26 September 2010

150 (7-9)

I am scared for the future of our nation.  Terrified, actually.  I believe that certain terrible forces will fight with whatever power they can muster--mostly a potent combination of lies, money, and anger--to win whatever they can in the next cycle of elections.  When I was younger, this fear used to animate my desire to work for positive change in my community, state and country.  Today, the fear empowers my work but the object of my fears is more ominous; the world seemingly more perilous; the backward steps and missteps in general have accumulated to such a point where it's not so easy to dismiss some of the weirdos and wackos who are attempting to seize power in the current age.  Is what I read real or is it satire?  Are those who would hold office clowns and artists or are they in fact genuinely interested in representing, in the halls of power, the positions they claim as their own?  Have I done enough in my forty-seven years to prevent such a reality?  Ought I to be doing more?  And if so, what?  And who are the leaders "on my side?"  Are they smart enough?  Strong enough?  Focused enough?  Committed enough?  Rich enough? 

7.  David's conscience torments him greatly after the over-throw of Saul.  Saul, deeply disturbed and tormented in his own way, lost power of his own accord.  He "deserved" to be removed; regardless, David is in anguish over his own role--real or by implication--in the fall of another.  His song here is a song of distress, appeasement, guilt, pain and a defensive justification.  Defensive?  Why?  What did he have to be defensive about?  Oh, how the conscience always wins in the end for those who will listen.  Because there is always something we can claim responsibility for, something to second guess, something to hold up under the light of scrutiny and demand that next time we do it better.  That second guessing can drive us nuts; but it's also the seat of our potential for growth. 

In our country today, in the days since Barak Obama became President, certain forces and coalitions have arisen in order to over-throw him.  And I believe in my heart--full disclosure--that those forces represent a very large number of people who have the wrong ideas about our nations future.  They have yet to prove that they are not substantively motivated by racism, xenophobia and greed.  But justify they do and cloaked in the garments of liberty and freedom and constitution, they stand at the edge of an abyss of hatred and retrogression that is truly terrifying.  But we, who voted our champion in less two years ago, are already tired.  Hah!  Generations before us built nations from nothing and we're a bit tuckered out from working for "change we can believe in."

So, yes, we're guilty.  And our consciences out to be in anguish at what has become of this nation.  In putting down one rebellion against a kind of federal government, we  have unwittingly given birth to a stronger one.  More trouble to come.  Psalms don't always comfort.  Sometimes they simply paint a picture.

8.  On the wine press.  David clearly liked to dip into the wine press now and then and let his pen move across the page.  Inspired words flowed like his intoxicating drink--with a blurry truth and potency, reckless insight, and on occasion, breakthrough moments.  He seems to be wondering about, drunk, looking at the sky.  His reverie has him reflecting on youth--"Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings have you found strength" celebrating not only reason and reflections great gifts but also, literally, the energy and passion of the young to re-imagine their world.  He is euphoric, and given his dour frame of mind in the previous psalm, it strikes me that here he needed a night out.  Re-energized, re-awakened, he found in youth the insistent idea of searching for something new; but in so doing he was reminded of the first man and woman, who were told they, though not as "high" as the angels, were God's partner in creation.  Their power (not the angels) was the animating force in the world as we know it. 

I was at a wedding this summer and I saw a young man--in his late twenties--pointing his phone toward the horizon of the clear black sky on an August night.  Standing next two him were two others, nudging close to catch a glimpse of whatever was on the phone's screen.  It was a new google-app which aligns with constellations, mapping them out for you as you point your phone in the right direction.  The combination of the eternal gesture--a lad in the dark with a gadget, aimed heavenward--with the restless insistence on ingenuity and discovery--brought to mind David's euphoria regarding the "mouths of babes."  The earth and heaven's salvation; the roads and waters of our nation; medical research and the advancement of science; each promise regeneration in part because of youth's admission of what it does not and its playful insistence to know.  May they forever be strengthened!

9.  People like to point out that Judaism's philosophy of death can be summarized by the Kaddish prayer, which doesn't mention death or the dead but is a prayer about the sanctification of life.  In the face of death, we Jews assert life.  L'Chaim!  That sort of thing.

