“. . . illumine the world with your image . . .” (Evangelical Lutheran Worship)

The Transfiguration of Christ, Lorenzo Lotto, 1511

The Transfiguration of Christ, Lorenzo Lotto, 1511

You like to think about synergy and coincidence and “a god thing” and other spookinesses. That is, you like the logical fallacy of Post hoc ergo propter hoc, assuming that if ‘A’ occurred after ‘B’ then ‘B’ must have caused ‘A.’

In 1456, the Ottomans laid siege to Belgrade in Serbia. They were repelled, and the Christian world of Europe rejoiced. News reached Pope Callixtus III on August 6, and he declared the date The Feast of the Transfiguration, the liturgical remembrance of Jesus’ appearing in light to the disciples (Protestant liturgical churches recently moved the Transfiguration to the Last Sunday in Epiphany).

In 1945, the United States and Japan were locked in the last stages of WW II. President Truman ordered the atomic bombing of two Japanese cities to end the war and “save lives.” Hiroshima was bombed on August 6.

Synergy, coincidence, a “god thing.” The Feast of the Transfiguration celebrating the end of the siege of Belgrade and the bombing of Hiroshima come together on the same day. Does this convergence mean anything?

This convergence was pointed out to me by the widow of Admiral Robert A. Theobald, a commander in the Pacific fleet who accused the Roosevelt administration of knowing the attack on Pearl Harbor was immanent and doing nothing about it in order to bring the U.S. into WWII. Betty Theobald, a cellist of some renown and a member of the altar guild of my (Episcopal) church in Salem, MA, gave me a history lesson from personal experience, her understanding of many coincidences and ironies of WWII.

On August 6, 1787, the U.S. constitutional convention began. On August 6, 1806, Francis II renounced the title “Holy Roman Emperor” ending the empire. On August 6, 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Russia and Serbia beginning WWI. On August 6, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act.

Unrelated (or are they?) events on August 6, starting with the defeat of the Ottomans who were besieging Belgrade, giving the Christians of Europe reason to rejoice and proclaim a Feast of the Church to mark the day.

This year on August 6 the world was in turmoil: Putin getting ready to invade Ukrainia. Landslides at Mt. Baldy. Ted Cruz running the House of Representatives. Fugitive children massed on the southern border of the US. A lull in the murderous siege of Gaza by Israel. And so on.

We need a victory as decisive as the end of the Siege of Belgrade or the bombing of Hiroshima to lead us out of this morass of bad news, of gruesome events over which we apparently have no control.

We need to figure out how to change the bizarre and dangerous coincidences of our lives, both personal and national.

We need a victory we can mark with a national or religious holiday and move on in the assurance that God’s in her heaven, and all’s right in the world.

We need to learn to accept all of the “coincidences” of our lives or to change the horrendous situations we can change. We need to begin to understand the difference between accepting and changing.

For several days I have been immobilized by a thought I’ve not been able to write.

It’s a simple thought. In our admirable attempt to be “charitable” and “diplomatic” and “equitable” we (all of us, but especially “educated” and “liberal-minded” folks) work hard at trying to “understand” in order to find “fair” solutions to any and all problems. We know every conflict has two sides. Accept or change?

The brightest man made light

The brightest man made light

However, the simple act of saying “there are two sides” means almost certainly we have accepted one side of the argument. Should LGBTQ folks marry or not? Was “Hobby Lobby” the right Supreme Court ruling? Has Edward Snowden helped or hurt Americans? There are two sides to all of these arguments.

I’ll bet everyone has an opinion about each of them. Does anyone really think there are two equally correct sides to those questions?

Is Israel justified in bombing Gaza to rubble?

Of course you have an opinion. If you think Israel has a “right” to bomb Gaza, you a priori think the Gazans have no “right” to fight back against the blockade that has kept their children hungry and their society imprisoned for seven years.

I can hear the most liberal, the most thoughtful, the most fair-minded folks saying, “Well, yes, it’s horrible, it’s gruesome, it’s disastrous, but Israel has a right.” I wish those people—particularly those who make some claim to having a sense of morality—would play that back in their minds. If it’s horrible, if it’s gruesome, if it’s disastrous, then Israel has no right. Period. Whatever the attempt at justification, it is not “right.” Period.

We love synergy, coincidence, strange concurrences. We love the heavenly light of the Transfiguration of Jesus juxtaposed with the brightest light ever created by mankind in the bombing of Hiroshima.

We—especially we liberals and wanna-be intellectuals—love to think we can be reasonable and hold murder and destruction in our minds along with righteousness and light.

I’m not that clever. I think bombing innocent civilians of Hiroshima was an act of violence that haunts our nation 69 years later. And bombing innocent civilians of Gaza will haunt not only Israel but also the United States—which provides the munitions of destruction—for at least 69 years.

gaza bombThe prayer Lutherans read on the Feast of the Transfiguration says,

Almighty God, the resplendent light of your truth shines from the mountaintop into our hearts. Transfigure us by your beloved Son, and illumine the world with your image, through Jesus Christ, our Savior, and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Whether one is a Lutheran or not, or a Christian or not, or an atheist or not, “The resplendent light of truth” is not the light from bombs exploding. Some synergies simply aren’t.

