Monday, August 23, 2010


Not long ago I visited Manzanar – you know, the internment camp in the Owens Valley where Japanese Americans - loyal Americans, fellow Californians - were incarcerated for "the duration." It was the annual reunion of surviving internees, whose only "crime" had been that their skin was yellow and that others who looked like them had attacked our shared country at Pearl Harbor.
Wandering the dusty camp, I was surprised that so many of my fellow visitors were young Muslims, many in hijabs. I asked a Japanese American friend what that was about.  She told me how, on September 11, 2001, Japanese Americans, especially in Los Angeles, had flocked to local mosques to stand in solidarity with their Muslim neighbors in their hour of vulnerability.
And from that spontaneous gesture there sprouted several groups of high school-age Japanese and Muslim American youngsters who meet regularly to share their cultures and experiences, to learn from each other, and to seek ways to promote tolerance.
In this, our summer of discontent, Muslim Americans – and tolerance - are again at risk, as the fires of racial and religious enmity are enflamed by those on the right who would invoke hatred and division for short-term electoral gain.  It is an unworthy and dangerous game, this morphing of anti-immigrant xenophobia, of racist appeals to white fears, and, now, of anti-Muslim hysteria.
The story-line of this anti-Muslim hysteria was artificially concocted out of whole cloth by one of the most extreme voices in the blogosphere – Pam Geller of Rupert Murdoch's Newsmax and New York Post who launched her "Monster Mosque" campaign in May and is now organizing rallies against what she's labeled the "Ground Zero Mosque."  Her attempt to link all Muslims with the terrorists who attacked us on September 11 - killing nearly three thousand Americans, including dozens of Muslim Americans - and her cruel and cynical manipulation of the emotions of those whose loved ones died that day were quickly injected into the national bloodstream by politicians like Newt Gingrich and the all-too-quick-to-tweet Sarah Palin.  And, since July, these divisive calumnies have been beaten like a tin drum by Murdoch's Fox News.
It's no wonder Speaker Pelosi raised questions about the money woven through this "journalistic" thread.  Might the FCC consider whether some are using the public airwaves to propagandize rather than inform?  Are they not our airwaves?  Are there not still licensing requirements?  And what about the media itself?  Who's asking the tough questions, digging out the truth?  To be sure, CNN has done a decent job of late, separating the orchestrated fantasies of a "Monster Mosque" from the facts of the Cordoba Center, putting Geller on the air, and asking her the tough questions.    
But these issues of journalistic ethics and political decency pale before the greater task facing us as the hateful hysteria spreads across the land…as mosques are opposed in places like Tennessee, as Florida churches organize Qur'an burnings, as people around the country call for banning hijabs and minarets…all in a time when those who would gut the First and Fourteenth amendments call for "Second Amendment solutions" to our problems.
It is a very dangerous time.  It is a time for all Americans – Christians, Jews, those of other religions, and of none – to stand beside the most vulnerable among us, as Angeleno Japanese Americans did on September 11, and as Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, and Manhattan JCC Executive Director Joy Levitt are doing today.
It is time to recall those words of a German pastor, Martin Niemoeller – to paraphrase, first they came for the socialists, then the Jews….I didn't speak…and when they came for me. there was no one left to speak.
In the spirit of those words, I call especially on my fellow Christians to speak.  The silence is deafening.  For God's sake, speak…for those who pray to God in perhaps a different voice, but who pray to the same one God.
And, please, no more next-morning backtracking, no more "buts," no more "I support your right to worship, but not your right to exercise it…not there, not now."  No more ifs, and, or buts.  "But" is a big word, but it's not in the First Amendment! 

Saturday, July 24, 2010


At first blush, "getting lost…intentionally" may seem the quintessential oxymoron.  By my lights and Paul Theroux's, however, it's the only way to travel.  It is the difference between being a tourist and being a pilgrim.
The pilgrim, the true pilgrim – for many "pilgrims" are but spiritual tourists – cuts her ties to all that is familiar and loses herself among strangers, opening herself at every turn to God's serendipity.
