NOT THE REVOLUTION WE HAD IN MIND…SO FAR

13 09 2015

I came of age in the 1960’s.  I was brought up Jewish, in a synagogue whose Rabbi was an enthusiastic supporter of the civil rights movement, travelled to the South on several occasions in solidarity with Rev. Martin Luther King, and asked probing questions about segregation and racism in our home community, Dayton, Ohio.  While this dismayed some members of the congregation, it was fine with my mother, and we used to go to “interfaith retreats” where we would spend the weekend mixing it up with people–mostly Christian, many African-American–who were similarly interested in a cross-cultural experience.  I joined a local civil rights group, the Dayton Alliance for Racial Equality, and did door-to-door canvassing for them in Dayton’s African-American ghetto, as we freely called it.  This was not a neighborhood of towering, run-down tenements.  Homes were mostly single-family, mostly small, and often a little threadbare.  In those days–the early to mid sixties–somebody was usually home during the day.  There was no air conditioning, so I often found myself knocking on a screen door as I looked through it  into the family’s living room.  I had been brought up comfortably middle-class, but through this exposure I began to understand poverty.

The people I worked with, or, rather, for, were in their 20’s and 30’s, and pretty much all African-American. DARE was a small group, with a half-dozen to a dozen regular members, which, I learned in the course of writing this, did not excuse us from FBI surveillance.  We all had a tremendous admiration for Rev. Martin Luther King, whom we humorously but reverentially referred to as “Maximum Leader.” I lost touch with DARE when I graduated from high school and went off to college, and I’ve often wondered if they followed Rev. King’s lead through his final year, marked by his famous speech at Riverside Church in New York, where he took his crusade for civil rights to a whole new dimension, saying:

….the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” [applause] Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin [applause], we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see than an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

Read the rest of this entry »





A NATION OF (ILLEGAL) IMMIGRANTS

24 11 2012

music:  Buffy Ste. Marie, “Universal Soldier

Two weeks ago, I was talking to you on “Veterans’ Day,” and, uncharacteristically, one might think, had nothing to say about it.  Truth be told, it’s one of my least favorite national holidays.  Kill people you don’t know because your own private voice in your head tells you to, and you’re a psychopath.  Kill people you don’t know because the government’s voice in your head tells you to, and you’re a hero.  I fail to see a significant difference.  No matter why you kill other people, or aid and abet their murder even if you’re not the one pulling the trigger or pushing the button, it scars your soul, or your psyche, if you’d prefer a more concrete way of thinking about it.  Or, how about this:  killing people, for any reason, wounds the murderer.

Not that I blame “our troops.”  Those who end up herded into the military, whether out of a misplaced sense of duty or a psychopathic desire to kill people they don’t know, or simply because it’s one of the few places that offers a steady paycheck and halfway decent benefits any more, are, as the old song went, “more to be pitied than censured.”  Certainly, these veterans deserve all the help we can give them–far more than is available today, since our current frame of reference in regard to American former child soldiers (No matter what the law says, 18- and 19-year olds are, in many ways, still children.) makes no recognition of the enormity of what happens to the minds of those who kill for their country.  Society pays a huge price, in the form of an epidemic of post-traumatic stress disorder, millions conditioned into a very undemocratic attitude of blind obedience to authority, and denial.

And those are only the psycho-spiritual costs of our militaristic approach to the world.  There’s also the huge waste of material resources, as our limited supplies of  all the things that make a complex technical civilization possible on this small planet are, essentially, raked into a pile and burned in the process of warfare.

But denial is what I want to focus on tonight, denial of another sort.  Read the rest of this entry »





“REALISM” AND JILL STEIN

9 09 2012

Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala are running the strongest Green Presidential campaign  the party has yet seen.  While Ralph Nader, it’s true, had greater name recognition, Ralph’s personal style is not very “green.”  He is very much a my-way-or-the highway kind of guy, which sharply diverges from the Green value of grassroots democracy.  Stein and Honkala have incorporated Green values into their campaign organizing, generating an enthusiasm that has enabled them to raise sums of (noncorporate!) money far beyond what the Party has been able to summon up in previous elections, qualifying the Green Party for Federal matching funds, and even breaking into TV advertising.

