Thursday, June 26, 2014

“But how can I protect the world if I can’t kill anybody?”

Conversation with a 7-year-old boy about the myth of redemptive violence

The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade

Last night our family watched The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, a film with the brilliant young actor Asa Butterfield who plays the 8-year-old son of a Nazi commandant assigned as the director of a German concentration camp.  

He moves his wife, daughter and son with him to a heavily guarded house in the woods beyond the camp.  The son, Bruno, sees the camp from his window and thinks that it’s a farm, wondering why the farmers all wear striped pajamas.  Bored without any playmates, Bruno sneaks out of the guarded compound to explore the woods.  He comes to the far side of the camp, surrounded by electrified barbed wire, and sees a boy wearing striped pajamas crouching behind a pile of rubbish.  The boy is Schmuel, and the two strike up a conversation and form a friendship through the wire.

Bruno hears his father, mother, sister and tutor repeat the “party line” about the evil of “the Jew,” the crimes Jews commit, how they are less than human, and are responsible for the ruination of the German people.  He cannot reconcile this propaganda with the Jewish man he comes to know who works in their kitchen and heals his injured knee after a fall.  His confusion is further compounded by the friendship he has with Schmuel. 

“But not all Jews are bad are they?” Bruno asks his tutor.  “Well, if you should find a good Jew, I should think you are the greatest explorer in the world,” the tutor winks.

Without spoiling the ending of the movie, I will say that, given the foul smoke that floats over the compound periodically, it is not surprising that the movie ends with death.  Who dies and how it occurs are particularly gut-wrenching and heartbreaking.  My children melted in tears at the end of the movie.  My son, especially, had incredible difficulty accepting not only the ending of the movie, but the fact that it was a “true story,” in that the Holocaust did indeed happen, and that approximately 6 million Jews and other “undesireables” were murdered.

It was the conversation with my son at bedtime that was most disconcerting, however.  Benjamin is seven, and an avid lover of superheroes.  I try ardently to limit his screen time, boundary his “fighting games” on the computer to one day a week, and ban all toy guns from the house.  But he insists that he must learn to fight so he can “kill the bad guys and protect the good guys.”

Here is an excerpt of our dialogue after the movie:

Ben: See that’s why I have to be a superhero so I can kill the bad guys like the Nazis.

Mom: But how will you know who is really a bad guy?  Remember in the movie they kept telling Bruno that Jews were the bad guys . . . but were they really?

Ben: No.  But that’s why I will have my Spidey-sense so I can tell who the bad guys are.

Mom:  But remember, Spiderman is fiction.  The Holocaust really happened.  There weren’t any superheroes in this movie were there?

Ben:  No.

Mom:  Well, actually, you know who the superhero was?  Bruno.  He helped Schmuel by bringing him food and being his friend.  That’s what Jesus tells us to do – help those who are in need. 

Ben:  But the Nazis killed all those people!  I have to be a superhero so I can kill the bad people.

Mom:  But remember what Jesus said.  Those who live by the sword die by the sword.  Killing people is not what we’re supposed to do.

Ben:  But how am I supposed to protect the world if I can’t kill people?

Mom:  Here’s what Jesus taught us.  As soon as you kill the bad person, you know what happens?  The badness comes into you.  Killing the bad person makes you a bad person too.  Remember what happened to Jesus – he was killed by the bad guys.  But did he kill them back?

Ben:  No.

Mom:  We have to work on helping people, not killing people.

Ben:  But, Mom, you don’t understand.  I’m going to be like Peter Parker.  I’m going to kill the bad guys at night and during the day I’m going to help people.

Mom:  *Sigh* 

What do you think, dear reader?  With all my reading of Walter Wink and Martin Luther King, Jr., John Howard Yoder and William Stringfellow, it all comes down to a 7-year-old wanting to protect the world and seeing the best option as using the very violence that threatens to consume him with its lures and lies.  Pax Romana.  Pax Benjamin?  Peace through violence.  How to help an elementary-aged concrete thinker growing up in a patriarchal culture awash in the myth of redemptive violence understand the nuances of peace through creative, subversive nonviolence? I invite your suggestions.

Lutherans Call for Repeal of “Fracking Loopholes” - Press Release


Contact:       Chad W. Hershberger, Director of Communications
                    Phone:  (570) 713-5826               E-Mail:

The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade, Task Force Member
Phone:  (610) 420-6861 (cell)      E-Mail:

For Immediate Release:  June 26, 2014

Lutherans Call for Repeal of “Fracking Loopholes”

SELINSGROVE— On the recommendation of a bipartisan task group, the Upper Susquehanna Synod Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) voted on June 20, 2014, to call for all environmental and public health exemptions on shale gas and oil drilling and its related processes, known as the “Halliburton loopholes,” to be repealed and all processes related to shale gas and oil extraction and processing to be subject to the Safe Drinking Water Act (1974), the Clean Air Act (1990) and Clean Water Act (1972). 

