Recovery – Struggling to Grasp the Positive in a Violent World

Happy New Year! Happy birthday, Dr. King! And here we are in Black History Month! We at Sister Souurce, Inc. took a break to recover from the physical, psychological, and spiritual exhaustion of 2023. While there were many joys, there were also challenges – personal and societal – that tested our resilience. Twenty twenty-three will be remembered for different reasons but most of all, I hope to embrace the lessons I’m still pondering.

I sit at my desk thinking about a simple Buddhist saying to get me through the heartbreak of world affairs. “Families are filled with ten thousand joys and ten thousand sorrows.” It is not my biological family, but the human family that I think of as I contemplate these words. In these times when the world feels like it’s on fire, I must remember that the human family is filled with thousands of joys and sorrows. Why must I focus on the negative?

There are those who turn a deaf ear and blind eye to the pain and suffering occurring around them. There are those who spew hatred, act out of the lower energies of anger, hate, frustration, greed, envy, jealousy, and violence. These individuals and groups contribute to the detriment of the world. There are those who care deeply about humanity and wish to promote freedom, justice and equality – who continue to be hopeful and act in ways that model change. They may be associated with faith traditions, or not. On the other hand, I believe there is a growing group of individuals that once identified as, let’s call them “progressives,” that believe humankind has lost its humanity, its sense of what it means to be human – the capacity to empathize, the ability to control emotions and to practice critical thinking and decision-making. I’m less judgmental of them now because I’m beginning to doubt humankind’s ability to transform. Masses of people continue to accept the tyranny of the minority that places profit before human lives. When the world appears to have gone mad, what do we do?

I am emotionally and spiritually tired. I’m growing cynical and defeated. I search for the positive while I try to hold the weight of the world on my shoulders and those suffering in my heart. My heart breaks for the millions around the world being oppressed and mistreated. So, instead of complete withdrawal from humanity, I recall my re-evaluation co-counseling partner, Horace Williams, a 90-year-old Catholic, who told me about a non-profit organization committed to supporting Israel’s only intentional Arab-Jewish village. The Neve Shalom/What Al-Salam community (Arabic and Hebrew for Oasis of Peace) was founded by Father Bruno Hussar in 1970 with seventy families. Half were Jewish and half were Palestinian – all were Israeli citizens. Located an equal distance from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv-Jaff, the residents stated goals of equality, democracy, and peace to guide them in their endeavors. I wonder how they’re doing in the midst of this horrendous atrocity on both sides – this village that committed to govern collectively as they worked and played together prior to October 7, 2023? In days past, they collectively enjoyed programs that included a primary school, a school for peace, The Spiritual Center and Oasis Art Gallery, and the Humanitarian Aid Program and Youth Club.

Haled, a person who has early memories of the village community reminisces about his childhood days. He has since moved from What al-Salam-Neve Shalom to live in Haifa. He commented that when he left the village he learned about racism, among other things.

He says, “The most important thing I got here [the village] was an ability to understand the other side … I can put myself into another’s shoes, and that is useful. If I had been born Jewish in this country, I would have served in the army; in Gaza I would belong to Hamas. When I speak with someone from Kiryat Malachi [a southern district in Israel] I know how to overturn that mantra in his head that says – they are like this, they are like that.”

Rawnak Natour, a civil rights activist who focuses on equality in employment and education, while advocating to end discrimination against minorities, serves as co-executive director of veteran New Israel Fund grantee, Sikkuy – The Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality, a shared organization of Arabs and Jews in Israel. She seeks to effect change in government ministries, public agencies, local authorities and among the public, and to encourage better government policies toward Arab citizens while creating a new reality of a shared and equal society.

She says, “Every day, the village gives us proof that building knowledge and trust is essential if we really want to reach agreement at the end of the day. It gives us proof that peace is possible.”

As I struggle to regain my perspective amid current world affairs, I invite you to offer up what you do to stay sane and centered during such devastating events. I close with the following quote:

Outside the Circle of Care

“The ground is shifting beneath our feet. Old truths are falling away. Old stories are collapsing … A movement, led by Black people and young people but welcoming to all races, gender identities, religions and generations, has done the work of imagining a radically different and more beautiful world, and they are already fighting for it.” ~ Naomi Klein, journalist and author – Ware Lecturer, Unitarian Universalist General Assembly 2020

Warmest regards,

Elder Rev. Qiyamah A. Rahman

“War is humanity’s ultimate failure.”

