Thursday, April 30, 2015

A Little Friendly Humor from the Punster

“Ever hear the story of the Quaker sea captain of Nantucket and a vacationer?”

“Oh, you mean like ‘Haddock, Will Travel’?"

“Clam yer trap and listen to me, will ya, Gil? Stop harrying me. His name was Marlin Sammon.”
See there was this landlubber--a visiting doctor, a sturgeon--perched on the dock who was holding his nose because he smelt all them fish. But then he sees the Quaker Marlin coming his way and asks, “Where you travelin’? Do you seek a porpoise?”

The old Friendly sailor looks over at his empty ship next to the dock and says, “Whale, yes…sea, it cod up with me. It takes a lot of mussel to live by the water and waves...With contrary winds, a ship sometimes flounders about. But we just say, ‘Seal on.' Like Simon says, and Garfunkel.”

“Who's that, a new type of fish, like a mackerel? Com’on, I bet you’re urchin to tell a sea story. Now don't be koi and silent like most of you Quakers!”

“Let me mullet over. Maybe I shell (or is that 'shad') lob a stirring tale your way.” The Quaker pinched his eyes deep in thought and tugged at his long whiskers.

But then he suddenly glances at the rising sun rays above Nantucket Island, heaves himself up, saying, “Nope, I otter get to work, tuna much to do. Better stop gupping—and trout on over to my ship. Sorry, don’t take me for a crab.”

Disappointed, the landlubber turns and strolls away, the sole one on the quay. He mumbles, "Well, he could have at least told me about that famous Quaker scale--"That of Cod in every Man."

"Buoy, was he frustrated, not finished at all."

Nothing boats well for any more,

Daniel Wilcox

Historical Fact:
"The Quakers on Nantucket were strong politically and financially; many were involved in the lucrative whaling industry. They were in the majority for most of the eighteenth century, and their devotion to simplicity and strict adherence to traditional ways influenced Nantucket’s architecture, home furnishings, clothing, and social behavior.

Mary (Coffin) Starbuck (1645–1717) and her husband Nathaniel led the Quaker movement on Nantucket. The Nantucket Meeting was formed in 1708 with Mary serving as an elder and her son Nathaniel Jr. as clerk. The first meetings were held in the Starbuck home ….John Richardson wrote of a meeting at which Mary 'Spoke trembling. . . .Then she arose, and I observed that she and as many as could well be seen, were wet with Tears from their Faces to the fore-skirts of their Garments and the floor was as though there was a Shower of Rain upon it.'
In the forty-year period after 1708, the Meeting outgrew a series of meeting houses and expansions. By the late 1750s, the Friends meeting house at the corner of Pleasant and Main Streets served 1,500 persons. In 1762, with the Quaker community having grown to almost 2,400 persons, the much larger Great Meeting House was built at the crossroads of Main Street and Madaket Road."

Nantucket Historical Association

Monday, April 27, 2015

Let's Do the Twitter, er the Twister or the Twisted Earthquaker...

LET’S DO THE TWISTER or the twisted earthquaker of plates and ridges...

“Jesus rules the wind. The tornadoes were his.” –John Piper
"Earthquakes are ultimately from God...God had good and all-wise
purposes from the heart-rending tragedy...Why would God reach down his hand and drag his fierce fingers across rural America killing at least 38 people with 90 tornadoes in 12 states…If a tornado twists at 175 miles an hour and stays on the ground like a massive lawnmower for 50 miles, God gave the command."
John Piper

Check(er) it out:
Pastor John (not the Baptist)
Drowns us always
Like every Calvinist
With every year's shout
‘God did it’ claims on the tidal wave—
And now no doubt
To hell with damned Nepales,
God's sovereignty
(My paraphrase).

Last year or so, again
He Pipe(r)ed up from
Bethlehem Baptist Church
On the cause of 90 tornadoed twists
Which slaughtered 38—
(‘Twist and shout!”)
That tragic destruction is from Jesus!
Including the dying infant
Found in the cornfield
Not in the manger?

How twisted of it all–damnation
Across the Midwest
And the high Himalayas
Because of the crossness of our Father;
Yes, God’s raking
His “fierce fingers” over,*
Virgin land,
Soiling all hope
Of God’s love
For us.
(‘Not blowin’ in the wind’)

Belt it out!
What a sick, twisted,

First pub. in The New Verse News

Bruce Gerencser, himself a former Calvinist minister, points out the utter lack of caring by so many Christian leaders:

“Like many of his ilk who only care whether or not someone embraces their version of Jesus, Miano has little compassion for those who are suffering. Miana is a Calvinist, so any suffering in the world is according to God’s sovereign, unchangeable plan. No need to embrace the suffering of others. Just get them saved so they avoid the REAL suffering to come."

