Thursday, April 28, 2016

Only Love

Following on the work and writing of others (like Paul in the Christian tradition), Walter Wink writes about 'powers' and 'principalities' and the way such things weave their way into institutions, communities, cultures.  We're all involved.  There are spiritual 'powers' in play in cities and neighborhoods, in congregations and families.  They can be liberating and empowering narratives embedded in practice; they can be fearful stories we tell over and over again, invoking anxiety and distrust.  But these 'powers' are in us and among us, and a constant presence in our community life and inter-community work.  It's so important that we're aware of what they are, where they are and how they operate in our midst. 

Zoughbi Zoughbi at Wi'am in Bethlehem
I'm struck this week by the 'powers' in play around the conflict between Zionists and pro-Palestinian activists in my community and so many others.  It seems to me that the power of fear, in particular, so grips communities and traditions that some act even against their self-interest and inner light.  I write that with some hesitation, for it seems a rather pompous thing to think and write.  But I feel that there are ways in which the Israeli government has used and is using American Jews and their allies to advance its own cause: no negotiations, no meaningful concessions, no end to illegal settlements, no Palestinian state.  And how?  By insisting on fear.  By insisting on paranoia and distrust.  By insisting that Israeli's so-called friends and allies do anything and everything, even against their deeper instincts and morality, to stop Palestinian activists from organizing around meaningful nonviolent resistance.

The 'power' is fear.  And it's got us in its grasp.  In conflicts like this one, it's like some kind of contagion, passing from community to community, infecting friendships and decent people doing decent things.  Consultants load it up, travel with it on their laptops and project it as the latest Powerpoint presentation.  But it's fear, it's anxiety.  In the service of oppression.  And I'm finding that a sad and scary thing.  Up close, this week.

A bold vision of peace with Ir Amim in Jerusalem
If the Palestinian people are like every other people, they have the right to organize themselves nonviolently and to resist oppression nonviolently.  It's really just that simple, I think.  If they're like every other people, they have that right.  With every passing day, with every sad wave of recrimination and anxiety, I hear some in the Jewish community (and Christian Zionist allies) saying that the Palestinians are not like every other people.  And they do not have that right.  That's a pretty serious charge.  Is it really so?  At the heart of the Palestinian soul, at the core of the Palestinian culture, is there really a dark and evil, anti-Semitic urge to destroy Jews and incapacitate Israel?  Is that it?
Because that's how I read the over-the-top full-on assault on Palestinian nonviolence and the economic strategy Palestinians believe in.  Make no mistake about it.  The churches there believe in it.  The schools there believe in it.  The therapists there believe in it.  Civil society believes in it.  They've united around it.  What does it mean to so thoroughly and cruelly discredit an entire people?

The only way to read the assault on all these people and their institutions is that Israel (or its ruling government) believes they're evil, marked by a darker human spirit than all others.  And because that's so, because Palestine is and always will be beyond the reach of decency, they must be denied their human rights, and denied their God-given right to organize nonviolently, and denied their lands and freedom and ability to govern.

In Walter Wink's work, the theological task is both identifying the 'powers' and meeting them in the courageous spirit of love, nonviolence and redemptive suffering.  Twenty years ago, this sounded so cool and hip and edgy.  Now it just seems hard.  But hatred can't cast out hatred, said MLK, and fear can't banish fear.  Only love can do that. 

I'm not afraid for my life this week.  I'm so privileged in that regard.  I don't have to worry about bombs and midnight raids and stray rubber bullets.  But I am afraid.  I'm terribly afraid for relationships I once cherished, really cherished.  They're being sacrificed, a good many of them, on the altar of anxiety.  They're being sacrificed, because some consultant spreads fear and innuendo and morbid suspicion, in the service of occupation and oppression.  I'm not afraid for my safety, but I'm profoundly saddened by the havoc this fear is wreaking on my life.  And so many, many others.

Daoud at Neve Shalom
Still, I will do everything I can to meet all this in the spirit of love and redemptive suffering.  I will grieve what is lost.  I will pray.  I will do everything I can to understand, even empathize when I can.  And I will open my ears and my heart to the cry for liberation and justice, not the cry for vengeance and destruction; but the cry for liberation and justice.  I will risk my reputation if need be.  Again, all this used to sound so hip and edgy.  Now it just hurts.  But as I do, as I do what my faith compels me to do, I remember the many I've met and heard and touched over the last decade: Rami Elhanan, Bassam Aramin, the refugees in Dheisheh, the Natshehs in Hebron, the brave souls of Neve Shalom, Edo Konrad, Sam Bahour, Mitri Raheb, Yael and Rula in Jaffa, Zougbhi Zoughbi in Bethlehem.  May their names, and their stories, be honored by my choices, and my church's choices this week.  

The weekend of April 29 and 30 brings a two-day conference (JUSTICE FOR PALESTINE) to Peace United Church of Christ and Santa Cruz.