Free-falls through blazing sunset
Bound by dusky fear.
Free-falls through blazing sunset
Bound by dusky fear.
The right to guns saves!
“The more the merrier,” strafes
A coffee mug holding my pens and pencils sits on my desk. It is decorated with insulting phrases spoken in Shakespeare’s plays. They are pithy, insightful, humorous, imaginative images. They hint at truths about the adversary and the speaker. They often embody a critique of manners, selfishness, or ethics: “A fusty nut with no kernel.” “Highly fed and lowly taught.” “Infinite and endless liar, an hourly promise-breaker.” I’m envious that I did not think these up or recognize occasions to use them.
Verbalizing ludicrous images that encapsulate a germ of truth contained in an action, an attitude, or an idea contribute to understanding and expose hidden motives. At the same time laughter eases the tension of discomfort over the personal and societal flaws exposed. The goal is to raise consciousness and stimulate the intellect of the audience.
However, Donald Trump’s political rhetoric consuming this year’s presidential campaign leads us in a different direction. His efforts to show his superiority are blatantly uncreative, dull, humorless, and lacking any hint of truth. His goal is to win by domination, destroying the dignity of the opposition, and playing his audience for fools. It’s troubling to me to read reports of people saying, “We like Donald Trump because he speaks like us. We admire Trump’s refusal to be ‘politically correct.’”
Joining with a “winner” sounds good when we feel buried in the daily frustrations of economic, political, or social impingements on our lives. It’s distressing when a health insurance company resists paying for a covered procedure; a bill collector demands money that’s been allocated for the basics of food, shelter, and education for our children; or when ordered to work overtime instead of attending a daughter’s school play. It’s fearful when we experience familiar laws, rules, and customs changing in ways that challenge historic relationships between women and men, among races, strangers, immigrants, and levels of privilege.
Given these daily struggles, joining Trump’s chorus of angry words, labels, and accusations seems like a good idea. How good would it feel to let it all out, shake loose from inhibitions, and join the world of name-calling; invective; derision; and ethnic, religious, racial, and gender slander! And if I’m unable to risk it, I can at least be on the side of someone rich enough and brazen enough to abandon political correctness and hurl derogatory epithets without consequences.
However, I would suggest that bravado and unbounded ranting and raving never trump empathy, humility, creativity, and clear thinking. “Political correctness” may be simply recognizing and honoring people’s sensitivities and dignity. It invites people into community: listening to concerns, discovering differences, and seeking ways to create common understanding and solve problems. The models come from our childhood and may include the hospitality of Mr. Roger’s neighborhood, or Sesame Street. They may recall the stories of Dr. Seuss or watching the recently released film, Zootopia. The model comes from the Torah, the Bible, the Koran, and other writings from faith traditions. Basically, it doesn’t take a college degree or accumulation of wealth or the credentials of a “winner” to initiate these concepts we learned as children and contemplate as adults. And what about that old adage, “Count to ten before speaking?”
This approach is not naive, weak, or gullible. One of the ways to make America still greater is to resurrect impulse control, particularly control of the mouth! There are ways toward empowerment that are far more effective than lashing out with bluster or hitching our wagon to a rich man who cannot relate to an hourly or salaried worker, a grocery shopper, a commuter, a prisoner of war, or a refugee. To make our lives better, it is not necessary to associate with a man who has bankrupted two companies and makes questionable statements true by saying them over and over until they seem true. To make America still greater is to do the work of a good neighbor.
The world is watching. Handala, a ten-year-old Palestinian boy, has shown up in most political cartoons of Naji al-Ali since the early 1970’s. We see Handala standing with his hands clasped behind his back observing the injustice portrayed in each cartoon. He is watching depictions of injustice in Israel, Palestine, the United States and around the world. He’s the witness to oppression everywhere. Al-Ali says that Handala will not grow up or turn around until there is peace and justice in the world. He is our conscience.
What does Handala see when he looks our way? Donald Trump with his entourage speaking out with belligerence, belittling others unlike themselves, and relishing the bluster of a bully? Or will Handala witness evidence of the making of a still greater America? I hope he will see my college cross country coach who insisted that whenever we passed an opposing team member during a race we talk to him, encourage him, and challenge him to pick up his pace and run with us. The result was we all ran faster, made personal bests, and contributed to a great race for all of us.
