Thursday, August 21, 2014

James Foley: "Prayer was the Glue that Enabled my Freedom, an Inner Freedom"

"Prayer was the glue that enabled my freedom,
an inner freedom . . ."

Photojournalist James Foley wrote these words in 2011, when reflecting on the 44 days he and two others were held captive in Libya. He went on to say that prayer, in this instance, also enabled "the miracle of being released during a war in which the regime had no real incentive to free us." He acknowledged that such a turn-of-events made no sense, but that faith did.

Shortly after his return to the U.S. from Libya, Foley, who was raised Catholic and graduated from Marquette University in 1996, visited and spoke to members of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, his family's parish in Rochester, New Hampshire. "I knew you were praying for me," he told the community.

Foley soon returned to the Middle East, though not before raising $12,000 for the Syrian American Medical Society. On November 22, 2012, he was abducted while reporting for GlobalPost and Agence France-Presse on the ongoing civil war in Syria. For almost two years nothing was heard from him, although one source says that he was "moved a number of times and passed through the hands of various captors." The silence on Foley's whereabouts was tragically broken when this past Tuesday a gruesome video was posted online showing him being beheaded by a masked member of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Notes the New York Times:

Titled “A Message to America,” the video shows [Foley] kneeling in a desert landscape, clad in an orange jumpsuit — an apparent reference to the uniforms worn by prisoners at the American military detention camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Standing to his left is a masked ISIS fighter, who begins speaking in English, with what sounds like an East London accent. Pulling out a knife, he says that Mr. Foley’s execution is in retaliation for the recent American airstrikes ordered by President Obama against the extremist group in Iraq. . . . [After Foley's decapitation] the video concludes with the fighter threatening to kill Steven Sotloff, another American freelance journalist, who was being held alongside Mr. Foley. Mr. Sotloff is seen kneeling in the same position, in the same landscape and wearing the same style of orange-colored jumpsuit. “The life of this American citizen, Obama, depends on your next decision,” the fighter says.

The Obama administration has confirmed the authenticity of the video, and the Foley family has paid tribute to their son, noting that James was "a martyr, a martyr for freedom."

John and Diane Foley also praised their son's "deep courage" and his passion for reporting from the front lines. John Foley said that his son always sought to "humanize" the people and the struggles he witnessed. "He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people," Diane Foley added.

In London, Sunday Times photographer Paul Conroy, who worked alongside James in 2011, echoed Diane Foley's sentiments, noting that James had shone "a light into . . . dark places where dictators thrive."

In paying tribute to her friend and colleague, Real News reporter Jessica Desvarieux recounted how "Jim wanted to speak to the [Syrian] people so that we would get a sense of what's really going on. . . . He wanted to share with the world [their] stories."

James Foley himself told the BBC in 2012 that, "I'm drawn to trying to explore the untold stories. I'm drawn to the human rights side. . . . So many of the reporters are. . . . That's the inspiring thing about it."

These words of James' remind me of broadcast journalist Amy Goodman's contention that journalism, and the listening and sharing of other people's stories that it involves, is a "sacred responsibility."

Since news broke about James Foley's death I've been drawn to his story and, in particular, the role that prayer played in his life and the life of his family.

After the ordeal that he and his two colleagues experienced in Libya, for instance, he wrote of how during his time of captivity he had come to trust "some cosmic reach of the universe" to help him connect with his loved ones, his mother in particular. Drawing on his Catholic upbringing, James used the praying of the rosary to facilitate this experience of communication and connection.

Each day brought increasing worry that our moms would begin to panic. My colleague, Clare, was supposed to call her mom on her birthday, which was the day after we were captured. I had still not fully admitted to myself that my mom knew what had happened. But I kept telling Clare my mom had a strong faith.

I prayed she’d know I was OK. I prayed I could communicate through some cosmic reach of the universe to her.

I began to pray the rosary. It was what my mother and grandmother would have prayed. 
I said 10 Hail Marys between each Our Father. It took a long time, almost an hour to count 100 Hail Marys off on my knuckles. And it helped to keep my mind focused.

Clare and I prayed together out loud. It felt energizing to speak our weaknesses and hopes together, as if in a conversation with God, rather than silently and alone.

James' words bring to mind those of Catholic theologian Michael Morwood. You may recall that just yesterday I shared an excerpt from Morwood's book It's Time. The focus of this particular excerpt was on "the Divine Presence," Morwood's term for the ancient spiritual understanding of God "always here, always and everywhere active in an expanding universe."

Of course, if God, the Divine Presence, is indeed "always and everywhere active," then those open to this presence and action are always connected to one another in a profoundly beautiful and mysterious way, one that not even death can put a stop to. I also believe that regardless of whether or not we acknowledge or recognize it, we are all held within, and connected with all creation through, the Divine Presence.

Prayer doesn't create this connection, this mystical oneness, as it's already and always there. What prayer can and does do, however, is attune us to and heighten our awareness of this wondrous connection. Through prayer we open ourselves to what author James Conlon describes as the "embrace of divine energy that enfolds our presence and heals our pain." It's an embrace that, as James Foley and his loved ones experienced, holds us together and provides strength, courage and mercy – a mercy which we can, like Jesus, extend even to those who grievously hurt us. I was quite moved and inspired to hear James' mother, Diane, say in an interview that in the wake of her son's murder she is praying (and asking others to pray) that she doesn't become bitter. "I don't want to hate," she says.

I hope and pray that throughout the duration of James Foley's imprisonment in Syria and right up to the moment of his death and his entering fully into the Divine Presence, that he knew that "inner freedom" he spoke about during his previous captivity in Libya. I hope and pray that he knew liberation from all that sought to undermine or break his sustaining connection, his relationship, with God; that he experienced the strength and love of the Divine Presence and thus of his family who, though half the world away, were still very much connected to him . . . and will always remain connected to him.

I purposefully chose not to include in this post any stills from the video of James' execution. As brave as he was in the moments leading up to his death, depictions of him bound and next to the psychopath who would soon brutally murder him is not how I wish to remember James Foley.

Instead I share some of the images that James took while doing what he loved most: documenting and humanizing the people and struggles he encountered while reporting on the front lines of various conflicts in the Middle East. These photos are from that part of James' Facebook page that is open to the public. They were taken in Iraq in 2008 and 2009, and show what a gifted photojournalist and perceptive human being James Foley was.

May his spirit be one with the transforming love that is the Divine Presence.

