2011 december 28
Really appalled and shocked I was by the news about the attitude of some ultra orthodox Jews in Beit Sjemesj towards a young girl of eight years. The apparently American immigrant girl was afraid going to school because she was called names and was being harassed on her way to school. And not by children, but by orthodox adults in black clothes and hats, with peies and tsitsit. I give these details to make clear it concerns people who claim to live according to torah and Talmud.
The girl and her mother came to Israel as confessed Jews. And are treated like this? These grown-ups call this very decent and modest girl a harlot and a whore. One of the guys very meaningfully said that he was a “healthy man”, which is a very unhealthy remark in itself.
These ultra-orthodox people seem to be representatives of a worldwide phenomenon of misunderstood political and religious conservatism.
In this case I think they not only trespass the rules of human relations, but also offend their own religious sources.
An eight year old cannot be subject to sexual thoughts. By calling her a whore she is being sexualised in a way not fitting her age, which is not allowed by the law of the state and not allowed by the law of the religion they proclaim.
In the way she behaves, being an innocent girl, she cannot possibly give offence; she is a minor, a q’tanah, and certainly not a bogeret, legally marriageable (see treatise Nidda).
If therefore this poor girl arouses indecent thoughts it is not her to blame, but the dirty mind of the beholder.
These orthodox people misunderstand their own religious law. And as many other people do, they blame others for their own sinful thoughts and behaviour (starting with Adam).
“The woman, the child seduced me”; how often have we heard perpetrators say this for a pitiful excuse!
This girl and these orthodox people live in beit sjemesj, house of the sun. It is certainly not the house of the rising sun of justice and truth, more likely the house of the setting sun and growing darkness.
May the light of torah enlighten them.
2011 September 11
Today, ten years ago, New York, the United States of America, the world were shocked by a number of attacks executed by planes that penetrated like flying bombs into a number of buildings. When I saw the images broadcasted on television I was totally shocked. It was so unreal and infernal. People dying with their cell-phones at hand. People throwing themselves into the deep out of the windows of the WTC buildings, panicking. Not even thinking about the scenes in the stairways and in the offices.
Shortly after sounded the understandable call for vengeance and retribution. Muscular language. America was hurt in it’s heart and pride.
At that time I uttered the wish that this empty, shattered place in a way would remain there. As a remembrance of the vulnerability of our existence. Even of the most powerful body. But also as a monument of pain, for the survivors, the relatives of the victims, the assisting people, the firemen, for the United States themselves. To remember what dominance and violence can lead to.
Not reconstructing the place as soon as possible, building it even bigger. Wiping out the memory and proceeding in the same way.
In 2005 I found myself looking in this enormous pit at the iron cross, made of construction iron, with tears in my eyes in the company of many Americans from different states, standing there in very much the same way.
Today, ten years later, I am glad with the monument on ground zero. Proud of the humility and resilience of this spot. Of the names that are kept alive. Of the streaming water as the symbol of life itself that keeps flowing.
2011 August 03
Looking at art, the art of looking
The other day I had the pleasure of being confronted with the work of visual artist Marthe Wéry (1930-2005). Perhaps you might like to find on the internet.
At the retrospective in The Hague I found some very exiting objects.
In a rather small room I found myself opposite a large diptych. The left part mainly in deep purple with lighter structures. The right-hand panel almost black, hermetic. At first I saw but this very dark surface. My eyes getting accommodated to this black panel (acrylic on wood), I started to see some details. In the right upper corner one could now see clearly differences in lighter and darker structures. I even saw a whitish little dot there and a red one in the lower right quadrant.
As I looked longer, the darkness began to speak and reveal, disclose itself.
The left, more clear panel revealed it’s content quasi immediately, while for the left one I had to come closer and look longer. It drew me towards it and only when I took the time to stand still and look closely at it, it conveyed itself to me and there emerged a deeper immediateness in the relation between the spectator and the object. The observation.
In the act of looking the object stays a thing. Nor do I evolve as an observer, but stay a sort of consumer.
A beautiful looking experience, as well as a lesson in observation, also related to my way of looking.
This afternoon I stood in the garden at the pond looking in the water. Looking quickly at a glance, the surface reflects only what is outside. Looking better one can see what’s going on on the surface and the life that’s there. At a certain approach and from a different point of view one can look under the surface and even see what’s at the bottom of the pond.
Again I was struck.
Often I catch myself looking at things quickly, thinking I know what something is. Expecting reality to convey itself immediately. In a lot of cases, in traffic for instance, such a quick look is sufficient. But with art and human relations, and regarding the complex structures of our reality it’s definitely not. Reality is multi-layered. Immediateness won’t do, superficial and brief observation doesn’t suffice.
If we want to understand something about life, our society, of creation, we have to stand still and look meticulously. It is impossible to penetrate in the meaning of our reality, when we linger at the surface. Or, when we observe in the reflections of our reality only the image of ourselves. And erroneously take the image to be the reality.
A lot of instruments, tools and gadgets are designed to speed up processes. What goes passed us, what do we miss by that?
Perhaps Marthe wants to direct our attention towards our way of looking and observing. She seems to invite us to stand still and experience what can be seen more. When we allow ourselves, not only to look, but to see and give reality the opportunity to reveal itself. It’s a way of in-depth looking and interiorising, successive steps of looking-seeing-contemplating (contemplation being the deeper immediateness of seeing knowingly).
2011 August 01
Catholic as lifestyle
A lot of new Catholics embrace Catholicism as a way of life, not as believers in a strict sense. It’s not their desire for G-d and the way He is confessed that attracts them to the Church, but their conservative way of living. They obviously recognize this conservatism in the doctrines and structures of the Roman Catholic Church. Being Catholic for them is a lifestyle rather than a belief. It gives them the structure and firmness, the confidence they obviously need and cannot provide themselves as free individuals.
In extremer forms these people have all kind of notions concerning the world, and how it should be, about relationships and social multiformity that set back history for ages.
It can lead to a narrow-mindedness and intolerance that divide our society and form a real danger in some cases.
I don’t think the Church must be pleased with these new Catholics.
What it needs in these days, the church being under siege, are people who take their stand as responsible, well thinking individuals. Inspired by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and his way of life, his concern and compassion.
The last thing we need are the Knights of Solid Simple Truth.
2011 July 29
In a way I was kind of confused seeing people in small tents on a posh boulevard.
Getting to know the reason made me sad.
Wondering why it made me sad, I found it had to do with an ideal I had, that was broken down by the sight of the tents.
You will be puzzled of course.
The boulevard is located in Tel Aviv and is called Rothschild Boulevard, Sderot Rothschild, named after the very wealthy Baron de Rothschild. The avenue has very beautiful houses and is the most elegant place of Tel Aviv. A lot of Bauhaus architecture.
The small tents lodge people that cannot afford a house. They are staying there protesting against the price of normal houses in the city.
The price of housing is not only a matter of economics, availability etcetera, but also of housing policy of the government. It stimulates people to settle in the new villages built on the West Bank.
It shocked me to see the differences are this big in Israel.
The country as it is, not as a theological reality but as a state, is some sixty years old. It started with struggle and idealism some fifty years earlier, not without controversies within the international Jewish community.
A lot of pious Jews were convinced the Aliyah was G-d given, and connected with the arrival of the Messiah. The political Jews thought otherwise and wanted a genuine state of Israel in a communal way. This ideal existed still, I think, when the state of Israel became an internationally accepted fact in 1947. After the appalling events during the Nazi period.
One might think that solidarity would be the leading value for this country.
What do we see? The ethnic and cultural differences are huge, due to the immigration of all kinds of Jewish people. Early and recent settlers don’t necessarily cope with each other. Some will think they have more right to be there than others. Liberals and orthodox Jews quarrel about the juridical and economical influence of torah.
Nevertheless the ideal was and is that the land of Israel is the promised place to dwell for the entire offspring of Jacob. Whether it be in this world or the world to come.
The promise is made for the entire nation. Not for some who can afford it, while others cannot (all.. are equal, but some….cf Animal Farm).
It shouldn’t be that way in a country based on so much pain, on such an esteemed promise and so high an ideal.
Perhaps the Boulevard ought to receive it’s former name rehov ha’am, the street of the nation. Reminding everybody that the country is the land of the entire nation.
2011 July 27
Hatred and segregation
This day we remember Titus Brandsma who died (was killed) in the concentration camp Dachau. It’s a horrible place. Even now, after so many years, you can sense the cruelty and the fear.
Titus was sent there because of his activities against the dangers of German National Socialism. Years before the start of World War II he strongly opposed to it’s message of hatred and discrimination, particularly the segregation (socially and economically) and consequent exclusion and isolation of the Jewish people. He did this as a journalist and as Dean of the Catholic University.
His warning has lost nothing of it’s urgency and topicality.
Radical politicians and extremist groups create an atmosphere of hatred and endanger the cohesion of our society. Sick individuals, infected with the ideology of a “pure nation” end up in violent actions, killing people at random. Radical groups, or extremist factions of these groups, take civil targets in bombing office buildings and public transportation.
And although this isn’t daily practise in our personal world, it does happen on a daily basis somewhere in our world.
Economical and religious differences tend to radicalize opposition.
Is the hatred and discrimination we deal with an economical problem then? Or a religious one? Or is the one an excuse for the other?
Throughout the world we see that points of view radicalize. Oppositions are stronger. Political language has become far more explicit, even harsh.
If we want to live in peace, we really have to learn to appreciate the differences and to respect each other.
We need people like Titus Brandsma to warn us for the dangers of radicalization. Unfortunately people like Titus were scarce in his days, as they are rare in ours.
2011 July 25
More eloquently I have not seen the grief expressed over what happened in Norway. On Twitter I saw all kind of reactions, rather over-heated. I hesitated to say something about it at all. But yesterday I saw the tears of the king at a memorial service. No words, but tears.
I thought it great and more eloquent than whatever he could have expressed during a speech, however engaged.
Here not a king who composedly doesn’t show his emotions. Who keeps distance according to protocol. But a king who weeps for his country, his people, realising that such a thing happened in his country.
And above all I saw a father and a grandfather who, together with his wife, cried over the sorrow of so many other parents and grandparents. Over the cut off lives of so many young people.
A truly royal attitude.
2011 July 22
With rising admiration I saw the cooking contest for juniors (it’s called Junior Chef and Australian). I can cook reasonably well and I like doing it. But I think it absolutely amazing what these kids, ten-eleven-twelve years old, can do. The dishes they bring on the table, seemingly effortless, the knowledge of ingredients and methods didn’t even exist in my fantasy at that age.
The pineapple bavarois was the nec plus ultra of my culinary competence.
Also in other fields one can see children perform on a high level. In talent programs is sung, danced and acted in a way that embarrasses the artists and dance groups in television programs forty years ago.
The level of ambition and competition is very high, stimulating a high level of performance.
I’m filled with admiration.
But, …..I have some questions as well. I can see the children having fun doing it. They obviously love to cook, to sing, to dance or to do sports. But I see a lot of stress too, and a lot of pressure and high expectations of those involved, the parents for instance. I’m not quite sure the mental health of the children is served.
In other shows you can see people ten, fifteen years their seniors, performing marvellously. The competition is killing. Four- or five thousand people fighting over this one place in the spotlights.
What do we do to each other.
This kind of amusement breathes a mentality that says that you count only when you’re the best.
And that is not true. Everybody counts. Every human being has an irreplaceable and unique value. The art of living is recognising and appreciating this unique value in each other.
Shouldn’t there be achieved then? Of course. Each and every person can be asked to perform his best. And each person is best in what he/she is. In the unique combination of qualities and talents.
No one can be what someone else is en therefore no one can be better than someone else.
We have to focus on this best we have to offer. Because this is what we contribute to the texture of society. And it is our responsibility to do so. This appreciates the unique quality of each and every person.
Competition really is some sort of egalitarian thinking, placing people in opposition. The appreciation of each unique person is a differential approach placing people side by side, stimulating equality in the relations between people.
2011 July 20
Yesterday I received some photographs taken at a meadow near the forest. They showed a hind in a herd of cows. They lived together for quite some time now. My friend wrote that wherever the cows went, the hind went too. They grazed together and were lying together in the grass, ruminating. A very idyllic scene to behold. The hind seemed fully incorporated in the herd. The usually extremely shy animal obviously felt safe amidst her huge companions.