Modern media maven that I am, I put  Jill’s pitches on my Facebook page, where, sure enough, one of them generated some pushback.   A long time friend, whom I appreciate for his thoughtful approach to life, wrote:

“Your protest and donation vote will accomplish what?…..If there’s no one who you like who can win, why not give your dough to some person who is starving or has a life threatening issue or something like that….don’t you think it would have more direct impact….everyone can spin an exciting story if they don’t have to execute the vision….the only difference between a hallucination and an inspiration is the execution.”

To which I replied:

“Why not give your dough to some person who is starving”?  Because I’d rather get ahead of the game and end the conditions that allow people to go hungry.  “….or has a life threatening issue”…..the Republican and Democrat programs are life threatening, endangering all life on the planet for the sake of short-term corporate profit.  Greens have “executed our vision” in numerous governments around the world, generally with positive and popular effects.

As Michael Lerner said, “Realism has been defined by the powerful and the media they control to mean any policy that does not significantly challenge the current distribution of power and wealth. So I say, “Don’t be realistic.” The God revealed to the Jewish people is a God that makes it possible to overcome systems of power and domination, starting with the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. All people, who are created in God’s image, can aspire to transcend the constant voices from outside and from inside our own heads that insist we accommodate ourselves to the existing reality rather than change it.”

So, friend, why are you such an apologist for the sorry state of the status quo?

I could also have thrown in Dom Helder Camara’s well-known bon mot, “When I feed the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor are hungry, they call me a communist.”  Or, in this post-communist era, “they tell me I’m being ‘unrealistic’.”

Let’s talk about this “be realistic” thing a little.  Read the rest of this entry »





The Sun’s interview with Michael Lerner

26 08 2012

I don’t usually post between radio shows, but a blog post seems like the easiest way to propagate this extensive (nearly 900 word) excerpt  from a much longer interview with Michael Lerner, founder of Tikkun, in the new issue of The Sun.  It’s not available online, and probably won’t be for quite some time.  Go buy it.  It’s a magazine worth supporting!  I may turn this into part of the September radio show, which will air  Sept. 9, or it may remain a stand-alone.  Lerner’s remarks are remarkably sensible, at least to me, and I want to make sure his ideas resonate with as many people as possible–although I do think he’s a bit too easy on President Obama.  On the other hand, his discussion of the Israel-Palestine debacle is one of the most nuanced, deeply contextualized, points of view I’ve ever encountered on the subject–and very hard to cut a few good paragraphs out of for this “Readers’ Digest edition.”

Leviton: So, the realists are actually blind to what’s happening, and you, a utopian dreamer, have a more “realistic” grasp on the situation?

Lerner: Realism has been defined by the powerful and the media they control to mean any policy that does not significantly challenge the current distribution of power and wealth. So I say, “Don’t be realistic.” The God revealed to the Jewish people is a God that makes it possible to overcome systems of power and domination, starting with the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. All people, who are created in God’s image, can aspire to transcend the constant voices from outside and from inside our own heads that insist we accommodate ourselves to the existing reality rather than change it. Read the rest of this entry »





PALESTINE: A PLACE FOR CRUCIFIXIONS

7 03 2009

I was brought up Jewish.  As a child I went to temple regularly, went to Sunday school (It was a Reform temple, so we had Sunday school–and I’m sure some people will say that’s where I started going wrong!), was confirmed at 16–declined Bar Mitzvah because I couldn’t, with a straight face, say “Today I am a man!” at the age of thirteen….

As a teenager, I started having radical leanings early.  I recently found an essay I wrote at the age of fourteen, in 1962, decrying the emptiness of suburban life in America.  lBut still, I saw the kibbutz movement in Israel as a wonderful, living embodiment of utopian democratic socialism, and thrilled to the action in Leon Uris’s Exodus as the brave Jews battled the dastardly British and the ignorant Arabs to establish a homeland where they could create their dreams and live in peace.