So it's odd to read a psalm dedicated "al mut la'ben," which could be read to mean "Regarding the death of Laben," (some guy who was finally defeated in battle) or "regarding the death of the son," which no one seems to hold with any seriousness, so of course I fixated on it.  What if David imagines writing a poem about losing a child?  How would he cope?  What would he say?  What would it do to his faith?  How would he continue to lead while also having his heart torn apart mercilessly from the indescribable pain of losing a child?

And so I read this psalm as a rehearsal of the principles of asserting life in the face of death, of reminding oneself of possibility and sanctification in the midst darkness and surrounded by black clouds of suffering and mourning.  This reading, likely wrong, still means more to me.  It simply doesn't interest me very much to read David's song of victory and his happy promises to God as a result of giving thanks for one such fortuitous result.  Rather, I'm concerned more with how his heart my seek to give voice to the mantras he needs to tell when things actually go wrong.  As if to say, "Despite how wrong things are, Hashem, I give thanks with my whole heart; if I can't thank you now, at my lowest, my offerings at my heights are for naught."  I believe that.  God is more present for me in the darkness than in the light, where it's so easy to be blinded into a bright and chirpy agnosticism. 

My child is dead and I give thanks, nonetheless.  It is jarring.  Disturbing to read.  NOW he has your attention.  You will banish the enemies; you will minister with justice; you will be a high tower for the oppressed; I will sing your praises in the Gates of Zion (where the mourners sit); the wicked will return to their repose in the netherworld and the needy will be cared for; and I need to say these things and write these things because my heart aches at the painful reality I am facing.  And without my faith in the face of death, I have nothing, nothing but a dead son and a God deaf to my own words of thanksgiving.

10 comments:

Jeff said...

Why are you still enamored of Barack Obama? He has demonstrated that he doesn't understand the objectives nor the tools of foreign policy, he doesn't understand what it is that enables economies to grow and what forces them to shrink, he doesn't seem to view press freedom in a positive way, he favors our enemies at the expense of our allies. He has the qualities one would expect of a Chicago politician but is much more egocentric than most and his statements and policy positions are those that one would expect from a moderately performing college sophomore.

Why are you so fond of the people that are constantly killing their coreligionists and then blame the problem on us? If Israel was wiped off the map - something that Obama has not seriously tried to prevent - would Pakistanis stop killing each other, or Iraqis or Afghans? Muslims have this peculiar habit of building mosques on conquered territory - Al Aksa, Cordoba, St Sophia mosque in Turkey. Could that be why they chose to build one on the site of a building which had landing gear fall on it on Ground Zero? Just a coincidence? If they planned to build it to create good-will, when it generated ill-will, why didn't they just apologize and start over? Of course they also destroyed the Buddhist statues in Afghanistan. Respect for the sensibilities of other peoples and cultures is not a Muslim strong suit. I think your concern for the future of the country is misguided. Obama has made the world much less safe - Iran's power is growing unchecked, Turkey now openly sides with Iran, Russia and China play games with Obama and Clinton, who are both clearly out of their league. Obama is weakening our defenses vis a vis Russia specifically (START) and the rest of the world generally since he is cutting planned defense programs as well as existing programs. I could go on and on, but I'm sure that this will mean nothing.

Andy Bachman said...

Hi Jeff. Thanks for writing, though I admit I am having a hard time understanding you. I'm going to have to mull over what you wrote in order to come up with a reasoned response.

Anonymous said...

Andy,
Please let me know what I need to clarify. It would probably be better for me to provide clarification before you take the time to respond.

Andy Bachman said...

Jeff. First, my reaction to your opening paragraph is a set of opinions without evidence one way or the other. I'd argue, for instance, that Obama has employed the tools of diplomacy in a world gone increasingly difficult to handle diplomatically, but that doesn't mean one ought not try. If you had specific examples of diplomatic failure, I'd be able to argue one way or another. For instance, "he favors our enemies at the expense of our allies" might be a statement worth considering, but what specifically are you talking about? To the charge that he's like a Chicago politician--I wish! A Chicago politician might have dispatched the weirdo leadership of the Republican Party in Congress much faster!