I hope Handala will see a small group of Muslims, Jews, and Christians meeting monthly together in Concord exploring ways of justice and peace for all people. Perhaps he will see college students in Palestine seeking nonviolent ways to claim dignity while under Israeli occupation. He will see a group of Concord church people joining Minnesota Representative Betty McCollum’s initiative to write to President Obama, asking him to appoint a Special Envoy for 440 Palestinian children in Israeli military detention. He will see people from many walks of life forming food co-ops and farmers’ markets to access affordable healthy food. He will see the hospitality Concord citizens extend to our refugee community and the help struggling people give to each other. He will also see courageous volunteers from our country serving in Doctors without Borders, the Peace Corps, and working with refugees in Lebanon. And he will see groups of people speaking truth to power in the language of reason, imagination, and empathy while affirming the dignity of all people.
These ways are filtered out of Trump’s awareness. He seeks personal domination to rule. People in a democracy seek community empowerment to correct injustices. No matter who we are: our education, our social or economic class, our race, ethnicity, gender orientation, religious belief, or skill set; we have contributions to make for a greater America. Donald Trump does not speak for us. We can refuse to be, in Shakespeare’s words, “not so much brain as earwax.” We can choose faithfulness over fear, hospitality over hostility, dignity over domination.
Rev. John Buttrick, Minds Crossing, Concord, NH
Palestine April 2016
“We refuse to be enemies” is the commitment of the Daher Nassar family who own a fourth generation farm in the occupied Palestinian territory surrounded by three Israeli settlements. They host an international center called, Tent of Nations, which teaches sustainable agriculture and ways of peaceful hospitality with all people. They are constantly in the Israeli courts to prove their rights to their land. They are constantly under the threat of incursions from the surrounding Israeli settlers who have destroyed over 1500 fruit trees and carry guns. The Israeli army has barricaded the road leading to their farm. They are under daily threat of demolition of their farm home and structures. The Israeli army, IDF, does not allowed them to have a well for water or solar panels to generate electricity.
The international community praises this family for their non-violent response to this coercive violent power inflicted upon them. This family vows to stay on the land that is rightfully theirs and to welcome to tea and conversation anyone who comes onto their land. They refuse to be enemies.
This is the spirit I bring back from my latest trip to Bethlehem, Palestine where I attended a seminar, Faith in the Face of Empire, with 12 people from around the United States. This commitment to non-violent response to actions of coercive power by Israeli settlers and the IDF was everywhere that we went.
For two weeks we stayed at the Lutheran Guesthouse in Bethlehem and traveled daily throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem. We met with political leaders including the Mayors of Bethlehem and Hebron; an official of Efrat, an Israeli settlement in the Palestinian territory; and Communications Advisor of the PLO Negotiations Affairs Department. We interviewed faculty and administrators of Al Quds University and Dar Al-Kalima University College. We also talked with members of the Palestinian business community including the Bethlehem Development Foundation, the Hebron Business Incubator Center, the Taybeh Brewing Co., and Bashar Masri, Palestinian-American entrepreneur and co-founder of Rawabi, a planned Palestinian City for over 100,000 people.
Over and over again we heard stories of efforts to overcome the adversities of life under Israeli occupation by means other than meeting violence with violence. The Mayor of Bethlehem, Vera Baboun, is determined to revive Bethlehem’s historic tourist trade. The challenges include 29 checkpoints in the Bethlehem territory, a wall that “walls in the Bethlehem message of peace,” and 1,800,000 annual visitors to the Church of the Nativity while not spending any time in the city of Bethlehem. Mayor Baboun seeks voices of encouragement to people to visit and stay for a few days in the city of Jesus’ birth and the “place where he prayed under its olive trees.” Until then, “it is faith and resilience that keep us going.”
The Mayor of Hebron, Dr. Daoud Zatari, highlighted many difficulties such as Israeli settlers taking over housing, roads to shops barricaded by the IDF, and 85% of water taken by the Israelis. However, his response is to work to restore 7000 ancient wells in the West Bank, treat wastewater as a resource, and develop small-scale farms raising figs, plums, olives, and grapes.
Water is a major issue in Palestine. Israel controls all of the water resources. The new planned Palestinian community of 100,000 people, Rawabi, must buy all of its water from Israel and is not allowed to use water from wells on its own land. The village of Taybeh has access to water only Friday through Sunday each week. They must store all they are able for the rest of the week. This stored water also serves the brewery in the town. Overcoming water restrictions are attempts to live non-violently in a violent-based occupation.
Education is another way Palestinians seek to overcomer the stresses of occupation. Education is highly valued. In the two Universities we visited thousands of students are studying technology, the arts, political science, and medicine. While we were there, we witnessed democratic elections for student government. By attending the universities students are attempting to non-violently resist the restrictions that have been place on their lives under occupation.
