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Home arrow Blog arrow October 2009 arrow October 14, 2009

October 14, 2009
October 14, 2009: Back to Sabeel, a few Jewish prophets and keeping hope alive


Mark Braverman, Author, Jewish American activist, a member of the Washington Interfaith Alliance for Middle East Peace and American Jews for a Just Peace and serves on the advisory board of Friends of Sabeel, North America/FOSNA and ICAHD-USA (Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions)
wrote the following-my emphasis is in BOLD and more follows:  



Justice at the Gate: the Role of our Faith Traditions in Healing the Holy Land
 
Friends of Sabeel--North America
First Presbyterian Church of Cedar Falls Iowa
October 8, 2009
 
Mark Braverman
 
I am very pleased and blessed to be here with you tonight.  The first thing I want to do is acknowledge that the reason I am standing here in this honored place is because our friend Pastor Fahed Abu Akel of the Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta and a member of the Friends of Sabeel steering committee cannot be here because of the illness of his wife, Mary.  So I ask you to join me in a moment of silent prayer for Mary and Fahed.
 
Last week at the Sabeel conference in Washington DC, Richard Falk urged us to imagine the impossible. The title of our conference is: A Free Palestine and a Secure Israel:  From Occupation to Liberation and Reconciliation." We are at a point in history where it has never been more urgent and the obstacles and frustrations never greater and sometimes, frankly, we wonder:  is it possible?  Will we ever see it?  So where can we turn for guidance?  And the answer is:  we are right where we need to be.  We are with Sabeel - the Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center. And we are in church, and, I will submit to you, this is the way - faith can provide the guidance and the answer. And not only that:  the institution of the church provides the structure and the vehicle for change.  And I'm going to talk about that this evening.

And so, especially since we have chosen to open this conference with a worship service and we are in church, I want to begin tonight with the lessons from scripture for this coming Sunday.  Having grown up in the synagogue, the lectionary makes complete sense to me.  This practice of a yearly cycle of Bible readings allows us to step back into the river every year to find ourselves -- how we are new, how we are changed, and at the same time to reconnect with what is enduring and deep.  Really, it's a candy store for me:  opening that internet page and seeing what is there from the Old Testament - almost always the prophets - and Paul's epistles, and the psalms, and finally the gospels.  Somewhere, recently in my reading, I came across this statement that I believe deeply - that it is an accident of history that we, Jews and Christians together, are not worshiping in church on Saturday and reading from one Bible, Genesis to Revelations.  And I'm sure, from what I understand from my Muslim friends, that Islam would join in this concept.  The trick is to overcome the human tendency to claim one's own tradition as the only or the superior path.  From there, the way is clear to us all gathering together in a common goal.
 
So-turning to the lessons for today: listen to what we first encounter, and perhaps encounter is a mild word for the experience of reading from the prophet Amos ---
 
Seek the Lord if you want to live!
Or he will break out like fire against the house of Joseph
And devour Bethel, and there will be no quenching of it.
 
Amos comes right at us, and it is the gift of God's anger that he gives us, and, I would say it is God's pain that he gives us.  At bottom, what Amos is pouring out is a message about what God wants.  And what God wants is justice.  Speaking with the authority and voice of God, Amos is instructing us in how the world works:
 
You have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them;
You have planted lovely vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine.
 
And Amos tells us why this is so:
 
Because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain.
I know how numerous are your transgressions, how huge are your sins -
You - the enemies of the righteous, who do it for the money
And turn away from the sufferers at the gate.
 
You can acquire the wealth, you can build and live in your houses, plant your vineyards, but:  "you shall not live in them," "you shall not drink their wine."  Really?  Is that now what we see everywhere in the world?  Do we not see the world's wealthy living in huge houses while the poor languish in the open or in squalid camps?  Do we not see land taken and homes demolished to make way for cities? Do we not see outright land taking, house demolition and theft, the story of Naboth's vineyard replayed continually?
 
Of course the prophet sees this.  And he recognizes our peril.  In true prophetic fashion, Amos presses the point - I know what is going on, he says to us, I can see it, better than you can.  In fact, the prophet sees nothing else.  And this is his burden: to see evil, to see it appear to triumph, and to recognize all around him the blindness and the willingness not to see.  And so he presses the point, repeating the key words:
 
Hate evil and love good.
Establish justice at the gate.
 
What is this gate?  This is not the pearly gates, this is not some higher court.  The judgment that counts is that which is rendered in your towns, at the gates of the cities, where in ancient times justice was pursued at the very grassroots.  It was a community affair - people, who knew one another, looking out for one another.  We confront the eternal, not at Heaven's Gate, but at the gates of our cities.  Just as in Jacob's dream, the gate of heaven begins at the bottom rung of the ladder - right here on earth. This is the justice imperative. Then, says the prophet, then, and only then
 
Perhaps the Lord will be gracious to the remnant of Jacob.
 
He doesn't say the Lord will forgive.  He says, be gracious -- in other words, this is how we earn God's love.  This, in fact, is how we know God's love.
 
Knowing Gods' love is the connection to the gospel lesson, from Mark chapter 10.  It is the story of the man who runs up to Jesus, asking, "What must I do to earn eternal life?"  Jesus; response, both compelling and perplexing is to repeat six of the ten commandments, those that relate directly to justice - those between man and man, not man and God (that Jesus chooses these six is huge - but that's a whole other theological discussion) - the man protests that he observes all these, and Jesus yes - ah, but you lack one thing, the essential ingredient - you must sell all that you own and give the money to the poor.  The man, "When he heard this, was stunned and went away grieving, for he had many possessions."

I interject: I think he went away forlorn, because he was more in LOVE with his stuff and not so in LOVE with and for God.
 
The disciples, of course, in their characteristic, endearing and very human cluelessness, were totally thrown by this:  "Then who can be saved?!" they asked Jesus.  Ah, replies Jesus, for mortals, this is impossible, but not for God, for whom all things are possible."  Which I can imagine may have left them all the more confused.
 
But look:  are we not all assembled here in pursuit of a goal which sometimes, perhaps today more than ever, appears impossible?  I heard Naim last weekend talk about the difference between optimism and hope...

