Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Thursday, August 7, 2014
Friday, August 1, 2014
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Thursday, July 24, 2014
There are fewer true gentlemen (I like the French term "bonhomme"--it says it through the curtain of language) than my former colleague Eric. It was my privilege to serve with him as an Ecumenical Accompanier in Bethlehem from November 1 to December 31 of last year, providing protective presence to people under occupation and human rights monitoring. We have been doing public presentations in our respective countries since our return home.
We talk as little as possible about church and Palestine: Eric and Claire are on holidays, as are we from presentations. The events in Gaza are making the idea of holidays very difficult, as necessary as they are.
In the meantime, we are at play in the fields of the Lord, in gratitude.
by Lena Khalaf Tuffaha
--copyright Lena Khalaf Tuffaha
Thursday, July 17, 2014
The other day, we got a phone call from a dear friend. She had been thinking of us, she said, with what was going on in Gaza. How were we feeling?
The short answer is, anguished. I will personally add, very angry.
Our having been in the West Bank and Israel for three months as human rights monitors and protective presence for people under occupation changed forever the way we look at the Middle East. Frankly, we see that the present situation was precipitated ultimately by the state of Israel and the occupation.
I was appalled not only by the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli settler youth, but by the shameless and manipulative exploitation of that event by Israel's political leadership, especially Bibi Netanyahu. He was given a golden opportunity to strengthen his hold on the West Bank and Gaza by fingering Hamas, which to this day has denied responsibility for the kidnapping-murder.
Without actual provocation, Israel then began to bomb northern Gaza, dropping many one-ton bombs on one of the most densely populated areas of the earth, in response to a few rockets that for the most part do little damage beyond frightening the people in their target area. Neither the bombs nor the rockets help the situation--they are weapons of terror, and simply should not be used, period. Israel claims to have telephoned and leafleted the target areas prior to the bombing. Perhaps, but beyond a handful of UN emergency shelters available, there is little or no place for ordinary people to hide from the excessive response of the Israeli military. And the civilian casualty lists show this in graphic detail. Former Israeli soldier and present-day peace activist Miko Peled has called the bombings of Gaza "shooting fish in a barrel".
Another friend e-mailed us a "thinking of you". We are so blessed. Blessed to have such friends, to live in safety, in prosperity, in beauty as the summer unfolds, and in peace. Compared to the people of the West Bank and Gaza, we are in paradise.
A hidden aspect of this whole situation is the tightening of the grip of the Israeli military on the West Bank. We know about how the occupation is carried out. We have seen the behaviour of the guards at the checkpoints, the separation wall, and the effects of a strangled economy on the Palestinian people. We have seen the prosperous hilltop Israeli settlements in Palestine, and the threatened impoverished valleys of the Palestinian people among the hilltops. We know about the soldiers' bullying of civilians, the arrested children, the capricious night raids on the homes of ordinary Palestinians. I have seen an x-ray image of an Israeli bullet by the lower spine of a 16-year-old Palestinian boy.
And all of the above has only gotten worse in the last few weeks.
We life nowhere near such conditions. When we returned to do public presentations on our experiences, we vowed to relax over the summer. We have done 16 such presentations, and are down for maybe 6 more in the fall. We needed the break. But there is no break for us because there is no break for the Palestinian people. It is getting harder and harder to keep from speaking out, though we know that would mean that the Tarbaby of the situation would emotionally embroil us once again.
And so, I am grateful for those who have reached out to us, and those who simply think of us in this time. Now, we all need to get up once again and put our politicians' feet to the fire, especially those politicians like our abysmally ignorant Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs minister and change the political course of our country.
That the Palestinian people may finally get a break. And that we as Canadians may hold up our heads.
Wednesday, July 9, 2014
Sunday, June 29, 2014
we were in Aviemore, Scotland, at a timeshare with my distant cousin and his wife. Back in Canada, my mother died in hospital in palliative care on this day, after having refused, for entirely understandable reasons, to have any life support continued. She had terminal cancer, and was not only in great pain, but had nil chance for recovery or even a decent end of days.
