the message moves forth slowly…

Wednesday 20 May 2009

Moving (again) to a large city/metropolitan area, I’m now dealing with larger news outlets than the small circulation regional newspapers like The Crescent News I left behind in NW Ohio.  But even so, after reading this op/ed piece by Ariel Cohen in Monday’s The Baltimore Sun, I felt compelled to respond, hoping that my response might actually be printed.  Opening the paper today, I was hopeful but not too optimistic — and then surprised to see my name under a letter to the editor titled “U.S. must recognize suffering of Palestinians.”  (Click the links to see the two different pieces.)

I was happy to see it there, and not really wanting to read it since I had written it, after all.  But then I did read it, and I was again a bit disappointed at a few of the edits the paper had made, likely in consideration for “length.”  Those getting the print edition might notice, like myself, there is room enough in the letters column for at least another sentence or two, which would have been easily enough for at least one of the other main points I made.

First, I was most disappointed to see that The Sun cut off my writing just before what I’d call the thesis of my letter — certainly the main, concise zinger: “Until citizens of Israel and the U.S. begin to recognize the institutional terror and oppression carried out on Palestinians by our two countries, the hostilities held by Arabs throughout the world are likely to continue.”

Secondly, The Sun failed to publish an important, and I think little known, fact about the Obama administration’s peace vs. military ambitions: “The White House’s request to send $2.775 billion to Israel in support of their oppressive military in the upcoming fiscal year hardly seems to be in line with an administration truly working for peace in the region.”

And really, the things the paper didn’t publish are the most contentious and things the public doesn’t hear much about — so why should I be so surprised that was what The Sun decided not to publish?  (Maybe I should have reversed the order of content in my letter — maybe I’ll try that next time. c:)  And did you notice the lengths of the two pieces?  If number of words are any indication of the point of view a newspaper supports, there would be a clear signal displayed in these examples.

Overall, though, I am glad that something made it in to the paper, and maybe even some who read my letter in the paper might find this post and get to read my full letter.  I hope this is another small part in getting the world to understand what is going on in Palestine and the creation of pressure for Israel and the U.S. to make changes to their policy and actions.

Here, get the opportunity to read my unedited and complete letter below:

On Monday, The Sun decided to print the slanted, pro-Israel message of Ariel Cohen just as new Israeli PM Netanyahu and new U.S. President Obama were meeting in Washington to discuss each country’s role in the Middle East.  Sun readers would be slighted if this were the only point of commentary they were to receive in relation to this meeting, so let me supply some thoughts from a differing perspective.

Ms. Cohen mentioned three mistakes she felt the current administration is making, skewing the situation for her own agenda in the process.  First, she felt the administration is ignoring hostility by Arabs and radical Muslims.  While I agree such hostility exists, I think the administration’s efforts to seek peace squarely attack that issue, for actions by both Israel and the U.S. are significant reasons (if not the reason) for such hostility.  A large part of the hostility held by the Arab world has to deal with Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank – including settlement expansion and the construction of the Wall, which in reality annexes much land to Israel – along with the continued blockade on the Gaza Strip, where Israel controls all that can enter or leave and virtually nothing does.  As for the U.S., the continued war in Iraq and a seemingly unconditional support of Israel in the past make it a major target for hostility in the Arab world.

The second mistake mentioned was a perceived “arm-twisting”of Israel to gain favor with Iran.  This, however, again seems to only be the administration’s effort to curb the hostility mentioned earlier.  Why would Iran accept any of President Obama’s gestures as sincere of U.S. continued to unquestioningly back Israel, a country with longstanding hostilities with Iran?

The third mistake Ms. Cohen mentions in the administration’s path to peace is that it rewards terrorism.  There is a cruel irony that Ms. Cohen chooses to mention “terror attacks, which killed nearly 1,200 Israelis since 2000” – a number that is still less than the number of Palestinians killed in Gaza during Israel’s bombardment the month leading up to President Obama taking office.  Until citizens of Israel and the U.S. begin to recognize the institutional terror and oppression carried out on Palestinians by our two countries, the hostilities held by Arabs throughout the world are likely to continue.

Like Ms. Cohen, I, too, am critical of some of the administration’s tactics.  The White House’s request to send $2.775 billion to Israel in support of their oppressive military in the upcoming fiscal year hardly seems to be in line with an administration truly working for peace in the region.

I will concede to Ms. Cohen that there are certainly no “instant solutions.”  However, until Israel begins to allow for Palestinian self-rule and self determination by ending settlement expansion, withdrawing Israeli settlers and occupation forces currently in the West Bank, ending annexation of lands through the construction of the Wall, and removing border restrictions to Gaza, the United States needs to make clear, in word and deed, that the current oppression is not acceptable and will not be tolerated of a country wishing to remain a democratic ally in good standing with the administration – and the people – of the United States.

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the challenge of the Word

Sunday 17 May 2009

This past Thursday, I attended a Bible Study where the topic each week is something based on current events and relating them back to the Bible and a Christian way of living.  It was only my second week there, and to set the scene a bit, it’s a 7AM breakfast and study attended by men only, most of whom are retired.  We’re in a church a bit north of the city in a community that used to be rural but has definitely become suburban.  The topic of the first week was the H1N1 virus and what a Christian response to “perceived threats” should look like, and this week’s topic was torture implemented by the US government.  This is not a study of the week of heart!

