More From Alder's Ledge

June 27, 2014

Muhammad, Jesus, Abraham...

Turning Away From Our Principles
(Unholy War series)

Religion is a very sensitive subject. This post will address religion in a way that is offensive to some readers. It is intended to be illustrative of how religion affects the way we reach out to the world around us. It is meant to show that we need not to shrug the strict devotions to faith at times if we are to show the true messages of said faiths. That we should be willing to reach beyond our religious boundaries to help those in need. The message is at times rough and hard to read. And it is not meant to be taken as fact but a mere suggestion. If anything, the purpose of this post is to make you ask questions, not to tell you what to do. 

(My People)

When it comes to religions there aren't many in the West that people think of as being oppressed more so than Judaism. 70 plus years ago was the most iconic time our oppression and near extermination. Yet there was also Russia's repressive role over it's Jewish population. And there is the lingering issue of antisemitism across the West. But there is also the issue of Israel itself. And it is this issue that transforms Judaism, if only in part, from victim to oppressor. 

However, before we dive into the portion of Judaism that gets a particular portion of readers foaming at the mouth... lets go back a little ways first. 

Judaism was the first of the Abrahamic faiths that depicted in it's holy book violent imagery that some could argue was in fact genocide. Entire populations were forced out of what would become Judea (later Israel) while others were killed off altogether. These somewhat barbaric "holy wars" were said to be ordained by Elohim (G-d). His holy word was said to have directed our ancestors to slaughter men, women, babies, and even the farm animals as well. Not a living soul was allowed to be spared the wrath of the Lion of Judah. And all the while we were forging what the world would later come to know as "the holy land"... a land drenched in blood from it's birth. 

So one might expect that if you are raised to believe that G-d intended His spirit to reside upon a small patch of sand and not in the heart of man, well then Israel is just the place... right? 

We did a marvelous job at turning the blood over into the soil and bringing forth olives, wheat, and other various crops. We did a great job at building upon the ruins of those who had come before us (of course this was easy since they weren't city builders). We even managed to erect the temple just as G-d had commanded (twice actually). There were kings who had giant mines to dig up the gold and precious metals that Israel's land had to offer. There were religious leaders who made sure that the laws of the land were adhered to strictly. And there were even a handful of the underclass who made sure the fun things in life weren't totally banished by the prior said class of man. All in all, we did a great job for a very long period of time when it came to building up the culture that would define Judaism for centuries to come. 

And those centuries did come and go. The Greeks came and tried to kill us all off, we remained. The Romans came and tried to kill us all off, we remained. The neighbors found religion and came over to share it (somewhat violently), we still remained. Of course some of us did pack up our things and take off from time to time. But for the most part, we remained. 

My ancestors in particular packed up and left when the neighbors over in what is now Syria had a little argument amongst themselves and a small group of them took off for Africa. Hitchhiking with the Moors, they eventually made it to Spain. Then when the party ended and the neighbors to the north got annoyed with the new kids on the block... well they took off again (just this time without their traveling companions). And hello Croatia it was. Well until the locals found a new form of faith and suddenly the neighborhood went to hell. But I digress... 

Over the time in diaspora some of us got a little nostalgic, and by a little I mean a desire for a few hundred years or so ago. This led to a little mingling of fact with fiction and the such. But it eventually ended up with the belief that G-d wanted all "His people" back in the land of Israel. And in this sense we almost got it right when we started to realize what G-d's temple really is (but we'll get to that later). 

Packing up and headed off to a new neighborhood was easy this time. We had been sold a belief that this was a homecoming of sorts. Some were even claiming that if we had just done this a couple decades ago those pesky Germans wouldn't have had a chance to be such bloody... I digress again. 

Arriving "home", the European Jews found that some other people had moved in while they were gone. Or so it would seem if you bought the idea that this was their land in the first place. They didn't however seem to realize that the Jews who didn't take off all those centuries ago (the indigenous population one might say) were relatively comfortable with their counterparts in what was then Palestine. Instead of realizing that integration was perhaps more preferable than a hostile takeover, the newcomers decided to take back what they viewed as being rightfully theirs. 

And this is where we slow down and really get into why Judaism has forsaken it's principles when we allow for the oppression of others in the name of our own faith. 

There isn't anything that was covered in the prior paragraphs that was meant to be a joke. Just as there isn't anything in this post that is humorous. What happened to my people over the centuries has been tragic. We have been made to suffer for our faith. We have been sent to camps, ghettos, and pits in open fields where they killed us. My family was lined up on a ledge and shot. There isn't anything in this post that is easy to write about. And what happened when my people came "home" isn't easy to write about. 