"HOPE has two children. The first is ANGER at the way things are. The second is COURAGE to DO SOMETHING about it."-St. Augustine

And have been pondering on that - and I wonder if that is not what he was getting to:  we are here to take up the possibility of the impossible:  peace in the Holy Land.  Peace between Israelis and Palestinians.  And how is this to be accomplished?

 
This story, this parable, alongside of Amos' thundering, searing condemnation of injustice, is here to deliver the same message:  the path to God, to peace, personal, interpersonal, political - is social justice. As much as the man with the possessions professed to follow the commandments, he was not by virtue of that to be a recipient of God's grace, God's love, God's true gift. And what was it that the man of the many possessions could not do? What were these many possessions, what is the meaning of this gospel story? 

Why did he - why do we - cling to that which we have acquired? 

Is not this parable about our need to control and to be in control?

Is it not asking us to look hard inside and recognize how much we are run by our personal insecurity, our lack of trust that the world, God's world bequeathed to us, will support us?

And Jesus' line to Peter further on in the lesson about the last being first and the first being last - is it really so confusing and mysterious?  Don't we know what that means? 

When we hold on to the security represented by our possessions, our idolatries, our beliefs about what will keep us safe, where does that leave us?  It leaves us at the back of the line - powerless, at the mercy of the worst elements of human nature, of the forces that despoil the environment and rob the poor to keep the rich in luxury.

 
No, not many of us will not sell our homes and cars and clothes and give every last penny to humanitarian causes.  But what is the gospel story telling us? 

It is that we will not feel secure, safe, protected, and nourished unless and until we do justice at the gate. Not until and not unless we recognize that seeing the enemy as over there, that seeing the world as us and them, means that we have to take from them in order to have for us.  And that then, of course, we need our armies and our planes and our bombs to protect what we have taken.

Who are those fighting the self-evident truth of the Goldstone Report?

Who are those building the separation wall? 

Who are those who persist in blaming the dispossessed Palestinian people for "intransigence" and "eternal hatred of the Jewish people?"

Who are those who have taken the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees off the table, having established the Law of Return that allows any Jew, from anywhere in world, to come to Israel and claim citizenship?

Who are those who cannot let go of the enemy without, remaining blind and deaf to the enemy within?

 
Until we understand what it means to establish justice at the gate - to know that this is the source of our true security, our true wealth, the only possession worth having, the way to live in our homes and gain sustenance from our lands - we will not transform the impossible into the possible. 

And is it really so impossible? 

Could it be that what Jesus was saying was that if we are truly with God, that these things are indeed possible, in fact that it is all possible?

 
Finally, we turn to the psalm, which I find in general to be the final and crowning gift of each week's set of lessons.  The prophet rages and speaks God's truth - it is fire, it is a hammer. 

The gospel teaches - which means, as the best teaching does, that it perplexes, beckons us out of the boxes of our thinking, our comfort zones and our self-delusion, and calls on us to grow and become our best selves. 

But the psalms meet us right where we are - at our most human, feeling selves, the core of our experience.  The psalms cry, petition, comfort, and exult.  Psalm 90, Job-like, shows us the mirror, and we hear echoes of Amos' angry, admonishing God:

 
You sweep us away like a dream,
We fade away all at once, like the grass.
 
When you are angry, all our days are gone
Our years are over like a murmuring sigh.
 
But here the tone has shifted - with the anger, there is a gentleness, and, finally hope. 

When we have learned the lesson, let go of our possessiveness and the greed and insularity that it brings, when we have grieved our blindness and selfishness, we can turn to God and beseech for the gift that awaits us:

 
Teach us to number our days
So that we may get a heart of wisdom.
 
Give us joy according to the measure of days that you afflicted us,
Those very days that we witnessed evil.
 
And then, this astonishing, sweet, powerful, and textually difficult final, repeated verse:
 
May the sweetness of the Lord our God be upon us
And prosper the work of our hands.
And prosper the work of our hands. 
 
The word translated as prosper means, literally, bind up so it is strong, like grafting a branch to a trunk, or lashing two sticks together to make them more resilient.
 
In the psalm we beseech God to show us the way to bind our work to our own deepest, truest selves.

To be true to our hearts. 

This too is the function of the prophetic -- to induce in us a profound grieving, like the grief the man feels when Jesus tells him what he must do to gain heaven. That is me, that is you - when we understand what it is we have to lose, then we can be open to what we have to gain.  That is the joy of our gathering here, this day, this place.  We join, with God, grief stricken over what our humanness has caused and resolved to move from there.  When Jesus says, for mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible, he is saying it is possible, yes, for you to be with God.

 
Today, here, in this place, we are gathered to make all things possible. To create the justice-based society that Amos was laying out in such simple, concrete terms. To become the community of love that Jesus sought to form among his dear, devoted, clueless followers. To leave behind the need for control, for rectitude, for being right and in the right, for being either the victims or the conquerors.  To bind ourselves to one another.  So to grieve is to grow.
 
These lessons came to me hard.  They were forced upon me in the course of my own journey.
 
I am the grandson of a fifth-generation Palestinian Jew. My grandfather was the direct descendant of one of the great Hasidic Rabbis of Europe, a family that later settled in Jerusalem in the mid 19th century. I was born in the United States in 1948 - the year of the declaration of the State of Israel. As such, I was raised in an amalgam of Rabbinic Judaism and political Zionism. I was taught that a miracle - born of heroism and bravery - had blessed my generation. The State of Israel was not a mere historical event - it was redemption. In every generation, so said we every year at Passover, tyrants rose up to oppress us, and the Lord God stretched out his hand to redeem us; Pharoah, Chmelnistsky, Hitler - and, of course, let us not forget, Gamal Nasser. All of Jewish History was a story of struggle, exile, oppression and slaughter that had culminated in a Homeland, again, and at last. ??  I first visited Israel as a boy of 17, and I fell in love with the young state.

I was proud of the miracle of modern Israel - of what my people had done, creating this vibrant country out of the ashes of Auschwitz. My Israeli family - religious Jews -- warmly embraced me. But even as I embraced them in return, I heard the racism in the way they talked about "the Arabs" - it was in the way that whites talked about black people in the pre-Civil Rights Philadelphia of my birth.

