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Home arrow Blog arrow January 2009 arrow January 20, 2009

January 20, 2009
WAWA Blog January 20, 2009: In Honor of King and with Hope for Change: Part II

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Khaled erupted. “I wonder if Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol ever read Micah. I read that when he was told by his generals that the IDF was the greatest army since King David, he became ecstatic! I cannot understand why the American government is ignoring the situation in my homeland, when, in 1956, the US demanded Israel withdraw from the Sinai Desert back to the international border after only three months. The Six Day War was a year ago, and no such demands were made.

"They have turned a blind eye to the destruction of Palestinian towns, and I cannot believe America has not stood up to the Israelis. Not a word of condemnation about the massive building projects in the West Bank, Sinai, Eastern Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights! Not a word that Palestinians are still living in refugee camps, and their homes and olive groves have been plowed over!

"Why doesn’t America demand equally just treatment for Palestinians, too? Yes, yes, yes, America is focused on Vietnam. Now we mourn Martin Luther King in America, and I mourn the lack of justice in my homeland.”

Art violently snuffed out his cigarette and boomed, “Look, the situation is untenable. We got nowhere discussing this last night, and you cannot forget what my people, my very family, suffered beyond belief from the Nazis! You cannot compare the two! Then, we must endure the inflammatory rhetoric to ‘push the Jews into the sea!’ Why, of course we believed another Holocaust was about to happen. How can you blame us after all we have suffered while the world remained mute? Nobody spoke out to protect us when the Nazis were exterminating us in ovens. My God! How can you blame us for attacking first? Anyone would have, if they had suffered as my people have. How can you blame us for attacking first?”

Khaled kindly replied, “Of course, we all deeply regret the atrocities that were inflicted upon the Jewish people. But that pain should not be used as a reason to inflict pain on others.”

Riad shook his head, removed his thick-lens, thin wire-rimmed spectacles and rubbed his myopic eyes. “Yes, we all agree and we must be sensitive to the suffering the Jewish people have endured throughout history. I was in Egypt when the UN forces stationed on the Egyptian-Israeli border left, and what happened next? The Egyptians blockaded the Straits of Tiran and cut off Israeli shipping access to the Port of Eliat. Such infantile behavior from world leaders! It’s always about control and keeping power. If I were Irish, it would certainly get my Irish up!”

Jack and Riad shared a smile as Art erupted. “Yes, Khaled, it is true that just a few weeks after that blockade, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq signed a mutual defense agreement designed to facilitate a combined attack on Israel. They want to obliterate Israel! You see, Khaled, Israel had no choice but to attack first!”

Khaled was miserable. “I read that President Johnson was asked to intervene, but I am sad. Vietnam preoccupies this country. I am sad about many things. It was only seven years ago in his farewell address that President Eisenhower warned the American people to beware of the military-industrial complex. He warned us of the danger of becoming dependent on the manufacturing of weapons to stimulate our economy. It was a year ago that Martin Luther King warned us that ‘any nation, who, year after year, spends more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.’10 What I see going on in the world is that everyone seems to believe that stockpiling weapons will ensure peace and provide many jobs. This is false security, and sows the seeds that war is the way to peace.”

Riad rubbed his gleaming dome and looked directly at Art. “The Jewish people have been threatened throughout their entire history. It is understandable they are paranoid. It is justified! But, that does not justify them treating others unjustly. The Israeli nation is surrounded by refugee camps--refugee camps filled with indigenous Palestinians who were forced off their land by threat of their own holocaust. Poor leadership on all sides brings us to this place in time. The horrors and injustice of the Holocaust are still fresh in Jewish minds. It should remain fresh within all our minds. We should never forget the injustice of the Holocaust. We should never forget that man’s inhumanity to man was able to proliferate because good people did nothing. The nations of the world turned a blind eye to the pain and injustice the Jewish people suffered until too many had died. Now, the Palestinians are being ignored by the world and are fighting back in ways that will not help their cause. Injustice must always be confronted and be withstood by peaceful means. When will this be understood?”

“Get real, Riad. The PLO wants to wipe us out! But God is on our side. After all, we won the war in only six days! The Arab nations received a left to the liver by Israeli’s pre-emptive strike, and now we control the Sinai, Gaza Strip, Suez Canal in Egypt, West Bank, and East Jerusalem. The entire city of Jerusalem is under Israeli control! Surely you see the hand of God in this?”

