Thursday, December 31, 2009

"I see you"

Stephen and I saw the new James Cameron movie, Avatar, this morning. The key sentence, repeated three times, is "I see you." And that makes all the difference.

When the Pharisees have a problem with a certain prostitute washing his feet, Jesus asks, "Have you seen this woman?"

When 4 men bring a cripple and make a hole in Jesus's roof to let him down when they can't get in the door, Jesus doesn't see the hole he'll have to fix. He sees their faith, indeed he saw the 4 men carrying the ark of the covenant.

When we sell ourselves to do evil, it's essential for us not to see. When it comes to our blindness, Jesus's question hangs in the air - "Do you want to be healed?"

When we see the dead babies, the birth defects from the US military's depleted uranium, the piles of rubble that used to be the homes of people like us, and the tortured and the starving wherever the imperial forces go, "Support our troops!" is no longer so easily shouted. To be a good friend of the world, to fit in, and to still sleep at night, it's essential not to see. In the language of The Matrix, we have to take the blue pill so we can live in pleasant illusion and not see how it is. When we take the red pill, the world doesn't look so pretty, but the red pill is the pill of life that God offers. I'm rather sure that that is why Adam and Eve didn't eat from the tree of life in the middle of the garden when they had the chance.

When we don't want to see, the prince of this world owns that piece of us. At that point we are his faithful disciples. We'll prove that by stealing, killing, destroying, and lying - or at least giving approval to those who do.

Another thing in Avatar - the heroes are traitors, depending on who's looking.

Was Dietrich Bonhoeffer a traitor or a hero? When the AVH, the Hungarian secret police, began firing on the crowd in front of the Parliament building on October 25, 1956, was the Soviet tank man who decided to clean the AVH snipers off the roof with his machine gun a traitor or a hero? Were the men of the St. Patrick's Brigade who deserted the American invaders to fight for Mexico in 1846 traitors or heroes? Was Elijah really the troubler of Israel that Ahab thought he was?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The past is never really past - until it's faced and forgiven

This coming Sunday, that rabidly anti-Israeli paper, the New York Times Review of Books, reviews Joe Sacco's "Footnotes in Gaza," a comic book format account of two Israeli massacres in Gaza back in 1956. A couple of points stand out for me.

One of them was Moshe Dayan's advice in a speech six months before to be "tough and harsh" because the Palestinians in Gaza saw across the border that the Israelis were building their own homes in the villages that they had been robbed of - a perfect example of Eric Hoffer's observation that we hate people because we've done them wrong. Which suggests that the way to get over hatred is to start by acknowledging whatever wrong we've done to them and quit doing it.

Another point made in the review is that the world forgot what happened because lots else was happening in the Suez war. And then what the review doesn't mention is the further distraction with the Soviet invasion of Hungary at the same time. So the world paid no attention to these 500 or so men and boys coldly and methodically massacred in Khan Younis and Rafah as the Germans had done on a larger scale to the Jews in Babi Yar 15 years before.

It turns out, though, that what the world forgot matters anyway. The little boys who survived didn't forget, and the Israelis who got away with it and found themselves free to continue in this Nazi spirit with no consequences really didn't forget either. As Ecclesiastes puts it, "Because sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the hearts of men are wholly set in them to do evil." It's hard to imagine a better way to corrupt people absolutely than to give them assurance of impunity for the evil that they do, and so doing the evildoer such a favor is a pretty horrible crime to commit against him - an instance of the saying, "A flattering tongue works ruin."

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas music

Keeping kosher for Christmas

Israeli arms merchant Rafael's Bollywood video. Heartwarming!

Two great old men died this week

Sunday the 20th saw the deaths of two remarkable old men - Lester Rodney, and Grand Ayatollah Hosain Ali Montazeri.

Lester Rodney was born in 1911 and was the sports editor of the Communist newspaper, the Daily Worker, from 1936 to 1956. He and the paper campaigned against the exclusion of black players from Major League Baseball for a good 10 years, when nobody else wanted to say anything about it, especially the mainstream papers. He left the Communist party when he couldn't stand its failure to deal with Stalin after Krushchev's denunciation of his crimes at the 20th Party Congress in 1956.

Grand Ayatollah Hosain Ali Montazeri was second in line after Khomeini after the Iranian revolution of 1979. When the regime began killing and torturing large numbers of people in 1988, Montazeri protested in letters to Khomeini, and eventually broke with him publicly. People wondered why he didn't just keep quiet until Khomeini's death, and then make things right when he became Supreme Leader. He responded that his conscience wouldn't let him sleep at night being aware of the injustices and human rights abuses that he would have to pretend not to know of. He followed Jesus in not bowing down to falsehood in order to obtain the kingdom. He was 87 years old at his death. Hundreds of thousands of people came to his funeral in Qom and observed it in other Iranian cities this week, even though the police have often been beating them up.

I'm not a Communist or a Shi'a theologian, but in these men I recognize quality, people better than myself. They're good for me, teaching me humility and calling me to better than I am, in a small way just as God does. Why do we so seldom get that from Christians?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Peace and division

I got a call this morning from my friend who was being assured by a family member that she would be defeated because there was disagreement in her family, and "a house divided will fall." The remedy of Job's friend was that mom was supposed to exercise authority over her boys to make them do what she thought best. And that man-made unity made by human will is supposed to stand!

Of course the same Jesus who said that about the devil's kingdom if it were actually fighting against itself also said, "Don't think I came to bring peace. I came to bring division - in one house father against son and against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."

The unity that God looks for is not established by us. It comes from above (Psalm 133), like every perfect and good gift (James 4). And it doesn't happen until we stop trying to enforce our own order and unity and permit ourselves to be subjected to the order and unity of the truth. That's the long way around, but it's the only way around. Like Jesus hanging stark naked on the cross, we'll look like public spectacles while we wait for it to be done right by our God. Tough indeed to go there. But that is the only path to resurrection. And we can't explain it any more than Jesus could win any arguments with his tormentors there on the cross, except in the conscience of one thief.

Afterwords, as the earth quaked and and the sky grew dark, as the graves were opened, as the veil in the temple was torn - now things were different. In his death according to God's will, Jesus won some arguments he wasn't going to win otherwise, including the one that really matters - against death.

We're not going to get there through our zeal and determination, or by applying anybody's rules, including Bible rules. God has to take us to school to become like him. There are some great classes there that nobody signs up for. It has to be court-ordered, which is how we find out that there is a Court in heaven that rules (Daniel 4).

So Jesus says, for instance, not to resist him who is evil, but he didn't forget the proverb that reads that those that keep the law strive against the wicked. The scribes and Pharisees felt pretty resisted, didn't they?

What is this all about then? Well, for sure it means at least that our response is never to be to what someone says or does, but to how God wants to handle it. We're not to resist the wicked but to stop being wicked ourselves, instead listening to the God of truth and following him in the situation. That way those that hate us can help us to learn obedience by giving us some practice.

Well, how does that look? Sometimes God wants to let himself be pushed around and be weak, so to follow him means to go there with him. Sometimes God wants to push back, so then we need to go there too. And all the time, we need to learn from what God does with us how to deal with others. It's fine to be tough with others if we're up for God being tough with us when we act the same way - and sometimes that's just how it has to be - but if that whoopass isn't what we prescribe for ourselves then how can we prescribe it for another?