Photo description: Law enforcement officials investigate the hostage incident at Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville, Tex. (Ralph Lauer/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Undoubtedly like many of you, we were saddened by the events this past weekend in Colleyville, Texas. Our hearts go out to those involved and to our Jewish friends locally here in Northern Virginia. The Washington Post had a good article summarizing the events of the weekend.
Two quotes from the article stood out to us. First was a powerful statement from Rabbi Charles Cytron-Walker of Congregation Beth Israel a week before this weekend’s crisis, which is very relevant post-crisis, even through the sadness:
“In that last sermon a week ago, Cytron-Walker recognized that some people now find it hard to summon hope. ‘What can we do?’ he asked. ‘The answer is — quite a lot! . . . In the midst of chaos and uncertainty, God asked the Israelites to face their fears and do something. . . . We are living in the midst of a different kind of chaos and uncertainty and it’s our turn to do something. . . . All we need to do is act.’”
The other quote from the article related to interfaith support and cooperation during the crisis, which is a model the members of Tysons Interfaith applaud and attempt to emulate.
“Two blocks in the other direction from Beth Israel, at Good Shepherd Catholic Community, Cheryl Drazin, a Dallas-based vice president of the Anti-Defamation League’s regional division, and other local faith leaders set up their own command center, where representatives from the Israeli consulate in Houston and relatives of the hostages gathered. Drazin saw Catholic priests and Chabad rabbis, in their long beards and black suits, sitting in a waiting area comforting each other.
Bob Roberts, an evangelical pastor at Northwood Church in Keller, five miles from Beth Israel, was eating lunch with his wife at an Italian restaurant around noon when they started getting texts about the hostage situation. He called Muslim leaders and they gathered at Good Shepherd, where Roberts spent the afternoon with the Cytron-Walker’s wife and daughter.
‘We’re all people of faith,’ Roberts said. ‘We have disagreements. The reality is we believe in God. And so we prayed.’
At one point, the wife of Shahid Shafi, a prominent Muslim figure in the county and a former city council member in Southlake, came into the room. She and the rabbi’s wife embraced. ‘It was just profound,’ Roberts said. ‘I just remember thinking to myself: People could use this [situation] as a tool to do more antisemitic and Islamophobic-type things. But this is the reality. A Muslim and a Jewish lady, embracing. This is how it’s done.’”
MLK Day is the only federal holiday designated as a national day of service to encourage all Americans to volunteer to improve their communities.
Showing compassion/serving can come in many forms. It can be as simple as reaching out to someone you have not talked to in a long time, checking on an elderly neighbor, or buying lunch for an overworked medical professional.
If you are interested in MLK Jr. Day projects on a larger scale, here are a few ideas that were shared in my church’s monthly newsletter:
Potomac Stewards Cleanup — river cleanup at Four Mile Run and at Jones Point Park. www.eventbrite.com/e/potomac-stewards-cleanup-martin-luther-king-jr-day-of-service-tickets-37495579287?aff=es2
Volunteer Arlington — make meals, assemble winter care packages, clean up parks, assemble children’s blankets for homeless shelters, learn about hunger and affordable housing, etc. volunteer.leadercenter.org/2022-mlk-day-service
District of Columbia
City Year — projects at three schools in the H Street NE corridor. www.cityyear.org/dc/events/mlk-day-of-service/
Washington National Cathedral — a virtual event for families; will include a sermon by Martin Luther King Jr’s granddaughter Ms. Yolanda Renee King. cathedral.org/event/remaining-awake-a-service-in-observance-of-dr-martin-luther-king-jr-day/
Volunteer Fairfax — event is geared toward elementary-aged kids and their parents with various service stations. www.volunteerfairfax.org/events/mlk-jr-weekend-of-service-2022/
Potomac Stewards Cleanup — river cleanup at Turkey Run in McLean. www.eventbrite.com/e/potomac-stewards-cleanup-martin-luther-king-jr-day-of-service-tickets-37495579287?aff=es2
Reston Community Center — three days of activities: concerts, packing of lunches, outdoor cleanup, and a special activity for 1st-6th graders at RCC Hunters Woods. www.restoncommunitycenter.com/attend-shows-events-exhibits/2022-mlk-celebration
Falls Church Chamber of Commerce — “March for Social Justice, Unity, and Racial Healing” begins at the Tinner Hill Monument in the area where African-American families bought land after the Civil War and whose descendants established the first rural branch of the National Association for the Protection of Colored People. www.fallschurchchamber.org/events/details/3rd-annual-martin-luther-king-day-march-for-social-justice-unity-and-racial-healing-01-17-2022-32569
Each year we commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a champion of racial justice and civil rights and as an inspiration for public service. As Eboo Patel points out, moreover, Dr. King was a major force for religious diversity and interfaith cooperation. www.beaconbroadside.com/broadside/2013/04/mlk-interfaith-visionary.html. Not only did he seek out practical ideas or support from people of other traditions, but he also saw that such cooperation arose from a common source and in service of a shared vision for the future of humanity.