"As many of you know, a massive earthquake hit Nepal, killing thousands and injuring thousands more. A compassionate, kind, loving human would attempt to empathize with the Nepalese and their horrific loss of life and home. Not Miano. Here’s what he had to say on Twitter:

miano twitter nepal

"Most of the retweets were from people who condemned Miano’s tweet, but 96 people thought that tweet was wonderful. Some of those who clicked favorite were the same who condemned Miano’s tweet, but there were some Christians who thought Miano’s tweet reflected their view. People like Jessica Lam, Seth Dunn, and Kevin McDonald, and a host of other Christians who don’t want others to know their name. Like the raised hand and the unspoken prayer request, these Christians want Brother Miano to know that they support and approve of his tweet about Nepal."

"Miano is followed by thousands of like-minded churches, parachurch ministries, and Christians. I looked in vain for one tweet that rebuked Miano. I wonder how they would respond if I tweeted this after a natural disaster leveled their home and church and killed their children:

"Ha! Ha! Ha! You Christians in Toledo,Ohio got exactly what you deserved. Repent of your stupid beliefs. I hope that none of your churches are rebuilt!" #mygodrulz

"I can only imagine how Christians would respond to me, and rightly so. Why are Christians silent when people like Tony Miano, Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson, James Dobson, Ray Comfort, John Piper, Al Mohler, and a host of other miscreants, use the suffering and loss of others to remind them of their need to repent and believe in Jesus?”

And my response to Bruce's important article:

Bruce, you ask rhetorically, “Why are Christians silent when people like Tony Miano…John Piper, Al Mohler, and a host of other miscreants, use the suffering and loss of others to remind them of their need to repent and believe in Jesus?”

I’ll answer, based on my life-long experience and studying of the HUGE resurgence of Calvinistic theology into the local church.

It’s because millions upon millions of Christians, (like Muslims) don’t question what their leaders tell them…
that God has planned all evil events (like some passages in the Hebrew Bible claim and that most Christian leaders past and present emphasize).

Miano’s tweet is mild compared to the ethical and theological obscenities stated by John Piper and others over the tornadoes several years ago, devastating hurricanes, and the terrible tsunami in Asia.

I’m sure you remember Piper’s infamous sermon on the tornadoes in the Midwest:
“Why would God reach down his hand and drag his fierce fingers across rural America killing at least 38 people with 90 tornadoes in 12 states…If a tornado twists at 175 miles an hour and stays on the ground like a massive lawnmower for 50 miles, God gave the command.

Where are the compassionate, the empathetic, the kind, the caring when we humans so need them?

World Vision International is one place to start.

Please consider sending a donation to help the Nepalese right now.

In the Light which opposes all harm, suffering, and wrong,

Daniel Wilcox

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Forgiveness and Justice after Being Attacked by a Murderer

A masked man dressed all in black grabbed a colleague’s girlfriend at the doorway of their apartment and held a gun on her. My peaceful friend acted, forcefully, stopping the thug, and got stabbed repeatedly in his lungs. Fortunately, he and his girlfriend both survived. And finally, the attacker was caught by the police; it turned out he had murdered another victim in a separate crime.

Sounds like the daily news does it not? Both horrific and usual, a troubling combination.

All across the world, millions of humans are being imperiled, attacked, and slaughtered, and understandably, many leaders are calling for revenge, for an “eye for an eye” against such killers. It’s payback time.

And can anyone blame the compatriots who yell out for vengeance and justice against such evil-doers?

But here’s where a few humans take a different road. These life-changers strike with a very different choice, a very different ethical response. For in the end, Phill Courtney got up in court and spoke personally to the murderous criminal who had stabbed him. He faced his attacker in the dock and said,

“So Mr. Scott does this mean that I think you are evil? Do I think you’re an animal? Scum? Human garbage?”

“It does not. Your acts were evil, but you remain a human being. I may find your behavior unfathomable, but I am reminded of the words of the ancient theologian Tertullian who said, ‘Nothing human is foreign to me.’"

“Human beings are capable of an immense spectrum of behavior ranging from the most heinous acts of cruelty and mass murder to almost miraculous feats of self-sacrifice that leave us gasping in astonishment. The great mystery is what causes one person to head one direction and someone else in another. I cannot begin to solve that mystery, but I know that you and I headed in opposite directions before we met that night…”

“I know that I grew up in a stable home with two parents who loved and nurtured me. I know that you grew up in foster homes and I know about the instability of your mother. I know that when we begin to talk of such circumstances many people begin to think that we are talking about an excuse for your behavior, instead of an explanation. It doesn’t matter that some people raised as I was become criminals and some people raised in your condition become pillars of the community. In the final analysis, the human race does a poor job of protecting its children from hate, dysfunction, and cruelty. We are told that we have control over our lives and we are responsible for our actions, but children have no control over their lives…”

“What does this mean for those wounded children who grow up and then seek to wound those around them? What is to be their punishment? Plato wrote that “punishment brings wisdom; it is the healing art of wickedness.” Would capital punishment bring healing?”

