ZIONISM: A RE-IMAGINATION
Text of Rev. David W. Good’s Address at Sabeel DC Metro Seminar : ” Zionism Through Christian Lenses.” Saturday, November 16, 2013.
I remember as a child going on a camping trip with my family to a spectacular place in Utah that I knew then as “Zion National Park.” I only learned much later that that beautiful landscape was where the Anazazi lived and so when it was first established as a National Monument, it was called, Mukuntuweap but the name was later changed to Zion National Park in remembrance of how for Mormons, that area became a place of refuge.
Now, there’s a lot of theology and history in that name-change in and of itself that’s very apropos to our theme for today, but in the interest of time, I’ll have to leave that discussion for another time.
Be that as it may, as a child, the displacement of indigenous people and the renaming of the landscape was not what I associated with that word, “Zion.”
Words for me have always been important, little openings – microscopic openings — by which one can explore a multiplicity of things, place names that are a rare meeting place for theology, psychology and geography all mixed in together. Words are like “milkweed”, seemingly not a very attractive pod, but you open them up and you’re dazzled by what lies inside. It might be a hot and terribly humid day, but you open up a milkweed pod, and suddenly you have snow-in-summer, and so it is with words.
With apologies to William Shakespeare, I’m not so sure a “rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Words, and names of places on our maps speak volumes about our history, our theologies, our sense of place, our psychological strengths and weaknesses, the ideologies by which we navigate our lives, what we value and the people we honor – Lincoln, Nebraska and Washington, DC, and so I think we need to be ever so cautious when those words are misappropriated, misused or simply dismissed as if of no importance.
Back 50 years ago when I was on that camping trip I knew nothing about the State of Israel that was then only 10 years old. I knew nothing about Theodore Herzl, Jewish Nationalism and the struggle to establish a so-called “Jewish State.”
A few years later, like many in my generation, I would watch the movie “Exodus” and so became a part of what has sometimes been called the “Exodus generation”, a generation of those deeply ashamed of the Holocaust, ashamed not only of the quiescence and passivity of the Christian church but indeed ashamed of the Anti-Semitic theology that resulted in the Holocaust itself.
“The doors were shut for fear of the Jews.”
Shame on the Gospel of John for using such reckless language! After all, there were Jews on both sides of that closed door.
However, 50 years ago when I was on that camping trip with my family in the spectacular Zion National Park, for me the word “Zion” wasn’t associated at all with the State of Israel or the Zionist enterprise. Rather, for me, growing up in a Methodist Church in Indiana the word Zion would have had warm and even joyous association with many of the hymns that we sang, my favorite perhaps being,
Jerusalem the golden, with milk and honey blest,
Beneath thy contemplation Sink heart and voice oppressed,
I know not, O I know not, What joys await us there,
What radiancy of glory, What bliss beyond compare!
There is the throne of David, and there from care released,
The shout of them that triumph, the song of them that feast,
And they, who with their leader, Have conquered in the fight,
Forever and forever are clad in robes of white.
O sweet and blessed country, The home of God’s elect…
They stand, those hall of Zion, All jubilant with song..
It was the singing of hymns such as this that I associated with that word, “Zion” in Zion National Park… blissfully ignorant 50 years of ago of what later I would learn to know as the Nakba, the destruction of Palestinian homes and villages, the displacement, indeed the ethnic cleansing of thousands of Palestinian families, the uprooting of thousands of Palestinian olive trees, the killing of Rachel Corrie, the confiscation of water resources, the daily humiliation of checkpoints, the detention and imprisonment of innocent children and not to mention the demonization of anyone who spoke out against what was being done in the name of this Zionist ideology.
How could this beloved word, “Zion” that I associated with camping trips in a spectacular landscape or with words of hymns that conjured up images of that “heavenly city” in which there would be no more tears, that place, that celestial place, that “sweet and blessed country” where humanity and divinity would finally be reconciled, how could that word now be associated with so much misery and injustice?