My wife and I had left Canada to attend training to become Ecumenical Accompaniers in Palestine, for service later that year. My mother had been hospitalized for another condition, but medical tests revealed a recurrence of an older cancer. We lived several thousand kilometres apart, but were in touch by phone.
We had a conversation that, as far as we both knew, was our mutual goodbye. In that conversation, she blessed our journey, which she had viewed with reluctance to countenance, and with misgivings. Later that day, however, she chose aggressive intervention against the cancer.
My wife and I flew to Zurich.
A week later, my mother received the news that the cancer was inoperable and that palliative measures were in order. She chose non-intervention, but with painkillers. She left off food, which, because of the condition, she could not swallow in any case. By then, we were in Scotland, as originally planned, ready to fly back if need be.
For many reasons, we did not fly back. The funeral came hard upon her passing. Two of my daughters made it on our behalf. When it was possible, we journeyed to where my mother had lived to visit and catch up on things, not to mention seeing her grave.
For some time, I struggled with lack of closure. But there was more.
My mother and I had had a difficult relationship going back to my childhood. Frequently, I found myself distancing myself from my mother in choices (many of mine pretty bad ones), and certainly in outlook. We could communicate, but rarely honestly with one another, my mother and I. Our politics, our faiths, our world view were different beyond a normal mother/son individuation. In the last few years her life, we had worked out a compromise of sorts, and were able to talk, but it never got very deep.
I grieved the relationship we didn't have, and the relationship we did have.
Palestine was a watershed in many ways for me as a person. If my mother were alive, I realize that I would not likely be able to share about it with my mother in terms of human rights monitoring, protective presence, doing God's work, because the languages of our faiths were so divergent.
Now and again, grief and profound confusion would erupt within me over the last few weeks. At times, I haven't been easy to live with, I know. As the anniversary approached, I reached out to friends, to counselors (who were sometimes both), and to my wife to process this.
Certainly, I accept the grieving, but I also understand that it is time to let go, not just of my mother, whose soul will re-enter the Great Wheel again at some point; and what was in our relationship, but of what we did not have in relationship as well.
This morning, as I sat in church where my wife presided in worship, with memorial candles lit and prayers of the people said, I pictured holding onto something with both hands, and of opening my hands, letting the something slide away, and away and away.
It is the time frame of the heart, and that time frame is slow. I put one foot in front of the other, and breathe in and breathe out, and consciously Love as best I can.
And, as I can, forgive.
The following YouTube piece comes from the superb movie Smoke Signals. Although the parent gender is different in the words, and some of the statements therein, the emotions and the dynamics are very similar to where I am and how I am feeling in this time.
Monday, June 16, 2014
Bloggers actually meeting in person is a relatively rare phenom, so when we got the chance to meet Reb Rachel Barenblatt, the Velveteen Rabbi (Now a real Rabbi), who lives near our hosts James and Di, we jumped at the chance. I have always found her blog thoughtful, compassionate, amazing, and have been left in the dust many a time in her theological reflections--but then, I am a bear of little brain... ;) .
Owing to illness in her family, we couldn't visit her home, but met instead in the Pittsfield area equivalent of "a noisy bar in Avalon", the Old Forge, known for its incredible wings (chicken, that is).
While a muted tv screen flickered overhead, we talked--well, bellowed a little, truth to be known--about blogging, life, theology, family, where we live, and Palestine, and much more. It was a very good experience, feeling a little like a phrase from Samuel R. Delany's Babel 17: "imagine flinging a jewel into a glut of jewels". In other words, a plethora of blessing from the first minutes of this trip, until now and probably beyond.
What I appreciate about bloggers like James and Rachel is their "real"-ness. Yes, we all blog in such a way that we create a sort of persona who is us and yet less than us (sometimes, God help us, more than us), and that there is always the risk of finding the blogger wanting when met in person. I have discovered the opposite about these two, and look forward to many more years of reading and commenting and being with them, electronically speaking.
Saturday, June 14, 2014
voices with all the feeling
an offering without flame
Friday, June 13, 2014
I have been thinking about this blog off and on, and you readers who have been waiting for the final curtain may be surprised to see new posts.
As it happens, I am in Massachusetts for a variety of reasons. But in the back of my mind constantly is the bigger question--questions, that is--of what will happen from here. Obviously, we can't just focus on Palestine all the time, being what Joyce so aptly described as "West Bank bores".
