Sunday, April 30, 2006

United 93 and the "Bonhoeffer Clause"

Well, there has been a certain amount of buzz around the release of United 93, the first movie to depict the events of 9/11. My wife and I went to see it on Friday. We came out reasonably impressed, almost despite ourselves. We both liked that no stars were cast, but rather unknown actors/actresses (the most we managed was 'Wait a minute, he/she looks familiar. Can't quite place them...'). Indeed, many of leading figures in the various air controls, FAA and NORAD headquarters were the actual people who were on duty that day. The style lets the action just flow and you do really get a strong feel for the chaos and 'fog of war' which beset both the civilian and military agencies struggling to work out a response to the 9/11 attacks. The frantic efforts of all parties to figure out just what was happening, how many planes were under the control of hijackers and what rules of engagement were possible in so novel a situation explains many things about the apparent paralysis in the hour and a half that it took for the attacks to unfold. That and having only four aircraft (only two of which were actually armed!!) to defend the entire Eastern seaboard. I think we sometimes forget how unexpected and how suddenly things happened that day.

The movie, of course, focuses on United flight 93, the only hijacked plane which failed to reach its target (now believed to have been the Capitol) because, according to reconstructed accounts, of the brave actions of the passengers and surviving crew. That knowledge made this movie very difficult to sit through, since the action seems to creep at a snail's pace (actually, it is closer to real time than any Hollywood thriller would get). What was interesting about that pacing is the effect it had on both my wife and I. By about half way through the movie, we were both ready to jump up and yell 'Stab somebody already!!! Get this thing started!" Ironically, as my wife pointed out later, we were very much feeling the same emotions that the hijackers themselves were feeling because we, the audience, and the hijackers were the only people who really knew what was going to happen. So, all these scenes of people eating their breakfasts, chatting with each other or just quietly reading which are so normal were simply jarringly eerie because we know where all this will end. So, we found ourselves understanding the younger hijackers who were getting really twitchy as they awaited the signal for them to seize the plane.

The other really striking element of this movie was the comparative lack of jingoistic rhetoric. When the decision was made to storm the cockpit, there was no 'America is the greatest' rhetoric, just a recognition that, in all likelihoold, everyone on that plane was already dead (since they already knew about the WTC and the Pentagon attacks, this wasn't a surprising conclusion), but all they could do was to make sure that no one else need die. To be sure, the passengers in the movie had a faint hope and planned for it (they had a small plane pilot and a retired air traffic controller), but they are shown to realize that any chance to save their own lives was slim at best. They weren't fighting to save so much their own lives as the lives of others. They were ordinary people caught in an impossible situation and responding bravely and sacrificially.

This analysis, of course, should be surprising to those of you who have been reading my posts on pacifism. Yes, I do see some need to climb down a bit in conceding that, in this extreme situation, a resort to violence was likely the best option available. In a sense, we have to invoke the "Bonhoeffer Clause", when faced by an evil beyond our ability to persuade or restrain short of violence, violence is an justifiable tactic. I note, in passing, that, if we read Bonhoeffer's diaries from prison, he continued to regard his involvement in the plot against Hitler as a sin, albeit a necessary one. In a sinful and brutal world, that is sometimes the situation we find ourselves in.

(Now, before anyone jumps up and says, 'Ah ha, this invalidates your entire argument about pacifism', my only answer is that this case is so extreme that no one can seriously take it to impugn a reluctance to use violence. It may justify just war theory, but I'd also argue that, if we actually consistently followed the historical Christian doctrine of just war we wouldn't a. be able to fight them with modern weaponry and b. we'd have a lot fewer wars! Does that make me a crypto 'just warrior'? Maybe, but, if so, I would insist on applying it far more rigorously than it is currently employed, making me functionally a pacifist)

And a last comment on an already too long post. After we finished watching the movie, we were among the last people to leave the theatre (my wife likes looking at the credits). As we were leaving, a young Muslim man approached us, wanting to chat about the movie. So, we, two observant, if pacifist Christians, and a reasonably observant Muslim compared notes. We were both struck by the opening scene in which the hijackers got ready to go to the airport as one of them prayed from the Koran. Understandable, our Muslim acquaintance found it hard to watch what he felt was the distortion of his religion, even or perhaps especially because it was at the hands of his co-religionists. My wife remarked that she has a similar reaction to media portrayals of mafiosi "devoutly" attending Mass.

