Tuesday, January 20, 2009

a few more days...

Today I took my German final and worked on my thesis for hours, so I didn't even watch or listen to any of the day's festivities. I look forward to a few days from now when I have to turn in my thesis, so I can do stuff like listen to the news and Obama's speech, write blog entries, talk to my husband and play with my son again...

Aber, denke ich, dass ich meine Deutsch Prufung abgelegt gehabt! So ist dass gut gewissen. (But now I'm trying to do way more complicated sentences than I know how to do, but oh well.)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

meeting this morning

Meetings like the one this morning are times I feel particularly grateful to be a Quaker. First of all, it snowed a little last night, so coming into a cozy meetinghouse with a crackling fire, looking out at the snow and around at Friends, is a special treat.

Today it seemed like the ministry in meeting centered around hope and expectation in this new season in our government that will begin on Tuesday. The first person to share talked about some historical data on Champlain and William Penn, visionaries in the "New World," wanting to make space for a more just society. Then someone who said she'd never been to a Quaker meeting before came today because she was disturbed about the situation in Gaza, particularly the bombing of a UN storage facility in Gaza that held a bunch of food, medicine, etc., and how it wasn't being reported in our media because an airplane crashed and everyone was OK. From there several people shared about their hopes in the next days and years based on the new presidential administration. It was really cool to see how this all fit together, and how everyone's voices together made the whole picture make sense. One of the voices alone didn't tell the whole story, but we needed one another's voices and sense of listening to hear the whole message. It's so amazing when that happens!

I felt led to share about how although I'm hopeful about the new administration, I also think we can't just pin our hopes on anyone, even a (hopefully good) president. We as Friends did away with pastors (or in pastoral meetings we did away with a privileged position for pastors) because we don't think it's right to pay someone to do our spiritual work for us. I think the political system is similar. We can't just elect people and expect them to do all the work of bringing justice into the world through love. The government will never do that. That can only happen through the work of the Spirit in the world. It can happen through individuals working in the government, but it won't happen through any governmental system per se. Hopefully our government can see beyond the law in order to work for true justice for all.

But it is also our job to work for justice through love. We can't relegate that job to someone else, put our hopes in what another person can do to fix the world, or woe our helplessness to change anything. (I'm preaching to myself here, too!) We have to trust that the Spirit works through us, whether we are powerful world leaders or not. No one else can do our part, and our part is important: listen to and follow the Spirit in our own lives, wherever it leads.

Someone else in meeting then shared about following the still small voice that calls us to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God, even when it feels like what we can do is pitifully small. We just must trust that this is what we are called to do, and do it ourselves with God as our leading light.

So hopefully the political situation begins to change for the better, but this administration and Congress have their work cut out for them, and there is only so much they can do within the constraints of the political system. The rest is up to us.

Friday, January 16, 2009

reframing gaza rhetoric

On my delegation with Christian Peacemaker Teams to Israel/Palestine last spring, we met with an organization called ICAHD, Israeli Coalition Against Home Demolitions. They are a group of Israeli (Jewish) citizens who are dismayed at the inhumane actions of their government. They help rebuild the homes of Palestinians that have been demolished by government/military order in Israel and the Occupied Territories. Here is an excellent article, posted on their website, about the rhetoric of why Israel says it is invading Gaza, and another way of looking at it. The basic point is that Israel cannot be a "secure" state until it gives equal rights to all its citizens and treats its neighbors (the Palestinian Territories) fairly. The article is long, but if you at least read the first few paragraphs I think you would find it beneficial!

By the way, this stuff in Gaza is horrible, but at least people are paying attention to the conflict this way! Hopefully it will help people start noticing the difference between what our government/Israel's government/the media is saying, and what is actually happening.

Israel in Gaza: a critical reframing
Israel’s core messages, listed below, argue for the justice of its cause in Gaza, cast Israel as the victim and ensure that its war is seen not in terms of occupation but of the broader Western struggle against terror. The critical reframing we offer, that of Israelis committed to human rights, international law and a just peace as the only way out of this interminable and bloody conflict, argues that security cannot be achieved unilaterally while one side oppresses the other and that Israel’s attack on Gaza is merely another attempt to render its Occupation permanent by destroying any source of effective resistance. It argues that Israel could have avoided all attacks upon it over the last twenty years, and the rise of Hamas, if it had genuinely negotiated a two-state solution with the Palestinian leadership. Israel, the strong party and the Occupying Power, is not the victim. Indeed, its attack on Gaza is a form of State Terrorism.

* Israeli PR: Like all countries, Israel has a right and duty to defend its citizens. Israel, acting as any life-loving nation would, has a right to be a normal country living in peace and security.

