My Response to a Study in Arab Mentality

My blogging compatriot and spiritual friend Jalal gave a well reasoned and thought provoking assessment of the Arab personality in his recent blog.  He raises an important issue and I hope he takes my response in the spirit of a friendly discourse in which it is intended.

This is a very damning assessment of the Arab experience. I view it from the distance of the experience of a black American who knows relatively little about the day to day experience of the Arab. However I believe in the universality of the human spirit, and the potential for growth and change. Accepting arguendo that all these observations are true, the relevant questions are, what should the characteristic of the Arab be? (Not necessarily a uniform answer), why they are the way they are and most important how do we affect change for the better?

I cannot agree with the conclusion that “They will always be divided, fighting each other, hating each other and betraying each other.”

The human mind can change. Yes it is a difficult process that takes generations in some cases. But a life lived trying to affect change that will result in a more loving world is time well spent. This is where our individual and corporate responsibilities meet. It does not matter that we do not see the final result in our life time.

The first step in effecting change is to imagine it. The problem with the Arab world, and this is similar to many other issues that we face in life today, is that we limit our imaginations. Before anything comes into existence it must become a thought; one held so dearly that in concert with our efforts the forces of creation come together to make it real.

Human history is replete with incidents where imagination that went contrary to the prevailing doctrine, and was ridiculed at the outset over time became the conventional wisdom. Christopher Columbus had to imagine the possibility of going west to go east before he was able to do it. Before Roger Bannister, it was thought humanly impossible to run a mile in under 4 minutes. After Bannister did it in 1954 within 46 days the record was broken. Now that others were able to imagine the possibility the barriers thought impregnable began to fall.

I love my Arab brothers and sisters. I love all people. And I fervently believe that the God of creation placed us here with our foibles and flaws to learn how to overcome them through love and to learn that a whole humanity is better than the sum of the parts.

It is not easy. It is not about being easy. This life, even a long one, is temporary. But the spirit of the giver is profoundly enhanced in this life when a life of contribution is lived even to the point of the ultimate sacrifice. We may believe differently about what comes after, but none of us can prove our belief. But our history shows living selflessly and contributing to the greater good is its own meaningful reward to the soul that engages in it.

What must be clear is that our purpose is delineated and our actions judged by the principle of love. And true love applies to the entire spectrum of humanity without confinement to tribe, nationality, religion, race, sexual orientation,  or any other method by which we choose to define ourselves or others.

We must imagine a world in which we see ourselves in the other, even if that person is at the farthest end of the earth from us in distance or belief. We must recognize that our neighbor’s welfare is our welfare.

It may sound like idealism and pie in the sky ranting, but that is the reality we face; to imagine a world of brothers and sisters living together as one, and then to do our bit wherever we are to rid ourselves of any thoughts to the contrary and work to make that image a reality.




Christmas has always been my favorite time of year. In some regard Easter has been more profound personally, as I got older and dealt with the challenges of life and the introspection and personal growth that resulted. But for its sheer joy and beauty of spirit nothing ranks with Christmas. And for me Christmas is all about the music; and as I grew up listening to traditional religious music that is the genre that resonates with me still.

Listening today to the broadcast of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College, Cambridge, I was struck by a line from one of the readings, Gen 22 where God says to Abraham, “in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.” At a time when we have just celebrated the life of Mandela, this stands out to me as the true message of Christmas.

Many people overlook the spiritual aspect of Christmas entirely. And many Christians are angered by the increasing accommodations to a diverse society that shows respect to others of a different faith by keeping our dominant faith out of the official public spaces.

I think both groups are missing the true point of Christmas. Christ’s life was a demonstration of the God’s love being available to all people. And obedience to God is obedience to the command to love one another. If we filter all our relationships through this prism it greatly changes the outcomes in our world.

And that is what the lives of Christ and icons such as Mandela show. Obedience to love blesses all people.

In acting selflessly and loving each other all are blessed including ourselves.


A projection of the face of Nelson Mandela and his clan name Madiba is projected onto the face of Table Mountain in Cape Town.
A projection of the face of Nelson Mandela and his clan name Madiba is projected onto the face of Table Mountain in Cape Town.

The great man is dead.