I knew then that something was fundamentally wrong with the Zionist project, but my love for the Land stayed strong. After college, I lived for a year on a kibbutz, ignoring the implications of the pre-1948 Palestinian houses still in use and the ancient olive trees standing in silent rows at the edges of its grounds.

Returning to the USA, my concerns about Israel increased in direct proportion to the pace of illegal settlement-building. Still, I held to the Jewish narrative: the Occupation, although lamentably abusive of human rights, was the price of security. Then I went to the West Bank.

 
Traveling in Israel and the Occupied Territories my defenses against the reality of Israel's crimes crumbled. 

I saw the Separation Wall - I knew it was not for defense. 

I saw the damage inflicted by the checkpoints on Palestinian life and on the souls and psyches of my Jewish cousins in uniform who where placed there.  I saw the settlements.  I heard about the vicious acts of ideological Jewish settlers. 

And words like apartheid and ethnic cleansing sprang to my mind, unbidden and undeniable.  And what is more, I learned that 1948, what I had learned to call The War of Liberation, was the Nakba - the ethnic cleansing of ¾ of a million Palestinians from their villages, cities and farms.  And I knew that what I was witnessing in the present, the whole apparatus of occupation, was a continuation of that project of colonization and ethnic cleansing.

It horrified me and it broke my heart.

Most important of all, I met the Palestinian people, and recognized them, no - claimed them - as my sisters and brothers. That summer, 40 years after my first encounter with the Land, I saw all that, and my relationship to Israel changed forever.

 
It is clear that we, the Jewish people, have lost our way. 

We have built the stone houses and planted the vineyards, but we do not live in them. 

We live behind a wall of our own construction, in the words of Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, in "Fortress Israel." 

That wall exists not only in the hills of the West Bank but in the hearts of Israelis, and in the hearts of our own Jewish leadership here in the U.S.

But change is coming ---though it is only just beginning.  

We are getting a heart of wisdom.

 
Last weekend at the Friends of Sabeel conference in DC, Rabbi Brian Walt, co-director of the Fast for Gaza, brought the audience to its feet when he said that the tragedy of the Holocaust for Jews today is that, rather than doing what it should do, which is to connect us as a people to the oppression and suffering of other peoples, it is serving to disconnect us from humanity and from the call to universal justice.  We have claimed genocide as our exclusive patrimony.
 
Rabbi Brant Rosen from Chicago wrote in his blog last spring on Israel Independence Day that he could not celebrate. Rather, he wrote, he could no longer separate the reality of the Nakba from the founding of the State of Israel. 


The anniversary of Israel's birth, he wrote, had to be a day for soul searching for Jews - to acknowledge the Palestinian Nakba as our story as well as it is theirs.

 
It's slow, however, and this is not the mainstream, as you well know.  When I returned from the West Bank in 2006, naively thinking that I would bring the message to my Jewish community, the reception, to put it mildly, was not warm.  I was accused of being - you know what I was accused of being. But a wonderful thing happened - the doors of the churches were flung open.  My Jewish voice was welcomed, in fact I realized that there was a great hunger for it.  And so it's simple why that is so - because Christians know what's right, they know what they are supposed to be doing.  And the major barrier is the fear - well taught - of being perceived as anti-Semitic.  Christians are even informed that to criticize the State of Israel is anti-Semitic!
 
Finally at this ripe age, I have discovered what it means for me to be Jewish.  People ask me what my affiliation is:  where do I attend synagogue.  And I answer, you're standing in it.  It's here -it's this work.  So it is my honor and pleasure tonight to welcome you to my synagogue.  And I know that the visionary, itinerant prophet and social revolutionary Jesus, born Joshua ben Joseph and who preached in the synagogues of his day, would fully endorse this statement.
 
Liberation theology provides the key to finding our way through this difficult period of history.  The gospels, as the record of Jesus' teachings, is the record of a movement of social transformation, of nonviolent resistance to the evil of empire.  I find myself saying to Christians who seek a devotional pilgrimage to the Holy Land:  Yes!  Go!  Walk, as they say, where Jesus walked! 

For, if you do go and indeed see what is to be seen, you will not only walk where he walked but you will see what he saw. 

You will see land taken through the imposition of illegal laws and the tread of soldier's boots. 

You will see the attempt to destroy community and family through the taking of farms and the destruction of village life. 

But you will also see resistance - the kind of nonviolent resistance represented by Sabeel's conferences and educational work, by the demonstrations against the wall, by groups of women gathering to support themselves by community-based industries, by families of Palestinians and Israelis who have lost children to the conflict gathering together, by Jewish men who have taken off their uniforms and joined with Palestinian men emerging from Israeli prisons who pledge themselves to reject violence and enmity and to work together for a new society. 


You will see it in the farmers who refuse to abandon their land, even as the walls go up, the restrictions on movement tighten, and the everyday harassment and violence against them intensifies.

And then, you will return to your Bibles and understand the origin of Christianity as a movement of nonviolent resistance to the forces that would remove women and men from the source of their strength and from knowledge of God's love. 

And yes, Jesus was opposing the Jewish client government in Jerusalem as much as he was opposing Rome itself. 

He was, as a Jew, saying to his people and to his followers:  this empire is trying to make an end of us: it is trying to take us away from our core values and away from following God.  And, he was also saying:  as much as violence is the tool that the enemy is using against us, for us violence is not the answer -  in fact it is suicide (Jesus had seen, with his own eyes, the outcome of violent Jewish insurrection) -- but neither is acceptance or collaboration.  We are not allowed to give in, and we are not allowed to give up.

 
I want to turn briefly to our situation here in the United States, and in particular to the call to the church - the challenge and the potential.
 
Sixty four years ago, Christians stood before the ovens of Auschwitz-Birkenau and said, "What we have done?"  There ensued a project to rid Christian theology of what one prominent theologian has called "The Christian sin:"  anti-Semitism.  In this revision, sometimes called post-supersessionism or post-replacement theology, the Jews, who in early Christianity were depicted as the rejected of God - scattered over the earth as an example of what happens to a people who rejected God, were seen no longer as the darkness but as the light. 