Khaled was steaming, while Riad gently spoke. “I know you do, Art, but I see a different side. Superior military force, and the fact that Israel was supplied with American intelligence and knew exactly where to strike, won it. Eighteen thousand Arab soldiers died, and Palestinian refugees continue to be ignored. By her silence, America has legitimized the Israeli victory, and I fear ahead of us will be more injustice, death, and destruction. Last December, George Habash founded the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. It is a terrorist organization inspired by communism. Each side ups the ante with more death and destruction. When will it ever be enough?”

Art sighed deeply and offered, “You are right, Riad; when will it be enough? The Torah teaches that everyone is a part of God and created in the divine image. We can even agree with Jesus that the greatest command is that we love God with our whole hearts, souls, minds, and strength. I suppose, if everyone did that, it would be a perfect world. You know I love you, man, but I have got to hit the road. Sylvia and I are flying back home to Iowa City tonight, but we will definitely see you soon in sunny Florida.”

While Khaled and Mary escorted Art to his car, Jack turned to Riad and enquired, “What religion are you?”

Riad smiled cryptically as he sighed, “Child, I am a student of all; my mind is open to the wisdom of every tradition, and I am still exploring. May I ask you, Jack, if you agree that we are all flawed, imperfect beings? Do you believe we all come from the same source, and we will return to that source when this journey is through? Can you entertain the thought that this life just might, in fact, be a dress rehearsal for the next? Do you agree that we all hear the message of the good news, limited by our own spiritual, intellectual, and psychological capacities?”

Jack’s eyes had become more dazzling than emeralds, and Riad laughed from his gut. “Jack, I must be careful with you. It is with patience we are to run the race set before us. Hmmm, I sense you would like to hear about the stages of the soul, no?”

“Riad, you are some kind of strange, but please, go on.”

Riad sweetly intoned, “Ah, Jack, I will not argue with you, and I joyfully share with you that the spiritual journey is fluid, not static. One may pass back and forth through any of the four, and maybe more, stages of the soul in one’s journey.11  Stage one is essentially our infancy in the spiritual life. Like a wild child, a person in this stage reflects the inner chaotic and anti-social, unregenerate soul that is interested only in its own self-satisfaction and ego. Stage one people may claim to love others, but their behavior proves that they love their own pleasure, money, power, prestige, and security above any other. For stage one people, it really is all about them.

“The good news is that God is already within us, so the vast majority of humanity responds to that inner tug and seeks God, entering stage two. These folks live virtuous lives and do many good works. They also can be rigid, fundamental, and legalistic. They adhere to a higher human authority than themselves for guidance. They submit to institutions, scripture, dogma, ritual, ministers, or gurus. This is the most appropriate stage for older children and most adults. A difference between stages one and two is that a stage one person wouldn’t even notice a neighbor in need, while a stage two person has awoken to the fact that we are to be our neighbors’ keepers.

“Now, stage three souls have awakened to the realization that one’s neighbor is everyone on the planet, and not just those who think and look alike. Stages threes are seekers, doubters, skeptics, and may even become atheists or agnostics. They will study philosophy and other religions, and often become activists for social justice and reform.

“Then there is stage four, which is the way of the mystic. A mystic can be understood as one in love with the divine mystery, and one who is aware of the unity of all creation. They have gone beyond their concepts of God to an intuitive comprehension of the divine in all creation. They are awake to the action of God within themselves and others. Saint Francis, the leper kisser of Assisi, was a mystic--head over heels in love with God, in everyone and all creation. Many thought him nuts, or at least, eccentric. The mystic realizes the connections and unity of all beings, places, situations, past, present, and future. This person has traveled beyond their concept of God, not by personal effort, but in response to the invitation of the Mystery we call God, for lack of a better word.

“Now, Jack, you have a very wild look in your eyes; I hope I have not disturbed you too much. Please, understand that it would be violence upon a soul to rush the work of God. A stage one or two should remain that way until God beckons them on.”

