I joined a church in Berlin. I’ve only been three times, but my most recent visit disappointed me. In particular, the sermon, which is usually my favorite part of church, disappointed me.
I like sermons because I’ve always found the way preachers contextualize the Bible more interesting than the Bible itself. Growing up my priest was very conversational. She preached without notes and didn’t stand behind a pulpit. She was a good storyteller and shared anecdotes from her life that illustrated the same themes and morals as the week’s readings. A conservative friend of mine came to church with me once and told me afterwards that my priest was not a good preacher because she “didn’t reference the Bible enough.”
My most recent church community was in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was an unabashedly progressive congregation led by a woman unafraid to talk about politics in her sermons. Every week members of the congregation made announcements inviting us to join a protest or a discussion about all manner of topics: climate change, LGBTQ+ rights, food insecurity, criminal justice reform. God’s love inspires that congregation to fight injustice.
At my new church here in Berlin, the sermon this week was about freedom. It was about how God’s love grants us freedom from fear, regret, and anger. We’re free thanks to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and isn’t that awesome!? The world is full of anger and hate and tells us we’re right and the people over there are wrong and we’ll never agree on anything. But, us Christians, we’re free! And that means we can reach across the aisle and change the world.
I almost walked out of church.
Because that was some placating, complacent bullshit. The sermon was so focused on individuals and personal freedom that it completely failed to acknowledge structural inequality. As if we could simply believe an equitable world into existence. Maybe this wasn’t my priest’s intention, but I felt like I was being told, “God loves you so you shouldn’t be angry.”
And I don’t know if you’ve read the news or taken a look outside recently, but there’s a hell of a lot to be angry about.
There is no freedom when children are being held in detention centers at the US/Mexico border. There is no freedom when trans people are being denied their humanity. There is no freedom when black Americans are incarcerated 5 times more often than white Americans. There is no freedom when people don’t have bodily autonomy over their reproductive organs. There is no freedom when antisemitism persists and Jewish people are shot and killed while at worship.
Before I went to church on Sunday, I was reading the news about the murders at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. I was devastated. I won’t pretend to speak on the topic with any authority. There are many Jewish people in my life whom I love dearly, and I cannot imagine what they are going through right now. All I know is that I live in Berlin, and the history of the Holocaust is visible here in visceral ways – like the day E and I visited the Holocaust Memorial while elsewhere in the city a Neo-Nazi rally was taking place. The rally was small and twice as many counter-protestors showed up to block the Neo-Nazi’s intended parade route, but it happens every year. Clearly, Germany is not perfect, but I believe that most people here stare their history in the face and learn from it.
And I hoped to do the same by going to church this past Sunday. I hoped that the priest of this English-language church would address the atrocity that had just occurred in the US. I hoped she would say, “yes, you should be angry and sad about the state of the world. Lean on God for strength and go fight for justice.”
Instead we tacked a couple of lines on to our prayers like an afterthought. We prayed for the members of the Tree of Life Synagogue and for our Jewish siblings everywhere in the world. We prayed for interfaith dialogue and understanding. And then it was business as usual.
The message of the service seemed to be, “calm down. Your anger is not righteous. This world is not so bad.” Was this what God wanted me to hear and believe? This milquetoast message of freedom?
I had a small crisis of faith on Sunday.
I happened to be reading a novel with a Christian main character this weekend. The answer to her problems turned out to be that she was too wrapped up in her own grief and wasn’t listening to God. He (because of course God is a he) was there for her all along and she just needed to trust him. Suddenly her problems weren’t so bad. It was not a good book.
But it scared me to hear this message twice in two days: Calm down. Listen. Stop feeling so strongly. The final straw was a tweet from the Dalai Lama yesterday:
The motherfucking Dalai Lama was telling me to calm down and consider all sides of the situation. And to that I have to say no.
There is a right side and a wrong side to the history we’re living right now. There can be no middle ground when we’re talking about human rights. If you are complacent or apolitical right now, you are not above or outside the system, you are just privileged. If you are not planning to vote in the midterms you are saying the system works well enough as it is. You are saying my fear and anger and the fear and anger of America’s marginalized people don’t matter to you. If you are not voting against candidates who dehumanize trans folks or immigrants, you are saying their humanity doesn’t matter. You are showing an extreme lack of empathy. And I am so mad at you.
And I have to believe that God is okay with my righteous fury, perhaps even gave it to me. I have to believe God loves me in my anger and sorrow. Because I need God. I know not everyone does, but I am a better, more empathetic person with God in my life. And I am not interested in a God who gaslights me.
My feelings are justified. And I hope they will inspire me to action beyond voting and beyond writing this post. Me and my God, we’re on the right side of history. And y’all need to get on our level.