Tuesday, July 22, 2008

What Was it Pogo Said?

VPI 1915
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao

We have met the enemy and he is us.

Last week, I submitted the painting you see here to qarrtisluni for their issue on “Transformation.”
I explained that the painting is based upon a photograph my grandfather took in 1915.
(He was a student at Virginia Polytechnic and these are his fellow students in the snow.)
All I did was add a bit of asemic calligraphy and stamped a couple chops.
I also attempted to explain how the inking transformed the image.

The transformation simply amazed me.
Before I set my brush upon the picture,
I never knew that Virginia contained Asia within its energy.
But there before my eyes, I saw the Cadets of grandfather’s world,
Just Like That,
become “Soldiers of the Sun.”
Just Like That,
Western hero became Asian warrior.

I called the painting, “Transformation as a Just So Story”
because I didn’t believe such transformations could ultimately be True.
Really True, I meant.

The editors quickly declined with a polite, “No, thank you.”
I think perhaps they wanted transformations that were Real beyond dispute:
water into ice,
youth into old age.
In short, they were looking for the transformations that happen everyday.

I was addressing something of a different sort.
I was talking about the Other transformation that happens everyday,
but it is not of Nature, but rather, Man.
Everyday our minds take the One and break it into pieces.
Everyday we turn This into That.

I was talking about the transformation pulled off by Maya – that most skillful of Illusionists.
The unreal really happens everyday.
We take our fellow human beings and turn them into other and often enemy.

And we do it Just Like That,
just as easy as the squiggle of a paintbrush.
My calligraphy wasn’t even words. It was asemic and thus by definition without semantics.
Yet, obviously, below the words meaning got conveyed.
How else could I ever make warriors out of boys playing in the snow?

I have been dancing round here for a while now,
writing about labeling, and Dick and Jane, and taking life “simply as it is.”
Now, perhaps we’re getting to practical applications for what so often seems nothing short of the self indulgent ramblings of “Absorbed-in-Self.Com.”


A couple days went by.

Mom sent me this email.
It was a long editorial by Rabbi Michael Lerner, the editor of Tikkun magazine.
Tikkun translates as “to heal, repair, and transform the world.”
Rabbi Lerner was describing his experience at the World Conference on Dialogue convened by the King of Saudi Arabia, July 16-18 in Madrid, Spain.

God's will, praise be to Him, was that people should differ in their faiths.
If the Almighty had so desired, all mankind would have shared the same religion. We are meeting today to affirm that the religions that God Almighty desired for the happiness of man, should be a means to ensure that happiness.
King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud

Now, Rabbi Lerner is no fan of the King,
and I too am pretty skeptical of the King and his government.
Still, the conference brought together representatives of Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism and Confucianism.

And some of Rabbi Lerner’s points really got me thinking:
… this didn't sound like the King I had come to expect from Western media.
This was obviously a new direction being articulated by the King of Saudi Arabia. Moreover, it was not just being articulated for a Western audience.
The King had convened a similar meeting of Islamic scholars and thinkers in Saudi Arabia six weeks before…
what the King of Saudi Arabia was doing was …of historic significance….

[I] find myself amazed at the humanity, intelligence, and shared commitment to rationality among all these leaders of the Saudi regime.
NO, I'm not giving up my skepticism, and no, I have not forgotten the barbarism…

I see the fundamental decency of some who are engaged in an effort to "reform from within," and am reminded once again of how ridiculous it is to talk about a whole society as though it represented a single perspective or shared a single worldview….

[T]his conference is a front page story in most of the world,
but is being largely ignored in the US media
who were notably absent from the hundreds of media covering this event.
This is a willed ignorance about the world…

What was also clear to me in this conversation was that these very enlightened Saudis had NEVER met or been in a conversation with Jews who held progressive values and took those values seriously.
For them, it was an exciting revelation that there were Jews who were both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine, who could hold both narratives as having elements of truth and elements of goodness...
They too had fallen for the media distortions…

They too had fallen for that squiggle of the brush that can transform,
-Just Like That-
the Virginia boys of the First War into the Kamakazi of the Second War.
And Rabbi Lerner wrote of those who are now calling for a Fourth War…

With sincere apologies for my over simplifications.

To really get a feel of the intricate and insane swirlings that go on upon the surface politic:
You can find Rabbi Lerner’s complete comments here (a site organized under the auspices of Deepka Chopra).
You can find the Network of Spiritual Progressive here.
NPR’s brief comments are here. (It’s true the story was largely ignored. I had not heard a word until I got Mom’s email.)
And the press release of the Royal Saudi Embassy in Washington is here. (Well, actually back there. Ain't illusion grand?)


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