We were also struck that, just before the passengers on United 93 moved to overtake their hijackers, that the film makers very clearly juxtaposed the hijackers praying in the cockpit to the passengers, almost to a one, praying the Lord's Prayer, setting up an opposition that we all felt was invidious. Where were the Jewish prayers or prayers of other faith traditions?

Yet, those were mild criticisms and we found ourselves agreeing in our sorrow and shock, even after five years, at the events of that day. We relived what we were doing that day and how it had affected us. We talked about the impact of that day on peaceful Muslims and all of us. Then, we shook hands and parted, conscious of that grace which allowed us, even if for a moment, to bridge a divide that our media and our fear tells us should be unbridgeable. And it is that grace which gives me hope that we'll find our way through the mistrust and fear that still linger between we Christians in the West and Muslims. Amen.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Peace and Jesus Redux

This is the long awaited (sic!)followup post to the Jesus and Peace post. What I'm trying to do is set out a few ideas about how the ideas in that post look like when the theological rubber hits the ground.

But, first, a caveat. When I admit to Christian pacifism (sometimes, it feels like that, what I am emphatically not saying is that evil should be endured, not resisted. That is all too commonly believed because people want to relate pacifism with passivism. That won't work on many levels. The words themselves bear no relationship between the roots of either word, short of the fact that they are both derived from Latin (pacifism from pax=peace; passivism from patior=I endure, I suffer). Nor is Christian pacifism about being led to the slaughter for the sake of suffering.

The point of Christian pacifism is that we emulate what Jesus did. He confronted the powers and principalities in his day, but refused to use violence against them. Instead, he used his cosmic judo move and let the contradictions of their own evil destroy them.

So, how does this look in real life? On the individual front, I think it means two things. First, it means being willing to confront evil wherever we see it, partly by naming sin as sin, evil as evil in our every day life. That means, being willing to stand up and be counted when we see something happening in our daily life that is wrong, even if that move is risky as far as career or whatever. That is scary and difficult. And God knows that I'm personally not perfect at this, since going along with systemic injustice is the easier root to take. That is setting aside the problem of discernment because most situations do not see a simplistic evil vs good kind of a situation. That may mean that we will have to criticize both parties in a dispute and risk the ire of both sides.

Second, it also means the rejection of violence as a means of human interaction. That means getting into a fight should not be an option, even if provoked into it. This is, of course, difficult and I'm not sure I would succeed at it either. Yet, at the very least, I would say it also means seeing violence, not as a tool of interpersonal interactions, but as a personal failure. Evading violence while maintaining one's integrity constitutes, to me, a greater victory than fighting my way through a situation.

Okay, now that might work, in a relatively peaceful country on an individual basis, but how does it work in the international scene (the last of anglifan's questions). I suspect that, in the world as we have today, quite badly. What is likely to happen to a country adopting a non-violent foreign policy is that, sooner or later, it will be overwhelmed by a more aggressive neighbour. Mind you, in this scenario, the rules are rather skewed to this answer and it shouldn't surprise anyone that sinful humanity would, in these conditions, be unable to sustain such a foreign policy. In a world where sin seems natural, none of this should surprise anyone.

Yet, I think we have to recognize two things. First, non-violent resistance has proven itself to be effective in wearing down even brutal regimes. The non-violent resistance campaigns for independence in India, against apartheid in South Africa and against the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe succeeded where violent revolution could not. Yes, these campaigns are long and often costly, but, sooner or later, evil falls apart when it realizes that its primary weapon (violence) is no longer feared.