It made me think about our living together in our society. Which is sometimes so very problematical. Many people consider many other people as not really belonging here. They are different and should have stayed in their own countries. Not realizing, when they say such things, their own history.
When could you say that you belong somewhere and derive inalienable privileges from the very fact of living somewhere.
Nevertheless it’s just what people do. “I was here first, so it’s mine”. Even if it’s stolen or appropriated. “They steal our land, our money, our jobs, our social security”.
In the peaceful coexistence of these animals there seems to be no such argument. They share the grass, the shelter and even some remote sort of affection.
Why do we have such a trouble sharing? Sharing what we received. We cannot call ourselves owners of the land. The land is given. The earth is given to benefit all who inhabit it.
We shouldn’t behave like wolves in relation to our neighbours. We say we long to have peace, but can we maintain peace in our own little circle? Not just not being violent. Being a peaceful person means more than that.
It includes a friendly attitude towards everybody. It includes not speaking evil or condescendingly. It means treating every person with respect. It also includes an inner attitude of respect, not thinking yourself higher or better than others. In this kind of world the mightier doesn’t use his power to crush the weaker ones, but protect them and receive affection in return which makes them a better person.
I wrote my friend it’s a pity this scene wasn’t mentioned in Isaiah where he speaks about the time of the Messiah. The moment our world has the aspect of how it is meant to be.
It is a vision of peace, where natural enemies lie together, without fear or animosity.
In Isaiah 11: the wolf with the lamb, the leopard with a child, the calf and the lion.
We read it every year around Christmas and every year we say to each other how beautiful it is and how nice it would be, if it were true. As if it is something outside of us.
But we forget that the messianic era is not a far fetched ideal or remote reality. It is here and now, whenever we want it. We just have to do it.
2011 June 30
Yesterday I read a small story in The Light and Fire of the Baal Shem Tov. I give you the text:
“When the Baal Shem Tov listened to a musician playing, it was as if the instrument was speaking in a language that he knew. He could hear in the music everything the musician had ever done in his life.
Once the Besht listened to a fiddler and understood through his music all the sins that he had committed since the day that he was born. But he listened in the way of “perceiving sin but not dwelling on it”.
If he could hear these things in the music of an instrument, how much more so when someone sang.
Another time, when the Besht was walking with his disciples, they came across a drunken gentile who was standing in the street singing. He stopped and listened intently to the man’s song until he had finished.
Afterwards, his disciples asked him what he found so interesting in the singing of a drunken peasant. He replied: “When a person sings, he confesses about his whole life. And when someone confesses, you’re obliged to listen”.”
I think it’s a beautiful story about the quality of listening. One can listen in very different ways. Depending on the way of listening, we hear different things. The disciples heard the song alright, but not what was expressed in it. The Besht was listening deeper and understood the story of the man’s life, his failures and his pain. He listened to the song and heard the man’s transgressions and his trespasses, but also why he did it, his life story. That is why is said that he perceives the sin, but is not dwelling on it. He also sees and listens to what caused it.
This demands an in depth way of listening, that we usually don’t do.
I think a lot of arguments, conflicts and quarrelling escalate, we respond to the words spoken, but don’t hear the pain and grief of which they are the expression.
Many misunderstandings arise by not listening closely to the other person, but only hearing our own thoughts and associations.
By listening intently and with inner silence we can hear who a person is and what’s pressing him.
It is said that a true righteous can hear in his own heart the pain and grief of the world.
It’s so beautiful that in this little story the listening is unprejudiced and unbiased . Only in this way the other person can reveal himself in the way he is, as the person he really is.
It is without regard to persons; the Besht is listening to the violinist as intently as to the drunkard. This indicates an absolute respect for every individual, broken and failed as he might be.
Furthermore I’m struck by his compassionate way of listening. Not standing ready to judge, but listening firstly to the total of the circumstances. Not getting into what’s wrong right away, but listening further and deeper.
The life story of every individual has moments and events that might cause a person not to answer to what he can or ought to be. To judge someone by this, identifies him with it. This way the trespass becomes a prison the person cannot escape from.
Listening without prejudice and with compassion enables a person to express his story. Coming to speech, in a story that is received by a fellow human being, who becomes a neighbour in this act, is liberating and healing.
That is why we have to stand still at each other and listen whenever someone wants to tell us something.
2011 June 27
It is a remarkable fact that simple things can teach us something about our responsibilities.
This weekend I was working in the garden to remove some of the abundantly grown forget-me-not. The plants are easily to be removed, because of their shallow roots. This fact and their name caused me to think about forgetfulness.
It’s amazing how easily we forget certain things and people, and how deeply rooted some memories are, usually those related to our own lives.
This little plant seems to bear a contradiction in terms. It appeals to remember, while itself is so shallowly attached to the soil.
It reminded me how easily we forget the fate of numerous fellow men who live in abominable circumstances. It’s hard to conceive the full scale of this.
A considerable part, billions, of the world’s population lives in shags, huts, tents, refugee camps, on the street. In some countries, even economically fast growing, ten percent of the population keeps ninety percent of the country’s wealth. Cheap products from China are produced under abominable circumstances. Modern slavery at production sites is no exception in our “modern” world. The hunger for raw materials causes developing countries to sell out, only to fill the pockets of a few. Worldwide millions of children are being abused as sex slaves, production slaves, child soldiers, living bombs or live thoroughly abandoned and neglected on their own or in packs on the streets of our metropolis as beggars, deprived from education or perspective.
Poverty and social injustice live under our very noses and we close our eyes. And even while these social wrongs are abundantly present in the news, we seem to be able to live past them in a state of “blessed” oblivion.
I can understand, because, in a way, I do the same. It is a very inconvenient truth to live with and it makes us feel so guilty and powerless at the same time.
Nevertheless there will be no peace on this earth as long as people suffer in this way. Not as long as there is this amount of injustice. Peace and justice belong together.
The psalmist says (psalm 85, 11) Justice and peace embrace each other. And in verse 14 Justice will go before Him and prepare a path for his steps. This means that the Messiah will come when justice is done, the Kingdom of peace is the fruit of justice.
Suddenly a sentence came to my mind. I read it years ago in a time that poetry was socially engaged. I couldn’t tell the author. It said: We may not close our eyes for what people suffer between concrete and rags every letter-second.
Perhaps we can start supporting UNICEF and Warchild.
2011 June 13
At the occasion of Pentecost I like to share some thoughts with you.
Unlike Xmas and Easter, Pentecost is really about us. Of course all three concern the relationship of G-d with us in Jesus Christ. But Pentecost is an immediate gift to us that is working in us.
The birth and resurrection consider Jesus Christ in the first place, and have (of course) also theological meaning for us. These events tell us something very important about the purpose and origin of our human life. But the gift of the holy Spirit considers us in the first place. It gives strength and direction to our actions. It enables us to work in the way we are meant to work. Not Jesus Christ is the “object” of Pentecost, but we are.
That is why we say that Pentecost is the feast of the church, the feast that constitutes the church and its mission.
We read the part of the gospel by saint John (John, chapter 20 verses 19-23) in which Jesus is giving his spirit, his life force and inspiration, blowing over the heads of his disciples. And He delegates his mission to them.
The nature of this mission being one of reconciliation. A tremendously actual mission as well in our days for all who wish to be a disciple, or a person of good intentions.
Our world desperately needs reconciliation on all possible levels.
The good spirit can help us perform this important task.
The other part we read on Pentecost is from the Acts of the Apostles (chapter 2, verses 1-12). Wind and fire, both aspects of the activity of the spirit, move the apostles gathered in a house. They start speaking in tongues and everybody present understands them in his own language. The people mentioned being there to witness this miraculous event represent all the known nations.
So the spirit is working in them as well. It works in the apostles so that they speak understandably and it works in the people so that they can understand.
On the fiftieth day the tongues of the apostles are set free to speak. At the fiftieth day the minds of the people are set free so that they understand.
Fifty is an important number. It refers to the jubilee, the fiftieth year during which all bonds are released and all debts are acquitted. It is the shadow and forebode of the messianic era.
The Spirit sets free. It liberates all who understand the message of reconciliation from debt and sin, from foreign domination or self inflicted restrictions that prevent a person to be or to become who he is.
The spirit sets free to love and to use one’s talents to prepare the coming of the messianic time. It’s kingdom of peace, justice and liberty for all.
2011 June 10
African buy out
To my astonishment I read some appalling news. It concerns Central Africa.
It is my opinion for years now that Africa in a way is a lost continent. Political controversies, bad administration, corruption, illegal weapon transaction, blood stones, enrichment by a few over the back of many. A complete disability to sort out hygienic, health and other problems.
I knew that China was investing a lot in Africa. After all Africa has important minerals for the ic industry.
Even India is investing a lot in Africa.
But I was shocked to learn that outstanding organisations in the United States are buying thousands and thousands of acres of land in Central Africa. Even a highly esteemed (and wealthy) university as Harvard is speculating on this market.
I think it’s irresponsible to alienate the soil. I don’t understand the local authorities (of course I understand their dollar based shortsightedness). But I refuse to understand the investment attitude of respectable institutions like Harvard and others, for that matter.
The portions of land purchased are used to grow raw material for bio fuel. That seems to be very “green”, but as we know it isn’t. And the African people certainly don’t benefit from it.
It’s a shame!
2011 June 8
Out of the blue comes miss Sarah Palin back in the news. And all because she’s making a “home tour” with her daughter. Visiting important or significant historical places. Absolutely a very informative vacation.
It happens that she is travelling with some huge sort of campaign camper. Visiting places that are of political interest regarding the next presidential election. And as it so happens sometimes at the same time as her competitor.
As far as the American history is concerned, she leaves no doubt that she doesn’t know too much about it.
Nevertheless she cherishes the origin of the free states of America, the values of this freedom and the liberty for every able person to pursue his personal happiness. And the constitutional right of every individual to protect his body and goods.
I am always stunned to see this kind of persons ranking so high in the administration. How is it possible that she became governor of Alaska? There aren’t too many people living there, but nevertheless. There are vast interests. She was probably supported by the “Alaska Exploitation Society”.
Looking at the world, however, it seems to be more common than exception. The cowboys take the power, not the wise and prudent.
It would be a miracle to see her running for office again. Perhaps she is paid by the Obama lobby. For her candidacy would be the shortest way to re-election for Mr. Obama.
2011 June 04
The other day I mentioned in a conversation the place we visited in Syracuse on Sicily. Syracuse is a very old Christian place. I mean to say, that it proclaims to be the first place to have a Christian community after Antioch.
It certainly is an amazing place to visit.
Not only because of the archaeological sites and museum, the miracle based sanctuary of saint Mary of the tears, or the old town with its lovely streets and remains of temples.
To me the most impressive site was that of the catacombs of san Giovanni in the vicinity of the sanctuary.
Under the ruinous remains of a church were these burial sites dating from the period of early Christianity. In the crypt of them was a chapel with a very old altar. Remains of freschi at the pillar tops.
The tradition says that saint Paul visited this community on his way to Rome in the year 61. And that he and the elders and the members of the community celebrated at this very altar the mysteries of their new faith.
In the silence of that venerable place, the attendants leaving me by myself, I prayed. And was captured by the miracle of the promulgation of early Christianity.
It was literally an awesome place to be. It connected me with centuries and generations of Christian believers.
Standing there where saint Paul stood. Almost touching historical reality.
The same feeling of being touched by the past I experienced in Rome in the church built on the villa where saint Paul stayed in Rome. And very much so, even more, in the scavi under the saint Peter’s church. There, some twenty meters beneath the Bernini altar, in a small chest the remains of saint Peter rest. In this old late pagan, early Christian necropolis the remains of saint Peter were reburied. In the second century a sanctuary was built over it, a second one a century later. On top of this one the first saint Peter church was built. The one we see today is the third one built on top of the second and first.
I was moved standing there at the remains of saint Peter. They are probably very authentic since the veneration of saint Peter dates from the first days of roman Christianity.
There are older places to visit of course. In Asia Minor, in Israel. Places the tradition indicates as the footsteps of lord Jesus.
But I won’t visit these. Years ago I decided I wouldn’t. I’ll stay in a sort of exile. Until there is peace in eretz Yisroeel, the land of Israel.
