Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Uyghur Genocide: What Have You Heard?

In a recent column published by the Jewish News Syndicate (Why aren’t Jews up in arms about Uyghur genocide?), Jonathan Tobin writes:

“The Uyghurs are a predominantly Muslim ethnic group who live in the Xinjiang region of Western China. Since 2014, China’s ruling Communist Party has been carrying out a campaign of ethnic cleansing and genocide against them. Acting under the authority of President Xi Jinping, crimes against humanity have been taking place there on an enormous scale, including mass imprisonment, systematic torture, rape, forced abortions and sterilizations. At least 1 million Uyghurs have been sent to the laogai—the Chinese gulag of prison camps. It is the largest systematic assault and imprisonment of an ethnic or religious minority since the Holocaust.”


Tobin goes on to speak about the two main reasons why the mainstream media seems relatively quiet about this latest and ongoing genocide: politics and economics.  In an article that is especially hard on Jews, Tobin could just as easily be speaking about America and Americans.

He points out that, ‘on its last day in office, the Trump administration formally recognized that what was going on in Xinjiang was genocide, an important step towards treating this catastrophe with the seriousness it deserves.’  A commendable but belated recognition.

The incoming Biden administration has ‘slapped sanctions on Chinese officials directly implicated in the genocide.’

Business Insider reports: ‘The sanctions, which target Wang Junzheng, the secretary of the Party Committee of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, and Chen Mingguo, the director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau, were rolled out in coordination with Canada and European allies.’

'"Amid growing international condemnation, the PRC continues to commit genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.'

The Chinese then turned human rights violations back on the United States: 

‘Yang Jiechi, China's top diplomat, responded by accusing the US of being condescending. In comments that lasted roughly 15 minutes, Yang said the US government was in no position to lecture other countries on human-rights abuses, alluding to racism in the US as he mentioned the Black Lives Matter movement.’

Stay tuned as this debate will probably continue, with no relief for the Uyghurs.

Additionally, Tobin writes, standing up to China, the world’s second-largest economy, is not ‘cost free:’

‘[The] United States must weigh how its economy has become inextricably linked to that of China’s growing power in determining how to respond to these atrocities.’

The amount of trade in iPhones alone is enormous.  If that were to disappear, you would hear about it.  Also, all politics is local: Tobin points out that activist energy has been diverted to other, ‘more fashionable’ causes, such as the Black Lives Matter movement.  Surely, one would think that activists could muster enough outrage for all human rights causes.

Instead, Tobin writes, the world ‘is too busy or too intimidated by China to do more than raise a token protest about what’s happening to the Uyghurs.’

Fair enough.  We could probably be excused on grounds of pandemic fatigue too.

But Natan Sharansky wrote that there can be no peace with dictators, saying, ‘A society is free if people have a right to express their views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm.’ 1    The Uyghurs, then, indeed, all of China, are not free. 

So, are we as a society just looking the other way on this issue?

In her book, How to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bari Weiss offers a list of things we can do to combat anti-Semitism, and they can be used here also.  Here are just two:

Call it out.  Do not be caught in a conspiracy of silence. 2

Never, ever forget to love your neighbor.3   Even if that neighbor is thousands of miles away.  Weiss writes, ‘When someone is attacked because of her identity and not her ideas, see that as an attack on you.’  If Christians heed the call to love our neighbor, then that must also include the neighbors we can’t see or hear.

So, where do we go from here?  If this matters to you, get active.  Call it out.  Ask your elected representatives what they are doing to help.  Keep the pressure up.  Don’t be silent.  Love your neighbor.  And never, ever forget.

Additional Resources:

The Uyghur Genocide, 3 September 2020.

The Uyghur Genocide: An Examination of China’s Breaches of the 1948 Genocide Convention, 8 March 2021.

The US says China is committing genocide against the Uyghurs. Here's some of the most chilling evidence, 2 April 2021.

US accuses China of 'genocide' of Uyghurs and minority groups in Xinjiang, 20 January 2021.

China's Uighur Genocide: Here's Everything You Need To Know About the CCP's Human Rights Abuses, July 22, 2020


1 Sharansky, Natan Anatoly. The Case for Democracy: the Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror. Public Affairs, 2004, 40.

Weiss, Bari. How to Fight Anti-Semitism. Crown, 2019, 172.

3 Ibid. 188.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

a darkness that can be felt

[NB: This was included in an online Hour of Prayer hosted by the Hingham Hull Interfaith Religious Leaders Association last night.  Many thanks to all who participated.]

a darkness that can be felt
Then the Lord said to Moses,
“Stretch out your hand toward heaven
so that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt,
a darkness that can be felt.” – Exodus 10:21

A darkness ‘that can be felt’ is not your usual type of darkness.