No longer displaced by the "new Israel" of Christianity. the Jews had now been reinstated as God's elect.  Generations of theologians and clergy have been educated in this revised theology.  Atonement for anti-Semitism has trumped all other theological considerations - reconciliation is the prime value in interfaith relations for Christians. 

Now -- the impulse behind this is a good thing!  It is a wonderful quality in Christianity, this ability to reform itself - most notably with a capital "R," in the Protestant Reformation, and in our own time, in Vatican II for the Catholic Church.  But the problem is that in lifting up the original covenant with Abraham - God's exclusive deal with one family, one people - Christianity has swallowed a very un-Christian concept:  particularity.

The original covenant is an exclusive arrangement - and it includes a very clear and very specific real estate deal.  It's a slippery slope, this business of interfaith reconciliation, and it has effectively eliminated the possibility for productive conversation about the one of the most urgent issues facing the world today.

Interfaith dialogue, as we have come to call it, has become, not a level field upon which the faiths can talk about who they are, what their faith requires of them and what it can mean for humanity facing today's challenges.

Rather, as far as Christians and Jews go, it has become a place for a careful, polite conversation, a kind of mutual admiration enterprise -- and difficult issues are avoided. 

And the subtext is:  Christians are guilty, and the Jews, the injured party, are now willing to accept your apology and your admiration. And I don't have to tell what topic is out of bounds.

 
Sabeel has been attacked as being anti-Semitic because of Naim's articulation of Palestinian Liberation Theology. In classic liberation theology, Jesus on the cross is the symbol, the embodiment, if you will, of the suffering of the oppressed. 

And because now it is the Palestinian people that are oppressed, and because it is the Jewish State, acting on behalf of the Jewish people, that is the oppressor - in this twisted reasoning, we now have the charge that Sabeel is reviving the ancient anti-Semitic charge of decide - of Christ-killing. 

Nonsense! And for shame - that we Jews should cynically use this logically absurd and self evidently false charge - a charge that caused us such horror and suffering over the ages - for shame that we should use this to bully Christians into silence and inaction.

 
You know what happens when you break the rules. 

Marc Ellis talks about the ecumenical deal - I call it the interfaith deal - and in its simplest terms it goes like this:  You killed our Lord.  So we banished you from human society.  Sometimes, even, we had you killed.  We were wrong to do that - and we're really sorry. So you can have the land.  And we know the far-reaching and tragic consequences of this deal for the prospects for peace in historic Palestine today. 

Sadly, tragically, the Jewish establishment in the West exploits this sensitivity among Christians, this conditioning.  Last year I attended the pre-conference meeting of the United Methodist Church, to participate in a briefing of delegates on a resolution to divest the church's pension funds from companies profiting from the occupation of Palestinian lands.  I addressed the delegates, urging them to pass the resolution.  I told them that it was the right thing to do, and reassured them that it was not anti-Semitic to do so, but rather an act of love toward the Jewish people.

A Rabbi from the Simon Wiesenthal Center stood up next and said to the delegates:  "I know you are being told that this act is not anti-Semitic, but I have to tell you that it feels that way."  He said this without explanation or apology - as if that was all that need be said to stop the Christians in their tracks, as if they would not dare to raise the issue again in the face of this affront to Jewish sensibilities.  And certainly right here within the Presbyterian church, this controversy has been ongoing, ever since the PC(USA)'s historic selective divestment resolution in 2004 and since then in its persistent and courageous pursuit of this justice-based action.

 
Despite the attempt of both some Christians and some Jews to induct the church into the effort to silence all criticism of Israel and thwart the movement to bring about a peace based on justice, Christians know what is right.  The social justice agenda is deep and wide in the church.  Reverend Don Wagner is here to talk to us this weekend about fundamentalist Christian Zionism that has had and continues to have such a pervasive effect on politics today. And yet, I know Don will agree that there is a  differently motivated yet also hugely powerful Zionism hiding, in plain sight, in the midst of mainstream Christianity.
 
So:  do what you know is right, and do what you have to do. 

Deal with your critics respectfully, but do not be distracted from the task before you. 

Do what is right in your eyes, and leave the Jewish people to do what we have to do, which is to confront the evidence before us:  that our commitment to insularity and to self protection has brought us to a perilous pass.  The meaning of interfaith should be not dialogue but communion - dissolving the barriers of religion and ethnicity in the struggle for justice for all humankind.

This, surely, is the heart of Christianity, this is the message that Jesus brought to the oppressed and suffering Jews of Palestine in the first century, speaking in a direct line from the Hebrew prophets. It is, it must be the heart of Judaism and Islam as well.  But here, today, as we in the U.S. confront the reality of our government's responsibility in this struggle, I submit to you that it now falls to the church to lead.

 
Jim Wallis has written that when politics fail, broad social movements emerge to change the wind:  politicians wet their fingers, see the way the wind blows, and act accordingly.  It is up to us, as the grassroots, to change the wind, and to have the politicians thus follow.  And politics are failing us here.  Diplomacy, as Richard Falk said last week in Washington, has failed, and he called for actions on the civil society level.  And, as Dr. Charles Villa-Vicencioof the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation in Cape Town South Africa told us in DC last weekend, if the church means anything, if it has any relevance, then it must take upon itself the struggle to right the monumental, self-evident and inexcusably longstanding abrogation of human rights that has occurred and is occurring in historic Palestine. 

We call to mind Martin Luther King's statement from his letter from a Birmingham jail that unless the church takes up the fight for social justice it will "lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as a social club with no meaning for the twentieth century." 

King was calling for civil disobedience and for clergy to support the cause by raising their voices from the pulpits and putting their bodies on the line in the public forum. Villa-Vicencio, along with others at the conference, called for economic pressure on Israel.  Whatever the particular actions, they must be taken up here, at the grassroots.  This is about the broad social movement that Wallis calls for - the same that brought about the end of Jim Crow and the fall of the Apartheid regime in South Africa.