“Before I was attacked, I believed that the execution of human beings was a violent and primitive act. I still believe that. Yes, I would have done whatever it would have taken to stop you that night, Mr. Scott, but now that you are confined, I believe that despite what you have done, you remain a human being and must be treated as one. A wise man…said that a society should be judged not by how it treats its best, but by how it treats its worst.”

“…You must remain separated from others as long as there’s a shadow of doubt you are capable of violence against them. If that essentially means the rest of your life, then so be it.”

“Finally, Mr. Scott, I forgive you for trying to murder me."

"I know that’s just a word. But to forgive you does not mean to forget what you did and what you could do in the future, for besides tragically destroying and damaging the lives of others, you have ultimately destroyed your own. I hope that by reaching, at long last, the end of this agonizingly long trial, we may move on and find whatever peace and comfort can be had in this less than perfect world.”

Wow. Reflect on Phill Courtney’s unusual, brave, and compassionate action--speaking personally to the vicious attacker who had tried to murder him and his girlfriend, telling that dangerous thug that he “forgives” him.

It still takes my breath away.

Would you be deeply committed enough to wisdom, compassion, and forgiveness to do that? Would I?

They say talk is cheap…but in this case, verbally forgiving a violent criminal who had stabbed you, was very powerful and ethically the opposite of cheap. That action must have been very difficult for Phill Courtney to do.

Phill isn’t your average human…but an ethical thinker and doer. He has spent his life standing up for the environment, justice, peace, and forgiveness. A passionate peacemaker, he was one of only two teachers who stood up against the attack on Iraq, and is a former Green Party Candidate, active socially concerned citizen, a person who seeks to live the ethic of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. and other world-changers.

What are your thoughts on his views of capital punishment, criminal justice, and ethics in general?

*Phill Courtney has written several books including one on this harrowing experience.
He is also a columnist for the Redlands Daily Facts, and a published playwright and poet.
Please check with him for more information.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Did the Quakers' Fox Escape or Overcome the Dogs of War?

"Our principle is, and our practices have always been, to seek peace and ensue it; to follow after righteousness and the knowledge of God; seeking the good and welfare, and doing that which tends to the peace of all. We know that wars and fightings proceeed from the lusts of men, as James iv. 1--3...All bloody principles and practices, as to our own particulars, we utterly- deny; with all outward wars and strife, and fightings with - outward weapons, for any end, or under an pretense whatsoever; this is our testimony to the whole world."
"That the Spirit of Christ, by which we are guided, is not changeable, so as once to command us from a thing as evil, and again to move unto it; and we certainly know, and testify to the world, that the Spirit of Christ, which leads us into all truth, will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons, neither for the kingdom of Christ, nor for the kingdoms of this world."
George Fox, 1660

However, the excellent biographer H. Larry Ingle said the Quakers' ethical view, Fox's in particular, was ambiguous and may have been politically motivated: "George Fox’s role as first among Friends was never more clearly evident than in the evolution of his sect’s witness for peace. Not only did he refuse to participate in the civil wars that wracked the Midlands countryside that was his home, he also specifically rejected a captaincy in the New Model Army offered to him while he was in Derby jail in 1651. Citing the apostle James epistle, Fox answered that he knew wherein wars arose, "Lust," and added that he "lived in the virtue of that life and power that took away the occasion of all wars."5 On another occasion he rejected a similar request by saying that he had been "brought off outward wars."

Fox’s statement was the first we know about on English soil of what we could call "pacifism." In that context, his comment pushed the peace movement a giant leap forward in his own country, particularly in that he was rejecting participation in a conflict with whose overall aims he was in fundamental agreement."

"Many joined Friends and remained in army ranks. Both officers and recruits found that Quakerism spoke to their condition, and early Friends, including Fox, targeted them as potential converts without requiring them to give up their positions. Indeed, many early Quaker leaders were refugees from military service. Richard Hubberthorne himself and James Nayler...had held high positions in the army, and others like Thomas Curtis, one of Fox’s closest early companions...served as militia commissioner...and busily raised soldiers for the army as late as 1659; Pearson accepted the post but refused to don a sword, a kind of symbolic balancing act highlighting the tensions produced in the period."

"Committed to his own personal peace witness, Fox never, until 1661, took the kind of unequivocal position that Agnes Wilkinson evinced in 1853. In a brief epistle to "all who wear swords"..."to strip yourselves naked of all your carnal weapons..."

"The implications of the peace testimony thus stand apart from most modern Quaker peacemaking, which owes more to the aristocratic Penn than to the ruder Fox..."

The Politics of Despair:
The Quaker Peace Testimony, 1661
by H. Larry Ingle

Also, read Ingle's fine biography of George Fox, First Among Friends.

What do you think?

In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Faces of Rock

Given the further descent of the Middle East into tragedy, horror, and absurdity, I thought I would post this short story based on my own time of living in that contradiction.

The Faces of Rock

First published in The Danforth Review in Canada. Available online at the website of the Library and Archives of Canada.

