Wednesday, October 31, 2007

war: what is it good for?

When the “war on terror” began in 2001, I didn’t know what to think of it. I was seventeen, a freshman in college, utterly self-absorbed. One of the first things on my mind was whether I'd still be meeting up at Steak n' Shake with the boy I had a crush on.

I’d never paid much attention to politics and at the time war seemed like little more to me than political rhetoric. My parents were republicans and I found my feathers ruffling at attacks I heard against that party and it’s elected president. A sense of familial loyalty and proclivity toward self-protectiveness incited me to a defensive stance. My defense though was wordless. I couldn’t support a war I knew nothing about especially when all I knew was that I was frustrated and disgusted by war. And so I avoided the issue and almost forgot.

Six years later, my heart is sick reflecting on the damage we’ve done and our inability to make amends. What have we done in response to hate and contempt, but breed more of the same? Is there any way to fix what has been broken?

I lead a bible study at the substance abuse recovery center where I work. Lately we have been discussing the book of Esther. What begins as a Jewish Cinderella story ends with a Persian massacre. For those unfamiliar with the story, see the book of Esther. After reading about the protagonist Mordecai’s reciprocation (all Jews are given the right to annihilate their enemy’s on the 13th day of the month of Adar) to the antagonists Haman’s original edict (all Jews are to be annihilated on the 13th day of the month of Adar); one of the woman in our study group interjected,

“Mordecai is no better than they are.”

Though we were able to toss around some ideas about his possible motivation and to labor over the lead-weighted question, “what other option did he have?” Whatever his motivation the end result remained the same. Haman was punished for wanting to kill the people group he perceived as his enemy. Mordecai was honored for doing the same.

I tried to explain the context of the situation, “this was a violent time…” but before we were able to move on it occurred to me, “this is a violent time…” Where is the difference in the Jewish celebration of Purim, the commemoration of this day when those who threatened the Jews were overcome by violent force, and America’s celebration of the 4th of July?

Bishop Robert Brown is quoted in A People’s History of the United States as writing,

“We are not hated because we practice democracy, value freedom, or uphold human rights. We are hated because our government denies these things to people in third world countries whose resources are coveted by our multi-national corporations. That hatred we have sown has come back to haunt us in the form of terrorism…instead of sending our sons and daughters around the world to kill Arabs so we can have the oil under their sand, we should send them to rebuild their infrastructure, supply clean water, and feed starving children…in short, we should do good instead of evil. Who would try to stop us? Who would hate us? Who would want to bomb us? That is the truth the American people need to hear.”

Bishop Brown writes with the assumption that the war is motivated by greed. There are those who would argue,

“We are working toward building a strong independent Iraq!”

If this is so it begs the question,

“Do we have the tools necessary to accomplish this endeavor?”

It appears to me—I concede a considerable degree of ignorance on the matter—that we entered equipped with only enough to destroy. Before the business of repair was underway, we were spent. I am reminded of Jesus of Nazareth challenging his disciples in their decision to follow him:

“…which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’” (Luke 14:28-30).

And how we are mocked! Among the many tragedies of our current overseas entanglement is the increasingly apparent fact that the cost was not counted. Another tragedy is that those who did not elicit the cost are paying the highest price. Another still is that we perform these acts under the guise of being a “Christian nation.”

For Christ’s sake, if you will enter into war, don’t do it in His name. Even if attacks were truly specified and limited to militant terrorist Muslims, where is there any instance in scripture where Jesus performs or promotes a violent act against a group of people? The only instance of physical aggression I can recall takes place in a Jewish temple:

“And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the table of the money changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.” (Mat. 21:12). This he did to address a serious issue of deviance occurring within the religion he shared, within the nation he lived, within the temple he worshiped.

Perhaps war is inevitable. I haven't the scope of vision to see every angle, nor the artistry or stamina to argue the view from where I stand. But, please God, let history remember; there is no such thing as a Holy War.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

get over it

Today felt like fall, finally. The recalcitrant summer has raised its arms in defeat and gone into preparation for the next year, I hope it loses track of time and gives us a long, lively spring.

I told a friend of mine I’d not spoken with for sometime of the project Larry had given me of “developing an edge…I don’t want to toughen your tender heart, just for you to build a little shell around it.” And yet he tells me to “come down off the bleachers and join the game.”

“Seems like opposing efforts,” I said.
“Not at all,” he replied. I didn’t feel like arguing.

I told this friend over the phone, he said, “You sound different, you sound like you’re getting that edge.” I received this with a sense of satisfaction and sadness. Coming from him I knew there was some disappointment that I’d even engage in such an endeavor. He thinks I ought to always live in “AmyLand” as Larry calls my dreamy idealistic state that leads to skipping steps and soft singing at any random time.

I don’t know that I feel the edge. I still want to believe every word the ladies in recovery say despite the knowledge they may be wheedling or manipulating or using me. I still wander through the terrain or my inner landscape arriving back in the moment without a clue where I’ve been. I approach the development of an edge with caution, knowing a part of me exists already with a proclivity toward cynicism. Then, even Jesus said, “be wise as serpents and gentle as doves.” it is possible to balance, to love in truth. Truth is hard. Love is hard too, come to think of it.

I feel the load I’ve been laboring under lately is lifted, at least lightened. Our fourth roommate moved in yesterday. I came home from work and walked into a room full of furniture. “This doesn’t look like my apartment,” I thought. Lindsey, Amblyn and I have been spending the last two months on camp chairs and sleeping bags. Maureen had said she didn’t plan on bringing her furniture until Sheila was gone.

