May 13, 2018, Mother’s Day

I dedicate this service to the Mothers of Gaza. May all Palestinians return home and may no more children die. Those reading this sermon may be interested in the three interviews I did with Waddah Sofan, Gilad Atzmon, and Richard Toll in my radio program about the Great March of Return and the 70th anniversary of the Nakba  as well as my radio conversation with Norman Finkelstein about his book The Martyrdom of Gaza.

Photo credit: Mothers’ Day in Gaza » This room is kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and lounge to a family of four in Khan Younis

The Qu’ran and Hadith on Mothers
The Prophet Muhammad said:
Your Heaven lies under the feet of your mother.
A man came to the Prophet and said, ‘O Messenger of God! Who among the people is the most worthy of my good companionship?
The Prophet said: Your mother.
The man said, ‘Then who?’
The Prophet said: Then your mother.
The man further asked, ‘Then who?’
The Prophet said: Then your mother.
The man asked again, ‘Then who?’
The Prophet said: Then your father.

And you shall not persecute an alien, and you shall not oppress him, because you were aliens in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 22:20)

And you shall not oppress an alien—since you know the alien’s soul, because you were aliens in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 23:9)

…you shall not persecute him. The alien who resides with you shall be to you like a citizen of yours, and you shall love him as yourself, because you were aliens in the land of Egypt. (Leviticus 19:33-34)

So you shall love the alien, because you were aliens in the land of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:19)

You shall not abhor an Egyptian, because you were an alien in his land. (Deuteronomy 23:8)

You shall not bed judgment of an alien….You shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and Yahweh, your God, redeemed you from there. On account of this, I command you to do this thing. (Deuteronomy 24:17-18)

Why…should we be good to aliens? Because we know how it feels. We know the alien’s soul. So we shall not persecute foreigners, we shall not abhor them, we shall not oppress them, we shall not judge them unfairly, we shall treat them the same as we treat ourselves, we shall love them.

–Quoted in Richard Eilliott Friedman’s The Exodus: How It Happened and Why It Matters

Mother’s Day in Gaza Julie Webb-Pullman

What does a Mother in Gaza do on Mother’s Day?

She wakes to pitch blackness, because there is no electricity to light the room.

She fumbles her way by torch or candlelight (if there is not too much wind to blow it out) to the bathroom.

Is she in luck this-morning? Did the electricity come on during the night and power the pump so that there is water in the roof-top tank to wash with? Even if it is so icy-cold and salty that it stings her eyes almost as much as the teargas that her sisters in the West Bank and Jerusalem must bear?

Is there any water left in the drinking container, to make a cup of coffee, or will she have to stumble into the yard and borrow some from her neighbour’s bucket? Is there even any coffee now that UNRWA has cut her food aid? Will her neighbour have any water left in her bucket this morning?

Will she have time to fetch and make and drink it before the second-youngest child awakes, Nuha, who fell into a fitful fevered sleep it seems like only minutes ago? The child who needs medicine that the hospital does not have, because the Palestinian Authority has not sent it, like the other 79.99% of necessary medicines and disposables?

Will Nuha meet the same fate as her older brother Ahmed, who died at Rafah Crossing waiting to go to Egypt for medical treatment unavailable in Gaza?

Who will say the Salat al-Janazah, with her father stuck two years in an Israeli jail, without charge…

Yes, there is some water, Alhamdulillah – enough for a cup of tea. She lights the gas. It burns a moment, sputters, and dies. The gas has given up the ghost.

She sighs. She prays. She crawls back into the bed she shares with her children, a mattress on the floor of the room they now call home. A room in the already-overcrowded house of a relative, where five families inhabit each of the five bedrooms that once housed but one child – yet still better than the rubbled remains of their own houses, struck by Israeli rockets, made unlivable by floodwaters, and for which repairs are impossible because of the lack of building materials.

At least she is not alone, she thinks as she dozes off, wrapping her surviving children in the warmth of her love, the only thing she has to give them.

Who will help her, this mother of Gaza, on this Mothers’ Day – or any other day?

A Palestinian Theology of Liberation  Naim Stefan Ateek

Sumood (Arabic for “steadfastness”) is practiced whenever Palestinians remain steadfast in spite of Israel’s brutal oppression and its attempt to drive the people from their land.

Thabaat (Arabic for “being grounded”) is used when people stand firm, withstanding the injustice, resolute in their determination, entrenched and rooted in the land. Although it is possible to use Sumood and Thabaat interchangeable, Thabaat implies a deeper sense of firmness and groundedness.

For Palestinians, the olive tree symbolizes the notion of Thabaat and for this reason has become the symbol of Palestine. The olive tree has been celebrated throughout the centuries as the tree of life. Every part of it contributes to the well-being of people. No part goes to waste. Even the olive seeds are compressed for winter and burned to give warmth and heat.

Obviously, the most important gift that the olive tree gives to people is its olives and oil with homemade bread it can be food and sustenance to people. During times of Israeli curfews, sieges, and raids, many Palestinians have survived by eating the fruit of this wonderful tree.

We thank God for this tree of life, which reminds us of God’s gracious love and care, especially for the poor and needy. It stands also for the resilience of the Palestinian community that continues to resist the injustice and struggles to stay rooted and grounded in its homeland. This is Thabaat.

Jewish religious settlers and the Israeli army have uprooted and destroyed over one hundred thousand olive trees, symbolizing sharply the uprooting of the Palestinian people, yet through Sumood and Thabaat the Palestinians continue to stand firm. The Palestinian people are rooted not only in their homeland, but in faith, justice, truth, righteousness, and their desire for peace.