In one of his last major addresses, he called for “a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation.” He viewed this “embracing and unconditional love for all mankind” as “a force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life.”
Or as he wrote in his last book: “We have inherited a large house, a great ‘world house’ in which we have to live together—black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Muslim and Hindu—a family unduly separated in ideas, culture and interest, who, because we can never again live apart, must learn somehow to live with each other in peace.”
So, whether we celebrate Dr. King’s legacy by becoming more active in and aware of racial and social justice issues or by engaging in simple service to our neighbors, let us try to seek common cause with partners of other faiths and cultural traditions. (For those interested in exploring more on the theme of Dr. King’s World House, please see the following: kinginstitute.stanford.edu/liberation-curriculum/lesson-plans/activities/kings-world-house
This blog post is the expressed opinion of its writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Tysons Interfaith or its members.
Afghan families continue to be settled in Fairfax County and northern Virginia. Their needs are great as they begin the arduous and long-term task of becoming self-sufficient.
Several Tysons Interfaith faith communities are supporting evacuee families. Levels of support for families range from donations, to logistical support to full sponsorship.
The faith communities of Tysons Interfaith recommend the following resources for individuals/congregations who want to help:
LIRS – Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service: https://www.lirs.org/
LSSNCA – Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Region: https://lssnca.org/
NoVA RAFT — https://www.facebook.com/VARAFT/
KOMAC Foundation: — https://www.komakhelp.org/
Catholic Charities Diocese of Arlington County: https://www.ccda.net/need-help/immigrants-and-refugees/migration-and-refugee-services/
Ethiopian Community Development Commission: https://www.ecdcus.org/
Fairfax County Afghan Newcomers Information and Resources: https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/topics/afghan-refugee-information-and-resources
My husband David and I are the proud grandparents of six wonderful grandchildren. Our youngest granddaughter was born seven years ago on December 21st. She wasn’t expected until mid-January, so her pre-Christmas arrival was a surprise to everyone. We received our first picture of that tiny, beautiful, newborn baby the next day. She was so tiny. And so vulnerable.
Her first photo arrived as I was writing my Christmas Eve sermon. I was immersed in the story of the Roman Emperor, Augustus and how that emperor’s story intersected with that of the child born in Bethlehem so long ago. Augustus also claimed to be the son of God. And in all of his actions, including the ones described in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 2, verses 1-20 he’s much more interested in amassing power and wealth than he is in caring for the people around him.
I was struck at that moment, as I have been struck every year since then, of the amazing thing that God did on that first Christmas. One of the words given to the baby born on Christmas Day is Emmanuel. It means God-With-Us. Christians believe that God came among us, as one of us, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. And when God came into the world, he didn’t come as a powerful emperor. Instead, he came as a vulnerable, newborn, human baby.
Imagine any newborn you’ve encountered. And now, compare that tiny vulnerable human with images of reliefs that depict imperial power in this temple, the Sebasteion in what was then Aphrodisias. If you click here, you can see various reliefs showing Roman emperors subjugating those Rome has conquered, including a woman personifying Britannia being dragged around by her hair!
For me, as a Christian, that is the true miracle of Christmas. When God came among us, as one of us, God did so in a way that was a sharp contrast to worldly power. God didn’t come as a powerful emperor. God didn’t come in a palace. God didn’t even come as an adult human. Nope! When God came among us as one of us God came as a vulnerable little baby, born to a poor family, in a town with some theological significance (Bethlehem was the city of David) but which wasn’t a booming metropolis.
Throughout scripture, God stands with those who are poor, hungry, oppressed, and vulnerable. And in case we missed it, God does the same thing when God comes among us as Emmanuel. That is something worth celebrating!
Blessings to all!
This blog post is the expressed opinion of its writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Tysons Interfaith or its members.
In addition, our friends at FACETS sent out an appeal this week for their annual holiday gift drive:
We need your help! With local families struggling to make ends meet, we have received over 600 requests for gifts and toys. We are hearing from many parents and families who have never reached out to us before for assistance.
For years, our amazing community has ensured that the children, families and individuals served by FACETS can celebrate the season with their loved ones.
