Saturday, March 25, 2006

Irony and Christian Peacemakers

Well, good news this week from Iraq. Well, qualified good news. A British and two Canadian members of a Christian Peacemaker's team were released by Canadian, British and American troops. Their American colleague was executed earlier this month. I was relieved by the rescue and, of course, remember the death with sorrow.

Yet, it is hard to avoid the irony of the manner of the rescue. It was, after all, the military of three countries which rescued these peacemakers; the very miltary forces they were in Iraq to criticize. Nor has that irony escaped commentators either. For example, the Star quotes a University of Toronto security expert, who argues "the peacemakers' "extreme idealism and naïveté" has to be weighed against the costs — not just to families and friends, but to the states that are obliged to intervene, regardless of peoples' prior instructions. "

This is, predictably, not the only voice critisizing the Christian peacemakers. Other writers have added their voices, depicting these peacemakers as dangerously innocent and reckless in the risks they undertake in the interest of peace. Much of the criticism has centred on the point that, while this operation was carried off without a shot fired, people could have died trying to rescue these people. In that case, they would have caused the kind of deaths which the organization is dedicated to avoid. And, yes, that is true and ironic.

Yet, can I point out that neither the hostages nor the Christian Peacemakers themselves ever asked for this raid? I'm sure they're suitably grateful for the release, but they did walk into the situation in Iraq with eyes open and ready to sacrifice if necessary. Indeed, I would argue that it is circular logic to accuse these peacemakers of risking other people's lives when they themselves have emphasized their willingness to take the consequences for their 'extreme idealism and naivite' without risking other lives. They have chosen this course out of faith and out of belief that this is what Jesus calls them to do, not to make trouble for the military.

I think that is precisely what critiques of the Christian Peacemakers don't get. All too often, our society's reaction to those seeking peace is that their efforts are laudable, but impractical. Yet, have a look around at the cost of the military intervention in Iraq and tell me that the resort to violence in this war has managed anything except driving out Saddam Husein (and I don't diminish that achievement) and Iraq's progressive slide into civil war. Like most resorts to violence, this war has proven self-defeating by creating more difficulties and strife than it resolves. If this is practical foreign policy, perhaps we need some impracticality.


Blogging and Readership

I've been browsing around a bit at other blogs (especially Christian) out there, partly out of interest to see what other people are doing, but also because I wanted to get some sense if there was any kind of ways to get this blog out there a bit more. Now, don't get me wrong: I recognize that I've had a good launch in that I've had several comments on my early posts. That, as far as I can see from other blogs, is a bit unusual. I'm grateful to anglifan, Cheryle, sophie and anonymous for their comments and I hope they're stopping in every once in a while to see what is new. Yet, I hope to expand the readership of this blog some more.

So, the question I have for those who stop by is whether anyone knows of any uber-sites for Christian blogs with whom I can register? Any ideas out there?


Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Iraq and Peace

I suspect that this is only one of many blog comments on the third anniversary of the most recent Iraq war, but I felt drawn to commenting on this occasion. We have, of course, seen all the news reports that this war is increasingly becoming as unpopular in the US as it always has been in much of the rest of the world.

I had that impressed on me earlier this week, when I was returning from a vacation in California. I had been diverted to Denver and had to stay the night in a hotel far, far away from the airport (long story!). My flight was very early in the morning and I was taking a cab back to the airport. The cabbie had a news program on which was doing a retrospective on the leadup to the war and he was giving a running commentary on how bad an idea this war had been. I, the polite Canadian, nodded and agreed, working very hard not to be smug.

I'm not interested in spouting anti-American rhetoric here, but I believe very much that the last five years have been tragic in many ways. Tragic, in the sense, that much of what we are seeing happening in Iraq and in America is precisely what people like Archbishop Williams, Stanley Hawerwas and others were warning about; namely, that , in the very understandible national trauma after 9/11, it was crucial not to lose sight of the need for truthful discourse. This means that we needed to ask the hard questions, not only about our enemies, but about ourselves. What have we done to contribute to this situation, what are we doing or planning on doing which will exacerbate it? What do we need to do to really undercut the forces of violence both among our enemies and among our friends?

The problem is, of course, that these are the hard questions and that, if we ask them only in the time of imminent war (as after 9/11 or just before the Iraq war), we are already too late. That is, when war threatens, our communal capacity for critical moral thought is seriously compromised. So, we jump into wars and into conflicts before we are cool enough to discern what morally is going on in a situation. This, I suggest, is precisely what happened in the US and the current tragedy (for both Iraqis and the Americans) is merely the inevitable playing out of that haste.

I am, mind you, a pacifist in the tradition of Stanley Hauerwas and the Mennonites, so I'm constitutionally unwilling to accept the necessity of war. Yet, it strikes me that, in retrospect, attempting to formulate a non-resistant policy at a time when an attack has been made is analagous to the the problem with WWJD boxer shorts and teenagers (if you're down to the WWJD boxer shorts, your chastity pledge is some jeopardy). At the time, the rush to war after 9/11 seemed to me sickeningly inevitable and, I regret to say, the invasions of Afganistan and Iraq did not come as a shock when they were launched. Nor did the inevitable quagmires which have resulted. The desire for vengeance then drowned out those few, courageous voices which tried to warn that these wars were not just and, perhaps, we need to face up to our own moral failings before punishing those of others around us.