Related Off-site Links:
American Killed in Syria a Journalist to the Core – Rik Stevens (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, August 19, 2014).
James Foley Remembered as "Brave and Tireless' Journalist – Brian Stelter (CNN, August 21, 2014).
For James Foley, Covering Combat Zones a "Siren Song," Despite Time Jailed in Libya Prison – Sasha Goldstein (New York Daily News, August 19, 2014).
James Foley and the Last Journalists in Syria – Uri Friedman (The Atlantic, August 19, 2014).
Why Did Islamic State Militants Execute James Foley? – Howard LaFranchi (Christian Science Monitor, August 20, 2014).
Militants Use British Killer as Propaganda – Jill Lawless and Danica Kirka (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, August 20, 2014).
British Muslims Blame Jihadi Subculture After Beheading Video – Kate Holton and Raheem Salman (Reuters, August 21, 2014).
Identifying James Foley's Executioner Seen as Possible, if Difficult – Christopher Werth (Los Angeles Times, August 21, 2014).
James Foley's Parents: "He Was a Martyr, a Martyr for Freedom" – Dylan Stableford (Yahoo! News, August 20, 2014).
James Foley's Parents: "He Was Courageous to the End"CBS News (August 20, 2014).
Faith, Prayer Sources of Strength for Slain U.S. Journalist, His Family – Catholic News Service (August 20, 2014).
Pope Phones Family of Slain U.S. Journalist – Francis X. Rocca (Catholic News Service, August 21, 2014).
Slain Journalist's Employer Publishes E-mail to Family from Islamic State – Reuters via Yahoo! News (August 21, 2014).
In Case of Slain Journalist, Negotiations, Silence, Then a Chilling Warning – Warren Strobel and John Irish (Reuters, August 21, 2014).
From Daniel Pearl to James Foley: The Modern Tactic of Islamist Beheadings – Adam Taylor (The Washington Post, August 20, 2014).
After James Foley Murder, An Effort to Stamp Out Jihadi Twitter Accounts – Elizabeth Dickinson (Christian Science Monitor, August 20, 2014).
Officials: U.S. Rescue Mission Failed – Julie Pace (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, August 20, 2014).
How the U.S. and Europe Failed James Foley – David Rohde (The Atlantic, August 20, 2014).
Foley Captors' Ransom Demand Revives Debate Over U.S. No-pay Policy – Ariel Zirulnick (Christian Science Monitor, August 21, 2014).
The Race to Save James Foley: The Inside Story – Cassandra Vinograd (NBC News, August 21, 2014).
Reporter’s Execution Could Unleash U.S. Against ISIS – Rob Garver (The Fiscal Times via Yahoo! News, August 20, 2014).
Obama's Mission Agaist ISIS Just Fundamentally Changed – Brett LoGiurato (Business Insider via Yahoo! Finance, August 21, 2014).
Jim Foley, Faith, and Heroic Journalism – Sarah Christian (Millennial, August 20, 2014).
Remembering James Foley's Remarkable Faith – Antonia Blumberg (The Huffington Post, August 20, 2014).
Priest Comforts Foley Family After Killing of JournalistCatholic Herald (August 20, 2014).
James Foley, Marquette ’96, Writing on the Power of Prayer – Frank Weathers (Patheos, August 19, 2014).
James Foley Speaks to Students About Journalism, Courage and What Inspires Him (2011) – Republished August 20, 2014 at The Huffington Post.
1,071 Murdered Since 1992: More Must Be Done to Protect Journalists Like James Foley – Howard Tumber (The Conversation, August 21, 2014).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Michael Morwood on the Divine Presence
Prayer and the Experience of God in an Ever-Unfolding Universe
Thoughts on Prayer in a "Summer of Strife"
Karl Rahner on the Need for Prayer
Prayer: Both a Consolation and a Demand
Be Just in My Heart
The Most Sacred and Simple Mystery of All

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Michael Morwood on the Divine Presence

One of the books I'm currently reading is Michael Morwood's It's Time: Challenges to the Doctrine of the Faith, a book that focuses on the crisis of faith confronting Christianity in general and Roman Catholicism in particular. In response to this crisis, Morwood proposes that we discard institutional claims of unique access to a heavenly deity, replace it with a twenty-first century understanding of the Divine Presence permeating the universe, and focus on Jesus as the human expression of that Presence.

I must admit I resonate with much of what Morwood says, and found it interesting that his writings on the Divine Presence mirror my thoughts on prayer as articulated in a number of recent The Wild Reed posts. (See, for example, here and here.)

Following is the first of two excerpts from the chapter of It's Time that focuses on the Divine Presence.

It is time to take seriously what Christianity has always proclaimed: that this Mysterious Presence we call "God" is everywhere and is beyond all our human concepts. It is time to make a significant shift in our understanding of "God." It is time to shift from notions of a deity to an understanding and appreciation of the Divine Presence always here, always and everywhere active in an expanding universe and in the evolution of life on this planet.

Institutional religion's resistance to this shift is understandable because it has significant investment in the notion of an elsewhere deity. That notion of God underpins the Creed and Church doctrines about God, about Jesus and about humanity's relationship with God. It is the notion of God on which Church authority depends to justify the claim that it has unique access to God through the resurrection of Jesus. It is the notion of God in our scriptures: a heavenly deity who reacts, plans, has definite opinions, intervenes, controls, and sends His Son from heaven to earth. It is the notion of God that Church leadership uses to claim that its authority stems from a "divinely conferred commission." It is the notion of God that Church leadership relies in its claim to know the express views of God on important issues.

While this resistance is understandable, it is lamentable. Christianity has traditionally proclaimed belief in the everywhere presence of God, an everywhere Presence holding and sustaining everything in existence. The shift being proposed here is rooted in fidelity to this belief, in being ready to explore its implications for Christian faith, and most importantly, in the desire to understand the person and message of Jesus in the light of what we know today about our universe, rather than the worldview of two thousand years ago.

The shift starts with considering the age and size of the universe in which we live, and with what it means to say that the Divine Presence is everywhere, holding and sustaining everything in existence. What does it mean to believe that there is no outside of this Presence? And how can we best discern this Mystery present and active in everything that exists?

If this presence is everywhere, "charging" and holding everything in existence, we should be able to discern the Presence through examining how the universe unfolds. It makes eminent sense, then, to go to the scientific world and discover the basic, universal patterns of operation in the emergence and expansion of the universe and in the development of life on earth. These patterns of operation can and should be our contemporary pointers to the Presence. They will point us well beyond the "God" of scripture and doctrine to an awesome Mystery in which we live and move and to which we give human expression.

What is the "big picture" contemporary science paints for us about how the universe expands and develops that would help us discern and appreciate the Divine Presence through all and in all?

To be continued.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
In the Garden of Spirituality – Michael Morwood
Prayer and the Experience of God in an Ever-Unfolding Universe
A Return to the Spirit
The Onward Call

Recommended Off-site Links:
Michael Morwood for Pope? – Michael Dowd (The Advent of Evolutionary Christianity,December 17, 2010).
From Sand to Solid Ground: An Interview with Michael MorwoodCatholica (2008).

Image: Artist unknown.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Quote of the Day

Without really meaning to, Kate Bush has stood for many things. She has stood for English pop as a discrete idiom, sheared free of its American roots. She has stood firmly for artistic independence in the face of corporate will, by standing up to record-company bosses and by forming her own management and publishing companies at an age most of us are prepared to swallow whatever trickles down. She has stood for privacy in the face of presumption by the media. She has stood, fiercely, against the sexual objectification of women as an industrial norm. She has maintained the conviction that one's first duty is to one's own artistic muse, and she has done it as if it were all in a day's work and not a continuation of her work by other, self-dramatizing, means.

