The recent past
16 December 2014 § Leave a comment
Most of my time lately has been spent planning Christmas gifts. This is an activity I love. To love particular people and then to plan secret, fun things for them is a pure delight. Sometimes I am even surreptitious at work and plan Christmas gifts whilst listening to carols in between sessions of aliquoting blood. My struggles include figuring out when the campus bus runs during Christmas break so that I do not walk home in darkness; making sure I return my recalled library books on time; and trying not to run out of milk.
It is a life of privilege. That makes thinking about problems necessarily detached, no matter how much empathy I feel naturally, or even attempt to manufacture. Manufactured empathy is horrific, I should mention, whilst knowing I am guilty of it. It glosses over individual people and redirects the spotlight to oneself and one’s seemingly infinite compassion. This is not an excuse not to dive into the questions that face humanity—humanity as a whole and our individual humanity—questions that demand our attention, time, and energy, because they affect other humans.
It is difficult to read the news, which is a vocabulary battle, with race, riot, protest, and order thrown about willy-nilly, with no reason prevailing. There are questions and no answers.
Is the justice system broken? (There is no system of justice.) (There is a system, though.)
Is this not terrible, since so-and-so was a good person? (It is terrible, radiating terror, because of the things happening to a human, to humans, regardless of any moral judgement made by another party.)
Reports of police brutality remind me of a documentary I saw on the same subject when I was living in Johannesburg (and this has been going on for a while). There, at least, there is a recognition that the days of apartheid have cast a long shadow over the future for years to come, and that the legacy is not limited to a strict white/black divide but is at its root a moral disease that has spread to any dichotomous system, most particularly the class system and the now-institutionalised system of xenophobia, particularly against Zimbabweans. Here is a short discussion of a few matters there, including some words by Paul Verryn, whose acquaintance you must make. I digress . . . or do I?
Yet I bring no expertise to these questions. My interest is to grapple with the questions with which most people on earth are grappling—how am I to live? How am I to live so that others may also live with a constant vague psychological terror pressing down on them? How am I to live such that this is not normal, that it receives such outcry that it cannot go on?
What is it like to live in the land of opportunity and yet feel you are a shadow? Where is the good news? What can one do about problems in society?
Usually nothing, but it should be an active nothing. Many active nothings can make a something. Though not physically sound, this theory is morally sound, and Dean Powery has been exploring these questions over the past few weeks. He mentions asking Good Friday questions on an Advent Sunday, that the questions of how we can begin anew are out of place, since it signifies a wrestling with being mortal before God. He speaks of beginnings, and I infer that we must acknowledge the end that has come. This is the end of our illusions about our own justice to others, the justice of our legal system, and the justice of our societal fabric. Of course, it cannot be the end if society does not ascribe to its endness, but the concentrated happenings of the past few months make it clear, I should think.
What is it like to live Good Friday everyday? Where, indeed, do we go after die-ins?
It depends on what happens, or what is supposed to happen after death, yet how can a redeemed body (the physical body of an individual, the body of society, the body of a group of people, the body of the Church, the body of Christ) live its existence in a world that has watched apathetically—literally unfeelingly—as death has come and life has followed.
Most essentially, Dean Powery insists that the question of how to begin again is not a product of naïveté but of moral realism. He continues thus regarding the question:
It is not one that is posed as a means to escape the historical and contemporary sociopolitical realities of our time. Too much of Christianity already specializes in that kind of discourse. Rushing to reconciliation without consideration of truth and justice and economic and social history. This question I raise is not one that supports historical amnesia. It doesn’t mean to forget. Mark obviously doesn’t. In his beginning, he draws on Isaiah, Exodus and Malachi. And John the Baptist looks a lot like the prophet Elijah so Mark remembers even as he begins. He draws on past resources and knowledge. T o begin again does not mean you forget the past because the past impacts the present; remember Jacob comes away with a lifelong limp after wrestling with God and Jesus’s wounds from the crucifixion are not erased by the resurrection. We can learn from the past without dwelling on it and getting stuck in a rut. To begin again implies that we remember what didn’t go quite right before or what went wrong, our mistakes, our pathological patterns, our sin, and we search for a new beginning because what we experience and who we are in the present doesn’t match with God’s intentions and promises. And we recognize God’s intentions because we remember the past and the future of God’s mighty acts. And this is so deeply dug in the well of our hearts that we pray, “let me have a new start,” “let me try again.”
A pathological problem.
We then, in the sermon and in life, turn to Advent, our beginning. You can now read the rest of the sermon. I was crying during the whole thing so you will have to do your own analysis.
Hopping on to the next week, this past Sunday, we take a turn for the philosophical, and thus the more helpful and practical, with an exploration of death, voice, identity.
How are terrible things prevented from happening again? One way is that they are drowned by light and peace. Yet if we do not wish to see the light, to live in light, we will ever run round the wheel of darkness.
I am still searching for answers.