Sunday, September 16, 2012

From Ben-Ghazi to Yom Kippur (Read Genesis 25)


"Let us of the various Abrahamic communities gather as a society at the Well of the Living One Who Sees Me, to make sure that we can see each other in the light cast by the Holy One Who is the Breath of life."

On Yom Kippur, synagogues should read the story in Genesis 25 of reconciliation between Ishmael and Isaac, and for weeks and months synagogues, churches, and mosques should visit each other en masse to break the cycle of fear and hatred and violence between the Abrahamic communities that broke into murder in Ben-Ghazi, Libya, as it did weeks ago in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. (Blogger here at nomorecrusades: why don't the rest of us do the same? Christians seeking peace and reconciliation and other Peace gatherings of all types?)

... “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

As we absorbed the news of a dreadfully disgusting film casting contempt on Islam and the resulting vile murders of four American foreign service officers, I began to think again about the Torah stories we are about to read for Rosh HaShanah.

For they are ancient stories about fear, anger, and estrangement between different branches of the same family. They presage the fear, anger, and estrangement between the Abrahamic families today – and yet they lead toward love and healing. What can we learn from them?

Rosh Hashanah traditionally begins with a profoundly disturbing story: Abraham and Sarah insist that Hagar (a name that means “the stranger” in Hebrew), who has been Abraham’s second wife and the mother of his first son, Ishmael, leave the family. Sarah says that Ishmael has been “making laughter” (in Hebrew, mitzachek) at her son Isaac (in Hebrew, Yitzchak), whose name means “Laughing One.” (en 21: 1-19)

One way to understand the story is that the two boys are so much like each other, though not identical – Making laughter/ Laughter – that they are clouding each other’s identities, and must separate for the health of them both, even though the separation is painful.

But the story gets more painful. Abraham, who has been reluctant to expel Hagar and Ishmael from the family, sends them into the wilderness with a jug of water. But it runs out, and Hagar, fearing her son will die, begins to cry.

The Holy One Who is the Interbreathing of all life becomes visible to her. As her eyes open, she sees that her tears have themselves watered a wellspring -– the Well of the Living One Who Sees Me –- and not only are their lives saved, but they become the forebears of a great nation: the Arabs and Islam.

Abraham’s other son, Isaac, in Jewish understanding becomes the forebear of the Jewish people.

Here pauses the story as we read it on the first day of Rosh HaShanah. On the second day, we read how Abraham takes his other son, Isaac, up a mountain-top, preparing to make him a burnt-offering to God, who he thinks has asked this of him. At the last moment, the compassionate aspect of God intervenes to spare Isaac.

In the Bible, the story of these two endangered brothers continues into a passage that has traditionally been read on a regular Shabbat but not on the sacred special days when synagogues are filled with spiritually thirsty and responsive Jews.

I believe the completion of the story should be read aloud in every synagogue on Yom Kippur. It is a story of reconciliation, which is what Yom Kippur is all about. And just as the story of estrangement presages the vituperative video and the violent response of the last several days, this tale of reconciliation should be our teaching for next week, next year, next generation.

It appears in Gen. 25: 8-11. Abraham has died and his two sons come together to bury him, the most dangerous person in both their lives. It seems they have forgiven him, and now they reconcile with each other. For Isaac goes to live at the very Well of the Living One Who Sees Me that has been life-giving water for Hagar and Ishmael.

At last, the two brothers can fully see each other.

The pattern in which contempt and hatred toward Islam leads to hatred of the West and to violence that is likely to lead to still more hatred of Islam is now well under way.

Indeed, the making of the vituperative film seems likely to have been deliberately calculated to stir the violence that happened. Why else dub it into Arabic?

The pattern and the theory of how to deal with it is no surprise:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

How do we take this teaching into reality? How do we interrupt this lethal pattern?

The US government tried to prevent disaster by publicly decrying the film before violence erupted. Good! But not enough. What needs to happen at the grass roots of our society?

Some democratic countries have tried to outlaw hate speech – like the outlawry of Holocaust denial and of Nazi-like speech in many European countries. I do NOT recommend that for the USA, where our form of experiment in democracy has taken the direction of — “Bad speech? More speech! Better speech!!”

But there is another approach: the conscious and deliberate mobilization of public opinion to oppose and disallow hatred of Islam. “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

I am suggesting that if we put the story of Ishmael-Isaac reconciliation front and center before the Jewish community on Yom Kippur — followed by full discussion of what that means now— and figure out ways to do analogous discussions in churches and mosques, we can go much further into building the kind of public atmosphere in which vituperative speech and violent action against Islam is deeply and fully opposed.

This desire did not just arise for me in the last few days, though they have strengthened it. In 2006, I put a great deal of energy into working with leading Muslim and Christian teachers as co-authors to write and find a publisher (Beacon Press) for a book called The Tent of Abraham: Stories of Peace and Hope for Jews, Christians, and Muslims, with a preface by Karen Armstrong. I know it has been used, especially in churches, to stimulate the kind of discussion I have suggested. I hope it will be used in synagogues and mosques and wherever spiritual seekers and pursuers of peace gather.

But even “good speech” is not enough. It would be ideal for congregations-full of Jews and Christians, in the coming week after Rosh Hashanah, to come to mosques to share their revulsion toward the vile attack on Islam in the video. Already, Major Muslim American organizations have condemned the murderous violence in Libya and elsewhere. Still, here too words are not enough. It would be ideal for American Muslims to visit churches and synagogues with the same intent: seeing each other fully.