As you might imagine, there are many possible reasons for this Biblical ninth plague.  One is that the darkness came when a sandstorm blew across Egypt.  In such storms, the wind becomes electrically charged, and it stings against your skin.  It’s a hot, violent wind.  This kind of darkness can certainly be felt, and you might think it is truly the end of the world.

Another explanation says there may have been an eclipse of the sun, but this darkness lasted three days.  Would an eclipse last that long?  Would that be a darkness one could feel?  The Egyptians were unable to move from where they were.  Would an eclipse incapacitate you?

Abraham Ibn Ezra wrote that the darkness ‘was so thick that light from a fire or candle would not ignite.’  Clearly, this darkness was something different.

Maybe this darkness was a form of collective, transient blindness, leaving the people able only to grope about, to feel their way around.

Isaac Abravanel speculated that the blindness of the ninth plague was not an illness unto itself.  He wrote that ‘God brings this upon the people due to the fear of the enemy who wreak havoc that they see with their own eyes…their mind doesn’t think clearly and their sight is distorted.’

So, a threat or fear can bring on blindness to a group of people.  A continually anxiety-driven atmosphere can cause us to regress to the point where we.stop.seeing.

Much like the Egyptians suffering the ninth plague, this may be where we are today as a result of months of pandemic-induced fear and anxiety.  Maybe we have seen too much of it and can see no end.  Maybe too many deferred funerals and weddings and celebrations have left us blind to all the wonders of life that continue to surround us.  Maybe the worries about how we’ll be able to teach our children or visit our loved ones as we move forward have crowded out our ability to see the light within.

Let us pray:

Holy One,
We lift up our hearts to you in thanks and praise.
Help us in this time of trouble.  Dispel the darkness that we feel all around us.
As you created both light and dark, still the storm within and by your grace, clear our minds, remind us to remain good and helpful neighbors, and fill us with your peace.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

One If By Land

Two hundred and forty-five years ago, the American Revolution began on this day, which happened to be a Wednesday that year.  It all started at sunrise on Lexington's town green:

The Battle of Lexington, 19 April 1775, Oil on canvas by William Barns Wollen, 1910. 
National Army Museum, London

The rest, as they say, is history.  But history is quirky.  As the story of how we got here, history is often mis-remembered, mis-quoted, rewritten to suit the current audience, or simply forgotten until someone stumbles over it in the dark.
It was quite by chance that this story appeared in my e-mail this morning, from the New England Historical SocietySix Fun Facts About Paul Revere’s Ride.
We have a friend who is a member of the Paul Revere Memorial Association, and I thought of him as I read the article.  He's the type of person who would have known all of this and THEN joined the association.
The first 'fun fact' for me was to learn that Longfellow's poem, Paul Revere's Ride, was really about fighting slavery.  Follow the link to find out how, and you will learn about Longfellow too.  In my generation, this poem was simply something one knew; I can't tell you when I learned it but I'll have to read it again now.
Another item, #6, reminds us of the relative impact that Revere's ride had on him, his family, and anyone not living in Boston at the time: his obituary in 1818 doesn't mention the ride at all.  But in hindsight, it became a big deal for us.
Notice, too, that the painting above resides in the National Army Museum in London.  History may be written by the winners, but everyone can learn from it.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Going Viral

By now, most of us in range of this blog know about the Covid-19 virus.  According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, 'COVID-19 is a new respiratory disease, caused by a novel (or new) coronavirus that has not previously been seen in humans. Reported illnesses have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death for confirmed COVID-19 cases.'
Compared to the common flu, it looks like this:

So far, it has made a mess of globalization, our economy, not to mention our anxiety levels.
We are all, to some degree, practicing social distancing, which is hard for a lot of people to deal with.
Who hasn't seen a bubble graph like this lately:

(Confirmed cases in the Sargasso Sea?)
Businesses, such as automobile manufacturers, have very quickly adjusted their television advertising to remind us that they will deliver your new car to your driveway without you having to interact with anyone.  Restaurants that have never offered takeout meals now do so, just to survive.  Our roadways and town squares are mostly deserted or closed.  Even beaches are empty of human life and activity.
Some good news: pollution levels in some parts of China have dropped considerably.  The canals in Venice are showing clear water too.
Then it hit me: I've seen this before, here:

The cats have been batting this thing around for years and I never noticed how much it resembles a disease.  Check the video here:

We will get through this.  In the meantime, enjoy the downtime.  God loves you.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Some Change

The hand of the LORD came upon me,
and he brought me out by the spirit of the LORD
and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 
He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley,
and they were very dry.
He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?”
Ezekiel 37:1-3

At the moment, we are in the midst of what Confucius called 'interesting times.'

