My First UUA GA & the BDS Question

How the Heart can hep us stand on the Side of Love

Tonight I attended the first night of my first UUA General Assembly in Columbus OH, traveling here from Denver. I felt compelled to take part in our national GA, to meet other UUs and to find out exactly how we choose to set our agenda for the next year.

I chose to become a Unitarian last year partly because of its commitment to social justice, but also its history of open mindedness, its commitment to rationality and spirituality, and its intellectual tradition over its several hundred year history, especially here in the US. From the transcendentalists to the founding fathers to Charles Darwin, and everyone on the poster I bought — I admired not only their secular work, but also their deep commitment to spirituality, knowledge and universality.

Tonight’s opening ceremony was really cool to see all the congregations in the opening ceremony march with their handmade banners, so colorful and many of them lovely handicrafts. I took lots of pictures and enjoyed the joy of the processional.

Then followed the speakers, who spoke in agreement with the usual Unitarian Universal phrases of “everyone and every person is created in the image of God with no exceptions”, “that we really need to come together”, “for our spirit to rise together as one” and that it includes “all faith traditions.” This is exactly how I feel.

The question is, how can we come together? Of course coming together means putting our minds together, coming up with ideas and solutions that are out of the box. Really valuing every perspective, because some perspective may uncover the key towards bringing everyone together, perhaps a perspective that traditionally wouldn’t receive attention. Of course coming together would bring compassion and help us develop the courage to actually spread this to other groups, to try to bring everyone together. I really believe interfaith work has to be done. While a lot of individuals have to make those individual choices, groups themselves have to choose to come together. Its up to the faith traditions to decide to act cooperatively.

The question remains, how can this happen? The issues themselves involve such opposition. Even tonight, with Rabbi Jacobs speaking about the upcoming vote on whether or not to implement BDS against Israel. I’m torn on this issue because quite obviously Israel has had a many decade old problem with its policies towards the Palestinians and its occupation and confiscation of their land. The occupation is condemned worldwide by the UN, yet Israel continues with occupation, even intensifying it in the name of security and the long term viability of the Israeli state.

The situation cannot get better on its own. It will take people from outside the conflict, which has developed in an ever worsening spiral of division and violence, to provide perspective enough to somehow find solutions. Supposedly, the ideal solution would be a two state solution, yet nobody can understand how to implement it, and the occupation continues. Much of the opposition to the occupation wants to implement BDS. It worked in South Africa, when they clearly had an apartheid government having separate sets of rules for its white citizens and its native black citizens. Those rules were every bit as divisive as Jim Crow laws in the US, even more so. The international community put enough economic pressure on South African elites to eliminate apartheid and begin to share control of government, which eventually saw Mandela become President. And of course many years later, there are still problems in South Africa, but the worst of the problems were eliminated because of BDS.

And so, I’ve seen BDS as a viable option in Israel, since the conditions are similar to South Africa. However, I’m willing in the spirit of the faith tradition I’ve chosen, and the open-mindedness of UU, to really consider whether what Rabbi Jacobs said Wednesday night has merit and how I would choose.

He said the largest segment of Reformed Jewry is against BDS. They’re also very much against occupation. However, they believe BDS itself would be divisive and divestment would not build a 2 state solution, and would strengthen those groups most in opposition. The reformist position is then that BDS would have little effect on Israeli business and would make the reactionary side even more reactionary. Instead, they’re offering love thy neighbor as thyself, and of course I would agree with that. We must love our neighbors…it is the supreme commandment. But how could we best support the Palestinians and the most progressive Reformist Jews, yet at the same time diffuse the situation, help those supporting occupation come to a newfound realization against it?

It might seem a long shot, but Polyvagal theory explains how the central nervous system evolved over a 3 distinct evolutionary stages culminating in the co-evolutionary adaptation of the social engagement system, and how the most recent stage, the Ventral Vagal Complex connecting the brain and the heart is able to overcome defensive fight/flight/fear responses, to help us socially reconnect. It’s about connecting with our hearts, which convey the stress and hurt from our bodily reactions through the vagal nerve up to the brain. When our defenses are out of whack, when our bodies hold trauma and react defensively to threat, this system can get caught in fight/flight or fear mode, shutting off our ability to reason, putting us in a mode of competition and conflict instead of cooperation and solidarity.

However, our bodies have been cleverly designed by evolution, for we have the mechanism to diffuse the threat reaction, to apply the vagal brake to temper the defensive reaction of the cardiovascular system. We can do this by engaging in social connection, by synchronizing our hearts and soothing each other through connection to help ourselves regulate our threat defenses. Primary caregivers of infants do this, to help infants co-regulate their developing autonomic nervous system through attachment until they can self-regulate.

And perhaps it is this we can do for others stuck in threat defense and conflict, help them reconnect with their hearts, to unstick the trauma of their bodies, to engage the vagal system through social connection and love. We can use this to help ourselves overcome our own divisions regarding the BDS and other issues, to really become united as Unitarian Universalists. We can demonstrate the power of a people united by love, willing to socially connect with those stuck in defensive mode, to become unafraid and fearless peacemakers. And we can do this for those struck with fear, helping them recover from trauma. All of our issues depend own our becoming united by engaging our hearts and helping others do the same.

The Conservatives supporting occupation reacting in this defensive threat mode are stuck in this spiral. The Palestinian people traumatized by violence need to feel security as well. Both sides may be incapable of getting out of it without intervention from outside, not simply though imposed sanctions, but intercession by what they truly need most, therapeutic aid to help them self-regulate and allow their hearts to temper their defensive threat reaction into a place of social security.

I’m not sure BDS can work without connecting with those caught in defensive reaction, unable to reengage rationally, with heart. Perhaps we can use the knowledge from the body and from the heart to help soothe those caught in threat defense, help us to unite the interfaith community through social connection and spread the love of heart to those most in need of it.


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