Critical Reframing: To pursue offensive policies of prolonged occupation as well as sanctions, boycotts and closures that impoverish a civilian population, and to then refuse to engage with that population’s elected leaders, is not defending ones’ citizens. To expect your citizens to live in security while a million and a half subjugated people just a few kilometers away live in misery is both unrealistic and presumptive. Israel will only be able to defend its citizens – which is indeed its duty – if it addresses the causes of their insecurity, a 41 year-old occupation.

* Israeli PR: Israel had no choice but to attack in response to the barrage of 8,500 Hamas rockets fired from Gaza into Israel over the past eight years that have killed 20 Israeli civilians.

Critical Reframing: In the past three years alone Israel – together with the US, Europe and Japan – imposed an inhumane siege of Gaza while conducting a campaign of targeted assassinations and attacks throughout the cease-fire that left 1,700 Palestinians dead. Hamas’ barrage did not exist in a vacuum. This war is no “response:” it is merely a more deadly round of the tit-for-tat arising out of a political vacuum. The rocket firings could have been avoided had there been a genuine political horizon. To present the “barrage” as an independent event disassociated from wider Israeli policies that led to them is disingenuous.

* Israeli PR: There is no occupation – in general, but specifically in Gaza. Israel ended its occupation of Gaza in 2005 with the “disengagement.” Gaza could have flourished as the basis of a Palestinian state, but its inhabitants chose conflict.

Critical Reframing: Economic development, not to mention a political process which might have prevented the violence on both sides, was actively prevented by both Israel and its international supporters, which share responsibility for the present tragedy in Gaza. At no time since the “disengagement” did Israel ever relinquish or even loosen its control. The closure remained in force, including by sea; Gazans were never allowed to reopen their sea or air ports; nor were any conditions conducive to economic development allowed. Israel’s claim that there has never been an occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza is rejected by every member of the international community. Neither does it accept Israel’s claim that occupation ended in 2005, since the definition of occupation in international law has to do with exercising effective control of a foreign territory, which Israel obviously does over Gaza.

* Israeli PR: Only Hamas violated the cease-fire, and thus it carries full responsibility.

Critical Reframing: Israel and Hamas agreed to a truce (through Egypt) by which Israel would allow the opening of the Gazan border crossings (at least partially) in return for an end to rocket fire on Israel. Hamas largely, though not entirely, kept its part of the bargain; Israel almost never did. Killings of Palestinians from the air continued, and on the American election day in early November it attacked the tunnels (which functioned as alternative means of supplying Gaza in the absence of open borders, which would have allowed control over the movement of arms), killing a number of Hamas people. In response Hamas launched rockets and….the truce began breaking down.

* Israeli PR: Israel is only attacking the “infrastructure of terror” in Gaza and only targets Hamas fighters.

Critical Reframing: Being the elected government, all the infrastructure, from traffic cops to schools to military installations, “belong” to Hamas. It is clear that Israeli attacks go beyond “the infrastructure of terror.” Who’s a “Hamas fighter?” The graduating class of traffic cops that was slaughtered in the first aerial attack on Gaza? Professors and students who attend the “Hamas” Islamic University? Family members of Hamas military figures? People who voted for Hamas? All, but for those actively participating in hostilities, would be defined as civilians under international law.

* Israeli PR: Civilians may die, but it’s because Hamas hides its fighters and weapons factories among ordinary people.

Critical Reframing: Israel’s military headquarters are located in the center of Tel Aviv, the military headquarters over the West Bank are in the densely populated civilian settlement Neveh Ya’akov in East Jerusalem, the Pentagon is located in downtown Washington D.C. and the British Ministry of Defence is located in central London. Hamas, of course, as both a government and a military organization, carries responsibility for protecting the civilian population and keeping the fighting away from them but the question that should be asked, and never is, is why western nations who do the same are not faced with such criticism?

* Israeli PR: Hamas is a terrorist organization that refuses to recognize Israel or enter into a political process.

Critical Reframing: Which Israel should Hamas recognize? 1947 U.N. partition borders? 1967 borders? With annexed East Jerusalem? With the settlement blocs? So long as Israel refuses to define its borders then there is only an abstract concept available for recognition. Hamas has openly declared that it will de facto recognize Israel on the 1967 borders. Israel has made no such offers to any Palestinian faction, government or representatives.

* Israeli PR: Hamas is a global problem, part of Islamist fundamentalism together with Iran and Hezbollah and therefore Israel is only doing its part in the West’s agreed-upon War on Terror.

Critical Reframing: Hamas started as a social welfare organization that was allowed by Israel to develop as a political force in Occupied Palestine to weaken the standing of the secular PLO. There also, was no Hezbollah prior to the 1982 Israeli invasion. The theocrats in Iran were an organized but quite small political force until the U.S. overthrew Iran’s democracy. The local population will always resist when foreign countries try to oppose their will and the resistance will not always be pretty. Painting Hamas as part of a global conspiracy when it’s a product of the Occupation itself is disingenuous and a gross distortion of history.