That is how I traveled last fall to Oaxaca and Chiapas, the southernmost heart of indigenous Mexico.  Unsure of what I would find, I wanted to test the validity of what I had read against the reality the everyday lives of the indigenous people there – the Mayans of Chiapas and the Zapotecs of Oaxaca.
 Every story requires some context.  The story of the Maya in Chiapas and the Zapotecs in Oaxaca is one of survival – of economic survival in the face of modernization and globalization and of cultural survival in the wake of five hundred years of colonization.  It is what the Zapatista rebels in Chiapas have called the "war against oblivion."
It is not a short story, nor a recent war.  From the start – the arrival of the conquistadors in 1519 – the history of the indigenous people of southern Mexico has been one of economic exploitation and racial discrimination - a continuing tale largely unchanged by the Revolution of 1810, essentially an enterprise of the Spanish-descended elite and the majority mestizos.
 It is a story that, by and large, has revolved around land reform – the ability to remain on and eke out a living from ancestral lands – and the dignidad of self-rule in self-defined ways on those lands.
To be sure it is not an uncomplicated, black-and-white story.  Many of the intrusions made by the Mexican central government upon the autonomy of its indigenous peoples have, for example, been well-intentioned efforts to expand the availability of modern health care and education and to redress social inequities in areas such as women's rights.
However well-intentioned, the effects of these modernizing efforts have been socially destabilizing and, to the extent that they have disrupted traditional forms of communal land ownership and sought to impose global economic patterns that favor international corporate interests, they have wrought economic havoc on the unprepared, disoriented Maya and Zapotec peoples.  Understandably, this has generated resistance. 
Descending from the dark mountains of central Mexico into a bright southern sunlight, the oblong valley of Oaxaca looked every bit as lovely as Shangri-La.  Up close, however, political shadows quickly impinged.  One could not escape the heavy presence of the black-uniformed, heavily armed Federal Police – the Federalistas – and the occasional but ostentatious army convoys which gave downtown Oaxaca very much the feel of an occupied city.
The memory of the 2006 "days of rage, when Oaxaquenos rose up against their hated Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, remains palpable.  That revolt, precipitated by a massive teachers' strike, brought together the various strands of years of discontent – the teachers, the indigenous communities, the working poor of the city – and drew strength from the Zapatistas in neighboring Chiapas and from the national electoral campaign of leftist presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.  For five months – from June to November 2006 – the city and much of the state was a "government-free zone," with daily life organized by a very spontaneous Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca or APPO.  The experiment was crushed on November 25 in a bloody crackdown that left 17 dead and 140 wounded.
During my week in Oaxaca, however, I learned that the APPO is very much alive, providing a defiant alternative framework for social life.  But, on my first night, such lessons were yet to be learned as we met up with our local leader, Juan de Dios Gomez, a kind and gentle anthropologist
After a breakfast next morning of salsa-soaked beans, eggs, and tortillas, we were briefed on the demography and culture of the area.  About 30% of Oaxaca's 3.5 million people are, we were told, indigenous – mostly Zapotecs, some Mixtecs - and 85% nominally Roman Catholic.  Nearly 20% are illiterate and per capita income hovers around $4,000, less than half the national average, in an economy heavily dependent on agriculture (agave, coffee, and, of course, corn or maize), handicrafts (weaving and wood carving), and a tourist industry severely damaged by the tensions and violence of recent years.
Soon enough we were introduced to some of the victims of those tensions – leaders of the Zapotec community of San Augustin Loxicha in the Sierra Sur.  Juan Sosa, only recently released from a high security prison, spoke eloquently about being hunted by the federal police that occupied his and other communities to enforce central government control and about the para-military squads that still surround them.  Jorge Hernandez, who had just been released a few days earlier after eleven years imprisonment, much of it in solitary confinement, appeared to be suffering PTSD, staring into space in silence, as his wife Laura spoke of raising two children on her own.
In the next few days, south of the city and in the Sierra Sur, we learned about the efforts in indigenous communities such as Ocotlon, Zaachila, Sola de Vega, and Chapulin to maintain traditional self-rule and to develop economic self-help projects that might keep young people from emigrating.  Particularly moving were Adnan Lopez Santiago, a teachers' union activist and director of Radio Zaachila, a source of alternative news; and Noemi Gomez Bravo, a member of a United Nations working group on the rights of indigenous women, who, while she spoke with us about those rights, lovingly nursed her infant daughter.      