It is not just video that we must atone for. The number of physical attacks on mosques and Muslims has been multiplying among us. They include the “mistaken” murders of Sikhs by someone who thought they were Muslims. (Did you think only Libyans could kill people out of “religious” fear and hatred?)

So we should visit each other. If not this week, the week after. And the weeks and months after that.

Let us of the various Abrahamic communities gather as a society at the Well of the Living One Who Sees Me, to make sure that we can see each other in the light cast by the Holy One Who is the Breath of life.

Shalom, salaam, peace!


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Blessings for the year ahead, for all of us --

Arthur

The Shalom Center
6711 Lincoln Drive
Philadelphia, PA 19119
United States
web: theshalomcenter.org/ email: office@theshalomcenter.org tel: (215) 844-8494

11 comments:

  1. Greetings,

    This is an excellent posting. Thank you for it.

    For some reason, this post has touched a nerve.

    Mentioned in this post is the view that the "making of the vituperative film seems likely to have been deliberately calculated to stir the violence that happened."

    I have learned - through culling news sources over the past few days - that there is a particular man (associated with a particular group) who in some way either funded and/or provided operational support for this film. He was a member of a Christian hate-group. So there does indeed appear to be intentionality behind this film.

    I understand the Abrahimic faiths (indeed, all manifestations of human religiosity) to be as if spokes on a wheel. Each spoke is seemingly different. Yet each moves from a circumference to a center. I would argue that this center is a common center, common to all, and not just to a few.

    Along each spoke is a different journey. Each will - outwardly - appear differently. But each spoke is connected to the same Sacred, Common Center.

    Keeping this spoked wheel in mind, personally, I have nothing for any religious expression that does not include, as it's primary aim, the peaceful unity of *all* people. One spoke, alone, does not support the world. It might support a single cultural group, but, I would argue, it will do so only at the expense of other groups, and thus it can only be sustained temporarily. I look for this in religious communities, that is, a genuine and complete manifestation of this aim, a striving for this aim.

    Oftentimes, nowadays, we hear lots of words. Lots and lots of words. Nonetheless, there is a disjointedness from the inner to the outer, and thus the aforementioned aim is not complete. Indeed, I would argue that a lot of what is evident today is outer-only manifestations of religiosity, largely driven solely by intellectual contrivance and territorially oriented egoism, both of which are fueled by fear.

    At this point in my life (implying that I don't pretend to have definitive answers, but only a working solution which changes over time), I understand that we must dive beneath the surface to transform things. There is certain something that stands to be transformed *before* it manifests in this world as imbalanced action (e.g., the incidents you cite).

    Prophets and mystics - from all traditions - have provided sufficient guideposts for humanity. To the degree that we have the world we now have, we have ignored these prescriptive teachings.

    I suspect that Allama Iqbal would be dismayed at seeing common people give away their integrity of religious understanding to the imams, thus granting the imams (and other external so-called authorities) to right to proclaim all sorts of nonsense, while the sacred center of the people atrophies.

    All good wishes,

    robert

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  2. Your usual and even deeper than usual awareness, Robert. I particularly love your conclusion, ie: 'a lot of what is evident today is outer-only manifestations of religiosity, largely driven solely by intellectual contrivance and territorially oriented egoism, both of which are fueled by fear.' AND '... There is certain something that stands to be transformed *before* it manifests in this world..." Really, I am in synch with your entire comment. Thanx so much for coming by....

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  3. Also see: Meetings and Miracles here: http://oneheartforpeace.blogspot.com/2012/09/meetings-and-miracles-healing-repost-of.html

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  4. Greetings,

    These photos are beautiful. Thank you for sharing them.

    Thank you for sharing this additional link. I will go there.

    All good wishes,

    robert

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  5. Robert, I'm glad you noticed and appreciate the gorgeous and lovely photos as well. Feel free to use, I do believe they are welcome to the public from what I've seen.

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    Replies
    1. Connie,

      Many thanks!

      All good wishes,

      robert

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  6. We can and should each find our own act of peace in such times...
    I for one want to post here in comments some striking articles. How did the world and particularly Israel's current leader come to such madness? We must find alternatives to this:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iran/9545597/Armada-of-international-naval-power-massing-in-the-Gulf-as-Israel-prepares-an-Iran-strike.html

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  7. GO to http://oneheartforpeace.blogspot.com 19 September 2012 for a helpful action post from two experts on Iran and foreign policy. See the NEW project for Fact Checking when there is questionable info on Iran. (Such as that on Meet the Press last Sunday.)

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  8. http://progressivechristianity.org/?utm_source=ProgressiveChristianity.org&utm_campaign=7c7e210c79-The_Evolution_of_our_Spirituality9_13_2012&utm_medium=email

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  9. International Peace Day From Kabul, Afghanistan
    By Johnny Barber

    http://www.countercurrents.org/barber210912.htm

    In this electoral season, choosing between Obama and Romney is a huge distraction, there is real work to be done. Our perverse system of endless war needs to be dismantled, our culture realigned. We need to begin again. War is over. Peace is the path

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  10. http://nomorecrusades.blogspot.com/2011/04/meister-eckhart-poem-on-commerce-war.html

    ReplyDelete