For the study, a little background is given and then the lesson progresses through various scripture passages that relate to the topic.  Part of the background was a recent survey that revealed that over half of churchgoers who attend services at least weekly — 54% — believe that torture of suspected terrorists is “sometimes” or “often” justified, compared to 42% of those who do not attend services.  Only 25% of total respondents (churchgoers and not) said torture is “never” justified.  (See more info: percentage graphic; more commentary.)

The discussion started out more political, which I wasn’t too interested in discussing, especially since I had met most of these men only the week before, but also because I didn’t seem to share much in common politically with those who were talking, and a Bible Study didn’t seem the right place to squabble about politics.  At this point, I was thinking to myself, “I don’t know if I can come to this again.  We seem to have really divergent views, and this is a bit uncomfortable for me.”

However, as the discussion moved on, more Bible verses were touched upon and the topic branched out into the idea of loving one’s enemies.  Others still showed some doubt in how “realistic” this might be, but it was now that I felt compelled to speak.  It wasn’t any more about politics, it was about faith and belief — my reason for attending.  I can’t adequately summarize what I was able to say (I’m not sure if I was really the one speaking), but I started by telling everyone that I’m a proponent of nonviolence, and I’m sure the rest of it had much to do with the idea of how challenging it really is to follow Christ’s examples and commandments. (This morning in worship I learned that “commandment” is only mentioned in John’s gospel once by Jesus, in saying, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12)  Torture and war don’t seem to me to be showing love in the way Jesus first loved us.

All in all, I felt pretty OK the way the Bible Study turned out.  It could be easy for me to just no show up again, knowing there are many there who I may not agree with on various matters, political and otherwise.  We all so often surround ourselves with like-minded people and don’t experience others holding views other than the ones we hold so dear.  We don’t get out of our comfort zones, and then we’re shocked when we hear others believing things contrary to what we believe in, for we have had no contact with them and cannot fathom where those viewpoints came from.  But being in a place where people can be open to others’ differences of opinion and thought, treating them with love and compassion in a discussion that seeks understanding and not the creation of enemies, is something we need a LOT more of in this would of ours.

I was lucky enough to attend a banquet today to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a pastor’s ordination (the date he became a pastor).  He summoned up what he felt is his calling in ministry in just a few short words: To afflict the comfortable, and comfort the afflicted. As it hit my ears, it resonated deep inside of me, and I know it is something I will carry with me from this day forth.

The Gospel is challenging stuff, and if we (Christians) don’t shake things up and challenge one another to abandon what’s “comfortable” and look deeply into Scripture to truly follow the commands of Christ, who will?


the parable of the toilet paper

Sunday 10 May 2009

You may or may not realize that I’ve had quite a lapse since I last posted a new blog – it’s not because I have no topics, it’s just that I find it more challenging to get to a computer and write and post online now that I’m living in Maryland with my grandparents for the summer.  But seeing how it’s the two-year anniversary of my blog, I thought I’d make special effort to get a post up, and hopefully I’ll get back into a more regular grove in the coming days and weeks.

My story today is about toilet paper.

When I arrived in Maryland, I discovered that the toilet paper here wasn’t quite as soft as I like.  I’ve always had issues with the coarseness or softness of toilet paper – in fact, during college, I purchased (or my parents purchased) my own toilet paper while I lived in the dorms so that I didn’t have to use the “half-ply” toilet paper, as I called it, that they supplied for us.  I verbalized to a friend my issues with this aspect my new home and was told that it sounded a little silly, and seeing as the person who pushed me is someone I respect, I decided to think a bit more about my situation.

What options did I have?  Well, I certainly could request of my grandparents to purchase some toilet paper more amiable to my desires.  I could purchase some of my own, to either place in the restroom for all to use or to take in and use when I went, as I did in college.  But none of these seemed to be quite right, at least not for the current, 26-year-old eric to undertake.

I decided that instead of changing the situation with the toilet paper, the other option was to change myself.  What if I was a little more careful in my use of this toilet paper, so it wasn’t as “damaging” as the previous experiences that had formed my opinions of thin toilet paper?  What if I adjusted myself  to the situation instead of trying to adjust the situation to my wants and desires?

So I changed my mindset, viewing this as a problem within myself instead of a problem with the environment around me.  And it worked.  (I probably wouldn’t be writing this if it hadn’t.)  I can’t say I’ve fallen in love with the toilet paper, and it still causes problems for me every so often, but I’ve realized that I had a lot to do with the problem in the first place—certainly more that I was willing to admit at the onset.

And of course, it wouldn’t be a parable if it didn’t have a meaning for us all.  How often, when in a situation of conflict or strife, do we blame everyone and everything but ourselves?  We rarely (if ever) take ownership of the part we play in a problem – and we always play some part in the circumstances of a problem – but instead we try to put the issue in someone/something else’s court.  “It certainly can’t have anything to do with me,” we say.  But it always does.  (There’s a rod in my eye when there’s a speck in my neighbor’s—something like that.)

Have you thought about your contribution to the conflicts in your life?  I’m not saying it’s all your fault, but until we recognize (and start to make amends for) how we’re creating the problems we’re involved in, true reconciliation cannot occur.  True rebirth starts from within.

(One great tool for personal growth I’ve recently dug deeply into called the Enneagram.  I’m sure your local library has one or more books on it, or surf the Internet.  I’d particularly recommend books by Don Riso for deeper applications, or The Enneagram Made Easy for a more simplistic look at things.  I think it’s pretty amazing!)

Oh, and Happy Mother’s Day!