“Live in the layers, not on the litter. . .” (Stanley Kunitz, 1905 – 2006)

My Big Horn Mountains - tectonic uplift

My Big Horn Mountains – tectonic uplift

Stanley Kunitz was 73 (three or four years older than I am now) in 1978 when he wrote his poem “The Layers.” He lived another 28 years and died in 2006 at 101. Remarkable by almost any family’s stats.

My mother lived to be 92, my father lived to be 97 and His father lived to be 92. I could continue the list of my close relatives who lived to be nonagenarians.

By the laws of averages and statistics, it seems to me that I may be hanging around here for some time (I’m only 69). Given simple genetics, I have some time left to enjoy myself—or do something, at any rate.

I want to spend more years in the mountains. The real, majestic, overwhelming mountains. Mountains like the Big Horns in Wyoming, at the western slope of which I lived my first five years. Or the San Bernardino Mountains in Southern California, in whose shadow I lived for 11 years.

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.

I am not who I was though some principle of being myself remains.

Of his poem Kunitz said,

“I wrote ‘The Layers’ in my late seventies to conclude a collection of sixty years of my poetry. Through the years I had endured the loss of several of my dearest friends. . . I felt I was near the end of a phase in my life and in my work.”

He went on to say that the lines “Live in the layers, not on the litter” came to him in a dream. I suppose if one is a poet, lines appear in dreams.

Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!

If I think about the tribe of friends and family I’ve had in my life so far, I understand the notion of the tribe scattered. I’ve been watching a TV program about the geological history of Australia. I’m fascinated that the geologists and zoologists and anthropologists can look at layers of rock and decipher the ages of fossils they find there (I’m fascinated that they can pick up what appear to be scattered rocks and put them together to form a dinosaur fossil).

My beach at Winter Island

My beach at Winter Island

The earth has—apparently world-wide—a layer of what used to be soot (it’s black, at any rate) that has been compressed into rock. Geologists find it almost anywhere on the earth they look. The residue of earth’s crash with an asteroid caused the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Anyone who knows even the little I know science/evolution/geology knows about the great Yucatan Asteroid Smash, a cataclysmic event. And one which is revealed through the constant movement, the uplift, of the earth’s outer shell (made up of the “layers”), the tectonic plates.

Stanley Kunitz (as poets do) gave me a new way to think about the layers of the earth—the layers of my life. Childhood. Teen years. College. Floundering. Graduate school. Failed marriage. First partnership with him. Second partnership. College teaching career. Third partnership. More graduate school. University teaching. Topsoil. Retirement/whatever.

My favorite geological wonder is the uplift of mountains. How do the tectonic plates move? Is the uplift sudden and earth-shattering, or slow and deliberate (apparently it’s slow—the Andes, I’ve read somewhere, are getting taller by a milli-inch every year)? I want to know the mountains.

The uplift, the earth-shattering experiences of my life (yes, I am a drama queen). Moving from Nebraska to California for college. Getting married. Moving to Iowa for graduate school. Getting divorced. Moving to Massachusetts to be with him. Then the next him. College teaching. The real him and moving to Dallas.

The uplifts, the layer-shattering experiences of my life seem to have involved moving from one place to another.

Or simply visiting one place or another.

The greatest tectonic uplift of my life was my first trip to Palestine in 2003. Nothing about my life was unaffected by that experience. All of the layers were dislodged.

OK. I’ll stop with the (by this time over-done and corny) metaphor.

I understood there for the first time how costly, how inestimable human life is. I realized for the first time the meaning of one sentence I learned from the foundational “layer” of my life. The way I learned it first was something about losing your life to find it. I like Eugene Peterson’s translation of Matthew 16:24-26. I met people in Palestine who

Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. . . Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way. . . to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for?

I met people in Palestine—Beit Sahour, Bethlehem, Rafa, Gaza City, Ramallah, Jenin, Hebron—who know about keeping themselves but losing everything. I’ve purposefully left out the phrases in the quotation that make it explicitly “Christian.” I know some of my friends would have visceral negative reactions to that. They’re missing the point.

I’m not saying people who know about losing everything (the shattering crush of the “tectonic plates” of their lives) and saving themselves don’t live elsewhere. But most of the people I met in those places, especially the Salsa family in Beit Sahour, showed me (I still have not learned the lesson well) what little is worth “. . . trad[ing] your soul for.”

Of course, the Palestinians have been forced to learn. But they have learned. Those whom I met in 2003 and again in 2009 know about the value of life in a way almost no one else I know does. They know how to live in the layers of their lives, not in the litter around them—even the cataclysmic earth-shattering events of their lives.

