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How can we choose to pull the threads of injustice?

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How can we choose to pull the threads of injustice?

Guest commentary by the Rev. Gen Heywood

There is a quote on my office door from the Rev. Martin Niemöller. It is a poetic version that developed out of his repentance for being silent during the Nazi rise to power.  It began as prose that he used and changed according to situation in which he was speaking. Many of us know it as:

First, they came for the socialists,
and I did not speak out
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist.
They came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.

The Rev. Martin Niemölle

These words of repentance by Niemöller are more than a simple owning of personal wrongdoing. With these words he sent a warning to those who would listen — be alert to what is happening to the least of us. Learn from his mistakes.

Reflecting on the Rev. Paul Graves article Indifference Makes a Difference“I began wondering about what we mean by indifference.

What does indifference mean?

  1. If indifference means that a person says that a problem doesn’t exist and their evidence is their personal opinions along with a reality fabricated by those who gain power and wealth from the deception — runaway screaming like your hair is on fire! For example, if you encounter those who say climate change is not happening or that pregnancy is more important than a woman’s life or that all nonwhite people are immigrants and other absurdities — run away. There are better places to invest your energy and insight where you can make a difference.
  2. If indifference is a person dismissing an issue because “it’s not my problem,” here are at least two responses to what looks like an individualist or, worse, a narcissist. (1) Frame the issue as directly affecting a person. A grandmother told me that climate change was not her problem because she “wouldn’t be here” when and if it gets bad. The question I then asked was “what do your grandchildren say about it?” (2) Acknowledge that the problems we face are overwhelming.
  3. If indifference means individuals have shut down and isolated themselves because they feel they are alone and helpless. Here are two possible responses: (1) Recognize this person could be having a mental health crisis requiring outside help to explore the issues behind the despair and, thus, therapy may be the first step. (2) Affirm the reality that not even the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. or Mother Theresa could do their work alone. To respond to the troubles of our time we need to be part of a group or community that is working to make a difference. We cannot address the troubles of our time alone.

Learn from history: Pastors in 1935 Germany

Consider again the experience of German pastors in 1935 during the early years of the Hitler’s reign. There were (in round numbers) 18,000 protestant pastors: 3,000 for the Nazis; 3,000 against the Nazis; and 12,000 bystanders, not affiliated with those for or against. These might be labeled the “Indifferent.”

Of those 12,000 bystander clergy, many were likely keeping their heads down to deal with the crises of everyday life. It could be argued that they were taking a risk not to declare support of the Nazis and, in practice, silence is usually support for the aggressor. Maybe, like many bystanders who witness a crisis, they simply froze because they had no training or experience in how to act in their situation.

How to practice an engaged life?

So, for those who freeze or feel lost concerning the global and local experiences of hate, bigotry, racism, white nationalism, homophobia, ecological devastation, violence, Christian Dominionism, misogyny, poverty, war and the abundance of inhumanity, here are some suggestions about practicing an engaged life.

  1. Identify what is most troubling to you. Choosing to focus your energy may look like indifference to other issues. Be assured all issues of injustice are connected. King Jr. taught us that in the concerns for overcoming racism, militarism and poverty — pull on one of these and all the others are pulled as well. Choose what is most pressing for you.
  2. Find those making a difference and join them. We are not meant to do this work alone. We need to join with others. (Show up for each other)
  3. Surrender ego: Seek involvement that works on relationship building rather than an adversarial encounter. Win-lose situations are temporary “victories.”  Remember that grandmother — recently she told me about how involved she has always been with overcoming climate change. I didn’t correct her. I’m delighted she has changed.
  4. Take the risk to get involved. Understand that being involved with humans means you will be let down and you will let down others. Try any way. Change when needed. Apologize and/or move on when needed.

Pulling the threads of injustice

Choosing what to become engaged with in overcoming injustice in our time does mean that it may seem to look like indifference to other crisis in our world. Pulling on the threads of injustice of any kind pulls on all the others and the fabric of injustice will unravel.

I realize that since 2016, many of us have been seeing parts of the history of 1920’s Germany playing out in our own country. I genuinely see us getting closer to 1933. Remember the warning of Niemöller. Be alert to what is happening to the marginalized in our time.

Choose to pull on the threads of injustice, and, whenever possible, show up for those pulling on the other fibers. Encourage each other to pull harder. This fabrication has taken a long time to create. It will take lots of energy and endurance to unravel. Do it anyway.

Gen Heywood
Gen Heywood
Rev. Gen Heywood has been active in parish ministry for more than 30 years. From small towns to big cities, she always lets the needs of the community and the congregation be her guide. Gen credits the supportive leadership of Veradale United Church of Christ for including her work to overcome racism, poverty, the war economy and ecological devastation as part of her ministry. “Veradale UCC is a small church with a powerful faith. They are the reason I can be a witness for a world where we do justice, live with compassion and walk humbly with the Divine.” Gen grew up in rural Maine. She received a B.A. in Music Therapy and German from Emmanuel College in Boston, Massachusetts, and her M.Div. from Andover Newton Theological School in Newton, Massachusetts. She is a lifelong learner who lives in Spokane Valley, Washington, with her three dogs, as well as, sometimes, with her amazing young adult children.

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Paul Graves
Paul Graves
3 days ago

Thanks for your commentary, Gen. It’s almost like I was sitting next to you at the Pizza and Panel gathering. So I’m glad you decided to share your important insights and suggestions with a larger audience!
Peace,
Paul

Gen Heywood
Gen Heywood
3 days ago
Reply to  Paul Graves

Thanks, Paul. I’m grateful that you started this conversation.

Walter A Hesford
Walter A Hesford
2 days ago

Thank you for this reminder that not only individuals but also churches and other faith comminities have an important role to play in “repairing the world.”

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