We are being challenged in ways we never imagined even a few months ago.  Many people are now working from home, to limit their exposure to co-workers who might be sick with the CoVid-19 virus and vice-versa.  Supermarket shelves have been strafed by hoarders, especially those who seem to need a lot of toilet paper and paper towels (not to mention sanitizing wipes, chicken, beans, and Coca-Cola).  Plenty of eggs but no shredded cheese.  It varies, depending on where you live and where you shop:

And we all must now leave a six-foot gap between ourselves and our neighbors, like it or not:

Fortunately, and despite all of this, we haven't yet lost our sense of humor.  Some of the more clever meme-makers have been working overtime, for example, here:

In his song, Some Change, Boz Scaggs points out what should be obvious to everyone now:
Some change comes down for the better
You feel it move
Then some come around like the weather
You take that in too
But like some change in your pocket
Sometimes it seems to be too little too late

As a pastor serving a small church, these are indeed challenging, interesting times.  Most of the pastors I know have been forced to find new ways to offer Sunday worship services, to reach congregants without actually being with them, to visit patients in the hospital in a new way, and so on.  Even funeral services have become problematic.  So what do you do when your congregation needs community but the state says you can't gather in the sanctuary as you usually do?

Like Noah said you'd better wake up
You don't want to get stuck in this zoo
Cause when he leaves the dock
He ain't waiting round for you
Be prepared to change some too

Yes, we have to change some.  Like it or not, it's raining.  So many pastors, including yours truly, are learning to become the IT guy and the camera operator all at the same time.  For some, it's exciting; for others, it is a daunting task.

We now record a stripped-down version of the worship service, upload it to YouTube, and then post it to Facebook.  Next week is Palm Sunday and we hope to experiment with Facebook Live as we distribute palms and Communion on-the-go.  It'll be fun, if it works.

Bottom line: We will get through this.  God has our back.  These bones can live.
Hang loose.
And may peace be with you.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Pulpit Rock

Ten miles out in Muscongus Bay, there is a rock formation on the northeast side of an island.  Clinging to the 'bold shore' of Monhegan Island, Pulpit Rock invites the intrepid hiker to come out and see the ocean from a unique perspective.  To get there, however, one needs either to walk through the woods or hike the ups and downs of a difficult cliff-side trail.  Do it, and you are rewarded with a spectacular view.

Here is how Marjorie BouvĂ© saw it around the turn of the century before last:

Here is how my iPhone saw it just the other day:

Notice the trees which are absent from Marjorie's photo.  It's all different on the island these days.  In some ways, things are getting back to the way they were.  In other ways, things are the way they are and that's just fine.

It's called Pulpit Rock because ... it looks like a pulpit.  As a pastor, I can see it.  I am also called to jump out to it and get to work, but I have a feeling I might get wet along the way.  In any event, it is enticing.

The pulpit in the sanctuary of the church I serve is fairly high up.  It is not the highest but it is higher than most.  It seems that way to me, anyway.  And I love standing in it.

Knowing there is a pulpit rock out there helps me when I stand before the congregation.  Being a Type A sort, I always know what I'm going to say because I'm reading a carefully prepared sermon.  What I never know is how my words will be received.  Barbara Brown Taylor once wrote that preaching is the one thing she loved, feared, and most wanted to do.  Her self-assessment applies to me too.

So I make my annual trek out to the island, to hear the wild gulls and the sound of the sea; to drink coffee while I try to read despite the wonders of the world around me; to see the solid stoicism of Pulpit Rock, unchanged and unchanging; and to know that all is well and will be well if I can just see it again next year.


Tuesday, June 4, 2019

June 5, 1944

As is typical around here, when I need to find a book, I find lots of other interesting books that I really ought to read next, but rarely do I find the book I'm looking for.  This happened again today when I went looking for the 1959 history book The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan.  I know where it is; I just can't find it.  God help my daughter when it's time to clear out my garret.  I should tell her I left a $20 bill in one of the volumes, just to be sure someone flips through them all before they go to the landfill.

Anyway.  We are coming up on the 75th anniversary of the Allied landings in Normandy that would eventually lead to the liberation of Europe.  Here is what happened on June 5, 1944 according to www.dayinhistory.net:

World War II: 
More than 1000 British bombers drop 5,000 
tons of bombs on German gun batteries on the Normandy 
coast in preparation for D-Day.

They say that all Americans would benefit with a visit to Normandy.  I have yet to make the trip, but I have been to the Gettysburg battlefield.  It didn't help that I went in late October, close to Halloween, or that Gettysburg is in Pennsylvania, one of the spookiest states in the nation.  The place has a palpable feel to it.  You know you're not alone.

One thing about Gettysburg that I am sure is true of the beaches in Normandy: knowing what lay ahead of them, these men went anyway.

Today, we can find just about anything on the interwebs, including raw footage of the D-Day landings:

Rare color footage exists too, thanks to well-placed film directors who happened to be in the right place at the right time:

We also tend to forget, thanks to YouTube and the internet, that people sometimes got their news from clips shown in theaters before the feature film began:

All this film adds up to an astounding look at what we are capable of doing, both good and bad.
Let us remember, then, that these were our fathers and grandfathers going off to do what they had to do.  We'll never see their like again.