In the north, we heard similar stories.  At the University of the Sierra Juarez Professor Aldo Gonzalez told us about the disastrous inroads of North American corporations on the local economy – about the destructive impact on local maize production of Monsanto's trans-genetic corn, Coca Cola's plans to privatize local water resources, and Syngenta's efforts to patent centuries-old strains of Mayan maize.
In Capulalpam, we stayed at an idyllic eco-tourism facility built by hand by community members.  As we surveyed the lush Natividad valley below, we learned that a Canadian company had just bought the "underground" rights to the community's land and planned to re-open a long-closed gold mine - an operation that would pollute the valley and the river that ran through it.
Back in Ciudad Oaxaca, our thoughts returned briefly to the on-going festivities surrounding the Dias de los Muertos.  I must admit, however, that I found myself turned off by the rush of tourists – Mexican and North American – in the cemeteries we visited All Saints evening.  I felt like an intruder on so many private griefs.
And in the zocalo, I found myself unexpectedly caught up in the tug of current tensions.  In the midst of another teachers' demonstration "under the arches" where dozens were killed three years earlier, I felt the still palpable rage…and, for a brief moment, fear.    
But, before I left, I felt also the dignity of those who face that fear with courage.  On our last night in Oaxaca, we gathered in a gallery in an outlying neighborhood with artists and musicians to celebrate the continued vitality of the APPO.  We smiled and danced and sang…with some abandon.  And on my wall at home now hangs a black-and-white print of dozens of Day of the Dead skeletons defiantly carrying a banner which reads: Nuestros muertos seran vengados como APPO – Our dead will be avenged by the APPO.  Leaving Oaxaca, I had the sense rather that they will be vindicated…by life.   
The trip to San Cristobal de las Casas started with a pleasant one hour flight to Tuxtla Gutierrez, the mestizo-dominated, lowland capital of Chiapas.  After an only slightly longer taxi ride into the clouds on a newly constructed super highway, San Cristobal revealed itself through a cut in the mountains – a smaller, urban Shangri-La perched at nearly 7,000 feet. 
My base there – for close to two weeks - was the Na Bolom (House of the Jaguar).  Originally built as a seminary, it was the long-time home of Trudi Duby Blom, a Swiss-born photographer-anthropologist and her Danish-born husband, Franz Blom, an archaeologist.  The purpose of Na Bolom and the foundation the Bloms established is to make Chiapas and especially the isolated Lancandons they befriended respectfully accessible.
San Cristobal is relatively prosperous, incredibly clean, and now very much tethered to Tuxtla Gutierrez and the central government.  Unlike Oaxaca, however, there was not a Federalista or soldier in sight.  And, mixing comfortably with the pizzerias and up-scale galleries, weavers from surrounding villages peddled their wares around the Santo Domingo church, as did adherents from Zapatista communities to the south and west. 
Around the huge cross on the cathedral plaza young men of the Emiliano Zapata Campesino Organization (OCEZ) routed from their southern communities by federalistas and paramilitaries had set up a tent encampment to protest their expulsions, the murder of two of their brothers, and the imprisonment of others whose treatment had earned the attention of Amnesty International.  Behind a rope barrier, they cooked soup over wood fires and accepted bread handed over the ropes.  I still treasure the "Gracias, amiga" I got when I handed over several bags of bread from a local bakery.  Typical of the "Mexican standoff" that persists throughout the state, there was no attempt by the authorities to interfere with such assistance or to dislodge the protestors. 
In the northern villages, too, there was a notable absence of police or military.  San Juan Chamula, a strange and fiercely independent Tzotzil community of 70,000, remains very much in the hands of the local caciques or bosses who have worked their way up the "cargo" system pecking order. 
Still higher in the mountains, I found Zinacantan – the "Place of the Bats" – obscured in the clouds and a chill drizzle.  Most of its 20,000 inhabitants earn a living weaving and selling hot house crops and have a reputation for being entrepreneurs.  At one weaver's home I got a taste of that entrepreneurship and the more-relaxed Zinacanteco hospitality, enjoying tortillas right off the fire while shopping the distinctive purple and black huipiles.