I have a notion that when there will be peace there, it will be everywhere.
2011 June 03
Today I read this amazing story about the Baal Shem Tov.
A disquieted father, a misnaggid who opposed the baal shem, comes reluctantly to the baal shem tov for advice on a Friday afternoon. His son is away on a business trip too long and he and his wife fear for his life.
The baal shem tov hears the question of the father, goes to his bookshelf and takes a copy of the Zohar (the book of light) and reads a passage in silence. Then he says: “your son is very near, he will be in a neighbouring village just before sjabbes”.
The father sends his goj servant to the village to look for his son, but he doesn’t find him (of course not, I’d say).
The father is confirmed in his disbelief. But the day after sjabbes his son comes home and tells him about his mischief and how he arrived just before sundown in the village and how he stayed there to celebrate the holy day.
The father goes to the baal shem again to apologize for his defamation. And asks him how he knew.
This is hard to understand, even for the father in question.
Light is everywhere and reveals everything. The light that was created in the beginning is hidden in everything and everyone. The light is sown out in creation for the righteous (see psalm 97 verse 11). In order to see what is.
The light of the son was hidden for the father. His eyes were dark. But not for the Besht. He saw like the Eternal Father sees, to whom all hidden portions of light are valuable. Eventually they constitute the eternal light. They belong to the essence of what G-d is.
The righteous sees this light and these lights and know how they long to get home. That is, to be united with the one source of light. The same way as the Eternal longs to unite the scattered portions of light into a whole.
That is essentially why we never have to be afraid to get lost. The structure of mutual desire that is hidden in the creation, prevents that.
For more information on the Besht look at the site of the organisation: baalshemtov.org
2011 June 02
A few days off
Perhaps you saw on twitter I had been away for a few days. A week out of the clouds into the clouds of our beautiful province of Zeeland (sealand). Enjoyed it very much. High broad skies over an open landscape with low horizon. One can look far away on the island and the air is clean and fresh. No sounds of traffic and trains. The ater gray and capricious or green depending on wind and weather. Still quiet villages. In the “larger” places at the foot of the dunes biking senior citizens previous to the stream of holiday celebrating youngsters. But inland even then there is serenity. Churches (small and big) stand centrally in the villages and determine the skyline. Beautiful fresh products from land and sea and lovely places to eat.
But now the time is there to pick up the work. You will find a new column on Ascension and a small encouragement on my home page.
2011 May 19
Blame it on the Bossa Nova
Sexual abuse caused by liberalism in the sixties? My nose!
A five years study (sic!) pointed out that the main cause of sexual abuse by R.C. priests was the sexual revolution. (source Reuter, NRC)
Of course I don’t know my readers will remember the sixties. The so called era of love. Of flower power. Of sexual revolution and liberation. Of new social ideals. Provocations. Anti war demonstrations. The dawn of the age of aquarius.
Well. In 1963 Eydie Gormé had this pop-rock-Latin-American number called Blame it on the Bossa Nova. The dance and music of love. I don’t quite remember the exact text, but, a short cut, falling in love was the bossa nova to blame.
In a more biblical language I’d say: blame it on the snake, or on the woman.
It’s all avoiding responsibility.
It’s like DSK saying: the room maid looked so seductive, she forced me to do it (provided of course he is found guilty).
Some 16000 persons have filed a complaint. Usually this is only a portion of the actual number. Nevertheless the statistical outcome will be valid for the average cases. Abuse that ends up in suicide or severe psychological problems will probably not have been included. Nor the mild forms of transgressional behaviour that are not reported.
The commission appointed by the bishops conference of the USA examined the cases from 1950 off. It’s not likely that before that time there were no incidents of abuse. Besides 1950 is well before the sexual revolution.
The commission states that only five percent of the perpetrator priests were paedophiles. And that most of them had no preference in choosing their “objects”, but acted as opportunists. Homosexuality nor celibacy was pointed out as immediate cause of the abuse.
The report seems to conclude that the child abuse is a historical problem, that is tackled.
As far as I can see the commission report is somehow exonerating the church. The report states, between the lines, that among the persons admitted to the priesthood there was no significant number of abnormalities. So the church did not wilfully take a risk. Which is of course a legally important fact.
It doesn’t say anything though about the preference for risky behaviour by these persons.
Not the sexual preference of the priest forms a direct problem. The problem was and is the problematic attitude of the church towards sexuality and affection. Persons who have not developed into mature sexual and emotional beings are liable to abuse. Whether they are priests or fathers of children. So much more the risk when they live in secluded environments where affection and power get mixed up in the relations.
The report states that over the nineties the amount of abuse cases has significantly diminished. It concludes that the abuse of minors seems to be a historical problem, induced by situational factors and opportunity. The circumstantial factors have indeed changed significantly over the years. The altering catholic educational system, the diminishing influence and therefore power of the church and its representatives, the emancipation of individuals (by the way thanks to the revolutionary sixties) will certainly have had its effect on the numbers.
But the reports conclusion overlooks the intrinsic factors that led to the abuse. Therefore it cannot state the problem as historical. As long as there is an ambiguity in the church’s sexual moral and priests carry this ambiguity in their internal emotional household, there is some significant danger.
But it is only just to say that this is not the “prerogative” of the church. Also in other comparable environments and with the same personal psychological conditions this danger exists.
2011 May 16
Yesterday I saw this amazing movie about the origin of the Irish Republican Army “The wind that shakes the barley”.
It was an absolutely sad movie. Not only because of the pitiful situation of the poor Irish population. Mainly due to the abominable attitude of (English) landlords and the arbitrary violence of the English occupational forces. The appalling torture practise.
The bitterness existed too in the fratricide. The struggle for independence brings not only casualties of war.
In the beautiful Irish landscape, economically so poor, members of families and villages join in the guerrilla for independency. But step by step they get corrupted. And end up using the same means as their oppressors did. But this time towards there fellow countrymen.
Violence gives birth to violence. It is very much the question a state can be based on violence. It takes generations to overcome this ill start of a nation.
Ireland is still scarred by its history. England, the church, abuse, poverty, domestic and public violence.
Not considering the enormous consequences of the emigration floods.
Nevertheless I think it has quite some potential.
This week the queen of England will visit Ireland. What will she bring? Friendship, humility, economical support?
Let us hope the tide will turn for Ireland.
2011 May 5
Enjoying freedom is not self-evident. Most discussions about freedom concern the more simple aspects of freedom. Being free from obligations, free to do whatever one wants are not the most superior interpretations of freedom. In general one doesn’t really know what kind of freedom stands at the basis of these more or less profane interpretations. Namely freedom of foreign coercion and the freedom to design your own life.
This doesn’t mean everybody is capable to put this freedom into effect. It certainly doesn’t mean everybody has the right to do whatever pleases him or her.
One has the liberty to do what one wants (within legal limits), but not the right.
Freedom, to my taste, is a gift and a challenge, not a right.
Freedom is vulnerable, it demands a meticulous balance. The balance between my freedom and the one of fellow man. These seem competitive. Just like individual freedom and collective freedom. When a person takes too much liberty, it is at the expense of someone else. When an individual or a group of individuals takes too much freedom, it diminishes the freedom in the public domain.
Freedom is a gift we give each other. As soon as I enforce my freedom something happens that is not free. When someone behaves like a hooligan, the experience of freedom is brutalized.
Collective freedom is only possible when we don’t claim our (individual) freedom and when we freely bridle our freedom. Levinas wrote some very memorable thoughts about that.
We have the duty to use our freedom well. Using it well means in this case also for the benefit of the whole. Looking over the limits of short-term-thinking about freedom to the effects of individual freedom on society on the long run.
Using your freedom well also means refraining from your freedom of giving a poor or negative content to your life. Freedom that doesn’t choose well is spoiled.
To celebrate freedom is the moment to enjoy it well. Enjoying is not the same as consuming. Freedom is not a consumption product. Enjoying freedom is like enjoying nature. By consuming nature one destroys it. So, you leave it intact. Enjoying freedom means cherishing it and leave it intact for oneself and for one’s neighbour. If we don’t, we destroy it for the both of us.
2011 May 4
Remember the dead
It’s eight o’clock in the evening and The Netherlands remember their victims of the Second World War. Every year I remember them, preferably on my own. Unless of course I have to attend an official ceremony ex officio.
In the silence rise images and words. Of people deported. Of near children slaughtered in trenches and on battlefields. Of women and children bombed in cities.
But above all: trains without end filled with people stashed together for days and nights. Without food, without water or sanitation, without information or hope. Transported to one of those dreadful places whose names fill every civilised person with horror: Treblinka, Sobibor, Chelmno, Majdanek, Mauthausen, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belzec, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald en as many more.
The systematic destruction with bureaucratic precision of an internationally established nation reamains incomprehensible. The methodical preparation, the corruption of language, the systematic exclusion and segregation and following deportation and annihilation is of unparalleled evil intent.
Who saw it coming? Was it really that unimaginable that no one could believe it to happen? It must be. Because otherwise we have to presume something else, which would be horrible.
Not only Jewish people have been methodically destroyed. Also Roma and homosexuals disappeared into the camps. Innumerable sick and old, and mentally or physically disabled children were euthanized.
But amidst those, a Jewish prisoner who recognises his wife and child between the corpses he has to draw from the gas chamber, is etched into my soul.
Remembering those who died, not in full battle, but as a defenceless victim, must alert each one of us for every form of discrimination and social exclusion.
“Never more” cannot be taken literally and seriously enough.
2011 May 3
Obama got Osama
Right after waking up yesterday morning I found myself confronted with the news of Osama’s death. Between the “expert” comments I heard the report of the event. I saw president Obama make the announcement. I saw this delirious crowd in front of the White House and on Times Square and heard it chant “Obama got Osama”. It didn’t really make me happy.
As a matter of fact my first thought was: “this is politically very convenient for the president”. And I was shocked by my cynical attitude in respect to the purity of American interventions.
We cannot deny this very successful action, credited with a lot of appreciation nationally and internationally, will do the president good. It arrives at a moment that the president is under siege in the overture of the elections. Even the ridiculous actions of Donald Trump have their impact. His allegations that Obama might not be a born American, pressed the president to publish his birth certificate. On various occasions it is suggested that he was actually a Muslim too, instead of a “sound Christian”. Whether this “koranburning” type of a reverend is such a lighting example of a revered Christian, is strongly to be doubted. American politics are good in character assassination.
We also cannot deny that Osama is held responsible for the 9/11 attack on the WTC ten years ago. And that he is justly prosecuted. Also meets his death the retribution aspect of our administration of justice. His death provides the victims of the attack (and of other attacks) the opportunity to, in a way, close this period. I can imagine that the American administration feels the bounden duty to provide satisfaction for the victims. Nothing can bring back our beloved dead ones, but the punishment of the perpetrator gives some solace.
But the macho language of revenge does not become our system of justice.
Criticism is always difficult to accept in a moment of joy and victory, but nevertheless.
Why then this doubt? We know how the United States intervened in home politics of many countries over the last sixty years. Iraq is a very distressing recent example. Try to see “Fahrenheit 9/11” by Michael Moore another time.
We know how interventions are politically used. So, why at this moment and why in this way? Let there be no mistake: I’m happy Osama is caught. I can imagine no country is eager to bring him to justice. America has little confidence in the International Court of Justice. But shoot the man and dump his body in the Indian Ocean gives a bad taste in the mouth.
How do these actions comply with the international legal order? This “go and get him” mentality sets a poor example for our children. I think this has to be said too, besides all the congratulations and sounds of relief.
2011 April 28
feminism and theology
Today a week ago the dutch female theologian Tine Halkes died. About one year after the death of another female theologian who caused a break through in Tine’s thinking. Mary Daley with her book “Beyond God the Father”, Beacon 1973.
It seems to me that with the death of Halkes also a certain way of theological thinking has come to an end. A theology that seems to be passé for some time now for that matter.
With feminism feministic theology seems to be buried as well.
With this both seem to be degraded into a mere temporal phenomenon. Something over and done with.
Naïve people even might come to believe that the object of both movements are redundant. Which is absolutely not the case.
Exclusion and discrimination of women are still vigorous in may cultures and religions. The differences between men and women are evident. That is not the issue. The issue is the discrimination that is related to an ideological interpretation of these differences. It is almost embarrassing to (have to) say these things yet. This necessity though is partly related to the enforced equality thinking.
