Thursday, March 27, 2014

When Will Peace Come?

This past week, singer/songwriter Jerry Leggett was in town. Jerry and his spouse Patsy are on a tour in association with the Dayton International Peace Museum in Dayton, Ohio. Their stop in Brookings was between two stops in New Mexico and one in Des Moines. There will be many more before the tour is over. They call this adventure, "Turtle with a Mustache."

There's a story behind the phrase. Attributed to Ajhan Chah, the story goes: "A wise one said, 'looking for peace is like looking for a turtle with a mustache. You won't be able to find it. But when your heart is ready, peace will come looking for you.'" 

There's certainly wisdom in this saying. Especially for those of us who live in a society now perpetually at war, looking for peace seems a futile effort.  But perhaps our hearts aren't ready. Perhaps on the inside we are still at war, with the planet and with each other. We pay taxes for bloated war budgets. And we always seem to want more jobs in more war industries, creating bigger and better and more terrifying weapons. 

Jerry is looking for the peace almost all of us say we want, and shares his music looking for hearts that are ready to receive it.

Jerry is probably best known for an earlier two year tour, where he covered some 100,000 miles across this country with his "Peace Bubble." The bubble is one of those mini silver trailers, just big enough to hold the necessary equipment and provide an emergency sleeping space on the road. Painted and labeled appropriately, it was a quick draw wherever he stopped and if it was at a park or city sidewalk, when he got out the guitar and started playing, the people came as well. That gave him a chance to ask hundreds of people the big question of the tour, "what does peace look like to you?" Patsy, the photographer, kept the visual record. And at concerts and spontaneous happenings all over the U.S., folks gave their thoughts about the face of peace.

When asked if there was any consistent response to the question of what peace looks like, Patsy said people associated peace with justice. If there was justice, fairness, a sense of equity and equality, there you could see the face of peace. Some of our greatest peace makers have proclaimed the same. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to recognize that injustice anywhere can lead to conflict and violence and threaten peace everywhere. 

Last evening, my attention was drawn to an article about Guantanamo and the continuing incarceration of prisoners of the "war on terror." Written by Gary Thompson, an attorney who represents pro bono detainees at the prison, I was informed about the status of those his firm had represented. One prisoner had been released. He had been imprisoned for five years in horrendous conditions, essentially for being charitable. A second had been released after seven years, a case of mistaken identity. The third was still waiting to be released. A ballet dancer by profession, he was arrested as a Muslim refugee from Russia, in Pakistan, and turned over to the U.S. military. Although he has gone through the habeus corpus process and been cleared for release, the government appealed and the appeals court has been sitting on the case for two years now. When the article was written in 2013, this third prisoner was in his 11th. year at Guantanamo, his 12 year old son still waiting to someday meet his father. 

It's hard to understand how the injustices at Guantanamo will lead to a world at peace. It's hard to understand how the weapon of choice these days, pilotless drones, will lead to a world at peace. And denial and/or despair over the state of the world certainly won't get us there. Instead, we might well try the big three: faith, hope and love.

A bit more peace music in our heads and hearts might help lead us to a world at peace. A greeter appreciation for the beauty of the planet and of people around us and near us might lead to a world at peace. A greater effort to insure justice for all might lead to a world at peace. And a serious effort on the part of all of us, to exchange the disharmony in our lives and souls, just might lead to greater harmony all around us. If we get our hearts right, peace just might seek us out.

There was a potter at the concert the other evening who makes turtles out of clay. He asked for Jerry's address. I'm guessing Jerry might get a turtle in the mail, a turtle with a mustache. 

Carl Kline

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Hidden in Plain Sight

 Even as recently as a year ago, I was not aware of an organization called the “National High School Model UN”.   It simply was not on my horizon.   With the advent of my granddaughter’s becoming a freshman at our regional high school, my horizon has changed, broadened, expanded - -become much more colorful.

I have just returned from being a chaperone for 13 young people from our high school, my granddaughter included, as they attended the 2014 NHSMUN conference in New York City.  They were among 3600 high school delegates from all over the world, convened for a “learning through simulation” experience, becoming a model UN for 4 days.

For 4 days, it was my honor and privilege to visit simulated UN committee sessions as these amazing young people debated issues, wrote position papers, created resolutions, amended those same resolutions and worked together to get resolutions passed.

In the process I observed them learning how to work cooperatively with total strangers, how to share diverse views and opinions and work toward mutual understanding in the service of a higher good.  I watched as kids took on the identity of the countries they were assigned to represent at the UN – learning about serious issues from the perspective of their assigned countries, learning how to respect opinions they did not agree with and how to find diplomatic ways to move the debate forward. In the committee sessions I observed the building of alliances on many levels - - from the level of simulated political and diplomatic debate to the level of more experienced kids helping the “newbies” learn how to function in their committees –across the lines of their “national interests”.  I watched kids gain confidence in finding their voices to speak in behalf of their assigned countries in debate - - going from rapidly beating hearts and sweaty palms to being able to state their positions clearly and with confidence over the course of the conference.

