2059 Miles – Reflections on the People’s Resolution from Pastor Nathan Adams

“Any immigrant who lives with you must be treated as if they were one of your citizens. You must love them as yourself, because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:34)

2,059 miles.

2,059 miles is the distance Google Maps says it is from my previous home in Miami Shores, FL to my current apartment in downtown Denver. My wife, Alicia, and I moved from Florida to Colorado this past summer so that I could serve as the Lead Pastor of Park Hill UMC. This cross-Conference appointment required us to move across the country; it was a relatively easy move and transition. It was a move not unlike millions of people make at some point in their lives.

643 miles. 1,125 miles. These are the miles respectively that Google Maps says it is to the Mexican border cities of Ciuad Juarez and Tijauna from downtown Denver. My wife and I traveled much further than anyone hailing from or traveling through these cities to reach Denver and all that our great city offers. Yet, despite this large discrepancy in distance traveled, because of where my wife and I were born, in the eyes of the United States government, our move is deemed legal and likely drew very little attention from federal authorities perhaps besides the postal service when we updated our address and recently the IRS when we filed our taxes. We were born in the United States.

Many people seeking to travel to and perhaps live in the United States through various ways in Mexico were not born in the United States. As such, if they make the journey and enter our country without prior permission from the proper authorities they are deemed to have committed a criminal act.

This hit home for me while I was attending the Western Jurisdiction’s Immigration Task Force training earlier in April in Los Angeles. We kept hearing stories about people migrating to the US. I couldn’t help but think of my own recent migration. We had been listening to several individuals share their stories of how they had made the dangerous journey by foot, train, and other means from Central American countries through Mexico and to the United States only to be detained once they entered the United States.

Their stories were powerful, painful, and sobering, but unfortunately their stories aren’t unique. In fact, I’ve heard these stories before. After all, I serve as the Lead Pastor of Park Hill UMC. For almost nine months, we have partnered with our friends at Temple Micah (whom we share a building), to offer our space as sanctuary to Araceli Velazquez. Araceli traveled from El Salvador, making the roughly 1,500 mile journey to McAllen, Texas many others have made and continue to make to seek asylum, to seek refuge, to seek help here in the United States. She was granted it temporarily until this past summer when her asylum case was denied. Since August, she has lived in the basement of Park Hill and Temple Micah in large part because she migrated to the United States for a better life, but wasn’t born here, while I migrated within the United States and have freely lived my life because I was born here.

I am fairly new to the realm of immigration work and the various implications of such. As I tell my church and larger community, we are all learning as we go. I readily admit that. I understand that laws, rules, and order are important.

However, I am not new to the love and justice that God calls us as Christians to practice. I also know that we are called to be followers and participants of God’s family and ways above and before those of others. The passage quoted above from Leviticus is one of many throughout the Bible of God’s imperative and example that we are called to love those labeled as immigrants, aliens, and outsiders as if they are one of us. By offering sanctuary to Araceli and welcoming her husband Jorge and their sons, Jorge Jr., Christopher, and Kevin, we at Park Hill UMC are trying each day to live in this manner.

Araceli, others in sanctuary, and thousands of others seeking help in and through our country need your help. First, pray. Pray for all those people seeking the same life you and I are fortunate enough to experience every day, challenges and all. If you are in the Metro Denver area, we at Park Hill and Temple Micah can always use more volunteers to help in several different ways with our sanctuary efforts with and for Araceli. You can learn more about the help that is needed by following this link: https://www.sanctuary-phumc-micah.com/volunteer.

Finally, wherever you may call home today, from wherever you might have come, but especially if you call Colorado your home, I invite you to sign the People’s Resolution. Araceli has joined the other three strong women in Colorado currently living in sanctuary, Ingrid, Sandra, and Rosa to create a resolution that asks our elected officials to help create a path for each of them and others to citizenship. You can follow the link below to read their stories, read the resolution, sign it, and take action on it. http://www.peoplesresolution.org/

I offer a special thank you to my clergy colleagues the Rev. Angie Kotzmoyer and Rabbi Adam Morris whom help our communities to live this life of love each day and to the Rev. Dr. Eric Smith, my predecessor at Park Hill UMC, who led in this work before my own migration to Denver.

