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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Our World Today: Choosing Sides or Stepping Back

by Lauren Van Ham

And just the moment when you are all confused leaps forth a voice hold me close I’m love and I'm always yours.
- Rumi

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Matthew 5:9

I had already begun to blog about a fun adventure my Mom and I had undertaken in May, when the NPR sound waves interrupted my train of thought.  My hands left the keyboard as I listened to the reporter interview Palestinian families who were registering with U.N officials at a shelter site, near Gaza. 

With a sigh, I sat back from the computer and felt my chest tighten in the way it does when I experience the discomfort of having so much, when others have so little.  I thought about how I had taken a bike ride that morning, through a gorgeous, protected expanse of preserved land; and how very soon, I would be joining friends in their cozy home, to watch the final World Cup game, all in the safety and freedom of a neighborhood adjacent to my own, where there would be plenty of good food and water and anything we could possibly need.  And then my thoughts went to all the people around the world today, who aren’t able to count on any of this.  Whether recovering from a natural disaster, or trying to survive in land torn by civil unrest and war, I found myself in that moment, sending prayers to all points of the earth, asking God to ease the suffering, to end the fighting, to provide humans with the courage and willingness to forge peace.  And, at the same time, I expressed gratitude for all that I have, for how blessed I feel.

In that moment, I realized that I, “should” be writing about the sadness I feel about the Israeli-Palestinian impasse.  And that thought was immediately followed by my confusion about what I could possibly say that hasn’t already been pondered, which then made me think of all the activists who - throughout the ages - have tirelessly persisted, continuing to talk about things that have endlessly been pondered, simply because it wasn’t (isn’t) okay for everyone else to be sitting back and not taking a stand.

Granted, it’s not as simple as saying that my taking a bike ride or watching the World Cup means I’m, “sitting back.”  There are, however, undeniably difficult realities surrounding the things I enjoy, quite possibly happening at the expense of another.  Carbon bikes are manufactured in Asia.  Can I guarantee the working conditions for the employees at those factories?  I cannot.  In the weeks before the World Cup, there were horrific headlines about FIFA and their dismissive treatment toward the Brazilians.   What would Jesus have said to FIFA? 

Hhrmphf.  This world can feel so complicated. 

In recent months, several Christian denominations have implemented their decision to divest from Israel.  Maybe, in reflecting on impotency we typically feel, when facing something so large as a decades-old argument, in a country and culture not my own, the first step is to simply say, “I’m not supporting either side.” Maybe by stepping back from the particulars of one side or the other, we can begin to see the people, the faces and lives of our fellow humans. 

When you find yourself caught up in “making it fair,” or choosing a side, what helps you regain neutrality?  What have you been part of recently that (large or small) was a peace-making effort?

About Lauren: Lauren lives in Berkeley, CA.  She serves as Dean at The Chaplaincy Institute (ChI), an interfaith seminary and tends her private practice as a spiritual director.  You can read Lauren’s blog at: http://www.laurenvanham.com/

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