Traveling east and south of San Cristobal, however, one quickly runs into a pronounced military presence astride the main roads.  There are, for example, huge Mexican Army bases where the road from the city forks toward Comitan to the south and Ocasingo and Palenque to the east and at Tonina, just south of Ocasingo, on the edge of the Zapatista-controlled canyons.
Ocasingo, the site of a particularly bloody massacre on January 2, 1994, remains a surly crossroads of traffic and rebellion and pretty much under a government-lockdown.  Just east of the town, our mini-van was stopped at an army checkpoint.  After showing identification and opening bags, we were waved on our way past a sign in perfect English wishing us a "Good Trip."  A few miles further east, another sign - this time in Spanish - announced that we were entering Zapatista territory.  It was a kabuki dance repeated again as we left the main road to drive the mile to Agua Azul, a beautiful national park of cascading waterfalls.  There, we were halted at a roadblock manned by federalistas, before arriving, a few hundred yards further on, at the park entrance where we paid the obligatory fee at a shack bearing the red star and logo of the Zapatistas.  Go figure!  But, I thought, at least they're not shooting at each other.
Ocasingo, the 1994 Zapatista rebellion, and the ceasefire that has obtained since then all bear the stamp of Samuel Ruiz, the Roman Catholic Bishop of San Cristobal from 1960 to 1999.  The story of that involvement – very much a spiritual journey by "Don Sam" – strikes me as an appropriate place to end this story of my journey.
Samuel Ruiz Garcia, a middle class son of central Mexico, was a very conventional cleric when he was appointed bishop in 1960.  Soon after arriving in San Cristobal, he began his journey – literally – travelling by mule to the Mayan villages of the diocese.  Those trips were life-changing.  In the beginning, he said, he was "like a fish that sleeps with its eyes open," not seeing the "cruel oppression" all around him.  Soon, however, he found himself actively siding with the poor good people he met, learning their languages, dispatching catechists into the canyons, and vowing to integrate the indigenous into the life of the church.
It was a vow reinforced by his experience at Vatican II and his being drafted in 1974 to organize a first national indigenous congress on the five hundredth birthday of Fray Bartolome de las Casas, Chiapas' first bishop and outspoken defender of the Mayan peoples.  It was envisaged by the governor who appointed him as a feel-good folkloric event.  Ruiz, however, invited the villages to appoint their own representatives to the Congress to voice their real concerns in what became a very political affair.  Its motto said it all: Nunca mas un Mexico sin nosotros – Never again a Mexico without us!  Against the predations of mestizo ranchers and timber companies and their own caciques, the indigenous poor at the congress adopted a platform that stressed the need for "land to belong to the man who worked it" and a plea for honest counselors to teach the poor their rights and how to speak.
Within a year, Bishop Sam declared the diocese's "option for the poor," and began to raise up indigenous deacons who might be those "honest counselors."  In 1976, 34 deacons - in Tseltal, tuhuneletik, "servants of the community" - were nominated by their communities and ordained by the bishop.  Three years later the canyon communities south of Ocasingo elected a "deacon of deacons" – a 24-year-old – to preside over an increasingly organized opposition to their exploitation.  The seeds of resistance had been planted.
This is not the place to revisit the subsequent history of how the Marxist Zapatistas grafted themselves onto this existing organization or of the precipitate events that led to the violent uprising of New Year's Day 1994.  I hope you will make that the stuff of further reading.  Suffice it to say that those events included the Mexican government's mid-1980s reneging on land reform and its acquiescence in the North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA, which treaty has since destroyed the maize economy of Chiapas.  Indeed, it was the entry into force of that treaty on January 1, 1994 that provided the occasion for the onset of armed hostilities under the Zapatistas' cry of Basta Enough!         
Suffice it to say also, that Bishop Sam sought to head off the violence that claimed 120 lives in those first twelve days of 1994, spoke forcefully against it when it occurred, and worked tirelessly in the months afterward to hammer out the ceasefire that still holds.  At least, as I've said, they're not shooting each other.  The indigenous poor, moreover, have learned their rights and have learned how to stand and speak with dignity.  And, as Bishop Sam said in pastoral letter of August 6, 1993, "A Silent Cry of Sorrowful Warning:"  "This particular local church, deeply stamped with the Gospel faithfulness of Fray Bartolome de las Casas, has opted in these last decades to take its place at the margins of society and with the poorest."
