Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Remembering the Romani Revolt; Philippians 1:1-11


Rev. George Miller

May 22, 2022

Philippians 1:1-11


Today concludes our “Unknown Trilogy.”  It began May 1 with the unnamed girl who was enslaved, continued with Paul’s comment about the unknown God, and ends with a letter Paul wrote from an unknown jail.


During this Unknown Trilogy, we learned more about the history of Haiti, America, and 4 women who reshaped half of the world.


Last year’s Haitian Flag Day inspired me to investigate my own ancestry.  There’s German, Hungarian, Scottish, Romanian, possibly gypsy and Jew.


While doing research, I came across something that’s filled my spirit with great pride- the Romanian Resistance, which took place May 16, 1944. 


Here’s their story- In 1939 the Nazis deported all Sintis and Romanians from the Third Reich.


In 1942 the Zigeunerlager Camp was set up, with 6,000 children, women and men imprisoned together.


On May 15, 1944 they received word that the Nazis were coming to execute them all in the morning. 


600 of the prisoners broke into an equipment shed, arming themselves with hammers, pickaxes, shovels; dismantling their bunkbeds to create weapons.


On May 16 the Nazis came with automatic rifles, but the 600 had barricaded themselves, ready to fight, with pipes, sheet metal, rocks.


Though some were shot, on that day, not a single child, woman or man died.


This act troubled the Nazis so much that they feared a prison-wide revolt.


3 months later, half of the Romanians were sent to another camp; the remaining 3,000 were gassed to death.


This courageous revolt of May 16, 1944 is not the only time a camp fought back.  On Oct 17, a 14 and 19 year old girl organized a revolt, sneaking out gunpower in sardine cans.  This fight for life and what is right would become known as the Romani Resistance Day.


No doubt the Tigress of Haiti and the elderly Marie Sainte De’Dee’ Bazile would be smiling.


No doubt Judith, Shiphrah, Puah would’ve been proud.


It is an honor to share this story.  This is the blood that runs through my veins; there may be a cousin, an uncle who was amongst the 600.


It’s empowering to know this story, and to tell this story.


It means I come from a people who in the name of life and humanity will take apart their furniture and fight to the death for what is right.


How empowering to know this tale, this piece of largely unknown history.


No wonder there are those in power who don’t want full, uncensored history taught in the classroom.


Imagine if we taught girls that they could’ve been Lieutenants in Haiti.


Imagine if we told oppressed or bullied boys that they can be their own superhero, dismantling their bed and fighting the enemy.


We like to say that “Freedom Isn’t Free”, but what if we taught that “Freedom is Achievable by Anyone”?


That’s part of what we witness in today’s reading, a letter written by Paul during a challenging time in his ministry. 


Paul is in jail.  We don’t know where, when or why, but we know that Paul has been so busy turning society upside down that he’s been locked up.


The authorities, government, religious leaders, money makers, enslavers, all think they can put an end to Paul.


They think they can silence his voice, negate his influence by locking him away.


They assume they can kill his joy, extinguish his light. 


But since Paul is a man of the Word, and in the beginning was the Word, as long as Paul can speak, mime, write, draw, sing-


he is going to make that Word known.


And make known, Paul does.


Today’s letter is written by Paul to the people of Phillippi while in jail. 


You’d expect such a letter to be a downer, sad.  Instead it’s filled with joy- “Grace to you and peace- I thank my God every time I remember you.”


Paul goes on to say that he is using this time to let the imperial guard, wardens and inmates know about Jesus.


Holy heck!  Who is this man! 


Others would say “Shoot, I’m in jail.”


Paul looks around and says “Aha!  I have a captive audience” and away he goes, sharing the Good News, talking about grace, exalting Christ.


There’s something whimsical about today’s reading. 


We’re not making light of his situation or suggesting that we should all act the same way, but here we have one of the founding Father’s of our faith, who is faced with a loss of freedom, and we witness what he does about it.