 
The church must be in the lead.  The justice issues here are clear.  So yes - let us raise up the conversation between the faiths, and honor what we have to learn from one another, but together - in community of purpose.  Look:  Christianity took the timeless teachings of Judaism and set them into a universal frame.  This is Christianity's great gift.  And it is the heart of the faith's social injustice imperative.  Don't take it back.  We must go forward to universalism - not backward to particularism, tribalism, and nationalism.
 
I know it is painful.  I know it is uncomfortable.  I know that the interfaith reconciliation work of decades is threatened, and, more important, close professional, personal and family relationships are on the line. But do not let my people's struggle - our confrontation with our own looming, inescapable Reformation - subvert your gift to the world, your unique contribution, at this critical juncture in history.
 
William Sloane Coffin, in his long career as a warrior for justice, epitomized this in his ferocious faithfulness to what his faith called him to do.  Coffin wrote in his final autobiographical work, Credo:  "We see ourselves walking not alone with our Lord, but with all the peoples of the world whom we now view as fellow walkers, not as those who fall in behind.  And all are marching to Zion, to the mountain of God, where-can anyone doubt it?-God will cause the nations to beat their swords into plowshares and return to the people the peace that only God could give and no nation had the right to take away."
 
And so we pray:
 
May this be your will. Prosper the work of our hands.  Give us hearts of wisdom. Grant us justice at the gate.
 
Amen


Mark Braverman, a Jewish American activist, is a member of the Washington Interfaith Alliance for Middle East Peace and American Jews for a Just Peace. He is the author of Fatal Embrace: Christians, Jews, and the Search for Peace in the Holy Land. He serves on the advisory board of FOSNA and the Board of ICAHD-USA (Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions). He founded Crisis Management Group Associates in Bethesda, Maryland, with his wife Susan, where he works as a clinical psychologist and organizational consultant. Learn more about Mark's work at his website, JewishConscience.Org, which is dedicated to promoting discussion and dialogue within and between communities throughout the world on issues of justice for the people of Palestine and Israel.


 

Click here for Vanunu's message to USA Christians filmed on 6/23/05 Windows Media

Click here to view Vanunu's Video Message on YouTube





More than a few words from me:

About 2,000 years ago, when Christ was about 33, he hiked up a hill and sat down under an olive tree and began to teach the people;

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven."

In other words: it is those who know their own spiritual poverty, their own limitations and sins honestly and trust God loves them in spite of themselves who already live in the Kingdom of God.

How comforted we will all be, when we see, we haven't got a clue, as to the depth and breadth of pure love and mercy of The Divine Mystery of The Universe.

God's name in ancient Aramaic is Abba which means Daddy as much as Mommy and He/She: The Lord has said, "My ways are not your ways. My thoughts are not yours." -Isaiah 55:8


Christ proclaimed more: "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."

The essence of meek is to be patient with ignorance, slow to anger and never hold a grudge. In other words: how comforted you will be when you also know humility; when you know yourself, the good and the bad, for both cut through every human heart.


"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, they will be filled."

In other words: how comforted you will be when your greatest desire is to do what "God requires, and he has already told you what that is; BE JUST, BE MERCIFUL and walk humbly with your Lord."-Micah 6:8

 
"Blessed are the merciful, they will be shown mercy."

 In other words: how comforted you will all be when you choose to return only kindness to your 'enemy.'


"For with the measure you measure against another, it will be measured back to you" Christ warns his disciples as he explains the law of karma in Luke 6:27-38.


"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they see God."


In other words: how comforted you will be when you WAKE UP and see God is already within you, within every man, every woman and every child. The Supreme Being is everywhere, the Alpha and Omega, beginning and end. Beyond The Universe -and yet so small; within the heart of every atom.


"Blessed are The Peacemakers: THEY shall be called the children of God."



And what a wonderful world it would be when we all seek peace by pursuing justice; for there can be none without the other.

"Blessed are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires, theirs is The Kingdom of Heaven."

And one fine day the lion will lie down with The Lamb and man will make war no more and that is the Kingdom of God.



An excerpt from KEEP HOPE ALIVE

Only a few of the characters within KEEP HOPE ALIVE are fictional- but everything they say is true-and almost everything actually happened.

Chapter 1: KEEP HOPE ALIVE: THE MORNING AFTER APRIL 4, 1968


Mary woke at dawn and re-entered the living room for the first time since she had said goodnight the night before. She was not surprised to see Khaled sprawled out in his recliner or Riad at peace on the sofa. But she was dismayed to see Art curled in fetal position on the black and white checkered tile at the front door.

She gently stepped over him into the red and white kitchen as the morning sun broke through the garden window. The sun illuminated the cherry-blonde slab stump of an ancient olive tree that had been hewn into a kitchen table and received as a wedding gift from family and friends, who lived in Khaled’s hometown, the village of Majd Al Krum, in Upper Galilee. Even on the most frigid morning, Mary felt warmed by the high-gloss patina of the tabletop, but held more dear the signatures and marks from the entire town etched underneath.

Mary silently performed the morning ritual of brewing the first of many pots of Turkish coffee for the day, gratefully inhaled the piquant aroma, and then quickly exited up the back staircase to the bedrooms to wake her daughter for school. When Mary returned to her kitchen after escorting Ahmeena to her third grade classroom, she was not surprised to find Khaled and Riad at the table, downing a second pot of the Turkish brew.

“Please, Mary, don’t say a word. I drank too much, and now I am paying the price.”

“Khaled, the pain in your face brings me to tears; you are clearly suffering. I will not add to your misery. But you, Riad--you look buoyant. What’s your secret?”


Riad chuckled. “Tolerance.”

Mary marveled at how his gleaming pate radiated the sun’s rejection through the garden window that showcased a pendulous purple wisteria and bird bath, where blue jays had immediately gathered to eat the seed she had just put out.

At that moment, Art stumbled into the room, banging his shoulder against the wall and hip into the butcher-block counter. “Oiy! Sylvia is going to fry me! I thought I’d be back at her sister’s by noon, but that bad news about Martin Luther King, Jr., hit us all like a left to the liver! I thought last night would be only good reminiscing, but reality intruded. Hmm, Thanks, Mary, I need this brew.” He nodded and gratefully downed the pungent coffee that Mary had just set before him.

