Over the past year and a half, I've experienced some things I never imagined experiencing: occasionally, around town, old friends cross the street to avoid me; letter writers use the local daily to make fun of my faith and my politics; and (inevitably) some use Facebook to call me a bigot:
I'm old enough, and experienced enough, to know that this kind of thing (in response to a video you'll find in my previous post) comes with the territory. I've learned that sometimes well-intentioned discipleship provokes passionate response. And, in the case of our human rights work with Palestinian and Israeli activists, the response has been intense and often personal. I've been called anti-Semitic by all kinds of folks (some I know and some I don't) and even accused of stoking anti-Jewish bigotry in my hometown.
My spiritual practice is such that I take criticism seriously, that I reflect on even the harshest of critiques and examine (as best I can) my intentions, limitations and prejudices. This is what faith means to me, and it's the path my Teacher sets out for me every day. "First take the log out of your own eye," Jesus says, "and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye." To be a strong advocate of justice or an energetic peacemaker means working 'my side of the street' (religiously)--and facing up to the mistakes I make and the biases I carry with me.
That said, I am not an anti-Semite. And I have not stoked anti-Jewish bigotry in Santa Cruz or anywhere else. What I have tried to do is listen: first, to Palestinian colleagues and friends who cry out from the midst of occupation for justice; and second, to Israeli allies and Jewish activists who ache for a just sharing of land, power and opportunity in the Holy Land. In listening to their hope and their stories, I've heard many asking for my help. I've heard them advocate passionately for a coordinated and nonviolent economic campaign--much like the anti-Apartheid effort in the 80s--to pressure Israel and her allies to do the right thing and negotiate in good faith. This has drawn me deeply into the effort to use strategic boycotts and targeted divestment to bring this pressure to bear. Palestinian colleagues themselves have devised this strategy--insisting on a nonviolent alternative to violence, insurrection and terror. And--in faith and solidarity--I have joined their efforts. As has my church. To not act in this way would be to turn from them, to reject their cry for friendship and brotherhood.
Just the same, I'm stung by the kind of comments I see on line and in the paper (most, like the one in the FB post above). It hurts to be accused of bigotry and aiding the forces of prejudice. I find myself reading comments like the one here and wondering if all this effort is worth it, if I should choose some other avenue for my energies and passion.
But then I think of Issa Amro, a young Palestinian peacemaker in Hebron; and I think of Zoughbi Zoughbi at Wi'am in Bethlehem; and I think of the remarkable young adult organizers I've met in Tel Aviv (Israeli and Palestinian); and I think of the walls and the poverty and the hopelessness occupation sows in the hearts of dear, dear people. I remember all of them--and their kind faces, and their determination--and I realize that I would truly be a coward to turn away. I would truly be a coward if a FB comment, or a letter to the editor of a small town daily, or any of the other stuff this last year, caused me to lose faith.
That's not my practice. That's not the way of my people, or the many allies I choose to love.
So I will do my best not to answer the comment here, or the next letter in the paper: not with a barb or a flippant quip or a mean-spirited counterattack. I will rely on the example of so many others who have shown that "hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." And I will pray for the wisdom and courage to keep loving: those who love me, those who resent me, those who value my contributions to the common good, and those who are disappointed in them. I will pray for the courage to keep loving them all.
Lord, have mercy on me. Lord, have mercy on us all.