Thursday, May 21, 2009

What has happened to intellectual courage? When will the Christian clergy in America wake up?


Religious perplexities are inevitable; there can be no growth without psychic conflict and spiritual agitation. The organization of a philosophic standard of living entails considerable commotion in the philosophic realms of the mind. Loyalties are not exercised in behalf of the great, the good, the true, and the noble without a struggle. Effort is attendant upon clarification of spiritual vision and enhancement of cosmic insight.

Dear Faith Ferre:

Years ago I came to you to ask for support for a Palestinian film festival I and others were trying to mount in Des Moines in the face of angst and undermining tactics from the Jewish Federation of Great Des Moines. I doubt that you remember the festival or me because your response was, "I'm busy and can only give you a minute of my time. What do you want?" The implication was "get out of here." I went.

Your brush off, which happened that day and, at least, one other time over the years, is one of the re
asons I no longer attend church or belong to a church even though I am the daughter and sister of Presbyterian pastors and have been an elder myself.

Growing up, my father did not teach me to bend to tyrannical pressure when wrong was being done. Until he was fading into Alzheimer's disease, he did not preach that a comfortable, unchallenged life was our right as Christians or Americans nor did he cowardly refuse to recognize world shaking events because he might cause people in his congregation or community to gasp. He preached against the Holocaust. He stood up for people in pain and for people who did without. He believed in the power of acting like Jesus Christ rather than spouting off cliches about the man as savior and lord of himself.

I have come to think that the majority of clergy in Ames and Des Moines value a conversation with members of the Jewish Federation of Greater Des Moines and their subscribers more than the lives of Palestinians or Israelis and, apparently, have no interest in justice except as the federation sees it. As the federation sees it does not represent the views of all of Judaism, however silent those disagreeing may be. You can talk only so long until you realize that there has to be a will for peace, concession, revolutionary forgiveness and justice on both or all sides of any issue. In this case, the conversations should have stopped at least 30 years ago. In this case, unless you, yourself, know and understand the history and differences between Zionism and Judaism, you help no one at all.

When I received a copy of you letter rejecting the Hansen's request
to speak at your church, I was beyond furious. As I said above, you are not alone in the sentiments you expressed, though few have expressed this rejection of the Christian message better than you. By doing so, you put an argument on the table, and I would be remiss not to respond. Maybe you're about to set the methods right by putting such a vivid take on the idea that being a Christian leaders means ignoring, rejecting or avoiding difficult questions affecting our entire world. Is it only for comfort that you and your church refuse to honor and assist those putting themselves on the line to stop violence and evil, much of which is beyond the American experience. The greatest wish of the Jewish Federation is to keep institutions from allowing other voices to be heard. By refusing to allow others to speak in the institution you represent, you succumb to Zionist silencing techniques. The Jewish Federation wants to talk forever and they restrain themselves not at all in using verbal assassination and lies and fear to secure their ideologies.

When I came to you, you knew I could not threaten you or your position nor could I advance either. It was easy for you to reject me, but in so doing, you also rejected the voices of people who cannot speak here for themselves: the poor, the colonized, the suffering. Such cowardliness seems to be what many Christian churches have become. Moral initiatives fall through the cracks, safe or "politically correct" topics hide reality, comfort offers unrealistic security and a false understanding of dangers that do exist and do affect us. Many of us have never lived in the midst of war or occupation or behind a hideous wall of exclusion. When war comes to America, as it very well may, saying, "I didn't know; I didn't understand," will be no excuse.

The idea that Plymouth Church is there only for its congregation's comfort and peace of mind (never to be interrupted by controversy or a "gasp") is, for me, the opposite of the teachings that built the Christian religion. Evidently, what you have at Plymouth are the Sadducee and Pharisees and no righteously honest clergy intent on making a Christ like sanctuary.
I think this because anyone who values his or her own conversation with those who shred the lives of a whole people for their own mistaken sense of refuge has failed Jew, Christian, Muslim, all of us. Where is love and hope and justice that can achieve peace? Is your only option to look away from pain, fearful of a gasp? Will you not offer those who gasp a path to forgiveness and real peace for everyone rather than a justification of your own timidity, self-preservation and denial?