18 July 1918 – 5 December 2013

 He lives forever.

This is greatness.

It’s taken me awhile to distil my thoughts about the impact this man has had on me and try to put into words something that is truly my own. I’m glad that the goodbye has been drawn out over 10 days because it’s given me time to think; time to hear what so many others had to say; the expected platitudes and the sincere expressions of gratitude for his life and the example he set.

He set the bar high by the way he lived. He is one of my heroes, forever in my pantheon of heroes with Christ, Gandhi and King. There are many more people who are great. Most the world never knows, but they are there. But these are the public ones that resonate most with my spirit and there is no question he belongs with them.

Greatness for me resides in the human whose spirit is lead by the principle of unconditional love for the world and all creation, and whose life is consistent with that principle regardless of the personal cost.

Madiba’s life reflected that in all respects, and because of that the world is far far better place.

Religious fundamentalists are offended when humans are compared to their icons. I understand that, and sincerely respect that position. One of my Christian brothers often warns me about the danger of comparing humans to gods. I agree.

But I must also claim the right to be different in this regard. My life experience as a gay man has not been main stream. And because there was no readymade path for me to conceptualize the nature of God, I had to chop my way through a forest of cultural and religious doctrine and prejudice and find my own. In that process I came to understand God from the bottom up and not the top down.

Understanding God’s humanity allowed me to understand the God spirit within me and opened up the glory of pursuing a life of unconditional love. I feel God’s presence and anointing much more in the examples of human acts of love of Jesus; the acts of forgiveness in the face of evil, gratitude in the face of suffering; joy in obedience to selfless love; than I do in the miracles and extraordinary events.

For those with whom the extraordinary resonates, I have no problem if it brings them to know and understand a God of love, for that is also where my journey takes me.

But in the end what is important to me is how we express that transcendental experience in our daily lives. I don’t care what the ritualistic expression is. I do not need to hear words of praise similar to my own. I do not even need to hear any words. But if I see expressed in how a life is lived the uncompromising dedication to the spirit of unconditional love then I know I am with a kindred spirit.

My pantheon of heroes all share that spirit and give me not only inspiration but also a part of themselves that will live within me and help me to keep faith with my own journey of love.

My belief is the Spirit of love is one spirit and when we claim it we are at once a part of creation’s eternal life force.

So for me, my hero, Madiba (Nelson Mandela) will never die.


A young friend sent me photographs recently celebrating his attendance of oral arguments at the U. S. Supreme Court of a case in which his partner was a member of one of the legal teams.

He was justly proud of the accomplishment.

As I looked at the photos taken on the steps of the courthouse it brought back memories of my own similar experience 33 years ago in the early years of my legal career.

What struck me however was despite the milestone of the occasion and the precedent setting decision that resulted from that case, I could not remember the case name.

What I remember most vividly was the other first year associate with whom I labored to draft the brief that would be argued by a senior partner.

He was a quiet, erudite young man who seemed better suited to the hallways of academia than the cutthroat corridors of a law firm. Working together we developed respect for each other borne from our mutual love of literature. We were relatively close for a few years until his termination, during which I got to know his wife and two children, and learn about their privileged backgrounds.

In the years that followed I lost touch with him though I heard tidbits of news of his life spiraling downwards. He became divorced, developed health problems, and appeared to be suffering from depression. One day I heard that he had died from a heart attack, though more likely it was from heart break.

I have never been able to think of our legal accomplishment without the sadness of our broken relationship. His community that should have supported him was too preoccupied with its own interests to care. And I was an integral part of that community.

I read once that our diverse lives are like musical instruments. If we play our individual tunes without regard or reference to the others we create discordance and disharmony.

When we play together we create beauty and harmony.

Time and hindsight has proven to me that it is the relationships we create as we endeavor to achieve that are meaningful, often far more so than the achievement itself.

It is up to each of us to decide if we want to put forth the effort to create together the beautiful harmonies that the music of life has to offer.

Twists and Turns

Life takes us down its twists and turns

To discover that it is the journey

that is the destination,

And love the energy that powers the ride;

Love freely given is eternal.

He who shares my journey shares my love,

And remains with it forever my friend;

For in our place we are already at the end.