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My Passover questions this year

Last night I walked home listening to the Speaking of Faith interview with Avivah Zornberg about Passover. Much of the Passover observance centers around asking questions, Avivah Zornberg’s interview left me with 3 questions for this year:

  1. Exodus says that the Passover meal should be eaten in haste. There is a sense of urgency here. Do we have the same sense of urgency about today’s struggles for liberation?
  2. Exodus is a process. It begins with the first acts of revolt of the Hebrew midwives. It continues and Moses resists the exploitation when he is in Egypt, through the plagues, across the Red Sea, into the wilderness before the Israelites reach the promised land. Where are we in the process of liberation for this generation? What challenges does it face for us? What is our task at this stage?
  3. One of the key themes in the story is the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart. How have we hardened our own hearts? Whose suffering have we become indifferent to? To Iraqis? To Palestinians? To Israelis? To people who were formerly incarcerated? To the poor? To that family member who really gets on our nerves? How do we soften our hearts and avoid the pattern of Pharaoh?

I have thoughts about these questions, but no clear answers. Indeed, even to ask question 3 is a scary proposition, because when we open our heart we may find we are called to respond (and how to respond leads to even more questions). But still we must ask.

What peace activists can learn from a classical swordsman

In the famous Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi, one of the key teachings is about attention:

The primary thing when you take a sword in your hands is your intention to cut the enemy, whatever the means. Whenever you parry, hit, spring, strike or touch the enemy’s cutting sword, you must cut the enemy in the same movement. It is essential to attain this. If you think only of hitting, springing, striking or touching the enemy, you will not be able actually to cut him. More than anything, you must be thinking of carrying your movement through to cutting him. You must thoroughly research this.

Now of course as a peace organizer, I have no intention of cutting anybody. But I do respect Musashi’s point about the need to have fierce dedication, focus and intent with each movement.

In our organizing and activism, every movement should be focused on peacemaking. If we hold a meeting, it should be to bring us closer to peace. If we rally and protest, it should be to bring us closer to justice.

If we think only of rallying, only of meeting, only of protesting, we will be unable to bring peace. If our efforts are only because they are things we should do, then we will waste effort.

Let us bring the same focus to stopping violence that Musashi brought to prevailing through violence.

Diversity is divine

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying The Tent of Abraham, which looks at the story of Abraham through Jewish, Christian, and Muslim perspectives and explores how it can be a tale of peacemaking.

One thing that struck me is the discussions of the world’s diversity in the book.

For example, Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center explores how the story of the tower of Babel is a story of rejecting a centralized imperial globalism (as Sumeria was trying to create at the time) in favor of diverse grassroots communities each with their own tongue and customs.

(The folks at We Are Everywhere would love this interpretation).

Likewise, the Qur’an celebrates human diversity. It says:

‘O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another.’ (49:13a)

And of course the Baha’i faith has beautiful writings about the value of diversity.

If the flowers of a garden were all of one color, the effect would be monotonous to the eye; but if the colors are variegated, it is most pleasing and wonderful. The difference in adornment of color and capacity of reflection among the flowers gives the garden its beauty and charm. Therefore, although we are of different individualities, different in ideas and of various fragrances, let us strive like flowers of the same divine garden to live together in harmony. (‘Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 24)

There is a tendency in this world to promote our way as the one and true way, to declare our people as the only good people, and our thoughts as the only credible thoughts.

These passages and interpretations remind us that the glory of creation is that there are many peoples, many perspectives, and many things to enjoy.

And this is a good thing.

Politcally, then, when policies or prejudices exclude some people or leave some groups out, then we are all diminished. To use the Baha’i example, we have lost flowers from our garden.

That’s why efforts to dismantle racism, to actively recruit diverse candidates, and to make sure that everyone has access to opportunity are so important.

We are all created by God, with all of our blessed diversity. We are all God’s people. We all share God’s earth.
And to make sure that all God’s people have access to all the bounty God’s earth is to do God’s work of justice.