Thursday, January 08, 2009


I don't always like Karl Barth--he's a theologian from 20th century Switzerland who wrote before/during/after WWII. He wrote so much that it's exhausting just to think about. He's basically the most beloved theologian at my school, a Reformed theologian whose point is that theology should be about God alone, and that God has revealed everything--revelation is complete--in the person of Jesus, and since he's not here anymore we focus on reading the Bible. What a theologian does is try to interpret the Bible rightly in order to focus on the revelation available to us as best we can. So his belief in the cessation of revelation bothers me, and I wonder how anyone can "know" God if God is not continually revealing God's self to us, and how one can rightly interpret the Bible if there is no present Spirit teaching you, but I think despite himself, God IS speaking to Barth and through Barth's words, so as much as he wants to limit revelation, he is a tool of revelation if one reads him carefully.

Anyway, I'm reading his commentary on Romans 12 and 13 for my paper. If I wrote like him I don't think I would pass my thesis, because he talks about so many things that aren't present in the text it's just incredible, but a good portion of it is really good. So here's an interesting quote:

"...the power and earnestness of Christian ethics lie in its persistent asking of questions and in its steady refusal to provide answers to these questions." (Barth, Epistle to the Romans, 466)

I think this is incredibly perceptive. It is because we think we've found answers that we get ourselves into situations where we try to defend a particular way in an absurd fashion. If we say once for all time it is loving to act in X way, there is always going to be a time when X will not be loving, or when there will be something more loving to do than X. Life is different for each person in each time and in each moment. Answering questions closes off the ability to seek truth each day by telling us truth is already found.

So when we say, "Follow this law, because it is just," perhaps it is just at that moment for the situations we envision. But when a time comes along when that law is no longer just, or when we notice situations in which it is not just, generally we say, "Oh well, it's the law! We must follow it," instead of recognizing with humility that what we thought was truth was not the whole truth. That's why we sometimes have to practice civil disobedience: because the law is not conforming to what is good and just anymore.

I guess it's important to note that I believe there are things that are always going to be true: God, truth, love, justice, etc. But how we enact these, which is the question of ethics, is what changes. There is no question that we should always act lovingly, but there is a question about how to do that. If we try to give once-for-all answers we are not practicing ethics--we are creating an ideology. We are no longer feeling our way in the dark, which is faith--we are standing still in the dark and calling it "light."

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

on loving one's enemies & gaza

I'm working on my thesis on Romans 12 & 13. I noticed something yesterday in one of the commentaries (an excellent 2007 commentary by Robert Jewett in the Hermeia commentary series). In Romans 12:14 it says, "Bless those who persecute, bless and do not curse." In the other places where this sentiment is found is says, "Pray for those who persecute YOU" (Matthew 5:44), or "Bless those who curse YOU" (Luke 6:28), or "Bless those who curse YOU and pray for YOUR enemies" (Didache 1:3 [a kind of instruction manual used by early Christians]). Although in translations of this passage the word "you" is usually included, Jewett points out that Paul did not include it here. It is as if he is saying, "Bless all persecutors, whether persecute YOU or not." In this way we act in solidarity with those who are oppressed, by recognizing the act of persecution and praying for and wishing health and life to those who are persecuting, rather than hatred. This obviously doesn't mean that we bless the actions they are taking, but that we truly desire what is good for them, living out love even to those who persecute and oppress others.

This, of course, is a difficult teaching, and many Christians apparently think Jesus and Paul can't have been serious when they said this. But there it is, right in our Bible three times! One can't really get around its meaning.

I can talk all I want about "other" Christians, but to practice this kind of love in real life is another matter. It would be so much easier to curse them and hope they died so they couldn't persecute people anymore.

Yesterday and today I'm trying to pray for those who are fighting in Gaza on both sides, and those world leaders who are making decisions about this situation. I truly do want them to be able to live in such a way that they feel strong, healthy, safe and joyful. I hope for showers of blessings on them, not in the form of money or battles won, but in that which makes for true freedom and the ability to have loving relationships.

I pray for myself, as well, that I will learn how and have the courage to live in such a way that does not require oppression of others. I pray for blessings on my country in the form of truth and love, which might require some stuff that we aren't accustomed to thinking of as "blessing." I hope we can begin, as a nation, to see the blessing of life itself and the beauty of the balance of all creation fitting together in harmony when we act for the sake of others. May we begin living this way and set aside our pride and selfishness, so that situations like what is occurring in Gaza will not be necessary.