In Haiti, Sainte Belair saw the loss of freedom for her people, so she joined the army, shouting “Liberty!” with her dying breath.


The Romanians experienced a complete loss of freedom and used whatever they could- shovels, hammers, bunkbeds.


In some unknown place, Paul experienced a complete lack of freedom, and he used it as a time to share Christ with others and offer them freedom, if only in their soul.


Just like Judith, Martha, and Mary, we can now add Paul to the list of our spiritual ancestors we can look too, we can emulate, we can call our own.


Paul becomes one of our spiritual fathers who reminds us how powerful our words are;

how what we say and how we act does matter;

how sometimes our faith is the only thing that gets us through.


Now, we don’t know if Paul felt this joyful, this peaceful all the time.  There were probably hours, days, weeks, where his situation took a toll.  We will never know.


What we do know is that Paul shows us that when we do what is right, we do what is good, Christ is made known.


Paul shows us that in Christ there is a way to be free, a way to be complete, a way to be whole.


There are days the world will try to stop us.  There are days we will feel that situations have gotten us down. 


Paul’s faith, his words, his letter from 2,000 years ago empower us to discern-


How can we face the things that seem unfaceable?


How can we react when the world wants us sequestered away?


How do we find an ounce of freedom even if it looks like we are not free?


What does liberty in Christ really look like?


Sunday, May 15, 2022

Long Live Haiti; Long Live Liberty- Acts 17 16-31


Rev. George Miller

May 15, 2022

Acts 17:16-31; Haitian Flag Day


There is a unique thread that runs through our readings from the past 2 weeks- the unknown.


Last Sunday we met a girl who was enslaved, yet we never got to know her name.


Today, Paul talks about an unknown God, empowering people to realize that there are things that greatly affect them, even if they aren’t aware of it.


In other words, we’ll never know the name of the girl who was enslaved, but her existence affected the life and ministry of the disciples.


The people in today’s reading may not know who the unknown god is, yet they know enough that there is a God.


Just as we may never truly know how a pagan priestess,

a seamstress,

an old woman living with mental illness, and

a 21-year-old female lieutenant

shaped history,

but we’re about to find out.


These are 4 women who played a role in the Independence of Haiti, and unlike the enslaved girl in last week’s reading, their names are remembered.


Cecile Fatima; Marie Sainte Dee Bazile;

Catherine Flon; Suzanne Sanite Belair.


Today we celebrate Haitian Flag Day with our Sister-In-Christ, Carnide.  We celebrate the red and blue because Haiti’s history is our history too.


Columbus landed in Haiti in 1492, a mountainous area the size of Maryland.  By the 17th Century, all the Indigenous people were killed off.


Just as the enslaved girl in last week’s reading was exploited, enslaved women and men from West Africa were brought over by the French to endure harsh, forced labor.


By 1789 there were 556,000 enslaved people from Africa.  There were 24,000 free individuals of mixed race, and 32,000 European colonists- a few were considered the rich elite; the rest were overseers and peasants.


In 1791 a perfect storm came together.  The peasants were tired of being poor.  Those of mixed race sought equality.  The enslaved wanted freedom. 


War began.  So costly was this war that Napolean had to sell the Louisiana Territory to America, doubling our nation’s size:  Louisiana, Arkansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma,

Kansas, Minnesota, the Dakotas, Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana.


By 1803 the revolution was won, a newly constructed flag was marched out in the public square for all to see, and the nation was restored to its original Indigenous name- Haiti.


How did Haiti get there?  Who are the women who played a part in Her-Story.


There’s Cecile Fatima, a priestess who played a part in starting the revolution.  Supposedly the daughter of a Prince, she led a religious ceremony that prophesied the fall of the enemy.


Catherin Flon, a seamstress with her own business.  Her godfather was the leader of the revolt.  When victory was imminent, he cut the French flag in half, and from those scraps she created the Haitian flag.


Marie Sainte Dee Bazile was an elderly woman living with mental illness, most likely stemming from being raped at 18 by her master.