Your second paragraph seems to express concern about Islam, rampant violence in Islamic countries (it disturbs me, too) and the mosque at Ground Zero, which, by the way, IS NOT at GZ but a few blocks away and I remain strongly in favor of it being built.

I don't agree that Obama is weakening America. I think he is working very hard at engaging the Russians, who are not easy to engage, and Bush had no greater success with Iran, which troubles all reasonable people. In fact, his push for peace between Israelis and Palestinians is a real uphill battle, again, another lost opportunity of Bush's for 8 long years. And remember, Obama kicked off the peace talks with Jordan and Egypt and Blair and Mitchell at the table, while actively engaging Syria the same week, which indicates an understanding that there are big differences among Arab states that need to be factored into what steps are next in order to bring peace. This is all very complicated but the massive mess Obama has inherited is bigger than any one leader and any administration.

Jeff said...

Andy,
These aren’t opinions. I have simply summarized his presidency. If you want the specifics I’ll try to list them. Unfortunately he has made so many missteps that I can’t recall all of them.
Diplomacy –by know most serious foreign policy experts have recognized that rogue regimes cannot be managed with only diplomacy. Rogue regimes use this method to stall so that they can continue to seek their malicious ends. They respond to threats (remember Roosevelt’s admonition about speaking softly and carrying a big stick and Reagan’s trust but verify). Obama takes the threats off the table and apologizes for our actions, essentially removing even our moral suasion. Therefore the negotiating partner doesn’t need to budge and benefits by the time gained –because they have nothing to lose and because we no longer have the moral high-ground, we even lose in the court of world opinion – so important to liberals. The objective of foreign policy is to achieve objectives that are in the interests of our country. The objective is not simply to talk. Talking alone is effective with allies, not with adversaries as serious as N. Korea (not handled well by Bush) and Iran. By the way, Bush never took the military option off of the table. It was appropriate for him to wait. It is no longer appropriate for Obama to wait and he should not have renounced the military option. Bush would also have supported Israel (in all likelihood) and aided them (in all likelihood). Obama’s team wants to prevent Israel from flying over Iraq by targeting their planes. What other tools are you referring to? With respect to Israel, he had essentially required Israel to agree to terms that could have been a mid-state objective of the negotiations (settlement freeze) in order to start the negotiations. Why should Abbas accept less than Obama’s demands? And what did he demand of Abbas – that he stop saying some things in Arabic? Even when I was a liberal I knew that to tell the adversary in a war when you plan to pull out is beyond foolish. Clinton did this in the Balkans. It tells them how long they need to wait out their enemy – in this case us. Why do you think that the world has become increasingly difficult to handle diplomatically? Reagan had it much worse and handled it so much better. He helped to bring down the USSR – a nuclear power that had been fighting us via proxies in hot wars, via spies in our country and by influencing nearby nations to work against us. He mishandled Iran, but helped to bring democracy to the Southern Hemisphere. Obama of course by dealing so ineffectively with Iran will make diplomacy significantly harder. A nuclear armed Iran changes everything. Israel and the US and Iran’s Arab neighbors will have no leverage. Iran won’t need to use its weapons. It is the threat that counts. They know that. Obama doesn’t have a clue.

Jeff said...