May we too.                                                      
Guillermo Bonfil Batalla, Mexico Profundo: Reclaiming a Civilization (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996)
Nancy Davies (ed.), The People Decide: Oaxaca's Popular Assembly (New York: Narco News Books, 2007)
Diana Denham and the C.A.S.A. Collective (eds.), Teaching Rebellion: Stories from the Grassroots Mobilization in Oaxaca (Oakland: PM Press, 2008)
Alex Harris and Margaret Sartor (eds.), Gertude Blom: Bearing Witness (Chapel Hill: Duke University Press, 1984)
Selma Holo, Oaxaca at the Crossroads: Managing Memory, Negotiating Change (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Books, 2004)
Gary MacEoin, The People's Church: Bishop Samuel Ruiz of Mexico and Why He Matters (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1996)
Rick Steves, Travel as a Political Act (New York: Nation Books, 2009)
Michael Tangeman, Mexico at the Crossroads: Politics, the Church, and the Poor (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1995)
Paul Theroux, Fresh Air Fiend (New York; Mariner Books, 2001)
Ziga Vodovnik (ed.), Ya Basta: Ten Years of the Zapatista Uprising (Oakland: AK Press, 2004)
Henry Raup Wagner, The Life and Writings of Bartolome de las Casas (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1967)
John Womack, Jr. (ed.), Rebellion in Chiapas: An Historical Reader (New York: The New Press, 1999)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


It's truly amazing how quickly the sliming of Shirley Sherrod morphed into a story not about the wrong inflicted upon a good and decent person and those who perpetrated and perpetuated the lie behind it, but rather about whether the "Tea Party" – whatever that is – has supposedly been wronged by the NAACP.  Witness the Times-Herald's op-ed page of July 21 – two columns, an editorial, a scurrilous cartoon…and nary a mention of Ms. Sherrod, Andrew Breitbart who peddled the doctored video of her March 27 remarks in Georgia, or Fox News which spread the calumny on our public airwaves.
NAACP President Benjamin Jealous has apologized for being "snookered" by the Fox noise machine, Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack has apologized for his knee-jerk firing of Ms. Sherrod, and White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs has apologized for the White House's undefined role (Might I suggest cowardice?) in all this.
Meanwhile, the firebugs at Fox contentedly, silently, watch the conflagration they've sparked spread across the land.  They offer no apologies and, indeed, they smilingly, shamelessly continue to sprinkle fuel on the fire, as their right wing regulars – Hannity, O'Reilly, Beck – egg on the burgeoning brawl between the NAACP and the "Tea Party" and a steady-stream of new black faces is trotted out to trash icons of the civil rights movement like John Lewis and hijack the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.
And Americans – black, white…brown, red, and yellow – who love this imperfect country and seek its perfection find themselves sick at heart close to tears, as others – those who over and over again use the tools of division to gain and maintain power – very consciously, very deliberately sow racial strife.
This time, however, they've gone too far!  This cannot stand!
It's time for those care to stand up, to fight back, and - in the words of the Philadelphia Inquirer (T-H, July 21) – to stop denying racism and start confronting it.  It's time to speak the truth.
What is the truth?  In the matter at hand – this whole sordid Shirley Sherrod affair – the truth is that it is not an isolated, stand-alone story, but rather part and parcel of a concerted, rather transparent effort by the right wing noise machine to inject the  extraneous issue of race, into this year's congressional elections. 
How else to interpret Fox's obsessive year-long drumbeat about perceived black racism?  How else to explain Sean Hannity's repetitive replaying of very old videos of Rev. Jeremiah Wright giving voice to sometimes uncomfortable truths?  Of Glenn Beck's persecution of that "communist" Van Jones?  Of their stories that resulted in the shutting down of ACORN…stories based on undercover videos shot by since-indicted faux "reporter" Dennis O'Keefe?  Of their dredging up of a minor two-year old story on the inconsequential New Black Panther Party…a story based on the "he said, she said" charges of a Republican operative who once worked for the Justice Department.  Of their denigration of the long and deeply respected NAACP?  There's a pattern here and it's a dangerous game, this picking at our national scab.