In this way, paradoxically enough, the equality of men and women opens the way for a new appreciation of the differences and by doing so, for the silent introduction of a new form of discrimination. Halkes was right pointing out the dangers of the Vatican speaking of principal equality and essential difference.
I strongly believe that the consequences of genderrelated thinking and speaking have not yet been sufficiently investigated and discussed.
It is a fact that certain cultural environments, churches and religions are openly hostile towards women. Even in societies that have legal measures against genderbased discrimination.
I think it’s a relief to attend the celebration of Eucharist with a female presiding priest. Something that is possible in the Catholic church of the old Episcopal clergy and in the Anglican church, but not (yet) in the RC church.
Like Halkes emphasizes “G’d has become Man”, not male or female. It concerns the salvation of the human species as a whole. In the becoming flesh and blood women are included. An appeal to the culturally determined choices Jesus made in his election (that is, according to those describing it) to prevent half of mankind to participate in the mediation of the mystery of Christ, is no less than cowardish.
2011 April 26
Today I like to look back at the celebration of my birthday last Sunday. At Easter Sunday was my sixtieth anniversary. An extremely symbolical event. Birthday is celebrating life in the first place. With joy and gratitude. If possible. I don’t think everybody is able to do just that, but I could. Celebrating life and, in religious perspective, the meaning of our lives, is the meaning of Easter as well.
It was a double celebration, as you might say. Even more so, because the essence of Easter, standing up against all forms of death, is the pith of my personal belief.
Easter tells me that there’s always a way out, always room for hope.
(Quite coincidentally a dutch theologian Erik Borgman wrote about this in todays newspaper Trouw. This also in relation to the theme of the month of Philosophy “genuine life”. He says that genuine life is marked by hope. Not that our hopes always come true. But hope opens life to future.)
Hope and desire are the creative forces that liberate us from the closed boundaries of the concrete life of the moment. That de-velop us (wink to Heidegger) from what is and makes look out for and develop what can become. In this way they create life, our life. And because in that we experience ourselves to stand at the origin of this creation, this coming into being, we feel ourselves genuinely living and not as an object of a life process that is executed to us. Even when we don’t exactly know what’s coming out of it.
Easter is the symbolical translation of this force that creates new life where a life has come to a dead end. A force that, in a religious sense, creates new life through death.
Easter occurs wherever new light shines over a darkened life. Light that creates perspective, new life. Hope and desire shine as this light over a person’s life. They show a distant view and suppose reality even over the horizon of our mortal life. Through hope and desire what still has to become becomes present.
The significance of my anniversary was enforced by the fact that I’m starting a new life. After twenty-two years living in an abbey I started a new way of living together with my female partner. A new life, a new enterprise, a new future. Very challenging and genuinely full of life. I had the opportunity to celebrate this with a great number of very dear people to mark this new beginning. And to let them share in my happiness and my confidence regards the future. Testify to one’s belief should not be only a matter of sermon, not just words but in the concrete circumstances of actual life.
It was a beautiful and heart warming encounter, a meeting in the very sense of the word. Open toward each other, a joy being part of it. This makes grateful and reveals something of the purpose of human relations and interactions.
2011 April 22
Years ago I did an Ignatian retreat during thirty days. Part of it the reflection on the life and death of Jesus and it meaning.
In the approach there’s an emphasis on the redemptory aspect of Jesus’ suffering. He suffered and died to redeem us from the suffering and death that come forth from sin.
Now there’s a lot of suffering and death due to sinful human behaviour. I mean sinful in the sense of contrary to the purpose and meaning of human life.
It would be a blessing indeed for the world get delivered from that.
In this instance I don’t even talk about the grief that arises from disasters and senseless outbursts of violence.
I 'm referring to the day to day invisible grief and wordless pain.
The concept of the redemptory suffering of Jesus doesn’t help very much for that.
In the old days, at least I hope it belongs to the past, some pastors said that the personal suffering was taking part in the suffering of Jesus. Or, that one had to think about the amount of suffering Jesus did for us.
Actually I think this is quite appalling.
I find more comfort in the solidarity of Jesus’ suffering. The suffering of Jesus as an ultimate act of solidarity with the sufferings of human beings.
In the book exodus, the great story of deliverance from slavery, we read that the One bows down his heaven to meet the suffering of his people.
In Jesus this heaven has been bowed to enter into the human existence. To take up the grief and pain and show himself to be a com-passionate god.
Just as powerless to withstand evil, but nevertheless staying there with us until the end. Not to glorify suffering and elevate it into an art of living. Not any excuse for evil, not giving it a place in the work of redemption. Evil stays what it is: evil and it is exposed as absolutely unjust.
Every day people suffer from this evil. We have to keep on opposing to sinful evil. At the same time we realize that we sometimes cannot do any better that hold each others hands and be there for each other.
In solidarity and compassion. Bearing it together. That too is passion. To endure evil, without explaining it away or making it better than it is. But in enduring it exposing it as fundamentally and totally unjust. Thereby accusing it.
2011 April 20
Struck again by some news concerning the goings on in the roman catholic church.
This time not the sexual abuse affair, but the abuse of power. Because I would like to call that way.
It concerns the stone of offence of the Dutch church province bishop Eijk. Gradually almost everybody feels shocked about him. Not only his colleagues and a number of very loyal conservative roman catholics, but also those who had disagreeable contacts with him earlier. The bishop gives the impression to care nothing about people and to remove anyone who comes in his way like the first primitive tyrant.
There are even heard some “evil” voices that say he has a sort of politburo/KGB to track down dissident elements and move them on a side track.
Let’s say that I admire him for not trying to be popular. That he is able to make and implement his policy.
On the other hand he is an autocrat and high-handed and avoids dialogue.
Especially at this time, the church being under siege, one chooses to close ranks. The pope does the same regarding the abuse. A bit more friendly perhaps. One expresses his grief and great remorse and takes no further measures. Waits untill the storm is over. The strategy of the church for centuries now.
But Eijk seems to be a particular hardliner. With solid reasoning, of which all air and spirit is squeezed out, he confronts his adversaries. No room for dialogue. But solid reasoning doesn’t yet bring forth truth.
Doctrine is written in capitals and massively confessed. Who doesn’t comply, can buzz off. The church is for the Loyals only.
Purification is daily practise, not only in the diocese of Utrecht.
But religion, faith is not a rigid thing. It moves along with life itself and is continually in dialogue with it.
That is why talking, talking about religion and what we believe, is so very important. In the experience of our lives and the way we talk about it our faith appears and is revealed. A bishop has to take initiatives for that and facilitate this way of sharing. Not lay down the law and make dialogue impossible.
2011 April 19
Day against bullying
Today seems to be the day aginst bullying. I didn't kow it existed, but it seems a good thing to me.
The pattern in bullying is always the same. A number of people wants to prove its superiority at the expense of one. To confirm their place in the pecking order. The battle is always unequal. The harm for suffering party great. It is primitive behaviour.
It doesn't comply with the society we claim to pursue. In any case should pursue. It doesn't concord with a civilised conception of mankind.
Nevertheless it happens a lot. And not just with kids growing up. They perhaps could claim the excuse of not yet having found their place in the fabric of humans beings. Of being insecure about themselves, taking that out on others who are in their eyes different, weaker.
It also happens in working environments by adults who apparently didn't grow over their puberty.
The consequences for the victims can be desastrous.
Some time ago in Belgium an employer was prosecuted for the suicide of one of his employees. It appeared the man had been severely bullied for years. The employer knew, but didn't do anything about it. Culpable negligence.
The selfesteem of children can be greatly harmed. Keeping aloof by bystanders is inadmissable. Certainly when they are autorities like the employer (or teachers, schooladministration, coach).
I cannot remember ever having been bullied. But I do remember two occasions of active bullying when I was seven and nine years old.
Fortunately I got it back when I was some forteen, fifteen. By a copple of boys who had been treated very conceitedly by us. One day when I was biking home alone, they were waiting for me.
Nothing physical happened. I could talk my way out of it. But it made me think.
Now I understood the impact of our behaviour on these boys.
I don't think I treated any one in a conceited way for what he or she is afterwards. And that i a revenue.
Sometimes I read with pleasure that someone who was a victim develops into a successful person. That's good. There's some justice in that. But more often this does not happen.
( Edward van de Vendel wrote a book, "het lekkere van pesten", in cooperation with a victim, now a internationally established and successful model)
2011 April 18
Earlier I wrote about my disappointment about the fact that things we value become increasingly an abject of economical thinking. As if value always has to be economical value.
Of course it is a good thing to evaluate even ideological, non economical processes on things like effectiveness, output versus cost, efficiency et cetera.
On the other hand issues and interests we value for themselves, should not become subject to a mere economical evaluation. This goes, to my taste, for things like health, religion, human rights, education.
Education becomes increasingly economized. Special education, length of university education, education for people who are physically or mentally challenged, education as such.
The administration demands cost reduction. On the other hand access to education must be granted to all according to ability.
Education is a precious gift. It should foster and nurture the talents of our nation. It ought to be a free space for development. To match these talents with the needs of society comes later.
Creativity must not necessarily be in conformity with society; it should alter it for the better.
2011 April 15
I was astonished and apalled to read this morning an expression bishop Vangheluwe used during an interview the other day.
Vangheluwe is a Belgian bishop who is accused of having sexually abused two of his nephews. One of them from his fifth untill his eighteenth.
He doesn't deny that. On the contrary.
In the interview that I looked at on internet he calls it a sort of little game, quasi innocent, something he and his nephew were sharing whenever the boy was paying a family visit to his house or he to the house of his brother.
"Something intimate of the two of us".
Not at any moment during the interview the bishop seems to have any idea about the amount and the sexual nature of his deeds.
No comprehension for the consequences for his nephew. Seemingly a total lack of consideration and empathy.
Everything told during almost an hour with an exculpatory smile. Incomprehensible!
It only corrobates what I wrote earlier about unhealthy conceptions of sexuality within the r.c. church (www.brabantsdagblad.nl/mening/6391156)
2011 April 14
death by despair 2
Yesterday I wrote about the tragical selfcombustion of a refugee who was denied access after proceedings of years.
In the evening of that day we were shocked by the death of a policeman in the province of Groningen.
He was shot by a suspect with his own gun. This suspect was on the run after he killed his woman friend with a firehose during a brawl of domestic violence.
The suspect is a refugee applying in vain for a residential permit.
What drove the man to his deed? What happened in his head that it came this far?
How will this incident effect the discussion that is held regularly, concerning a more stern and clear policy towards applicant refugees. And also regarding those who are denied access after the procedures.
The easiest thing to say is: immediate extradition after concluding the procedures. But is that a just thing to do?
Every opinion has so many valid counter opinions. Nevertheless I think every one concerned will be benefitted in the end by shorter, clear procedures and a clear policy.
2011 April 13
death by despair 1
In one of our Dutch newspapers stood an article by two philosophers.
Subject was the public silence after the selfcombustion of an Iranian refugee seeking asylum. He had been in Holland for several years without getting a permit to stay and there was no further appeal possible.
He burnt himself at the foot of the national monument for freedom at the Dam in Amsterdam. I'm ashamed to confess the event hadn't caught much of my attention as well.
How is it possible that we are so callous that these events don't reach our front pages?
It is too busy perhaps on the frontpage. The nuclear threats in Japan. The civil war in central Africa. The great political turmoil in North Africa.
And the possible flood of immigrants in Italy and Western Europe from African refugees. Perhaps this threat kept people silent about the combustion incident.
Because when we start talking about it we would have to think about our admittance policy. We would have to think about what's righteous. About compassion.
And perhaps we love our purse too much to do that.
Since almost all our ideals and all idealistic discussions are overruled by economical arguments.
Is that just? Should it be otherwise?
2011 September 29
Just returned from Venice Biennale, the international modern art exposition, I received a mail from our friends and artist couple Adelheid en Huub Kortekaas. In the mail a url to an interview on YouTube (in Dutch). You’ll find it at the bottom of this column. Also the one of their site.
I was so pleased they mailed me about the progress of their project Anima Mundi, which is a very idealistic one.
Anima Mundi means the soul of the world and the project emanated from their strong belief in the dawn of a new era. The era of worldwide communication and relations. Between science and art, between religions, between individuals and nations. Since all are taking part in this one and unifying soul of the world.