When Flon’s godfather was killed by the enemy, his body was left in the public square to be desecrated.


Marie walked into the violent crowd, her eyes serene. She picked up his body, carried him into the center of the cemetery where he was buried by soldiers.


Then there is Suzanne Sainte Belair, a free woman born of mixed heritage; she chose to fight in the Revolution. 


At 15 she married the Brigade Commander.  For 6 years they fought side by side, as equals.  She was promoted to Sergeant than Lieutenant.


One day, they were chased by the French army, and she was caught.  Her husband willingly handed himself in so they would not be separated.


Both Suzanne and her husband were given the death sentence.  Infront of a crowd of slaves, forced to watch lest they get any ideas, he was shot.


Because she was a woman, seen unworthy of being executed by gunfire, Suzanne was decapitated.


She refused to wear a blindfold.


Infront of that crowd of enslaved sisters and brothers, her last words were “Liberty!  No to slavery!”


At 21 she died.


At 21, Suzanne Sanite Belair, a freed woman, was willing to die than to see her people oppressed.


Though the French had intended her death to scare, this brave woman who had been fighting for 6 years said “Long live freedom!  No to slavery!”


Overtime she became known as the Tigress of Haiti.


Thank God we now her name.


Because now she joins the ranks of other heroes like Judith, Shiphrah, Puah, Mary, Martha, Esther,


who show us how to subvert,

how to act for what’s just,

how to maintain dignity,

how to stand for what’s right even when surrounded by what is wrong.


No wonder current state leaders don’t want history taught in school.


Imagine if Haitian Flag Day was taught in America, and all of those living in Louisiana, Arkansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, Minnesota, the Dakotas, Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana got to know just how they came to be Americans.


Imagine how powerful it would be for our young daughters, nieces, and granddaughters growing up to know that someone of a different faith can be welcome into her nation’s legacy.


How powerful to know that women had businesses for centuries and the work of their hands influence history.


How powerful to know that someone living with an aging body or someone living with mental health related issues can and do matter and make a difference.


How an elder person can courageously enter an angry crowd, carry the weight of the world upon her shoulders, and inspire soldiers to show respect.


How powerful it is to know that when given the chance to live a life of blind freedom, a teenage girl chose to open her eyes, and fight for what was right.


When faced with assured death, she did so with grace and the words “Freedom.  No to slavery.”


Inspired by Paul, we could say that in all of these acts, we see the activity of God even though God is not mentioned.


In these acts, we catch gimmers of how the God of justice and humility moves. 


In each of these stories we see that it is not just the men or the young or the most fit or those of the right religion who make the biggest difference,


that God has a way to move through all of us, in many styles and vessels.  Gentile, old, young, slave, free. 


So as our Haitian Sisters and Brothers prepare for Haitian Flag Day,


as gather their outfits, polish the flag poles, sweep the highway, practice their dances, let us also celebrate.


As Haiti’s children throughout the world sing out in joy, we are joyful too, because freedom is freedom is freedom.


And when there is freedom- there is GOD. 


Love live Haiti.

          Long live America.

                   Long live Liberty.



Sunday, May 8, 2022

She Has A Name; Acts:16-34


Rev. George Miller

May 8, 2022

Acts 16:16-34


Last week I was blessed with the chance to spend time on the east coast, visiting Jack and Donna, seeing Eli, meeting with Neal Watkins from the FL Conference.


One morning, I sat outside on the balcony of the hotel, which offered a view of the Fort Pierce inlet. 


The balcony had a railing around it, keeping me safe, but the posts blocked the full panoramic splendor. 


The only way to fully appreciate and see what was before me was to stand up or to walk to the shore.


All those rails set in place to ensure I was safe, yet unable to fully see.


I mention this, because today we celebrate Mother’s Day with a question “Do we really see our Mothers and the women in our lives?”


Sure, our eyes may see, but do we really see them?


Throughout history we have seen mothers play many roles, keeping family and children safe, secure.


