This post is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
Beach shrine. A Cross on the beach. This morning I stumbled upon it behind a sand dune during my morning walk. It seems to have been recently placed there, perhaps for a remembrance ceremony. The Cross is fashioned out of the kind of darkened plasticized bamboo you find at Michael’s and is decorated with plastic pink butterflies. A ribbon with an inscription runs across it. The inscription reads: Sara 3/17/99 Love Mom Miss You.
Walking up from the beach shrine are The Four Winds apartments, a dressed up name for what appears to be a men’s dormitory. The Four Winds consists of three rows of small efficiency apartments that haven’t been upgraded since they were built in the 1950s. The tenants are middle-aged men who seem down on their luck. Often there’s a guy outside tinkering on a car or a small boat. No doubt, much drinking at night but not raucous.
My neighborhood puts our inflated election year politics to shame. We need a politics that places (real) ordinary life first.
Isaiah continues on the Zen Nazi trail. It’s great to stumble on a religion or ideology that is innocent, at least in your own mind. What a release from the hum-drum complicity of every system that has ever been devised by humanity even if it is attributed to God or destiny. But, then, realizing its taint, we are thrown back and out of our reverie. To where?
Did I tell you the story of the time, some years ago, that Aaron was demonstrating against a house demolition in the West Bank? When confronted by Israeli soldiers, one of the friendly soldiers told Aaron he agreed with the protests. He thought Aaron’s protest was important. I asked Aaron what he thought of the soldier’s remark. His response startled me: “Daddy, I lost my faith in humanity.”
We had quite a back and forth on his conclusion. I told Aaron that you could take the soldier’s comment in another direction and derive a different meaning. Given a different structure the soldier would willingly do justice. He would build houses rather than destroy them. Aaron’s take: “if you’re willing to carry out orders that you don’t believe in, conscience isn’t free. If you’re waiting for someone else or some other system to do the right thing or refuse to do the wrong thing, then you’re – we’re – lost.”
Our intrepid Decolonizer of Peace is facing the same problem on the UN front. Having written of child prostitution and UN Peace Keepers who father children in far-off places and then disappear, she received the UN’s cold shoulder. She was contacted by some high ranking UN officials who investigate such cases once they are brought to their attention, but now, well, it’s pretty obvious that the UN is glad to bury its own sins. Even some UN women are compartmentalizing the prostitution/children issues. They’re operating as if investigations, policies and training are properly separated by bureaucratic oceans.
The patriarchal model of separation continues to flourish. It is quite capable of being upheld by women. How ingenious these systems are. Should our Decolonizer of Peace also lose her faith in humanity?
We could go “institutions” or “systems.” We certainly don’t want go “original sin.” That would be way too traditional and Christian to boot. As an alternative, we look eastward, toward Zen but, as we have seen, the Zen/Japan/war thing didn’t work out too well.
The Middle East is hardly a model of religious insight. Judaism and Islam are so militarized there that some Jewish Renewal folks prove their credentials by trumpeting their son’s induction into the Israeli military, like Michael Lerner’s son did some years ago. Aaron’s response might move beyond his lost faith in humanity. As in: “Are you kidding me?”
No, I’m not kidding you Aaron. Nor I am kidding you about the New York Times, Jerusalem, reporter of many years whose son also joined the IDF.
Corruption is all around us. Others encourage us to stake out their conscience while they obey orders. Is it possible to pay for or rent another’s conscience to keep our sanity afloat?
Sometimes we separate responsibility or bring it together in a conspiratorial way. Like the banker on the beach I mentioned a while ago. For him everything that ever happened is connected with corruption. Everything in the world is a plot. He was just one step away from Protocols of the Elders of Zion when I left him with a wave and a smile.
We can’t lose faith with humanity. This is the message of our prophetic provocateurs, Jewish, Zen and otherwise. Just the sound of the prophetic voice recalls the possibility of another way. When embodied, the prophetic voice interpenetrates everything, simply as itself. It exists and performs its singular note of hope for humanity in distress. Which is all of us.
That singular note is justice. Yet that same note creates a place where the grieving mother and Aaron, our intrepid Decolinizer of Peace and our conspiratorial banker meet in their broken humanity.
On September 11th, just days before the Jewish New Year, distressed humanity and the prophetic voice embodied. Is there anything more we can do or hope for?