The task force was created as a result of action taken at the Synod’s 2012 assembly directing the group to undertake a comprehensive assessment of the justice issues surrounding the natural gas industry.  The resolution came as a result of two years’ worth of research, field work, and discussion by a diverse group of individuals, appointed by The Rev. Bishop Robert L. Driesen, representing opposing viewpoints on the issue of hydro-fracking.

“Our task force was made up of scientists, professors, pastors, teachers, and lay leaders in the church, as well as individuals who actually work in the shale gas industry or are supportive of it.  Some of us would like to see a total ban on fracking.  Others think it can be done safely with proper regulation.  The fact that we were able to come to the table and engage in civil, bipartisan moral deliberation about this issue and offer a recommendation for the larger church is very important,” said The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade, member of the task force.  “At the very least we could agree that the loopholes created for the industry exempting it from the established laws protecting our water, air and public health are unjust and need to be repealed,” Schade said.

Schade noted that this task force provides a model to other religious bodies as well as civil society for bringing people together across ideological lines to engage in robust ethical debate about controversial issues and arrive at some consensus for the common good.

The task force also provided a report that offered guidelines for approaching shale gas and oil drilling based on biblical and Lutheran theological values, as well as materials and resources to help people understand and interpret the abundance of information about the shale gas and oil industry, pro and con, that continues to grow and change almost daily.  Those resources can be found at

A copy of the task force’s final report and resolutions will be sent to the Secretary of the US Department of Energy and the Director of the US Environmental Protection Agency, the PA Department of Environmental Protection, local elected officials, Governor Corbett, and other ELCA Synods within the Marcellus and Utica Shale region.

The Upper Susquehanna Synod, headquartered in Lewisburg, PA, is one of 65 synods of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  The synod is made up of 130 congregations in Clinton, Columbia, Juniata, Lycoming, Mifflin, Montour, Northumberland, Snyder, Tioga and Union Counties.  For more information on the synod and its congregations, visit

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sermon: La Lengua de Dios (The Language of God)

Pentecost Sunday
United in Christ Lutheran Church, Lewisburg, PA
The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade, PhD
Text:  Acts 2

When is the last time you encountered someone who spoke a different language from you?  It happened to me just this past week.  It was my turn to work the concession stand at my son’s baseball game.  Two other people were there.  One was Nick who was working the grill.  The other was Maria, who spoke with a Hispanic accent.  The two of them had worked together before and had a teasing rapport between them.  He would pronounce her name with an exaggerated accent, or sing her name with the notes of West Side Story’s “Maria.”  And she would laugh and tease him right back.  At one point she called him loco, which means “crazy.”  He said, “I’m just a little crazy.  How do you say that in Spanish.”  I offered:  “Locito?”  Maria turned and looked at me with wide eyes.  “Hablas Espanol?”  Do you speak Spanish?  I said, “Un poco, un poco.”  Just a little.  I had taken Spanish in high school and college and remembered just a little from those days.
The rest of the evening we tossed around different words, Spanish and English.  Nick would ask, “How do you say French Fries in Spanish?”  I said “Fritas?”  Maria corrected me:  papas fritas.  Fried potatoes.  I learned that Maria was from the Dominican Republic and how she came to be in our country with her three boys.  Even though my son and hers were on different teams, we cheered for them. Whether they hit the ball, struck out, caught the pop fly or missed the ball, they heard us cheering for them in English and Spanish. 

I can just imagine how it must have felt for the pilgrims gathered in Jerusalem for the Jewish festival of Shavuot, commemorating the giving of the Law on Sinai to the people of Israel, each of them speaking their own foreign language and coming into the city hearing this cacophony of languages.  It must have been very disconcerting for them, the way it must have been for Maria and her family when they first came to America.  Coming through the airport hearing not just English, but so many other languages, not knowing where to go or what to do, until they found someone who spoke un poco, just a little Spanish to help them find their way.