One of the aspects of the forthcoming October event is an intentional planning of the foreseeable future for us individually, and as a couple.
In the waiting silence, I have made several personal observations. I won't share more than a fraction here, but one of them involved getting more seriously into writing and sharing poetry.
In Matt Tannenbaum's delightful bookstore already described in these pages was a very fine poetry section. I found myself buying a slim volume of Hafiz, rendered in English of course as I don't speak or read Farsi. Another was a book of Mahmoud Darwish's poetry, which has intrigued me ever since I saw several works of his in the Educational Bookshop in Quds.
I have been afraid to learn how to do poetry, believe it or not. My style is a sort of prosaic meditation (and I am decidedly OK with the term "prosaic," as I do Not mean "pedestrian"!), and that is also OK--it works. But couldn't it be better? More varied? Isn't there a whole garden of poetic style out there waiting to be tried?
Yes to all three.
So, Red Wine and Garlic might be retooled as a poetry blog more deliberately, more fully.
We arrived in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, on Tuesday, having discovered that our neat regional airline, Porter, flies into Boston, which makes for a fairly easy trip altogether.
Our dear friend James met us at the interminable terminal and drove us across the state to Pittsfield. Four years of distance vanished in minutes as we talked through the trip.
Though James has pastoral duties, and Dianne is happily immersed in grandma-ing, there has been time to catch up even further on our lives, to talk music and theology and life and art, to drive over to nearby Lenox, where we encountered the warm sagesse of Matt Tannenbaum in his lovely indie bookstore. Not to mention delightful eating out in restaurants around and about.
In a word, though we are here for important business as well, we have been awash in blessing since we arrived.
We will return to our lives back home still drenched in this blessing, still open-mouthed in gratitude for friendship, for hospitality, and for meaning in our lives.
Monday, May 19, 2014
Last evening, we were kindly invited out to supper at friends we know through our church connections. Among those present was a couple who had done overseas partnership work (formerly "missionary" work) in Japan quite a few years ago.
As we talked, coming around often in spite of ourselves to our experiences in Palestine, Eleanor, who had served in Japan, gazed at us levelly, and thoughtfully, though pointedly asked,
"Are you still processing your experience?"
We paused, taken a little aback by the unerring appropriateness and knowing compassion in the question.
"Yes," we answered.
In fact, we find ourselves thinking a lot about what we encountered in Palestine, and what it means as we continue through the days and weeks after our return.
Our friends Eleanor and Jack had made a difficult adjustment after 2 years in Japan, and found the offer of another stint in the country to be life giving. Knowing what to expect on their eventual return to Canada prepared them for a much smoother re-entry.
We did not really now what to expect, though the EAPPI staff did a fine job in trying to show us what might happen. Their warnings and advice were good. I have been in counseling to make my psychological and spiritual re-entry doable, and we have both made good use of recreational and rest opportunities available here.
And, there are the presentations, 9 under our belt to far and probably another 8 to happen between now and the middle of October. Maybe more, and the word spreads.
A week or so ago, we travelled to Toronto for debriefing by our national church. In a sympathetic and supportive environment, we shared what we saw, what worked and what didn't, and why. It was a very good experience, but it is not over yet.
In October, we travel again to Toronto to be part of a gathering of returned overseas personnel of a variety of denominations. It is called the Canadian Churches forum for Global Ministry. We will be with people who have "been there", wherever "there" is, and who will understand, even as we can understand for them.
There's more: we are to be placed on the denomination's Unsettling Goods Speakers Bureau, which means that we can be contacted by anyone who wishes us to make a presentation on Palestine and human rights, anywhere. Practically, that means northwestern Ontario, as groups are more likely to contact speakers who are geographically closer to them than we might be.
And, more yet, though I won't get into that now.
I can say that two things leap out of this experience: one is personal. As a middle-aged man, I have realized that I crave a life with meaning. This has happened in startling abundance. Secondly, we both have considered what our post-retirement lives will comprise. I would say that what we have been involved in is something that will occupy us and our energies for years to come.