“It is not just the failure of one nation over another, it is not just the failure of one leader over another, and it is not simply the failure of one diplomatic strategy over another. It is the failure of us all.”

The news of the conflict between Israel and Palestine is devastating. Whether I have friends and colleagues in or from either country is not the issue. Neither is it a matter of choosing sides. There are men and women, mothers and children, elderly and disabled people – on  both sides – who are suffering and dying.

In my despair, I came to wonder how many places in the world there are human beings at war with one another. According to the Council on Foreign Relations’ Global Conflict Tracker, there are currently twenty-seven ongoing conflicts worldwide; 2 billion people currently live in conflict-affected regions. In her 2022 Global Citizen article, “13 Heartbreaking Facts About Ongoing Conflicts Around the World,” Tess Lowery outlined the three categories of conflicts as identified by the Council: worsening, unchanging and improving. I would agree with the Council’s classification of the conflict between Israel and Palestine as “worsening.”

The United Nations stated that “peace is more under threat around the world than it has been since WWII.” The most vulnerable among us, i.e., women, children, the elderly, and the disabled, are disproportionately affected, and are often referred to as collateral damage. That is, they were not the intended targets, but were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Tragically, “One child dies every ten minutes in Yemen,” according to a 2021 United Nations report.

Prevailing notions of patriarchy also exacerbate the vulnerability of women during wartime.  This culturally perceived dominance of men over women puts women at greater risk of experiencing sexual violence. Acts of rape, one of the most common violations against women during wartime, is a most brutal expression of male dominance. Women’s bodies are weaponized as instruments of war. For example, the intentional raping of women in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Rwanda was part of a military strategy to emotionally demoralize the opposition.

Rev. Lee Barker’s observations on UUism and the struggle for peace appear in the anthology, In Time of Need: Sermons & Essays from the Meadville Lombard Theological School Community. While Rev. Barker’s sermon, “War is Humanity’s Ultimate Failure” focuses on Iraq, his observations apply equally today:

The news from Iraq can be heart[-]stopping. But it doesn’t have to defeat our spirits, not if we are willing to act in a manner that is suggested by this great religious tradition of ours [Unitarian Universalism]. Hope will come to all of those who make a room in our church for persons of each and every opinion. Peace will come to those who open a place in our church for people of every stripe. There is a better way of dealing with human difference. In our church we can both prove it and make some peace with a warring world … If we are going to paint for ourselves a new, complete world, then we’d better be prepared to put together a reflection of that new complete world, in our lives, in our here-and-now lives. And if we are searching for that new, peaceful world where people of difference are reconciled to one another, despite those differences, then we’d better be prepared to put together a personal world where we are so reconciled to those who are different from us.

Some who supported the Iraq war were present in the audience when he preached the above sermon. Addressing those parishioners, Barker stated: “In my life you represent humanity’s best hope for peace for you are here. In this church, worshipping in a place where you are the distinct minority.”

While Barker’s sermon was delivered eighteen years ago and focused on Iraq, it is equally relevant today, given the Israel-Palestinian conflict. We pray for peace in the world, and the day when people of all nations can get along. As Unitarian Universalists, we recognize that warfare kills, maims and devastates not only human lives, but also destabilizes a country’s economy, causing increased poverty.

Let us pray and work for peace in the world! May it be so and blessed be!

Rev. Dr. Qiyamah A. Rahman

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Lee Barker, “Making Peace with a Warring World,” in In Time of Need: Sermons & Essays from the Meadville Lombard Theological School Community. 1st ed. Meadville Lombard Reader 2005. Edited by Tina Porter, (Chicago: Meadville Lombard Press, 2006), 74.

Christina Lamb. Our Bodies, Their Battlefields: War Through the Lives of Women (New York: Scribner, 2020).

Lowery, Tess. “13 Heartbreaking Facts About Ongoing Conflicts Around the World.” Global Citizen. April 1, 2022. www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/facts-about-world-conflicts.

UNICEF USA. “Remarks on the situation in Yemen” by UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore at the 8840th meeting of the UN Security Council 23.