“The Layers,” by Stanley Kunitz, 1905 – 2006

Know how to live in the layers, not the litter

Know how to live in the layers, not the litter

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

“. . . reveals a deliberate and systematic plan. . . “ (Peige Desjarlais)

Being senescent is not as continually jolly as I hoped when I began writing this blog.

Bethlehem, 1880

Bethlehem, 1880

I may say I’m senescent, but no one under 65 may. I heard on TV news yesterday that the “elderly” Aretha Franklin is coming to town. She’s 72. She ain’t elderly regardless what the 20-year-old copy writer says!

Does everyone in their senescence have memories lodged in their minds that won’t go away?

The past two weeks I’ve written daily—as usual. But my mind goes to an uncomfortable memory I can’t shake, August, 2003. I haven’t been able to write about it.

A few years back a friend asked me to remove her from my email “contacts” or stop sending her mass-mailing messages. She did not want any more of my “political” messages.

Since that day I have wondered how anyone who is able to think logically (which my friend certainly is) can say the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people by the Israelis is “political.”

Ethnic cleansing—the appropriation of the land of a people and dislocating them, usually accompanied by mass murder of civilians propelled by the belief that one nation has the right to the land of another—is not a matter of politics. It is a matter of morality.

My guess is we’d have to search hard to find an American who would say the “Caliphate” founded on religion declared in Syria and Iraq is a good thing. If someone thought so, they would not say it. They would be ostracized—or worse! We’d have to search hard to find a single American who would say the Russian annexation of Crimea is a good thing. If someone thought so, they would not say it. They would be ostracized—or worse!

But the Israeli annexation of the West Bank and Gaza, its declaration that its state founded on religion extends from the Jordan to the Mediterranean is, in the thinking of Americans, somehow justified.

This does not raise a political question. It is a simple question of right versus wrong.

The erroneous political commentary is that Israel has a right to defend itself, most recently to punish Hamas for kidnapping and killing three Jewish boys. Never mind this is “. . . an arbitrary starting point. Just one day before the kidnappings, a Palestinian man and a 10-year-old child were killed in Gaza by an Israeli airstrike. Why wasn’t that the starting point of the violence? Has the media [and thus the American people] internalized Israel’s narrative to such an extent that they only see Israel as ‘responding’ to violence rather than initiating it?” Always?

Americans want the State of Iraq somehow to rise up and defend itself.

America is willing to destroy Russia’s economy to bring an end to the civil war in Eastern Ukraine.

Why does that thinking not apply to Israel and its inch-by-inch, illegal settlement-by-illegal settlement ethnic cleansing of the homeland of the Palestinian people—the ethnic cleansing** that began in 1948 and has continued unabated until July 30, 2014? If we want the people of Iraq to defend themselves against ISIS and the Ukrainians to defend themselves against Russia, why do we not want the Palestinians to defend themselves against aggression?

The falsity of the reasoning leading to Israel’s right to defend itself is proven by the fact that no one follows the logic to its rational end, that the Palestinian people have the right to defend themselves.

All peoples have a right to defend themselves
The Palestinians are a people.
Therefore the Palestinians have a right to defend themselves.

Deir Yassin Massacre, 1948

Deir Yassin Massacre, 1948

Anyone who repeats the illogical and time-worn assumption that only Israel has a right to defend itself is repeating propaganda, not logic, and certainly not Truth. (This is not an idea original with me. Fortunately those with far more authority than I are of the same mind.)

The only reason to say one people has the right to defend itself and another doesn’t is that we have chosen sides—not that the idea is either logical or moral. It is either propaganda or nonsense—or both.

I have friends who think that the problem in Gaza is Hamas. They cannot (or will not?) understand that the problem pre-dates Hamas. Hamas did not exist at the time of Israel’s 1967 conquering of all of Palestine. The problem is not (and never has been) Hamas. The problem is Israel’s ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians—bordering now on GENOCIDE in Gaza.

The formation of Hamas was a reaction to the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people; Hamas is not the cause of the “conflict.” Hamas is the result of the “conflict.”

That August day in 2003 I stood with a group of Americans at the edge of an olive orchard behind the home of a Palestinian family. Much of the orchard had been uprooted, and access to the rest was restricted by chain-link fences topped by coils of razor wire. The fence enclosed a gouge in the earth about ½ mile wide with a newly-constructed divided highway running down the middle. This highway was restricted to Israeli citizens (Jewish) and military, even though it was in Occupied Palestine.

When I returned to a place near that farm six years later, our group could not get to the farm because it was on the other side of the Apartheid Wall Israel had finished in the interim.

Some will object to my use of “Apartheid.” Dictionary.com defines the word as “any system or practice that separates people according to race, caste, etc.” Once one has seen the Wall and the system of Jewish-only highways dissecting Palestinian land and connecting the illegal Israeli settlements, one has no qualms using the word “Apartheid.”

And so, because Israel has a right to protect its Apartheid system, it has the right to destroy the homes of 100,000 Palestinians in Gaza, to bomb hospitals, to destroy the only power plant in Gaza, and to murder over 1000 Palestinians—so far—mostly civilians, 1/3 of them children. They have the right. The Palestinians have no rights.