“So, who wants breakfast?”

“Just toast, Mary, my love,” Khaled whimpered weakly.

“Same for me.” Riad beamed, and Mary thought how grateful she was to know him.

Art whispered, “Have you any Mylanta, Mary?”


Mary suppressed a smile as she turned to retrieve it, when the unmistakable seven knock's of Ahmad was heard at the front door.

“Namaste!” Ahmad bellowed as he opened the red door, reminding Mary of a Cheshire cat without any guile at all.

Riad replied, with a beatific smile, “The God in me salutes the God in you, too.”

“Art, Khaled, look what I found in the gutter.” Ahmad nudged a redheaded muscular youth forward as hard as he could.

“Why, Jack Hunt, I haven’t seen you in weeks; come in, dear.” Mary was always happy to see any of the eleven Hunt children who lived next door.

Khaled stood to welcome his neighbor and asked, “Jack, why aren’t you in class this morning?”

“Well, I didn’t know until I showed up that poli-sci and humanities were both canceled. Both professors are heading to King’s funeral. They both marched with him in 1964. I am free until three, when I have football practice. I was just getting out of the car and hoping to catch up on some sleep, when Ahmad accosted me and dragged me in here.”

Riad stood with his palms together and slightly bowed. “Welcome, Jack. I’m Riad, and the poor fellow to my right is Art.”

“Oh man, Art, you look like shit! I hope it’s not contagious.”

“Shut up and sit,” Art growled.

“Ahmad, we expected you for dinner last night. I made your favorite— roasted lamb.”

“Oh, so sorry to have missed you all, but after I left Khaled’s going-away party at Westinghouse, I worked through the night. In fact, I have not eaten since the goodbye brunch yesterday; I could use some lamb right now.”

Mary turned swiftly and began emptying the refrigerator. While Art moaned, she asked, “Please, Ahmad, I have not heard a word about the going-away party; fill me in.”

Ahmad grinned and nodded. “Well, the best part was at the very end, when Khaled stood at the microphone and spoke with tears in his eyes to the two hundred people who had gathered to say goodbye. He held us spellbound with his words: ‘My dear friends, I am overwhelmed by this turnout. I have been blessed. I will miss you all very much. Thank you for the kind words, the gifts, the memories, and all your good work. I also want to leave a remembrance with one of you.’


“And it was I, Ahmad, who held the fish bowl filled to capacity with everyone’s signatures that Khaled reached his hand into and then pulled out a paper scrap, unfolded it, and called out, ‘Oh, Bubbles McGrath! You have won. Come up here and receive your gift!’ Now, Bubbles is a short, plump blonde, who jumped up like a toad and screamed, ‘Oh my gosh! I have never won anything!’ She literally bounced her way to where Khaled and I stood, but I quickly got out of the way, as the man of the hour held out a festively wrapped box like a shield to protect himself from the force of the rushing Bubbles McGrath. Blubbles flung her arms around Khaled and kissed him on the mouth, then blurted out, ‘Oh, thank you, Khaled, I am so excited!’ It was incredible, how she tore the box open like a child at Christmas, and when her face beheld the treasure inside, her lower lip quivered, and she quietly whispered, ‘Thanks.’ Then she held out the gunmetal gray snow shovel, and the room roared!”

Mary had noticed Jack was oblivious to Ahmad’s tale. As he stared out the garden window, she intuited he was worried about his sister Bonnie, a WAC nurse in Vietnam, and his brother Kevin, who was in the Navy. While the men were still chuckling over Ahmad’s tale, Jack startled them all as his words rushed out. “My professor told me that he marched with King because, even though he himself was an atheist, he felt in community with the diversity of people of faith who had come together with one voice demanding justice. He said King had a power to make you believe you were connected to every other person in the crowd as if they were a sister or a brother.”

A heavy, pregnant silence filled the room, and Mary held her breath until Jack turned toward her, his eyes like blazing emeralds, and with a sardonic smile, remarked, “Being stuck in the middle of ten others, I have no desire for any more sisters or bothers.” Then, with a sigh deeper and more meaningful than any words and with overcast eyes brimming with tears, he softly murmured, “I will be sorry when you Diabs depart for sunny Florida. I always appreciated you letting me use your library, Dr. D.”

Mary turned as her own tears fell, and Khaled mumbled, as he choked back his own, “We will all miss you, too, Jack, but we have a few weeks left before we will part. Let’s have some coffee now!”

Riad beckoned Jack to sit at his right side, but Jack shook his head. “Ah, that’s ok. Really, I have got to go. Practice is at three o’clock, and I only came back home to get some sleep.”

Khaled implored, “Jack, please, sit and visit. Mary, where is his coffee? Besides, Riad has some fantastic tale we never got to hear last night, and now is the time. Riad, the floor is yours.”

Jack remained unmoved as Riad queried, “Have you heard the tale of the Bedouin named Mohammed Ali? No? How about the Nag´ Hammâdi library? Hmmm, do you know I am a master of ancient civilizations, and I speak Greek and Hebrew fluently? Jack, you are an open book and I see you are not at all impressed. May I ask you, have you heard of UNESCO?”


Jack barely suppressed a smirk as he sat down in one of the seven eclectic chairs that hugged the sides of the enormous olivewood table and indulgently uttered, “United Nation Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization.”

“Correct, but I’ll get to that later. For the story I want to tell you all, dates back to antiquity. But I will begin in 1945, in Egypt, in the land just above the bend of the Nile, north of the Valley of the Kings, across the river from the city of Nag´ Hammâdi, near the hamlet of al-Qasr, under a cliff called Jabal al-Tarif. An Egyptian Bedouin named Mohammed Ali was out gathering sabakh, a nitrate-rich fertilizer for the crops that he grew in the small hamlet of al-Qasr. He was aghast to stumble upon a skeleton as he dug, and bewildered when he uncovered a two-foot high earthenware jar. A bowl had been placed over the top, and it was sealed with bitumen. At first, the Bedouin thought an evil genie was within, but when he shook the heavy jar, he heard things moving and thought it might be gold. He smashed the jar open and out fluttered pieces of gold particles that he tried to catch, but they disappeared. When he peered into the jar, he was dismayed to find twelve leather-bound books. Mohammed Ali was illiterate, so he placed no great value on books, but was confident he could sell them and make something for his troubles. So he carried the jar filled with books back to the homestead.