But a doubt started eating at my unquestioning support of Israeli policy,  a doubt that sprang from a seed at the heart of Judaism.  One of the most highly regarded Jewish scholars of all time, Moses Maimonides, was asked, somewhat in jest (because we Jews are known for our loquaciousness) if he could tell somebody the essence of Judaism while standing on one foot.  The great Maimonides took his foot off the ground long enough to say “Treat other people the way you would like them to treat you.”

The more I have learned about the Palestinians, the more I have sighed and cried about my fellow Jews.  I cannot reconcile the way the ostensibly Jewish state of Israel has treated the Palestinians–from the getgo, from before Israeli independence.  There has always been arrogance, insensitivity, and a sense of entitlement.  “We’re coming back for our promised  land, so move along, now.”

The situation is full of ironies.  First of all, we have to understand who” the Palestinians”  really are:  they are the descendants of the original Jews of the Bible.   It’s true that many Jews left after the various unsuccessful revolts against the Romans, spreading Jewish practice and communities from England to India.  But many Jews, probably the poorer, peasant ones,  also stayed in Palestine, and were there when Mohammed’s armies swept out of the desert and made Islam the preferred religion.  By a process of what you could call spiritual osmosis, many of those who had been Jews became Muslims, just as the Buddhist populations of Afghanistan Pakistan, and central Asia became Muslim under similar circumstances.

Jews spread out from Palestine after the rebellions of the first and second centuries,. but apparently not very many reproduced.  DNA studies reveal that most European Jews seem to have descended from just four “women of Middle Eastern descent”  who arrived in  southern France around that time.

Then, there is the case of the Russian Jews, most of whom have no genetic tie to Palestine.  They came to their religion when the Khazar kingdom of southern Russia officially converted to Judaism around the year 800 CE.  Of course, this was not accomplished without some input, doubtless genetic as well as spiritual, from originally Palestinian Jews who settled in the ports of the Black Sea as Roman and Byzantine influence had penetrated in that direction and Palestine had become not such a good neighborhood–“too much gangs and violence,” as we might say now.

The irony starts to thicken when we look at one of the central issues that hangs up Israeli-Palestinian negotiations–the “right of return” that the Palestinians insist on, the right to return to the areas their (by now) grandparents were forced out of in the struggles of the late forties and fifties.  This, of course, would produce a state with a non-Jewish majority and so is consistently  and understandably rejected by the Jews, who nevertheless insist upon their “right of return” after an absence of a mere eighteen hundred years (or, in the case of Russian Jewry, no historical presence whatsoever).

Then there’s the inter linked questions of imperialism, racism,  and sustainability.  I had long criticized the goat- and sheep-herding practices practiced by native Palestinians (and everybody else in the Mediterranian basin)as  the major cause of the erosion and desertification of the Mediterranian basin, but after reading my fellow Jew Starhawk’s reporting on Palestinian culture, I began to understand that what we were looking at was a native, land-based, long term culture (the Palestinians) that, by itself, could be tweaked into sustainability–except that it has been overwhelmed by a very westernized, economically-oriented society that has no deep roots and apparently no sense that it is responsible for the long-term welfare of the whole  planet and not just a small circle of friends and relatives.  Yet, at the same time, Jewish culture is very vital and precious and nourishing to those who live in it.  What does anybody, ultimately, really want besides a sustainable, deeply rooted culture?  Even if you are too alienated to know what you really want, which most of us are, to some extent, that’s the only thing that will satisfy you.

But I digress…what we have, historically speaking, in Israel/Palestine, is a trickle of Europeans turning into a flood and overwhelming native resistance, not unlike what happened here in America, or what the Chinese have done to smaller cultures on the fringe of their homeland.  In the case of the Jews’ entry into Palestine, we were encouraged, first by our own history and mythology, and then by the sympathy of a world horrified by the genocide of the Jews of Europe in the thirties and forties.

