I saw a distasteful cartoon posted Facebook yesterday, which was followed by some pretty vitriolic comments. It prompted me to write this blog.
Moses thanks G*d for the 10 Commandments, among other things, and then asks: “What should we do about the Palestinians?”
G*d replies: “Who?”
The original poster of the cartoon editorialized: “Exactly.”
As if to say: “Even God acknowledges that the Palestinians don’t exist. End of discussion. Enough of their egregious claims. Case closed.”
It made me shudder.
Although it was, I think, primarily meant as condemnatory, I took this cartoon a bit differently. For me, God’s response is about the absurdity of differences. Because, for me, God doesn’t abide by such distinctions. While Moses sees “them” as the problem, God sees only “us”. And, hence, the question of what to do about “them” is irrelevant.
Perhaps I am too idealistic. Yet, I have come to see that distinctions such as “us” and “them” are troublesome. Divisive. Life-threatening.
I have been one of “them” ….as a young gay man in the RC Church, for example. And, many of us who are LGBTQ still feel as outsiders – denied universal rights; bullied and beaten; living as homeless youth in NYC.
And, I have also been an exclusive “us”. I have, at times, decided who is not worthy of my love or attention or forgiveness. I have decided who is beneath me.
Of course, once you’ve been one of “them” it’s tempting to be part of “us”. It’s insidious. Until I realized that my attempts to create and maintain separateness and superiority were about propping up my fragile ego and compensating for past resentments, it was difficult to become willing to move out of my “us”. As I did my “inside” work, the outsides of others mattered less. It remains a challenge for me, but it’s about progress, not perfection.
There is great allure in using God to forward personal, or corporate, beliefs and agendas. It puts Right next to Might in one’s arsenal. It’s done all the time, all over the world, and much closer to home. We have only to look at our own political/religious wars around universal rights, freedom of choice, et al, to see this in action.
We have seen many institutions, religious and secular, claiming exceptionalism (the corporate form of “us”) and inebriated with power and self-righteousness, wreaking havoc in the lives of others, then exposed as diseased and corrupt.
And, yet, have not our time’s great spiritual teachers – like Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi and Mandela – all proclaimed the oneness of humanity? All forgiven those who have done unimaginable harm? All practiced non-violence toward their respective “them’s”? These modern-day saints share a spiritual lineage with wisdom teachers from various traditions who also proclaimed the Oneness of creation.
I am not a politician, historian, scholar, or theologian. I have no answers to the conflict between Israel and Palestine. I cannot imagine how to live in that world – what it means for those who do, day by day.
But, I do know, from my own experience, that I have the power to make distinctions that divide, minimize, dehumanize.
I also have the ability to reflect on the costs, to myself and others, of those harmful distinctions.
And, I can make the choice to move toward unity.
Pray for me, that I may choose well.
“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”* Gandhi
* From: Falser Words Were Never Spoken, by Brian Morton, Published in the Op-Ed section of the New York Times, 8/29/11