This is a long letter, I know, and since it doesn't agree with you, I can imagine another brush off. That's angry, I know, but you represent to me what the American Christian mainstream church has become, cowardly, deliberately ignorant and on the way to extinction. I lament this everyday of my life.

A Student of Liberation Theology
and Determined Activist
Betsy Mayfield

"Hate and revenge is a disease, and I don't want to be diseased or sick."

Gaza doctor whose family were killed by IDF fundraises for Israeli hospital
by The Associated Press
Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, a Gaza infertility specialist, is a familiar figure to Israelis - a Palestinian who crossed the lines of enmity years ago to work in Israeli hospitals and become a frequent guest on Israeli TV and radio.

But the interview he did on Jan. 16, as Israeli forces waged war on Gaza's Hamas rulers, was horrifyingly different: Israeli tank shells had just killed three of his daughters, and he was phoning an Israeli journalist-friend, live on the air, to plead for help in evacuating the wounded, including another daughter and a niece.
Four months later, far from voicing bitterness over his loss, Abuelaish is trying to turn his tragedy into hope, raising money for a scholarship fund for Gaza girls and an Israeli hospital, and preaching reconciliation.

"We need to open our eyes, our minds and to have big hearts, to smash the mental and physical barriers and borders, to build the broken trust," said the Harvard-trained son of a Gaza laborer, sitting in the apartment where 14-year-old Aya, 15-year-old Mayar and 21-year-old Bissan were killed two days before the war ended.

At a time when U.S. President Barack Obama has begun a round of meetings with Middle East leaders on how to end the Middle East conflict, Abuelaish's story illuminates the reality at ground level. With Israelis and Palestinians increasingly separated by fences and fear, it has offered a rare example of suffering on one side drawing empathy from the other.

Born in Gaza's largest refugee camp, the eldest of nine children, the 54-year-old doctor navigates easily between worlds. One day, he's bowing in Muslim prayer in Gaza. The next, he's chatting with fellow physicians at Tel Hashomer, a leading Tel Aviv-area hospital.

During the Gaza war, launched to end Hamas rocket fire on Israeli border towns, Israeli journalists often turned to him for a Gaza perspective, delivered in his fluent Hebrew.

Abuelaish, a widower, and his children, ages 6 to 21, spent the war in their apartment on the second floor of the five-story family building he shares with his brothers and their families in the town of Jebaliya, close to the border with Israel.

On Jan. 3, after a week of air attacks, Israeli tanks and ground forces moved into the Gaza Strip, including the doctor's neighborhood, and over the next two weeks would fire heavily, demolishing homes they said were thought to serve as Hamas positions.

On Jan. 16, Abuelaish was due to be interviewed by phone by Channel 10, a
commercial Israeli TV station.

Four of his older daughters - Aya, Mayar, Bissan and 17-year-old Shada - were in their room that day, along with his niece Noor, 17. Shortly after 4:30 p.m., the first shell crashed into the home.

Abuelaish ran to the girls' room. "Aya, Mayar, Bissan and Noor were dead, their bodies torn, pools of blood on the floor," he said. "Shada was badly wounded in the right eye and hand."

"I don't want anyone to witness what I witnessed," Abuelaish said quietly.

He scooped up Shada. A second shell struck, critically wounding 12-year-old niece Ghaida and two of the doctor's brothers.

The doctor quickly took charge.

Fearing that Ghaida would die and Shada go blind, he called his friend, Shlomi Eldar, Palestinian affairs reporter for Israel's Channel 10 TV.

Eldar aired their conversation live. Viewers heard the doctor's pleas to
evacuate the wounded to Israel, interrupted by his cries of grief.

Eldar also fought back tears as he urged anyone from the Israeli military who was watching the program to help the doctor. Then he worked the phones to get someone to rescue the family, said Ofer Shelah, a Channel 10 anchorman.