That awful crime certainly demanded redress and restitution…but why did it have to come at the expensive of the Palestinian people, whose plight increasingly resembles that of the Jews of Nazi-occupied Europe?  What difference is there, really, between Gaza and the Warsaw Ghetto?  What is the point, and what is the result, of allowing more and more Jewish settlements in supposedly Palestinian territories, of checkpoints and travel restrictions, arbitrary arrests and detainments, “targeted” assassinations that take out dozens of bystanders and maybe the object of the murder?  Is it because somehow guaranteeing Lebensraum for the Jewish people is a holier cause than guaranteeing Lebensraum for the German people?

No, the Palestinian response to the oppression inflicted on them by the Jews has not been morally perfect, but neither was the establishment of Israel.   When Menachem Begin became prime minister of Israel, it was conveniently forgotten that his methods of operation had been described by  Albert Einstein and many other leading lights of the late forties as

closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties, (inaugurating) a reign of terror in the Palestine Jewish community

…as well as the Palestine Arab community, where they committed at least one major massacre of innocent civilians.

So, the Palestinians protest their oppression with suicide bombers and rinky-dink rocket attacks. But who faults the Jews of  Warsaw for the pinpricks they inflicted on their Nazi tormentors?  And let us not forget that part of the “crime” for which Jesus was crucified was his attempt to throw the money changers of out of the temple.  It was a small act of insurrection, but it was enough of an excuse for the Romans to take action.  Like the modern-day Jews, The Romans had superior firepower and an unswerving conviction that they were doing the right thing.  Jesus was a Palestinian; today, instead of one special representative being singled out for torture and slow death, we have the painful prospect of millions of people herded into a small area that then serves as a shooting gallery for another group of people.  If this is still treating others the way we would like to be treated, the Jews of Israel are setting themselves up for a lot of pain.

So, what’s a “Green” solution to this mess, this clash of opposing forces with different, mutually exclusive agendas for the same small piece of turf?

This is not a problem that can be solved merely by agreements among leaders, any more than civil rights in the US was “solved” by the Supreme Court.  The solution to this conflict will start with an agreement between leaders, but it will then need to be solved by millions of people listening to each other and talking with each other in small groups where everyone can be heard.  Reconciliation is not abstract.  It is intensely personal.  We need to put an end to the cycle of vengeance.  We have to initiate  a new cycle of agreement , mutual consideration, and mutual aid, and we need to set an example here in the US first.

This is not an easy task, and the downward momentum of this conflict, which has been going on in one form or another since modern humans spread out of Africa and encountered Neanderthals in the Eastern Mediterranian, may be impossible to overcome.  If that is the case, then the prognosis for this planet and its people is grim.  If the Israel-Palestine conflict continues to be  a black hole, it will drag us all in, and that, along with the the climate change we have been too busy fighting to avert or prepare for,  will be the end of our aspirations for a peaceful, sustainable future.

“Treat other people the way you wish to be treated.”  If we allow the Palestinian crucifixion  to continue, can our own crucifixion be long in coming?

music:  Steve Earle, “Jerusalem





PEOPLE LISTENING TO EACH OTHER FOR A CHANGE

8 03 2008

Most of the news we hear from the Middle East is horrendous. Wars, rumors of wars, airstrikes on civilian targets, cluster bombs, car bombs, suicide bombers. It makes this grown man cry, especially because there seems to be no way out of it through the political process.

We’re all told to be very afraid of Middle Eastern Terrorists and that Israel is the bulwark of Western Democracy and needs to be unconditionally supported, but this is the root contradiction on which the whole mess rests. Most people have forgotten, if they ever knew, that some of Israel’s roots spring from the Jewish terrorist group the Irgun, which attacked and killed Arabs and British army personnel and even went so far as to blow up Britain’s headquarters in what was then called Palestine and the British embassy in Rome. And who was leading the Irgun? Menachem Begin, who later became Israel’s prime minister.