Imagine being one of those pilgrims coming to Jerusalem where the official language would have been Hebrew or Aramaic, and with all those foreigners, it would have been very confusing.  But then they saw a gathering of people with tongues of fire over their heads, and a wind blowing all around them.  They couldn’t figure out what is going on until they heard one of those men speaking their language and their ears perked up.  And they listened to the disciple talk about Jesus, Jesus, Jesu Criste, and the love of God.  What a wonderful feeling it must have been to go from being discombobulated in this foreign land to hearing someone who spoke their language. 
I had an interesting discussion with a friend of mine this week about the ongoing debate in this country on whether immigrants wanting citizenship should be required to know the English language.  There are good arguments on both sides of the issue.  Some say we should respect the culture and language of the immigrant and let them speak their own language.  Others say that because English is the official language, they should be required to demonstrate a basic level of proficiency before being granted citizenship so that they can function as citizens in this country.  I don’t claim to have proficiency in that area of government policy, nor do I have an answer to that ongoing debate.  But here is what I do know:  in God’s neighborhood there is no language requirement.  The miracle of Pentecost is not that the Holy Spirit enabled everyone to speak one official language, but that the disciples were given the ability to speak in a language other than their own.  They were able to make a connection with someone with whom they would never have made a connection otherwise. 

We have so many different languages in our world today.  There are approximately 6900 languages—nearly 7000 ways to proclaim God’s love in this world!  These are all ways that we can be proclaiming God’s love for people in a language other than our own.  And where did all these languages come from?  Remember the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis Chapter 11, how humanity had become so proud and arrogant that they tried to build a tower up to the heavens.  And they all spoke one language.  Apparently there is something about having one language that leads a nation to feel superior, to lose their sense of humility before God, so much so that God confused the language of that civilization and scattered them across the face of the earth.
Isn’t it interesting that apparently God thinks it’s a good thing that there are different languages among human beings?

Have you ever tried to learn another language, taken a course in school or online?  It is quite a humbling experience.  You feel awkward and silly when you try to say these words that feel so different on your tongue.  If you’ve ever encountered someone who speaks a language other than your own and you make the effort to try to communicate with them, it takes a certain level of humility and humbleness to put your security in your language aside and say, I want to try to talk to you and listen to you on your terms.  I want to learn how they say things, how they put their thoughts together, how they experience the world and how they express themselves.  When you learn how another person speaks, you start to learn how they think; you open your mind to another way of viewing the world.  It takes a lot of effort, but when you humble yourself and try to learn un poco, just a little of another language, it tells the other person, I honor who you are.  I honor who you are as a Child of God.  And I honor God by trying to learn un poco, just a little of your language. 

When Peter talks to that crowd of 3000 gathered on the day of Pentecost, he quotes the prophet Joel in saying, “Your young people will see visions and your elders will dream dreams,” as an indication that the Holy Spirit has come upon the people.  This week I posed the question on Facebook if anyone has had any dreams or visions for our church.   Kathy Guffey shared with me a dream she had a few weeks ago.  She was in our church on a Sunday morning, and the sanctuary was packed with people.  The pews were so full that people had to stand in the aisles.  In her dream, it wasn’t a special occasion like a funeral or a wedding or a holiday.  It was just a normal Sunday morning.  But she said she looked around with her jaw dropped, just amazed that so many people were at church. 

As a pastor, I got very excited that maybe the day is coming when this dream becomes reality.  But as I was reading this text from Acts, it reminded me that if God were to bless our church with that kind of Pentecost moment, it would mean that there would be people in this sanctuary who look different than us, have a different skin color, speak a different language. When that time comes in our church, it will mean that things are changing and I will have to converse with someone who comes from a different family than I do, or a different country than I do.  I began to ask myself, are we as a church ready for that vision to become a reality in this congregation?

I’d like you to ask yourself that same question this coming week:  Are we ready for the Holy Spirit to come into our church and ask us to be welcoming in a new way?  I’ve often thought that if churches really want to grow, they should determine what is the language—other than English—that is most commonly spoken in the community.  And then offer classes for their members to learn that language, so that they can, like the disciples at Pentecost, be able to speak in la lengua de Dios, the language of God. 
There is something about la lengua de Dios that translates into all other languages.  Don’t be surprised if, in the coming weeks and months, you start to encounter people who want to know God, who are seeking Jesus, who want to encounter the Holy Spirit, and come to you, perhaps completely by surprise, and ask, in essence, Hables la lengua de Dios?  Do you speak the language of God?  And if that happens, you’ll be able to say un poco, just a little.

That’s all it takes – a little flame, a little courage, a little spark of welcomeness, a little bit of humility, a little breath of the Holy Spirit, and a little heart open to the greatness of God who has a vision of God’s entire neighborhood filling our churches in love to speak la lengua de Dios.  Amen.