Second, a consistent non-violent foreign policy (and here I mean economic and social violence as well as military violence)would aim to resolve grievances between nations before they burst into conflict. That may still not be enough to prevent true evil from attacking a country, but that kind of evil is not common and really need a soil of perceived oppression and hatred to grow in (thus, Hitler's rise to power happened because of the perceived evil of the Verseilles Treaty, acerbated by the Great Depression).

Okay, I think that is the broad outline of what I'm trying to argue. I hope it makes sense.


Sunday, April 16, 2006

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Holy Saturday

Well, we're on the edge of Easter now.

My wife and I are at home, resting before our Easter Vigil service at 8:30 p.m. I love this time of year; this Triduum triathalon of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil which culminates in Easter Sunday tomorrow. We have already ridden that wild ride from the calm, but ominous Maundy Thursday service with its stunning affirmation of our service to each other found in the liturgy of the feet washing to the stripping of the altar and our silent departure into the night. Then, we get to the sombreness of Good Friday, as we recall that the horrible death that Jesus suffered on the Cross is really the decisive moment in human history: that, in the face of apparent defeat and ruin, the power of sin and death are broken forever. Yet, by the time we leave in silence again, you wouldn't know it. Christ has died, but where is the rising? We grieve for the death, but we await his rising; the token of his victory over death.

Today is a day of waiting, a day of expectancy. Like the apostles, we haven't realized what has happened the last few days and we think all is lost. Then, we get to the Vigil. We watch that small flame in the brazier at the back of the church grow. We watch candles lit by the acolytes as the light spread through the whole church and the whole church seems to awaken from a disturbed sleep. And, finally, we reach the Gloria, when our voices, restrained by Lent and the experience of Good Friday, almost shout out "Glory to God!" amid frantic bell ringing as we try to convey our joy and astonishment that, contrary to all expectation, God's grace has won out, after all. It is a glorious and joyful moment.

So, we wait, but we wait in a different way than the apostles. We wait confidently because we know how this drama turned out so many years ago. And we know that this is how it turned out last year, last Easter Vigil. I often wonder how the apostles were able to stand it as news trickled in about the odd things that were happening around Jesus' tombs. I certainly don't know how they stood, when Jesus came into the Upper Room for the first time. All our Glorias and bell-ringing is nothing compared to that.

I'm still waiting, of course, but, before I go off and wait some more, I want to wish all of you a wonderful Easter. I pray that you experience the Risen Christ in all his wonder this Easter and into the coming year!


Sunday, April 09, 2006

Palm Sunday Bus Ride

Now, we're in the homestretch for Easter and the busyness of Holy Week beckons. I love Palm Sunday and this whole week. Palm Sunday is the first day of the dramatic week to come. I enjoyed the procession into the garden (and it was a beautiful day!), the reading of the passion narrative by the congregation and, of course, palm crosses. We start with the high point of Jesus ministry, but, in the passion narrative, we remember the dark edge to the coming week. Easter may be coming, but Good Friday is first.

This Palm Sunday, so far, is a little different. My wife and I usually drive to our church because it is a bit of a distance from our apartment. This year, however, our car is in the shop, so we took transit. No big deal, of course, but it did remind us that Palm Sunday is one of the more visible Christian holidays. While we were returning from church, we kept running into people carrying palm crosses sheepishly smiling because we know what service they were just at. Sometimes little conversations start up as we wish each other a Happy Easter (yes, early, but the thought is there).

Sometimes, our palm crosses open up the chance for seeing God's grace peaking into the world. On our way back, we had a conversation with an El Salvadorian woman, who frequently went out to Latin American countries on mission trips. She told us about those trips and about helping the poor people she encountered, reminded us how lucky we are here in Canada and told us about her children, who are flourishing and faithful here. I suspect it was our palm crosses which put her at ease enough to tell us about her life. When we got off the bus, we wished each other a Happy Easter to come. Then, my wife observed that there are all these little saints all over the place. Palm Sunday is just one of those holidays which brings them out.

Happy Palm Sunday!