“Now, Mohammed Ali also happened to be a fugitive from the law, for he had wielded the weapon that spilled the blood of a patriarch during a violent incident in a generation-long family feud, not so very long before. After a few days of mulling over possibilities, he decided to give his find to the local Coptic priest for safekeeping. You see, he feared the authorities soon would be lurking about and would confiscate his possession before he could receive any money for it.

“His mother ripped out many pages to keep the home fire going, and I grieve and wonder what ancient treasures she burned. Anyway, the priest passed it on to his brother-in-law, a traveling tutor, who brought the books to the Coptic museum in Cairo on October 4, 1946.

“I happened to be the assistant to the director of the antiquities department at that time, and our department was immediately summoned to inspect them. What we found were ancient compositions, written in Coptic that had been translated from ancient Greek. The volumes were leather-bound pages of papyrus, and no doubt the gold dust that Mohammed Ali witnessed was from papyrus fragments that had broken off. For the past twenty years, under the leadership of UNESCO, Egypt, and the American scholar James Robinson, these anthologies and collections of texts with titles like the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene have now been translated into many languages.”

Jack’s emerald orbs glinted as he quietly asked, “So?”

“Well, I believe when this knowledge has been disseminated by seekers of God, it will prove to be a revolutionary find. You see, the texts date back to the early days of Christianity. The most likely source for these books was the Pachomius Monastery, which thrived for centuries just three miles from the burial site. I believe a monk buried these books in the wilderness under the cliff of Jabl al-Tarif for safe-keeping.”

“But why would a monk hide some books? What for?” Jack sipped his second cup of coffee as he kept his eyes riveted on Riad.

“Well Jack, two thousand years ago, there were many different understandings of Jesus among Christians. Now, thanks to the treasures of Nag´ Hammâdi, we know how rich and diverse those understandings were. These texts had been deemed heretical by those who were gaining power through the political arena. Surely you know about Emperor Constantine?”

“Of course, he lived in the fourth century, didn’t he? Wasn’t he a pagan warrior who became the first Christian ruler, but waited until he was on his deathbed before being baptized?”

“Yes and the most decisive event in the history of Christendom occurred when Emperor Constantine accepted the Christian faith, for those who had once been persecuted were now protected by an earthly king. Both a patriarchal monarchical state and church were formed at the same time. Power struggles and debates were common among the early Christians. Individual churches determined which texts were read, and they all had their favorites. Constantine sought to unite his empire, and uniting the church was a savvy political move. He announced he would pay for fifty illuminated copies of scripture to be bound, and thus the biblical canon was established and sealed. There was fierce debate among the bishops about what should be included and what left out.

“The proto-orthodox, who had now become the dominant voice, determined what was heretical for everyone. The proto-orthodox demanded much-loved scripture to be burned, usually because it did not fit their understanding of God. No doubt, what was found at Nag´ Hammâdi is thanks to an unknown monk who lived a few miles away in the Pachomius Monastery. If the authorities had found out about him, these texts and that monk would both have burned!”

 “But why were the books deemed heretical? Why were they suppressed? What was the establishment afraid of?” Jack’s eyes remained riveted on Riad.

“Well Jack, many of these texts were considered Gnostic. Gnosis is defined as knowledge discerned institutively. Gnostic texts offer deep mystery that is discerned via intuition, not rational thought. This is not the way for fundamentalists. A Gnostic is open to receiving intuitive knowledge of deep spiritual truth. For students of the New Testament, this is a much greater find than the Dead Sea Scrolls. Forty of the texts had previously been unknown to modern scholars. Thirty-five scholars have been working diligently on these translations, and we all agree that the bound books themselves date back to the fourth century and were written in Coptic translated from Greek and Aramaic. The Gospel of Thomas is a collection of the sayings of Jesus, words of wisdom, proverbs, parables, and some very confounding mysteries. About 35 of the 114 sayings have no counterpart in the New Testament, while at least 20 are almost identical, and 54 have similarities. Many scholars concur that the sayings were originally written in Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic, the language of Jesus and his followers. It is very possible the sayings are closer to the words Jesus actually spoke than what is found in the canonical gospels.”

“I am still not clear about why there was so much censorship. If the people were talking about Jesus and what he said, that seems better than not talking about him at all.”

“Agreed, and two thousand years ago, there was lively debate about who Jesus was, and why he came. Jack, you do understand that history is always written by the winners, right?”

“Of course I know that! And now, I suppose you will tell me all about the losers?”

“Well, the proto-orthodox, who were the majority, considered these texts anathema. Texts were deemed heretical for many reasons, and usually it was because they did not fit neatly into the evolving dogma. Gnostic texts offer us mystery, not answers. For centuries, all we had to reconstruct Gnostic beliefs were the hostile accounts against them given by Irenaus, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Epiphanius, and other church fathers who disagreed with the Gnostic understanding.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t do church anymore, but my sister Maureen is a nun, and my brother Mike is a priest. I wonder what they would think of all this stuff. Might tick them off, is my guess.”

“Now Jack, we must be kind to the early church fathers; they were flawed like all of humanity, but they did the best they could. We are all guided by the inner light and by how much light we have opened up to receive. The gifts of Nag´ Hammâdi present us with a very diverse Christianity, indeed.

“One of my favorites is the Gospel of Thomas. These pithy sayings of Jesus are meant to be heard and chewed upon. Consider sayings three and five: ‘The kingdom is inside you, and it is outside you. When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living father,’1 and ‘Know what is in front of your face, and what is hidden will be disclosed to you. For there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed.’”2

“Hey, that reminds me of ‘seek and you will find,’ and ‘knock and the door will open.’