A highlight of the weekend was observing our 13 delegates, ranging in age from 14 to 18, as they interacted around some very difficult issues in a briefing session with the permanent representative to the UN from Uganda, our high school’s assigned country.  I sat, astounded, impressed and proud of the way these young people were able to maintain a mature and open receptivity as they listened to His Excellency’s gracious briefing on the country they were assigned to represent.  I was even more impressed by the way they were able to take the information he gave them and weave it into the debate when they returned to their committee sessions.

I came home high as the proverbial kite, feeling renewed hope that if the world is going to be in the hands of these kids in a few more years, we might just be OK.

As the kids cut loose on the dance floor on the final night of the conference, I was reassured that they are very normal, energetic teenagers who just happen to have exceptional interests and abilities - - and a burning desire to make the world a better place.

After a really good night’s sleep on my return home, I went to morning worship this morning and was blown away by a brief response to a “Canticle of Covenant Faithfulness” that was used in the service. It was an adaptation of Isaiah 55:6: “Your face, Lord, do I seek.  Hide not your face from me.”  It brought to mind the ancient story of Moses on the mountain with God and being forbidden to see the face of God.  It also brought to mind the great teaching that humankind is created in the image and likeness of God.  The two notions are paradoxical.  On the one hand, human beings may not look directly upon the face of God because the power of such a possibility could mean annihilation.  On the other hand, we are to recognize the image of God in every human being we encounter.

As I sang the response to the canticle, I had an overwhelming realization that the “high” of the Model UN Conference came from knowing that I had seen the compassionate, wise, intelligent, loving, reconciling, passionate face of God revealed in 3600 physically beautiful, energetic, funny, intelligent, wise, thoughtful, generous, compassionate and passionate faces of the youthful delegates to the conference. 

The ancient prophets often prayed “How long, O Lord?” as they anguished over the state of their respective worlds – wanting to know when their great God would intervene and make things right.  For a brief moment in time, in the company of 3600 kids, I was privileged to know that the answer to the age old question is right in front of me - - hidden in plain sight.

Vicky Hanjian

Monday, March 10, 2014

A Thin Thread of Water

The room was alive with excitement as we climbed the stairs and entered Spontaneous Celebrations, Jamaica Plain’s community cultural center. The air pulsed with conversation, with laughter, with different languages, strains of Middle Eastern music wafting and dancing up to the rafters. We had come to see a mosaic mural on display for the first time, even as it awaits completion, itself a metaphor, the process as its own essence flowing toward fullness. The project speaks of itself as “seeing through walls,” offering as its purpose “to promote peace and an end to conflict between Israel and Palestine…, our vision of peace, justice and hope for the Israeli and Palestinian people.” Like those gathered to see and affirm their work, the artists are of diverse backgrounds, their own process painstaking in determining over time the mural’s design, love and determination palpable in coming to this day of its presentation.

We slowly made our way to the front of the room to see what we had come to see, the mural itself, though perhaps it really was the people we had come to see, brought together by the mural, as it is meant to do. I saw a friend and colleague in building bridges between Muslims and Jews. Mohamed and I embraced and laughed, delighted to see each other here, drawn without plan to this place of bridge-building. He introduced me to one of the artists, a Palestinian. I introduced him to an Israeli, a relative of one of the Jewish artists. We were all part of a web of connection, standing there in front of the mosaic, all of the small tiles in careful arrangement and brilliant color doing their work before we had even paused to really look.

I stood and stared, taking in the beauty of the mosaic, a sense of quiet suddenly surrounding, walls to be seen through, not to divide, a great golden sun rising beyond for all to see and be warmed by, and there a path to be illumined by the golden light. Two women are painting the wall, their backs to us, each wearing a smock, the Star of David on one, the Crescent Moon on the other, a Jew and Muslim creating together. On the buckets of paint into which they dip their brushes are the words peace and justice in their respective languages, the colors of hope in their striving. There are children playing together in the foreground, swimming in a stream, playing along its banks, some running and flying kites, one floating a boat upon the water, its sails filled out to show Israeli and Palestinian flags. And then I pause and look up toward the top. There is the golden dome of the Mosque of Omar that stands upon what Jews know as the Temple Mount, the Har HaBayit/the Mountain of the House. The light of the sun is refracted through human creation, offering even greater brilliance. And then I look more carefully. Here is the trickling start of a spring that way down below has expanded into the swiftly flowing stream in which children play. It begins at the top, on the holy mountain, as a fine blue line of tile, a thin thread of water.

