Reject today's inhumanity, seek connections

Malik Naveed bin Rehman and his wife Zahida Altaf have taken sanctuary at the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme since March 19, the date by which they were ordered to leave the United States by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement after living in New Britain for the past 18 years.  (Tim Cook/The Day)
Malik Naveed bin Rehman and his wife Zahida Altaf have taken sanctuary at the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme since March 19, the date by which they were ordered to leave the United States by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement after living in New Britain for the past 18 years. (Tim Cook/The Day)

For more than two months, Malik Naveed bin Rehman and Zahida Altaf have resided in the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme, along with their five-year-old daughter, Roniya.  They had been threatened with deportation, and chose to reside in the sanctuary of our church building as their legal case is pursued.

That thousands of immigrants, and those without proper documentation in our country, are threatened with a similar choice, testifies to the inhumanity of our moment in history and the inhumanity of those who govern us.

On May 14 the world witnessed yet another outburst of callous inhumanity, as Israeli Defense Forces killed 61 Palestinians at the Gaza border, wounding some 2,000 others.  Meanwhile, representatives of the United States and Israel celebrated the opening of the American embassy in Jerusalem, all smiles, dressed in designer clothing, oblivious to the suffering 40 miles away. That too is a grotesque testimony of the inhumanity and degradation of our present moment.

Those two phenomena are not isolated. One is the domestic expression of an ideology that finds it acceptable to treat neighbors and their children as disposable refuse, in the interest of making America great again. The other is the international expression of an ideology that finds it acceptable to kill or wound those who stand in the way of political aims.

Both reveal a cruel disregard for the lives of others.  Both reveal the shallow narcissism of those who can shrug the violence off as an unfortunate side effect of history.

Using Christianity and Judaism to justify such behavior is an embarrassment to those religious systems. Those of us who labor in the fields of religion, struggling to preserve an understanding of our faith traditions that is not xenophobic, or racist, or imperialist, or colonialist, have our work cut out for us.

Thankfully, there are examples within our traditions that do invite us to rediscover our humanity, and our collective moral consciousness – whether in the Hebrew Prophets, the New Testament, or the Koran. We need to lift up those examples as a rebuke to the deformed masquerade of religion that justifies a callous disregard of humanity.

But I wonder if we might need a religious expression apart from those traditions, yet also informed by them. Here I appeal to the recently deceased Charles Neville, a saxophone player and one of the guiding lights of the Neville Family Band. Neville was once imprisoned for possession of two joints, spending several years in Angola. The music he made with his brothers draws from African, European, Caribbean, and Native sources, blending and intermixing those sources to create a new ethic of human dignity.

The Nevilles' 1988 album, "Yellow Moon," opens with a song called "My Blood."  It invokes struggles in South Africa, Haiti, and on Native American reservations.

"That's my blood down there," the Nevilles sing.

We need visions that allow us to say, "That's my blood!" when we see the butchery occurring in Gaza, when we see the indecency exhibited toward immigrants, or when we witness the violence inflicted on people of color and the poor.  We need an ethic of human dignity that helps us to realize the deep human connections we all share, one that makes the grotesque spectacle of slaughter at the Gaza border, or neighbors hiding from ICE in church basements, unthinkable.

That's our blood down there.

Rev. Steven R. Jungkeit is the senior minister of The First Congregational Church of Old Lyme and a lecturer in ethics at the Harvard Divinity School.

Altaf have resided in the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme, along with their five-year-old daughter, Roniya. They had been threatened with deportation, and chose to reside in the sanctuary of our church building as their legal case is pursued.

That thousands of immigrants, and those without proper documentation in our country, are threatened with a similar choice, testifies to the inhumanity of our moment in history and the inhumanity of those who govern us.

On May 14 the world witnessed yet another outburst of callous inhumanity, as Israeli Defense Forces killed 61 Palestinians at the Gaza border, wounding some 2,000 others. Meanwhile, representatives of the United States and Israel celebrated the opening of the American embassy in Jerusalem, all smiles, dressed in designer clothing, oblivious to the suffering 40 miles away. That too is a grotesque testimony of the inhumanity and degradation of our present moment.

Those two phenomena are not isolated. One is the domestic expression of an ideology that finds it acceptable to treat neighbors and their children as disposable refuse, in the interest of making America great again. The other is the international expression of an ideology that finds it acceptable to kill or wound those who stand in the way of political aims.

Both reveal a cruel disregard for the lives of others. Both reveal the shallow narcissism of those who can shrug the violence off as an unfortunate side effect of history.

Using Christianity and Judaism to justify such behavior is an embarrassment to those religious systems. Those of us who labor in the fields of religion, struggling to preserve an understanding of our faith traditions that is not xenophobic, or racist, or imperialist, or colonialist, have our work cut out for us.

Thankfully, there are examples within our traditions that do invite us to rediscover our humanity, and our collective moral consciousness – whether in the Hebrew Prophets, the New Testament, the Koran, or other expressions of faith. We need to lift up those examples as a rebuke to the deformed masquerade of religion that justifies a callous disregard of humanity.

But I wonder if we might need a religious expression apart from those traditions, yet also informed by them. Here I appeal to the recently deceased Charles Neville, a saxophone player and one of the guiding lights of the Neville Brothers Band. Neville was once imprisoned for possession of two joints, spending several years in Angola. The music he made with his brothers draws from African, European, Caribbean, and Native sources, blending and intermixing those sources to create a new ethic of human dignity.

The Nevilles’ 1988 album, “Yellow Moon,” opens with a song called “My Blood.” It invokes struggles in South Africa, Haiti, and on Native American reservations.

“That’s my blood down there,” the Nevilles sing.

We need visions that allow us to say, “That’s my blood!” when we see the butchery occurring in Gaza, when we see the indecency exhibited toward immigrants, or when we witness the violence inflicted on people of color and the poor. We need an ethic of human dignity that helps us to realize the deep human connections we all share, one that makes the grotesque spectacle of slaughter at the Gaza border, or neighbors hiding from ICE in church basements, unthinkable.

That’s our blood down there.

Rev. Steven R. Jungkeit is the senior minister of The First Congregational Church of Old Lyme and a lecturer in ethics at the Harvard Divinity School.

 

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