Saturday, September 11, 2010

9/11: Seeing the Tables in the Wilderness

Without planning this to coincide with the 9/11 anniversary (or the end of Ramadan and Rosh Hashanah), Steve and I happened to rent a movie from Netflix this week, which spectacularly intersected with all those events.  The film was Israeli director Eran Kolirin’s “The Band’s Visit.” 

For anyone who has been following the peptic “discussion” of the current politically driven surge in Islamophobia in the U.S., I can’t recommend this movie highly enough.  As much-needed perspective on what it really takes for people to reach across volatile cultural and religious boundaries—what it would take for Americans to do so, for instance, if we really wanted to understand why such intense animosity festers towards us and our bumbling, arrogant  “Christian” messianism in parts of the globe today.

That’s all the movie is about, in a nutshell—the painful, sweet, tragic collision of people across cultural boundaries that separate them into different and warring categories of human beings.  The story tracks, in a single day and night, the encounter of an Egyptian band accidentally stranded in a small, bleak Israeli town with several citizens of the community.

It’s a moving parable about the ability of people to connect across boundaries of language, political strife, and religious disaffection—to do so via the international languages of music and poetry, of stories told courageously from personal depths, and of food shared around a common table. It’s a salutary reminder that the sacred obligation of hospitality has not entirely eroded in some ancient cultures of the world, in which that obligation—even towards one’s enemy—remains inviolable.  It’s a parable about the insane hope people—even “common” people, especially common people—continue to hold out that heart can speak to heart across the empyrean distances between cultures whose political, intellectual, economic, and religious leaders insist on setting them at enmity with each other.

It’s a spiritual story, in other words—a word I use deliberately, though I know full well as I use it that the coinage of the word is debased in our commercially driven culture which reduces authentic spirituality to cheap insta-doses of feel-good eat, pray, love (and, above all, pay) self-affirmation that bear about as much resemblance to real spirituality as Newt does to Mahatma.  “The Band’s Visit” is about the spirituality that flourishes in the solitary deserts of solitary human lives around the world, when human beings permit themselves to meet those who are other, beyond the assistance of gurus and guidebooks,and free from the corrupting intrusion of political and commercial puppet masters for whom personal encounter is not about encounter at all, but only about securing power over and consolidating gain from others. 

In short, this is a film whose message sorely needs to be heard by millions of American citizens on the anniversary of 9/11—and by Muslims certain that they understand and can scorn the significance of Judaism as Rosh Hashanah ends, or Jews and Christians convinced that they have the number of Islam  as Ramadan winds down.  It’s a film I’d dearly love to see Catholic demagogues like Mr. Gingrich required to sit and watch over and over and over again, before they’re next permitted to approach the communion table.  Unless they are willing to make some public confession of (and to atone for) the damage they’re doing to countless human beings by continuing the drum-beat of hateful rhetoric about Islam and Islamic citizens of the U.S.  

For their own political gain.  Regardless of the cost paid by innocent others.

It was a gift, Steve and I concluded, that we received this movie on the eve of the 9/11 anniversary and as both Rosh Hashanah and Ramadan conclude.  And I know even as I struggle to summarize the utopian story it tells, and as I spin a utopian fantasy about those this movie might convert, if they were required to study it, that not many of us are keen on welcoming poetry, song, and bread broken around a shared table into our lives.

Hate is easier.  Shouting is simpler than the pain of walking across the broken glass strewn on the surface of the tables at which we break our daily bread.  Lewd, gross caricatures of religious traditions and their founders carry more weight in the world in which we live than does careful, meditative study of the scriptures of the various spiritual paths of the globe.

And so woe to us, that we dwell among the tents of Kedar, when tables are spread all throughout the wilderness, at which we might sit together in peace.  If we had only eyes to see them there.

As I resume blogging, a quick explanation for my silence several days this week: as I noted some days back on this blog, Ive recently had a bit of a rough patch with my health.  The upshot of some tests that the doctor thought I should undergo when I went to him several weeks back with headaches and unremittingly high blood pressure was the discovery that I have  full-blown diabetes. (I had already known I was on the borderline).  The initial blood indicators for the diagnosis were not very good at all.

However, Im happy to report that one month down the road, the combination of medication, stringent exercise, weight loss (some 15 pounds now), and careful attention to diet has reduced the diagnostic indicator of diabetes by over 3 pointsa very good result, the doctor tells meand has brought my fasting blood sugar count down by 240 points.  Im, in fact, now dealing with the opposite problem, with a blood sugar count that is somewhat below the lowest desirable range.  A good problem to have . . . . 

And I apologize for sharing that personal medical news with you.  I do want to share it, though, because as I work to stabilize the sugar levels and control the diabetes (which my father's siblings both developed around my age, as two of their children have also done), in case I still have some ups and downs that make blogging a challenge on any given day.  I hope to put those behind me.  But if I'm silent some days in the future, please know I'm working to get this health challenge under control.  And please forgive the silence (or bless and give thanks for it, as you're inclined!).

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