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Not in God’s Name by Jonathan Sacks (Thoughts on)

Not in God's Name: Confronting Religious ViolenceNot in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence by Jonathan Sacks

I remember a conversation I once had with an elderly English lady at Princess Royal Hospital in Orpington. I had asked her about her life: did she have any children? had she ever married? what had she done with her life?

She began to tell me about her life as a young lady. She told me that she grew up at the end of the second world war. It was a time when English sentiment towards the Germans (though oddly, not so much towards the Austrians or Italians) was at its lowest ebb. She told me that she had visited Germany (I don’t remember how or why) and met a handsome young gentleman over there, somewhere rural if I remember correctly. He was from a farming family. It was a time when the English and the Germans did not mix well, and it wouldn’t be long before John Cleese took to the corridors of Fawlty Towers and marched up and down the dining hall with a finger for a moustache and an atrocity for an accent.

But she was in love, and love knows no nationality or borders or race or religion or culture.

She said that they fell in love and they decided to build a life together. If I remember correctly, she moved over to Germany to work with her now-husband on his family’s farm. A picture of domestic bliss.

I asked her if she ever struggled with her husband’s nationality and the actions that his people had perpetrated (I let her know that I am half German). She told me that she believes that all people want the same things: “To have a nice life, to find someone to love and to have a nice family.” Or as a Hassidic Rebbe puts it in the Yiddish movie Menashe, “Nice wife, nice dishes, nice life.”

Whatever you have gone through, where you have come from, wherever you think you are going, there are some things that bind us all. We all wish to be recognised for who we are. We all wish to be loved and experience true friendship. Anyone who says he doesn’t want these things is a fool and a liar. And doomed to be lonely until the day he dies.

I have struggled with these three things – the “three blessings”, as the Unification Church puts it – for some time now. 1) Be fruitful. Live a life of integrity, a life that is wholesome and truthful. A life that bears fruit. Leave something good behind you. 2) Multiply. Find a beautiful wife. Grow in unity and togetherness. Yearn for each other, long for each other, share your joys, hopes and sorrows with one another. Grow in love until you can’t keep it in anymore and your love bears fruit in children. Let them carry on your legacy. 3) Have dominion. Take good care of your environment. Work with nature, not against it. Collaborate. Share what you have with those around you. Build a world that is full of life, a world that is rich in meaning, a world that will outlive you.

Why do I struggle with these things? Because they are not easy. Why do I run from these three things? Because I am afraid.

I fear the same things that I long for: closeness, intimacy, friendship, love, community, healing.

I yearn to be known, at yet I run away at the first sign of intimacy.

I am hurting. It is not easy.

What do I do? What do I need?

An ancient Jewish verse quoted by a modern Jewish seeker:

“There is a crack in everything.

That’s how the light gets in.”

I don’t have all the answers. I’m still not healed. I’m still not whole. Maybe it’s time I cut my losses and came to terms with this. Maybe it is time I made peace with who I am. I am not supposed to be healed and complete. I am a piece of art, a work of creation, the fruit of my parents’ love, and I am not finished yet. I won’t be done on this earth. I will keep walking forward and hope for new life as I go forward.

In this book, Rabbi Sacks talks of an inner struggle each person must go through in order to make peace with his Maker and his identity. When a person fails to make this individual journey, he begins to look outward and seek an external cause of his discomfort. He demonises the other. He dehumanises the other. He scapegoats the other and victimises himself. How much of this do we see in our world today. It is a time when East points its finger at West, and West at East.

I remember what a young Christian man said to me once when I tried to bring him over to the Unification Church as a young, zealous missionary in California a few years ago:

“When you point a finger at someone else, there are three fingers pointing back at you.”

I am the cause of my suffering. And if I am the cause, then I can be the solution. I can sing Hallelujah. I can cry out to the Heavens. I can open my heart and my mind and listen to the words that You have to say to me through my neighbour, through the friend before me.

How then should I conduct myself towards my neighbour, the friend before me, when I suspect something is up, when I feel slighted or maligned in some unforeseen way? Why don’t I respond with my hand on my heart? Why don’t I bow down before the person before me, this image of the creator?

Call me a heretic and call me crazy, but it sure seems a better way to relate than striking my brother with a stone or slapping him across the cheek. We’ve had enough of that in history and it’s time we grew up and found the better way.

Bonus points to you if you found the Cohen references scattered above.

Let’s learn a better way.


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