I am mesmerized, as I had been some weeks ago by a teaching I came upon in the Talmud that has captivated me, that has stayed with me, an image formed of words that won’t leave me, begging for insight. Here before me was the interpretation I had been seeking. It begins as a vision of the Prophet Ezekiel (47:3) in which he follows a stream of successively increasing depth, beginning as a trickle of water flowing from under the threshold of the Holy Temple on that same holy mountain. Drawing on that vision, the teaching in the Talmud (Yoma 78a) fluctuates in time, fluttering between past and future:

The spring that issues from the Holy of Holies resembles at first the antennae of locusts. Once it arrives at the entrance to the Sanctuary, it becomes as the thread of the warp (upon the loom). Once it arrives at the Antechamber, it becomes as the thread of the woof. Once it reaches the entrance to the Courtyard, it becomes as wide as the mouth of a small flask…. From here and onward, the stream will swell and rise until it reaches the entrance of the house of David. Once it reaches the entrance of the house of David, it becomes a swiftly flowing stream…. As it is said (Zecharia 13:1), “On that day there will be a spring opened up for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for cleansing and for purification.

In the Torah portion of that week, called P’kudei (Ex. 38:21-40:38), the desert sanctuary is completed; “all the work to be accomplished for the Dwelling Place of the Tent of Appointed Meeting was completed…. In time to come, the Tent of Appointed Meeting becomes in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem the Holy of Holies from which the stream begins its flow so fine, as thin at first as the antennae of a grasshopper, as a fine line of blue tile. And now I understood. As in time the desert sanctuary was completed, so too shall the mosaic mural be, and so too the hope of which it sings, of peace and justice, the land and its peoples cleansed and purified of violence and hate. And in that swiftly flowing stream, Israeli and Palestinian children shall play, in peace and unafraid.

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Finding an Antidote

A few days ago, my husband came home quite excited about a program he had heard on the radio while driving in the car.  An 88 year old man was telling his story on  National Public Radio.  He had raised a daughter, not his own, to adulthood and she had been killed by a crack cocaine addict.  The case came to trial and the killer was sent to prison.  The storyteller admitted that early on he would have liked to kill the man who had killed his loved one.  As time went by, however, the elderly man, a Quaker, discovered some of the history of the prisoner’s childhood deprivations.  He felt compassion and began to visit him in prison regularly.  Over time forgiveness became possible.   When the elder was asked what influenced him on the path to forgiveness, he recalled a powerful statement he had heard somewhere in the past:  “When you hate, you take poison, and expect the other person to die.” 

Forgiveness is not always our first choice when we have been wounded.  The process of coming to forgiveness takes a long time and, regrettably, we don’t always choose to make the journey to a satisfying conclusion.  So often, it seems more justifiable to just take the “poison” and harbor the resentful wish that whoever has wounded us will suffer the consequences.  Forgiveness is hard work.  In our human interactions it often requires us to look at the role we played in the disintegration of a relationship.  We may need to make a choice about which is more important: to carry the anger, rage, resentment and the need for revenge and retribution with us  into the future, or to enter a future free of that heavy burden so that we may travel more lightly.

There is no simple formula for forgiveness.  If it were an easy thing to do perhaps revenge-determined violence would slowly melt away under the desire for a more harmonious future.  Even when the slightest hint of an inner desire to forgive makes itself known, the difficult memory of a terrible wounding stands at the gateway and makes forgiveness a formidable undertaking. 

Psychologist Stephanie Dowrick has written: Forgiveness deeply offends the rational mind.  When someone has hurt us, wounded us, abused us; when someone has stolen peace of mind or safety from us; when someone has harmed or taken the life of someone we love; or when someone has simply misunderstood or offended us, there is no reason we should let the offense go. No reason why we should try to understand it.  No reason why we should hope for enlightenment for that person. No reason why, from our own pain and darkness, we should summon compassion for that person, as well as for ourselves.

The discussion turned to forgiveness during Shabbat services a few weeks ago.  A very young man was pondering the notion of forgiveness and offered his thought that forgiveness is not so much about the transgressor as it is about the one who needs to forgive.  He had come to the conclusion that refusing to forgive caused him greater damage than whatever the offender might have done to him.   He seemed young to have come to such a conclusion and his words stayed with me through the week.  They  seemed to mirror the words of the elderly man speaking on NPR - - that forgiveness is good for the one who has been wounded.

Indeed, if I listen to the wisdom of the elder and of the younger man, it seems as though the failure to forgive is the irrational stance.  
Stephanie Dowrick observes that through the process of forgiveness “The muscular tensions you had come to assume were normal are eased.  You are less vulnerable to infection or to far more serious illness. Your immune system lifts. Your face muscles let down.  Food tastes better.  The world looks better.  Depression radically diminishes.  You are more available to other people and a great deal more available to yourself, yet you think about yourself less, and less anxiously.”

Real forgiveness is rarely a simple act of will or resolute determination.  It is a non-rational act of the heart, an act of the soul’s desire for greater well-being.  It is the antidote to the poison of hatred and retribution.  We need more stories of forgiveness to light the way to the healing of the grievous wounds of this world.  In a long ago journal I found a treasured quote from A COURSE IN MIRACLES: The  holiest of all the spots on earth is where an ancient hatred has become a present love.  We do, indeed, need more stories to light the way.
 Stephanie Dowrick  FORGIVENESS & OTHER ACTS OF LOVE  W.W. Norton & Company , Inc., New York, N.Y.  1998  p.291.
 Dowrick  p.289

Vicky Hanjian