Every picture has its shadows, and it has some source of light

“Shadows and Light” is the name of a song by Joni Mitchell. This is her live performance of the song during her Mingus tour of 1980:

It’s worth hearing.

But the music all aside, the words are profound, and given what’s been happening in the world this week, I need to put the lyrics here and then talk about them.

Every picture has its shadows, and it has some source of light,
Blindness, blindness and sight.
The perils of benefactors, the blessings of parasites…
Blindness, blindness and sight.

Threatened by all things – Devil of cruelty,
Drawn to all things – Devil of delight.
Mythical devil of the ever-present lines
Governing blindness, blindness and sight.

Suntans in reservation dining rooms, pale miners in their lantern rays –
It’s like night, night and day.
Hostage smiles on Presidents, “Freedom!” scribbled in the subways –
It’s like night… and day.

Threatened by all things – God of cruelty,
Drawn to all things – God of delight.
Mythical God of the ever-present lines
Governing day, day and night.

Critics of all expression, judges in black and white,
Saying it’s wrong, saying it’s right.
Compelled by prescribed standards, or our own ideals, we fight –
Wrong, wrong and right.

Threatened by all things – men of cruelty,
Drawn to all things – men of delight.
Keeper of the laws, the ever-broken laws
Governing wrong, wrong and right.
Governing wrong, wrong and right.
Wrong… and right.

Now, I no longer believe God is mythical (obviously). But I think the God we build up in our heads often is. We attribute attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors to the God in our heads which don’t really belong to God at all. I don’t think the God that the Haredim believe in is really God. I think that it’s the Haredim’s excuse for their behavior – and their behavior is often vile and without excuse.

I think a lot of our world’s problems do happen, as the song says, because we are compelled by prescribed standards or our own ideals, and we fight. I can’t imagine how the stabbings (and eventual murder of at least one young woman) at the 2015 Jerusalem Gay Pride parade, or the murder by arson of a Palestinian 18-month-old by Israeli settlers, can be seen any other way. What drove the Haredi murderer at Jerusalem Pride? Prescribed standards. What drove the murder of that baby boy? Someone’s cockeyed ideals.

When can we get beyond prescribed standards and ideals and look at what’s right for the world? When will we achieve tikkun olam? Will we ever?

Do we even want to, or is it just something to which we’re paying lip service?

I have clinical depression, as I’ve already talked about elsewhere. I have a natural tendency to only see the shadows. Where is the light in any of this? Is it the international outrage against the violence? Is it the Jewish groups in the United States who are now calling on Israel to get the extremists under control? Where is the light?

I admit that today I’m having trouble seeing the light in these situations.

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