Paradise Now, and Peace

As part of an assignment for the Religion, Conflict, and Peace class I’m taking, I watched the movie “Paradise Now,” a film about two Palestinians recruited to become suicide bombers.

This film got me reflecting on my own visit to Palestine. When I lived in Israel to study at the Jerusalem Center, we students weren’t allowed to go into the West Bank, but there was one exception: We did have one day to travel together as a group and visit Bethlehem. We also got to meet students at Bethlehem University—and all, from what I recall, expressed deep sadness and genuine hope for peace. I got a tiny (and I mean tiny) exposure to the realities of occupation. People living in Israel face realities I know hardly anything about. It hurts me to see how poorly our media usually portray these realities. There are always more than two sides to a story, because there are individual people involved with billions of collective and individual experiences. And there are nuanced motivations for acts of violence and peace.

On the first day of the Religion, Conflict and Peace class, Dr. Moore shared striking, candid thoughts about the urgency she feels to promote religious literacy. She ended her remarks with the idea that “99% of the people in the world want peace.” I thought about that. The idea of 99% of us wanting peace seems impossible given all of the violence covered in the media.

I do agree that the majority of us want peace. But, as my friend Tiffany said, we each seem to want “peace” on our own terms.

In class we keep asking each other: So what do we do? Once we recognize some of the (countless) ways our cultures perpetuate direct, structural, and cultural violence, what do we do about it? Those of us who enjoy positions of power often don’t even recognize the ways in which we promote violence. Consciousness alone seems to be the place to start. Awareness can prompt change, because awareness can lead us to action. Liberation theologian Paulo Freire teaches that without critical consciousness, unjust hierarchies will continue to thrive. Efforts toward peace occur in a cycle. The cycle begins with 1) consciousness. Consciousness leads to 2) action. Then we must 3) critically reflect on action. And of course, repeat the cycle over and over.

Dr. Moore emphasizes the fact that this cycle is a process. There’s never an arrival point. In so many ways, we’re an ends-driven culture. We want to “see” progress—we want to measure it—almost immediately, as soon as we begin peace efforts. But there are many things we can’t measure. We can’t quantify love, for example.

Our actions have effects that we will never know. We will never know our impact. But we don’t—we can’t, we won’t—stop trying to make peaceful impacts.

We keep asking what to do, and we aren’t sure. We do know, however, where we need to start: We need to speak! Dr. Moore taught us Freire’s five conditions to our peace-seeking dialogues. We can begin here:

1. Faith that what we care about, and what we do, even matter

2. Hope that our efforts matter

3. Humility in our efforts

4. Love that represents our condition of deep interdependency

5. Critical thinking

It’s been an intense week of school. Learning feels highly emotional. But the emotional part, for me, makes the learning process meaningful. I like thinking and feeling things I’ve never felt—things that sometimes hurt!

Learning hurts because when I really work to understand others’ points of view, I’m thrown outside of my comfort zone. Maybe that’s why there’s the saying, “ignorance is bliss.” When I don’t know about painful things going on–or when I refuse to look at them closely–I can’t feel them.

One of my colleagues mentioned how ignorant she feels. I think most of us feel some of that here at HDS. We’re overwhelmed knowing that there’s so much we don’t know. But I think that’s a crucial step in the process–this acceptance that we just don’t know. We can’t know completely. So we approach life with humble hearts and minds, seeking to at least know better if we can’t know all.

Class ended yesterday with thoughts about “Ahimsa,” the aspiration to live nonviolently in thought, word, and deed. This was Ghandi’s life goal. Ahimsa is not an arrival. It’s a process of moving through life in humility.

In the process, we humbly and lovingly try to see humanity. Sometimes things come into better view; “Paradise Now,” for example, gave me insight into a piece of humanity I’d never sought to understand before.

I want, so badly, to understand!

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