A large rock wedged between two of the shiny round blades and kept the disc harrows equipment behind me from cutting into the hard soil, so I dropped our yellow Caterpillar's throttle, stopped, pulled my eye mask from my face and jumped from the left wheel track to the clodded ground. With my gloves, I pulled a hot iron bar out from by the worn seat and shoved it under the football-sized piece of granite rock, prying the rock up and out of the discs.

As I turned to put back the bar, I saw myself in the Caterpillar's left mirror, looking like a 1930's white comedian wearing black-face only in this case brown-face, a bit of Jewish-face grime darkening my already deeply tanned appearance. I grinned, wiped some of the sweaty dirt from near my eyes, pulled on the goggles, roared up the engine, and its tracks clattered to life, and I drove down the right side of the rolling hill in the 120-degree blowing heat.

The growing furrows aimed toward the white buildings of Bet Shean in the near distance, the town's structures glistening in the glaring sun like white teeth. Beyond them I could see a glint of the Jordan River and then the pastel brown mountains of Moab—now called Jordan—dim in the dusted haze.

I had arrived from Huntington Beach three months before, in April 2006, just after the rainy season, to volunteer at The Fields of Azariah, this Jewish Kibbutz farm in the Galilee southeast of Nazareth. I wanted to experience a little of the Middle East—what I had read about in my Catholic Bible for years--participate in the communal life style, hang out with 16 other young adults from 6 different countries, and generally continue my world journeying. Soon enough, I would be teaching art and painting again at Orange Coast College in California.

Once the sun reached noon high and the heat became unbearable, I aimed my rig toward the guard towers of our kibbutz and drove home. Work generally ran from 4:30 A.M. until about 10 or 11. 'Heat and rocks' was my daily mantra; though Judaism didn't have mantras, so I was mixing pickles and 'apples,' not being kosher.

But Jews on my kibbutz—who called themselves Israelis--weren't religious anyway, having come into these hills from Germany in the 1930's, escaping Hitler only to confront Bedouin and Arabs who also claimed this rocky land, going back 4,000 years. These German Jews, illegal immigrants, 'despiting' the British Mandate's rules and Arab raids, had built a stockade, then their homes—believing in only themselves and nobody else, certainly not Yahweh.

No, it was the muhjahideem, radical Muslims who lived in the low Judean mountains to the south in the West Bank (Palestine) beyond Isarel's security fence, who were the God-talkers, "Allah wills" parsing their every breath.

Even stranger was the fact that it was in those very mountains that King Saul in the Jewish Bible had been wounded by the Philistines so many thousands of generations ago. Later, Philistine warriors had hung his body on Bet Shean's wall. I glanced toward the border town, three miles away, its buildings rearing up like stone idols, walls so pale white in the haze. There was a place's mantra for sure—rather a modern Jewish psalm-'Nothing ever changes in the Unholy Land.'

Six weeks earlier, a suicide bomber had detonated her vest in Afula, a town 15 miles in the opposite direction. Three Jewish teenagers had died while buying Pepsi and Fritos. "So it goes," I mumbled quoting that infamous of all modern war references as I drove our Caterpillar into the equipment barn, signed out, washed up, and hurried to the communal dining hall for some grub.

Because of the tragic attack—in that case by a 17-year-old Muslim girl from Nablus—security had been even higher of late. Every night three kibbutzim took turns walking our farm's wired perimeter, carrying their short Uzi submachine guns, their iPods turned low, no doubt to an Israeli singer or some Californian band; it made me feel right at home, yeah right!"

I piled my plastic plate high with fish, potatoes, three slices of Jewish 'ham' (turkey made to taste like the forbidden meat), vegetables, and then grabbed a tall glass of milk. Near the eastern windows sat a bunch of international volunteers--Ruth, Jake, Joel, Naomi, etc. and several kibbutzim. I angled through crowded tables of a couple hundred eaters and plopped down next to Ruth. She warmed me with one of her rising smiles, not that I needed any more heat. As much as I like hot weather, I was glad for the loud air conditioners burring in the general din of the cafeteria.

Tomorrow was Shabbat and since none of us volunteers were getting any kind of tourist education on Judaism from the locals—all of them die-hard secularists--we decided we would walk three miles to Bet Shean and check out a real synagogue. So after I got situated and had swallowed a couple large bites of potatoes, I asked Ruth, "What time shall we meet at the water tower? Maybe 7 or 8, or will that be too hot for you girls and your fabled skin?"

She smirked and said, "Right now I would like to be about 6 feet under in cool pool water, and will be, soon as I finish this falafel. As for 'tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,' let's not talk of that yet."

Laughing at the Shakespearean allusion, I bowed in acknowledgment, knowing a British girl like her—hailing from Edinburgh--had two redeeming traits: a great knowledge of literature and one heck of a bikini. Well, there was actually so much more than those outward signs; she was like her namesake in the Old Testament, filled with caring and exuberant drive.

