It's Holocaust Remembrance Day today, from sunset on May 4 until sunset on May 5.
We've been traveling through Hungary, Austria, and the Czech Republic the past couple of weeks, and you can't walk on that ground and not think about the Holocaust.
Our very first morning in Budapest, we visited the Shoes on the Danube memorial, where visitors are still daily laying flowers for Holocaust victims.
Our last day in Prague, we visited the concentration camp town of Terezin (Theresienstadt).
I was reading Martin Luther King, Jr's Letter from a Birmingham Jail on this trip, and it helped me to understand the "how" of the Holocaust: how could human beings do something so horrible, so deliberately, to other human beings?
King says this:
Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segragator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. To use the words of the Martin Buber, the great Jewish philosopher, segregation substitues and "I-it" relationship for the "I-thou" relationship, and ends up relegating persons to the status of things.
Adolf Hitler lived in a world that had long relegated Jews to an "I-it" relationship. Jews were segregated, they were discriminated against, they had been seen as digusting, inhuman "things" for centuries before Hitler. Hitler wasn't even original in his idea to make the Jews wear a physical mark--the church had already required that of them in the past.
When Jesus said, "Whoever hates his brother is a murderer"--I think this is exactly what he had in mind. Hatred grows like a cancer until murder seems like a logical next step.
The little seed of disgust that we plant--disgust of race, disgust of religion, disgust of gender or sexual orientation--that seed grows into murder.
If we want to be part of life and light instead of hatred and murder, then the challenge for all of us is this: to respect the "I-thou," seeing every person as valuable and precious, created as a fellow image bearer.
There can be no person whose race or religion or gender or sexual orientation causes us to think of them as less-than.
As soon as we relegate another person to the status of a thing to be separate from or superior to, then we are on the road to destruction and murder.
The past few weeks in the social media world have been tough for me. I see so much "I-it" verbage, so much fear and disgust being expressed against the LGBT community, people God loves, created in His image, to bear his likeness out into the world.
It's bad enough when that language comes from presumptive candidates, but what really bothers me is the language that sometimes comes from big voices in the church.
Back in January, James Dobson aired excerpts of a conversation with Franklin Graham. Here's part of what Graham said:
"We have allowed the Enemy to come into our churches. I was talking to some Christians and they were talking about how they invited these gay children to come into their home and to come into the church and that they were wanting to influence them. And I thought to myself, they're not going to influence those kids; those kids are going to influence those parent's children."
"What happens is we think we can fight by smiling and being real nice and loving. We have to understand who the Enemy is and what he wants to do. He wants to devour our homes. He wants to devour this nation and we have to be so careful who we let our kids hang out with. We have to be so careful who we let into the churches. You have immoral people who get into the churches and it begins to effect the others in the church and it is dangerous."
Do you hear the "I-it" in Graham's statements? Gay children--CHILDREN--are inferior objects to fear and to segregate from our churches.
God help us.
That is a way that ends in death.
When I'm confronted by anti-LGBT speech in social media, whether it's a meme or a "joke" or an invitation to boycott, I've been trying to figure out what to do.
I don't want to have an "I-it" reaction, where I smack the other person around verbally and prove my superiority.
But I also don't want to be a silent participant in the language of dismissal of other human beings. Too much is at stake: the very lives of gay kids.
I don't want to have to "repent for the appalling silence of good people" as Dr. King said.
Instead, I've been trying to do the hard work of "I-thou" and Love.
I'm speaking up on social media in ways that I hope will promote love and respect for all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identification.
Mostly, I've been sharing a video from the Mennonite Church of Canada that's gay Christians talking about their experiences in church, and their hopes for acceptance and inclusion.
I understand that understanding is a process.
I understand that our churches have taught us to fear and to avoid and to segregate ourselves from those dangerous gay people.
I understand because I grew up in that.
But I have suffered with the suffering and I have mourned with the mourning, and what I have learned in that process is that God loves us all.
Without measure or condition.
And we must strive to do the same.
Dr. King asks us this:
"Will we be extremists for hate
or will be we extremists for love?"
That, I believe, is the question that confronts each of us this Holocaust Remembrance Day.
When we say "Never again," we have to mean it for everyone.
Because, to quote Dr. King one more time:
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
When we visited the camp at Terezin, I was inspired by the stories of two women imprisoned there.
Out of the millions who are being remembered today, I honor them especially.
Both of these women embody what it means to live "I-thou" lives, even in desperate circumstances.
Regina Jonas, the first female rabbi in history, cared for her congregation at Terezin and later died at Auschwitz. Rabbi Jonas said this:
"To be blessed by God means to give wherever one steps in every life situation blessing, kindness, faithfulness."
Friedl Dicker-Brandeis was an artist and a teacher who became an art therapist to a concentration camp full of traumatized children. When she was transported from Terezin to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where she died, she left behind two suitcases containing 4,500 drawings the children had done.
These are the women I want to walk after,
continuing the work of
blessing, kindess, and faithfulness
that they left behind.