But this morning I find myself needing to raise a lament of my own on behalf of our nation. Donald Trump's decision to bar transgender persons from service in the military is, by itself, a decision made without reason. He claims to make this decision based on "generals and military experts" but does not mention by name or document concerns. He talks about "enormous medical costs and disruption" but again does not document or justify. Now this should be easy to do since there are already thousands of transgender persons currently serving in the military. And if his rational is reasonable, he should be able to share with the American people solid evidence for this unilateral decision. But, of course, given his track record, he will not do so.
But beyond this....what I lament this morning, and lament in the Name of the One who commands us to ensure justice for "the stranger in your midst" is that our nation has entered into a pattern of behavior that focuses on the "Other" as enemy. Donald Trump has lead the way in this, fanning the flames of ethnic, racial, and gender based bigotry. Immigrants, Native Americans, Muslims, LGBT persons, and people of color who tend to vote in other directions....all have been targeted by the rhetoric of this administration.
Am I being "political"? Only in the way that much of scripture, particularly Torah and the prophets are "political." There is a role and responsibility to confront and lament when leadership, or a whole people, move away from the kind of life that God calls us to live in community with one another. I am not lamenting politics, I am lamenting sin.
All morning I have been thinking of two pieces of writing (non-biblical) that seem very appropriate since both seem to have been written for times very similar to these. They were written in response to the Third Reich and to the McCarthy hearings.
Does this ring a bell:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out-
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionist, and I did not speak out-
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then 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. -Martin Neimoller
By Maurice Ogden
Into our town the hangman came,
smelling of gold and blood and flame.
He paced our bricks with a different air,
and built his frame on the courthouse square.
The scaffold stood by the courthouse side,
only as wide as the door was wide
with a frame as tall, or a little more,
than the capping sill of the courthouse door.
And we wondered whenever we had the time,
Who the criminal? What the crime?
The hangman judged with the yellow twist
of knotted hemp in his busy fist.
And innocent though we were with dread,
we passed those eyes of buckshot lead.
Till one cried, "Hangman, who is he,
for whom you raised the gallows-tree?"
Then a twinkle grew in his buckshot eye
and he gave a riddle instead of reply.
"He who serves me best," said he
"Shall earn the rope on the gallows-tree."
And he stepped down and laid his hand
on a man who came from another land.
And we breathed again, for anothers grief
at the hangmans hand, was our relief.
And the gallows frame on the courthouse lawn
by tomorrow's sun would be struck and gone.
So we gave him way and no one spoke
out of respect for his hangmans cloak.
The next day's sun looked mildly down
on roof and street in our quiet town;
and stark and black in the morning air
the gallows-tree on the courthouse square.
And the hangman stood at his usual stand
with the yellow hemp in his busy hand.
With his buckshot eye and his jaw like a pike,
and his air so knowing and business-like.
And we cried, "Hangman, have you not done,
yesterday with the alien one?"
Then we fell silent and stood amazed.
"Oh, not for him was the gallows raised."
He laughed a laugh as he looked at us,
"Do you think I've gone to all this fuss,
To hang one man? That's the thing I do.
To stretch the rope when the rope is new."
Above our silence a voice cried "Shame!"
and into our midst the hangman came;
to that mans place, "Do you hold," said he,
"With him that was meat for the gallows-tree?"
He laid his hand on that one's arm
and we shrank back in quick alarm.
We gave him way, and no one spoke,
out of fear of the hangmans cloak.
That night we saw with dread surprise
the hangmans scaffold had grown in size.
Fed by the blood beneath the chute,
the gallows-tree had taken root.
Now as wide, or a little more
than the steps that led to the courthouse door.
As tall as the writing, or nearly as tall,
half way up on the courthouse wall.
The third he took, we had all heard tell,
was a usurer..., an infidel.
And "What" said the hangman, "Have you to do
with the gallows-bound..., and he a Jew?"
And we cried out, "Is this one he
who has served you well and faithfully?"
The hangman smiled, "It's a clever scheme
to try the strength of the gallows beam."
The fourth man's dark accusing song
had scratched our comfort hard and long.
"And what concern," he gave us back,
"Have you ... for the doomed and black?"
The fifth, the sixth, and we cried again,
"Hangman, hangman, is this the man?"
"It's a trick", said he, "that we hangman know
for easing the trap when the trap springs slow."
And so we ceased and asked now more
as the hangman tallied his bloody score.
And sun by sun, and night by night
the gallows grew to monstrous height.
The wings of the scaffold opened wide
until they covered the square from side to side.
And the monster cross beam looking down,
cast its shadow across the town.
Then through the town the hangman came
and called through the empy streets...my name.
I looked at the gallows soaring tall
and thought ... there's no one left at all
for hanging ... and so he called to me
to help take down the gallows-tree.
And I went out with right good hope
to the hangmans tree and the hangmans rope.
He smiled at me as I came down
to the courthouse square...through the silent town.
Supple and stretched in his busy hand,
was the yellow twist of hempen strand.
He whistled his tune as he tried the trap
and it sprang down with a ready snap.
Then with a smile of awful command,
He laid his hand upon my hand.
"You tricked me Hangman." I shouted then,
"That your scaffold was built for other men,
and I'm no henchman of yours." I cried.
"You lied to me Hangman, foully lied."
Then a twinkle grew in his buckshot eye,
"Lied to you...tricked you?" He said "Not I...
for I answered straight and told you true.
The scaffold was raised for none but you."
"For who has served more faithfully?
With your coward's hope." said He,
"And where are the others that might have stood
side by your side, in the common good?"
"Dead!" I answered, and amiably
"Murdered," the Hangman corrected me.
"First the alien ... then the Jew.
I did no more than you let me do."
Beneath the beam that blocked the sky
none before stood so alone as I.
The Hangman then strapped me...with no voice there
to cry "Stay!" ... for me in the empty square.
But if you need something more "biblical" Let me invite you to the Book of Daniel where in chapter 3:5 the people are told to "fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up."
This current leadership has build a "working model" of the Almighty from the blueprint of the worst of our own national character. We are being told that we should bow to it. Don't. Don't let the idolatry of this current time take this nation down the road of the "ism's" we have seen before and away from the commandments and the call of God to us as individuals and as a nation.
Lament with me. Name the sin and the sorrow. And in the voicing of that lament let us find the energy for creative ways to both resist the powers of Evil that "scorn Thy Christ, assail His ways" and to imagine new ways of being that "free our hearts to love and praise."