“I saw the empty room and thought, ‘Oh hell, I have so much nice furniture to share.’” She said in her matter of fact, shrugging way. Maureen is lovely. Last night I cooked dinner for she and Amblyn and I. When Lindsey came home we set up the living room, put pictures on the wall, celebrated a house that looks like a comfortable home.

Earlier that day I’d had a meeting with Martha, my manager, Larry’s wife; the model of a mature women who has mastered the dualism of professionalism and femininity, gentleness and strength. Just being around Martha is a pleasure. Having a meeting was even more so. It was our first since I’d started working. Of everything we discussed that hour the greatest for me was the reassurance that she was happy I was there. I am still such a child, longing for approbation.

In Martha and Larry I’ve found the mentors I often wished for in my adolescence. I wanted someone who could see potential in me while aware of the roughness that shielded it. In my experience most people either see only all good and are enamored, or they are indifferent, regardless of what they see. An example of how Larry and Martha defy this: My inability to make a confident decision and aversion to even attempting this is maddening to Larry (and debilitating in my line of work) who levels a blow with immediacy and accuracy. While we were sitting on the porch swing outside the admin building the other day, lamenting the tenacious grip of summer temperatures, I said,

“We may as well be in Florida with this weather.”
Florida must have been the perfect environment for you…the weather is always the same. You’d never have to make a decision or change.”
“Yeah, but I hated Florida.”
“See there. I believe that deep in your marrow you want to make decisions.”
“I do.”
“If you really do that’s something I’m willing to help you with.”
“Thank you.”

And Martha. In our meeting she calmly assured me.

“Maybe these things you’re perceiving as personal weaknesses are just areas you’ve never been exposed to.” There are expectations that are high, but not unreasonable. Practical, precise Martha counsels me on the value of checklists, appropriate questions and at the end of it all, acceptance. For the first time in my life I am encountering adults that I trust and respect almost on a level with my parents. And how precious it is to witness their love for one another. Today, with the wind blowing yellow leaves from trembling grey branches; Larry, Martha and I walked from the house to the admin. building. He put his arm around her shoulder and cradled her tiny frame. She laced her fingers through his. They laughed together over something I can’t remember.

Today Larry took to calling me “Pickle.”

“That’s a good nickname, I think I’ll stick to that…I’m going to make a pickle song just for you (Larry is a master of impromptu ditties, even the lawnmower man has a theme song). You’ll be surprised when we’re in a meeting and I introduce you, ‘Here’s Amy ‘Pickle’ Nee’.”

I wouldn’t be too surprised.

Re-reading this I’m a little amazed and ashamed. I do need to get off the bleachers. Even when I’m physically in the game my mind sits up there, watching. I’m focusing on a single player, the one that’s out there running around brainless because her minds too busy watching herself to be engaged.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

pressing on, pressing in

This morning I didn’t wake up until it was light outside (that is, aside from when I woke up to let Sheila out). That doesn’t happen very often. At first I felt a little bad about this in that it implied laziness, lack of enthusiasm; something of that ilk. It was too late to go to the Catholic church, St. Clare’s, and I’d already determined to not go to the Vineyard. “Perhaps I won’t go to church today,” I thought. The Pinnacles were beckoning. “Perhaps I’ll just spend some time in meditation and study. I’ll have some alone-time.” (As if spending a weekend with no one else at home did not suffice in cultivating my proclivity toward loneliness). I’ve been wrestling with the idea of giving up on several different things-Sheila, work, Kentucky, religion, myself, hope in relationships-reaffirming in my own mind the inclination to believe that I am at heart a quitter. At Healing Rain we’ve no tolerance for negative self-talk and I try to apply this to myself as well. What is this feeling doing for you is it getting you what you want? “Pick a church and go to it, ya goon.” Close enough.

I’ve been thinking about a Lutheran church that Michael had told me about when I first moved here and he thought I was Episcopalian. St Thomas Lutheran Church in Richmond. The pastor, Andy, I had once met while part of the Rockcastle Volunteer House. We took a field trip to visit the intentional community he shares with some other folks. I was enchanted with the families in that community, the way they lived and loved each other and respected creation. That was the day a certain fellow walked from Berea to Mt. Vernon to propose to me; the beginning of a dismal journey with trick ends, bends, new beginnings and answers that turned into questions that I've given up asking. That to say, thought of the community was pressed prematurely from me. The church though came up in conversation and I decided to look it up online this morning.

In the “What We Believe Section” of St. Thomas’ website they had written this about sin, “Sin is anything that we allow to fool us into thinking that God is not really there, we are not really human, or others are not really worth it.” (Lord, have mercy) They’d written other things too, in short simple statements about God and Women and Heaven and Hell; things I believe that I believe. I decided to go. This morning, before leaving for church, I took Sheila for a walk and felt new hope about my life here. I will press on and as I turn to the right or to the left, I will listen for the whisper of the Spirit to say, “this is the way, walk in it.” I still feel a foggy uncertainty, a weary melancholy, but faith abides.

“For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
it speaks of the end,
and does not lie.
If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
it will surely come, it will not delay.
Look at the proud!
Their spirit is not right in them,
but the righteous live by their faith.”

Habakkuk 2:3-4 from today’s reading.

William Penn said, “The adventure of the Christian life is to do what we would not dare attempt without Christ,” (or something to that effect). Most things that are expected of me are not things that I am naturally inclined toward attempting. But oh how I love an adventure, and oh how Jesus Christ (wonderful mystery) loves me.