Each person we met, Mayors, PLO leaders, Professors and students, farmers, shop keepers all embraced the concept of non-violence. The exceptions were the reports of an occasional Palestinian young person threatening the IDF with a knife. These occasions have inevitably resulted in the shooting death of the young person, 159 in 2015 and 2016. The people we met grieve the desperation of these youth who have lost all hope. The retired Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem spoke to these young people during the Orthodox Christian Holy Week. Michel Sabbah said, “ To those, among the Palestinians, who despair, to the young people who go to death in these days, we say, ‘You must live not die. Believe in God, and in his Providence. Do not despair. Know that you have the power to give life.’”
As I process my experience in Palestine I’m experiencing a significant disconnect. Both here in the United States and in Palestine there is the expectation that Palestinians must only be nonviolent in their resistance to injustice. Any Palestinian violence is deemed aggressive and labeled as terrorist activity. But, in contrast, the United States and Israel claim for themselves coercive force as not only appropriate but also the proven means to acquire peace and security. (It is understood that Israeli and United States military financing, weapons, and technology exchanges are integral to their relationship). Therefore, together, the United States and Israel have the power and justification to seek peace and justice with military force.
I reject such justification. I celebrate the Christian and Muslim Palestinian commitment to meet violence with nonviolence. However, as a Christian in the United States, I’m challenged by Palestinians to explain the militaristic posture of my government who joins Israel in military coercion to block all Palestinian efforts to live in dignity, freedom, and prosperity. Do I really believe in nonviolent resistance or am I affirming it only as a way to subjugate a powerless people?
I choose to add my voice to over a dozen U.S. faith based organizations who wrote a letter to the Obama administration and all members of Congress this week. It reads in part, As people of faith, we are deeply grieved by the violence, displacement, and abrogation of human rights playing out in the Middle East today. We believe the role of U.S. military assistance and arms trade is a major factor in fueling a downward spiral of militarization, dehumanization, and destruction of lives and livelihoods across the region. From 1946-2010 approximately $75 billion in military aid has gone to Israel from the United States.
We in the United States need to take stock of our ethics and morality. Do we join with Israel to relate to the Palestinians as enemies to be overpowered or as neighbors with whom to have tea and coffee? Patriarch Michel Sabbah told us, “Israel must surround itself with friends. The first of these friends can be Palestinians. It will make them safe and make peace possible.”
it seems to come down to the affirmation of Martin Luther King Jr. who said at the University of California in 1957, “every person who believes in nonviolent resistance believes somehow that the universe in some form is on the side of justice…There is something in the universe that unfolds for justice.” I believe it is time for ourselves, our faith communities, and our President and Congress to unfold justice for all humanity, beginning with the Palestinian people.
My Turn March 2, 2016 Concord Monitor
Daily print and electronic reports are filled with disheartening news. This past week these reports invaded conversations I had over dinner, over a cup of coffee at the True Brew Barista, on conference calls, and at meetings. We inevitably found ourselves mired in despair over the state of affairs at home and abroad. There are stalemates in Congress. Our country is involved in chaos in the Middle East. The danger of terrorist attacks invades our daily lives. There was a tangle with the Pope over the ethics of wall-building verses bridge-building. Our economy is not supporting the wellbeing of the middle class. The frontrunner in the Republican primary process is a candidate proven to speak misinformation approximately 75% of the time. The Democratic Party options are framed as choosing between practical responses to the issues of the day or ethical visions and goals that may be laudable but unrealistic aspirations.
In this primary season, many of these problems have been laid at the feet of our President and Congress. We are being told that the “American people” want a change. The Executive and Congress are stalemated on almost any issue. Bills are proposed and others stalled based upon pledges of non-cooperation with the Executive Branch. Many members of Congress are clear that their recalcitrance is based upon personal antipathy toward President Obama. The latest expressions of non-cooperation include declarations to refuse to participate in the process of nominating a Supreme Court Justice or considering the merits of closing Guantanamo Prison. Other issues dividing us include the Iran nuclear agreement, Mexican Border Reform, and gun regulations. Add to these denials of human induced climate change, acceptance of huge amounts of money for campaign financing, and introducing bills into Congress written by lobbyists that favor big business and the wealthy. The result is a formula for failure.
However, even amidst protests of this troubling state of affairs, the same conduct we witness in the halls of our Senate and House of Representatives is being magnified in the daily debates and commercials in the Republican Presidential campaign. Those who identify themselves as “outsiders,” free from the influence of the vagaries of Congress, are choosing an even lower road littered with antics of name-calling, crude imagery, interruptions and yelling at each other and at anyone else who dares to challenge them. It seems obvious that when a candidate resorts to personal attacks on rivals it demonstrates a weakness in the candidate’s position and/or the inability to communicate effectively. The default position is to declare, “Never mind the issues, my opponent is a bad person and a loser, I’m a good person, a winner!” Focusing on winning trumps any process toward understanding and problem solving. This approach is hardly a formula for effective change.
