Be Not Afraid

Friday, March 30, 2018

What a week it’s been! It seems like I’ve been saying that a lot this past year but this time there was as much sadness as joy, fear-mongering as hope for the future.

The #MarchForOurLives last Saturday was inspiring and a welcome reminder for me that the Christian holiday of Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus’ own march into Jerusalem as a direct confrontation of Roman rule where the lives of Jewish children clearly didn’t matter.

While some took to social media to challenge who was “really” behind the prophetic response of Parkland’s students, many of us asked where the similar outrage is when black lives are taken? Today’s release of an independent autopsy of Stephon Clark confirms what the #BlacksLivesMatter movement has been reminding us for almost four years: the way our society still views black lives and black bodies is infused with the bias of centuries of white privilege in a nation where we still falsely claim equality for all. It took a remarkable 11-year old girl, Naomi Wadler, to remind us once again that we are still so far from what we claim to be, (

Some will continue to attack Emma Gonzalez and the Parkland survivors as opportunists or point to Stephon Clark’s past as some sort of twisted excuse for being murdered in his grandmother’s back yard, but what I see in these events, and so many others like them, are signs of a nation that is lost and afraid.

Most of us in the U.S. claim Christianity as our religion, but over this weekend, how many of us are truly willing to head the words spoken to the first apostle, Mary Magdalene—Be Not Afraid.

It must be fear that divides us. I can’t, I won’t believe it is simply that we don’t care.

  • Why else would we stand by when a loving father, the Guatemalan born Felix Garcia, who has been living and working peacefully in the US for 23 years, is detained just as his US citizen daughter is completing her third year of medical school at IPM’s frequent Immersion Partner, Loyola Chicago, (to take action click here:
  • How could we even imagine forcibly repatriating more than 200,000 Salvadoran nationals with protected status to a country they barely know, while leaving a like number of their US citizen children behind at a time when our State Department claims it’s unsafe for US citizens to travel there?
  • How can we continue to ignore what our own policies have done to further civil war from the Congo to Syria and then refuse to accept those who come to our borders seeking asylum?

The older I get, my best guess is that it is because we don’t see—let alone feel—how our lives are connected to theirs. Perhaps we feel there is just too much evil in the world to respond. Maybe, most simply, we are afraid?

Last night I gathered with friends and colleagues from across our community to celebrate a Jewish Seder Meal and Christian Communion Service. In re-reading the Passover texts from Exodus and other sources, I’m reminded that the best of our religious holidays—Holy Thursday & Passover, Ifthar & Diwali—are not just about what we may or may not believe; but of the importance of gathering together and getting to know one another over a meal.

Clearly we can’t find a way to eat with everyone. But that doesn’t mean that at table with family, friends, and even those we barely know, we can’t come to understand what is the most essential message of IPM: that the vast majority of the world’s citizens desire the same things for their children and families that we do for ours—plentiful food, ready access to potable water, a quality education, affordable healthcare, & the right to love whom we choose.

You can travel with me on an IPM Immersion for a myriad of such meals. You can support a local food co-op or help your faith community provide more community meals for those you barely know. But do something. We all need to do something if we want to live free of fear.

When I looked at the faces of those who gathered with my children and I at the march last Saturday, when I look across the room at those commemorating Passover, when I recall breaking a fast or breaking bread on a floor India: I see eyes that gaze back deeply at mine, eyes that won’t let me go, eyes that keep me awake at night and challenge all of us to do more.

As you gather with friends and family this Holy weekend, I hope you’ll acknowledge that so few people in our world have the opportunities we do. I pray you’ll recall with Martin Luther King, that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” And perhaps most importantly, I plead with you not to see difference in a young black man murdered in Sacramento, a young woman’s pride in their Cuban heritage standing silently in front of thousands in DC, or a father detained in Georgia, but to see yourself and all you love in them.

For as we do onto them, we do to ourselves. And until we come to respect and love one another despite our difference, we will always be afraid.

Peace, Joe


My parents are retired teachers—public and parochial schools respectively. My cousin teaches in one of the most challenged districts in our nation. My daughter and her partner are in their third years with City Year and Teach for America. I’ve taught/teach at a secondary school in Rome, two denominational seminaries, and at one of the best (the best IMO!) universities in the world.

So why does that matter? Because in no case did I feel I should be packing a gun to “protect” my students. That’s what my friends in law enforcement and the military are for! I can shoot. I grew up around guns and hunters. I live in a state where deer and moose season is an annual festival. We can protect a right to bear arms while ensuring our basic human right to life.

But kids shouldn’t be allowed to carry guns to school. Those with mental illness and histories of domestic violence shouldn’t be allowed to have guns at all. And most of all, it ought to be a lot harder to buy a gun than it is to vote, drink a beer, and drive a car.

#GunsInTheWrongHandsKillPeople just as people do. But I’ll take my chances with a knife any time.

So politicians, stop prostituing yourselves to the NRA. Preachers, stop making excuses for incredibly bad behavior. Principals resist any decision to arm your teachers. Police do your job and keep guns out of the hands of those who have no reasonable right to have one. And all of us—parents, friends, people of faith—let’s be honest about what the 2nd Ammendmanet was really meant for and come together around sensible gun legislation to keep us all safe.

We owe it to the kids killed in Parkland, those massacres from a Church in Charleston to a concert in Cegas, and to all those whose whose lives have been taken by guns in the wrong hands.