No matter how many miles we have traveled to call the Mountain Sky Area our home, God loves us and implores each of us to share that love with all people no matter where they were born, what language they speak, or what borders they may have crossed whether they were in compliance with our countries laws or not. We are called to love. Love as if they are a part of us. Love as our God loves them and us as God loves us all. May we all continue to strive to do so. May all people know that they are indeed a part of us. May we know it too.

Grace and peace,

Rev. Nathan P. Adams

Tears for Gaza … Tears for Israel

Tears for Gaza … Tears for Israel
by Dalia Landau

Israel is the reality I have known since early childhood. She is my home and my mother.

At this time we are approaching Memorial Day -Yom Hazikaron-when we remember and mourn all those fallen during the wars for the creation of Israel, including attacks on Israeli civilians.

These severe wounds are fresh in the collective memory. On Yom Hazikaron at 11am, the graveyards are filled with tens of thousands of bereaved families. Mostly the fallen were young. And we all know there will be more families here next year.

This is our darkest day.

Tears for Israel who has been fighting for her life for so long.

Growing up in Ramla, all of us at school participated both in the day of grief and in the celebrations of The Day of Independence when we walked in excitement along the crowded streets, knocking each other on the head with toy hammers. In all of this, I used to feel a bit lost. There always seemed to me to be some question hanging in the air, an emptiness.. what was it? What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I just blend with the crowd?

Some years later, I began to see, the other side. I began to see that the sadness that was included for me in that most joyful of days, an emptiness that wished to be filled with a true joy, depended on the well being of those who did not participate in our joy.

What is happening on the Gaza border has shaken me to the core. Violent resistance is comparatively easy for Israel to deal with–force encountering greater force, but a relatively peaceful demonstration as was on Friday the 30th of March is much more threatening, especially when the title of the demonstrations is ‘Al Awda’–The Return. This might not have been the provocative title of the demonstrations had Gaza not been to all purposes a prison. And the prisoners say, ‘you are celebrating your independence, your prosperity your success, your 70 years of democracy whilst we are here in an economic siege without the most basic necessities or possibilities, four hours a day of electricity no clean water no employment no airport no seaport no freedom of movement. We do not have an horizon to aspire to’.  Can human beings live without aspiration?

Israel is by no means the only one responsible for this dire situation. The cruel dictatorship of Hamas internally, and its declared intentions of destroying the State of Israel are nothing new. Its use of international resources meant for civilian infrastructure for militarization and tunnels help no one. And most importantly the presence of Iran in Gaza and Syria and the link between them. There is no doubt that many young people in Gaza would find a sense of purpose, a sense of meaning to live and die for ‘The Return’ but the majority are silent victims of their own fundamentalist theocracy. How can Israel afford to do away with the blockade when Gaza would certainly become an arsenal for Iran, another fundamentalist theocracy, which buys weapons from North Korea?

What to do in this deadlock?

Empathy for ‘the enemy’ is unpopular. It is considered by many on both sides as betrayal of the national cause. It is as if to say that in a time of crisis we need to be in solidarity with our own country no matter what, especially when the world criticizes us. Therefore empathy is not encouraged or taught. On the contrary.

One observes this and feels helpless. Where to go from here?

‘A conflict cannot be resolved on the same level of consciousness in which it occurs’, observed Albert Einstein.

What I understand from his words is that when consciousness broadens, life changes.

It is a journey of a life time..

What I Did On My Sabbatical

I built an ark.

Don’t worry!  It is not the 40 days and nights of flooding kind of ark!  It is the hold-the-Torah-scroll, house-our-sacred-story kind of ark.

