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Reflections on Paris and Thanksgiving

French police patrol the gardens surrounding the Eiffel Tower.

For the 129 people who died in Paris on Friday night, it was the end of the world. For so many of us who witnessed footage of the carnage and chaos in the wake of coordinated brutal attacks, it felt like the end of the world. As we close on the end of the liturgical year, which is November 22, the stories from scripture point to the end of the world. That's what the writers of both the Hebrew scriptures and the gospels expected.

The end of the world didn’t happen then - and it won't happen now, provided we stand and witness to the gift and passion of the Abrahamic faiths – Christianity, Judaism and Islam. In the best of Christianity, discipleship is following the radical love of Jesus Christ. In Judaism, hope is focused on God and the potential of God's people to contribute to tikkun olam, the repair of the world. And in Islam, jihad in its pure form is the struggle to serve the purposes of God on earth. It is seeking and striving toward good.

Yes, we need to acknowledge the fear - mixed in with helplessness and hopelessness, of terror and the wanton destruction of human life. We also need to acknowledge that religion too often gets co-opted by a toxic combination of coercion and certainty, which ends up being ideological extremism masking itself as religion.

The Abrahamic faiths are not the same. Each has a complex history and theology. Yet each aspires to justice and peace, and each draws on guidance from God. We have much to learn from each other, if we can work through horror and fear, prejudice and ignorance, and work together to seek and create hope for tomorrow.

In the wake of the ruthless terrorist attacks in Paris, from every quarter there has emerged a call for a commensurate ruthless military response. That cannot and should not stand alone. The religious world, drawing on its long standing commitment to justice and peace, needs to make witness to discipleship, tikkun olam and jihad (in its pure sense). In the long run, a prayerful commitment to justice and commitment may have more of a healing and reconciling impact than any military campaign.

Next Thursday is Thanksgiving. It is a day to be grateful. It may be hard to be grateful given all that has happened and continues to happen. But if we are able to get beneath all of the carnage in the world, and the chaos of the psyche, and come to that place of realizing that life is a divine gift, the gratitude that emerges can become a force that has the capacity and staying power to transform hearts and set souls free. And help repair the world.

In honor of the Thanksgiving holiday, I will be offering Thanksgiving blessings at Newark Penn Station next Tuesday, November 24. Congregations are invited to join me by offering blessings in your own communities.


So well said. See also Rabbi Jonathan Sack's, "Not in God's Name: Confronting Religious Violence."

Thank you for this statement, +Mark. In the aftermath of the brutal attack on Paris - and, seemingly in a form of retaliation - many governors are saying "no" to allowing refugees into their state. This includes a statement from one presidential candidate that, perhaps (perhaps!) we might only accept Christian Syrians and from the governor of NJ that he would refuse "even orphans under age five".

The Bishop of the Diocese of Arizona has issued a statement on the Governor's rejection of Syrian refugees. I hope that your prophetic voice might also be heard on this important issue, especially as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus into a "Holy Family" of refugees in a state where the Governor has made such harsh pronouncements yet declares himself "Christian".

We have much for which to be thankful but our gratitude is magnified and more deeply meaningful when it finds its way into acts of compassion and kindness.

Thank you.

Dear Bishop Mark:

I like the word 'transforming' in this context. The point of my question at St. James' Upper Montclair yesterday, had enough time been available to explore it, was that we tend to assume our national, parochial and personal profiles are the be-all and end-all of who we really are, or want to be. Nothing could be further from the truth. Just as before World War II with Jewish refugees and during the war by interning Japanese-Americans, so now with 10,000 displaced Syrians headed for America, the risk of letting in people of evil intent is so minor that state decisions to degrade an ethos of welcome leave our spirits confused as to who we really are or want to be.

When people and congregations of faith talk ever more volubly about their profile, that profile includes what we allow in all kinds of ways. When younger people consider religion, it is through the lens of transformation. Like it or not, the choice by 31 states to burden still further these effectively stateless people is never far from the profile that shadows us at all times. When we seek out mentors to challenge us to be who we really want to be, the lethal weapon we call, 'profile,' is disarmed. Only then can transformation have broader, more comprehensive implications.

If we choose people to help us in a 'no nonsense' way graduate from a profile indifferent to who we want to be towards a community transformed into tikkun olam, we do well. True jihad pours scorn on the profile of who we were yesterday!

Tim Evans

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