. . . It's quite hard now to recall with any sort of completeness the context of her advent in 1978, at the height of disco and punk and at the tail end of the English art-rock sensibility, which favored style, performance and smart ideas over the American pop verities of personal authenticity, songwriting and musical discipline. She didn't, at the time, come off like the illegitimate daughter of Bowie, Roxy and the Sensational Alex Harvey, any more than she fit the herky-jerky street-art model proposed by the incipient New Wave. She was way too literary, polished and home-bound for that, and she was waywardly, Romantically stubborn, like a devoted Noel Streatfeild heroine: overtly middle class, when "middle class" were two dirty words. She was always an outlier.

– Nick Coleman
Quoted in "The Inimitable Kate Bush"
The Independent
August 17, 2014

Kate Bush's series of 'Before the Dawn' concerts will take place from August 26, 2014 at the Eventim Apollo, London.

To listen to "Misty," a track from Kate's latest album, 2011's 50 Words for Snow, click here.

Related Off-site Links and Updates:
Kate Bush, the Queen of Art-Pop Who Defied Her Critics – Simon Reynolds (The Guardian, August 21, 2014).
Kate Bush: What Might We Expect from Her New Stage Show? – Helen Brown (The Telegraph, August 20, 2014).
Kate Bush Makes a Valiant Stand in the Battle of Transcendence v Smartphones – John Harris (The Guardian, August 20, 2014).
Kate Bush Asks Fans Not to Use Phones or Tablets at London Comeback Gigs – Hannah Ellis-Petersen (The Guardian, August 19, 2014).
Kate Bush Concert Tickets Sell Out in 15 MinutesBBC News (March 28, 2014).
Kate Bush Receives CBE from the Queen – Rebecca English (Daily Mail, April 10, 2013).
Why We Should All Love Kate Bush – Laura Barnett (The Telegraph, March 14, 2011).
Kate Bush News and Information
The Official Kate Bush Website
Kate Bush's Official YouTube Channel

For more of Kate Bush at The Wild Reed, see:
Scaling the Heights
"Oh, Yeah!"
Celebrating Bloomsday in St. Paul (& with Kate Bush)
"Rosabelle, Believe . . ."
Just in Time for Winter
"Call Upon Those You Love"
A Song of Summer

Image: Kate Bush (1993) by Guido Harari (from the recently-released book Kate Bush – Photographs by Guido Harari.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Thoughts on Prayer in a "Summer of Strife"


Come to our aid, O Beloved!
Darkness seems to pervade the earth;
Where is the faith, the integrity
that once lived in our hearts?
Where is the truth, the trust
that made its home in us?

– Excerpted from Psalm 12
(as translated by Nan C. Merrill in
Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness)

Perhaps, like me, you are feeling overwhelmed by the chaos, death and destruction that has been taking place in many parts of our world. From Ukraine to Gaza, Syria to Iraq, Nigeria to Missouri we are inundated with images and stories of unrest, injustice, violence and heart-breaking suffering.

Before I share some thoughts on prayer in the face of such harsh realities, I invite you to view the following images which, for me, serve as icons. I consider them icons, in the religious sense, as they are windows through which we are invited to see God present in the trials and sufferings of humanity . . . and in the devastated natural environment of the planet.

Above: A Palestinian girl who had lost a family member in an Israeli airstrike at a U.N school cries at Beit Hanoun hospital in the northern Gaza Strip.(Photo: AP/Adel Hana)

Above: Displaced Iraqis from the Yazidi community carry their children as they cross the Iraqi-Syrian border at the Fishkhabur crossing, in northern Iraq, on August 11, 2014. (Photo: AFP/Ahmad al-Rubaye)

Above: Rescue workers carry a stretcher with a body past the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, presumed to have been shot down by pro-Russian militants in eastern Ukraine on July 19, 2014, killing all 298 passengers. (Photo: Anastasia Vlasova)

Above: A Palestinian boy wounded by Israeli shelling, receives treatment at al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, 20 July, 2014. (Photo:Ali Jadallah/APA)

Above: A Palestinian youth surveys the destruction in Gaza wrought by Israeli airstrikes.

Above: It's been called "the most environmentally destructive industrial project on the planet": the Keystone XL Pipeline. (Photo: Peter Essick/National Geographic)

Above: Police in riot gear walk toward a man in Ferguson, Missouri – August 11, 2014. Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis, has been under a dramatic siege since Saturday, when a police officer shot and killed an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown. In the wake of the killing, protests have engulfed the community — drawing a heavy-handed police crackdown with St. Louis County police officers armed with assault weapons and outfitted with military equipment.(Photo: AP/Jeff Roberson)

Above: Displaced Iraqis from the Yazidi community gather for humanitarian aid at the Syria-Iraq border at Feeshkhabour border point, northern Iraq, Sunday, August 10, 2014. Kurdish authorities at the border believe some 45,000 Yazidis passed the river crossing in the past week and thousands more are still stranded in the mountains. (Photo: AP/ Khalid Mohammed)

Now, I have to say that when I look at images like the ones above and read about the suffering and destruction taking place across the globe, the activist in me wants to do something, wants to take action to solve or at least address in meaningful ways, the many problems and complex issues that plague our world.

But as I said at the beginning of this post, it often feels just so overwhelming. Indeed, it often feels as if the only action I can take is to beseech God to take action, much as the psalmist does in the opening words of this post: Come to our aid, O Beloved!

But then I remind myself that I no longer believe in an interventionalist God, a God who needs to be told what to do and then, if so moved by our pleadings, may or may not chose to act – like a puppet-master, pulling strings; or a cosmic chess master, moving people and events around like pieces on a global chess board.

No, instead of belief in such a God I trust that the all-loving energy that infuses every aspect of creation is constantly trying to get our attention and yearning to transform us and our world, yearning to bring about compassion, justice and peace. Yet such transformation is dependent on the conduit that is human presence and action. We must be open to embodying this sacred energy; to being, like Jesus, living vessels of transforming love.

And so I continue to seek to be informed about issues and events (see, for example, the off-site news and views links listed at the end of this post). I also participate in rallies and vigils for justice and peace, and make financial contributions when I can to organizations such as Doctors Without Borders and Human Rights Watch that I trust are making a difference. Most of all, though, I strive to be a loving, respectful, and attentive presence to all I encounter and in every situation of my day-to-day life.

A wondrous capacity

As for prayer, well, on a very fundamental level, it can be the most powerful action of all. I'm not talking about prayers of petition, although I often find such prayers helpful in focusing my thoughts. Rather, instead of pleading to a puppet-master God, I'm drawn to prayer that is all about becoming attuned to the presence of the sacred within and around me. At night in bed, for example, I often visualize this presence as a glowing sphere of mother-of-pearl colored light, deep within me. It's a sphere of light that, as trustingly and lovingly as I can, I expand outwards, bringing healing and love to people and places both near and far. Often I think of specific people, situations and places that I know are in need of healing and transformation. I picture this light I'm sending forth kindling its same lightself within others. Deep calls to deep, the psalmist reminds us! In time I visualize the whole planet aglow in this healing and transforming love, an all-encompassing love that each and every one of us can consciously and compassionate chose to recognize and kindle within ourselves and share with others. I sense that a visual exercise like the one I've just described can and actually does do something beautiful and good in the "energy field" that is the universe, a universe infused with sacred mystery.

