Middle East Peace, What's It To Us
Rev Lortie of SA liked having this message posted on the sign outside his church. He thought it broadcast “Social Justice R US.” It says “We are the ones that Glen Beck warned you about.” Actually we are even worse or better - depending on your perspective.
Melissa Gibbud, a member of the St. John UU Fellowship, related to me the story of a man who expressed his disapproval of our religious tradition. He said “Unitarians? You are the religion of people going around trying to do good.” Melissa was dismayed that the man could think this was an insult.
My guess is that he was intending to call us “do-gooders". A do- gooder is a naive idealist who sticks his nose in others' business, who arrogantly thinks he knows better than those he seeks to help, and who is unaware of the possibility that he could be making matters worse.
These are not new concerns. Henry David Thoreau wrote, “If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life.” I believe that progressives in general and UUs in particular have grown in our awareness of the validity of these concerns. Today most of us are familiar with a quote from Lila Watson: “If you have come here to help me, then you are wasting your time…but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together."
This spirit will cause us to leave here today strengthened in commitment to be peacemakers. The questions I offer today are: “how do we wish to respond to our knowledge of what's going on in Israel?”and “how might we contribute to peace for Israel and Palestinians?
Addressing social concerns is part of what it means to be UU. How often have we claimed to be a religion that values deeds rather than creeds? Why would our emphasis on ethics be limited to individual behavior? Of course we are concerned with the collective. As 20th-century Unitarian theologian James Luther Adams articulated, we religious liberals understand ourselves to have a "moral obligation to direct one's effort toward the establishment of a just and loving community."
Our tradition has nurtured a religious sentiment that calls us to respond to matters of social consequence. Our concerns for society and for our individual souls are inevitably linked. We know, for example that the conflicts with Israel and the Palestinians have far reaching effects.” We also know that the way we approach this issue will reveal and affect our world view, our belief systems, and the ways we engage and experience life. In short, Middle East peace is our business.
James Luther Adams named this responsibility as another characteristic of religious liberalism. He said that “we deny the immaculate conception of virtue and affirm the necessity of social incarnation." Although it's not possible for the individual to finish the work of social justice, it is incumbent on each of us to make a start.
Many of us may imagine that peace for Israel and Palestinians is beyond our abilities. And as American UUs, who are we to say anything to Israel or the Palestinian people? I'm reminded of Conan O'Brien's words when the Vatican weighed in on the crisis. He said “The Vatican came out and condemned Israel's attacks on Lebanon ... which is great, because all day yesterday the Jews and Muslims were asking, 'What do the Catholics think?'"
The world won't suddenly change if our UUA general assembly passes another policy statement. But what we say and what we do always has an impact. Conditions in the world are a result of our collective and composite actions and reactions. We are already involved in Israeli- Palestinian politics. We are citizens of a government that spends billions in the region, especially in warfare. Additionally, one of the USA's last remaining exports is arms sales. “We arm the world. We arm the children.”
In 2002, delegates of our UUA General Assembly passed a statement urging our congregations to educate ourselves to our foreign policy and to work for peace in the Middle East. We passed this resolution knowing that the lack of peace in the Middle East has a way of impacting our security here. We also did this because we cannot grow in consciousness without realizing the effect that our actions -or our inaction- has upon the world.
In the be- attitudes, Jesus said “blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be [called the] children of God” We want to become peacemakers so we'll become conscious of the sacredness of life. Should we proceed with humility? Sure. We are talking about matters that affect others far more directly than us. We also need humility because we want to grow into right relationship with all life.
This reminds me of a story. There was an old man preaching salvation in the street, week after week, year after year. A young man approached the preacher and said “Old man, no one listens to you. Why do you waste your time here?" The old man replied, "Many years ago I came to believe I could bring many people to the kingdom of heaven. As time went by, I stayed here, thinking surely there are some people who will hear my preaching and come to God. As time went on, I began preaching the good news of the kingdom of God so that I might remember it and treasure it and not succumb to acting as if this world is all there is."
Speaking truth and working for peace keeps these values alive in us. And so I will try to lead by example. I'll say my peace even though speaking about Israel's relationship to the Palestinians is not easy for me, because it threatens to disturb a fragile peace within me that I have worked hard to build. I am talking about a niche I have carved out for myself as religious person deeply committed to UUism who has also held on to a Jewish identity.
I've imagined that if I spoke out about Israel and the Palestinians, I would lose my relationship to my Jewish tribe. My relationship with Judaism has been in question since I was born to a Catholic mother. I resolved my identity issues by becoming a UU, but a tender spot for issues of acceptance and belonging remain with me- not far removed from the surface.
I recall in young adulthood when I tried to share my enthusiasm for UUism with my father, he said “I know who Unitarians are, they're Jews who don't want to be Jews.” Pursuing UU Ministry meant abandoning hope of approval by my Jewish world. It took a similar courage for me to retain my Judaism as a UU Minister. For years while I continued Jewish observances and participation with Jewish congregations in relative secret. I knew of no other UU attempting to keep “dual
citizenship. I imagined that such intention would be suspect by both tradition.