Even now, I confess I flinch when one of my friends in the struggle against the US Israeli occupation uses the word, “Zionist” as an epithet. I remember an interfaith gathering in which a seminary president was defending one of her professors, saying, “Yes, he is a Zionist, but he’s a moderate Zionist.” To which one of my friends said rather too quickly, “That’s like excusing someone for being a moderate racist.”
I think we have to be ever so careful with the words we use, and while I want nothing to do with what is called “Christian Zionism” and the mythology – I refuse to call it a theology – that underscores that notion of “Zionism”, maybe I’m a hopeless sentimentalist, but I refuse to give up on that word, “Zion.” And neither do I want to use it as just an epithet. There’s beautiful snow-in-summer inside that word that I refuse to lose.
Also I refuse to equate the Judaism that I know and love with what the State of Israel has allowed itself to become. I refuse to dishonor the beautiful theology and legacy of Martin Buber – “I and Thou” — and the prophetic philosophy of Hannah Arendt by being silent about how militant nationalists, driven by an exceptionalist theology, aided and abetted and enabled by our own American politicians and theologians, have co-opted and corrupted that beautiful word Zion, and have twisted it for their own purposes.
“They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy
That’s the Zionism that I know and love.
Come, let us go up to the mountain of
the Lord.. that God may teach us the right way, that we might walk in the right path.
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem…
they shall beat their swords into plowshares..
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
Neither shall they learn war any more.
If that’s what it means to be a “Zionist”, well then, I am a Zionist!
The earth mourns and withers.
the world languishes and withers,
The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants,
Says Isaiah. “The earth mourns”, says Hosea. “Come now, let us reason together..” says Isaiah.
Here the Zionist agenda has to do with the earth, our mutual global concerns, and the confidence in the human spirit to use reason to find a way out of our global catastrophes.
Come now, let us reason together.
This is Zionism at its best, and if the Zionist prophet Isaiah knew this thousands of years ago, why are we wasting so much of our time and energy on antiquated nationalistic enterprises? “Zionism”, true Zionism has far more to do with Tikkun Olam – healing the earth – than it does with the building of walls. And if we truly love our Jewish neighbors and care about Judaism, we will do all that we can to remind them of this sacred vision.
Sometimes, as you know, our best friends need to tell us the truth about ourselves, and if we’re truly sincere in wanting to have an authentic friendship with our Jewish neighbors, something that moves beyond mere superficial niceties, when will we have the courage to speak the truth about this word, “Zion” and how it has been corrupted and stultified?
Or, as the poet, T.S. Eliot said, “Will we after tea and cakes and ices have the courage to push the moment to its crisis?”
Or as Dulcinea said to Don Quixote, “They’re your own words! To fight the unbeatable foe…Don’t you remember? To bear with unbearable sorrow. You must remember…To right the unrightable wrong…”
That’s the Zionism, that’s the Judaism that stood shoulder with African Americans in Selma, Alabama. That’s the Zionism, that’s the Judaism that stood with Martin Luther King right here in our nation’s capital. That’s the Zionism, that’s the Judaism that sang in the soul of Pete Seeger when he mobilized the anti-war movement, singing, “Bring’em home!
What does the Lord require of you, but
to do justice, and to love mercy and to walk
humbly with your God.
To save one person is the same as saving the whole human race.
Truly this is what it means to be a “light unto the nations” with that all important “s” on the end to remind us that any vision worth its salt is pluralistic and inclusive. A “Jewish State” is a circle much too small. The biblical notion of “Zion” is far too inclusive to be confined, defined by Jewish Nationalism.
I like very much how Steve France, my colleague in this book, has said in his chapter:
Only a vision that draws on the profound
spiritual resources of the Jewish faith,
tradition and history can summon the energy
necessary to undo decades of violence
to others and to self and to shift the energy
of Zionism in a positive direction. P.58
I think there’s a lot of wisdom in those words. I think it’s time to reclaim that word “Zion” and remind ourselves of what a noble vision it is.