We joshed and chatted through our meal, then along many others, filled the pool, and Ruth her bikini and me my desire. After the sun finally set, and the temp dropped to a moderate 85, we sat on the communal lawn and watched Bruce Almighty which was reverse-projected up on a kibbutz movie screen, drinking Israeli black beer, and carrying on until around 10 when we walked back and crashed in our separate volunteer rooms, so tired from the hard work week.

I arrived at the water tower early, 6 A.M. Ruth had said, "Why chance being late to Jewish worship? That certainly would not be kosher." And I knew I didn't want to be hiking in any more morning heat than we had to; if early, we figured we could always walk down to the Jordan River or check out the ancient Roman amphitheater that had been archaeologically restored.

Out in the field, several Muslim Palestinians, hired to do grunt work for the kibbutz, were already moving irrigation pipe with one of the kibbutzim directing. Close by, our farm's large gasoline truck rested like a large red rock near the gate to the Haifa Highway.

Ruth came walking toward me in a sedate blue dress, down the path past the dining hall, like a mythic damsel, more likely a debutante on Rodeo Drive in West L.A., her long brown hair flowing like a ballet in the warm wind; this was the first time I had seen her not in gray baggy kibbutz shorts and a work shirt.

Soon five others showed up, Jake, Wendy, Joshua, Molly and Stacie. That made 7, the Jewish number of perfection--days of the week, trumpets, sons, and so on, stacking allusions endlessly in my literary brain. And away we strolled down the Haifa-Bet Shean highway like we owned it. European and American Jews or their descendants did own much Palestinian/Israeli land and kept confiscating more and more Palestinian land. Because it was Shabbat, we hardly saw a car, none of the heavy traffic of the weekdays.

Across the blacktop, our kibbutz fish crew's members were almost done drawing their net through one of our large farm ponds; soon loads of fish would be spliced and diced in sheds left of the kibbutz water tower. A kibutznik would move the red gasoline truck out of the way to be replaced by large refrigerator trucks that would haul our catch to markets here and yon. But Ruth and I and the others would be observing a very different ancient ritual, and hopefully not committing any unkosher errors.

In the morning heat, we hiked down the arrow of blacktop toward Bet Shean on the Jordanian border. Ahead of us, above the white buildings of Bet Shean, were the distant mountains of Moab, menacing high in the hazy sky.

We approached the medium-sized town, ancient in its base, low-income in its work, divisive in its religion or the lack there of—for the many secular Jews. The Palestinian Arabs were, at least outwardly, much more concerned with invisible matters, ritualing their speech with "Allah wills" and "Muhammad, blessed be his name."

Muslim men and women and kids passed us as we strolled through an Arab market where everything from goat heads to luxuriant Arab cheese and sweets could be procured. We walked up to several large groups, and I asked 'anyone in particular,' "How do we find Judges Street, where the Jewish Synagogue is?" and glanced around for an individual to respond. Several men looked my way, but a boy of about 12 beat them to Arab hospitality.

The lad, smiling, continued, "My brother knows; he'll tell you." He motioned for me to come over to half dozen people standing behind him. First, a Muslim young woman in a long dress and a muted scarf, loaded down with three mesh bags of produce, talked rapidly to the boy in Arabic and then smiled over at us. Obviously not of HAMAS, whose Muslim women wear dour black on black—blacker than my Catholic Bible. Then she turned and spoke to the silent older brother--he incongruously attired in Nikes, Levis, and an old Metallica T-shirt.

Walking over to us, somewhat friendly, but guarded, he welcomed us, "Salaam! May Allah be praised. I am Abdal-Rahiim and that's my little brother Ibrahiim, and our sister Saara. We are glad to help you. Just walk three streets up north there," he pointed emphatically, "turn right past the ruins of a Roman amphitheater, then go by the Israeli high school, and you will see a low building with a big colored window."

It sounded like the synagogue was very close to the Jordan River, and the security fence, but I noticed he mentioned neither.

"Thanks a lot. Good to meet you. Much appreciated." Then I looked back at Ruth, Jake, and the others.

But he spoke again, "You Americans?"

"Hardly" Jake spoke up, "You think we would want to be associated with that Bush-Crazy?" And he rolled his eyes and twirled his hand, and Abdal laughed, as did some of the other Palestinians, and gave us a warm smile. Jake continued, "We're from Down Under and from Britain; you know where the sun never rises anymore." Then, Jake let out the rest of his paused joke, "Except for this guy," pointing at me, "he's U.S., CIA!"

Abdal looked startled but then caught Jake's vocal tone and laughed. We chatted with Abdal and his younger brother for a few minutes, enjoying the banter. I marveled at how much friendlier, superficially supposedly, Muslims were than the Jews I had worked with for three months on our kibbutz. Islamic hospitality and religious merit versus Jewish reserve and secular caution. The rule of thumb was that Jews didn't start being friendly until they had observed you for months, knew you, and respected you; in my case, being a Christian, made me even more suspect. Since they had sometimes seen me read my Bible, I was the odd American, while they were proud atheists, secular descendants of European Jews who had escaped the Holocaust.

