Monday, March 17, 2014

Listen. Really Listen. Really Really Listen.

As I wrote in my last post, I recently wrote an article about peacemaking practices that was printed in the most recent JustFaith publication.  The lead-up to the four practices was a telling of a part of my story - what led me to Palestine and a little about my experiences there.

Today I was sitting at my desk when my phone rang.  I answered, "Hi, this is Cory."

"Hi, Cory. My name is Bernard..." After he introduced himself, his parish, and his history with JustFaith, he told me he didn't want to take up too much of my precious time, so he'd just get to the point. Then he told me about his strong Catholic faith and his family's military service.

I still wasn't quite sure where the conversation was going, until he brought up my article and his question. "How many Jews do you know who have strapped on bombs and killed people?"  My heart started beating faster.

He didn't pause long enough for me to answer, but told me his thoughts about Israel and World War II. After talking a few moments more, he paused, clearly waiting for me to answer.

I took a deep breath. "Are you interested only in suicide bombings or do you want to know about all the people who've been killed?" I explained that far more Palestinians have been killed by Israelis, in fact far more violence in general has been done to Palestinians by Israelis than to Israelis by Palestinians. I was ready to continue, but he cut me off. In his defense, I'll tell you that during our entire conversation, he spoke passionately but calmly.

"What are your sources?" he asked.

"The UN has put out reports, B'Tselem -"

"I don't want anything from the UN. They're anti-Catholic and I don't trust anything they say." While I know some people aren't keen on the UN, I'd never heard anyone say that it is anti-Catholic.

"If Americans Knew has great information..."

"No, what was the other one you said before?"

"B'Tselem.  It's an Israeli organization doing excellent human rights reporting. You can also look at CPT's website and Breaking the Silence.  There's also -"

"I'm in my 80s and I'm not going to look at all that information. I'll look at the Israeli one you gave me." He asked me to spell it.  I did.

He went on to tell me about the work he's done as a result of going through the JustFaith program, about his faithful devotion to our Lord and Savior and the Blessed Mother.  He told me that Israel has a lot of Nobel Prize winners that I should investigate and that there is good reason for the country's strong military and went on to tell me those reasons. He said he'd take a look at B'Tselem and decide for himself. He told me he wouldn't take up any more of my precious time and hung up.

I would have liked to respond to his comments.  However, he did not give me much chance and I didn't want to interrupt him.

Today was my day to practice listening.  Really listening.  Really really listening to someone who spoke from his life experience and knowledge and challenged the experiences that I have lived. The Truth is bigger than both of us. And no doubt our individual narratives fit into it somehow.

I have no idea if I'll hear from him again. I am glad that Bernard called me, seeking more information.  Though I wasn't so pleased in the moment, I am glad that I got a chance to practice what I preach. The truth of the matter is that I have a long way to go to perfect my listening skills.

Thanks, Bernard. Thanks for giving me a call today.Thanks for trying to live your faith.  Thanks for giving me a chance to try to live mine a little better, too. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Speak the Truth

Blissfully, one part of my job at JustFaith is writing. I have recently begun revising and editing documents for the program that is my primary responsibility.  Writing, and brainstorming writing ideas with another program writer, has made work days fly by in the best possible way, the how-did-the-time-pass-so-quickly- this-is-so-much-fun-we-could-go-on-for-hours way.  I had done some other writing before now, but what I've begun is a process that will last for the next few months.  I am excited!

A couple of months ago, I wrote a piece for our newsletter. I told a part of my story - how my relationship with the organization actually began many years before my employment there and how JustFaith had influenced my life, including my decision to commit to Christian Peacemaker Teams in Palestine. My article also included 4 peacemaking practices I am trying to live.  Since writing the article, the fact that I wrote it first and foremost for my own learning has become obvious. 

In my article I listed 4 simple and crazily difficult practices: 1. Look people in the eye with compassion. 2. Speak your truth. 3. Listen. Really listen. Really, really listen. 4. Practice gratitude.  The one that has haunted me most (in the best possible way) is this: Speak your truth.  

This skill has never been my forte. I do an OK job of writing my truth...sometimes.  However, I am reminded of the times I have censored my words because I was afraid of who might see it and what those people might say. I am reminded of the fact that I removed my name from this blog because of who might see and what those people might say or do as a result of the truth I write. I have acted as if I am doing something wrong by sharing what I know. 

I am doing nothing wrong. I am trying to shed light on darkness. Furthermore, speaking my truth here is not such a risky business.  Maybe I'll upset some people.  But writing what I know to be true will not get me beaten. I will not go to prison as a result. I will not be killed. Even if those were the consequences, I'd rather suffer for truth and right and justice than cower in fear while others suffer for no good reason at all.

Today I gave a talk at church about my experiences in Palestine. Every time I prepare for such a talk, I review my slides,often adding or changing pictures. During every review of the presentation and my photos, I feel my body tense and my heartbeat quicken as I remember witnessing (not even experiencing, but witnessing) the trauma that Palestinians experience on a daily basis.  The systematic breaking down of people (Palestinians) by people (Israelis). The assault on human dignity. I say in my talk and write here that I am not trying to say all Palestinians are good and all Israelis are bad. I do not believe it to be true and it would be a simplification of the reality.  However, there is a system of oppression at work and the power of that system belongs to Israel. I hope that sharing what I have seen of this reality will in some small way ultimately change it. In all likelihood, I'll never know the results of my actions, but I will continue to speak and write with hope. 
I must speak and write with hope because along with the systematic breakdown of people by people, I see the resilience of the human spirit - people who suffer for no good reason and are unwilling to give in to hopelessness.  I hope that my sharing their stories through the lens of my own serves to amplify their voices.

Today I won't tell stories of Palestinians. I won't even tell much more of my own story except to say this: after an absence from writing, I am ready to raise my voice again here. I am even learning to let difficult words pass not only from my fingers to a screen, but through my vocal chords.  

I am realizing that the claiming of one's voice, even when that voice comes out shaky, is powerful. The act is hope-filled. When I began to connect reclaiming voice, or said another way, being most fully the people God created us to be, as a hope-filled process, I revisited one of my favorite quotes: 

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

- Marianne Williamson

Using my voice, speaking my truth, being who I am is liberating  for me.  Inviting and allowing someone else to speak truth and accepting his or her truth only increases the space for liberation, the room for us to breathe in a way that is satisfying, peaceful, hope-filled, and ever-expanding. This act of inviting others, by the way, is where #3 of my practices - listening - comes into play. But that is a theme to explore on another day.

I pray that all of us learn to speak more clearly the truth that we know and to honor others by listening and accepting their truth. I pray that the space of liberation that comes from being who we are expands beyond our comprehension of freedom.