Anyone who can contemplate that carnage or see the Apartheid Wall without revulsion has no moral compass.

** “Ethnic cleansing is a crime under international law, defined as the intention to create an ethnically homogenous territory through the expulsion of an ethnic or religious group. It is often related to, but not the same as, the crime of

Bethlehem, 2014

Bethlehem, 2014

genocide. The United Nations defines acts of ethnic cleansing as the “separation of men from women, the detention of men, the explosion of houses” and repopulating homes with another ethnic group. Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, like other members of the dubbed “new historians”, counters the dominant Israeli narrative that the Palestinians fled voluntarily or under the orders of Arab leaders of surrounding countries. His study of Israeli military archives reveals a deliberate and systematic plan by the Zionist militias to ethnically cleanse the Arab population of Palestine by occupying villages and their homeland and some 530 Arab villages were destroyed and depopulated along with other urban centers. A society descended from people who settled the region as far back as the Canaanites was destroyed in a matter of months in the process of making the borders of the Jewish state.”
From:
Desjarlais, Peige. “Excavating Zion: Archaeology and Nation-Making In Palestine/Israel.” Totem: The University Of Western Ontario Anthropology Journal 21.1 (2013): 1-14.

“When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter. . .” (W. H. Auden)

Defense against a peaceful demonstration, Bethlehem

Defense against a peaceful demonstration, Bethlehem

With even a modest ability to consider objectively the barrage of “information” overwhelming us hour by hour by hour by minute, one can see that any media—any format—presenting information about the current attempt of Israel to obliterate Palestinian Gaza assumes a priori that Israel’s actions are justified.

The common—no the absolute overwhelming majority—wisdom is that “Israel has the right to protect itself.”

This is a “truth” so often repeated that it sounds as if it came from, Oh, I don’t know, perhaps the Holy Bible. Or the United States Constitution. Or the United Nations Charter. Or the Bhagavad Gita. Or the Qur’an. Or Shakespeare. Or SNL. It is simple truth, not to be questioned. It is as universal belief as the made-up science of economics.

Belief in Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” is no less pervasive than that “Israel has a right to protect itself.”

Hardly anyone (at least hardly anyone in public) thinks about whether or not the proposition is true. And almost no one wants to hear any information that might contradict the received wisdom.

The wisdom began to be received, I would guess, during and immediately after the 1967 War between Israel and its Arab neighbors. I have, in fact, read about the process whereby the Israeli Cabinet decided to use Madison Avenue tactics, if not a Madison Avenue firm, to begin to persuade the American people that the belief, “Israel has a right to defend itself,” is simply true, is simply to be accepted without thought. I will plow through the stuff I have and find that article (or reread the book, whatever it takes).

Until then, trust me. OK, don’t trust me. There’s no reason for you to do so until I have located the evidence that I am correct.

So in lieu of trusting me, trust yourself.

Ask yourself why the massive destruction of cities, the horrifying murder of civilians Israel is perpetrating right now is in any way an expression of the “right to self-defense.”

Do you think Russia’s annexation of Crimea was an act of self-defense?
Do you think Saddam Hussein’s annexation of Kuwait in 1990 was an act of self-defense?
Do you think the genocide of the Tutsi by the Hutus of Rwanda in 1994 was an act of self-defense?
Which side in the Bosnian war of the 1990s, the Serbs or the Croats was exercising its “right of self-defense?”

Think. Simply think about it.

Defense against a child

Defense against a child

My guess is that anyone who might be reading this can quote the last sentence of

Perhaps someone might say, “Socrates, can you not go away from us and live quietly, without talking?” Now this is the hardest thing to make some of you believe. For if I say that such conduct would be disobedience to the god and that therefore I cannot keep quiet, you will think I am jesting and will not believe me; and if again I say that to talk every day about virtue and the other things about which you hear me talking and examining myself and others is the greatest good to man, and that the unexamined life is not worth living, you will believe me still less. Socrates speaking Plato’s Apology [37 (e) to 38 (a)].

The unexamined life is not worth living.

“As I’ve said repeatedly, Israel has a right to defend itself from rocket attacks that terrorize the Israeli people,” [President] Obama said.

What on earth does that phrase mean—and what are its implications? Its implications are that Israel has a right to continue the ethnic cleansing of all “Arabs” (read “Palestinians”) from the territory Israel claims as its own—the ethnic cleansing that began during the war that led up to the declaration of the founding of Israel in 1948.

The constant repetition of an idea for decades does not make it true.

Ad populum: This is an emotional appeal that speaks to positive (such as patriotism, religion, democracy) or negative (such as terrorism or fascism) concepts rather than the real issue at hand.

Much writing is available to anyone who wants to think about the “received wisdom” that “Israel has a right to defend itself.” One might—after reading any or all of such writing—decide that the proposition is correct.

