Daoud Nassar,The Beatitudes, Absurd Prayers, and Missed Opportunities

DSC_7363 - Version 2I’ve been thinking about Daoud Nassar quite a lot this past week. On Wednesday my wife Janie and I , along with another couple , attended a Centering Prayer session at Grace Episcopal Church in Traverse City, Michigan. After contemplating in silence for 25 minutes, a participant read the following bible passage three times.

Matthew 5:1-12

The Beatitudes

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the Land

‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Tears filled my eyes as I thought of Daoud Nassar, especially with the verse: “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the Land” (in the New American version, not “inherit the earth” ).

As I listened each time these verses were read I thought again how Daoud exemplifies Jesus’ “Kingdom Manifesto ” so well. Even in light of his recent tragedy when 1500-2000 of his fruit bearing trees were destroyed in the dead of night by the Israeli Defense Force. (Please see the previous post on this blog for the story of this outrageous act of immoral aggression.)Daoud's destroyed olive farm

Daoud is humble, a peace maker whose motto is “We refuse to be enemies.” He is truly a lover and follower of Jesus. He has been relentlessly persecuted and attacked by the Israeli government and its illegal settlers.

And yet he is able to say,

But the suffering is not the end of the story but it can be seen as a path to achieve the goals and vision. Always we need to keep faith, hope and proper love. Those three words together are the foundation of our work here. So without faith, without hope, without love, nothing can be done.

Daoud was in Seattle when he learned of the destruction done to his trees and farm. As Mark Braverman heard him say that night at his presentation , Daoud wondered what the IDF bulldozer drivers would say to their kids when they were asked, “What did you do at work today , Daddy? Did you have a good day?”

Which brings me back to thinking, what are we, if we are so-called “people of faith”, to do about this, especially if we presume to be followers of Jesus? Do we pray? Do we just pray? Do we act?

Ten days ago I was at a similar meditation session in our church in Ft. Wayne and learned, as someone in the group  prayed for our bishop, that he was again visiting Israel/Palestine with a peace advocating organization. I have had civil, spirited e-mail discussions with him since I discovered that he wrote an article for a national church magazine called “This Wall Saves Lives.”( Yeah, that wall.) He is, in my opinion, in the “let’s be balanced camp, the let’s not take sides camp, there is pain on both sides camp.”Of course, I  disagree with him . As does an archbishop from our same denomination, Desmond Tutu. I believe my bishop is in the “moderate clergy camp” of his time and similar to that which  MLK Jr. referred to in “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”, who were stated to be more of a problem for “the Negro” than the KKK or the White Citizens’ Council. So I sent an e-mail to my bishop to tell him I’d heard about his trip , that we were praying for him. (I am sincerely praying that he gets it some day in regards to Palestine and that he would have a good and safe trip.) I asked him about what the purpose was for his trip, what did he learn , and were there any new insights. He referred me to a fellow clergy traveler’s blog,  I will quote from it in a little bit . First, some thoughts on prayer seemingly without action or meaningful context.

In my last post I quoted Slavoj Žižek: ‘What Goes On When Nothing Goes On?’: when he says regarding the ongoing , illegal , immoral,oppressive ,Israeli occupation of Palestine which is “the fundamental reality which makes all abstract “prayers for peace’ obscene and hypocritical.”

And just this week Marc Ellis , in an interview by Robert Cohen of Micah’s Paradigm Shift, says of the Pope’s “prayer meeting” with Israeli and Palestinian officials,

MPS: You were unimpressed by Pope Francis and his pray-in at the Vatican with Peres and Abbas. I agree it had little political significance but what made that moment such a sham for you?

MHE: Awful. Everyone looked totally bored. Perhaps they resented being used for something that meant so little. When prayers become platitudes – in the face of great suffering – then it’s time to call these religious leaders to account. In my mind they become culpable enablers of injustice. Talk about the silence of God! I happen to be religious but such empty ceremonies confirm everything negative about religiosity. To have the global stage and fail so miserably, you have to shake your head – in disbelief. If Pope Francis was really interested in justice for Palestinians, if he really cared about the Jewish people, during his visit to Palestine he would have stayed in the Palestinian refugee camp he visited and refused to leave until justice was done. Or he could have prayed at the Apartheid Wall and stayed there. Anyone who wanted to pray with him – within that decision and embodiment – then I would listen to those prayers. Talk about the international spotlight! Pray if you like but for God’s sake make it meaningful. Prayer as a sacrifice for justice. Prayer embodied. In the ghettos and refugee camps of our world. Not the Vatican garden.

I could highlight that entire quote . Please read it again and remember “Talk about international spotlight.”

This jarred my memory regarding something that Frederick Buechner, another one of my guides and mentors wrote. I looked it up. It is stunning to think of similar instances in history of injustice and what could have happened , how much misery could have been avoided , if we just had the moral courage of someone like Daoud….. or Jesus.