Mary and Khaled had returned to the kitchen just as Jack’s eyes bored into Raid's, and his voice cracked, “You know, Mr. Riad, I’d like to tell you why I tuned out the institutional church. Up until I was about eight years old, every Sunday morning was spent standing in a glass-encased room that was called, and literally was, the cry room. I would stand at the soundproof glass and watch this show on the other side. My brother Mike was an altar boy. I’d make faces at him, hoping to crack him up, but he never looked my way. Every so often, I’d hear the priest’s voice filter through the loudspeaker above my head. But it was all Latin to me: and back then, it really was! I see myself now, just as I was: surrounded by squirming kids and uptight adults, engulfed by the sounds of crying and whining, and I truly believed that was church. Once my younger siblings had grown, we got to be in the main room. It was ok.

“But when I turned fifteen in 1963, three things occurred. By Thanksgiving that year, I was overfilled with images of JFK being shot and John-John during that motorcade. I still can’t get that little guy in his short coat with his knees exposed out of my head. He saluted as the casket rode by, but nobody knew why it had to be that way. And life as I had known it all changed. But God is good, and three months later, the gloom had gone. For the Beatles appeared on a Sunday night in my living room, and the world as I had known it was never the same. Recently, John Lennon made a comment to a reporter that the Beatles were more popular with my generation than Jesus, and he was right on. My friends and I know every lyric to every Beatles song, but nobody ever quotes Jesus.

“Lennon made me think about my own hypocrisy, and that led me to drop the church. It happened at weekly confession; there I was at the altar, on my knees and mindlessly repeating the same old prayers as the week before. But on that day, it was for the last time. In the middle of the three Our Fathers and ten Hail Mary's, it hit me like a light. These words that I uttered never changed anything, and I got up and walked out for the very last time. But now, I understand; I’m just a stage one! The thing is, you have given me a lot to think about. Maybe I was just born into the wrong faith?”

Ahmad smiled even wider and exclaimed, “Jack, a Hindu would advise you to follow the path you have been born into. Seek God in your family tradition. Seek where you have been placed. If, after you truly seek God there, you do not find him, then go seek him wherever he leads. Now, have you heard what Gandhi said about Christianity, Jack? He said that it was a most excellent religion; they should all try it.”

“Too bad Gandhi wasn’t there during the Crusades! Those barbarians tortured and burned people at the stake! What kind of Christian could rationalize that? So much hypocrisy! I will not give my soul over to another. No institution is going to control me!” Jack announced triumphantly, and then continued, “My best bud Al is a Jew, and we both have tuned out what our elders have offered—too many rules! Besides, I think Christians can be real cowards, or else they were sleeping while Hitler was gaining power. I hate to think it, but maybe it was because they are anti-Semitic?”

Riad interrupted, “I won’t comment on that, but in 1965, the Second Vatican Council issued a declaration on the relationship of the church to non-Christian religions, condemning anti-Semitism, and recognizing ‘the bond that spiritually ties the people of the New Covenant to Abraham’s stock.’12 Now, I realize nineteen centuries of anti-Semitism and some very unholy behavior will not erase the sins of the fathers, but with this new revelation begins the healing. Hope emerges every time a wrong has been admitted and corrected.”

Art had returned unnoticed and had silently stood in the doorway until Riad finished and then softly spoke. “Excuse me. The book Sylvia had been reading to me while we traveled--it’s a collection of Einstein’s essays. I was driving down your street when a white cat darted in front of me, and I hit the brakes. The book fell on the floor, and that cat flew up a tree and sat, and just stared down at me with his icy blue eyes. The book fell open to ‘The Calling of The Jews.’

"I quote: ‘This is a time when there seems to be a particular need for men of philosophical persuasion—that is to say, friends of wisdom and truth—to join together…We Jews should be, and remain, the carriers and patrons of spiritual values. But we should also always be aware of the fact that these spiritual values are and always have been the common goal of mankind.’13 Einstein’s advice should be heeded by all men of good will. But it seems to me that we all can claim to do God’s will, and yet we all can too easily justify unjust behavior.”