Thursday, April 06, 2006

Peace and Jesus

I owe this post (and likely the next few) to anglifan, who asked me in the Iraq and Peace thread what I meant by my comment that I was writing in the tradition of Stanley Hauerwas and the Mennonites. So, I will attempt to explain what I mean by this, although I caution I am relying heavily on my understanding (such as it is) of Hauerwas's The Peaceable Kingdom and John Howard Yoder's The Politics of Jesus to make these comments. So, here we go.

I think the starting point I have to use is the person of Jesus and his relationship to the powers and principalities of this world. Okay, that needs unpacking to, but, patience. folks, I'll get to it. Behind this starting point is an assumption which I want to make clear. I'm assuming that one of the objects of the Christian life is the imitation of Christ, especially during his earthly ministry. That means that we have to pay close attention to what Jesus did and how he reacted to the people and institutions around him.

That brings us to the powers and principalities. These are, of course, referred to in Ephesians 6:12. The language is very KJV, but Yoder, for instance, makes a big deal about these. To some degree, it is slightly obscure what is meant there, but what I think they probably mean is not only the flesh and blood powerful people, but the institutions of the state and the world. While, certainly, Romans 13 makes it clear that those in power exercise that power which was instituted by God, it is all too common for our human institutions and our human leaders to attempt to usurp more power than they actually have. They have a tendency to try to set themselves up in a position which either ignores or tries to supplant God. This, in its extreme form, can produce certain kinds of idolatry such as leader worship or worship of country. In order to maintain this idolatry, violence emerges in part to coerce the wills of those entrusted to these powers.

Jesus' response to these powers is complex, but it involves the rejection of this idolatry. So, when Satan tempts Jesus in the wilderness (Matt. 4, 8-11), his last temptation is to offer power, all the kingdoms of the world. Jesus rejects that by telling Satan "Worship the Lord your God and serve only him". That is a radical rejection of the idolatry of power.

Yet, what complicates Jesus' situation is that, from the very beginning of his ministry, he is regarded as the Messiah of Israel which had several meanings. Its primary meaning is that of the warrior king, who would drive out the pagans and restore Israel to independence. So, he kept getting people coming around, expecting Jesus to lead a violent revolution against the Romans. Yet, he refuses and not because of a lack of power. So, even when he is arrested, Jesus rejects the use of force by commenting to Peter (who draws his sword and wounds a servant of the high priest)
"Put your sword back in its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which said it must happen in this way" Matthew 26, 52-54
What strikes me about that passage is that not only does Jesus reject violence, but he makes it very clear that he had the power to wreck the Romans. Remember that the Romans had about 25 legions at the time and only about six to eight of those were in the East. If Jesus decided to unleash his power, he would have destroyed what stood in his way. Yet, he refuses in order to fulfill God's purposes in a very unexpected way.

That fulfillment is, of course, Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection. I like to think of the crucifixion and resurrection as God's cosmic judo move. That is, Jesus accepts the worse that the powers and principalities can throw at him: a humiliating death and the emphatic disproof of his Messiahship. Yet, by using this horrible death, he breaks the power of sin and death. In essence, he uses the power of sin, the strength of the idolatrous powers and principalities of this world, to destroy them.

Now, of course, we live in an in-between time in which, while we know the power of sin and of powers and principalities is broken, the end has not come. We continue to struggle against evil in this world, but, I would argue, Jesus' example is that we do not return violence for violence, but we try to use the cosmic judo moves that Jesus taught us. Violence and evil will eventually destroy itself, especially if confronted by a refusal to play the power game. Look at Gandhi, Martin Luther King and the collapse of the Soviet bloc, if you want to see the power that this kind of non-violent, but still confrontational approach has.

Okay, I do think that is more than enough for one post. I think I'll need to pursue the personal implications of this belief in another post.


Saturday, April 01, 2006

Disorientation in Blogsphere

I am disoriented.

Well, a few hours of hunting around the blogsphere (now, there is a grammatical question, is it blogsphere or the blogsphere?) will do that to you. I've flipped around, skimmed, puzzled over and even, occasionally, read from Christian blogs from all over the theological spectrum. Now, I know, a guy can get the theological bends from all this reading, which probably means that it is a good thing that I don't indulge in this kind of surfing very often.