We came back to Israel to find that the people who had most recently invaded and colonized it were now well established. If you are Muslim, this is the time to admit that those we now know as Palestinians weren't the first people to be born and raised on that patch of soil. If you are Jewish, now is the time to admit that those Palestinians were born and raised on that patch of soil for generations before European Jews arrived. We came back to a land that wasn't the way we left it. In some ways it was better. In other ways it was alien and denied us the privilege of practicing our faith in the same holy places we had centuries before. 

There aren't easy answers as to how things should had been. There aren't easy ways of saying that one party was wrong or one party was just a little more wrong than the other. After all, over a long enough timeline each party comes off looking like a bunch of savages out for blood. 

The fact is that when the decisions were made to expel and kill Palestinians so that Judaism could prevail... that is where Judaism is to blame. 

We believe that G-d loves all His creation. We believe that we are to honor that love by revering G-d's creation in the same way G-d did when He breathed life into it. These beliefs are not confined to the way we conduct ourselves with other Jews but extends to all G-d's children and creation. We are to treat our brother as we would want them to treat us, but more importantly... in the ways G-d has blessed us (love, compassion, and understanding... to name a few).

This way of practicing Judaism can't be easily depicted when one looks at Israel today. Though the argument can be made that Israel is a modern state and not a religious institution in and of itself... that argument is flawed. For Israel upholds Judaism above all other faiths through laws, traditions, and policies. It's bias toward Judaism is seen in laws that can be characterized as "race laws". It's propping up of Judaism is so prevalent that it can be seen in laws regarding marriage within Israel.

The continued persecution of those who once lived upon the land where Israel rest leaves a stain upon Judaism as a whole. As long as it is perceived as being permissible within Israel to devalue the lives of a few than no life is truly valuable. This hatred, the tainting of Judaism's teachings, leaves all equally miserable. It makes life easy to extinguish in as much the same way as it was when our historical oppressors stole the lives of our ancestors. 

"... As Yourself"

Christianity is born out of blood. The creation of this faith created a new branch of the Abrahamic traditions. It took the principles of Judaism and highlighted portions while easing away from others. And in this tightrope like walk through the laws of Judaism it created opportunity for new branches of it's own faith to form. What started as being washed in the blood of the Lamb of G-d soon just became a bloodletting. From the wars of Europe to the conquest of the New World, Christianity has spread through the desires of man rather than the will of G-d. From the death of one man, Jesus of Nazareth, came the deaths of martyrs and victims alike. 

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another." ~ John 13:34 

Christians did start out being persecuted. It's in fact their desire to branch away from Judaism that first got them put out on the road in the first place. The Jewish leaders of the day didn't care much for the new heretics in town. So the Christians got thrown to the Romans, who decided to kill them to start with, where they found European converts. Eventually the Romans softened up and backed away from the whole circus bit. And in the end the Christians end up with an entire city in Rome that acts as it's own little nation within a nation (however over the years I've been told by Protestants that Catholics aren't real Christians... and the same the other way around). But the just because you have the heart of an empire doesn't mean you stop there...

Christians spread out to the Germanic tribes, over Spain, and the British isles. They got held up in Romania for a bit when the empire died back. But Russia and the Eastern Europeans eventually came under the cloth as Christianity fought to claim as much of Europe as it could before the new kids down in the Middle East could come rushing north. From Greece to the Balkans Christianity was actually doing alright it seemed (given the local religions were subdued or erased all together). All Christianity had to do was make a few adjustments here and there to mask prior beliefs across the continent (examples: Christmas, Easter, Valentines Day, St Patrick's...). This cultural genocide was alright of course since the message out of Rome was that Christianity spread civilization (with a little barbarism to enforce said civilization). 

Once the initial bloodshed was finished then the in house fighting began. This long period of bloodshed is partially to blame for sending some Christians out on the road again. Over a length of time those wandering groups of Christians would eventually end up on new lands far from home. One batch would become the seeds from which the United States would grow (somewhat exaggeratedly so). However, just as any new species can be once introduced to a new environment, these seeds quickly became invasive.

"Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others."
~Philippians 2:3-4 

Native languages, cultures, and ways of life were rapidly displaced as Christians took to what some were selling as the promised land. Spanish Christian armies stole gold, silver, and slaves in the name of their god (greed) and country. English Christians came to fine religious freedom while openly denying even basic liberties to the native peoples and the slaves they brought with them. French Christians did a less invasive method of Spanish expansion yet still managed to spread disease (not really their fault, but had they stayed home...) wherever they went. The Dutch Christians and other assorted allotments tried to grab what they could before France and England divided up most of the north while Spain clung to the south. All the while the message of Christianity was that Europeans had a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of anything native peoples had prior to their arrival. 