I've found a number of writings that have inspired me to embrace and embody this way of prayer, a way that encourages me to remember and celebrate the reality that, as humans, we have the wondrous capacity to develop an inner life that can transform the often troubling realities of our outer life. These writings reflect an evolutionary spirituality, something I've discussed and explored previously at The Wild Reed (see, for instance, here and here).

First, here is how James Conlon defines prayer in his book The Sacred Impulse.

Prayer is being present to the beauty and pain of life, finding language and symbols to express the inexpressible. Prayer is entering into those important moments in our own lives and the lives of others. Prayer may be contemplating a sunset. It may be reflecting on the issues of life: birth, love, work, wonder, and death. Prayer is interacting with and affirming the divine presence in all of life. Prayer is gratitude and acknowledgment. Prayer is the deepest desire of our life, through which the divine is revealed in our midst. Prayer is a conversation, sharing the burden, celebrating the excitement. Prayer is being with God in our journey through life.

Prayer means living in the soft embrace of divine energy that enfolds our presence and heals our pain. It is an opportunity to renew our deep-seated desire for a life of justice, peace, and renewed possibilities. Prayer is paying attention to the breath of life, to the reality of doubts, to what our world could be.

Next is an excerpt from Vimala Thakar's book Spirituality and Social Action: A Holistic Approach. (You'll notice that what Thakar calls "the vast intelligence that orders the cosmos," I've been calling the transforming love of God, or simply "the sacred." Other names include Divine Presence, Holy One, and Sacred Mystery.)

What is necessary in these critical times is that all sensitive and caring people make a personal discovery of the fact of oneness and allow compassion to flow in their lives. When compassion and realization of oneness becomes the dynamic of human relationship, then humankind will evolve.

We are suffering throughout the world in the darkness of the misery we have created. By believing in the fragmentary and the superficial, we have failed to live together in peace and harmony. . . . [We] feel the urgency to go deeper, to abandon superficial approaches that are inadequate and to activate the creative forces available to each of us as expressions of wholeness. The vast intelligence that orders the cosmos is available to all. The beauty of life, the wonder of living, is that we share creativity, intelligence, and unlimited potential with the rest of the cosmos. If the universe is vast and mysterious, we are vast and mysterious. If it contains innumerable creative energies, we contain innumerable creative energies. If it has healing energies, we also have healing energies. To realize that we are not simply physical beings on a material planet, but that we are whole beings, each a miniature cosmos, each related to all of life in intimate, profound ways, should radically transform how we perceive ourselves, our environments, our social problems. Nothing can ever be isolated from wholeness.

One final thought/prayer: I find it very helpful to spend time in nature, as here I experience God's presence in ways that are uniquely grounding and energizing.

My sense is that there are many people feeling overwhelmed by what here in the northern hemisphere has been called the "summer of strife." Perhaps you include yourself in this number. If so, then I hope that the thoughts and prayers I've shared will help you in understanding and responding to all that's going on in ways that facilitate ever-deepening connection to the sacred. I know that the writing of this post has helped clarify my thinking about a number of important things and inspired me to live a more compassionate and conscious life, a life increasingly attuned to the sacred – a prayer life, I guess you could say.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Prayer and the Experience of God in an Ever-Unfolding Universe
Karl Rahner on the Need for Prayer
Prayer: Both a Consolation and a Demand
Letting Them Sit By Me
"We Will Come Together in Our Pain"
Clarity, Hope, and Courage
Seeking Balance
Threshold Musings
Thoughts on the Feast of the Ascension
Jesus: The Revelation of Oneness
The Most Sacred and Simple Mystery of All

Related Off-site Links and Updates:
The Plight of the Yazidi
40,000 Iraqis Stranded on Mountain as ISIS Jihadists Threaten Death – Martin Chulov (The Guardian, August 6, 2014).
U.S. Plans Rescue Mission for Besieged Yazidi Refugees – Martin Chulov (The Guardian, August 10, 2014).
Yazidi Survivors Say Militants Buried Victims Alive – Humeyra Pamuk (Reuters via The World Post, August 18, 2014).

The Rise of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS)
Islamic State Carves Jihadist Hub in Heart of the Middle East – Samia Nakhoul (Reuters via Yahoo! News, August 12, 2014).
The Rise of ISIS: US Invasion of Iraq and Foreign Backing of Syrian Rebels Helped Fuel Jihadis’ AdvanceDemocracy Now! (August 13, 2014).
Islamic Militants Crush Tribal Uprising in Syria – Bassem Mroue (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, August 12, 2014).
Religious Leaders Say ISIS Persecution of Iraqi Christians Has Become Genocide – Sam Jones and Owen Bowcott (The Guardian, August 8, 2014).
Iraqi Christians' Nightmare – Kirsten Powers (USA Today, July 29, 2014).
The Importance of Caring About Iraqi Christians, But Rejecting Sectarianism – Robert Christian (Millennial, August 12, 2014).
A Friend Flees the Horror of ISIS – George Packer (The New Yorker, August 6, 2014).
Australia, US Appalled at Decapitated Head Photo – Martin Parry (AFP via Yahoo! News, August 11, 2014).
Iraqi and Kurdish Forces Recapture Mosul Dam from ISIS – Agence France-Presse via The Guardian (August 18, 2014).
Islamic State's Message to America: "We Will Drown All of You in Blood" – Reuters via Yahoo! News (August 18, 2014).
Journalist James Foley Reportedly Killed by Islamic State GroupPBS NewsHour (August 19, 2014).
US officials: Video Shows American's Beheading – Lara Jakes and Bradley Klapper (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, August 19, 2014).
"Spare the Lives of the Remaining Hostages. Like Jim They Are Innocents": Mother of Beheaded American Journalist Calls on ISIS to Cease Killing as She Pays Tribute to Her "Extraordinary Son" – James Nye and Ashley Collman (Daily Mail, August 19, 2014).

Iraq and Endless War – Robert C. Koehler (Common Dreams, August 14, 2014).
The Women in a Morgue in Baghdad – Rania Abouzeid (The New Yorker, August 11, 2014).

In Syria, a Barrage of Barrel Bombs: Attacks on Civilians Defy UN Resolution – Human Rights Watch (July 30, 2014).
Syria Has Become a Humanitarian Catastrophe of Epic Proportions – Nigel Pont (The Huffington Post, August 14, 2014).

Egypt's Tiananmen – Kenneth Roth (Foreign Policy, August 12, 2014).

Gaza and Israel
Killing Machines and the Madness of Militarism: From Gaza to Afghanistan – Henry A. Giroux (Truth Out, July 24, 2014).
Depth of Gaza Devastation Becomes Clear After Cease-fire – William Booth (The Washington Post, July 26, 2014).
Who Is Behind Gaza's Mass Execution? – Jesse Rosenfeld (The Daily Beast via Yahoo! News, August 1, 2014).
Political Will is the Obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian Peace – Mel Gurtov (Peace Voice, August 6, 2014).
Israeli Peace Activists Facing Backlash as Gaza Truce HoldsRIA Novosti (August 11, 2014).
In Midst of War, Israel Clamps Down on Internal Dissent – Sarah Lazare (Common Dreams, August 11, 2014).
Signs of Fascism in Israel Reached New Peak During Gaza Op, Says Renowned Scholar – Gidi Weitz (Haaretz, August 12, 2014).
Gaza Conflict: Peace Talks Resume in CairoBBC News (August 17, 2014).
Air Strikes and Rocket Fire Resume as Gaza Negotiations Collapse – Allison Deger (Mondoweiss, August 19, 2014).
Hamas Claims Responsibility for Kidnapping, Murder of Israeli Teenagers in June – Ben Mathis-Lilley (Slate, August 21, 2014).