It is an encouraging and hopeful concept which is worth to be realised. Not only as a monumental artefact, but also as a living reality.
The project appeals to me so much, because I too strongly believe in the fundamental unity of and between individuals and nations. And in the possibility of understanding and real peace.
Huub and Adelheid symbolized this possibility in the golden seedlings (in the form of a stylized plant ovary) they have sent to a number of leading people throughout the world. The monument Anima Mundi consists of a large temple-like structure, like the Parthenon in Athens, but open to the environment and to the sky like Stonehenge and comparable structures on the Orkneys. A number of large seats, seven meters high, with figurines sitting on them like a huge silent counsel. In a rectangular form of a 100 by 24 meters. The inner space forms an agora, traditionally the place people connect and meet to talk about the things that matter.
Finally Huub and Adelheid came to an agreement with the local government about the terrain where it could be realized. A beautiful place at a Dutch river. Grassland, streaming water and this inspiring monument for people to walk through and talk about whatever the artefact inspires them to talk about.
The figure seated in the centre of one of the oblong sides of the rectangle slightly bows its head. Huub calls this the moment of becoming aware, of awakening. It represents the moment, many individuals have experienced, one becomes aware of the unity of life itself, expressed in numerous life-forms.
I think it’s an amazing project and I sincerely hope it will find enough funds to become a reality. The project deserves it and society needs it.
2011 August 27
Results we want
Generally we love to have an immediate connection between the act and the outcome of the act. We like quick and immediate results. Slow and steady effort without immediate tangible result has become unpopular.
Focused on result as we are, we seem less interested in the purpose of our actions.
Sure, investigators work for years in laboratories trying to find a remedy or cause of a disease. But these people work in a hidden way and come only in the spotlights when they achieve a spectacular result.
An exceptional and visible example perhaps is the construction of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona (Spain), started in 1882 and still going on (officially until 2026).
Inthis kind of effort the purpose prevails over the immediate result. It provides instantly a different attitude towards the work. This is related to the ownership of the result.
With an immediate outcome there’s a direct relation between the action and the result. The result can be appropriated in the most literal sense of the word. It is my action, so it is my result.
In long term investigations or in constructing an immensely complicated church like the Sagrada the result never belongs to someone in particular, but always is the result of the effort of many. Each one contributing his part keeping the common goal in view, not being focused on private result.
These thoughts came to me, reading something about the (ritual) washing of the hands. A lot of cultures know the civilised and valued custom of washing-hands before or after an act. The surgeon does it before an operation, the doctor after a body exam, everybody(?) after using the bathroom. The priest does it before the Eucharistic part of the Mass.
The first cases have a purely hygienic motive, the latter hopefully not. There it serves a spiritual goal. In the first the direct result of the action matters, serving a purpose as well, by the way (avoiding sepsis). In the latter the purification is symbolical, the priest praying for purity of heart in presiding the ritual and symbolic sacrifice.
The ritual washing of the hands before meals, also existing in many cultures, has a double character. Purity of hands at table, especially where people eat with their hands from common plates. But also serving a spiritual goal.
The text that brought me to this consideration, was given to me in the Baal Shem Tov journal of this week. In a legend of the Baal Shem (Besht) is told that during the washing of his hands at dinner he received the intuition a great colleague of him had died (the rabbi known as the Light of the Living or the Light of the West). The Besht then tells that he desired to know a certain intention for the washing of the hands for a very long time and that until now he didn’t. This special intention is only known to one tzaddiq in a generation. That afternoon he suddenly knew it and concluded his colleague had passed away.
Of course I don’t know this intention, but it will no doubt concern the role the great tzaddikim have to fulfil for their generation, their people and the world. Washing hands is not a hygienic measure then, nor the fulfilling of a mitzvah. It becomes the symbol of the perfect self-renunciation that characterizes the true tzaddiq (righteous) in his effort for the redemption of the world.
In our own way we can all contribute to this goal, when we keep in mind the purpose of our actions and avoid identifying ourselves with our actions and the result of them. When we are not so dreadfully result-focussed and exclusively want to own the result.
In other words by disconnecting the action and the supposed right for result. When we redeem ourselves on this scale from this automatism, we redeem the world from greed and egotism, which are the causes of war and injustice.
The washing of hands can help us remind that. For it is a very understandable mistake to think that the food on our tables is the result of our effort only ( in making money for it, buying it, preparing it). It is a small step to think it is your right and your merit.
The religious and spiritual washing of the hands breaks through this mechanism. It poses a purification, a washing between the action and the meal, disconnecting as it were the result (the meal) and the action. In a number of cases this is supported and further explained in prayer.
The ritual opens the possibility to see the result as a gift and opens the door to gratitude. This is liberating to oneself and redeeming to others, and eventually also for the world.
2011 August 20
Knowing one’s place
There’s something remarkable going on with the place we give each other. Generally we like to give a person the place he/she deserves. Sometimes we think someone more important, higher placed than we are. But very often we like to give people a lower ranked place than we contribute to ourselves. As if one becomes more important by diminishing someone else. Every intelligent person knows this is not so.
The expression knowing one’s place has a predominantly negative sound. Usually to derogate someone who poses himself too much. But also to correct an impertinent child or a subordinate person.
Nevertheless it is a very good thing to know one’s place in the whole and to be able to take that place and being granted it.
I got these thoughts thinking about the text for this sjabbat, called Ekev. From a moral approach it means humility. That was the title I meant to give this column originally. But you probably wouldn’t even have started to read. We don’t like humility very much. We reject it because it reminds us of submission and being humiliated.
In the sjabbat text it refers to the initial words of the torah part for this day. But also and perhaps even more, it refers to the admonition of Deuteronomy (devarim) chapter 9. It says: “not because of your merits or the sincerity of your hearts you will enter the land”. It is an exhortation to incite humility, the grateful consciousness that the land is a gift, not a merited achievement.
The nation is not to credit itself for the place it gets. At the same time it can be proud having received this place by the grace of the highest, blessed be he. Not to be arrogant, but to be a bliss and bare witness of G-d’s mercy.
Meekness is not related to humiliating yourself, but it refers to taking pride in the place that is given to you. This is a unique place for every single person, because everyone is unique and unrepeatable.
It is only by taking this unique place that one is able to deploy the unique abilities one is given and to contribute to the completion of the world and it’s redemption.
Rabbi Nachman of Breslau says: “the unique person knows he is a part of a larger and mightier constellation, that is the mystery of meekness and humility. The unique person is aware of being a part of an inspired community, that is the mystery of humility. It is not humility when someone humiliates himself and forgets that by him the Presence comes into this world. That is impure humility. Evil is forgetting that you are a king’s child. Arrogance is: comparing yourself with others. Who measures and weighs becomes empty.”
Humility is taking your place in the texture of mankind and making it worthwhile, without feeling the urge of comparing or feeling less or better than others.
A tzaddiq (righteous) said: “when at this very moment the messiah would come and tell me: you are better than the others, I’d say: you are not the messiah”.
Meekness means: “not more than your place, not less than your space”. It is the translation of “it’s good you’re here”.
From a religious point of view it is even stronger: “you have to be here, because I, G-d, wanted you and love you”.
If this isn’t a humility that makes you feel proud!!
2011 August 13
A water stream
Cleaning my desk I found a little note saying: “like water streams is the heart of a king in the hand of the Lord”. The beauty of the expression struck me. The king being the arch symbol of leadership.
When a king lays his heart in the hand of the Lord, he’s not high hearted, conceited, but humble enough to recognize a force that is greater than his power. His heart is not full of himself, arrogant and inaccessible, but like water streams it brings life to those he cares for.
It’s a biblical expression found in Proverbs (chapter 21, verse 1) and I think it could provide a very applicable model for our world leaders.
The Hebrew word for king is melek. In the centre, the heart, of the word stands the “L”. This letter might indicate lev, meaning heart. The central value of a king should be his heart. Not glory and power, but compassion, love and the wisdom of the heart. The “L” is the Hebrew letter “lamed”, meaning prickle. It also refers to lamad, learning. The heart of a king is incited to learn. From G-d, and from his people.
This learning heart is laid in the hand of the Lord. The hand blesses, gives prosperity, but is also the instrument of justice and the symbol of power. It demands wisdom and discernment to know when to deploy these various capabilities. That is why the legendary king Solomon asks for an understanding mind to govern rightly and discern between good and evil. The king derives his potential from this hand. Therefore all kingship is borrowed. It’s not a privilege, but a duty, a service to the nation.
The heart of the king, thus embedded in the hand of G-d, is like a water stream. Living in an environment with quite some rain, it’s difficult to fully appreciate the emotional meaning of this image. But living in a desert-like country it really means life. When water beds fill with water and soak the thirsty earth, almost immediately there is an outburst of new life. Revealing the hidden and dormant fertility. The heart of a king is supposed to make the people of his nation fruitful. Bringing about the qualities that G-d stands model for. Peace, justice, solidarity, prosperity. Life, in short, as it is supposed to be and longed for by everyone.
The king therefore is a universal symbol for good leadership. A leadership that doesn’t seek itself, but gives direction and facilitation. And is the embodiment of what it stands for. Therefore authentic and trustworthy.
We live in a world where leadership sometimes seems to be a product of the media. More often the product of ambition and greed. These leaders ought to have a little bit more from the above-mentioned king. I do not mean to say they have to believe in G-d (it might help, but not necessarily). But I do mean to say a leader should answer to values that transcend his own interest. Values that intent to bring forth the common wealth and general welfare.
2011 August 06
Today we deal with the third generation of the Transformers. These extraterrestrial robots have the ability to take different forms, according to their special skills.
Since their first appearance in the commercial world in 1984, movies, games and all kinds of merchandising emanated from this “life-form”.
It seems that these transformers represent the desire for change. Very few people seem completely satisfied with themselves as they are. Make-over programmes deliberately use and enforce this phenomenon. Some want to be someone else. Others want to become what they feel they really are. Or want to be better in what they already are.
In many religions change is an integral part of the confession. Religious people wish to become better persons. They have in common a certain depreciation for the world as it is and for themselves as they are.
In this way I was thinking at the celebration of the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain today. There Jesus changes of appearance. He becomes completely light and is seen in the company of Moses (torah) and Elijah (prophets). The three disciples who accompanied Him were overthrown by awe.
Jesus is a great transformer. He not only transforms Himself but is also capable of transforming others, me and you.
What is Christian transformation about? In the transfiguration Jesus is seen as He is, as Lord, in His glorious appearance. He doesn’t become someone else, He becomes what He ultimately is. The Divine Word incarnate, the realized meaning of our human existence. At the same time this is not the end of it.
His disciples want to keep hold of this exceptional situation. Very much like we want to do perhaps with exceptional moments of joy or an overwhelming experience of unity with all there is. Knowing we cannot grab these moments and hold them.
The image that is given is exceptional and serves as a idealistic directory for the disciples. The transformation of Jesus serves as an incentive for the disciples to change their hearts. To become what they can be in order to change the world. That is why they cannot stay at the mountain, but have to descend to the place where their mission is waiting for them.
It is not enough to become enlightened on your own. Enlightenment is supposed to serve others on their way towards redemption.
All creatures desire to become what they can be. The light that is enclosed in every single human being wants to shine brightly.
Transformation aims at making this world a place of light. To realize this we have to become children of light. We have to become what we are.
Our world is not meant to be a place of darkness, war and injustice. People are not meant to starve, to be tortured, to be exploited.
On the way to realize our ideals, we need, from time to time, a “mountain-experience”. As an encouragement to show our ideal as a real possibility, not an illusion. Jesus is an image of that human possibility.
2011 July 30
The Horn of Africa sharply contrasts with the ideal of a good world, expressed with the metaphor of the cornucopia, the horn of plenty.
This is what I thought listening to a sermon about the part in the Gospel of Matthew, where some five thousand needy people are fed.
Perhaps you know the story. A multitude of poor people follows Jesus as he retires to a place to be alone. Seeing them and their need for comfort and hope, he is deeply moved and he cures and reassures them. At fall they still are with him. He orders his disciples to feed them. They are puzzled, embarrassed and don’t know how. They only have a small amount of food, five pieces of loaf and two small fish. By far not enough, they say, to feed five thousand men plus even more women and children. Jesus takes the small amount of food, blesses it and orders his disciples to share it with the people. All ate and were satisfied.