That is the perennial lessons of periods of national madness like the one experienced by the US after 9/11. As a Christian pacifist, I recognize that the real time for work is not in these crises, but rather now, as we come out the madness and try to discover what is true again. I pray that we all take this time to think and pray about where our communal sins have worsened an already bad situation. (I say this as a Canadian because I don't believe for a second that we Canadians can stand unimplicated in the madness of the last five years, even if we refused to join the war in Iraq). That takes courage and it takes faith that God will lead us through the difficulties of this age to the peace He promises.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

God and the Bookstore

A few days ago, my wife and I found ourselves browsing in one of the big chain bookstores. That, in itself, doesn't happen that often, largely because I try to keep myself out of bookstores too much in case I want to buy the store. For someone who enjoys reading as much as we both do, book stores can be a little too tempting. Still, we're going on a trip on Saturday and we decided some reading material would be nice.

I should say here that I have a 'hit and run' style of book browsing. That is, I hit the areas that I'm particularly interested in, browse carefully and run. That way I'm not as tempted by my old habit of convincing myself how essential a book is to me. Believe me, given the convoluted reasons I've used to convince myself to buy books, hitting and running is a positive financial necessity. Don't give me a chance to decide why I need a book. I'll come up with one.

So, the first section I hit on this visit was the Christianity/Religion section. My visits to this particular section have always been something of the triumph of hope over expectation. I have found some excellent books in the big box bookstores, but these stores are not my primary stop for good sound Christian books. Still, I find it fascinating to stop in this section because they are an index of where the book-buying public is in this subject area. Or, at least, of what the book-sellers think the book-buying public want. So, we get an interesting mix of a few sound evangelical books mixed with a large number of anti-Catholic, liberal and radical takes on Christianity; all promising that they are the best approach to Jesus.

The variety is amazing, if bewildering. I recall as a new Christian being very bewildered by the vast array of books in front of me, not knowing how to choose helpful books. Over the years, I've learned what to look for and what to avoid. I do worry a bit about the message that many of these books give, but I think it is enlightening to see that these are the books that are on offer.

Yet I found myself worrying on that visit. What really set off my worry is that increasing number of heretical gospels are being published. We're getting editions of the Gospel of Thomas, or of Philip or the Gospel of the Nazarenes showing up in the Christian sections of these mainstream bookstores. Or we're getting Beliefnet guides to Gnosticism as if this was a viable option for Christians. Heresy sells, it seems, and I find that worrying.

I am an unapologetically orthodox Christian, so I am not going to apologize for saying that I find this trend to Gnosticism to be pernicious. I also have to say I'm puzzled by it. Given the widespread caricature of traditional Christianity as condemning matter and insensitivity to the natural world, I just don't get how anyone could argue that Gnosticism (a dualist heresy which identifies matter with an evil creator distinct from a good, immaterial God) could possibly offer a better alternative. Nor can I understand how people, who argue that the Gospels could not really give a clear sense of Jesus' earthly ministry and teachings because they were written within 60-80 years after Jesus' death, can accept Gospels which are one to two centuries older yet. If this is not the 'itchy ears' which Paul talks about (2 Timothy 4,3), I don't know what is.

I'm not saying that we should censor these books or these bookstores. I think that would be counter-productive and unrealistic. We can't dig our heads in the sand. These "gospels" (for instance) are out there and we have to deal with that. I've tried to do that. As part of that effort, I have read those heretical gospels and found them unhelpful in the extreme. Whatever good they have is derivative from the Gospels. Wherever they are original, they express a concept of the world which I think is just flat out wrong. Jesus did not seem to die; he died and was raised on the third day. There is not one God and a evil angel who created matter; there is one God, the Creator. Yet these books are there and, as distressing as it is, I think we'll continue to deal with these ideas. And we need to be ready for that.


Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Ash Wednesday

I almost missed Ash Wednesday.

Well, not really. I knew what day it was. I knew I'd be at the 7:30 service. Why, I even knew I'd be thurifer.

But, I still almost missed it in the busyness which is my life this week. Last minute marking, report card comments, deadlines for various things and a professional development session have conspired to make it difficult for me to focus on anything but work this last week or so. So, Ash Wednesday and Lent has only been at the back of my mind.

What brought it back to the front of my head (and, hence, this blog) was our service for Ash Wednesday. I have always liked Ash Wednesday. There is something in the somberness and the recollection of my sins, shortcomings and weaknesses which calls me back to reality in the midst of what is usually a busy time. It is, I fear, too easy to skate along, managing my life with all its joys and complications and not engage with what separates me from God. Ash Wednesday service, for me, is an exercise in humility; one that I need regularly. And that is good because that is part of what Lent is about.

Welcome to the Lenten season.