The question remains, however, where did the idea originate, and why was it first stated? Is it, in fact, the “truth,” or is it an Ad populum logical fallacy used to justify aggression and the subjugation of one people by another?
I said above there is much writing available. My project over the next few weeks is to gather a bibliography of such material and publish it on my other blog as a resource for anyone who believes that

talking and examining myself and others is the greatest good to man,

and that the unexamined life is not worth living includes questioning our received beliefs about atrocity. The link to the first installment of the bibliography is below Auden’s explanation of tyrannical speech.

“Epitaph on a Tyrant,” by W. H. Auden (1907 – 1973)
Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.

http://sumnonrabidus.wordpress.com/2014/07/26/when-he-laughed-respectable-senators-burst-with-laughter-w-h-auden/

Defense against a worker returning home

Defense against a worker returning home

 

 

“. . . love with no need to pre-empt grievance. . .” (Elizabeth Alexander)

A British travel poster from the 1930s - to visit a place that didn't exist?

A British travel poster from the 1930s – to visit a place that didn’t exist?


Elizabeth Alexander
wrote her poem “Praise Song for the Day” for President Obama’s first inauguration. In the foreground, the poem is, of course, about the event which few of us had imagined would happen in our lifetimes—the inauguration of our first African American President.

I’m appropriating the poem because I think its background “meaning” is infinitely more complex than simply a marker for one event.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

For the past ten days I have been depressed in a way that is both familiar and unfamiliar to me. I have not managed to write anything organized well enough to warrant posting here or anywhere else. I have written and written, but all of that stuff is either in Word documents with bizarre names on my desktop or—mercifully—in the “recycle bin.”

Most of the depression is, I think, a normal reaction that even those of you who do not have to take Prozac feel. It’s separation anxiety. Some of it is already here (retirement), but some of it is projection. Three of the people I depend on for emotional stability are going away, one temporarily, one permanently, and one either temporarily or permanently. I’m feeling ordinary sadness and fear at being left alone, albeit projected fear because their departures are in the future.

Augusta Victoria Arab (Lutheran) Hospital in Jerusalem

Augusta Victoria Arab (Lutheran) Hospital in Jerusalem

Ordinary sadness.

Then there’s a small item of difficulty in being hired for sure for the part time tutoring job I am already doing at the university. That there can be a problem with my application to teach part time at a university where I have been teaching full time for fifteen years is terrifying to me. What if they don’t, after all of this, hire me? Is my next step applying at Walmart for a job? (After all of my criticism of Alice Walton, that’s not a likely prospect.) I spent three hours sitting in the waiting room at the Social Security office yesterday to get a new Social Security card (I haven’t had one for 30 years at least) to insure the solution to part of the problem, but the rest of it is still uncertain.

This is ordinary fear.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

It is all about words.

Ordinary words.

Goodbye. Employ. Security.

Fear.

And the one I have not mentioned.

I have not mentioned it because I don’t know for sure which it is.

Dismay.

Anger.

Or Grief.

In any world of logic (which I seldom inhabit) events taking place 5500 miles from home should not cause depression. Anger, dismay, grief, perhaps, but not depression.

The Israeli project of genocide and the destruction of the Palestinian culture and society in Gaza is, I think, the background meaning of my depression. I cannot fathom it. I cannot accept it. I cannot believe it.

“God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed. . .”

I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Elizabeth Alexander is, I know, speaking directly of the experience of African Americans. But every day the experience of the people of Gaza corresponds more closely to the historical experience of African Americans.

The version of Niebuhr’s prayer we all know is, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”

There is an enormity of difference between “the grace to accept with serenity” and “the serenity to accept.” I will never have “serenity,” but I can try to find “grace”—or (in Christian theological terms) to accept “grace” [see note below] that is freely given (by whom or what, I do not know, but I believe it’s possible).

I cannot accept with serenity the vicious, warmongering, uncivilized assertion that “Israel has the right to defend itself”—with the extension of that logic to the end that Israel has the right to obliterate an entire society.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

Americans must—yes, I will moralize and even preach—“reconsider” the words that are too easy to repeat as if they were fact.

A shirt purchased in 2003 for the weekly vigil in Jerusalem of the Women in Black

A shirt purchased in 2003 for the weekly vigil in Jerusalem of the Women in Black

Israel’s right to defend itself does not include killing hundreds of children in retaliation for the murder of three teen-agers. Or even retaliation for an almost-completely-nonlethal bombardment with rockets. Israel has experienced nothing to warrant genocide and the destruction of entire cities.

That is, nothing but the words that declare God has given Israel the land that belong(s)(ed) to the Palestinians, and the Palestinians must either leave or be killed. Words for us, as Americans, to REconsider. Because they make no sense for us as the protectors of equality and democracy.

We need to find a place where we are safe—where the ideas of equality and democracy that we want the world to believe define us are safe.

We are duplicitous enough for the entire world to see. We pride ourselves in holding “these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” while we give aid in the amount of $2,000,000,000 per year to a nation that is determined either to subjugate another people in toto or drive them from their land. Are the Palestinian people created equal to the Israeli people or not?