Yet, all this surfing has led me to a couple conclusions.

First, I really don't know what I'm doing with this blog. Mind you, this is not uncommon out here, but my inner prefectionist is getting impatient. Of course, whether that is anything to worry about, I'm not sure. As I tell my students, perfect is the enemy of the good. I'm not pefect, but, hopefully, I'm writing something useful here and, hopefully, I'll get better at doing it as I continue.

Second, you can waste a whole lot of time in blogsphere. Given the stack of Latin marking sitting next to me as I write this, that is not a minor consideration. There is almost an infinite number of writers out there and it is almost impossible to know just where a blog fits in. After this session, I have a few ideas of blogs that I want to follow. I'm sure I'll post some of these as links as I sift and think. Still, I really need to keep some balance.

And with that thought in mind, I'll sign off.


ECUSA's Choice- Rev. Phillip Turner

Over this past week, I've been thinking about an article I ran into by Rev. Phillip Turner on the Anglican Communion Institute pages. Entitled ECUSA's Choice, it sets out an argument which I think is an important one. So, I want to spend a little time unpacking the argument a bit. I do encourage my readers to read the full article, but, hopefully, my comments will also be helpful.

The core of Rev. Turner's position is that, while we claim to act as a catholic communion, most of those who want to preserve that claim, 'progressive' or conservative, actually subvert and distort that reality beyond recognition.

'Progressives', while they are right to ask questions about what are and are not 'church-dividing' issues, presumes, in their concept of communion; a theological/ethical pluralism which suggests that "the demands of enculteration require adaptations in one part of the communion that may not be appropriate in other parts..." So, the key words emphasized by 'progressives' are love, service, respect (including dialogue in the face of disagreement) and hospitality. Doctrinal and moral agreement are, thus, not central to the basis and nature of communion. This encourages the autonomy of local churches and, hence, as I would suggest, the claim by ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada's claim that they can legislate on same-sex issues without consulting the rest of the communion.

On the other hand, Turner points out that conservatives identify communion with compliance with the traditional formulations of Anglicanism: THe Book of Common Prayer, the Ordinal, the Articles of Religion and Canon Law. So the focus is on the creedal, confessional, liturgical and legal content of communion.

Rev. Turner argues that both positions, while they have some justification, are flawed. He notes in respect to the 'progressive' arguments that he can't quite see how one can be in communion within the body of Christ and still be in intractible disagreement about what that common participation atually means or how members of one body can be so autonomous that they are unwilling to concede a discipline designed to ensure unity of witness and purpose in that body.

Traditionalists, Rev. Turner argues, are making a similar, if opposite, mistake in that they dismiss the human instruments of accountability for a particular form of doctrinal position. He notes that the choice between these two positions is a choice between "a committment to God's open future and...dedication to God's sacred past".

The Rev. Turner argues for a different approach. He dismisses the alternative of just hunkering down and waiting for the storm to past as, he suspect, most individual churches and church members are currently doing. He argue that we can't ignore the issue of what communion is because it is central, not only to to our understanding of church, but also to our salvation. As he notes "God is after the redemption of all things and the "unity, communion, and radical holiness" of his people are, as it were, the first fruits of this redemptive plan" As a result, Rev. Turner argues that the view of communion in the Windsor Report, while not without problems, is more sound than either of the above alternatives because Windsor tries to hold the relational aspects of communion (placing the good of the body over the individual parts) and the aspect of upholding a common confession in tension. The separation of either of these elements is damaging to any concept of communion and, certainly, does not agree with the concept of the church that we have been handed down to us.

What I like about this article (to which this summary has not given justice) is that it really is interested in trying to work out what communion means. Rev. Turner points out, rightly I think, that both sides have decided to 'walk apart' from each other and that the pathway to unity is a hard and narrow road. Rev. Turner calls on us to walk it and I pray that we, the Anglican Communion, learn how do that.