WAY OF THE CROSS
We set out from the Cathedral Close this morning when the light was still fresh and the birds were singing their greetings to a new day. It is the right time to go to the Old City to pray the Stations of the Cross. Almost anything I could say would be exactly what you would expect about walking – probably not in the steps of Jesus, but – in the steps of pilgrims who have prayed at these 14 stations for so very long, etc. I was the reader at the station where Jesus fell for the second time. I fumbled my line. Seemed fitting.
Praying the Stations also reminded me of my years at St. Francis. The Stations here are Franciscan. And I was at St. Francis 14 years, one year for each station. I remembered how reverently we sang the Trisagion between each station. I also remembered the year the dog was caught in the cage trap right outside the 8th Station just as we were praying it, how I recruited a guy from NA to help me move the cage to the porch to get it out of the rain, and had to wait until nearly 10 that night for Edwina Barnes’ minions to come for the dog and reunite her to her puppies. For those who do not know the story, it is too long to tell and would implicate too many of us in misdemeanors against the City of Macon – but it was an adventure.
We spent the morning at the Israel Museum. It had a great exhibit on Herod the Great – particularly items from his Jericho Palace – including a sarcophagus that is probably his. Herod certainly put Israel on the map and built a lot of magnificent building when we wasn’t busy having his own family executed and warding off plots, real or imagined. If he didn’t order the slaughter of the innocents in Matthew, it isn’t because he wouldn’t have done it.
The other high point of the museum was the Dead Sea Scrolls. The exhibit featured some facsimiles of the scrolls, and one real deal part of the scrolls. I don’t know what to say about that except to say, it was a “Golleee look at that” moment.
This afternoon we went to the Holocaust Museum. Again, my response is just what you would expect. It was heartbreaking, devastating, overwhelming. But it stirred me to do some reflecting on current social dynamics that smack of a similar evil. I am reading Martha Nussbaum’s book, The New Religious Intolerance: Overcoming The Politics Of Fear In An Anxious Age. She discusses the neurology of fear – a primitive, reflexive, natural, essential emotion – and how fear can be focused by rhetoric and culture on particular people.
Anti-Semitism is old and Christians bear significant guilt for that. See, James Carroll, The Sword Of Constantine. But something else began to stir in modern times with two fictional works, The Rabbi’s Speech in Biarritz, an 1872 novel by Hermann Goedsche, and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a hoax purporting to be a Jewish plan for world domination, first published in Russia in 1902. Hitler distributed The Protocols to support his campaign against the Jews. But before we dismiss this as something “the Germans did,” we should note that Henry Ford paid to have 500,000 copies of the Protocols distributed in the United States in the 1920s. When we do not feel in control of the world – perhaps you have noticed United States dominion slipping away – we feel afraid and our culture finds someone to blame, some threat – preferably a hidden threat, an “enemy within.”
Nussbaum describes numerous instances of religious intolerance surging today. It is stronger in Europe than in the United States where Roger Williams is not quite forgotten. See John Barry, Roger Williams And The Creation Of The American Soul. Switzerland, for example, has amended its Constitution to ban minarets. Businesses and governments in several northern European countries are exceedingly anxious about headscarves and several countries have outlawed burqas.
But the United States is not exempt. Consider for example Gellar’s book, Stop The Islamicization Of America: A Practical Guide; the Homeland Security Committee’s hearings investigating Islam in America; or the allegations of Michelle Bachman and several other Congressional representatives that Muslim-Americans are spreading the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in our government (allegations condemned by the U. S. Catholic Bishops and other Christian leaders). It seems someone is always infiltrating the highest halls of power – Jews, Communists, Muslims – whoever the sinister “other” of the day may be. Even the President who often worships at an Episcopal Church and receives the sacrament is suspected of being a secret Muslim.
We are not exempt. Our history of racism is fraught with atrocities. Our actions against Native Americans prove our capacity for genocide. We have at times persecuted religious minorities. The reactions to Latino immigrants today even within the Church are sometimes very troubling.
The Holocaust/ Shoah was horrendous, but is not the only occasion of mass genocide. Pol Pot killed two million of his people in Cambodia from 1975 – 1979. The Tutsis killed between 500,000 and one million Hutus in Rwanda in just 100 days in 1994. (If you have not read Left to Tell by survivor Immaculee Ilibigiza, it is a must. http://www.amazon.com/Left-Tell-Discovering-RwandanHolocaust/dp/1401908977/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1363014631&sr=1-1&keywords=imaculee+ilibagiza)
If we are human we have a brain hard-wired for fear. We are therefore susceptible to the power of rhetoric and culture that can lead us to do unspeakable, unimaginable things. If we do not believe genocide is possible here, now, neither did Germans or Jews in the 1930s. The ever-present possibility makes it crucial that Christianity be a barrier to fear and hatred, not a harbinger of either. It is crucial that Christianity participate in our society as a counter-force of faith and reconciliation against fear and hatred. The best of Christians, the truest Christians, like Dietrich Bonheoffer, did that in Germany, but they were too little, too late. The Jews must not be the only ones to say “Never again.” We must say it with them. We must never again participate in, condone, or tolerate the kind of evil that metastasizes into genocide. And we must not wait until the scapegoats are being rounded up for slaughter before we take our stand. Faith and reconciliation must be our strong stance from the very beginning against fear mongering, blame shifting, prejudice, and bigotry.