All this was done as Christians had to swallow their faith's principles and give into the lust of man. Their colonialist of the world would become known as the "white man's burden" for the native peoples they conquered. However it wasn't the white peoples' race that was often held up as the reason for their massive excesses across the globe (however it was one of the reasons given, i.e. racism), it was their religion that was given as justification. The church often rationalized the cost the native populations had to pay by telling itself that Christianity would at least save their souls. So even if they did die from disease, hunger, or outright murder; at least their souls would be with G-d. 

Today this hatred in the West can be depicted as being confined to religiously based hate groups that scatter across Western civilization. And for the most part that is right. However, in countries where religion has not been separated from state, the pushing of Christianity as "the culture" rather than allowing diversity... the hate that fueled colonialism still persist. 

Jesus replied; "Love the Lord your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and the greatest commandment. And the second is like it, 'Love your neighbor as yourself'. All the Law of the Prophets hinge upon these two commandments." 
~Matthew 22:37-40

Christianity teaches it's followers that love is the greatest commandment of all. First they are to love G-d above all other things in this life. Secondly they are to love their fellow man in the same way they would love themselves. These two commandments in Christianity allow little room for hatred of others or other cultures. They show that Christians should be willing to express the same love for their fellow man that G-d has shown for them. If they have been blessed by their creator with freedoms, liberty, and health; then they should fight for those things for others who have not been given such blessings. Not so that those others will turn to Christ but so that in doing these things they are serving the Lord their G-d. For showing love is the basic principle of Jesus's message to his followers. 

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." ~1 Corinthians 13:4-7

"... of Mankind"

The third and final branch of the Abrahamic faiths is Islam. And like it's predecessors, Islam first arose from blood and still mingles with blood to this day. The Prophet Muhammad brought forth a faith that was meant to be the final word of G-d. It preached peace, love, and tolerance (for the Jews and Christians at least). Yet in it's implementation and founding in the deserts of Arabia it spread at first by the word and then eventually by the sword. Through no fault of it's own (of course) Islam had taken the path of the religions that came before it. It sought converts (like Christianity) and the rule of law (like Judaism). And somewhere in that rough start the message seems to have gotten lost. 

"The blessed of mankind is the one who is the most beneficial for mankind." ~Prophet Muhammad (s) in Beyhaki 6/112.

Groups like the Turks (Ottomans) really took things to a level that made the whole "peaceful religion" portion seem to be a fallacy of sorts. Their excesses, however occurring way down the road chronologically speaking, showed to the modern world how Islam had been abused since within the Middle East. Yet if we look back to the Moors in Spain we can see how Islam was abused far before that. It was only when the Moors started to lose their war of conquest that the Moors sought help from Muslims in northern Africa. While the Moors had been very tolerant of Christians and Jews, the incoming reinforcements were barbaric in their treatment of Jews and European Christians. It was in the excesses of these Muslims that the reconquista by the Christians really gathered steam. Blood begot blood in amounts that drenched Andalusia in waves. 

The Turks just expanded upon this belief that Islam was superior to the other "peoples of the book". Their abuses against the Greeks, Assyrians, and Armenians became so pronounced that they surpassed the levels of pogroms and entered the realm of genocide. Entire communities were labeled as enemies of the state... a state based on religion, and thus enemies of Islam. This created deep divides amongst the communities that still persist to this day (100 years later). 

Where the Prophet Muhammad had told his followers that the "blessed of mankind" are those who bless their fellow man; some followers had gone astray. And as with every religion, these stray followers did not just cast a stain upon themselves, their country, or their particular ethnic group. No, these followers became a blight upon all of Islam due to the reality that outsiders (especially those being killed off) do not make such distinctions when all they have been shown it hate. 

This is where Islam's presence in governments like that of Sudan continues to create a blight upon the faith itself. If a man who claims to have been blessed with a religion of superior intellect is seen firebombing villages and killing women and children... well that person's faith becomes a particularly rigid subject of debate. While another Muslim can claim that that one (or that group) isn't Muslim, to the outside world they are the poster child of Islam. And that's sadly how religions are portrayed no matter what faith it is. That whole "one bad apple" saying carries some weight.