The gospel of John makes it even more embarrassing for the disciples. There they have nothing at all to share. Only a small boy has some food, which is being blessed by Jesus to feed the multitude. (You don’t have to be a disciple of Jesus to have what it takes to serve the world.)
The story serves as an example of the affluence and potential of the kingdom of heaven. It also designates the torah in it’s written and oral tradition as the sole source of life.
It tells us too that, even huge, problems can be solved, by joining forces and keeping confidence in one’s own potential. That however little can be enough. That what we have, can be enough to feed all, when shared.
It is of course a bit dangerous to translate metaphors from the Scriptures to our situation, but we can try. At least there’s a message for us in this story, as there is for the disciples.
The kingdom of heaven is not only a vision, it is supposed to be human reality as well. If something, Jesus is the living example of that.
So how can this miraculous event relate to the reality in the horn of Africa?
No doubt the region is very poor and these masses of people yearn for comfort and hope.
For some sort of human life. Unfortunately in our days we know many of these regions. The amount of people lacking food and other necessary provisions to live a decent life, is huge. The dimensions of the over all problem might make us feel powerless to do anything about it.
On the other hand in the same region we see large sums of money spent on weapons and for the benefit of a few. The same who control other resources of life, that should benefit the entire population.
Of course we are all deeply moved by seeing women and children starving. The international community is compelled to help. Even knowing that a (considerable) part of it disappears in the pockets of those who already have plenty.
This is very discouraging of course. But we cannot afford doing nothing. We have to help. And we have to try to convert the warlords and those who benefit only themselves to better their ways.
We must believe that however little we can do, will be enough on the long run to improve our world. The poor deserve to receive some relief and hope.
Before the sun sets definitively, leaving our world in the utter darkness of violence and injustice.
2011 July 23
Many long for a heaven, but lack the faith in a G-d who gives heaven it’s meaning.
Expectations and concrete forms of salvation have secularized and experienced within this world. Fulfilment and happiness have been cut loose from their transcendental aspects and have to take place within this life. Faith has moved itself away from G-d and the Church. G-d is thrown away with the baptismal water. Faith has become increasingly obsolete and is considered naïve.
Nevertheless we keep dealing with questions concerning life and death, meaning and sense of our existence, justice, ethics, and the abyss of the coincidence and complete absence of a given sense to our existence.
Who or what gives comfort and hope?
Alain de Botton wrote a book about it: Religion for atheists. A pagan guide. He seems to suggest that the acquisitions of religion, the rituals of the Church could contribute something valuable to the lives of non-believers, that is those who don’t presume a G-d.
Well, there’s a question.
I will not deny that certain rituals and objects are capable of providing comfort and solace. But whether they are able to stand up, in their immediateness, to the essential questions of life is to be doubted.
Why exercise the virtues not understanding their meaning within the context of their origins? What do compassion and mercy mean not being embedded in the faith of a living G-d? How could dealing with our mortality generate hope without the promise and without eschatological expectations?
Certainly, rituals and symbols have an immediate effect. A gesture of blessing, a candle lit offer immediate consolation, also in an atheistic environment. Light, warmth, touch are universal elements. Recognisable and to be experienced by every human person, embedded as they are in the anthropology, the texture of our being human.
But that doesn’t mean they offer hope and perspective when they are used at a sickbed.
The meaning of a symbol or a ritual transcends it’s effect. The effect is partly immediate, but realising it’s meaning the effect broadens and deepens and gains eloquence.
Within the frame of this argumentation the meaning is given by faith.
A symbol (burning candle) could comfort in it’s effect, but offers hope through it’s meaning (the risen Christ). One could learn virtue out of tradition, but they receive their meaning from the Covenant.
The acquisitions of faith, in my opinion, cannot be obtained separately. This is also due to the fact that it aren’t things you can dispose of. They aren’t fixed acquisitions, like objects are. The have to be acquired over and over again in the practise of faith. Their full effect and meaning they receive in the faithful reception and practise.
Maybe this is why De Botton speaks of comfort, but not of hope.
2011 July 16
After the storm
We had lots of rain last week and some storm as well. Both gave people a lot of trouble. People on holiday were having a bad time. We too had some difficulties around the house. The garden turned into a wet mess, the drain of the garage got clogged and there was a leakage over the roof of the garage. All the things we keep there got soaking wet.
Our well organized world turned into a bit of a chaos. Well, by far not as bad as with tornado’s or real cloudbursts, but nevertheless.
What do you do in a case like that? The mess could overwhelm you, as it perhaps initially does. Standing and looking at the chaos doesn’t get you any further. You might want to start at ten places at the same time, not doing anything effectively.
I started opening the drain and cleaning the roof from debris. Got everything out of the garage to dry. Cleaned everything up. Removed debris fallen from the trees. Restoring things. Not looking at the amount of work that had to be done. And step by step the order came back.
It taught me an important lesson.
Sometimes heavy storms and rain occur in your life. It turns your existence into a chaos. I don’t think there will be anyone not recognising this.
The loss of a job, your partner. A devastating disease, your house being sold. All these things, and more, can turn your life into a chaos.
It might overwhelm and paralyze you, not knowing what to do or where to start. In that case too it is best to start somewhere and work from there. Generally it doesn’t matter where you start, as long as you start getting your life in hand. Don’t allow yourself to get confused by the amount of chaos, or the amount of work to be done. Start acting. It will teach you that your not the victim, or unresisting object of chaos. Every action confirms you as being able to overcome chaos and recreate your life. Organizing it in the way you feel best. And step by step you will regain your life.
There is so much resilience in each one of us. And we are all surrounded by people to testify that. No matter how small the victory over the chaos is in the eyes of others, it will make you feel proud and will give a new sense of life.
Of course it is nice when you can achieve this all by yourself. But sometimes you will need a helping hand to get you over a dead point. Or someone who reassures you, telling you it will be all right. The work is easier, the burden lighter, when you can work together, helping each other.
All creation starts at chaos, with bringing form and order. It is our unique human ability to create. Even to create a world of peace and a good life for ourselves and all of us, no matter how big the chaos is we live in.
2011 July 09
From time to time I get the sneaking feeling of being surrounded by language that doesn’t express anything real anymore.
In newsreels happenings are blown up into disasters. Commercials and announcements for youth events shout down the meagreness of their content. Voxpops show us the exaggerated emotions of the street. Politicians utter a language of concern and engagement meaning nothing. Organisations parade with principles and values that are never ever put into effect. On parties and in pubs people just talk and talk.
Too gloomy? Of course, but nevertheless.
Spontaneously a part of a poem comes into my memory. It’s from Spreekuur (consultation), written by Gerrit Achterberg when he was residential in a psychiatrical clinic. With regard to the doctors who treated him, he writes “within their idle monologues full of sentences hired for the occasion, words aren’t weighed on nuclear weight or on how much they can bear”. But he “yells at them with the authority of his soul, words from an ancient grammar”.
I appreciate that.
Against the so often heard idle occasional sentences with words without real content, I too would like to put words from an ancient grammar. A grammar that takes language seriously. A language that bears significance for reality, and credits the work of language philosophers who devoted their investigations to the relation between word and reality.
Words can make and take; build up and break down, create. They’re not just something. Idle words distort the balance between what is said and what is meant. Between interpretation and experience. Idle words weave a veil over our truth and our reality. They create unreliability.
Language is meant to create clarity. To interpret and explain our inner and external reality and put these into perspective. Preferably a perspective of hope and life.
I meet another text, words from a very ancient grammar indeed.
In Isaiah I read: “Like snow and rain fall from heaven and return only after they have drenched the earth, so is my word. It leaves my mouth and will not return without bearing fruit, not before it has fulfilled it’s purpose” (Isaiah 55. 10-11).
These words create hope and future. Life is being announced to those who are oppressed and in exile. People who are dominated, in need, hungry and driven away from their country, are offered a future.
These are words that express compassion, engagement, loyalty and a way out of the misery. They are spoken with affection and real commitment.
Words like that may not blow away in idleness, may not be in vain. They ask to be fulfilled, whatever it takes, because the One who utters them is reliable.
They create right for those who are deprived of their rights. A future for those who live without perspective. A life in tranquillity and safety for those who have no human life.
But like any word that has to become truth, it has to be fulfilled, it has to be done.
A word needs hands to make it into a verb, to make it work. It needs a head and a heart to be done with precision and love. Our hands, heads and hearts!
The promises of future made to oppressed people, create an obligation to act in order to make that future come true.
Good intentions and nice words won’t suffice.
2011 July 02
Today I read an article by Matthias Smalbrugge (MS). He’s a reverend and professor European Culture and Christianity. A nice article, of which the bottom line is that what’s right in society cannot be based on the power play of individual free enterprise. It has to relate to another (ideological? Utopist? E.C.) reality. This, because man doesn’t coincide with himself, he has to be connected with another reality in order to be what he is. A reality that consists of science, art and religion.
MS is basing his article on the story in the gospel by saint Matthew speaking us about the talents (Mt chapter 25 verses 14-30). MS is calling this parable the foundation for our Christian-liberal/republican society.
Let me start saying that I agree with him that, when justice is meant to create and secure a, what we call, humane society it cannot be based on natural law. It must be a law that expresses the values of this humane society. By humane law is not just meant basic justice, but justice and compassion. In major parts of the western society these values are derived from Christianity (this is a bit seven league boots thinking, but ok).
But to call this abovementioned parable the foundation for our society is way out of line. It would mean that this text served as a directory to organize our society. That would deny the actual aetiology of our society. Nevertheless we can perceive some elements in this parable that relate to our individualized society. But you cannot turn this around. For ages G-d’s grace, his providence and the creational order provided the arguments to justify the stratification of the (class) society.
The injustice of this has been sufficiently demonstrated, later embraced by the church in her social doctrine. The established Christianity didn’t initiate the social change.
In his article MS shows the last man (ideologically meant), the third servant from the parable, as the one who exposes the injustice of the system. The first two fit in the system that leaves the profit they make with the money they received from their boss to the owner. The third man reveals the boss as being harsh and unjust. This attitude should be leading, according to MS, in finding a new ethical standard that provides a counterweight to the liberal- republican principle that every able body is responsible for his successful dealings with the given talents.
Why does MS think this way? Does he think the third one pitiful? Does he feel sorry for him? Must a society be organized around the obviously weakest person? By the one who is driven by, real or imagined, fear? By the one who doesn’t dare to act independently and self-confidently?
I augment this on purpose. In order to show that this would be completely impossible, but also to show that it’s not the meaning of this parable. Nor what MS says.
It is my conviction that every single person who is considered mentally capable to decide for his own life, has an inalienable responsibility. This is in no way a means of coercion, but essentially the expression of respect for every person, who or what he or she might be. This responsibility can be addressed.
MS gives his interpretation as an example of injustice, when read superficially. He reads it through the eyes of the third servant and gives an explanation different from the usual one (that says that one has to use ones talents properly).
MS is making the mistake almost everyone makes in the interpretation of this parable. He starts at the apparent injustice in the entrustment of the talents and the consequent treatment of the third servant.
This wrong interpretation exists for quite some time, I think, considering the linguistic aspects of it. The development of the meaning of the word talent plays an important role. Two thousand years ago talent meant an amount of money (MS doesn’t say anything else). In our way of speaking talent is a mental ability. With this meaning it would be completely unjust to blame someone for these abilities. And our society doesn’t do that, not intentionally that is.
MS and many with him forget to look at the beginning of the story.
We are allowed to read it in the context of the urgency of the Kingdom of Heaven, and the (second) coming of the Messiah. In this light the contours of the story receive more sharpness. Things are getting more accentuated. No delay. Everyone has to make a choice.
So, the parable reads as follows: “the Kingdom of Heaven is like someone going abroad, entrusting his property to his servants”. “the first he gives five talents, the second two and the third one”. Here starts the inequality. But that doesn’t mean an injustice, as we read in the following words. The lord entrusts the talents “according to each one’s ability”.
In the language of today: someone with a greater ability, with more talents, is entrusted more. We have another expression for this principle: “the strongest has to carry the heaviest load”. Not the principle of equality is the basis of justice, but the principal inequality. We have to take the difference in talents, that is mental abilities, into account. That is just and the basis for judicial construction.