Andy,
These aren’t opinions. I have simply summarized his presidency. If you want the specifics I’ll try to list them. Unfortunately he has made so many missteps that I can’t recall all of them.
Diplomacy –by know most serious foreign policy experts have recognized that rogue regimes cannot be managed with only diplomacy. Rogue regimes use this method to stall so that they can continue to seek their malicious ends. They respond to threats (remember Roosevelt’s admonition about speaking softly and carrying a big stick and Reagan’s trust but verify). Obama takes the threats off the table and apologizes for our actions, essentially removing even our moral suasion. Therefore the negotiating partner doesn’t need to budge and benefits by the time gained –because they have nothing to lose and because we no longer have the moral high-ground, we even lose in the court of world opinion – so important to liberals. The objective of foreign policy is to achieve objectives that are in the interests of our country. The objective is not simply to talk. Talking alone is effective with allies, not with adversaries as serious as N. Korea (not handled well by Bush) and Iran. By the way, Bush never took the military option off of the table. It was appropriate for him to wait. It is no longer appropriate for Obama to wait and he should not have renounced the military option. Bush would also have supported Israel (in all likelihood) and aided them (in all likelihood). Obama’s team wants to prevent Israel from flying over Iraq by targeting their planes. What other tools are you referring to? With respect to Israel, he had essentially required Israel to agree to terms that could have been a mid-state objective of the negotiations (settlement freeze) in order to start the negotiations. Why should Abbas accept less than Obama’s demands? And what did he demand of Abbas – that he stop saying some things in Arabic? Even when I was a liberal I knew that to tell the adversary in a war when you plan to pull out is beyond foolish. Clinton did this in the Balkans. It tells them how long they need to wait out their enemy – in this case us. Why do you think that the world has become increasingly difficult to handle diplomatically? Reagan had it much worse and handled it so much better. He helped to bring down the USSR – a nuclear power that had been fighting us via proxies in hot wars, via spies in our country and by influencing nearby nations to work against us. He mishandled Iran, but helped to bring democracy to the Southern Hemisphere. Obama of course by dealing so ineffectively with Iran will make diplomacy significantly harder. A nuclear armed Iran changes everything. Israel and the US and Iran’s Arab neighbors will have no leverage. Iran won’t need to use its weapons. It is the threat that counts. They know that. Obama doesn’t have a clue.

Jeff said...

Andy,

I have written a detailed response that is too large to post. How can I send it to you?
Jeff

Andy Bachman said...

How do you know the US or Israel won't attack Iran? Maybe they will and Obama's bluffing. What will you say then? Aren't historians debating whether or not Gorbachev was equally if not more influential than Reagan in the fall of the Soviet Union? Didn't Bush look into Putin's soul? It just seems to me that while you're justifiably concerned for Israel's safety (as am I), you're unwilling to criticize settlement expansion as an impediment to peace. Isn't Israel responsible at all? Furthermore, to say that the President "doesn't have a clue" is just more tendentiousness that seems geared toward discrediting Obama than offering a real solution. There are lots of limited people who "don't have a clue." He's not one of them.

Jeff said...

Andy,

I took the time to write a detailed response and would like to send it to you. If Obama is bluffing (by saying he won't attack) it is a stupid move. It would be more effective to bluff by saying he is planning an attack with Allies and that he is fully supportive of Israel. That would motivate Iran to back down. The possibility that you are suggesting will not. It will encourage Iran to move forward.It is a principle of foreign policy that strength and the willingness to use power reduces the likelihood that it will be necessary to use it. Power fills vacuums. Germany did this in the 30s as England and France disarmed. Weakness caused a horrible war. (Of course Churchill warned about this in the 30s and to his dying day he regretted that he was unable to convince the rest of England that the course taken in the 30s was wrong until it was too late. He considered himself a failure.) Bush clearly erred when he looked into Putin's eyes and said something positive. However I think he later recognized this (just as Chamberlain recognized his mistake after it was too late.) People have been playing up Gorbachev's role since the event itself. I never voted for Reagan and didn't come to appreciate him until a few years ago, but even so, at the time I realized that he dragged Gorbachev kicking and screaming. Gorbachev clearly did not want to move. It was all Reagan and the Pope. If Gorbachev was not weak it may have been harder, but he didn't want to end the USSR.

Israel gave up Gaza (and left buildings and greenhouses as gifts) and what did it get in return? Israel is not the problem. The problem is Arab intransigence and hatred.

The point of my writing is to discredit Obama, not to offer solutions. I'm not running against him. There are many solutions but to provide them would be to write another essay. Obama is clueless or worse, he is intentionally damaging the US. He has made everything worse and nothing (that I can think of-including race relations) better. If you don't want to continue that is fine.

Andy Bachman said...

I think we're not going to convince each other at this point and if yours is to simply discredit Obama, I just don't think it's a productive conversation. Be well.