In Gaza, Quest for Power Overrides Morality

When people are in positions of protected power, the result is unspeakable suffering on the part of others, with little accountability asked for.

It was Lord Acton who said, “”Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”  http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/absolute-power-corrupts-absolutely.html.

Haven’t we all seen it? Law enforcement officers, in this country and in others, have shown the truth of Acton’s statement.  Too many police in our country are brutes; it seems that, for too many of them, the uniform, badge and gun gives them an inflated sense of themselves. Instead of being protectors, too many of them are predators, preying on the weak, the poor and the disadvantaged. The recent incident involving Eric Garner and New York police is, unfortunately, a prime example of power being used to abuse another human being.  Garner is just one of too many black people who have succumbed to brute power disguising itself as righteousness in the form of law enforcement. Blacks lynched in this country were often taken to their deaths by law enforcement officers who hid behind their badges and guns to do their dirty work.

Today I am wrestling with what is going on in Israel. I am more than disturbed; I am heartbroken that the Palestinian people are suffering at the hands of what Israel calls its soldiers: “the most moral army in the world.” http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.577295 I see no morality at all in what the Israelis are doing to the Palestinian people in their quest to wipe out Hamas.  I know the propaganda: that Hamas brings about the deaths of its own people by housing its weapons in heavily populated areas … but something about decimating women and children at will seems morally corrupt. No. It IS morally corrupt. Israel has a strong army, fueled and funded by the United States; the Palestinians, I read, have no army at all, but, rather, have a militia. The Israelis “warn” the Palestinians when they are going to fire upon them; but the Palestinians have nowhere to go! So, these innocent women and children …and Palestinian men who are NOT part of Hamas, are being gunned down like flies. I am appalled.

Absolute power. It’s absolute power in action. Israel has great power, buoyed by world-wide support. The Palestinian people have little to no such support. They are being forced from their homes, from their neighborhoods…

It feels too familiar. I am an African-American. I know oppression. I know what it is like to live in a country where absolute power has its way economically, politically and socially. It is a tribute to the strength and faith of black people in this land that we have not simple disappeared under the pressure. Theologian James Cone, author of many books but most recently penning The Cross and the Lynching Tree, said in reflections offered at the Proctor Institute of Child Advocacy sponsored by the the Children’s Defense Fund, that he didn’t know how black people have survived the oppression, the cruelty, the brutality, the bullying heaped upon them by white people historically. Power corrupts, clearly. White people in America have used the privilege of being white to trample upon people who built this country…and they have never had to answer for it.

It is what I am seeing, or feeling, as concerns what is going on in Gaza. The Israelis are pummeling the Palestinian people, and too many “leaders” are endorsing and supporting their actions. Yes, Israel has a right to defend itself …but this way? Seriously? Is it a fact that the only way Israel can defend itself against Hamas is by killing innocent Palestinians?

I heard Henry Seigman, a Jewish writer and scholar in this country, say that the conflict could be eliminated if 1) there was the development of two states in Israel (which he thinks is now impossible) or 2) there was the development of one state… with Palestinians being given full rights and full citizenship (of which now they have neither.)  Seigman said that Prime Minister Netanyahu will never agree to one state because he doesn’t want Israel to be such that there are more Arabs than Jews.

So, what? The massacre of the Palestinians continues? When (or if) the tunnels are all destroyed, then what? What will the powerful do as relates to those who have been decimated, dehumanized, and demoralized?

In this country, at least black people had the black church in which and from which to draw strength. We didn’t return fire for fire; we used God as the ultimate weapon. We fought, but not with weapons, because we knew we would never win that way. We saw power; white supremacy was and is our Goliath, and we certainly used “stones of faith” to fling against our oppressors.

Hamas, however, isn’t interested in stones. It wants to fight “man to man,” “missile to missile,” although it seems fairly obvious that such strategy is only resulting in the deaths of more and more Palestinians. Hamas is fighting the way Israel wants them to fight…and in this fight, there is no God, not from either side.

One more thing: the United States, in its quest for retention of power and respect, has shown no morality at all in supplying weapons to Israel with which to carry out its mission. The world is going to hell in a hand-basket, and America is complicit in the journey.

Power corrupts. Lord Acton was correct. In Gaza, the quest for retention of power is on the fast track, and when the race is over, I shudder to think of what will be left of the indigenous people, the Palestinians.

A candid observation …

The Weird Peace of Faith

I wrote a book called Crazy Faith: Ordinary People; Extraordinary Lives, in which I describe how “crazy faith” can and does propel people to do amazing things.  Faith doesn’t make sense, it is not logical, but it brings stability to unstable situations and gives sight where the circumstances at hand would beg blindness.

Then, this morning, I heard Rev. Lance Watson describe “courageous faith,” a faith that made the Biblical character Joshua tell the sun to stand still so that the Israelites could face their enemies. Whoever heard of such? And yet, courageous (crazy) faith makes people staunchly believe in something greater than themselves, and in standing on that belief, beat incredible odds.

Faith, it seems, gives people courage, the “courage to be,” as Paul Tillich describes. The very last line of his book, The Courage to Be, reads: “The courage to be is rooted in the God who appears when God has disappeared in the anxiety of doubt.”

The anxiety of doubt comes when we are in the midst of the most scary, the most traumatic situations of our lives. We wonder where God is, if God hears, if God cares …I imagine the slaves in America wondered about the presence and goodness  of God as they endured that horrible institution; I imagine, as well, that Jews, suffering under the brutality and insanity of Adolph Hitler during the Holocaust, wondered the same thing…”Would God allow such evil?”

And yet, it seems, God does allow evil, and the courage to be means that one is able to hold onto his or her belief in God “in spite of” one’s situation.

As a pastor, I have seen many a person struggle with the whole notion of the goodness of God, the presence of God, and the purposes of God. Why would God allow an innocent child to die of brain cancer, or a beloved mother to die an early and brutal death? Years ago, I watched a young mother struggle with her idea of God as she mourned, in excruciating pain, the death of her teen son who was murdered in a drive-by shooting. In the recent unrest in the Middle East, I can imagine mothers and fathers both in Gaza and in Israel wondering why God would allow such evil – the evil of war caused by people who will not listen to each other – to exist and to flourish.

God does allow evil.  That is a bitter pill to swallow.

But there is something weird about faith, because even in the midst of going through and suffering through abject evil, those who have faith experience a “weird” peace, the “peace that passes all understanding.”  After a while, the person filled with faith has an ability to surrender doubt into the unknown. He or she is not aware of where the anxiety of doubt is going; one only knows that yesterday, he or she was upset and worried, and today, the worry, the anxiety, is gone.

And that is in spite of the fact that God allows evil to be.

We might feel better if God put a hand in front of all evil and all discomfort that confronts us, but God doing that would not necessarily increase our faith. Faith actually comes in the enduring and survival of, evil in our lives. Evil comes at us like a giant Tsunami, sometimes stunning us in its ferocity and intensity, and if we can find ourselves standing when the giant wave of evil passes back into the sea, we find that our faith in God increases. Somewhere in the midst of the fury of the evil that sometimes boxes our spirits, if we get to that place of weird peace, we are able to ride the evil and not allow ourselves to be consumed by it.

Evil is strong and distasteful, but God is greater than any evil. That does not mean that God prevents evil; we have already established that God allows evil, and we may never understand why …but in the end, God really is greater than evil.

Maybe that’s why faith is so perplexing. Anyone who has experienced a weird peace in the midst of adversity knows exactly what I am talking about …

A candid observation …