The situation was far from black and white. Beginning in the late twenties, Arabs increasingly resented and resisted the rising wave of European Jews who were trying to make room for more and more of themselves in the fragile, limited ecosystem of the western fertile crescent. Jews were desperate to escape from certain death in Europe, and felt they had a God-given “right of return,” which is just what the Arabs who are now refugees from their long-time homes in Palestine feel. It’s the same irresistible force meets immovable object story that fills the Old Testament, only with more people, better communications, and firepower and other technology that would have seemed absolutely miraculous in the days of Joshua and King David.

And what this has done is create suffering on a truly massive scale. About a million and a half very angry, desperate people are now confined in the Gaza strip, where a fearful Israeli army keeps ratcheting up the oppression because they’re afraid of what will happen if they stop. Conditions in Gaza are strangely parallel to those in the Warsaw Ghetto during WW II, except that Gaza has about four times as many people and has lasted for decades, while the Nazi concentration and persecution of Polish Jews was over and done with in four years. One difference, of course, is that the Nazis had a system of death camps to which they sent their Jewish victims, and the Israelis have no such outlet. Thank goodness.

As an aside, I have to say that I cannot consider Israel a “Jewish” state. Growing up Jewish, I was taught that the basis of Judaism is, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and that doesn’t seem to me to be the principle on which the State of Israel is operating with its Muslim neighbors.

So, what can be done to defuse this ticking time bomb? Just as with the US defense budget, it’s another case in which the resources that could be used to make everybody’s lives better are all tied up in weaponry that seems to be necessary because everybody feels so deprived and threatened. The US political establishment is utterly clueless, with McCain chanting “Bomb, bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran” and Obama and Hillary singing backup. The good news is, there is some under-the-radar citizen diplomacy going on.

I recently received a forwarded email from Jack Kornfield, the meditation teacher, about his experiences meeting with Muslims and Jews in Palestine and Israel, and it was some of the first good news I’d heard from that troubled land in a long, long time.

While the governments and the militias duke it out, a lot of people on both sides of the conflict are realizing that there can be no victory through violence, that there can only be finding a way to live with each other, which can only be found by Israelis and Palestinians not just talking to each other, but listening to each other.

Listening, really listening, to somebody you’ve been brought up to hate and fear is not easy, but what Jack Kornfield reports is that there are several techniques that have been developed through the years for use in far less charged settings that work very well to create frameworks for dialogue for these polarized people.

One of the techniques is called “Non-Violent Communication.” To quote from the Non-Violent Communication website,

Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is sometimes referred to as compassionate communication. Its purpose is to strengthen our ability to inspire compassion from others and to respond compassionately to others and to ourselves. NVC guides us to reframe how we express ourselves and hear others by focusing our consciousness on what we are observing, feeling, needing, and requesting.

We are trained to make careful observations free of evaluation, and to specify behaviors and conditions that are affecting us. We learn to hear our own deeper needs and those of others, and to identify and clearly articulate what we are wanting in a given moment. When we focus on clarifying what is being observed, felt, and needed, rather than on diagnosing and judging, we discover the depth of our own compassion. Through its emphasis on deep listening—to ourselves as well as others—NVC fosters respect, attentiveness and empathy, and engenders a mutual desire to give from the heart. The form is simple, yet powerfully transformative.

I have been aware of Non-Violent Communication for some time and thought of it as one of those New-Agey feelgood thingies for rich white folks with too much time and money, but the news that it works in the fiery crucible of Israeli-Palestinian relationships has definitely upped my opinion of it.

Another technique that has worked very well to get both sides of this conflict together has been Compassionate Listening, which, according to its originators,

requires suspending our judgments and listening from an open heart. Through the skills of reflective listening and non-adversarial questioning the compassionate listener generates healing in the heart of the speaker. Once this healing has begun, the compassionate listener builds a bridge by the humanization of the other. When both sides understand the suffering of the other, reconciliation can begin.