 "None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself " ~Hadith #13

Actually Being A Blessing To Our Fellow Man

Regardless of religion, we all should be striving to be a blessing to our fellow man. Those of us who have been born into a life of freedom and prosperity have a duty to fight for those things for all mankind. Especially when there is a history of our given faith being the source of their repression. We may not be able to right all the wrongs in the past. But we can struggle every day to heal the wounds those events did create. This goes for our personal lives and in our struggle for human rights. 

We aren't perfect. Our religions aren't perfect. We will make mistakes when it comes to how we treat others. Other members of our faith will go well beyond just making mistakes. It is in how we conduct ourselves that we change the image of what it means to be religious and a supporter of human rights. By reaching out to all of mankind and not just with whom our faith is concerned, it is in this that we show the love of which all our faiths speak. 

Just as importantly, it is in showing that love and being a blessing to our fellow man that we help the causes that we do hold dear to us. You can no more uphold the rights of one oppressed community when you deny the oppression of another. After all, "love does not dishonor others". It is fair in all things. And it is far from blind. For it is the love our fellow man that convicts us to act in the first place. 

June 9, 2014

A Beautiful Soul

A Powerful Scream

There are a few people in each of our lives that leave such a mark that our lives becomes defined by their presence in it. The moments we spend in their presence prepare us for the battles that still lay ahead and heal our wounds from the wars we have already fought. The love they show us isn't earned, it never could be, and yet these beautiful souls show us love in a way we are hard pressed to find anywhere else. With just a few kind words they can alter the course of a day, change our moods for weeks, and lift our eyes to the future that rest just over the horizon. 

In the lives of those who work here at Alder's Ledge there is one such soul that we all cherish deeply. Her story is one that has touched us all in ways we could have never prepared ourselves for. Her actions, her words, and the way she looks at each new day are all a light that guides us. Because she has always been there for us in our times of need. She has always offered us comfort when we felt like giving up. And she never ask for anything in return. 

Each of us at Alder's Ledge have come to a point over these past few months where we have felt like we wanted to quite and just walk away. For me personally it has been a war between ending what I started and pushing past old scars. A sense of guilt for the seemingly selfishness of it all only made things worse. Yet there she was... ready to start our next chapter, together. Ready to fight the next battle right by my side even as I tried to push everyone else away. And yet there she was, my little sister.

So we are all still here...

And we are getting back to work...

But we all owe this to one beautiful soul with one powerful scream.

The Heart Of A Screamer

"...and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people."
~The Holy Qur'an 

Several years ago I had the good fortune of meeting a young girl who's story never seemed to match the light that still shown in her eyes. When our mutual friend introduced us she had told me that this young girl had the heart of a screamer. At the time I thought being a screamer meant being loud and relentless... both of which I may still be. Yet here was a young lady who had suffered throughout her childhood some of the worst offenses anyone could imagine. And she saw the act of screaming in a way that would redefine it for all of us. 

Little sister may have grown up a Buddhist, like most people in her part of the world, yet the first thing she wanted me to know was her favorite verse from the Qur'an. I had asked her what "screaming" meant to her. That was all I had asked. And the answer was that quote from the Qur'an. She looked me in the eye and smiled as she quoted it. That smile that burns an impression on the soul itself with it's unique sincerity. 

Maybe it's the lack of such sincerity in the world today that makes her heart for the whole of mankind so refreshing. Maybe it's the beauty in her eyes when she smiles while helping others that lights up the staff at Alder's Ledge. For me it's just the love that we see radiate from her that changed everything about how Alder's Ledge operated. 

When we started we had a stern focus on the Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide. As funny as that is to realize looking back, seeing as how we started with one Jew (me) and not a single Armenian on staff... Yet looking back it is clear to see that we had a very narrow mission statement, to say the least. 

Then came our little sister...

All she had to do was introduce us to her story of how she was trafficked as a kid and we all changed how we screamed. Suddenly we started screaming about human trafficking because it had touched us personally. We wanted to partner with this amazing young woman who had already begun to change us in ways we hadn't even fully begun to realize. It's funny how that works when you meet someone like this... when they enter your life and start to change things you felt would never change. All she had to do was be the same wonderful woman she has always been. And in just doing that she was inspiring us all just by letting us see her gentle spirit... her love for others. 

We started talking about other genocides more and more. What one of us didn't know another would chip in and help teach us all. And for the most part our educations, all we had read over the years, and all we had learned from each other seemed to be missing one thing... something that is vital to screaming... 

A personal connection. 

A relationship with the people we so often looked at the "victims" or the subject of the conversation. It was this part that our little sister helped us with all those years ago. And still does on a daily basis. 