Are we caught in a self-contradictory lie of “words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,” or are we so self-deceived that that we are willing to ask for “serenity,” when what we need to seek is “grace?”

We might not need the Prozac of “homeland security” if we stopped lying to ourselves. We are, I think, suffering from separation anxiety—our own separation from the ideals we say we believe.

[Note:  I trust if you listen to this hymn, you will be able to sort out the mild sectarianism and get to the words of the last stanza, “Save us from weak resignation to the evils we deplore.” The evils we deplore are our “warring madness,” from the third stanza.]

“Praise Song for the Day,” by Elizabeth Alexander (b. 1962)
A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.

I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

Limited Options

Gaza Beach, before Israeli blockade, 2007. Families together.

Gaza Beach, before Israeli blockade, 2007. Families together.

Two days ago a friend (a friend of 20 years, well before FB) posted on my FB wall a piece written by one of her FB friends.

Sheba Siddiqi has given me permission to post her writing here.

About fourteen years ago, before I met my husband, I considered myself, a happy and blessed American. I didn’t pay attention to world issues because simply put — it didn’t affect me. Why should I care about what’s going on in the world? I’m happy, safe, free to do what I want, go where I want, whenever I please. International affairs were irrelevant in my life. But then I got married to a wonderful Palestinian man… And it’s amazing how my world view changed! He’s not just Palestinian, he is from Gaza.

I didn’t understand that my husband’s people in Palestine were forced out of their home… out of their country when he was very young. I didn’t understand that their livelihood was taken away, so much so that there was no way of income, no way to provide for the family. This is still the case in Palestine now, many years later.

For the past several days, I have watched the media coverage of Gaza, both US and Arabic media— and I realize there is so much that we as Americans don’t see and understand. Did you know that there have been over 600 people killed, mostly civilians— just sitting in their homes, looking for shelter? Hundreds of those killed were children. Did you know that the hospitals/morgues are full, and out of supplies? Did you know that the Palestinian people have been told to evacuate— but their city is surrounded by walls, and they can’t get out?! The one way place they could go is Egypt, but Egypt has closed its borders and will let no one in? Is this not genocide? I’m not going to comment on who is doing the killing, nor shall I mention where they get their weapons… As a people, if you are being beaten up, if someone is holding a gun to your head, your options are— to run to safety (of which there is none in Gaza), or to fight back.

My heart is breaking for the people of Palestine. I see the faces of my children in those children who will never see freedom because they were hit by gunfire or their home crumbled on top of them. I see the face of my beloved mother-in-law in every grief stricken woman who loses their family. People think that I have changed? Well they are right! I stopped being that “happy American” who thinks it doesn’t affect me. It DOES affect me. When I married my husband, his people became my people. So it is MY people who are being killed– and have no options. I say this because once, I, too, had no reason to care. But as one of my friends, family, acquaintances, I ask you to care—pray for the people of Palestine, communicate with your political leaders, give generously to Gaza.

It’s not about religion, it’s about humanity.

(HAK: it’s not about “politics” or “strategic interests,” either.)

Closed crossing into Egypt - the only escape.

Closed crossing into Egypt – the only escape.

“Until you speak Arabic, you will not understand pain.”

Bedouin Mother, John Singer Sargent, 1905

Bedouin Mother, John Singer Sargent, 1905

Nearly every day I want to write about the greatest conscious mystery I’m aware of. Conscious=aware, I know. I know. That’s a sentence I would ask a student to rewrite. It’s circular reasoning with a vengeance. Of course one is “aware” of a mystery that’s “conscious.” If one were not aware, it would not be “conscious.”

However, nearly every day I want to write about this incongruity, this absolute illogical thinking, this conundrum that I cannot resolve in an attempt to make sense of it.

I often do write about it, but privately—that is, I don’t put the writing here because it is a mystery to me, a riddle I cannot solve. It is so mysterious that I can never come close even to describing my bewilderment, much less explaining it away. Other than the obvious mysteries all of us have to grapple with—why were we born; where did out “consciousness,” our “soul” come from; and what happens to our consciousness, our very being, when we die, those mysteries so few of us want to think about—it is the most inexplicable incongruity I know.

The nature of the mystery, the resolution of the logical fallacy, eludes me. I have searched for the etymology of the word mystery itself, but have found only “from Greek mysterion (usually in plural mysteria) “secret rite or doctrine,” from mystes “one who has been initiated” (The Online Etymology Dictionary). Mystery is a religious or theological idea. I cannot find a meaning that does justice to my frustration over the idea I want to think through for myself—if not explain to anyone else.

Before the US invasion of Iraq (“Shock and Awe”), I wrote somewhere—not on a blog because I wrote my first blog in about 2004, after “shock and awe”—about a photo I saw on the Internet way back before our lives were controlled by our thumbs. The photo’s caption was (is)

 Shaking Hands: Iraqi President Saddam Hussein greets Donald Rumsfeld, then special envoy of President Ronald Reagan, in Baghdad on December 20, 1983.