“Yes, you see the connection. And in Thomas, sayings ninety-two and ninety-four, Jesus says exactly that. But in saying two, Jesus speaks: ‘Let one who seeks not stop seeking until one finds. When one finds, one will be troubled. When one is troubled, one will marvel…’”3

Jack interrupted with “Wait, I still do not get what was the big deal. Why did the authorities want these books trashed?”

“Jack, did you know that the Gospel of Mark was written first, in about 70 CE? Then Matthew and Luke followed in 85 CE, and the very different sounding Gospel of John appeared just before the turn of the first century. The Gospel of Thomas was written down as early as the middle of the first century, and no later than the middle of the second.”

Jack interrupted. “You mean it may have been written even before the Gospel of John?”

“Exactly, and that is why I wonder if the author of John was debating many of Jesus’ sayings quoted by the author of Thomas. In particular, I was struck by the fact that Matthew 12:31-32, Mark 3:28-29, and Luke 12:10 are nearly identical to Thomas saying forty-four, ‘Jesus said, “Whoever blasphemes against the father will be forgiven, and whoever blasphemes against the son will be forgiven, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven either on earth or in heaven.’4 The writer of John completely left this quote from Jesus out. What do you think about that, Jack?”

“Well, it sounds like Jesus is just alright with whatever you think or say about him, but the Holy Spirit--that’s God within. It sounds like Jesus is saying it’s not so much what we think or say about him, but how we treat one another and ourselves.”

 “Spoken well!” Ahmad grinned as he continued, “If I may share a moment, there is the Hindu way to God through love, and it is the very path that Jesus taught about. In fact, I think Christianity is one great brilliantly-lit highway to God! The Hindu discipline I follow is called bhajti yoga. What is required upon this path is loving God first, with no ulterior motives; not even a desire to be loved back. All day, as I do my work, I do it for God. I am in love with God, and that fills me with a love for all men and all creation. Love God first, and everything else falls into place, I say.”

Jack had become excited. “You just made me remember what Mike wrote to me, after he heard Thomas Merton speak at what became his last peace rally, before he was electrocuted in a freak accident and died. My brother was standing next to this nun who accosted Merton after his speech and demanded, ‘Why didn’t you mention Christ in your speech?’ Merton replied, ‘What we are asked to do at present is not so much to speak of Christ as to let him live in us, so that people may find him by feeling how he lives in us.’5 Mike wrote that after overhearing that encounter, he quit giving his parishioners the usual list of prayers to say for penance. Instead, he told them not to mention Jesus by name for a week, but to keep Jesus foremost in their minds and hearts.”

Riad beamed. “Jack, your brother is a wise man to think of such a just penance for Christians who may forget the other names for Jesus, like Emmanuel, meaning ‘God is with us,’ and the Prince of Peace. And Martin Luther King, Jr., walked in his footsteps; I hope we never forget his message of justice and equality for all humanity.”

Khaled met Art’s eyes and gently spoke. “You know, Martin Luther King is foremost the voice for the Negro, but he also speaks for all who seek justice. He said, ‘We have come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. Now is the time for justice; now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to lift our nation from injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.’”6

Art stabbed out his cigarette and injected, “Yeah, and do you know what Reverend King said just a few weeks ago? He said, ‘Peace for Israel means security, and we stand with all our might to protect its right to exist, its territorial integrity. I see Israel as one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy. Peace for Israel means security and that security must be a reality.’”7

Khaled nearly blubbered, “Reality? The reality is that Israel’s democracy does not extend to Palestinians, whose families have lived there for centuries! Martin Luther King also spoke about not ‘being satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.’8 Reverend King also spoke about his people’s great trials, tribulations, and creative suffering. He spoke about injustice, but offered such hope for change, because the American dream is that all men are created equal. This is also the Palestinian dream. Reverend King spoke of his dream, and I, too, have a dream, that underneath the shade of olive trees, the descendants of Abraham will one day sit down at the table of brotherhood.”

Art lit another cigarette as he added, “My rabbi always says, ‘If we would all just do like Micah told, we’d be alright. Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.’”9

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!


1. Meyer, Marvin. The Gospel of Thomas, pg 23

2. IBID

3. IBID

4. IBID, pg. 41

5. Azar-Rucquoi, Fundamentally, It's Love Faith in Focus, April 29, 2002

6. King, Martin Luther, Jr. A Testament of Hope, pg. 217-218

7. Lewisy, San Fransisco Chronicle, Jan. 21, 2002

8. King, Testament, pg. 219

9. Micah 6:8

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






A different excerpt:

Keep Hope Alive (an excerpt)

by Eileen Fleming



Expressions of Nakba was an international competition and exhibition that commemorated the 60th anniversary of the Nakba: the expulsion and dispossession of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes and land in 1948.

The online gallery showcases the winning entries from the competition in addition to a wonderful range of selections in the form of visual arts, poetry, essays, music, video and digital media. --Sponsored by the

 US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation




American Intifada:
 
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"HOPE has two children.The first is ANGER at the way things are. The second is COURAGE to DO SOMETHING about it."-St. Augustine

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BEYOND NUCLEAR: Mordechai Vanunu's Freedom of Speech Trial

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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.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.

© 1968, 2001 Kent M. Keith

" In the final analysis, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway."-Mother Teresa


“You cannot talk like sane men around a peace table while the atomic bomb itself is ticking beneath it. Do not treat the atomic bomb as a weapon of offense; do not treat it as an instrument of the police. Treat the bomb for what it is: the visible insanity of a civilization that has ceased...to obey the laws of life.”- Lewis Mumford, 1946



The age of warrior kings and of warrior presidents has passed. The nuclear age calls for a different kind of leadership....a leadership of intellect, judgment, tolerance and rationality, a leadership committed to human values, to world peace, and to the improvement of the human condition. The attributes upon which we must draw are the human attributes of compassion and common sense, of intellect and creative imagination, and of empathy and understanding between cultures."  - William Fulbright



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Establishment of Israel
"On the day of the termination of the British mandate and on the strength of the United Nations General Assembly declare The State of Israel will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel: it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion it will guarantee freedom of religion [and] conscience and will be faithful to the Charter of the United Nations." - May 14, 1948. The Declaration of the Establishment of Israel
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