28 August 2008

dreaming under fire

The movie Under Fire (1983) was on cable this morning. Starring Nick Nolte, Joanna Cassidy, Gene Hackman, and Ed Harris, it’s a story about reporters in Nicaragua during the Sandinista revolution. Even though it came out twenty-five years ago, it doesn’t feel quite that dated. We’re no longer concerned about Marxists, but there’s still plenty of fighting going on.

Because the US-backed regime of Anastasio Somoza and his National Guard was so horribly brutal and corrupt, the film goes a bit too far in painting the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN, the Sandinista National Liberation Front) as a revolution of “poets.” That’s shown at the end of the film, with Nick Nolte’s character, a photographer, questioning Ed Harris’ character, a mercenary who fought alongside the National Guard. “What the hell are you doin’ here?” he asks during the Sandinista victory parade in the capital, Managua. “It's a free country,” he responds. “I mean…it’s free now anyway.”

I have a personal connection to this movie. It was one of the prime factors in my developing the romantic notion of being a journalist in a war-torn country. Of course, this was when the Reagan administration was training the contras to commit acts of terrorism, blowing up villages and infrastructure in Nicaragua.

However, it seems that God had other plans for me. The journalism that I studied in high school and college didn’t quite get me hooked!

21 August 2008

letters and papers—and poetry

In my last post, I mentioned Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison. In the New Greatly Enlarged Edition, his friend and editor Eberhard Bethge includes some letters that were sent to Bonhoeffer, as well. In one of Bethge’s letters to him (dated 26 August 1944), he speaks of poetry.

Speaking of Bonhoeffer’s “Stations on the Road to Freedom,” he says, “You can’t give anything more personal than a poem. And you could hardly give me greater joy. There is no greater self-sacrifice, no better way of signifying an otherwise unattainable nearness than in a poem. And it is probably the form, because it makes visible the inwardness that is bound up and held in check with it…Its touch is steadier and more far-reaching than that of a letter.”

In that spirit, let me share another of Brian Turner’s poems from Here, Bullet. It’s entitled, “A Soldier’s Arabic.” He prefaces his poem with a quote from Ernest Hemingway: “This is a strange new kind of war where you learn just as much as you are able to believe.”

The word for love, habib, is written from right
to left, starting where we would end it
and ending where we might begin.

Where we would end a war
another might take as a beginning,
or as an echo of history, recited again.

Speak the word for death, maut,
and you will hear the cursives of the wind
driven into the veil of the unknown.

This is a language made of blood.
It is made of sand, and time.
To be spoken, it must be earned.

(By the way, I’ll admit that the image I posted probably doesn’t inspire feelings of such a sublime nature!)

16 August 2008

letters and papers

Last month, I mentioned how I’ve been reading (again) Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison. In the book, as well as in his good friend Eberhard Bethge’s biography, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, we see how an upper middle class German struggles with his faith when confronted by the brazen assaults of Hitler and the Nazi Party. On the day after the unsuccessful attempt on Hitler’s life (which Bonhoeffer supported), we read this in a letter to his friend Eberhard (it’s dated 21 July 1944):

“…it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a converted sinner, or a churchman (a so-called priestly type!), a righteous man or an unrighteous one, a sick man or a healthy one. By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities…That, I think, is faith; that is metanoia [repentance]; and that is how one becomes a [human] and a Christian.”

Bonhoeffer said only a little more about what he meant by “this-worldly” Christianity. He was executed before he could develop his thoughts in detail. Many along the theological spectrum, from conservative to liberal, claim him as part of their heritage. To me, that only speaks of how true to the path of Christ he was. He was aware of his weaknesses; you can see that in some of his letters. His decision to cast his lot in with the conspirators against Hitler continued to weigh on his mind.

I like something he says toward the end of this letter. I think it speaks to us well today. “May God in his mercy lead us through these times; but above all, may he lead us to himself.”

08 August 2008

speak the truth!

During the last two weeks of July, we were visited by our nephew Kaleb. One day we were watching the movie Justice League: The New Frontier (2008). We were commenting on which of the heroes we liked better. I said I always preferred Batman over Superman. I also noted Wonder Woman’s lasso, which forces anyone she ensnares with it to speak the truth. What a cool power to have! Just lasso somebody, and they have to tell the truth.

The current issue of The Christian Century deals with something like that. In Andrew Root’s, “If the truth were told,” he looks at the Fox TV show The Moment of Truth (in which people speak of very personal and inappropriate topics) and applies the question Dietrich Bonhoeffer asked over six decades ago: “What Does ‘Telling the Truth’ Mean?” His article inspired me to get Bonhoeffer’s Ethics off my shelf (that’s the book in which his unfinished essay with that question appears).

According to our friend Dietrich, who was executed by the Nazis, telling the truth is not about adherence to some abstract principle. Truth is incarnate; we speak the truth when we use it for the healing of relationships, when we speak the truth “in love.” That’s not the same thing as saying that the truth doesn’t exist!

Bonhoeffer warns us, “It is only the cynic who claims ‘to speak the truth’ at all times and in all places to all [people] in the same way, but who, in fact, displays nothing but a lifeless image of the truth. He [or she] dons the halo of the fanatical devotee of truth who can make no allowance for human weaknesses, but in fact is destroying the living truth among [us].”

Too much of what passes for truth today isn’t meant to heal; it’s meant to destroy. Because of that, we allow the various issues on which we’re divided to tear us apart. The world desperately needs us to demonstrate truly Christian ways of disagreeing! (I wonder, would Wonder Woman’s lasso be of help in that?)

01 August 2008

"Alhazen of Basra"

No big issues here, just one of my favorite poems from Brian Turner's book, Here, Bullet. He served seven years in the US Army. He had tours in Bosnia with the 10th Mountain Division and in Iraq as an infantry team leader with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.

This poem is titled, "Alhazen of Basra." He says this about him in his notes: "Abu Ali Hasan Ibn al-Haitham (965-1040 AD), known as Alhazen to the West, was an eminent physicist whose contributions to science remain vital and relevant to the present day."

If I could travel a thousand years back
to August 1004, to a small tent
where Alhazen has fallen asleep among books
about sunsets, shadows, and light itself,
I wouldn't ask whether light travels in a straight line,
or what governs the laws of refraction, or how
he discovered the bridgework of analytical geometry;
I would ask about the light within us,
what shines in the mind's great repository
of dream, and whether he's studied the deep shadows
daylight brings, how light defines us.