This year, we have been very blessed to have many of you step up as Angel Tree donors to fulfill holiday wishes. However, the requests are still coming in – and these new families need all of us.
With gratitude in our hearts, we are asking if you can please help provide toys, presents and gift cards for our community’s most vulnerable.
Ideally, all unwrapped gifts should arrive at FACETS’ main office by Wednesday, December 15th at 12 noon so our elves from SERCO can wrap them that evening.
- Monetary Donations: Make a donation to FACETS, and we’ll do the shopping for you! To donate online, CLICK HERE. (Please indicate “Holiday Gifts” in the Special Instructions field.) To donate by mail, please send checks made payable to “FACETS” to FACETS, 10700 Page Avenue, Building B, Fairfax, Virginia 22030.
- Donations of Toys, Gift Cards & Presents: Download our list of needed gifts and add something to your Christmas shopping to drop off this week. Donations can be dropped off Monday – Friday, 9am to 3pm, at the FACETS Main Office: 10700 Page Avenue, Building B, Fairfax, Virginia 22030.
- Virtual Shopping via our Amazon Wish List & Amazon Smile: You can also ship gift cards and toys directly to FACETS by using our Amazon Holiday Gift Wish List. And, when you buy from Amazon Smile and select “FACETS Cares” as your charity of choice, a percentage of your purchase price goes back to support the children, families and individuals served by FACETS’ programs.
- Angel Tree: Angel Tree wish lists are still available. If you are your team are interested in “adopting” a child or family this season, please reach out to Tessa at email@example.com.
Thank you!! We are so very grateful to you all! Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact Tessa at firstname.lastname@example.org or 703-352-3268.
Well, it is the season, the season for Christmas music! Love them or hate them, these familiar tunes fill the air during this joyous time. One does not have to look hard to find them either; it seems that many of our local radio stations started playing these songs even before Thanksgiving! You hear of white Christmas’ and stars dancing across the sky, but my favorite nonchurch hymn is “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas.” You know the tune, “Jolly old Saint Nicholas, lean your ear this way, don’t you tell a single soul what I’m going to say…” This song reminds us of the fun of Christmas – Santa Claus, gifts, and family. As pastors (at least in my tradition), we try to keep the two separate: Christmas in its true sense and the coming of Jesus the Christ child, and that of Santa Claus and his reindeer’s in the secular/ commercial sense. But believe it or not, there is a lot that we can learn from jolly old Saint Nick.
Now St. Nicholas was not always St. Nicholas. Born Nicholas of Bari in the early third century, he grew up in what is now modern-day Turkey. Raised in a Christian home, he was a person of devout faith in Christ. Nicholas lived out his faith in all that he did and held strong to it after losing his parents as a young man. Legend has it that rather than taking his inheritance and spending it on himself, he devoted his life to the poor and less fortunate in his community. Leaving small bags of coins on the doorsteps of those in need, Nicholas worked to ensure people, especially children had the necessities of life. One story tells of Nicholas caring for a family who was being forced to give their children into servanthood, but rather than seeing this family torn apart, Nicholas paid the debts that were owed. Again, leaving three small sacks of money over the course of three nights, one for each of the children, Nicholas ensured this family would remain together.
Nicholas went on to become Bishop of the Christian churches of Myra in Asia Minor and continued to do many great things for the good of God’s people. His reputation and example of selflessness for children and the poor lived on long after his death. So much so that he was canonized in the early fifteenth century, and his feast day is celebrated by many of the mainline denominations today. On this day, we are invited to place our stockings or shoes by the door in hopes of finding a few gold coins left there the next morning (chocolate ones, of course).
During this holiday season, St. Nicholas offers us the perfect example of how to enter this festive time. No matter our faith tradition – rather than simply marking the days off the calendar, waiting for Christmas to finally come. Jolly old Saint Nick reminds us to actively wait by caring for all God’s people in need.
Chanukah, or Hanukah or any of 14 other ways to spell it (because they are all transliterations from the Hebrew), is a Jewish winter holiday. This is intentionally very vague, because there is so much more to explain.
First, what Chanukah is not. It is not the Jewish Christmas. Although it became widely celebrated in the late 1800’s due to its proximity to Christmas, this holiday is really a minor holiday, coming from the Book of Maccabees which didn’t make it to the Jewish Bible (Tanakh). The Book of Maccabees is one of the 14 books in the Apocrypha, from the Greek word meaning “hidden”. Scholars are still arguing about why it was left out, two possible reasons were that it was too new (written near the end of the 2nd century BCE), another that it wasn’t politically correct; fearing the alienation of the Romans with a story of the Jews who fought and beat another ruling power. And, that is what the holiday is all about. The Maccabees fought the Seleucids for freedom of religion, and won.