The Muslim and the Jew locked eyes, and tears welled up from within them both, and then overflowed at the same time. After a time of timelessness, Riad softly spoke. “I offer you Thomas saying forty-eight, and I quote: ‘Jesus said, “If two make peace with each other in a single house, they will say to the mountain, ‘move from here’, and it will be done.’”14

Art exhaled smoke as he spoke directly to Khaled. “I just flashed onto another memory about how you came to be the owner of a ’41 Pontiac with a dent in the side door that--”

”Oh, no, Art, you can’t tell that one without me first laying the foundation. I remember it well. Jack, did I tell you that my friend here, Art Pearlman, hired me while I was still in college? Right on the spot and he never regretted it. Art was the director of the assistant-engineer-in-training program at the John Deere Company, and supervised with an iron hand and warm heart. While still a sophomore at State University of Iowa, I was promoted after four months on the job to be Art’s right-hand man. We had become like brothers! Jack, remember when I told you about Gloria breaking my heart? Yes, well, Art watched me brood the entire week after we broke up, and he refused to allow me to keep my broken heart to myself!”

Art grinned and continued, “It was unbearable. I said, ‘enough with the stony silence; you look like you are ready to explode. It’s been a long, hard week. Let’s knock off early and grab a beer. You haven’t said a word all week—no jokes, no smiles. Who died? What happened with you?’ Oh, how you sighed and moaned as you related your tale of woe. I can still hear you whine, ‘I have decided I will never get married unless I marry a girl from my own culture. And here in Iowa, I have not met any!’ You cried in your beer, and then I suggested you forget about marriage, have some fun, and date some of those beautiful college girls I watched all over town.”

“Yes, you made a good point, Art. But college girls only dated college men who owned a car. Not only did I not own a car, I did not even know how to drive. But, I began imagining myself behind the wheel of an automobile and having many dates! So, the next thing I knew, we were on Mallard Avenue, at Jim’s Used Car Lot. We were immediately pounced upon by Jim, who demanded, ‘What are you looking to spend?’ I immediately remembered a traumatic experience with a Syrian rug merchant when I first fled Majd Al Krum in 1948, and I shivered and said, ‘Speak with my advisor, Art.’ Jim placed his hands upon our backs and led us through the lot, telling us every car was a bargain. We stopped in front of a shiny black sedan with a dent in the passenger-side door, and then Art took over like the master he is.”

“Right, I negotiated a sweet deal for that pony, just two hundred dollars, cash! But, Khaled still didn’t know how to drive. So I chauffeured him to the public parking lot a few blocks from his boarding house, and had to catch the bus back to the dealership to retrieve my car. That weekend was a nephew’s bar mitzvah, but I promised, come Monday after work, I would give Khaled his first driving lesson.”

“Ah, but I couldn’t wait. I could already taste all those dates! I buoyantly walked to the campus library, humming Arabic tunes, and located every book about clutches and cars that I could find. Not until the librarian flicked the lights at eleven at night, did I leave. I carried home a dozen books about cars and spent the rest of the night reading.

“As soon as the dawn broke, I headed to the public parking lot and admired my acquisition. I carried the car keys in my pocket and thought, I don’t have to wait for Art; I know what to do. So, I climbed behind the wheel, located the ignition, and inserted the key. The car jumped, and I panicked, until I located the brake, and sat gripping the wheel and praying, ‘Please God, don’t let me hurt anyone or anything.’ For hours, I practiced, until I mastered the clutch and was grateful I only scratched up an old relic that someone had abandoned in the lot. By noon, I was confidently circling the lot and tempted to venture out into the street. I reluctantly paralleled parked, waited until Monday morning, and arrived at work, beaming. ‘Art, I have great news. I taught myself to drive; I am skipping lunch today. I am ready to take my driver’s license test.’

“Well, we skipped lunch, and sure enough, Khaled scored a hundred percent on the written exam and drove back to work like a pro!”

“Yes, and when I got back to my rooming house, I beeped the horn just once with sheer delight, and the old woman who lived next door stuck her head out the window and began cursing at me. I had feigned ignorance of English at each encounter with her, and by maintaining a stony silence in her presence, I was able to learn every American curse word! 

__________________________________________________________________________________

10. King, Testament, pg. 241

11. Peck, Different Drum, pg. 186-208

12. Columbia Encyclopedia, 5th Edition, sv. "Vatican Council, Second."

13. Einstein, Later Years, pg. 268

14. Meyer, Gospel of Thomas, pg. 43



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The Paradoxical Commandments
by Dr. Kent M. Keith

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

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