Saturday, August 12, 2006

Conversation with a Hizbollahi centurion

I had an interesting conversation with our Hizbollah translator when I was there, standing at the steps of the Archbishop's house in Marjayoun. We'd had a few words in Sidon the day before when he heard me recounting how I had taken a wrong turn looking for AUB and gotten lost in West Beirut for several hours - and acquired five or six miles of useful exercise.

He asked me if I was worried about it and when I said, "What for?" he thought I was an unusual American worth talking to, because Americans in his experience were always very fearful.

So the next day he asked me about the right of return, so I said, "To my mind, here's where you have to start: 'Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God,'" ticking them off on my fingers.

He agreed heartily - unlike almost any American Christian I talk to about these things.

So, then, I went on, it was unjust to drive the Palestinians out of their homes in the 1948 ethnic cleansing, and they have the right to go back, but there's no way to do that without doing other injustice, just as there was no way to to go back to where it should have been before David killed Bathsheba's husband.

"But," he protested, "would you accept any compensation for your home if you were driven out of it?"

I said, "What else could I do, if the alternative is injustice or cruelty? Is any piece of property in this world worth giving away the word of God for? It's clearly unjust for Ariel Sharon to throw three-year-olds out on the street in Jenin. There are three-year-olds running around in Israel. Knowing what it feels like, how could you throw them out on the street?"

And then he got that look people get when they connect the dots and assent to truth - again a look I hardly ever see in "Christians."

I was remembering this last week when the Roman centurion came to mind, the only one that got the point of the Sermon on the Mount. I'd always understood the joy of Jesus in seeing this man's understanding.

But faced with what American Christians are, just as they were in the Philippine-American War and almost very other such act of domination and cruelty in American history, I felt the anguish of Jesus, which I'd never laid to heart before, in having to face the reality that nearly all of God's people, so-called, were more callous than that centurion. Where these things are concerned, that Hizbollahi is about the only one I've seen that has displayed real repentance, who is not given over to worldly callousness. I can think of maybe two others in the past 4 years attaining to it. If this phenomenon were not documented in the Bible, I suppose I would find it unbelievable.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

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American Christians are Faithless

The average American Christian lives without faith. On average, American Christians consume multiples of the resources of any other person in the world, expend non-renewable resources at an alarming rate.They think they are actually entitled to the disproportionate wealth because they "work hard," although not as hard as diamond miners in South Africa nor as hard as coffee pickers in Colombia nor nowhere as hard as the casual labor in Saudi Arabia ... but let's not bother to consider that because, hey, the USA has the biggest (not most effective, but biggest) armed forces in the world.

Even among the average American Christians there are 42 million people living official poverty, tens of millions more living well below average and the situation gets worse and the AACs not only do not help, they support those who are stealing from the poor to give to the very, very rich.

So average American Christians don't really believe. If they believed they would have sold everything, followed Jesus, sought to be among the blessed poor, devoted themselves to feeding the hungry, giving to drink to the thirsty and so on.

That's what their Jesus demands. Nothing about churches and ministries and online this or that for the most comfortable rich of the world comes out of the mouth of Jesus in the gospels.

They have devised clever theologies to convince themselves there won't be any judgment or that they'll get a free pass because they went to church. But read the words of Jesus in the gospels and that's not what he says. He says he will separate those who fed him and gave him to drink from those who didn't. And when they ask when did they ever see him, he will say, whenever you feed the least among you, you feed me.

It's all in the gospel. But American Christians don't give the slightest indication they believe it.

And, let's be fair, neither do British Christians, nor Austrailian Christians, nor on the whole the overwhelming majority of Christians in the world. There are a few venerable exceptions, Mother Theresa (although I have some critiques about her, too) and the unfamous people devoted to the poor, living with the poor, feeding, clothing, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison. They are few. If there were many, if they had been many throughout history, the world would be a very different place.

There are about 1.6 billion people on earth who claim to be Christian. In the USA, maybe about 170 million or so. With those numbers, there's no excuse the world is not only better, but the world is racing to greater economic and social disparities every day, to warmongering and war.

And don't come ask me about me. I am not a Christian. I seriously doubt there ever was a person named Jesus or Yeshua who preached the things that are written in the gospel. It's you guys who say you believe that.