Two of their favorite sayings are

“An enemy is someone, whose story we haven’t heard.” and “ Behind every act of violence is an unhealed wound.”

Gene Hoffman, one of the founders of the movement, has written,

Reconciliation is the most difficult of peace processes because it requires the resumption of relationship between those in conflict. It means the coming together in harmony of those who have been sundered.

My sense is that if we would reconcile, we must make radically new responses to the radically new situation in a world where violence is mindless, hopeless, meaningless and almost every nation has nuclear weapons — if they don’t now, they soon will. We must move beyond initiatives we formerly used, into realms we have not yet considered, not yet discovered, trusting that there are always open to us new divine possibilities.

We peace people have always listened to the oppressed and disenfranchised. That’s very important. One of the new steps I think we should take is to listen to those we consider ‘the enemy’ with the same openness, non-judgment, and compassion we bring to those with whom our sympathies lie.

Everyone has a partial truth, and we must listen, discern, acknowledge this partial truth in everyone – particularly those with whom we disagree.

This kind of approach, I think, is true radicalism, because it goes to the root of the problem. Jack Kornfield, in a talk on meditation that he gave during his visit to Israel and Palestine, said that people needed to

“drop below the levels of identity that we make, such as ‘I am a man,’ ‘I am a woman’ or ‘I am a Muslim,’ ‘I am a Jew.’ You feel the humanity… that we all share, and to recognize that in a deep way… changes the way you relate to everybody,”

He continued

“Here in Israel, there are so many differences [stemming from] identity. The question for us as human beings is how can we respect identity, but also see that it is not the whole truth, and that there is a deeper truth we all share.

The third technique that Kornfield reported on was Trauma Therapy–and, in a land where violence is pandemic, that makes sense even before you find out the details. Most Americans (except the ones who have been to Iraq) have not had to deal with having their homes bulldozed while they were still in them, or being at the mall when somebody blows herself up and takes fifty people with her. We lead such insulated lives. Our credit is drying up and our homes are losing value? Big deal! Nobody’s firing rockets at us or dropping cluster bombs in our yard or assassinating our family members while they’re driving down the road.

Here’s some of what Trauma Therapy does for those who have lived through, and are stuck in, that kind of hell:

Narrative trauma processing is the first of three basic tasks in trauma therapy …. In our approach the more conventional goal of dealing with the meaning of the trauma comes only after narrative closure is achieved and the traumatic dissociation is repaired. Only then do we expect the person to be able to gain a perspective that makes it possible to change one’s assumptive world and replace the mythology of being hopelessly vulnerable. The goal of narrative processing is for the patient to reconstruct a complete narrative of the traumatic experience. That is, we ask patients to tell the story of their traumas. The creation of a detailed coherent narrative with a beginning, middle, and end brings together the fragmented images of the trauma. Telling the story from start to finish, complete with all the details is crucial to helping patients reverse their dissociation.

The language is rather academic, but I think you get the point.

These are real things that really help real people with their real problems. They have nothing to do with bloviated peace conferences that are little more than photo ops for the pirate captains of the world.

They are far more effective than body armor, attack helicopters, high-tech surveillance, or car bombs. They are limited in that they have, as yet, no power to stop those who prefer the tools of destruction and domination, nor can they, at this point, change the horrific life conditions imposed by such oppressors, whether they be Israeli, Palestinian, Chinese, or American. But they provide a way to rehumanize those who are caught in the web of their own violence.

Accomplishing that task one person at a time seems agonizingly slow, but this movement is growing and gathering energy. It, just as assuredly as solar buildings and workplace democracy, is part of the technology we need to know and spread to create a more just, compassionate, and sustainable world.

And, by the way, I did, after some searching, find who had originated the email that tipped me off to this saintly reconciliation effort. It came from Ralph Metzner, famed for his early association with Tim Leary and Richard Alpert. Thank you Ralph, you done us proud.

music: Steve Earle, “Jerusalem”








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