Rumsfeld was in Baghdad signing an agreement to provide Saddam Hussein with all the munitions he needed to fight his war against the dirty rotten Iranian Islamic fundamentalist regime. I knew about the picture from some pointy-headed, no doubt basically-unAmerican liberal organization that was asking the question (which has never been answered to my knowledge), why were we getting ready to invade Iraq because of its Weapons of Mass Destruction which, if they existed, we sold to Saddam Hussein in the first place—the agent of our sale being the same man who was then leading the push for the invasion?

I also remember being roundly criticized for writing about the “Project for the New American Century” before the invasion of Iraq—being told that I was a conspiracy theorist. That such a project, if it existed, was on the fringe and could not possibly be taken seriously. We Americans (and most of the rest of the world) still live in the monstrous shadow of that project.

Some years ago I wrote about these guys from Kansas (I had read about them on some crackpot liberal website I really should stop looking at) who seemed to be spreading their money around to the most allegedly Conservative groups in the country in order to help elect ultra-reactionaries to state legislatures and Congress. I remember being told I was an alarmist, even Chicken Little, that no one could have that kind of influence over American politics. That was, of course, before Citizens United and the flooding of the coffers of the most oligarchical “conservative” groups by the Koch Brothers of Kansas.

I’m not claiming any special position as seer or Johnny-come-early. I simply pay attention to some (popularly-thought-of-as) radical left-wing (that is to say, realistic) material when everything anyone thinks about is available at the click of a mouse on the internet. One might try clicking on James Petras instead of Molly Cyrus or Justin Bieber or Ted Cruz to learn something about left-wing conspiracy theories–so many of which have actually turned out to be true, unlike idiocy brought to us by the “swift-boaters” and the “birthers” and the “Benghazi-ists.”

The insolvable mystery about which I cannot write is a very simple question. How can Americans who are so fanatically dedicated to “rights,” to “freedom,” to “democracy,” who give constant lip-service to “the right of self-determination,” continue, after 60 years, to assume that the displaced and subjugated people of Palestine are totally at fault in the violence that continues in the land they once called their own?

Bethlehem, John Singer Sargent, 1905

Bethlehem, John Singer Sargent, 1905

THIS IS NOT A RHETORICAL QUESTION! Yes, I am shouting. I want to know the answer to this question. I do not want political posturing. I do not want palaver. I do not want parroting of ideas given the prestige of “U.S. Policy.” I want to know how this can go on and on when clearly the Palestinians are a people who have been deprived of their homeland and treated with as much brutality as any other conquered people in the family of nations today. How can it be?

Naomi Shihab Nye was born on March 12, 1952, in St. Louis, Missouri, to a Palestinian father and an American mother. During her high school years, she lived in Ramallah in Palestine, the Old City in Jerusalem, and San Antonio, Texas, where she later received her BA in English and world religions from Trinity University. She has received numerous awards including a Guggenheim Fellowship for her several books of poetry and non-fiction. She lives in Austin, Texas.

“Arabic,” by Naomi Shihab Nye

The man with laughing eyes stopped smiling
to say, “Until you speak Arabic,
you will not understand pain.”

Something to do with the back of the head,
an Arab carries sorrow in the back of the head,
that only language cracks, the thrum of stones

weeping, grating hinge on an old metal gate.
“Once you know,” he whispered, “you can
enter the room
whenever you need to. Music you heard
from a distance,

the slapped drum of a stranger’s wedding,
well up inside your skin, inside rain, a thousand
pulsing tongues. You are changed.”

Outside, the snow has finally stopped.
In a land where snow rarely falls,
we had felt our days grow white and still.

I thought pain had no tongue. Or every tongue
at once, supreme translator, sieve. I admit my
shame. To live on the brink of Arabic, tugging

its rich threads without understanding
how to weave the rug…I have no gift.
The sound, but not the sense.

I kept looking over his shoulder for someone else
to talk to, recalling my dying friend
who only scrawled
I can’t write. What good would any grammar
have been

to her then? I touched his arm, held it hard,
which sometimes you don’t do in the Middle East

and said, I’ll work on it, feeling sad

for his good strict heart, but later in the slick street
hailed a taxi by shouting Pain! and it stopped
in every language and opened its doors.

A BIBLIOGRPHY FOR BEGINNING UNDERSTANDING.

Bedouins, John Singer Sargent, 1905

Bedouins, John Singer Sargent, 1905

(I can provide a copy of any of the scholarly articles. If you would like one, simply let me know.)