What is the truth?  The raw material, the muck of this campaign is regularly concocted and served up by extremist bloggers like Breitbart.  It is mud that would sink of its own weight into their paranoid swamp were it not picked up and injected into the national discourse by Fox.  Theirs is a symbiotic, self-serving relationship, now laid bare by their over-reaching.  Here they have engaged in a smear too far.
What is the truth?   For years, the foot soldiers and front groups of this operation have been financed in the shadows by a coterie of billionaires intent on preserving their personal fortunes at any cost.  To hell with ethics!  To hell with the national interest!  Theirs are not household names, but their fingerprints are everywhere.  They're not hard to find.  Just google names like Charles G. and David H. Koch, Robert J. Perry, T. Boone Pickens, Richard Mellon Scaife, Harold Simmons…and, yes, Rupert Murdoch.
What is the truth?  The very sad, profound truth in all this, Deroy Murdock (TH, July 21) aside, is that "screaming 'racism'" in 2010 is not at all "delusional."  For racism is alive and well in twenty-first-century America and, I fear, getting worse.    
What is the truth?  The "Tea Party," conceived and birthed last year by billionaire lobbyists and nurtured by ideologues like those at Fox as a vehicle to bring down health care legislation and, ultimately, the Obama Administration, has become a seedbed for such racism, hijacking the legitimate concerns of its many well-meaning followers.  For me, that racism is manifest in the movement's call to "take back our country."  One has to ask "Who are we and from whom are we taking back our country?" 
And, like Langston Hughes, I have to ask whether that America was ever mine?  For, like Hughes, the America I seek has yet to be.  It is the America of his majestic Let America Be America Again and, I have to believe, of Ronald Reagan's vision of that "shining city on a hill."  As Hughes wrote from the pain and sorrow of the pre-Civil Rights era:     
O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
Despite all the laws and all the progress and all the delusions of the Murdocks of the world who weren't there and don't remember, we are still struggling to reclaim that America that has yet to be.
Please, Mr. President, lead us in that struggle.  Give that speech we now need.  Open the dialogue we now yearn for.  Speak our shared truth from our painfully shared history.  Call us to our better selves.
Yes, we can!  Can you?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Tony Judt is an extraordinary man who has written an extraordinary book.  Educated at Cambridge and the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris, he is the preeminent historian of post-war Europe and has taught at Cambridge, Oxford, Berkeley, and, now, New York University.  A Labor Zionist in his youth, who served in the Israeli Defense Forces in the '67 War, he has been one of the harshest critics of recent Israeli policies.
He is also dying.  He doesn't name the amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease) that has left him completely paralyzed, referring to his predicament only obliquely in the book's acknowledgements as "the unusual circumstances in which this book was written."
And, my, what a book he has written!  Ill Fares the Land (New York: Penquin, 2010, $25.95) cuts to the problematic core of today's America.  Must reading for new generations of Americans who have no memories of the New Deal and the Great Society and those of us who do, it is intellectually compelling and morally profound – a call to action for those who believe in a common good, in community and solidarity, and in redeeming our fading ideals in a time of greed and incivility.  It is written with the honesty, the moral clarity, and urgency of a dying man who loves his country and believes in collective action to save its soul.  
Judt derives his title from a 1770 Oliver Goldsmith poem – "Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey, Where wealth accumulates, and men decay" – an abbreviated statement of our problem that he expounds upon in the first dozen and one lines of the book:
"Something is profoundly wrong with the way we live today. For thirty years we have made a virtue out of the pursuit of material self-interest: indeed, this very pursuit now constitutes whatever remains of our sense of collective purpose. We know what things cost but have no idea what they are worth. We no longer ask of a judicial ruling or a legislative act: is it good? Is it fair? Is it just? Is it right? Will it help bring about a better society or a better world? Those used to be the political questions, even if they invited no easy answers. We must learn once again to pose them.