The Rise of Anti-Semitism in Europe
Anti-Semitism on Rise Across Europe in "Worst Times Since the Nazis" – Jon Henley (The Guardian, August 7, 2014).

Downing of Flight 17 Should Trigger Talks, Not More Violence – Katrina vanden Heuvel (The Washington Post, July 22, 2014).
With 100,000+ Displaced, Why is U.S. Ignoring Ukraine’s Civil War?Democracy Now! (July 24, 2014).
NATO: "High Probability" Russia will Invade Ukraine – Adrian Croft and Sergei Karpukhin (Reuters via Yahoo! News, August 11, 2014).
Silent March for MH17 Victims, One Month After Air Disaster – Reuters via The Guardian (August 17, 2014).
Russia and Ukraine Ministers to Meet in Berlin for Ceasefire Talks – Julian Borger (The Guardian, August 17, 2014).

100 Days Later, Nigerian Girls Still Held – Heather Murdock (Voice of America, July 23, 2014).
Boko Haram Kidnap Dozens of Men and Boys in Attack on Nigeria Village – Jill Reilly (Daily Mail, August 15, 2014).

The U.S./Mexico Border
Here's How the U.S. Sparked a Refugee Crisis on the Border, in 8 Simple Steps – Roque Planas and Ryan Grim (The Huffington Post, July 18, 2014).
Echoing Pope Francis, Bishops Decry Indifference to Suffering of Migrants Under U.S. Immigration System, Call For Action on Immigration Reform – USCCB (April 1, 2014).
Unthinkable Violence Drives Hondurans North to United States – Linda Cooper and James Hodge (National Catholic Reporter, August 18, 2014).
Militias Complicate Situation on Texas Border – Christopher Sherman (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, August 18, 2014).

Ferguson, Missouri
The Killing of Michael Brown: Missouri Police Shooting of Unarmed Black Teen Sparks Days of ProtestsDemocracy Now! (August 12, 2014).
Journalists Face Tear Gas, Police Threats While Covering Protests Against Killing of Michael Brown – Jack Mirkinson (HuffPost Media, August 12, 2014).
This Is the Terrifying Result of the Militarization of Police – Paul Szoldra (Business Insider, August 12, 2014).
11 Shocking Facts About America's Militarized Police Forces – Alex Kane (AlterNet, June 27, 2014).
The Militarization of U.S. Police: Finally Dragged Into the Light by the Horrors of Ferguson – Glenn Greenwald (The Intercept, August 14, 2014).
Riot Sparked by Shooting of Unarmed Man Is About So Much More – Leonard Pitts (Portland Press Herald, August 12, 2014).
America is Not for Black People – Greg Howard (The Concourse, August 12, 2014).
When Terror Wears a Badge – Ryan Herring (Sojourners, August 14, 2014).
This Is Why We're Mad About the Shooting of Mike Brown – Kara Brown (Jezebel, August 11, 2014).
Exactly How Often Do Police Shoot Unarmed Black Men? – Jaeah Lee (Mother Jones, August 15, 2014).
Autopsy Shows Michael Brown Was Struck at Least 6 Times – Frances Robles and Julie Bosman (The New York Times, August 17, 2014).
Chaos Erupts in Ferguson as Police Launch Abrupt Offensive – Gabrielle Bluestone (Gawker, August 17, 2014).
More Fergusons Are Coming: Why Para-Military Hysteria is Dooming America – Robert Hennelly (Salon, August 18, 2014).
Ferguson Unrest Shows Poverty Grows Fastest in Suburbs – Toluse Olorunnipa and Elizabeth Campbell (Bloomberg via Yahoo! News, August 18, 2014).
Missouri National Guard to Be Deployed at Ferguson Protests – Jon Swaine and Rory Carroll (The Guardian, August 18, 2014).
Michael Brown Shooting: Amnesty International Sends Team Within U.S. for First Time as National Guard Deployed – Natasha Culzac (The Independent, August 18, 2014).
Officer Who Pointed Gun at Protesters Suspended – Associated Press via Yahoo! News (August 20, 2014).
Ferguson Protests Cool After U.S, Attorney General Meets Michael Brown's Parents – Carey Gillam and Scott Malone (Reuters via Yahoo! News, August 21, 2014).

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

An Appropriate Homage


In light of the recent death of Lauren Bacall and the screen legend's stand against the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings of the late-1940s (left), I think the use of her iconic image and famous "You know how to whistle" quote in the above 2013 pro-whistle blower cartoon by Mr. Fish serves as an appropriate homage.

Related Off-site Links:
Lauren Bacall, Hollywood's Icon of Cool, Dies at 89 – Mike Barnes and Duane Byrge (The Hollywood Reporter via Yahoo! News, August 12, 2014).
What the Media Isn't Telling You About Lauren Bacall: She Was a True-Blue, Left-of-Center, Liberal Democrat Her Whole Life – Clancy Sigal (AlterNet, August 14, 2014).
Lauren Bacall: 23 Unforgettable Moments from a Dazzling Life – Richard Rushfield (Yahoo! Movies, August 12, 2014).
Remembering Lauren Bacall's Unforgettable 'Whistle' from To Have and Have Not – Haley Blum (USA Today, August 12, 2014).
Lauren Bacall: Hollywood's Most Beautiful Face – Sali Hughes (The Guardian, August 13, 2014).
"The Stuff I Saw Really Began to Disturb Me": How the U.S. Drone War Pushed Snowden to Leak NSA DocsDemocracy Now! (May 13, 2014).
Edward Snowden: Surveillance, Spying Practices Have Brought U.S. to "Brink of the Abyss" – Kasia Anderson (Truth Dig, August 13, 2014).
Obama's War on Whistleblowers – Peter Van Buren (Mother Jones, June 12, 2012).

Something Special: Lauren Bacall's 1989 appearance on The Dame Edna Experience.

Recommended Book: By Myself and Then Some by Lauren Bacall (It Books, 2006).

Image: "You Know How to Whistle" by Mr. Fish (Truth Dig, June 16, 2013).