The lord in the parable does the same. He gives, according to the ability of the servant, one talent, that is one part of his possession, to the third servant. Justifiably he expects this servant to do something with it according to his ability. This with respect to the kingdom of heaven, for that’s the context.
The lord doesn’t expect anything more from the third than he expects from the other two. Everyone is asked to perform according to his ability in order to hasten the coming of the kingdom. What is wrong with that?
If the lord wasn’t confident the servant could do this, or knew the servant wasn’t able to do it, he hadn’t entrusted him a part of his possessions.
A servant like that, however, would certainly have obtained a place in the Beatitudes. The Kingdom is for everyone, and no one is excluded in advance, but one must want to be a part of it in the way one uses his abilities. Else you miss it and it misses you. That’s not a punishment, nor a judgement, but a mere consequence.
( I mean, the kingdom is immanent. It’s there where it is performed, and not there where it is not performed. Performing it makes you part of it. And not only you, but also your fellow men.)
The parable has more valuable aspects, that are not treated here.
Concluding, a respectful humane society is compassionate, but not glossing-over. It addresses people in their abilities and responsibility to carry their weight. It doesn’t overcharge people, but they are corrected and brought back when they try to escape their responsibilities.
With MS I agree that our society is in need of a new paradigm.
And certainly it would adorn Christian parties to provide such a paradigm for the organisation of the modern plural society (and not just support the established order, see June 18th).
2011 June 24
Swallowed by the “earth”
Through the Levisson Instute I received a small commentary (with gratitude) on the part of the Scripture of this week. It’s sidra Korach and contains a.o. chapter 16 of the book of Numbers (bemidbar). The comments were made by a South African rabbi A.B. Folb. With regard to 16 verse 3 he writes that leaders should not be arrogant and must not stand too far away from the people.
The situation is as follows: Korach and his people reproach Mozes and Aaron to raise themselves above the community. While, as they say, all members of the community are holy and the Eternal One is in their midst. That is: the Spirit is also with the members of the community and they have the right and the ability to speak with authority.
Despite the disastrous end of this story for Korach and his people, it is an interesting and actual passage.
How often do we not hear the reproach that, even democratically chosen, leaders stand too far at a distance from the people. That they don’t actually know what’s living in the minds of the people who chose them. And also, that they don’t listen enough to those who are the objects of their decisions. That the voice of the people is not taken seriously enough.
Korach tells Mozes in explicit terms that he thinks Mozes is asking too much of the members of his people. Recognizable words. Too often politicians seem to ask sacrifices they themselves don’t have to make. Political leaders often swim away from the actual environment of their electors. Besides that, they use a language people don’t understand. Looking at and listening to political debates I too sometimes get the idea of not being taken seriously.
And then considering that we are lucky to have a democratic order! Recent developments in North Africa and the Near East show what can happen to leaders who raise themselves above the people. Leaders who, in addition, got immensely rich at the expense of their people.
It is even worse in some African republics and the former Soviet Republic.
Power always tends to corrupt people and authority seems to go and lead a life of its own, so that administrators seem to sing away from the choir and sing a song of their own, in honour and glory of themselves.
In revolutionary developments and coups one can see this phenomenon repeat itself over and over again. What starts out as a justifiable movement, supported by the people, turns rapidly into its opposite. The revolutionaries of today are the dictators of tomorrow. Until they too are brought down in their turn.
The thing with Mozes and Aaron is that they are not just political leaders. Perhaps they are spiritual, religious, leaders in the first place. This introduces a problematical and intangible element. Namely the origin of their authority.
However authentically and authoritatively the Spirit speaks through the community, Mozes leans on G-d’s authority. On immediate revelation.
This sounds very sublime and prehistorically, but it isn’t.
In many Muslim countries religious leaders stand in opposition to secular political leaders and claim divine right. In countries where the sharia rules, the religious truth, based on revelation, dominates.
In (church)communities where truth is claimed on basis of divine revelation, and not on argumentative reasoning, discussion and discourse are impossible.
Where authority is executed with an appeal on divine ordinance, there is no room for criticism.
Opponents are eliminated and their bodies, their blood, their names are swallowed by the earth. Or they are made harmless in another way.
Korach and his followers seem to be struck by the same fate. In 16 verse 32 we read how the earth swallows them. How can we understand that? It is a very horrid thing, that’s for sure.
Sometimes on television we can see the effects of a landslide, or of a sudden crack in the earth’s crust. Men, women, children, animals, buildings suddenly sink down and are being swallowed by the earth. These images belong to the most terrible ones to witness at the news. And that is what’s happening to Korach, Datan and Abiram and their families in order to prove that Mozes is speaking in the name of G-d? There must be more to it!
Korach is right when he says a leader is not allowed to raise himself above the community. He’s right too when he says the Spirit also speaks in the community. But the reproach is not free from self-interest. He challenges the authority of Moses to gain more power for himself. His motives are impure. And impure as he is, he believes that Moses is using his authority to obtain power. He doesn’t recognize who is speaking through Moses. Moses’ motives are pure. He’s an honest leader. He is not eager for power and didn’t aspire to his job. (These are, by the way, the best leaders. The ones who don’t want it, but do it on behalf of the people’s interest. See Plato’s Republic and Statesman.)
Korach is driven by the lust for power and prestige and just like all revolutionary leaders, who strive for this, it causes his downfall. Not only to his own destruction, but also that of his kin. Very familiar. His eye is fixed on the “earth” and earthly goods, the material values, not on the interest of the Eternal One and his people. And so he is swallowed by the earth.
This teaches us an important and actual lesson.
Leaders may not raise themselves above their people. Their authority does not belong to them, it is given, granted. In the exercise of their authority they don’t serve their own interest, but a higher interest, that of the people as a whole and of the One as the source of life and future.
The Spirit speaks in the community. The leader has to listen to it and understand it’s meaning, the needs and desires it expresses.
Who is only fixed on power and earthly, material values, whether he/she be a leader or revolutionary, will be swallowed by them. They will bring him/her to fall. And others will fall with it.
It is important for the well being of a nation to serve the material and the spiritual needs too. Manna and law (torah). Both form conditions for living in peace.
There is an important difference between power and authority. Power rests on imperiousness and the ability to dominate. Authority rests on the combined action of inner convictions, the recognition of a common interest and serving this. This is the way organisations and nations ought to be governed, by a mutually recognised and aimed value.
2011 June 18
Realpolitik or principles? Opportunism or set values?
Concerning the ongoing discussion on value based politics, I like to share some thoughts.
The tension between pragmatism and ideology is a widespread phenomenon. Of I don’t know how my readers value this (I would like to, by the way), but I think it to be a difficult thing.
Everybody has to make compromises in daily life. At work, in your relation, product choices, in dealing with your fellow men, your friends.
It is very difficult to discern whether these compromises are purely value based or contain elements of value and pragmatism and self-interest. And why do I call justice, for instance, a value and self-interest not?
It has clearly to do with my value system in which self interest is considered a value under very strict conditions. For instance when a person chooses for himself in order to save his life under peril.
But in politics it’s different. A party, and I just give it as a sort of postulate, does not have the right to choose for it’s bare existence as a party, when it causes to change it’s physiognomy unrecognizably.
One cannot compromise that much, that you aren’t recognizable anymore as yourself. Some politicians and political parties do. I respect politicians who stay close to their principles.
A society isn’t build on the issues of the day. That doesn’t serve the quality and stability of our society.
The state protects the values that serve as parameters to build up the society.
Many countries have stated these fundamental values in charters at the rise of their coming into existence, sometimes after a struggle for liberty. I only mention this to say that these values are anchored in history and are subject to ongoing discussion and legislation. Today I really miss this fundamental discussion in politics.
Politics are dominated by pragmatism, economical feasibility and the effect certain political statements have on the election polls.
I think that a society needs values to be based on. In my opinion to these values belong freedom, responsibility, solidarity, justice, compassion, decency, reasonableness, idealism, altruism.
I’m asking a lot, I know.
But a clearly understood self-interest, a very predominant value in our days, will show the over all long term interest of it.
2011 June 11
What would you do when you had a herd of 100 cows and one went astray. Would you leave the others by themselves in the wilderness and go and look for the one? I don’t think so. You would risk loosing many more. And when you would have five children and one got lost. Would you leave the other four by themselves and look for the one missing? It would create a terrible dilemma.
I often wondered about the comparison that is told in Mathew chapter 18 verse 12, and Luke chapter 15 verse 4.
The two texts aren’t exactly the same, but both tell us about someone who has hundred sheep. In Mathew one goes astray, in Luke the owner looses one. The difference is clear.
In both cases the owner leaves the 99 and starts looking for the missing one.
And when he finds it there is joy.
Both stories are told with respect to a sinner who converts, someone who goes into the wrong direction and is brought back. It is said then that there is more joy over one who converts than about 99 who don’t need it, because they follow the right path.
Some find in this a sort of depreciation of the good. They are undervalued in their eyes.
But perhaps the text wants us to understand how precious we are in G-ds eyes.
Think about the above mentioned dilemma again.
At first I approached the story about the hundred sheep in a quantitative way. Why jeopardise 99 for the uncertain salvation of one?
But the Father doesn’t “think” in quantity, but in quality.
Every single human being bears his image, represents Him in this world and therefore has irreplaceable unique value.
My eyes were opened by something I read about the Baal Shem Tov. It concerns the case I mentioned earlier in my blog of June 3rd. In the case of the lost son the Baal Shem added that in the eye of the Eternal every one is a “ben yochid”, an only born.
An only born is unique, irreplaceable, of absolute value. This goes for each one of us.
If we read the metaphor about the sheep owner in this respect, we might better understand why he left the ninety-nine and went looking for the one. The one could be any one of the hundred.
The owner is of course the Eternal One looking for each one us as his only born. Each one of us has, as you might say, his full attention and love. He treats each one of us as his only born.
Each one of us has the unalienable responsibility to make G-d visible in this world. That determines our ultimate value. In this respect one is a lot; it means a world.
2011 June 05
A house isn’t necessarily a home. You can live somewhere and not feel at home, have a place to stay, but not a home.
On the other hand you might live anywhere and feel at home. Home is not just a place to dwell. It is the place where you feel at ease, comfortable, safe. Where people know and respect you. Where you can be yourself. Where your needs are fulfilled.
Therefore “home” figuratively stands for the place where all our deep desires are accommodated. It is a metaphor for heaven. Heaven itself being the metaphor for the environment in which our lives are completed and fulfilled, beyond suffering and desire.
Homesickness therefore is also the desire for fulfilment. It is a quality of the soul longing to unite with her origin. The soul as the light within longs to be united with the light beyond, the source of all light.
Living in darkness, the soul is in exile, separated from it’s source of life, far away from home.
The Scripture often talks about separation and exile. The prodigal son (saint Luke chapter 15); the vine and the branches (saint John chapter 15) for instance, and the numerous times the people of G-d has turned away from G-d and the periods of exile, separated from the land, the temple and G-d.
Turning home is always connected with conversion, literally turn around.
Sometimes we too can feel that our lives are going into the wrong direction. That we don’t come further, only further away from home. Mentally and sometimes even physically.
Usually this moving away from what we are (see also the story of Jonas) is the consequence of unfortunate choices we make. Sometimes circumstances beyond our power undermine our faith in ourselves and in life itself. This lack of faith causes us to hate ourselves and to hate the world. Bringing us far away from home. Even to point of losing our souls and ourselves.
Whenever we feel this happening, we have to stop and think about ourselves properly. And then turn around, perhaps go back even to the moment it went wrong and restart from that point following the other way.
To cure a diseased soul Maimonides advises in the mishne torah a conversion of ways. When you get angry easily, try to be indifferent when you feel hurt, be gracious and kind. When arrogant try to humiliate yourself, when you steal, start giving.
When you feel homeless and deserted, follow the way back home. On this way you are never alone.
The Sunday between Ascension and Pentecost is sometimes called the Sunday of orphanhood. The disciples are in between the death and final departure of Jesus and Pentecost when the Helper, the holy ghost arrives. They are like orphans, being separated from the source of their lives.
But as a matter of fact they have allowed themselves to get separated from this source by the fear and lack of faith they have. Once they feel the strength of the Spirit, they become confident again and no longer feel deserted.