Before I tell you more about it, there is more to it than simply, “I spent my month off in the garage making sawdust.”

I approach my sabbatical time with gratitude, reverence and intention.  It is not vacation.  It is time that you entrust me to use to help me be a better rabbi.  For me to realize that goal, I have found that I need to spend this gift of time quite purposely to tend to my physical and spiritual well being.  It is not so easy, however, to always distinguish between the two … they integrate and flow into the other.

Our Shabbat morning service begins by honoring these ways we live and engage in the world.  One prayer acknowledges the part of us that is physical and the following prayer acknowledges part of us that is spiritual.  The one that follows lists the ‘miracles’ out there in the world we may encounter as physical/spiritual beings. With this model in mind I went about some internal and external crafting …

I designed this month of sabbatical time for some ‘inner’ crafting and ‘outer’ crafting – with the awareness of how the physical and spiritual often inhabit the same moment and place,    I carved out my mornings to focus on ‘tending to the spiritual.’  Knowing, for me, that the physicality of running, the motions of tai chi, the stretching of yoga and the breathing of mindfulness meditation would be important parts of that tending to spirit.   I had started on the ark project late last spring, and it seemed to fit into the general heading ‘tending to the physical.’ Knowing, as well, that the experience of woodworking has always been settling and grounding for that not-so-physical part of me.

Back to the ark that I was building …  Micah has two beautiful arks.  We use one that was built about 12 years ago (crafted by Cliff Whitehouse) for use in Park Hill Congregational Church’s large sanctuary.  It now resides in our Mikdash/Chapel.  Temple Micah has used our other Ark for 35 years.  When Micah sold the building it owned in 1977, they could not take the ark because it was built into the sanctuary.  So, a new ark was built by Denver craftsman, Tom Pearce, for Temple Micah.  We use it now when we use Park Hill United Methodist Church’s large sanctuary for High Holydays, B’nai Mitzvah and other heavily attended services.  Not only is this ark beautiful, but it is also big … and takes at least 3 or 4 people to move it.  When Micah lived at Park Hill Congregational Church this large ark was moved regularly for more than 2 decades from one sanctuary to the other before the 2nd ark was built for use in their large sanctuary.  The ark that resided in the PHCC’s main sanctuary had a nice little corner behind the pulpit to be stored.  When we moved to PHUMC we anticipated having a similar arrangement, but the layout and demands of the space are different.  We have had to reinstitute the the practice of moving our big, beautiful ark on and off the pulpit after each time we used the large sanctuary.

With deep appreciation for the way the large ark has served us the past 4 decades, I carefully  began designing a new ark that would work in our new space.  It needed to be an ark that would fit in the doorways and hallways of this great old building and move more easily up and down stairs and in and out of the sanctuary.

Beyond its functionality, I wanted a piece that while needing to be smaller, still felt like it was filling that large space.  The design of the doors is intended to have a sense of movement or even emanation – to address that sense of space and draw attention to the Tree of Life that emanates from within the ark.  Each side is constructed of four panels to suggest the 4 worlds or realms in which we reside, as taught by our mystic sages. I used two kinds of wood – maple and cherry – to reflect this dynamic interplay of body and soul, physical and spiritual.

The ark in any synagogue can be a safe and beautiful, practical and inspiring place to keep our Torah scrolls.  Beyond its utility to hold the scroll and artistic expression, the ark symbolizes something beyond the physical.  The ark we see in the sanctuary or Mikdash holds the physical scroll of the Jewish sacred story. . Each of these points us toward another ‘ark’ … the ‘ark’ that is the lives we craft that serve as a sacred encasement of our individual sacred stories.  The ark is not just a holy, secure and pretty place to hold the Torah scroll … it reminds us to also to honor the ‘stories’ that fill our lives.  I hope that as we use this ark to house our Torah scrolls, we will also be mindful of the sacred stories that reside in the holy ‘arks’ that we craft each and every day of our lives.