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Quote of the Day

I am not anti-Israeli, I am not anti-Semitic. I supported the state of Israel. In the forty years I have known the state of Israel, and sometimes had a home there, I’ve seen it completely changed. It changed from a left-wing socially directed country to an extreme right-wing regime that is behaving in the most criminal fashion and . . . unscrupulously using the Holocaust to justify what [it is] doing. . . . I [stand for and] with human rights, whether they are Israeli, gay, women, black, whatever they are. I am not anti-Israel I am not anti-Semitic but I am pro human rights for every human.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
For Some Jews, Israel's Treatment of Palestinians is Yet Another Jewish Tragedy
Something to Think About – July 18, 2014
"We Will Come Together in Our Pain"

Related Off-site Links:
Why Israel is Its Own Worst Enemy – Gideon Levy (CNN, August 8, 2014).
Interview with Sociologist Eva Illouz: "The Real Danger to Israel Comes from Within" – Julia Amalia Heyer (Spiegel, August 5, 2014).
How Europe's Jews Lost Their Humanity in Gaza – Gilad Isaacs (972mag, August 1, 2014).
"Concentrate" and "Exterminate": Israel Parliament Deputy Speaker’s Gaza Genocide Plan – Ali Abunimah (Electronic Intifada, August 6, 2014).
Israel Has Broken My Heart: I’m a Rabbi in Mourning for a Judaism Being Murdered by Israel – Rabbi Michael Lerner (Salon, August 4, 2014).
Israel’s Supporters Try to Come to Terms with the Killing of Children in Gaza – Robert Mackey (New York Times, August 7, 2014).
Against the War: The Movement That Dare Not Speak Its Name in Israel – Giles Fraser (The Guardian, August 6, 2014).
The Death of Sympathy: How Israel’s Hawks Intimidated and Silenced the Last Remnants of the Anti-war Left – Gregg Carlstrom (Foreign Policy, August 5, 2014).
Gaza in Cease-fire: What Palestinians Think of Hamas Now and What That Means – William Saletan (Slate, August 6, 2014).
Political Will is the Obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian Peace – Mel Gurtov (Peace Voice, August 6, 2014).
American Jews and Israel: The Time to Speak Out on Gaza is Now – Ruth Margalit (Slate, August 11, 2014).

Friday, August 08, 2014

How Can I Tell You?

For "music night" this evening at The Wild Reed I share singer-songwriter Cat Stevens' haunting "How Can I Tell You?", a track from his phenomenally successful 1971 album Teaser and the Firecat. Also on this album are three of Stevens' most famous recordings, "Morning Has Broken," "Moonshadow," and "Peace Train."

Before sharing a YouTube video of Cat Stevens performing "How Can I Tell You?" on a BBC television show in 1970, I'd like to share a little about how and why this particular song is especially meaningful for me.

I guess it all begins at around the time when Cat was at the height of his popularity, which was in the early 1970s. How popular was he? Well, when I was doing a Google image search for pictures to accompany this post I came across the image at left, which in 1972 was a pin-up in the Australian magazine TV Week.

Now, at that time I was just a child and although I don't recall this particular poster, I did have a number of other TV Week posters sticky-taped to the inside of my bedroom wardrobe door. They were all of popular male entertainers, or "heart-throbs," of the day – David Cassidy, Rick Springfield, and Donny Osmond. I dare say that if I had come across this poster of Cat Stevens, it would have been added to my collection. I mean, the guy's incredible handsome and would have appealed, I'm sure, to my little gay boy-self.

Now, I should say that back then the word "gay," along with its meaning related to sexuality, meant nothing to me. I should also say that I wasn't trying to hide anything by having my posters on the inside of my wardrobe door; it was just that Mum didn't want anything sticky-taped to the outside of our painted built-in wardrobes.

There did come a time, however, when my mother gently told me that "little boys don't have" the type of posters that I had so intentionally and happily collected. I'm sure she said this out of concern for me. Maybe she thought my friends would see them and tease me. Or perhaps it was simply that she sensed that there was something different about her middle child and thought to discourage or redirect whatever this was. Whatever the reason, I don't judge her for her comment as she made it out of love and concern for me. (Plus, a few years later she said something that was very liberating in my journey as a gay boy.)

Yet, without doubt, I felt confused and a little frightened by my mother's words . . . and by what they suggested my poster collection was saying about me. I felt this way because at the time I simply didn't have the words to explain what I was experiencing inside, let alone describe how the beautiful young men in these posters made me feel. And if I couldn't tell myself what was going on, how could I tell anyone else, even my mother?

And so I took my posters down.

I have another vivid memory from that time: I remember standing and crying in front of my bedroom mirror, feeling totally overwhelmed by a sense of out-of-placeness. Again, much of this confusion and sense of not fitting-in came from my inability to fathom or articulate the sexual self-awareness that was surfacing – and surfacing in ways that felt so natural to me and yet which others were letting me know were not okay. It was a difficult time, and one that I'm sure many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people can relate to.

Fast forward thirteen years. I'm 21, in my last year of college, out to myself, and in love for the very first time. Yet how could I tell my friend about the feelings I had for him? I just didn't have the courage. It was around this time, 1988 to be exact, that I first heard Cat Stevens' recording of "How Can I Tell You?" By then I was in my first year of teaching in Goulburn but still very much in love with my straight friend. I can recall, on more than one occasion, being moved to tears when, alone in my little flat, I heard Cat Stevens plaintively singing . . .

How can I tell you that I love you, I love you,
but I can't think of right words to say.
I long to tell you that I'm always thinking of you,
I'm always thinking of you, but my words
just blow away, just blow away.

It always ends up to one thing, honey,
and I can't think of right words to say.

Wherever I am, boy, I'm always walking with you,
I'm always walking with you, but I look and you're not there.
Whoever I'm with, I'm always talking to you,
I'm always talking to you, and I'm sad that
you can't hear, sad that you can't hear.

It always ends up to one thing, honey,
when I look and you're not there.

I need to know you, need to feel my arms around you,
feel my arms around you, like a sea around a shore.
And each night and day I pray
in hope that I might find you,
in hope that I might find you,
because hearts can do no more.

It always ends up to one thing, honey,
still I kneel upon the floor.

How can I tell you that I love you?
I love you but I can't think of right words to say.
I long to tell you that I'm always thinking of you;
I'm always thinking of you but my words
just blow away, just blow away.

It always ends up to one thing, honey,
and I can't think of right words to say.

Yeah, it's kind of a sad story, which I guess is fitting for such a sad song. Thankfully I've journeyed far beyond that time and place, as I document in my coming out series, In the Footsteps of Spring.

But if by chance you're reading this and feeling the same way I once did, then I lovingly encourage you to take heart; to seek, discern and respond to the loving and transforming presence of God deep within you. It may take time but, trust me, you will grow in understanding and discover that, no matter what your circumstances, you are "wonderfully made" and loved by God just as you are. The journey goes on and you can and will find peace, acceptance and happiness within . . . along with the right words to say.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
One of These Boys is Not Like the Others
A Lesson from Play School
Engelbert Humperdinck: Not That Easy to Forget
The Living Tree
Thanks, Mum!
"Hers Would Be the Perpetual Ache of Loss and Loneliness"
Trusting God's Generous Invitation
Soul Deep

Thursday, August 07, 2014

For Some Jews, Israel's Treatment of Palestinians is Yet Another Jewish Tragedy

This past Tuesday, August 5, 2014, I joined with around 50 Twin Cities-area Jews and their supporters for a mourning ritual to mark the annual Jewish fast day of Tisha B'Av.

Tisha B'Av is a fast day that commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem as well as other tragedies throughout Jewish history. Those who gathered in Minneapolis on August 5 mourned the tragedy of the destruction of Gaza and what organizers declared the Israeli government's "ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their homeland and the deprivation of Palestinians' human rights."

