Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Gil Caldwell's beautiful words in response to Vincent Harding

Reverend Gil Caldwell sent me the following beautiful words in response to Vincent Harding. See "Vincent Harding and the truth" here. He recalls Abraham Heschel and the beauties of Chagall and how much what is good in Jewish culture has meant to him. He understands the ugly role of Christian anti-semitism historically. He speaks also for many of us who went on the delegation to Palestine. The injustice that Israel does is a mirror of the European injustice to Jews - see here and here. There is here an element of trauma - that the punishments visited on Jews in Europe over centuries Isrealis today mete out to Palestinians. That is, there seems to be a deep psychological response to damage which, though hating the oppressor, takes on the oppressor's ways toward others. One sees it in some union, socialist or communist leaders, in leaders of some liberation struggles (consider Zimbabwe), and in abused children who become themselves abusers. It is not an inevitability as Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu show, though South Africa's shooting of miners this year is a pointed illustration.

Israel is, as Vincent and Gil say, a painful case.

Here are his words:

"A response to words of Vincent Harding as he speaks of the struggles
of Palestinian people.

I have been forever thankful that in the summer of 1998 I was one of a group of persons who was chosen to be a part of a group of persons from Denver visiting Israel. We were led by Rabbi ________ whose name I am not remembering, on our visit. We stayed at Hebrew University on Mt. Scopus. I will never forget that while there, I lived across the street from Hadassah Hospital not knowing that the Marc Chagall-created windows were in that Hospital. I now realize that I missed viewing works of art that have proven to be timeless.

Our group had the opportunity to visit the West Bank and speak with residents and leaders and I remember that I could not help but compare their lives to the life that I lived amidst segregation and inequality in the places where I "grew up" as an African American in North Carolina and Texas.

When our group returned to Denver, we for awhile, maintained our friendships with each other and the Rabbi and others who led us. But, I remember that I was invited to speak at a Luncheon in response to the future of Jerusalem, and a spirit within me compelled me to speak of my American experience of racial segregation, hoping that my listeners would read between the lines and understand that I was saying that on my visit to Israel and beyond, I saw segregation again.

One of my treasured pictures of the Selma to Montgomery March led by Martin Luther King is a picture of Dr. King marching with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel as they and others marched to protest the rigid racial segregation of the deep south. Vincent Harding has such a significant history of nurturing, teaching and being involved in the Southern Freedom Movement. His words say to us that the same commitment to justice that led Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel and many of the rest of us to Selma, must be alive and well as we respond to issues of justice in the Middle East.

Vincent Harding's observations of what he saw and felt during his visit represent a gift to those of us who acknowledge the religious significance of these days, whether we be Christian or Jewish. We who are Christians must never forget that our history is a history of Bible-based anti-Semitic bigotry. Many of us over the years have acknowledged that history and sought to live in ways that transform it. Today, Dr. Harding's sharings will hopefully encourage all of us, Christians, Jews, and those who are neither to work for justice in the Middle East. Throughout the ages, Prophets have spoken, and their listeners have often turned a deaf ear to what they heard. But, then in time, some of those who listened with deaf ears and their children and children's children, began to hear for the first time and became courageous enough to act upon what they heard.

Maya Angelou, the gifted writer of poetry and prose has said this about courage; "One isn't necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency."

The words of Vincent Harding are courageous words. May we who "hear" them, be courageous enough to heed them.

Gilbert H. Caldwell

The first African American Senior Pastor of Park Hill United Methodist Church, 1997-2001. A former member of the Board of Trustees of Iliff School of Theology.

Retired In Asbury Park, New Jersey. (One of New Jersey's "Sandy Survivor Communities")


Vincent brings out powerful responses in many of us. Ray McGovern, a former CIA official, who organized Veteran Intelligence Professional for Sanity, along with Colleen Rowley, to protest against the Iraq war and writes brilliantly on security maneuverings (many of his essays are published on Commondreams.org), wrote me this note.

"Thank you so much, Alan. Vincent Harding was one of the "elders" helping those of us working on Word and World, the first session of which was held in Greensboro, NC. I was privileged to take the "class" he offered, and to be able to use his Veterans of Hope tapes in courses I teach, at the Servant Leadership School of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington, focusing on the reality that Biblical Justice is quite a different animal from American Justice. Vincent also took an early interest in my writings and speech making, and that was more than enough to encourage me to step out and do what I have been trying to do over the last decade.

Please give him my renewed thanks, and best regards.


His distinction between justice - encompassing much of what is included in biblical justice - and American "justice" is very important. For more on Ray McGovern, see here.


And Matt Nicodemus, a friend and colleague in the movement against aggression against Iran and in opposing apartheid against Palestinians, wrote this:

"Thanks so much for this latest message, Alan. I've posted the Denver Post about Harding's trip to the West Bank on my Facebook page, noting how I'd first heard about the peace mission from you, that you'd been part of the delegation, and that I was very happy to learn that my old friend from Stanford, Clay Carson, was too. I've also made a note in my 2013 calendar that Harding will be speaking at Regis University and will be looking forward to finding out more about that event from you.

I'll be at Jared Polis' office later this morning, protesting continued U.S. military aid for Israel. I feel good about the progress that's been made recently in opening up more people's minds about what's going on in Israel-Palestine, including recognition that Israel shares responsibility for both the problems and solution-making there. I finished my Facebook post with Clay Carson's quote, which describes the awareness I think more and more people are gaining: "People who want to see a nonviolent resolution of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians owe it to themselves to find out more about what's going on there, and not just accept the American government view: that Israelis, who are good, are on one side, and Palestinians, who are bad, are on the other.

Peace and sweet dreams,


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