In synagogues over the years, I have heard such questions as: “how can you be Jewish and be a minister?” Or why can't you just be Jewish? My feelings about these memories made it hard for me to imagine that I could speak my peace and my truth regarding Israel and the Palestinians. I saw no point in addressing with Uus, issues best taken to Jews. Additionally, if I dared criticize or question Israel, I'd likely be called a “self-hating Jew.” As hard as it would have been to dissent (against popular Jewish opinion) previously, it seemed to me impossible that I could take public stance in question of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians. Any objection I have to Israeli policies would likely be seen as more proof that I was willing to betray my tribe.
I love Judaism. I cherish my familial tribal bond to Jews, even though my status ain't so great there. Like most Jews, I am also sensitive to and aware of the very real presence of anti-Jewish sentiment in society. I also realize that we Jews have a tendency to be paranoid in this regard. I understand that Jews do not intend to have to prove their case to non-Jews, but that they intend to take responsibility for the safety of Jews and the Jewish state.
I want Jews and Judaism to thrive. I want their security assured. I want all my Jewish brothers and sisters to be blessed in knowing that they are safe, that they have allies, and that the world will never allow such a thing as the holocaust to happen again.
Consider how difficult it must be for Jews to establish relationships w/ trust and cooperation with people whose organizations advocate for wiping Israel off the map.
I also want Palestinians to have a place in this world. As well founded as Jewish/ Israeli fears may be this can not justify the mistreatment, oppression and occupation of the Palestinians. Palestinians have been denied basic human rights routinely. The very real presence of people called terrorists who perpetrate violence against Israelis can not be used as an excuse for the violence of the Israeli state against the Palestinian people.
We must help Israel to protect itself without violating the basic human rights of the Palestinians. We must help the Palestinians to see their part in perpetuating the cycle of violence.
As Uus we can insist that peace can only come when the rights and needs of both peoples are valued. We can assert that the answer lies in cooperation and realization of shared interests.
We will be peacemakers by holding true to our values. We contribute to peace by valuing education rather than indoctrination. We make peace when we resist the temptation to use force, but have faith that truth will be known, and it will set us free.
We grow as peacemakers when instead of arming ourselves with facts, we discover the power of connection and empathy. We are peacemakers when we stand on the side of love with those mistreated for who they are. Dietrich Bonnhoffer wrote of this need for action. Bonnhoffer was a pastor, scholar, theologian who was put to death for his participation in the resistance to Nazism. In prison, he wrote that as intellectuals we had mistakenly believed that if we thought long enough and hard enough to come up with the perfect understanding of doctrine, then we could avoid having to act.
The most important teachings don't come in the form of rhetoric or logic. They don't come from sacred text. They don't come through language at all. The most powerful teaching comes to us in the form of example. We become peace educators when we value cooperation without insisting that we share a common set of beliefs.
There are powerful peacemakers all around us, people who are working for peace and teaching peace by example. They are not written of in history books or even in the news. However every person of great influence was themselves influenced by role models. Parents can do important peacemaking work. Sunday school teachers can wage peace.
Our religion asks us to remember and value this kind of peacemaking, to have faith in the slow and steady work of building the beloved community. We are learning the value of covenants, of keeping promises to each other. Congregations can wage lasting peace. How else will this world move beyond the same old ways of society in order to create a New Jerusalem? We can offer people an experience of a world where peace, freedom and safety are real. One way that UUS are building a New Jerusalem is our work affirming the worth and dignity of lgbtq people. Some would say that we are the incarnation of God's love for humanity. Some would call it the progress of divine or unconditional love, unbridled from beliefs of previous generations. Some would call it our gospel or good news.
Can this church show the way to a New Jerusalem? Can we offer a place where Arabs and Jews can learn to hear each other? Where the safety, rights and dignity of Israeli and Palestinians are ensured? Can we provide a place where people can question US government policy without being met with the poison of blame, resentment, fear and hatred?
I bet that most of us would call it insanity, that possession of “the holy land,” beloved by the 3 monotheistic religions continues as the source of so much bloodshed and strife? The conflict and divisions of different religious traditions is enough to make many modern people flee religion altogether. Many take it as proof that religion is stupid and outdated. Some go so far as to see it as proof that religion is to blame for the evils of the world.
To promote peace in this world, we need an example of a different way to be religious. Perhaps we need Unitarian Universalists to offer a vision of a New Jerusalem.
Given that we live in a world where some babies are born to the promised land and some to refugee camps, we will call for a new Jerusalem. Because some are born into affluence and others to poverty, we call for a new Jerusalem. Because some have access to higher education and others are exploited in ways too horrible to mention, we need a new Jerusalem.
We can offer to the world, a vision of a time when divinity will be seen in the eyes of every child and every adult. We can offer a new story about the holy land, as a place where enemies learn to see themselves as brothers and sisters, where justice rolls down like mighty waters and peace like an everflowing stream.
We can be a people who nurture a vision of a holy land where estranged brothers and sisters learn to value compassion over any particular story or belief. We can be people who teach that peace is possible, who are committed to giving peace a chance.
We can wage peace by example. As peacemakers we will not worry about getting there first or being the only ones. We need only make sure we are headed in the right direction.
When we move in the direction of the New Jerusalem, we will begin to feel it in our hearts. This holy land will arise from within us. We will carry forward, and as a result of our actions, it will come to pass more and more each day. It will grow day by day in our consciousness as we refuse to hate any people, and in our willingness to develop skills of right relationship.
Now isn't that good news people? Believe in the peace that will come. We are not slaves, and we can do the work to throw off the mindset and the structures that oppress. We can keep on walking forward, never turning back.
So be it.