Tuesday's ritual took place in front of the Minneapolis office of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC). According to the event's organizers, the JCRC promotes the conflation of Judaism and Zionism, stifles dialogue and dissent, and claims that the only way to be Jewish is to unquestioningly "stand with Israel," i.e., to unquestioningly support the Israeli government's policy regarding the Palestinians. The Jewish organizers and attendees of the Tisha B'Av Gaza Mourning Ritual gathered to "express our grief and mourn in a moment of visible defiance against this narrative." In doing so they conveyed the message that "the JCRC does not represent us."

As a non-Jew it felt important to stand with Jewish people opposed to Israeli policy and military action as they relate to Gaza and the Palestinian people. Recently, I've been sharing my thoughts and opinions on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict with a couple of friends on Facebook. These friends disagree with me on this issue. Following are some of my correspondence with them.

First, my response to being asked to define "extremism" . . .

In my view an individual's or group's dehumanizing ideology and/or actions make them "extremist." I see extremist elements in ISIS, Hamas, Zionism, the Tea Party, and expressions of unfettered capitalism, among other groups and systems. Of course, these extremist elements take many different forms, the worst being violence and death visited upon innocent people. What they all have in common, however, is a tribal mentality (often expressed in extreme forms of nationalism) that leads to the demonizing and labeling of other human beings as "the other." That's the first step in dehumanizing people, and from there all sorts of terrible things can and often do start happening. We need only to look at history and certain areas around the world today to see expressions of extremism being played out.

Next is my response to a friend who, among other things, brought up my presence at a rally against Israeli militarism back in 2002 . . .

First, let me say how much I appreciate your friendship and your willingness to engage with me in this highly emotional subject. Second, the sign I was carrying back in 2002 read "Criticism of Israeli Militarism is Not Anti-Semitic." (Incidentally, no one "handed" me this placard. I made it myself and brought it to the rally. Also, I don't remember it being an "anti-Israel" rally. It was an anti-Israeli policy rally. I believe this distinction is both important and possible). I'm sorry if you found the statement on my placard to be offensive, but I continue to stand by it. Perhaps that difference in viewpoint is the big sticking point between us. Also, if you find that particular statement to be in some way an expression of anti-Semitism, then I have to question some of the other statements, organizations and publications that you have also dismissed as anti-Semitic. Third, I don't support Hamas. I find this organization's anti-Jewish rhetoric, along with some of its actions, abhorrent. Yet I also find abhorrent the treatment of Palestinian populations by Israeli policies and military actions. The reasons the Palestinians in Gaza elected Hamas are complex, but I don't believe the group's anti-Semitic rhetoric was a major factor. From my reading, it was Hamas' dedication to liberating the people from the Israeli blockade/occupation, and its opposition to the corrupt previous government, that drew people to it. I don't believe that the desire to be liberated from the oppressive conditions of the blockade/occupation automatically translates into anti-Semitism. Again, my sense is that this is a sticking point between our differing perspectives. My hope is that once Palestinians have achieved their hoped for liberation, another group other than Hamas will be voted into power. Most Palestinians, like most Jews, want to live in peace, side by side. But for that to happen there must first be justice for all.

Then there's this response to a friend who labels Hamas as "arsonists" and the Israeli military as "firefighters" . . .

The main problem I have with your analogy is that it implies that the Israeli military can do no wrong and that Hamas (and maybe even the Palestinian people) can do nothing that's not wrong (other than complete surrender to the Israeli government's demands which focus only on stopping Hamas rockets but fail to address the siege of Gaza). That's a rather pessimistic viewpoint. Where's the hope of a negotiated peace when one side is viewed as only right and the other as only wrong? Also, I find it problematic that in your view the oppression of the Palestinian people via the occupation/siege doesn't factor in at all to the range of responses – some of which are reprehensible – that we're witnessing on the part of the Palestinians to Israeli policies and actions. From what you've said elsewhere, the sole reason that we're seeing resistance and, in some cases, violence, is that the Palestinians, perhaps even all Arabs, have an irrational hatred of Jews, a hatred that nothing can ever change. It's like you're saying, 'Well, that's just who and what they are. They're not like "us," they're totally the "other."' I'm kinda surprised that you don't see that as dehumanizing of a whole group of people. And once you dehumanize people in that kind of way, once you determine that there's no possible way to negotiate with them or find common ground, well, a pathway is created to go from that to thinking that it's justifiable to simply push them out of the way, hole them up in restricted areas, exterminate them, even. I mean, given that they're viewed as irrational haters hell-bent on killing, what are the other options? Sadly there are Israeli politicians and others who are speaking in such terms. And they of all people should know what happens when you start going down that path.

. . . I don't want to be either pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian. I want to be aligned with all who want for themselves and their children lives of freedom, peace, and security. I have to believe that the longing for such basic human aspirations cuts across all lines of race, religion, and ethnicity. I also know that there are extremists across the board who have no regard for human life and people's hopes and aspirations. It's a sad fact that injustice and war often open the door to such extremists. My hope is that on both sides of this current conflict, moderate and progressive voices might start to be heard. Perhaps the current ceasefire will help in this regard.

Finally, here's my response to a childhood friend now living in Israel who challenged me to live there for two years before thinking and saying the things I do about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict . . .

I can't begin to imagine what it's like to live in fear of sudden and violent death as you and so many others do in both Israel and Gaza. Yet I also know that there are people in Israel who share the perspectives of the articles I choose to post on Facebook; people who believe, for instance, that both sides in this terrible conflict should be held accountable for their actions. If that wasn't the case, if I didn't know that there are Israelis who, like me and many others around the world, are critical of both Hamas and aspects of Israeli policy and military action, then I'd definitely think twice about posting the pieces that I do. Also, I don't think it should just be the experience of those living in Israel that determine what's reported and how. The experiences of Gazans also need to be considered. Put that way, your question to me could be rephrased as an invitation for you to live for two years in Gaza before deciding that the articles I share are "media misinformation."

Above: The sentiment expressed on this t-shirt reminds me of actress and human rights activist Vanessa Redgrave's long-held belief that "the struggle against anti-Semitism and for the self-determination of the Palestinians form a single whole."

Above and below: Reading the names of Palestinian civilians killed in Gaza by the current Israeli military action. To date, over 1800 Palestinians have been killed.

Together we light these yartzeit, memorial candles, and read the names of Palestinians who have been killed in Gaza this summer and whose names we know from the International Middle East Media Center. . . . There are so many names. We read them aloud together, overlapping our voices, making a great noise in our grief, anger, lament, protest.

As can be seen in the photo above, some in attendance at Tuesday's mourning ritual ripped their clothes so as to make a visible manifestation of their grief.

Over the past few weeks, as I've followed events in Israel and Gaza (see, for instance, here and here), I've come across a number of well written and insightful articles. One of the most incisive and moving is Rabbi Michael Lerner's August 4 Salon commentary, "Israel Has Broken My Heart: I’m a Rabbi in Mourning for a Judaism Being Murdered by Israel." Following is an excerpt.

In my book Embracing Israel/Palestine I have argued that both Israelis and Palestinians are victims of post-traumatic stress disorder. I have a great deal of compassion for both peoples, particularly for my own Jewish people who have gone through traumas that have inevitably distorted future generations. Those traumas don’t exonerate Israel’s behavior or that of Hamas, but they are relevant for those of us seeking a path to social healing and transformation.

