Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations

One supposes the title of this lecture is play on the phrase “A Clash of Civilizations” coined by Samuel P. Huntington, who regarded conflict at the borders between civilizations as predictable and for the most part inevitable.

Recorded in 2007 at Duke University, the Kenan Distinguished Lecture in EthicsThe Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations” by Sir Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, offers a thoughtful, deep, and useful exegesis on the theme of brotherhood found in stories that span the Book of Genesis.  No surprise, I suppose, that Sir Sacks has attracted the ire of the fundamentalists of his own tradition for daring to discern useful lessions for today from a book regarded by many as a text that is not to be interpreted but simply obeyed.

In The Sweat Lodge

I did my first sweat - more properly, a Lakota Inipi - in the fall of 2008, but had to bow out before completing it.  Even when done properly it is a physically challenging undertaking and I was not feeling well that day.  The reductionist in me could find psychological and neurological explanations for why I encountered the sensations and images I report here but I chose to simply engage the experience...

I am immersed in earth smells,
Pummeled by drums,
Flooded by the taste of sage and sweetgrass,
Lulled by rhythmic chants.
Other senses overfilled, my eyes beseech the darkness.
“Bring in Seven…”
In glowing orange orbs I witness
Newborn stars at the beginning of time.
In round river rocks cooling to red incandescence I see
The Earth before air or rain or green or life.
Black lines on luminous ancient stones draw for me
The thighs and belly of a Neolithic Venus.
Nearly hidden in the darkening pit appear
The dull red eyes of an angry black bull.
These fade and something in my center is stilled.
And, as ladles of cool water
Wash the last light from the rocks,
As we descend again into darkness,
The eyes of a tired but wise old dog
Open for a moment and then are closed.
Mitakuye Oyasin.