We continued on through town, not amazed at all how many Jews weren't worshiping on Shabbat, but busy about stores celebrating in true secular fashion. At one busy spot, we walked through a crowd of Israeli teens—all seemed to have sunglasses and ear plugs--in front of a café blaring loud American pop. I noticed a buxom blond girl in a skimpy halter and tight shorts schmoozing and more, in the arms of a guy in an IDF uniform, his Uzi under the dainty table piled with cups and bagels.

We seemed to have gotten lost. This time, Jake checked for directions. "Excuse me," he said to the guy and girl, "Could you direct us to the local synagogue?"

The soldier looked up as if we had crashed his bar mitzvah and said in brief English with a heavy Hebraic accent, "Turn right past the butcher's over there," and pointed.Then turned back to his girlfriend.

We thanked him, but she in his lap looked quizzically at the bunch of us, as if to ask, 'why would anyone want to go to synagogue, but hey, tourists are weird,' then went back to nuzzling.

Sure enough, we got past several sets of stuccoed apartments, the Roman amphitheater, and a modern California-looking high school, and there it was the low, squat synagogue with an outlandish modern-art stained-glass window striking out colors in all of its modern Jewishness. I recognized the scene as by Marc Chagall.

We sat, I should say, Jake and I sat in the crowded central room with its large Torah replica and Menorah on the front wall; the girls had to go sit separately with Jewish women behind a latticed wall where they could vaguely see through to the sanctuary, while various white shawled-covered men on our side rose and chanted out of Jewish Bibles what sounded like Psalms. Jake who knew a little Hebrew translated, "Praise Yahweh in the Heavens, praise Yahweh…."

At one point I started to doze off to the long melodious chanting, but woke and silently prayed, especially for three peace workers from my church that were in Bagdhad, Iraq helping at a homeless shelter with the Orthodox Church of Iraq. What an irony, that Christian peacemakers here in Israel were often harassed, even jailed since it was against Israeli law to proselytize—a connotatively negative term for sharing one's religious faith.

There may be a lot of rocks here in Israel—remembering the 30-some I had dug out of my Caterpillar's discs yesterday—but the Rock of Jewish Peter (a Hebrew name meaning 'stone') was only for foreign tourists and Arabs. Some of the latter in the Middle East were open to Christ, if you could avoid jihadists, suicide bombings, and kidnappings. Every month, thousands of innocent civilians got butchered like sheep. Last month I had observed a Muslim ritual slaying of a goat in Afula. Just 6 months before three American Christians had been kidnapped, one executed and dumped in a Baghdad, Iraq street with the garbage.

After a very long Jewish service, we finally stood outside talking with several Israelis orthodox men of Bet Shean; they were polite, but so different from our kibbutzim. They didn't speak to the girls, and were dressed very conservative in black. But one of them did have questions about Australia and the U.S.

Then we heard loud shouting at some distance. A stone hit a nearby Honda Civic denting in the hood.

Up the street, many Palestinian youths in a large crowd were coming our way at a run— shouting so loudly stone walls echoed the Jihad cry of "Allah Akbar!"

I stared transfixed at the angry mob stampeding toward us, yelling God's name like an insult. Why didn't they add more from the Qur'an, such as the verse, "In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate Praise belongs to Allah, the Lord of all Being…"

These angry young men weren't like a Muslim librarian at my college back in Costa Mesa, California. She had escaped from Saddam's Iraq 10 years earlier by paying that dictator over 20,000 dollars; And she hated violence; she worshiped Allah every day, yet wanted to kill no one for God, but wanted the world to know of how merciful God is…

Then heavy thuds sounded up and behind me on the synagogue roof. A dozen of the Arab youths in front of the crowd had stopped and were arching their arms and heaving.

I twisted in front of Ruth throwing out my arms, hiding her behind me;

More rocks fell from the hot heaven like loaded manna, loud thumping the synagogue roof and nearby cars. A fist-sized rock smashed into the roof of a Toyota Celica and bounded off landing only paces away. The Israelis men next to us shouted in Hebrew as they rushed back into the synagogue, obviously to get their guns. Nearly every adult in this violent land served in the Israeli reserves or in militias, and his gun was usually only a prayer away—whether to Yahweh, Allah, the Trinity, or even Darwin/Marx.

Then the Marc Chagall stained-glass window shattered, a purple bird blasted to kingdom come.

The next volley hit around us including a small rock bashing into my right shoulder, hurting like hell, like the line-drive baseball that had hit me as a kid. Now an Israeli pulled us into the synagogue and others rushed out with guns, firing warnings into the air above the milling stone throwers who kept up yelling in Arabic as they lobbed more and more stones.

Dozens of rocks hit the ground outside, the side of the synagogue, and more thudded on the roof above our heads. With the usual gallows humor of kibbutz life, a headline appeared in my mind—"Stoned in Bet Shean," and I chuckled until I heard Ruth next to me, crying.