Frederick Buechner on Racism and What Might Have Been

In 1957 when Governor Faubus of Arkansas refused to desegregate the schools in Little Rock, if President Eisenhower with all his enormous prestige had personally led a black child up the steps to where the authorities were blocking the school entrance, it might have been one of the great moments in history. It is heartbreaking to think of the opportunity missed.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” Paul wrote to the Galatians (3:28), and many a white and many a black must have read his words both before the Civil War and since, perhaps even given them serious thought. If more whites had taken them to heart, were to take them to heart today, you can’t help speculating on all the misery—past, present, and to come— that both races would have been or would be spared.
Many must have taken them to heart, but then simply not done what their hearts directed. The chances are they weren’t bad people or unfeeling people all in all. Like Eisenhower, they simply lacked the moral courage, the creative vision that might have won the day. The Little Rock schools were desegregated in the end anyhow by a combination of legal process and armed force, but it was done without some gesture of courtesy, contrition, or compassion that might have captured the imagination of the world.

Little Rock Nine

I find the two statements powerful and stunning: “international spotlight”, and “the imagination of the world.” Two missed opportunities. Just think of what might have happened if President Eisenhower and Pope Francis had chosen to really take action as imagined above.

So in the blog that my bishop referred me to, the following exchange occurred:

And I asked her [the Sister who is the head of the peace-advocating organization and tour leader] what she thought the church’s job is. Here’s what she said:”The Church’s job is to stand with people on both sides, loving them openly and notoriously.”

 

And the clergyman writes his response in his blog:

Her words bring tears to my eyes as I write them. Because I don’t want to take one side or another. More than that after standing with and hearing all these people, I don’t want to presume Jesus is calling some sheep and some goats. I believe in calling out evil when I see it … and I believe we ignore that call at the peril of our souls.

Now these religious had met people from both sides of the conflict and listened to the stories of their pain. So the clergy choose to pray, but to apparently not take sides.

To which I reply, with I slide I always include in my talks on Israel/Palestine, these words of my friend and mentor, Jewish psychologist Mark Braverman,

As a Jew, I was raised on Justice…. Jesus was advocating ‘militant nonviolence’ for the Jews of his time suffering under the tyranny and oppression of Rome.

One has to take sides… Taking sides does not mean choosing the“side of Israel” or the “side of Palestine”.Rather , it is to commit to Justice, which alone will bring peace to those suffering from the conflict: Israeli, Palestinian, Muslim, Jew, Christian”

Meanwhile the theater of the absurd that is the Iraeli/Palestinian conflict continues: Hamas shoots a rocket into southern Israel that hits a road and causes no physical injuries; Israel responds with two attacks on the Gaza Strip that killed one man blamed for attacks on Israel.  and Prime Minister Netanyahu tweets “Our policy is clear – kill those who rise up to kill us.” Three Israeli yeshiva settler students have gone missing since last Thursday, and are presumed kidnapped by an alleged terrorist organization. Sweeping IDF incursions and arrests in the West Bank have increased.

More absurdity as reported in Haaretz:

The uprooting happened on May 19. A few weeks prior, the IDF’s Civil Administration left a notice under a large rock near the trees, saying that it was state land that must be evacuated. In response, on May 12, the Nassar family filed an appeal through their lawyer, stating that they could prove that the trees were planted on family land. Although no verdict was given and only a week had passed, the trees were uprooted and removed anyway, the land bulldozed.

“We just yesterday talked with the [Ofer Military] court, and the court told me that Mr. Nassar’s appeal was not discussed because it was not made as it should be,” Inbar told Haaretz Tuesday. “First, there’s a tax that you need to pay to make an appeal, and they did not pay that tax. Second, Mr. Nassar’s lawyer gave this appeal without showing that he has power of attorney, and that is necessary to start the appeals process,” said Inbar, referring to Daher Nassar’s younger brother, Daoud, who is the family’s main spokesman but was away in the United States when the trees were uprooted.

“After a court decision that Mr. Nassar has not shown any ownership of the land, on land that the state says is state land, and after Mr. Nassar was given the opportunity to remove those trees himself, after all of that, we enforced the law and removed those trees,” Inbar said.

Did you catch the absurdity of the information in bold type?

The endless cycle of violence, vengeance, blame and scape-goating, and more violence (Which Daoud and Jesus refused to participate in) continues unabated.

And the visits by clergy and other peace-talkers and peace-prayers , remaining balanced and taking no sides, continues unabated.

I will end with a quote from Desmond Tutu:

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.

And MLK Jr. :

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.Justice too long delayed is justice denied.

And Daoud Nassar :

We said that we are people who believe in justice. And one day the Son of Justice will rise again, sooner or later. We refuse to be victims and we refuse to hate because we believe that people are created in the Image of God and they are not created to hate each other.

And, finally, with a Franciscan benediction quoted recently by Brian McLaren;

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

 

 

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