"Everybody was flabbergasted," he recalled. "It was a very shocking, human moment for everyone involved."

Palestinian ambulances couldn't reach the house for fear of coming under Israeli fire, so the family left on foot for the nearest Palestinian hospital, with teenagers carrying the wounded on makeshift stretchers. After many phone calls, Gaza ambulances drove the wounded to the border for a transfer to Tel Hashomer that was covered live by Channel 10 during evening prime time.

Shelah said he believes the doctor's tragedy changed attitudes. Israeli public support for the offensive remained strong, as a justified response to years of rocket fire, but Abuelaish made them empathize for the first time with Gaza civilians, he said. "He is such a winning person and his response was so noble that you couldn't sweep it under the rug as Palestinian propaganda, Shelah said."

The army says its investigation shows that its soldiers were shot at from a building next to Abuelaish's, and that the tanks fired at suspicious figures on the upper level of the doctor's house. It says it had repeatedly urged the doctor and others in the building to leave for their own safety.

Abuelaish denies getting warnings and insists there were no militants in his building or any shooting in the area until the tank shells struck.

Four months later, Palestinians and Israelis cling to their dueling narratives - that Israel used excessive force in a densely crowded area and killed a large number of civilians, that Hamas provoked the war by its eight years of rocket fire on Israeli civilians and then used its own civilians as human shields
against the Israeli forces.

But Abuelaish says time is too precious to be wasted on arguments. "Hate and revenge is a disease, he says, and I don't want to be diseased or sick."

He is now walking a path others have traveled before him, among them several hundred bereaved Israeli and Palestinian parents who come together in what they call The Parents' Circle.

"In both societies, people are willing to listen to the bereaved," said an Israeli leader of the group, Roni Hirshenson, who has lost two sons to the conflict, one of them in a Palestinian suicide bombing.

"The message is that if the families of victims on both sides speak out together, we can overcome the hatred and act with reason," said Hirshenson, 67, who visited Abuelaish at Tel Hashomer after the war to try to comfort him.

Abuelaish said he has been inundated by sympathetic e-mails from Israelis.

The doctor is taking up a teaching position at the University of Toronto in the fall and will probably leave with his surviving children, Abdullah, 6; Ghafa, 9, Mohammed, 13; Dalal, 20; and Shada. Shada's eyesight was saved, and last week she was at home sitting in front of a pile of books, cramming for her high school finals.

Abuelaish will also spend part of each year teaching at Haifa University in Israel, and plans to return to Gaza in five years.

He plans to write a book about his life to make the case for coexistence. In partnership with Tel Hashomer, he is helping to raise money for a conference center there, to be named after his daughters.

"I lost three precious daughters, but I have another five [children]" he said. "I have a future, I have my people, and hatred and revenge can be driven out by love and wisdom."

100:4.1 Religious living is devoted living, and devoted living is creative living, original and spontaneous. New religious insights arise out of conflicts which initiate the choosing of new and better reaction habits in the place of older and inferior reaction patterns. New meanings only emerge amid conflict; and conflict persists only in the face of refusal to espouse the higher values connoted in superior meanings.

100:4.2 Religious perplexities are inevitable; there can be no growth without psychic conflict and spiritual agitation. The organization of a philosophic standard of living entails considerable commotion in the philosophic realms of the mind. Loyalties are not exercised in behalf of the great, the good, the true, and the noble without a struggle. Effort is attendant upon clarification of spiritual vision and enhancement of cosmic insight. And the human intellect protests against being weaned from subsisting upon the nonspiritual energies of temporal existence. The slothful animal mind rebels at the effort required to wrestle with cosmic problem solving.

100:4.3 But the great problem of religious living consists in the task of unifying the soul powers of the personality by the dominance of LOVE. Health, mental efficiency, and happiness arise from the unification of physical systems, mind systems, and spirit systems. Of health and sanity man understands much, but of happiness he has truly realized very little. The highest happiness is indissolubly linked with spiritual progress. Spiritual growth yields lasting joy, peace which passes all understanding.


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