To celebrate the victory, the Jews went to rededicate the temple in Jerusalem which had been taken over by the Seleucids and defiled. The anniversary of this rededication is how the date for the Chanukah celebration was determined. Chanukah is always on the 25th of the Hebrew month of Kislev, which is on a different calendar system than the one we use. This means that the actual date for the beginning of Chanukah on the Gregorian calendar changes every year and can be as early as November 28th, as it is this year, or be as late as December 25th, which will happen in 2024.
Another name for Chanukah is the Festival of Lights. The story is that when the temple was finally cleansed, they found only enough oil to last one night, but by a miracle, it lasted for eight, and that is the reason for eight days of Chanukah.
Like all holidays and festivals, traditions abound and they can be different in different parts of the world. Fairly universal are the following: lighting the Menorah (officially called a Hanukiah), starting with one candle the first night, lighting two the second night, etc.; eating foods that have been fried in oil such as potato latkes here, jelly donuts in Israel; giving gifts, traditionally gelt, the German and Yiddish word for money; and playing a game with a four-sided spinning top called a dreidel.
The lighting of the menorah in public goes back to the beginning of the holiday itself. The sages instructed that the menorah be lit at the entrance to one’s home to publicize the miracle.
Chanukah was first celebrated in the White House by President Truman in 1951 when Israel’s Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion presented him with a Hanukiah. It has been celebrated by every president since then. In modern times, lighting of the public menorahs started in 1974 in Philadelphia at the foot of the Liberty Bell. The largest Hanukiah in the world is in Grand Army Plaza in New York City. It is 32 feet tall and weighs 4000 pounds.
Thanksgiving Day is almost upon us!
The best things in life are unexpected gifts dropped on us through grace alone. In the Lutheran faith tradition, we believe that we are to treasure the time we spend with God more than the requests we want him to fulfill. We are to be grateful for every day that we have been blessed with life.
We give thanks that we are part of a larger community that hears the cries of people and responds in love. With deep gratitude we thank God for all who give of their time and resources to help people in need.
For the gift of friends and family we give thanks.
For the beauty of creation that shows itself in this season we give thanks.
For the gift of a new day we give thanks.
It has been found that people who live their life with gratitude are generally happier and healthier.
Being grateful for our blessings help us to be happy and spiritually strong. In our prayers of thanksgiving, we see how God is present even when we struggle. And as we pause to give thanks, we understand that we experience God everyday through the love and care of others.
As we enter fall and winter months, have you been thinking about starting or joining a book club? Here are reflections from a book club at my church on books they read on an important topic and how they went about organizing their book club.
Over the past year, a group of Redeemer Lutheran members met to read and discuss books focusing on social justice. One member volunteered to set up the zoom meetings and then summarized the discussion in an email back to the group before the next meeting. The emails deepened their experience and helped them retain important parts of the books. They met weekly and discussed assigned chapters of the books and found this pattern allowed them to discuss the contents more thoroughly.
They are sharing their experiences with the congregation, first by providing a list of the books they read. They are also building a lending library they hope to offer soon.
Here is a list of the books they explored together, with a brief description:
Caste by Isabel Wilkerson: May have been the most influential book our group read in that it challenged us to think about how our entire social structure is an unrecognized caste system.
My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies by Resmaa Menakem: Written by a licensed clinical social worker who explores the complex effects of racism and white privilege on all races. Provided many exercises to work through our own reactions to racial trauma.
Devil in the Grove by Gilbert King: The winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction: A historical account of how Thurgood Marshall (before he became a Supreme Court Justice) and the NAACP brought civil rights cases to courts throughout the country. It highlighted the huge legal challenges that took place to correct injustices, how fragile some of those victories were, and how it could have all gone wrong.
His Truth is Marching On by Jon Meacham: A biography of John Lewis. We were moved by his unwavering bravery and commitment to civil rights, as well as his deep Christian faith.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates: A moving account of how a young man felt about growing up Black in America, written in the form of a letter to his young son.
Dear Church, a love letter from a Black Preacher to the whitest Denomination in America (ELCA) by Lenny Duncan: A very challenging book which made us consider our own implicit racism and what our responsibility might be to address it in our church and in our neighborhoods.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett: Our only novel. It introduced the subject of colorism and what sacrifices people make to integrate into the dominant society and what it costs to leave your family behind.
I am grateful to the members of my church for sharing their experience. I’ll be picking up a couple of these titles soon.