Then they are able to go out and announce the proximity of the realm of G-d. And in their actions they show that this home is not far away, but under reach. They can travel to the ends of the known world and not go astray. Their souls are at rest, because they carry their home in their heart.
2011 June 02
Today the Christian world celebrates the ascension of Jesus Christ. In Europe it’s a day off, like Sunday is. Probably in large parts of the world not. Most people inhabiting “this goodly frame the earth” will have no idea what on earth (or in heaven) ascension is or means. They are by no means to blame, because inquiries under Christian people point out that, even of them, only a small percentage knows what it means.
And I dare say that from this small percentage a majority has a defective understanding of it’s meaning.
What it all about? We find the descriptions in the scripture at the end of the gospels by saint Luke and Mark, and in the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.
Jesus, of heavenly birth, ascends to his original place of descent. This very shortly put of course. But it indicates the belief that Jesus originates from heaven and has to return to that environment. It all depends on what you believe whether you want to see this as a symbolical or actual physical event.
The fact of faith that in Jesus G-d’s bond with his people receives a human stature, means that all that concerns Jesus and everything that is told about him has human interest, value and meaning.
And that includes not only his birth, life and death, but also his resurrection and ascension.
The ascension has two important things to say about our lives.
In the first place the texts that speak about the ascension make clear that Jesus is ascending and the disciples stay here. The disciples’ place is not heaven as such. Their place is here on earth. Their work and duties and task concern the life on earth, the place people dwell and wheel and deal. The object of their mission is the society of men and women. The end of the gospel by saint Mark makes that very clear: “go out to the entire world and proclaim the good news”.
The disciples have to do the work of proclamation and testify that in them the realm of G-d (heaven) is near.
Secondly the ascension reveals the direction our life stands in. The ascension is as it were the vector of our life. Our lives are directed towards heaven and we have to aim our lives at heaven.
Heaven, not as a physical place somewhere in the concrete universe, but as a goal our life is intended to. As the purpose and essential meaning of human life. The ideal we aim at, that gives our life sense and direction. And the concept of heaven with the values it stands for (like love, justice, brotherhood, personal recognition) also gives us the necessary orientations for the ethical choices we have to make here and now. Choices that have to stand in the direction of the eventual and initial purpose of human life.
Heaven as place of origin and ascension of Jesus Christ, in whom G-d has become visible as a human being, provides a firm basis for the orientation of our life and gives meaning and direction to our efforts to make this earth into a better place.
2011 May 21
The other day I wrote in one of my blogs (May 19) about the abuse report by order of the American bishops. The commission took five years to make it. Whoever wants to read the report will find it on the site of the bishops conference (usccb.org).
The whole matter made me think about the sacraments, the holy signs entrusted to the church to witness of Gods love for mankind.
Servants of the holy signs performing unholy acts and deeds that betray the love of God. In a way that the sacrament of communion receives a totally different meaning. In a way that confidentialities within the sacred environment of a confession are received improperly. Especially towards trespasses of the sixth and ninth command.
Over the last few years the church stimulates actively the use of the sacrament of confession, reconciliation. It made me wonder how the church itself handles this sacrament in relation to the abuse affairs.
Religiously spoken people maintain a sacramental relationship with each other. As images of the Holy One they represent in their relations also the relation of the Eternal with his people. They are called to make God visible to and for each other.
What goes for individuals, is the more stronger so for the institute of the church that claims to mediate the relationship of God with his people in Christ. Sometimes claims to do so exclusively and with authority. In that sense the church as a whole is sacrament God’s love. She is therefore compelled to be sacramental in her ministration and her manifestation.
This is a high vocation. To be fulfilled by human beings, who have of course their limitations. It doesn’t always succeed and everybody understands that. This means the church needs an attitude of humility and contriteness, just like any person, knowing clearly that it doesn’t always live up to the demands and according to what it is meant to be.
When one, as an individual, does something wrong, one would perhaps like to conceal it at first. Being confronted with it, one might like to deny or diminish it, or point at others who are no good either.
More or less all of us will recognize this. But at a certain moment, and being honest towards yourself and others, you will recognize your trespass and admit that you did wrong.
You will try to make amends, and repent. But above all you will try your very best not to do it again, to convert. You will do anything possible to restore the violated trust. To heal the relation and make it sacramental again, according to its original purpose. Hoping for forgiveness, so that it won’t follow you ever after.
That is exactly what is mediated through the sacrament of reconciliation. Confession of guilt and fault, firm intention to make amends and restore damage, conversion to other behaviour and to better one’s ways, repentance and active reconciliation towards the neighbour and to receive absolution, in order to be able to make a fresh start.
In the cases of abuse and child molest I see slow understanding, reluctant recognition and, partly, trivializing. Asking for understanding for previous conduct. Uttered, but not heartfelt shame. Denial of the structural flaws that exist in the system. Postponement of reaction by investigations that take years, under the cover of the utmost care.
It seems the church wants to put things on hold. To get the boil off the kettle. The tactic of a long breath the church uses for centuries. To give some marginal solace and wait. But the most important thing is neglected.
Confession is intended to restore wholeness, original purpose, real reconciliation.
A broad and costly investigation is not enough. It is not enough for a number of bishops to go flat on the floor in repentencepurple. It is not enough that the holy father talks with some odd ten preselected victims.
Humbly asking each and every victim for forgiveness and offer amends would be a start.
The actions of the perpetrators, in a way, robbed the victims of God. They have been robbed their deepest (source of) faith and trust. That is the debt the church has towards them. The repentance of the church should meet and address this debt. In trying to repair peoples’ original wholeness. At least and above all their wholeness in respect to the Eternal, blessed be his Name.
2011 April 30
After the High Sunday of the resurrection we have Low Sunday. Christ has risen to life eternal. The disciples are low in mood. They keep a low profile out of fear. They close themselves behind bars. Doors and windows closed. The doors of their hearts and minds, the windows of their eyes. They don’t see or know what has happened. They haven’t perceived the new possibilities revealed. Darkness and a dead end road is what they perceive.
Fear always paralyzes. Of course one needs to discern between realistic fears and non-realistic ones. The discussion about who determines either of them, I leave undone. It is very wise and sensible to be afraid of dangers and life threatening risks. One must learn to evaluate these realistically. Recklessness is unwise and running unnecessary risks is suicidal. But, when cautiousness turns into anxiety one cannot live freely.
When this happens, people lock themselves up and they cut themselves off. The shutters are closed, preventing interaction with the environment and with other people. In the end making it even impossible to connect with their inner selves.
Locked up by fear. These people only live half. They merely prolong their existence. This is a dramatic representation, of course. But.. I’m convinced a lot in our lives is not achieved because of fear. I think very person has a hidden corner of anxiety in his heart. On that spot one is not free. On that one doesn’t really live.
Sometimes fear even has a social appearance. The irrational and groundless fear for a foreign religion for instance. Or for a general crisis, for economical spectres.
But more often it’s closer to home. Fear to make your own choices, to attract attention. To undertake an enterprise, to start a relationship, to let your children go their own way and so many other examples.
Wouldn’t it be divine to be released from all these impediments?
Usually we cannot liberate ourselves. We have to convert. We have to learn to look at ourselves with new eyes. And look at the world in the same way. A break through in our thinking. Someone who elevates us. Who opens the doors and windows of our minds, so that light can come in. Who gives us confidence in our own possibilities and sets us on the road.
It could happen in a flash.
It did happen to the frightened disciples of Jesus, who caved themselves in out fear of countermeasures. Afraid they could get killed. But Jesus broke through in the darkness and mental prison and brought new light. Liberating light, creating life and faith, so that the could go on with their jobs. See the Gospel by St. John, chapter 20 verses 19 and following. Now you know why we call it Low Sunday.
Rising from low profile and opening your being closed in, makes a person really alive. It is a personal liberation, but also a blessing for the human society.
2011 April 23
Nearly always, when confronted with death, which happens quite a lot, many questions arise. Why? Why this person? Why now? Why this way?
But also questions that concern the meaning of our life. What does death say about our lives? About the perspectives of our existence?
Questions that cannot be easily answered. Nevertheless they are good questions.
Questions like these arise even stronger when death is considered untimely, unjust, meaningless. For instance with a disaster like the one in Japan, warlord conflicts like those in parts of Africa, shootings like the one in Alphen aan de Rijn.
To find an answer we usually look over the border of our existence. We say that we live on in our children, in the thoughts and minds of others, in the work we have accomplished.
We find it difficult to accept that with the temporal aspect of our existence everything of our lives has been said. That is why we want an “extension” of our life. That doesn’t answer the why questions by the way.
Apart from a “live-on-model” meaning and sense can be given by attributing to our temporal life an absolute character. Roger Scruton does that by saying that everything we are and do stands under the aspect of the infinite. Not in the religious sense of a continuity of life in a normative environment (heaven, hell). He means to say that everything we are has been in existence for ever when we have passed away. And everything we do shall have been done in eternity.
In a Jewish context something comparable is said to assess the absolute value and unique unrepeatable character of this life. “Everything you do has been done in eternity, and everything you omitted to do has not been done in eternity”. And “the saving of a human being is as saving a world”.
Every single human life in this way has absolute value, is unique and cannot be repeated. We might well be satisfied with this idea. Nevertheless we cannot deal with the fact that our life comes to an end, even though this temporal existence is of absolute value and importance.
As a way out we believe that our individual life is wanted, meaningful and doesn’t end up in nothing. Most people assume there’s “something” after this life.
People who believe assume their lives are sheltered in the One, what other name they may have. In Christian, and partly in Jewish, religion the resurrection, the rising from the dead forms the equivalent image of this belief.
A passage like exodus. This time not out of the slavery in Egypt, but from the cuffs of a mortal life through death to a promised land, a from death liberated existence.
This is, I think, the pith of resurrection belief. The desire of every human being to cast off death in all it’s appearances and live really and freely and to the full.
The experience that this is only partly possible in this life makes our desire surpass the boundaries of this life to another existence, recovered, whole, happy, uncorrupted.
Because this desire has a homesick aspect too, we see it as a coming home as well.
The resurrection is the symbolical translation of our longing for a real and full life. We understand this as life as it was originally meant, as we believe.
In our being created, the meaning of our life is found in God. Living in him/her we live fully, really.
Nevertheless it would be an awful miss to project and situate this life only on the other side of this existence. In that case we don’t take this life seriously. It would be contrary to the absolute value of it.
Real life is not there, but here and now live the life as it comes. But under the aspect of eternity. With faith in the value of this life. With the desire for a from death liberated existence. In the perspective of a sound and whole world and humanity.
This means on the basis of our belief in the resurrection to rise against all forms of death, suppression and slavery in this world.
2011 April 16
On the eve of Palm Sunday, the day we commemorate the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, a small contribution on the freedom of religion. Not very strange considering what happened to Jesus.
In our times the matter of exercising religious freedom has great political impact. It's in the news a lot. The suppression of christians in Irak, Iran and Afghanistan, but also in China, North Korea and elsewhere. The burka prohibition in France in the public domain. The discussion in the Netherlands about forbidding moslimas to wear face covering cloths. The almost categorical condemnation of the Islam in certain circles.
Religion is hot. Therefore it has political meaning as well. Or perhaps it's hot because it has political meaning.
That too is not new. Jesus represented a certain religious movement in his days. He wanted to liberate his religion from the exclusive claims by scholars and ecclesio-political leaders. Maybe to give religion back to the people. A religion no longer mediated by authorities, but a directly lived and experienced religion.
Such preachings, originally only religious, have political significance too. There are always and everywhere people who benefit from the status quo. They will always choose to try to smother contrary voices.
Religious liberty needs political liberty. Even with political liberty the free exercise of one's convictions and faith is already difficult enough, as our democracies do not fail to witness.
It's all about the quality of the spiritual climate of a certain environment or society.
What freedom did Jesus enjoy in his society regarding the free exercise of his religious beliefs?
I strongly favour a free spiritual domain in which people take their own responsibility. I decline any sort of repressive society. This applies to religious communities as well when they enslave the spiritual freedom and selfresponsibility of people.
Each and every human being must be able to choose his (religious) orientations in liberty and live by them.
As far as I'm concerned there is but one condition: absolute respect for the life and liberty of one's fellow creature.