Chris Christie has suggested, “There is no better fighter than Donald Trump.” Evidently the “better fighter” is the one who has perfected the technique of personal attacks on critics and the demonization of whole groups and categories of people. Particularly in the Republican primary contest, some candidates are learning to mimic the “fighter” rather than seeking to be an effective debater. Courtesy, consideration, understanding, and empathy are relegated to weakness and being “politically correct.” It is interesting that respect and love of neighbor wears this derogatory label. A potential president who is the best “fighter,” skilled in hurting and destroying any who are different or who disagree, is hardly fit to demonstrate the way to “make America great again.”
However, there is already a great America buried beneath all of this tough simplistic talk of building an America in the image of bombastic bravado. Burdened by the despair of my friends and colleagues, I’ve looked for respite by recalling the America I’ve experienced over the years, not only in New England but also in the Mid-West, the west coast, and the south. Here in New Hampshire I know and live with people who support our refugee community, work with the homeless, advocate for prison reform, attend churches open and affirming to GBLT folks, collect food for the hungry, volunteer to teach English as a second language, organize to end racism, raise consciousness for establishing a living wage for all workers, collect money for disaster relief around the world, and serve as volunteers in international settings.
When I was in the military, training in Texas, two of my Yankee friends and myself were regularly invited into homes for Sunday dinner after church. They remained hospitable even when we laughed at the name of one of their grocery store chains: “Piggly Wiggly.” Living in a barracks at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, DC I experienced for the first time the contrast of my New England cultural upbringing with the culture of men from the African American community. Together we figured it out. When I lived as a student in the San Francisco Bay area, I experienced a community of extreme diversity, where people argued and demonstrated with great energy and then ate together at the same table and mingled during intermission at a symphony concert. In the Mid-West I lived with people who were troubled by my love for controversial debates. However, they put up with me and at the same time taught me the values of compromise and nurturing those in distress. In South Dakota I learned a new expression of hospitality. “Stop by our home for a visit” meant come by unannounced on any Sunday afternoon – in contrast to the New England way of going home and anticipating an invitation with a specific date and time.
This is the greatness of the America I’ve experienced. It gives me hope in this time of disconnect, common among many people. I’ve been reminded there are countless other people across our country demonstrating what it means to be a neighbor: learning about, recognizing, and celebrating the diversities of cultures and ethnicities among us. It’s easy to devalue one another. It takes courage and effort to risk changing ourselves prompted by relationships with others. However, as we give voice to our changes, our government and country will be influenced to change. This is what it means to be strong. This is what it means to be a real winner.
Rev. John Buttrick
One evening during this Advent, our small inter-faith group gathered for its monthly communal discussion. We are Jews, Christians, Muslims, and agnostics. However, one of our members was absent. He was with some Muslim students who were experiencing fear from people who were associating these students with terrorists.
We met in this atmosphere of fear, mindful of the season of Chanukah, Christmas, and Milad un Nabi (Muhammad’s birth). We remembered the first century Roman occupation and conflicts over Jerusalem up to this day. The possibility of peace in Jerusalem, or in our world seems so remote.
Out of our despair, one person lifted up a word of hope: “Then the wolf will live with the lamb… there will be neither hurt nor harm in all my holy mountain” (Isaiah 11: 6 – 10). Another remembered the promise to Zechariah: “The dawn from on high will break upon us… to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Lk. 1: 78 & 79).
However, another person labeled these visions “utopian,” meaning impractically idealistic, plunging us back into the doldrums. Another offered, “What we need is a strong leader in Israel and a strong leader in Palestine to unify the people.” We hear the same sentiment about leadership in our own country. Yet, perhaps it’s that longing for a strong leader that’s utopian. Ever since the ancient Hebrews asked a reluctant Samuel for a king, that dream has failed (I Samuel 8). Conflicts and injustice have continued into our time.
Then one of us remembered the vision of Jesus: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is God’s good pleasure to give you the dominion;” that is not given to a king, nor a charismatic leader, nor a strong no-nonsense-president but given to multifaceted small groups of human beings expanding and uniting into possibilities of peace and justice for all people. (Luke 12: 32) (see also Luke. 5:10).
We expressed this hope to our Muslim friends. It is “good news of great joy for all people” in these fearful times.