Yet that healing is impossible until those who are victims of PTSD are willing to work on overcoming it.

And this is precisely where the American Jewish community and Jews around the world have taken a turn that is disastrous, by turning the Israeli nation state into “the Jewish state” and making Israel into an idol to be worshiped rather than a political entity like any other political entity, with strengths and deep flaws. Despairing of spiritual salvation after God failed to show up and save us from the Holocaust, increasing numbers of Jews have abandoned the religion of compassion and identification with the most oppressed that was championed by our biblical prophets, and instead come to worship power and to rejoice in Israel’s ability to become the most militarily powerful state in the Middle East. If a Jew today goes into any synagogue in the U.S. or around the world and says, “I don’t believe in God or Torah and I don’t follow the commandments,” most will still welcome you in and urge you to become involved. But say, “I don’t support the State of Israel,” and you are likely to be labeled a “self-hating Jew” or anti-Semite, scorned and dismissed. As Aaron said of the Golden Calf in the Desert, “These are your Gods, O Israel.”

The worship of the state makes it necessary for Jews to turn Judaism into an auxiliary of ultra-nationalist blindness. Every act of the State of Israel against the Palestinian people is seen as sanctioned by God. Each Sabbath Jews in synagogues around the world are offered prayers for the well-being of the State of Israel but not for our Arab cousins. The very suggestion that we should be praying for the Palestinian people’s welfare is seen as heresy and proof of being “self-hating Jews.”

The worship of power is precisely what Judaism came into being to challenge. We were the slaves, the powerless, and though the Torah talks of God using a strong arm to redeem the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, it simultaneously insists, over and over again, that when Jews go into their promised land in Canaan (not Palestine) they must “love the stranger/the Other,” have one law for the stranger and for the native born, and warns “do not oppress the stranger/the Other.” Remember, Torah reminds us, “that you were strangers/the Other in the land of Egypt” and “you know the heart of the stranger.” Later sources in Judaism even insist that a person without compassion who claims to be Jewish cannot be considered Jewish. A spirit of generosity is so integral to Torah consciousness that when Jews are told to let the land lie fallow once every seven years (the societal-wide Sabbatical Year), they must allow that which grows spontaneously from past plantings be shared with the Other/the stranger.

The Jews are not unique in this. The basic reality is that most of humanity has always heard a voice inside themselves telling them that the best path to security and safety is to love others and show generosity, and a counter voice that tells us that the only path to security is domination and control over others. This struggle between the voice of fear and the voice of love, the voice of domination/power-over and the voice of compassion, empathy and generosity, have played out throughout history and shape contemporary political debates around the world. . . .

– Rabbi Michael Lerner
Excerpted from "Israel Has Broken My Heart: I’m a Rabbi in Mourning
for a Judaism Being Murdered by Israel

August 4, 2014

Recommended Off-site Links:
How Europe's Jews Lost Their Humanity in Gaza – Gilad Isaacs (972mag, August 1, 2014).
Both Israelis and Palestinians Are Losers in This Conflict – Daniel Barenboim (The Guardian, July 24, 2014).
Israel and Palestine Can Never Be Secure Until Both Are Secure – Michael Nagler (Truthout, August 4, 2014).
Nine Facts About the Israeli-Palesinian Conflict on Which We Can All Agree – Qasim Rashid (The World Post, August 1, 2014).
Five Israeli Talking Point on Gaza – Debunked – Noura Erakat (The Nation, July 25, 2014).
An Israel Without Illusions – David Grossman (The New York Times, July 27, 2014).
"Concentrate" and "Exterminate": Israel Parliament Deputy Speaker’s Gaza Genocide Plan – Ali Abunimah (The Electronic Intifada, August 3, 2014).
Losing the Moral High Ground – Eugene Robinson (TruthDig, July 25, 2014).
Israel Started This War and Killed 1,000+ Based on a Very Big Lie – Icarus Verum (Addicting Info, July 26, 2014).
Collective Punishment in Gaza – Rashid Khalidi (The New Yorker, July 29, 2014).
I've Always Loved Israel But This Brutality Breaks My Heart – Max Hastings (Daily Mail, July 23, 2014).
The Logic of Israeli Violence – Greg Shupak (Jacobin, July 30, 2014).
Why Israel Lies – Chris Hedges (TruthDig, August 3, 2014).
While Bombs Fall on Gaza: Resisting Militarism in Israel – Sahar Vardi (Acting in Faith, July 30, 2014).
The Case for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Against Israel – Rafeef Ziadah (Aljazeera America, August 4, 2014).
Both Sides Prepare for New Gaza War Crimes Probe – Associated Press via The Washington Post (August 4, 2014).
Gaza's Christians and Muslims Grow Closer in Defiance of Israeli Attacks – Mohammed Omer (Middle East Eye, July 30, 2014).
What Do Gazans Think of Hamas, Abbas and Israel's Strikes? – Mohammed Omer (Middle East Eye, August 3, 2014).
Lessons from My Jewish Mother and Palestinian Father – Claire Hajaj (The Takeaway, July 30, 2014).
Millennials Are Over Israel: A New Generation, Outraged Over Gaza, Rejects Washington’s Reflexive Support – David Palumbo-Liu (Salon, August 1, 2014).
In Photos: Worldwide Protests Against Israeli Attack on Gaza – Annie Robbins (Mondoweiss, July 27, 2014).
In France, Progressives Fight a Two-Front Battle Against Israeli Propaganda and Anti-Semitism – Pierre Guerlain (Truthout, July 31, 2014).
As Israel’s Assault on Gaza Intensifies, It is Not Anti-Semitic to Say: Not in My Name – Laurie Penny (The New Statesman, July 23, 2014).
I Was Wrong About Gaza: Why We Can No Longer Ignore the Horrors in Palestine – Brittney Cooper (Salon, August 5, 2014).
A Venerable Jewish Voice for Peace – Amy Goodman with Denis Moynihan (Democracy Now!, July 31, 2014).
Nixed Signals – Seth Ackerman (FAIR, October 1, 2006).
CRS Official: Gaza a 'Complete Catastrophe' on 'Brink of Collapse' – Dale Gavlak (Catholic News Service via National Catholic Reporter, August 4, 2014).
The real problem with disproportionate force – Phyllis Bennis (The Detroit News, August 5, 2014).
Gaza Ceasefire: After 1,800+ Dead, What Led Israel to Stop the Assault — and What Comes Next?Democracy Now! (August 5, 2014).
On Israel's Defeat in Gaza – David Rothkopf (Foreign Policy, August 6, 2014).
Israel’s Supporters Try to Come to Terms with the Killing of Children in Gaza – Robert Mackey (New York Times, August 7, 2014).
Mounting Evidence of Deliberate Attacks on Gaza Health Workers by Israeli Army – Amnesty International (August 7, 2014).
The Gaza Paradox: Hamas Has Little Support, but the War Has a Lot – Jesse Rosenfeld (The Daily Beast, August 7, 2014).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Something to Think About – July 18, 2014
"We Will Come Together in Our Pain
Prayer and the Experience of God in an Ever-Unfolding Universe
Quote of the Day – September 7, 2013
In Search of a "Global Ethic"

Images: Michael J. Bayly.