And as for this blog, maybe what it needed was fresh experience and a different slant. Maybe that's happened, too.
Stay tuned, gentle readers.
Tuesday, May 6, 2014
It astonishes me that this blog has run for, what, nearly 10 years? It has been a running commentary on my life and what I have seen and felt and gone through and enjoyed, and a few of you have been along for the ride.
Since Palestine, I am in what will amount to a very long transition, into what, I don't know. Whatever comes after this. It means that I am evaluating what I have been doing and letting some things go, and keeping others, and adding still others.
Tomorrow, we journey to Toronto for two days of debriefing with the national church that sent us to Palestine, and will take in a Toronto Blue Jays game live and in person, on Friday evening.
There is another aspect to this deliberation: over the past while, Blogger has fallen under the grip of Google, at first, then Yahoo. The latter especially, seems to be acting like Facebook in trying to pry more and more personal information from me, which I strongly resent. As well, my original sign-in e-mail literally no longer exists, but neither Yahoo nor Google will allow me to change the original e-mail address. One day, as has already happened to me in Flickr, some change in settings will be made and I will not be able to sign into my own blog. It will last a few months and then, because of inactivity, be quietly fried out of existence.
And increasingly, I am OK with that.
And maybe I need to reconsider the whole blogging thing, anyway. Time rattles on and I am doing the same. Toward something else.
I will notify those people who have surfaced to comment when this happens, and will hopefully keep in touch with you in other ways.
This scrap of paper came from a Palestinian home, in Bethlehem. While we were there as Ecumenical Accompaniers, we spent a lot of time with N. and A. as our drivers, and we got to know each other somewhat--I am being cautious, here, because even three months is not a long time, even if it felt like it sometimes, and my years of experience with Aboriginal folks here has taught me that there are layers and layers and layers of existence that take years of truly knowing. We did not have years...
The five of us were invited, in December, to N.'s house for a Christmas dinner. It was dark by 4:45 as we piled into his and A. taxicabs, and drove through the streets of Bethlehem to N.'s house. After a hopelessly confusing (to us) ride, we arrived, and were welcomed into the family home. N. has been married and so his spouse and their children were present as we were invited to sit down in their living room. A portrait of N.'s brother, who served many years in an Israeli jail, hung on one wall. The remnants of the worst winter storm to hit the area in over 60 years clung to the city and to N.'s house in the form of damp cold. Palestinian homes are designed for the fierce heat of summer, not the cold of winter. We kept our coats on. We could see our breath.
The meal we were served there is forever graven on my memory: stuffed peppers, stuffed grape leaves, rice, salad, and incredibly delicious chicken. So delicious, in fact, that I asked if they could make a list of the spices used, for me. They did.
You can see that the original list was written in Arabic, which I cannot read. As well, none of those present could tell me the English names of the herbs and spices used. I kept the piece of paper carefully hidden in our placement house until I could find a way to learn these names.
One thing led top another, and I was transferred out of Bethlehem to Jerusalem, where my wife Joyce was stationed. In our happy reunion, I told her about the dinner and the list, but neither of us could think what to do. Maybe, we thought, our minister friend in Thunder Bay, a Palestine-born woman, could translate for us.
And then, one day on our days off, when we were staying at an economy hotel on Al Salah Ah-Din street, we found the answer staring us in the face: on the corner by the hotel was a spice store that we had passed any number of times, and from which we had bought herbs and spices for cooking at the placement house. We knew that the guys running the store spoke pretty fair English: maybe they could translate.
The result, on the above paper, appears on the left side. Now we knew, and when we returned to Canada, we resolved to cook some chicken with this recipe.
And we did:
It was a bit of a job gathering everything. Fennugreek, for example, eluded me for several days before I was able to round some up (and then, I had to grind the seeds!). But, once we had it all together, and baked the chicken breasts, we had a wonderful meal. A meal in which I thought back to N.'s house and the hospitality we had enjoyed in December. Joyce was delighted with the spicing, though she pointed out that, without measurements to guide us, we needed to experiment with proportions to get it right. Too much turmeric, in fact. But delicious, nonetheless.
A taste of our experience in Palestine, recreated, more or less, here in Canada.
And many fine memories...