T.S. Eliot said, “words slip, slide, decay with imprecision, will not stay in place, will not stay still.”
So we have to be the guardians and the shepherds of our words, and I think its time to take that word “Zionism” back from those who have made their circle much too small.
For me “Zion” is and has always been a vision of what all of our cities and towns should be, not only the city of Jerusalem, but also Old Lyme, Connecticut, Indianapolis, Indiana, and Washington DC. For me, it’s a metaphor, a blue print by which we can measure how well we’re doing in building our own “heavenly cities”, places of justice, places of compassion, places of peace and reconciliation.
We all live in exile. We, in all our cities and towns, are a long, long way from what they should be, and so, as I see it, we need to relearn those old “Songs of Zion”; we need to pick up whatever our own musical instrument might be, and be for each other a reminder of that noble vision, “You must remember… They’re your own words.”
“They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.”
So, I’ll close with two of my own favorite hymns that, for me, have kept that dream alive. These are both old hymns, and so please forgive the sexist language. The first is one that reminds me that Jerusalem is not only a city in the Holy Land, not only a metaphor for the celestial city, but also a vision for how all our communities should be, in the here and now:
O holy city, seen of John…
O shame to us who rest content
While lust and greed for gain
In street and shop and tenement
Wring gold from human pain…
Give us, O God, the strength to build
The city that hath stood
Too long a dream, whose laws are love,
Whose ways are brotherhood,
And where the sun that shineth is
God’s grace for human good.
And then finally, being here at Wesley Seminary, what good Methodist wouldn’t be familiar with that old hymn,
O Zion, haste, thy mission high fulfilling,
To tell to all the world that God is light,
That he who made all nations is not willing
One soul should perish, lost in shades of night.
Proclaim to every people tongue and nation
That God, in whom they live and move, is love.
Tell how he stooped to save his lost creation..
Publish glad tidings: Tidings of Peace…
If that’s what it means to be a Zionist, well, then, I am a Zionist! Thank you for being here and thank you for listening.
BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS :
The Rev. David W. Good is the Minister Emeritus of the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme, CT. Born in Indiana with an undergraduate degree from Purdue University and a Master of Divinity from Yale Divinity School, he served for 37 years as the Senior Minister of the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme until his retirement in June of 2012. During that tenure he led the church in the establishment of cross-cultural partnerships with the Orlando Churches of Soweto and Central Methodist Mission in Johannesburg, South Africa during the time of Apartheid. He also helped establish a long standing cross-cultural partnerships with the Cheyenne River (Lakota) Sioux Indian Reservation, the Storefront School in Harlem, New York and a 10 year partnership with the community of Beit Sahour, near Bethlehem in Palestine. David has led 10 interfaith journeys to Israel, the Golan, and the West Bank, and the surrounding states in the Middle East, including Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Turkey. He chairs the Tree of Life Educational Fund and has served on the Board of Directors as Chairperson of Koinonia Partners. He has also served on the Board of Directors for Habitat for Humanity of Southeastern Connecticut and the Advisory board of The Fuller Center for Housing and “The Living Pulpit” and was a member of the Muslim-Christian Dialogue Group of The Christian Conference of Connecticut. He’s also a member of “We Refuse To Be Enemies”, a coalition of Jews, Christians and Muslim who work for peace in the Middle East. He did independent study with Bishop John A.T. Robinson at Trinity College, Cambridge and during seminary served a circuit of Presbyterian churches in the Appalachian region of West Virginia. In addition to articles, he is the author of the recently published (2012) book, A Place of Grace: The Gospel According to The First Congregational Church of Old Lyme. Having written a chapter for the book, Zionism Through Christian Lenses he comes to Washington DC to participate in a conference sponsored by Sabeel Metro DC at Wesley Seminary on Nov. 16th. He and his wife, Corinne and their Irish Setter live in Lyme, Connecticut.