The materialistic and selfish quality of contemporary life is not inherent in the human condition. Much of what appears 'natural' today dates from the 1980s: the obsession with wealth creation, the cult of privatization and the private sector, the growing disparities of rich and poor. And above all, the rhetoric which accompanies these: uncritical admiration for unfettered markets, disdain for the public sector, the delusion of endless growth.
We cannot go on living like this…."
No we cannot.  In the 235 pages that follow, Judt makes clear why not and what we can – and must – do about it.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


For Christians, April 11 is the first Sunday after Easter.  But, in the Holy Land, the calendar reminds us, it is also Holocaust Remembrance Day, Yom HaSho'ah…a time to recall in sorrow man's capacity for evil.  At noon, the sounds of sirens will mix with those of church bells around Jerusalem.  And, as the confusing cacaphony subsides, a now-old cry - "Never again!" – will echo through suddenly silent streets and alleys…leaving us to wonder:  What we to make of those words?  What are we to do with them?
In Fatal Embrace, Mark Braverman draws our attention to the Holocaust and to the "parallel crises" that face us in its wake – as Jews and as Christians.  The Jewish crisis, he says, is the struggle to untangle the exclusivist narrative of a chosen people from the universal moral/ethical message of the prophets.  The Christian crisis entails the struggle to rid the church of millennia of anti-Jewish bias in its teachings.
"What anti-Jewish bias?" some ask.  Consider today's Gospel.  Why were "the doors of the house where the disciples had met… locked?"  They were locked "for fear of the Jews;" not the Romans…the Jews.  And why were the Jews to be feared?  Consider our reading today from Acts.  The Apostles had begun preaching in the name of Jesus around Jerusalem and in the Temple itself.   It got them arrested…here a second time.  And in his questioning of them, the high priest's voice rises to anger pitch: "We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man's blood on us."
That is the infamous "blood libel" that, from the beginning, gave rise to anti-Semitism.  It was, we were told again and again, the Jews who killed Christ.  His blood was on their hands and, for that, they were to be dispersed and despised for all time. 
That libel festered as a darkness in the heart of European Christianity over the centuries.  For years, I lived in its shadow…in Munich, just a few miles from Dachau and a few more from Oberammergau, where every Lent John's Passion was played out by hooked-nosed actors shouting "Crucify him!  Crucify him!"…and in Krakow, just an hour's drive from Auschwitz where such anti-Semitism culminated in the Holocaust.  
The uniqueness of the Holocaust lies not just in the magnitude of the crime, the horror of which has indelibly stamped a sense of insecurity and victimhood on the souls of Jews, but also in the nature of the discontinuity – the break – it represents in the Christian experience of anti-Semitism.  The subsequent sense of guilt among Western Christians has been profound.
In neither instance – the fear or the guilt – have the consequences always been healthy.  They have given rise to the "parallel crises" that Braverman contends cloud our vision of current realities in the Holy Land and prevent frank discussion of the day-to-day injustices inflicted upon Palestinians there.  They are, he adds, crises that must be addressed within our separate traditions – the theme of justice voiced by the prophets and of love embodied by Jesus.  That, he says, may take longer for Jews than Christians.  But, he adds, "Don't wait for us.  You work on your problem.  We'll work on ours."
So what is the Christian problem in this regard?  It is that the have not really addressed – not historically nor theologically – the anti-Judaism in John and Acts and Paul; it is also how, over the centuries, that failure – that sin of omission – warped into the anti-Semitism that led to the Holocaust. 
Since the Holocaust, christians have swept the facts of early church history under the rug, preferring instead new theological stratagems designed to stress the continuities between Judaism and Christianity, between the Old Testament and the New – stratagems that, in their guilt-ridden enthusiasm, blur the discontinuities and reduce Jesus to but one in a long list of Jewish prophets.  Anti-Semitism has been replaced by fawning philo-Semitism.  Jews – and by extension, Israel – can do no wrong.
That, Braverman says, does Jews no favors.  Instead, he says, it "thwarts Jewish renewal by insulating us from the painful process of self-reflection about the effects of particularlism and exceptionalism." 
