For all sides!
Let me firstly say I am no expert on middle eastern politics, but just that I am a person who wants peace for all people. And I am confused about how to support those that are trying to make peace in Israel. So this is just a small reflection on what has been happening to me lately and what I have been thinking…..
Last weekend I went to a peace conference, organised by the ecumenical social justice roundtable, at St Georges Cathedral in Perth.
On the Sunday an interfaith panel was convened to talk about peace and faith. It included a young Jewish rabbi, a Muslim woman, a Buddhist monk, a Catholic nun, an aboriginal women doing a PhD on indigenous spirituality, a Uniting Church minister and a woman representing the Bahai faith.
I was particularly struck by the Rabbi who spoke not about tolerance but about love of the stranger, and how the Hebrew Scriptures mention this more than anything else.
Overall it was a hopeful message from a hopeful panel. That making peace rather than making war is the central message from all the faith traditions. Even if this vision gets distorted by those who seek to change things by violence.
Yet making peace is, well, pretty darn hard…
After the panel I went and listened to a young Australian Palestinian woman, speaking of the horrors currently happening in Israel. About the injustice and violence being perpetrated on the Palestinian people, who once belonged to the land that they are now strangers in. There is a film that I will organise to show at my church community early next year, called “The Stones Cry Out, which depicts this sorrow and grief and struggle, a struggle that has been going on for a very long time. This is not a war between nations but a war within a nation, and it is killing everyone.
I am so torn. On the one hand what this young woman spoke about with passion was so moving. How can Jewish Israel be doing this to its fellow citizens? What about loving the stranger? These are not even strangers.
Yet I have also been to Israel, seen the passion there amongst the Jewish population, the grief and sorrow they have also suffered, after so many centuries of pogroms and massacres and death and destruction, and the fear that now resides in their hearts. You cannot go to the holocaust museum and not be shocked and changed by it. They would say, they have to protect themselves and their homeland.
In the end there are two sides, two warring sides that may never come together in peace. How do we find peace in a situation where peace seems so far away? And particularly when one group has so much power and one has so little.
There is a new pre Harry Potter movie out, meaning set before the time of Harry Potter, called Fantastic Beasts, Crimes of Grindelwald. In it the main character, Newton Scamander is asked to choose a side when a battle between good and evil looms. His response…. “I don’t do sides”.
I don’t do sides.
Maybe we don’t do sides either, maybe we choose love instead.
The bible, while full of first century imagery, talks to us about how Jesus called and worked for peace. Non-violently! He gives hope not through violent means, but through love. In the end Jesus goes to his death rather than respond violently. Our tradition in Christianity is one of nonviolence and love.
His words speak to us today or at least to me. Because we know the perils of war, we see it all around us. It is not the end of suffering but the beginning. What does war bring but more and more suffering, for those that participate, for those who are civilians and for those that oppose it.
War was a symptom of the dominant system of Jesus’s day and he showed how non-violent resistance attacked the system at it roots. This was true transformation. A Kairos moment. Jesus presented a choice to his followers, the kingdom or war. Hope lies in the kingdom, the kingdom of love and non violence and peace.
This is such a radical message, a confronting message.
So how are we to respond to so much pain and anguish and desperation and evil in the world?
Jesus presents this same choice to us. He calls us to respond with love. For all sides! And to find ways to peace that are non-violent.
But this is not just a Christian message, or for those that are Jesus followers.
So let me finish with a beautiful piece from Thich Nhat Hanh, a famous Buddhist writer and poet. This is from his address to Congress entitled, Leading with Courage and Compassion, Sept. 10th 2003.
Peace is possible
My right hand has written all the poems that I have composed.
My left hand has not written a single poem.
But my right hand does not think, “Left Hand, you are good for nothing.”
My right hand does not have a superiority complex.
That is why it is very happy.
My left hand does not have any complex at all.
In my two hands there is the kind of wisdom
called the wisdom of nondiscrimination.
One day I was hammering a nail and my right hand was not very accurate
and instead of pounding on the nail it pounded on my finger.
It put the hammer down and took care of the left hand
in a very tender way, as if it were taking care of itself.
It did not say, “Left Hand, you have to remember that
I have taken good care of you and you have to pay me back in the future.”
There was no such thinking. And my left hand did not say,
“Right Hand, you have done me a lot of harm—
give me that hammer, I want justice.”
My two hands know that they are members of one body;
they are in each other.
Maybe there is hope after all. The panel thought so.