She wept.

"It's happening again," she whispered.

"Yeah, welcome to the Middle East, everyone kills for God here"…and glanced down at her; her face a gash of sorrow…"unlike your Scotland"--

She interrupted, "But I'm Palestinian!"

"What?" I looked into her jade eyes, bewildered…"I thought you were British?"

"Not on my mum's side. My mum escaped from the first Intifada after an Israeli rubber bullet hit and killed her best friend, Sughra; they had been walking home from school in Ramallah. Then friends of hers were beaten, arrested…She escaped the see, my mum had heard this British journalist speak at her school in an assembly…for, of course, she couldn't talk to men, being a good Muslim girl from a liberal Palestinian family…but, then she ran away…somehow the journalist got her out of Israel and into Britain and then they fell in love, and wed, and had me and lived happily ever after; until she died of a heart attack last year..." Ruth covered her eyes with her arm and cried; finally said, "I came back here to discover what she left…and who I am."

Unlike usual, I was wordless. Outside, harsh shouting...More loud thumps… more warning shots...angry screaming.

Then a volley of curses behind me. Jake shoved his MP3 Player into our faces. "I've got the BBC! Our kibbutz's been bombed!"

Sure enough scrolling down the little screen were the words: "Suicide bombing at the Kibbutz Fields of Asariah on the Haifa Highway near Bet Shean. It's been reported that an Arab worker on the farm drove a gasoline truck into the dining hall and exploded the vehicle—many dead and wounded, more details soon.."

Ruth leaned into me and our eyes met and welled open beyond explanation.

Heavy bass thropping--thropping! Israeli copters!

Then above the clamorous den of Arabic war cries, "ALLAH A...,"came a loud speaker from above, as if out of Heaven, sounding a thunderous speech in Arabic. No doubt warning the Muslim Davids to put down their stones, sling shots, and leave immediately. More shots!

Ruth was distant now in her eyes, staring up at the ceiling, but obviously not thinking about the loud chopping of rotor blades or the bedlam outside. Then she spoke my name with too much tenderness, so much so that I actually pulled a way from her close body.

"You know that's why I'm called Ruth; my dad named me for the woman in the Bible, a Moabitess who left her religion, her country, her family to join an alien for love…"

Then before I knew, I kissed her without rime or place...maybe because I knew that Old Testament story of Ruth so well, as I knew many great stories. I hugged her close. Our eyes welled together again, living in the now below the thropping and the shouting and the religious cursing—and kissed again, a visual kiss of sorrow, of grace, of, yes, passion…

I said nothing. Everywhere in the crowded synagogue, women even in the worship area, people were yelling in Hebrew. No one had even noticed us.

Finally, outside the copters had silenced, and the rioters were no longer screaming, and there were no more shots.

In my academic brain I spoke to myself 'in love and war'—so Hemingway-esque… So Ruth was a Palestinian from Scotland, working on a Jewish kibbutz standing in the arms of a California Catholic. Despite the chaos and Ruth's tears, I smiled. Talk about irony. And then thought of the weirdness, tragic times, almost never, are the totally somber affairs that supposedly happen; instead, always, the absurd and the ironically humorous and, even, the romantic play counterpoint to history's endless dirge…

I whispered, "Ruth, I'll be your Boaz, though I'm not old or rich," and grinned. Then I also remembered a liberal Christian quote, "Our God is a consuming fire of love. Mercy triumphs over judgment." That sobered me.

But she stared back bewildered…obviously didn't remember most of the Ruth story, probably had never read it herself. "I hope my friend Naomi is okay, and our other friends, and the kibbutzniks?!"

"Yeah." I thought of who might be wounded--bloody faces clashed in my mind--who gone for ever like so many others, and of the fiery death of the suicide bomber--one of 'our' own Arab workers! Then of the secular Israelis back at the café on main street, of the Old Testament-like Muslim revenge from suicide bombs to stones...and of my recent trip to Bethlehem, past Israel's separation wall, to see the cave-stable where Jesus is alleged to have been born; but even in that supposed place of peace, 4 different Christian denominations have walled off their own small sections—no doubt with some sort of rock--to keep other Christians out of their little piece of Heaven!...none of this made any sense. Crazy!

Then Ruth nudged me. I realized a synagogue guard was talking to us. The guard's dark eyes were like stones, but he spoke hurriedly in perfect English without an Israeli accent and was saying, "You'd better leave; it's not safe; walk carefully to the Egged bus station and get out of town as quick as possible.

I had to ask, "What started this new attack? Besides them"—and my eyes diverted to Ruth's—"who started heaving the rocks!"

The Israeli guard paused, "It's complicated; the new Planning Director of Bet Shean is from Brooklyn, New York; he's supporting fanatical settlers who have started up a new Jewish settlement on some confiscated Palestinian land...about three miles south of here and the case is to go before Israel's Supreme Court next week. I think the new director is meshuga!—but these Muslim crazies make him look like the good guy." Then the guard glanced out the huge hole of glass which had been Chagall's art, and cursed his God in Hebrew. Another crowd of men and boys had started gathering. He spoke in rapid Hebrew into his walkie-talkie.

