Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right,
Here I am, stuck in the middle with youSteelers Wheel, 1972
From a spiritual and interfaith point of view, this year has been for me a roller coaster ride. Downwards.
What looked like a promising beginning proceeded in descending steps, shedding connections and friendships, some in a blaze of incandescence, and others with the proverbial whimper.
What I have been called or depicted is pretty far reaching. These include, from a wide array of contexts:
An “unconscious anti-Semite”
- A Zionist collaborator, and apolitical (not a compliment)
“completely wrong”, a toxic leader, autocratic, narcissistic, manipulative, competitive, discriminatory and intimidating
Seduced by a Gnostic worldview, influenced by Richard Rohr (not a compliment), ignoring the words of Jesus, adding to revelation, having mystical mentors (not a compliment)
- Heretical, lost, hell-bound, and denigrating Christianity, considering myself more enlightened than others
- A hypocrite, unreasonable
Well, there is the evidence, M’Lud. How should I plead regarding these charges and insinuations? Guilty through my associations with “the other”? Damned by my adventures into spaces dark and dangerous?
The question for this court to deliberate is this: Am I amongst the biggest bigots of the year?
So, before judgement is passed, (and before I make any new year’s resolutions), I think it is important to see what lessons can be learned from this vast and unsavory swathe of charges.
The accusers are mostly known to me, and self-identifying evangelical Christians form the mainstay, with a smattering of Muslim and Jewish opinion. So, it has to be said, monotheism appears to have a problem with me.
While that list appears exceptionally chaotic, almost non-sensical, I think a telling pattern appears: in the space of 24 hours, I was branded both anti-Jewish and a Zionist sympathiser. Clearly, in such a divided context as Palestinian-Israeli relations, ANY non-partisan involvement will find itself in the cross hairs and the line of fire.
The context for this was my participation in the recent District 6 interfaith walk. In this, we did not seek conflict but our interfaith collaboration with certain Jewish friends found disfavor with a pro-Palestinian group, and we found ourselves both boycotted and harassed in the process standing in solidarity for Peace.
Another macro political reason for the ire endured, was the occasion of the Russian ”special military operation” of Ukraine. In a South African context, with its historical (and it appears, darkly spiritual) ties to the old USSR, any support of Ukrainian refugees (such as was given at Groote Kerk in March), was viewed (by at least one particular associate) as a pro-Nato, pro-Western stance.
No pertinent dialog was entered into in the decision to “cancel” my relationship. This unilateralism, this dearth of communication, is a hallmark of other breakdowns too. It remains hard to see how this compassionate association with refugees led to my being labeled “completely wrong” etc., etc., but that is the point: we are all subject to extreme and indeed “demonic” forces, in these times of irrational fear and fragmenting rage, which arise in our midst when we opt for a middle way, the way of dialog and of peace.
New meaning is given the words of the gospel
“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”Matthew 7:13
For me, this narrow path is not about morals, nor is about beliefs, but rather how we think. It is about dualism: fixed, binary opposites, a zero-sum game, where any compromise or middle road is rejected, and often hysterically demonised.
So what will 2023 look like for a such a comprehensively judged bigot?
I think it is fitting to let a voice from outside this contentious, fractious fold of bleating monotheism, have the last say
To be ready for wholeness, first be fragmented.
To be ready for rightness, first be wronged.
To be ready for fullness, first be empty.
To be ready for renewal, first be worn out.
Verily, fragmentation prepares the path to wholeness, the mother of all origins and realizations.Laotzu, Daodejing 22 (trans. Ralph Allen Dale)