Medic, teacher, gardener.  Financial planner, household manager, travel agent, and dating consultant.


Mom’s have been seen as chef, chauffeur, and cheerleader.


When chaos erupts in the family, Mom can be the judge, jury, defendant and prosecutor, all at the same time.


But when is Mom ever seen as…. Carol, Anna or Margie? 


When are all those rails removed, and Mom is seen as Harriet, Grace, and Maureen?


As Moms are busy momm-ing, when do they just get to be Diane, Nancy, Carnide, and Roxie?


We love to romanticize Moms and motherhood, but when do we actually see the panoramic view of the whole person-


Their weaknesses, their strengths, their quirks, their hopes, desires, passions, and future possibilities?


There is always a danger when we remove a name or only use a title, because it can detract from seeing the fullness of the person before us.


Case in point- today’s reading.  We have Paul and Silas in Philippi.  One day a girl who is enslaved follows them, shouting and crying out.


This enslaved female has the gift of fortune telling, which her owners use as an opportunity to make lots of cash. 


After a few days of this young person shouting, following the men, Paul is annoyed, turns to the girl and says to the spirit within her “Enough!  I order you in the name of Jesus to come out.”


And the spirit does.  Great news, we can think.  Just like the blind man made to see, a healing has come upon this enslaved individual.


Surely this is a sign worth celebrating, a glorious feat to recall and share with our daughters’ daughters.


But…did you notice something?  Once the spirit leaves the girl, we never hear from her or about her again.


Poof!  It’s like she vanished.  We have no scene of her giving thanks or sharing the good news.  Unlike the men healed in John, we have no follow up to what she says or does.


She starts as a nameless female whose sole purpose is to serve, and not just to her owners, but to the author of Acts as well.


It breaks my heart to say this, but Acts treats her just as much as a prop as her owners do, so when she no longer serves the narrative, she’s dismissed.


I see this as a major flaw of Chapter 16.  All the focus is placed on Paul and Silas, but they are like the rails on the balcony, blocking a full look at what could’ve been a more beautiful view.


Who is this girl?  What is HER name?  Surely, she had a name.  What if the author had told us her name?


What if we were told her name was Mary Alice, Victoria, or Madeline?


Where did she and her people come from?  Ethiopia, Syria, Greece?


What were her dreams, aspirations?


What became of her after this life changing experience that took place in the name of Christ? Was it for the better, the worse? 


We will never know, because the truth is, that this enslaved girl was seen as a thing, an object, even by the author.


But we know she was not a thing. 


We know she was not an item, or a product you can purchase.


She was a person.  She IS a person.


And as a person, she is a living Child Of God.  As all of us are.


Here-in lies one of the big issues we are facing right now- the stripping of names, and seeing people only in terms of objects, things, groups.


When we call someone by their name, we give them individuality, personhood, full Citizenship in the Kingdom of God.


But what happens when we hate, or are scared, mad or full of fear?


We strip the person’s name and go right for the group, the title, the thing.


We see this in today’s discourse of democrats and republicans, with all the crass nicknames we create on social media for those we dislike.


We see this in the name of people seeking a home in America.  Legal, Illegal, documented, undocumented.


We see this in Florida’s Battle with Disney World.  All of a sudden, they are “the company from Burbank.”


We’ve seen this with folks being called a northerner, southerner, poor white trash, welfare queen or snowbird.


All these things create bars in which we no longer get a full view of who that person is, what’s their story or what is their name.


It’s harder to hate or hurt someone when you know their Momma gave them a name.


So in conclusion, we are going to leave the Biblical narrative right here. 


Paul and Silas are fine.  They’ll have many more adventures to be talked about.


But today, and for the next 4 weeks, let’s see if we can remove some of those bars, if we can better look at the people we encounter,


especially those who have no name, those who may be treated as an object, those who have been waiting for a second look.


The young girl, just like all our Mothers, just like all the women here today, has a story to be heard, and as a Child of God, hers is a story worth knowing.


Are we willing to pause, look, and to really, truly see?