For me that lesson was made most evident by simply watching my beloved sister as she took it from just words and applied it in actions each day. I had always known that she took food, medicine, and other basic needs to street kids and prostitutes. What inspired me was knowing that she did so out of what little money she had. Here was a someone who had never had any money of her own all her life and was now able to earn some that she got to keep. But instead of doing what all the people her age do here where I live, she took that money sought to meet the needs of others before bothering with the things she might want for herself. 

When you see that, when you have a bond to someone like that, it makes you look at your own life differently. It makes it hard to tell yourself that you can't live without that next cup of coffee from the chain store or that next phone upgrade. It makes it hard to justify eating out every night or buying yet more clothes that you won't wear much anyway. After all, I'd always had more than I could ever need or really justify wanting. So seeing her selflessness created yet more change in a lot of us at Alder's Ledge.

With just the forming of that relationship our sister we were all growing closer and ever more focused on what it meant to be a "screamer". That one addition to our team all those years ago had created a change that now defines Alder's Ledge. Our relationship with our baby sister has defined who we all are today and how we work as a team. For that we are all thankful... for she is a blessing to each of us each and every day.

What Is A Screamer...

So what is a screamer?

We have always defined a screamer as someone who witnesses or becomes aware of genocide and refuses to remain silent. 

Sounds simple enough. All you have to do then is just get out there and raise hell till someone listens. Just go out there and make  your voice heard as you try to spread awareness of genocide. And yet if it was that easy then it would be far less effective. Because in all reality, nobody is going to listen to you just because you won't stop talking. In our modern world there is always the ability to mute, block, ignore, or un-friend you. People are less likely to listen in our world because all there is anymore is just noise. And if all you are doing is screaming... all you are doing is creating yet more noise. 

A screamer has to be able to make a connection between the genocide itself and the people he/she is trying to reach out to. The relationship between the crime and the witness is one that has to be made personal. It is one that has to be imprinted upon the heart of the witness for it to carry real weight in the daily life of those who are asked to bare witness to such a horrific crime. Otherwise the information given will elicit some sympathy right before it is forgotten and pushed aside. 

A screamer has to be able to view the world beyond the confines of religion, race, or nationality. There is nothing more hindering to reaching out to all of humanity than a world view that only sees people in given groups. This part of screaming means that you may have to admit your own prejudices and work past those views. If you are not able to make a personal connection with others beyond your own given religion, race, or nationality for any reason... your desire to scream will always be limited and that limitation will always be evident to everyone around you. This limitation makes any screaming you might do seem partisan and bias. Which in the end will turn more people away from the information you are trying to spread. 

A screamer must be able to stay committed to the act of screaming itself. Once you start to scream on behalf of any given cause you have to keep the fight up relentlessly. People who are watching you will notice if you start to jump from one cause to the next when things get hard or boring to you. There are countless people out there who will pick up on a "humanitarian cause" because it is the latest trend or a celebrity is preaching it at the time. If you want to scream you can't be seen as doing so because it's trendy. That alone is enough to make any information you are trying to get out there seem questionable. And it makes your sincere desire to help others seem fake in the eyes of those who watch you. 

A screamer has to know when to engage and when to bow out of a fight. Tenacity is good to a certain extent. While a screamer must be relentless, you can't become insensitive to the audience you are trying to reach. If your wording something in such a way that it no longer engages the people you are talking to but rather offends them... that is a moment to bow out and wait try again later. Timing is an art in reaching out to others when it comes to such subjects as genocide. You won't touch their heart if you can't first get past the defenses your audience will always have erected. Their prejudices and world view has to be taken into account before engaging. 

A screamer must have a network of others to help them, to hold them accountable, and to refresh their spirit in times of need. Whether you have other screamers to reach out to or just close friends, this is one of the most important parts of being a screamer. The people like our little sister here at Alder's Ledge make those rough patches easier and more survivable. We have watched countless others throw in the towel because they didn't have anyone else to help them... or refused help when they needed it most. The subjects we are screaming about take a toll on all of us. These subjects hurt emotionally and exhaust the soul. Thus, we all need the support of others to keep up this fight. 

On A Personal Note...

All of us here at Alder's Ledge would like to close this post by thanking our little sister for showing us just what it means to scream.

Thank you dear sister for always being there when we needed your support, your love, and the blessing of your friendship. Thank you for always being willing to listen to our problems and never judging us even when we deserved it. Thank you for always showing us what loving others is supposed to be like. But most of all, thank you for letting us be there when you needed us most... that is a blessing that each of us will forever remember.