And it does Christians no favors.  Instead, it enables us to avoid facing and dealing with our real guilt.  We have locked the Holocaust in the hermetically sealed box of another time and place.  And we have fobbed off the consequences onto another people – the Palestinians – who had nothing to do with the crime. 
It didn't happen here.  It didn't happen on our watch.  We twenty-first-century Californians had nothing to do with it.  Like Pilate, we can wash our hands of the whole affair.  The Germans did it.  And they did it more than sixty years ago. 
"Not so fast, not so easy," warns Zygmunt Bauman, a Polish Jew and sociologist.  In Modernity and the Holocaust, he writes;
…the exercise in focusing on the Germaness of the crime as on that aspect in which the explanation of the crime must lie is simultaneously an exercise in exonerating everyone else, and particularly everything else.  The implication that the perpetrators of the Holocaust were a wound or a malady of our civilization – rather than its horrifying, yet legitimate product results not only in the moral comfort of self-exculpation, but also in the dire threat of moral and political disarmament.  It all happened 'out there' – in another time, another country.  The more 'they' are to blame, the more the rest of 'us' are safe, and the less we have to do to defend this safety.  Once the allocation of guilt is implied to be equivalent to the location of causes, the innocence and sanity of the way of life of which we are so proud need not be cast in doubt.
Those of you who attended the Taize service Good Friday evening may have noticed that there were tears behind my eyes, as we sang "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord."  Those tears were there, because I cannot escape the theology of that hymn or the truth of Bauman's wisdom.
It wasn't just the Jews – or the Romans – who killed Jesus.  We all did.  We were all there.
And it wasn't just the Germans of a certain era who had the capacity to kill six million Jews.  In our hearts of darkness, we are all capable of similar crimes.  Need I mention the genocide in which millions of Native Americans were killed, the centuries-long crime of slavery, the concentration camps in which we confined our Japanese Americans, or the hatred so many of us harbor for the Muslims in our midst.
Only when we confront the universality of evil and embrace the redemptive theology that proceeds from the resurrected Jesus, will we be able to deal in a healthy way with the guilt that is our Christian Holocaust problem.   
And only when we accept that Jesus – the Christ – is far more than just the product of his Jewishness, but rather its fulfillment…the New Adam who represents the break in human history through which the exclusive God of the Jews becomes the God of all…only then will we be able to help Jews deal with their Holocaust problem in a healthy way – to break the bonds of exclusivity and to embrace the universality of the one God we all worship.
In that instance, we – all God's children – can say with new understanding, new fervor – "Never Again!"  Never again for any of God's children – not Jews…in Israel, not Christians in Darfur or El Salvador, not Buddhists in Cambodia, not Hindus in Mumbai, and not Palestinians, be they Muslims in Gaza or Christians in Bethlehem.


I had intended Holy Saturday to be a day of rest and reflection.  It was instead disturbed by an open carry gun rally in Vallejo's waterfront park - an event chronicled on video at (What does a deacon do?  Check out the last five minutes) and commented on below.
Easter Sunday turned out to be very special, not so much because of the pleasant service, the kids, the new faces, and the potluck at Christ the Lord, but because of the moving Open Cathedral in the cold and drenching rain – our third Easter, our second anniversary of faithfulness in the Tenderloin.  We were all wet and chilled to the bone, but it was really "Church!"  There were new faces there, too, and old ones…our regulars.  Souls were touched and moved and John Patrick, a congregant, wrote on the back of a paper plate:
                                          More Than Just About A Bunny
                                    Here we collect and gather this day
                                    As we find a connection to fulfil what we say
                                    Perhaps we pray for the spirit of Christ
who has risen again
                                    Provided we enjoy and share this Easter
with family and friend
                                    You can depend upon the season to be
inclement or even sunny
                                    Eager to worship and equip those in need…
And maybe see the Easter Bunny
                                    And its funny and fair all the unconditional love
                                    So aware of the children of God who are here
                                    Thankful and pure
                                    A sandwich can be the cure
                                    Everyone will stay within this open circle
                                                so strong
                                    Realizing it's not surprising
                                                that I could write them a song.
Nancy Pennekamp, the other deacon at the service, took some photos.  Here's one:

On Monday I slept late.
Happy Easter, Happy Passover, Happy Spring.