Israeli killing of Palestinian children
Clear analysis from Rosemary Sayigh on the Nakba’s
Exclusion from the extensive writing on “Trauma Genre”
Latest killing of Palestinians
Rev. Naim Ateek’s Statement on Israeli law separating Muslim and Christian Arabs
Gaza Blockade
Olive trees
Hebron settler violence
Bin Laden’s father owned a home in Jerusalem
Right of Return

Manna, Adel. “The Palestinian Nakba and Its Continuous Repercussions.” Israel Studies 18.2 (2013): 86-99.
The article discusses the impact of the 1948 Nakba, or defeat, of the Palestinian Arabs on the collective memory and experiences of the Palestinian people. The author emphasizes that the term Nakba is used to describe the continuous experiences of Palestinians from the mid-20th century into 21st century and is viewed as a contemporary reality rather than a historical event. It is suggested that the Israeli state has rebuffed offers by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to divide Palestine into two independent states. Other topics include Palestinian nationalism, Zionism, and the social and economic conditions of Palestinian refugees.

Masalha, Nur. “Remembering the Palestinian Nakba: Commemoration, Oral History and Narratives of Memory.” Holy Land Studies: A Multidisciplinary Journal (Edinburgh University Press) 7.2 (2008): 123-156.
This year Palestinians commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Nakba – the most traumatic catastrophe that ever befell them. The rupture of 1948 and the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the Nakba are central to both the Palestinian society of today and Palestinian social history and collective identity. This article explores ways of remembering and commemorating the Nakba. It deals with the issue within the context of Palestinian oral history, ‘social history from below’, narratives of memory and the formation of collective identity. With the history, rights and needs of the Palestinian refugees being excluded from recent Middle East peacemaking efforts and with the failure of both the Israeli state and the international community to acknowledge the Nakba, ‘1948’ as an ‘ethnic cleansing’ continues to underpin the Palestine-Israel conflict. This article argues that to write more truthfully about the Nakba is not just to practice a professional historiography; it is also a moral imperative of acknowledgement and redemption. The struggles of the refugees to publicize the truth about the Nakba is a vital way of protecting the refugees’ rights and keeping the hope for peace with justice alive.

Bedouin Camp, John Singer Sargent, 1905

Bedouin Camp, John Singer Sargent, 1905

Nasrallah, Ibrahim. “Palestinian Culture before the Nakba.” Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics & Culture 15.1/2 (2008): 206-209.
The article focuses on the works of author Walid Khalidi in Palestine. The photographs of Khalidi’s book “Before Their Diaspora: A Photographic History of the Palestinians, 1876-1948” depict a vital society active in all areas of life on farms, factories, and construction sites. Moreover, many renowned artists and writers of the Arab world visited or performed in pre-1948 Palestine, testament to the existence of a well-established society to a rare dynamism, in spite of the historical context and the looming disasters. The pioneering figure in Khalidi’s book was Jamil al-Bahri, a Palestinian dramatist who died in 1930 and has 12 plays in his name.

Nets-Zehngut, Rafi, and Daniel Bar-Tal. “Transformation of the Official Memory of Conflict: A Tentative Model and the Israeli Memory of the 1948 Palestinian Exodus.” International Journal of Politics, Culture & Society 27.1 (2014): 67-91.
Collective memory of an intractable conflict is an important determinant of the psychological and the behavioral dynamics of the parties involved. Typically biased, it de-legitimizes the rival and glorifies the in-group, thereby inhibiting peaceful resolution of the conflict and reconciliation of the parties. Therefore, the transformation of this memory into a less biased one is of great importance in advancing peace and reconciliation. This article introduces for the first time a tentative model of that transformation, describing the seven phases of the transformation process and the five categories of factors that influence it. Methodologically, this is done using a case study approach, based on the empirical findings regarding the Israeli official memory from 1949 to 2004 surrounding the causes of the 1948 Palestinian exodus. This memory is represented by all of the publications produced during the 56-year research period of the Israeli army (IDF), the National Information Center, and the Ministry of Education. While until 1999 this inclusive memory was largely Zionist (i.e., all the Palestinian refugees left willingly in 1948), since 2000, it has become partially critical because the Ministry of Education has begun adopting the critical narrative (i.e., some left willingly while others were expelled)

RAM, URI. “Ways of Forgetting: Israel and the Obliterated Memory of the Palestinian Nakba.” Journal of Historical Sociology 22.3 (2009): 366-395.
Available at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-6443.2009.01354.x/abstract
This study analyses national ways of forgetting. Following the eminent British Anthropologists Mary Douglas, I relate here to “forgetting” as “selective remembering, misremembering and disremembering” (Douglas 2007: 13). The case study offered here is that of the Israeli-Jewish forgetting of the uprooting of the Palestinians in the war of 1948. This paper discusses three facets of the collective forgetting: In I analyze the foundations of the Israeli regime of forgetting and discern three mechanisms of removing from memory of selected events: narrative forgetting: the formation and dissemination of an historical narrative; physical forgetting: the destruction of physical remains; and symbolic forgetting: the creation of a new symbolic geography of new places and street names. I look at the tenacious ambiguity that lies in the regime of forgetting, as it does not completely erase all the traces of the past. And finally, I discuss the growth of subversive memory and counter-memory that at least indicates the option of a future revision of the Israeli regime of forgetting.