Sunday, June 24, 2007

Who am I?

When the situation becomes too unstable in Gaza I have the option of leaving here, I can leave and never come back. I can run from this world of discomfort, of poverty and lack of security. But these are not the things I pine for, comfort, riches, security. I will continue to speak out against injustice and be the voice of the voiceless because I long to live for the other, rather than for my-self. It takes a re-shaping of the habits of my mind and heart to reach even partially this way of being. That is why I am here.

Today fear fills the hearts of Gaza’s people, with the recent string of events Gaza’s future is as uncertain as ever. There is a fear that they may one day return from their perpetual search for charity and donation empty handed (80% of Gazans are receiving international food aid); a fear of waking to another day of hopelessness (70% of Gazans are either unemployed or largely unpaid government employees); a fear that the economic disaster they are experiencing today may overcome their lives (60% of the population live under the poverty level of $2 per day); a fear is that this economic crisis will divide the entire population in inter-factional feuding and result in a lawless chaos as factions and political parties vie for the little power that does exist in Gaza.

All this could be prevented, but it takes a perspective of the conflict that includes a memory that goes back further than just a couple years, one must go back to the start. Prior to 1948 and the creation of the state of Israel the Gaza Strip did not exist. On that fateful day nearly 60 years ago a majority of the ancestors of Palestinians living/imprisoned in the Gaza Strip today, walked the dusty paths to this plot of land. On that day their future was determined to be confined in this space, which only then was renamed, the Gaza Strip, a prison with borders to keep in an unwanted people. 200,000 refugees were added to the 70,000 living in Gaza City and its surrounding cities at the time. Life began in UN tents and over the course of these 60 years those rows of tents have become overcrowded and inhumane refugee camps, where families listen to their neighbors’ conversations and private interactions, where sickness spreads with ease, where children play in sewage that runs down narrow streets.

I have come to find that the injustice of this world exists to maintain the status quo of the way of life, the ease of life of the upper class, to keep comfortable those already living in comfort, to keep wealthy those living with wealth, to keep secure those living in security.

The root of what is considered a social or political sickness is a matter of interpretation. My perspective as either oppressor or oppressed, whether I am aware of it or not, will determine and limit how I see the world around me, unless I am shaken awake to the reality of the other. As they say, “One person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.”

The great women and men of history are those that have been able to step out of their perch of comfort and identify with the one that is colonized, the one who is deprived of human rights, the one that is abused, the one who is forgotten by the mighty of the world. From a place of comfort it is easy to consider the oppressed a victim of her own lack of perseverance, his inactivity or her idleness. From the eyes of the individualist where one is always considered able to “make one’s self”, the fault lies with the victim. It takes an awaking, a metamorphosis to be able to place oneself in the shoes of the other, and there staring at death, to gain new eyes that condemn one’s own inactivity and idleness in the face of the oppression that one’s very existence executes on the oppressed. Some of the worst evils we commit are the ones we are unaware of.

My heart burns for these, the oppressed.

Recently I have been challenged and consoled by a prayer of St Francis’ of Assisi. Francis was a man who chose to leave behind the splendor of a bourgeois life to serve and live among the poor, no doubt he was familiar with the suffering of the exploited. These words are powerful in a world that is more prone to raping, economically, politically, sexually, than to giving, in a world more prone to hungering for power and money no matter what the means, than to serving the one that is anything but powerful, the voiceless.

“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love,
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is sadness, joy;
Where there is darkness, light;

Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
Not so much to be understood, as to understand;
Not so much to be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.”

Who is the powerless, the voiceless, the oppressed in your world?

3 comments:

Adam said...

Great blog. I hope to be where you are someday. Whether it be in the Middle East or somewhere else, I hope to find the powerless just as you have. I am tired of the United States, I am tired of living in the bubble here, seeing the poor everyday, but feeling unable to do anything. This blog articulated a lot of what I feel. Thank you for talking about the Gaza with us a few weeks ago. Honestly, you were one of the highlights of the trip.

Christopher said...

Your title and post reminded me of a poem by Bonhoeffer. I couldn't find the original German, but in English it goes:

Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a squire from his country-house.

Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As though it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equally, smilingly, proudly,
Like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really all that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were
compressing my throat,
Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
Tossing in expectation of great events,
Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?

Who am I? This or the other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army,
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?
Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, 0 God, I am Thine!


For what little they are worth, you have my poor prayers. Hang in there, Phil!

-Chris Capp

Solomon2 said...

I have come to find that the injustice of this world exists to maintain the status quo of the way of life, the ease of life of the upper class, to keep comfortable those already living in comfort, to keep wealthy those living with wealth, to keep secure those living in security.

Jewish history textbooks relate that opposition to Jewish resettlement of Palestine only began when the Arab landowning class feared for their wealth because the new settlers arrived with new technology, new ideas, and improved wages for the Arab working class. Their response was to subsidize terror against the Jews - a process that continues today.

The great women and men of history are those that have been able to step out of their perch of comfort and identify with the one that is colonized, the one who is deprived of human rights, the one that is abused, the one who is forgotten by the mighty of the world.

Yes. Where are the Arabs who are willing to speak up in defense of Jews whose lands and lives were unjustly seized by Arabs? I can't find them. So we have war and conflict until such people can step forward.

From a place of comfort it is easy to consider the oppressed a victim of her own lack of perseverance, his inactivity or her idleness.

The oppressed can't step forward if it means their heads get chopped off. So it becomes the lot of the expatriate to stand for them. That's how Napoleon was undermined, and the resolve for an international coalition to oust him reinforced: because the exiles convinced others that his dictatorship was developing into tyranny and should be opposed with military force.

Translate