many as Edith Stein. She died at Auschwitz because she was Jewish and the Nazi regime saw the destruction of all Jewish people as a part of its ‘mission’. She was a victim of anti-semitism but, even more, of the inhumanity we can each show to the other. Today, as we think about the violence being perpetrated by others online and off, we could take a long hard look at our own hearts and see what is lurking there. We may be surprised, and perhaps shamed, to see how much violence we too are capable of, were it not for the grace of God holding us back; and if we are honest, we may be forced to admit that the petty resentments and spiteful words that sometimes slip out of us proceed from the same deep well of violence and anger as others’ more obvious crimes.

Note: I have written about St Teresa Benedicta many times. Last year’s post may interest you, here, or the one from 2011, here, which links with today’s.
PostScript: How could I forget! Today is also the anniversary of the death of Dom Augustine Baker. Fr Baker was a great master of contemplative prayer:

Fr Augustine Baker
Fr Augustine Baker
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