Friday, January 10, 2014

Facts?! Forget it. Faith!! & Friendship. South Sudan & Beshalach

Is faith like this image? The "fact" is that there is no image
on the right yet after 15 seconds it appears then disappears.
I am thinking about how some manage to continue to believe despite some “facts” that appear to contradict those beliefs. Atheist or believer, we all need to put our faith in someone or something if we are ever to achieve anything. It can be a business idea, or in a relationship with other people, another tribe or with a God that, as I understand Him, is engaged with his creation and therefore it would follow that He allows humans to butcher each other. I also think about how God as described in the Torah, with His Wrath and all, is a comfortable fit for a new age guy like me.

I have been thinking about how this relates to my fellow; fathers, brothers, mothers and children in South Sudan and to what they are going through.

It was on a starry night in Yogyakarta in 2010 that I was first introduced to their world. I heard a heart-warming story from an American Missionary, Bill Lowrey, about the wise and fearless leaders of the Nuer and Dinka tribes who brought peace to their people after decades of terrible fighting.  Rev. Lowrey’s told me about his “approach (which) drew on the rich wisdom of the indigenous Nuer and Dinka peoples, as he integrated their traditional peacemaking methods with modern theories of conflict resolution”. (1).

“One of the local rituals involved participants spitting into a gourd filled with water. When it came to Bill, he spat into it too. When everyone had spat, they splashed the water on each other. The spittle on the tongue is meant to be the coldest part of a person, and splashing it symbolized cooling off the hot bodies, charged with the ‘heat of conflict’. Bill asked the chiefs to tell stories they heard from their fathers’ mothers about how conflicts were resolved in the past. They sat opposite each other, divided by a rope representing the Nile, and discovered the wisdom of their respective ancestors was very similar. They told stories about what was done to them, and finally were asked what they ‘remembered’ for the future of their daughters’ sons” (2). At the end of the process “the Dinka and Nuer signed a covenant to end their tribal war and sealed it by sacrificing a bull, which signifies wealth for both of the tribes. By stepping over the bull, they publicly pronounced their commitment for a new peace (3)”.

It is heart breaking that the world’s newest nation is now facing further death and conflict, despite the traditional wisdom that ended the fighting there just over a decade ago.  One of my Facebook Friends has been personally affected with the loss of his brother in the fighting. I have no doubt that people there can list the “facts” of the conflict that explain their tribes’ perspective and the wrong doing of their enemies. I pray that somehow, despite the unimaginable difficulty involved, the facts and grievances of both sides can again be set aside.

In our Torah reading this week we read about events a bit further up the Nile. The Jews or Israelites had left Egypt filled with faith, embracing Moses and their invisible God, following them in to the wilderness. It is not long before they face the sea in front of them and enemies behind them. They are told to disregard the facts and keep going (4), miraculously the sea splits. Yet, a short time later, new facts emerge. They arrive in the Sinai desert (5) just as their food runs out (6). They don’t politely pray for food, instead they turn on Moses “we wish we could have died by the hand of God in the land of Egypt, when we sat on the flesh pot and ate our fill of bread”. Moses tells them that their faith will return when God will send fat birds for them to eat and manna from heaven. I think Moses is implying a criticism of them. It is only when you have a full stomach and lack for nothing do you believe that it was God who took you out of Egypt, just a few weeks earlier.

Faith, friendship and even coexistence require us to disregard some facts and focus on hope and faith. Of course, this is easier said than done, but perhaps the only way forward. My prayers are with all who suffer from violence and injustice, including those whose suffering is justified by the facts.

2)    As told me to by Rev. Lowrey, for more of the story as he told it to me,
3)    Ibid, ..
4)    Exodus 14:15
5)    Exodus 16:1-18
6)    Rashi

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