April 8, 2002

God watches in horror as locked-room tribes compete

___Doors are locked throughout the land where Jesus once found his frightened disciples hiding.
___Palestinians' doors are locked for fear of the Jews. Jewish doors are locked for fear of the Palestinians. Jews cannot gather in public places without fear of suicide bombers. Palestinians listen for the rumble of Israeli tanks.
___Mounting convulsions over a disputed patch of ground don't fit the simple-solution world of Western politics or the good-guy/bad-guy world of Western entertainment. Official condemnations by trend-of-the-month religious leaders sound like the breezy advice of a disengaged parent. Western politicians offer stern words and symbolic gestures (a vice-presidential handshake in exchange for land?) and seem surprised when their earnest intentions are ignored.
___Human wisdom hasn't kept pace with weaponry. While leaders dither and pose, children with nothing to live for turn their bodies into bombs. Drowning in humanity's most toxic stew--religion, plus ethnicity, plus distorted history, plus weakness at the center--both Israelis and Palestinians excel at hatred and fail at coexistence.
___Israelis say, with considerable justification, they are fighting for survival. Palestinians, they now believ
"We need to stop chasing easy solutions to complex problems, stop seeing the world as we-they."
e, want nothing less than to push them into the sea. Palestinians, meanwhile, no longer believe they can have a future worth living as long as Jews occupy land they consider theirs.
___This is a recipe for mutual destruction. It threatens to embroil us all. In every land, the dispossessed are learning that terrorism works. So do obstinacy, refusal to compromise, denial of obvious facts and a willingness to stop at nothing when crossed.
___Many Christians want to help, and we can, but not by doing the usual things. Condemning someone else's violence is absurd. Taking sides, as if this were a basketball game, demeans their agony. They aren't listening to us, nor should they. After all, our crusades, our greedy popes, our anti-Semitism, our self-serving prime ministers and presidents, our closed doors to European Jews, our obsession with the automobile, our hypocrisy toward minorities contributed mightily to today's insanity.
___For us to make a difference, we would have to do the unthinkable. Stop driving so much, for example, and remove oil as a deciding factor in American foreign policy. When the four largest U.S. corporations depend on cheap petroleum (two sell cars, one sells gasoline and one builds stores along highways), we shouldn't be surprised when our politicians cannot find a sturdy voice.
___We need to stop chasing easy solutions to complex problems, stop seeing the world as we-they. People need to be respected at all levels.
___To have any voice in a religious struggle, we need to have our own religious house in order. Why should zealots listen to prelates whose libidinous clergy are out of control? What do our empty pews say to their packed mosques and synagogues?
___For us to make a difference, we would have to step into our own locked rooms and say, as Jesus said, "Peace be with you." Not the ritualized handshake that we halfheartedly exchange on Sunday, but real peace, born in sacrifice, nurtured in self-denial, grounded in faith, expressed in non-violence and focused on loving our enemies, outcasts and the weak.
___Let's be honest about our moral authority. We bemoan children used as bombs and targets but then abandon our children to trash television, junk food and inhaled poison. We bemoan their medieval attitudes toward women, but then dress our women as sex objects, pay them less and use them as punching bags. We bemoan Arafat's duplicity, but then our president hands over papers with the truth whited out.
___When we can demonstrate justice in our corporate and political dealings, when the poor in our lands have hope, when our haves stop needing to have so much, when we say our prayers without a hint of sanctimony, when we take human life as seriously as we take property and profits, then we will have something to say.
___Until then, we are one locked-room tribe glaring at two other locked-room tribes. And the God who is Lord of us all can only watch in horror and sadness.
___Tom Ehrich is a writer, computer consultant and Episcopal priest from Durham, N.C.

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