I rubbed my bruised shoulder and reviewed the faces of rock from Jewish field to Islamic land, and me a Christian 'crusader.' We three children of Abraham so caught in false faces, like black-face--the racist, religious mockery of it all.

But I faced Ruth, took her hand, and said, "Come on Moabitess, you aren't part of these petty stones; your Rock is much higher than that."

The Israeli guard stared confused, mentally reviewing his brain's English dictionary...

While Ruth smiled deeply to me, leaned closer, and melted all earthly rock to lava.

In the Light,
Daniel Wilcox


Online also at the Library and Archives Canada:
First published in The Danforth Review

Friday, April 3, 2015

Yes, the Future Is Open, Part #2: “Biological potential” not “biological determinism”

Evolutionary biologist Stephen J. Gould emphasized, there is a difference between “biological potential versus biological determinism.” Our human nature “permits us to be aggressive or peaceful, dominant or submissive, spiteful or generous..."

"Violence, sexism, and general nastiness are biological since they represent one subset of a possible range of behaviors. But peacefulness, equality, and kindness are just as biological—and we may see their influence increase if we can create social structures that permit them to flourish."
Stephen J. Gould, Ever Since Darwin, pp. 251-259

Science Writer John Horgan explains Gould’s opposition to determinism:
“Gould’s famous 1981 work The Mismeasure of Man (W. W. Norton & Co., 1981), in which Gould exposed case after appalling case of scientists in the past two centuries "proving" the biological inferiority of certain races as well as criminals, the poor, "imbeciles" and women...”

“Defenders of slavery embraced Morton’s work. After he died, an editorial in the Charleston Medical Journal and Review declared, ‘We in the South should consider him our benefactor, for aiding most materially in giving to the Negro his true position as an inferior race.’

In Mismeasure, Gould reanalyzed Morton’s skull measurements and concluded that the average sizes of blacks’ and whites’ skulls were roughly equivalent. Gould suggested that Morton’s racial bias had led him, probably unwittingly, to ‘discover’ results consonant with his beliefs.”

“Maybe Gould was wrong that Morton misrepresented his data, but he was absolutely right that biological determinism was and continues to be a dangerous pseudoscientific ideology. Biological determinism is thriving today..."

Scientists who claim we have no choice include,
anthropologist Richard Wrangham of Harvard University who claims “that the roots of human warfare reach back all the way to our common ancestry with chimpanzees.”

“In the claim of scientists such as Rose McDermott of Brown University that certain people are especially susceptible to violent aggression because they carry a "warrior gene….”

“In the insistence of the evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne and neuroscientist Sam Harris that free will is an illusion because our "choices" are actually all predetermined…”

“In the contention of James Watson, co-discoverer of the double helix, that the problems of sub-Saharan Africa reflect blacks’ innate inferiority.”

According to science writer John Horgan, “Biological determinism is a blight on science.”

Why, since many modern scientists claim we have no choice?

Horgan continues because, “It implies that the way things are is the way they must be. We have less choice in how we live our lives than we think we do.”

“This position is wrong, both empirically and morally. If you doubt me on this point, read Mismeasure, which, even discounting the chapter on Morton, abounds in evidence of how science can become an instrument of malignant ideologies.”
John Horgan, science writer, teacher at Stevens Institute of Technology
Scientific American, June 24, 2011

On the subject of ethics and purpose, Gould stated, “Our failure to discern a universal good does not record any lack of insight or ingenuity, but merely demonstrates that nature contains no moral messages framed in human terms."

"Morality is a subject for philosophers, theologians, students of the humanities, indeed for all thinking people. The answers will not be read passively from nature; they do not, and cannot, arise from the data of science."

"The factual state of the world does not teach us how we, with our powers for good and evil, should alter or preserve it in the most ethical manner.”
Stephen J. Gould in Natural History, February 1991

Thank God for Gould, that’s good;-)

Wait a minute; Gould is an atheist who thinks humans are a “fluke.”

Well, isn't it better to be a “fluke” than just a “meat puppet,” just a "bag of chemicals" (what some scientists such as Anthony Cashmore call humankind)?

Contrary to Harris, Coyne, Cashmore, etc., Gould and many other modern scientists think we humans do have future possibilities and great potential.

We AREN’T merely “meat puppets,” “bags of chemicals,” or chaff in the cosmic wind. We aren't biologically determined.

I can live with Gould’s view that we humans are a “fluke.”

Gould said, “We are glorious accidents of an unpredictable process with no drive to complexity, not the expected results of evolutionary principles that yearn to produce a creature capable of understanding the mode of its own necessary construction.”

I don’t agree, but Gould’s view that humans have an open future, (aren't passive puppets of biological determinism), is refreshing and hopeful.

In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox