This week I found myself deeply disturbed by a story in Indian Country Today (Vol 2, Issue 47), entitled, “The Fire Next Time”, and written by Mary Annette Pember. The piece discussed the arson of several buildings and sites dedicated to traditional healing and spirituality on the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe reservation. Apparently, the evidence suggests these acts may have been carried out by a person or persons connected to a Christian network, the New Apostolic Reformation movement. The NAR, which appears to be gaining in influence amongst some evangelical churches, reportedly sees First Nations spiritual practices as idolatry or witchcraft that must be ended. This is indeed troubling.
We are in the midst of Hanukkah, the celebration of a miracle, and this evening family gathered to light the candles for the fourth night. A little later I was walking past a bookshelf when I noticed someone had set out The Christmas Menorahs, by Janice Cohn. This children’s book tells the true story of the community of Billings,Montana’s response to a string of racist incidents several years ago. A group of unknown size began a campaign of terror against Jewish, African American, and First Nations families. The story focuses on one Jewish family who, having placed a menorah in a window to commemorate Hanukkah, had a rock thrown through the window. The rising up of the Billings community in response to these attacks was a modern day miracle of the human spirit.
In response to such incidents, many Billings families, of all faiths, placed Menorahs in their windows to show solidarity with those under attack. The idea for this show of belonging and support came from the Danish people’s donning of the Star of David in response to Nazi attempts to isolate and destroy Danish Jews. As a result of the actions of the Danish people, many Jewish families were saved. The rising up of the Danish people was a modern day miracle of the human spirit.
As we approach the time of the Winter Solstice, a time holy in many traditions, it is worth remembering that only communities standing together can end racist or ethnic violence. It matters little the ideological rationale behind that violence; violence directed against any group seeks to isolate and terrorize, and ultimately undermines the sense of community,and the safety, of all.
Burning sites dedicated to spiritual practice and healing is simply not justifiable. Neither is throwing rocks through windows holding pictures of menorahs, paining swastikas on Jewish synagogues, or defacing African American homes. Groups that teach intolerance and physical or emotional violence must be challenged directly by those they seek to influence. May we, together, challenge the behavior and validity of all hate groups, and in doing so, create yet another modern day miracle.