Those *^*%&$ Artifacts

The past is the framework upon which our present is built. So, by appropriating the past of another for ourselves, we are often stealing or destroying their future.

For the last several years my alma mater, Andover Newton, has been wrestling with the issue of repatriation of the significant collection Native American Artifacts it has accumulated over the last two hundred (or so) years. The process has been heavily criticized by many because it has been extremely slow, with little apparent progress to outside observers.
 
And yet, as my fellow alumnus, friend (and awesome minister) Rev. Virginia Child pointed out recently: the reality is that the effort to restore even a single artifact to its rightful present day caretakers is a far more challenging and convoluted process than it would seem. While we usually know where an artifact came from and who originally gave it to the school, identifying who should be the caretaker can be quite a challenge, as this article about a controversy over the repatriation of the remains of an ancient Wampanoag leader demonstrates.
 
So, while it is frustratingly slow, Andover Newton’s determination to be careful and sensitive in the repatriation of each of these artifacts is to its credit. It would be much easier to simply hand them to the first group that shows up with something resembling a valid claim. But, such an approach would only continue and aggravate the long ago injustices that created the present situation.
 
This same type of controversy is an often intractable aspect of far larger conflicts we see in so many places: Israel/Palestine; the Progressive/Conservative battles in the US and elsewhere; the tensions between China and many of its neighbors; North Korea; Black Lives Matter; the controversies in many of our Southern states right now over flying the Confederate flag and the placement of statues and memorials venerating Confederate heroes and events; and the representations of Native Americans in sports team names and logos.  In each case, tensions focus on questions of “Who owns our past?” And, “Who has control over the narrative of what our past means?”

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For or Against?

14724498_10157594211435113_4623695507832864461_nI like this meme by John Pavlovitz: It gets to the heart of something that always troubles me when I’m labelled as an ally of one group or another…

It is true that we are called by our faith to make a special effort to support those who are not empowered, no matter who they are. And, this is a central concept within my own ministry and in my day to day existence.

But the problem has always been that people tend to view someone who is “for” some group or cause as being against something else. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

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Of Walls and of Mustafa Aslan

I never met Mustafa Aslan, but I know the people of Israel and Palestine – Christians, Jews, Muslims and Druze alike. Good people. People filled with compassion and faith. People with so much to offer for the benefit of their neighbors and the world as a whole. People who want peace, and through peace, a better life for them, their children, and their people.

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Mustafa Aslan

Mustafa Aslan, age 24, was a champion boxer is Palestine, and coached many children and teens there who were  interested in boxing.

He was shot dead last week in an Israeli Defense Force (IDF) raid, part of Israel’s massive effort to find the three Israeli teens who disappeared on June 12th while traveling within the Gush Etzion block of settlements near Jerusalem in the West Bank.

Given that there is no solid evidence as to the fate or location of these teens at the moment (nor even who kidnapped them) the IDF’s operations are not about finding the three teenagers, at least not any more:  It has become a vendetta: a campaign of revenge and collective punishment, terrorizing a largely defenseless and submissive population.

So far, from what I can tell (as this incident, particularly with regard to the IDF’s actions, is hardly mentioned in the US Media), at least 5 Palestinians have been killed by IDF forces in this “search.”

Many of my Palestinian friends, the West Bank’s Palestinian political leadership, the United Nations, US Leadership, and many in Jews as well, are universal in unequivocally condemning the disappearances.  All of them also call for restraint on the part of Israeli military and police forces in their use of force in their search.

It almost goes without saying that the IDF’s brutal actions, which go far beyond reasonable given the circumstances and lack of any actionable information as to the status or fate of the missing teens, departs from wisdom, let alone international law.  The logic used to justify the actions of the Israeli military, and the shedding of innocent blood, only makes sense if one views all Palestinians as vermin who have no right to exist.

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Standing in a New Place

Standing in a new placeSermon: “Standing in a New Place”
Presented at ARK Community Church in Dalton, MA
October 20, 2013

Scripture readings:
Job 38:1-18, 24-30, 34-5 and 42:1-6 (from “The Message”),
Luke 18:18-25  
(from “The Message”)

A Prologue…

I held up a card with one word in large block letters on each side, as follows…

RED         GREEN

and then said (more or less)…

All of us can see one side of this card, but not the other.  Most of you see Green, the rest of us see Red.   Each of you can appreciate part of what this card is, but not the whole thing.  You can see one aspect of its truth, but not all of it.  What you see depends on where you are sitting, but you cannot appreciate all that this card is without your changing positions or my rotating the card – there has to be movement of some sort.  Bear this in mind as you hear this message…

Please pray with me…

Lord, open our eyes that we may see the truth you have for us here today; place in our hands and hearts the wisdom and courage to follow your Truth wherever it may lead us, and so come to a deeper appreciation of your Gospel from a new perspective. Open my mouth, Lord, that I may be a faithful witness to your Gospel, that the eyes of our hearts might be opened, and that your love for all of us, your children, is made manifest.  Prepare our hearts to share your gospel with all we whom encounter today, and in the days ahead.  Amen.

The Message…

I recently visited a dear friend, Carolyn, and we began talking about my ideas for this week’s sermon.  This in turn reminded her of a story, one that I’m sure most parents have run into (at least a few times).

When her family was much younger, they all went to a ball game.  Later, in talking about an event during the game, the narrative that Carolyn related to her children differed a great deal from the one her husband Don gave about the same incident.  When Carolyn realized this, she sat her kids down and told them that even though mommy and daddy’s versions were very different, neither of them were lying, and neither of them were wrong, it was just that they remembered it differently because different aspects of the event mattered to each of them.  They saw the same thing from different perspectives, which is why their memories of it, and their narratives, differed.

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The Israeli Palestinian Conflict, A Call for Hope and Healing

Aziz is a warm, thoughtful, energetic man of peace whom I had the pleasure to get to know last year when I had the opportunity to tour Israel and Palestine (through a tourism company he helped establish named MEJDI), and hear the narratives of individuals on both sides of the wall that divides them, a wall not just of concrete and barbed wire, but a wall of shared misperception, mistrust, hate, pain and even greed.  If all that can be shared, why not also share healing and hope?

I urge you to read his words carefully and prayerfully, and hear the heart of a man who, even though a victim of great oppression and injustice in the land of his birth, loves all the peoples in that part of the world and earnestly desires peace and healing for those on both sides of the wall.

Aziz Abu Sarah

Just over a year ago I started filming for a web series produced by National Geographic. My goal was to highlight the conflicting narratives and the different points of view while inspiring hope. As Obama is visiting the region, I no longer believe that he or other leaders will bring an end to this conflict. It must be people who lead the leaders. However, I have found that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians are indifferent and ineffective. Indifference is the greatest enemy to peace and justice. In this series, I try to understand why this conflict is still going on. I try to examine the narratives and perspectives. But most importantly I also explore the effect of interactions between the sides.

This special online 4-part video series, Conflict Zone, follows Aziz Abu Sarah, a cultural educator, a native of Jerusalem, and a National Geographic Emerging Explorer who works in…

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