John 17:14-19 Scholars’ Version
[Jesus praying to God about his disciples]: “I have passed on your message to them, and the world has hated them because they are aliens in the world as I am an alien in the world. I’m not asking you to remove them from the world, but to keep them safe from evil. They are aliens in the world, as I am. Consecrate them in truth. your word is truth. I sent them into the world just as you sent me into the world. Your word I now consecrate myself for their sakes, so they too may be consecrated in truth.

The Truth About Aliens

My family and I used to watch the old television show, the X Files, with Scully and Mulder. Maybe that doesn’t surprise you that I was a fan of the X Files. The X Files, were the FBI files that that were unsolved and had to do with aliens and UFOs and the like.

The slogan for the show was on a poster in Mulder’s office.

“I want to believe.”

I saw someone wearing that phrase on a t-shirt with an image of a spaceship just the other day.

I want to believe. Mulder wants to believe that these files are not about hoaxes but that there really were encounters with aliens that the government covers up. That was the ironic tension about the entire show. In the show, there were aliens. The viewers of the show, however, are watching a fiction. Only in the television show are there aliens. In real life, the best folks can do who like the idea of aliens is want to believe.

Does wanting to believe make something true or possible or is it a sign of mental illness or the result of religion?

Wanting to believe does not make it so, right? Conversely, not wanting to believe something does not make it not so. Something is true or not true, such as the existence of aliens, the love of God, the beauty of Husayn, salvation in Jesus, evolution, global warming, gravity. Any of those things are true or not true regardless of wanting to believe.

However, wanting to believe may be the first step in opening our imaginations to the possibility of a reality that was previously closed to us. In the show, the X Files, Scully is tasked by the FBI chiefs to keep an eye on Mulder. Eventually, after hanging out with Mulder, Scully, while always skeptical, nevertheless, has her mind opened to the existence of aliens and the government’s cover up. It requires the Mulders of the world to open to the Scullys of the world possibilities that previously did not exist.

Graeme MacQueen, retired professor of religion at McMaster University in Canada, wrote in a recent article,

“Once the imagination stops filtering out a hypothesis and allows it into the realm of the possible, it can be put to the test. Evidence and reason must now do the job. Imagination cannot settle the question of truth or falsity any more than ideology, morality, or “common sense.”

Human learning works because of imagination, call it wanting to believe. Wanting to believe comes with a high cost. That cost is confirmation bias. This is accepting evidence that confirms what we want to believe and excludes evidence that does not confirm to what we want to believe. While this seems obvious, confirmation bias affects everyone, even the smartest people in the world.

The Nobel prize for physics was lost due to confirmation bias. I did a radio interview with Brian Keating, astrophysicist from the University of California at San Diego, about how he and his team lost the Nobel prize in physics. They thought through a powerful telescope they had witnessed the spark that started the Big Bang, but it might have been instead, cosmic dust. A very interesting book on a number of levels called, Losing the Nobel Prize: A Story of Cosmology, Ambition, and the Perils of Science’s Highest Honor.

No one is immune from confirmation bias. No one is immune from mistaking the desire to believe in something for the something itself. On the other hand, no one is immune from a lack of imagination, that is, from refusing to believe evidence because we think it couldn’t possibly be true. For instance,

“What you are saying can’t be true, because I can’t believe the government would ever do that.”

Think of all the atrocities throughout history and today that are allowed to happen because those in power convince people to believe in their goodness and rightness of cause.

The role of the whistleblowers, the Mulders of the world, is to open our imaginations to possibilities previously closed to us. That doesn’t mean Mulder is right. It means only that evidence of claims previously understood as crazy and as off-limits, now must be seen and analyzed by all parties in an open inquiry.

Then we are on a path toward truthfulness, wisdom, justice, and healing.

The aliens spoken about in the Bible are not aliens from outer space. They don’t arrive on spaceships. Although in some cases they arrive on slave ships. In other cases, they arrive on the Mayflower. Aliens all. In some cases, the aliens were there before those who call them aliens were there. In other cases, it is hard to tell who is there first, because that depends on how far back in history you go, and if you go back far enough, the distinctions between we and they, us and them, the dominant group and the aliens, hadn’t been created.

What is clear in the biblical texts, and in how I am using the term ‘aliens’ now, is that aliens do not have as much power for self-determination as the dominant group does. Racist ideologies are created to serve this imbalance. Who gets enslaved? Who is the object of genocide? Who finds themselves living in an open-air prison camp? Who is called alien? Who gets nervous, angry, defensive, and fearful when this is pointed out? Who feels empowered and validated when what has been hidden comes out in the open?

Here is what I want to believe.

Every alien was born of a woman.

Every mother’s child is no alien to her.

Every racist ideology, every claim to exceptionalism, every theology of chosen-ness, every elevation of one’s own suffering over the suffering of others, serves to create more aliens, that is more imbalance of power and justice.

I want to believe that people of good will, not people in power, but people of good will, can through truthfulness, imagination, courage, sacrifice, evidence, and reason, uncover the truth about aliens.

That truth is that aliens don’t need to exist at all.

I want to believe that when we realize that every mother’s daughter and every mother’s son is my neighbor, even my sister and my brother, there will be no aliens in any land.

I want to believe that we can live with an amazing, mind-blowing, colorful diversity in language, culture, faith, ethnicity, and even beliefs about aliens from outer space, and not turn those differences into political division and oppression.

I want to believe that we can create covenants that allow for co-existence and support the self-determination of all people.

I want to believe that Mother’s Day, above all days, is a day that can bring our human unity to consciousness.

I want to believe.

Amen.