25 April 2009

what would it take?

The website “Sacred Space,” which is run by Jesuits in Ireland, in a reflection on Judas Iscariot, posted this prayer of St. Philip Neri (1515-1595): “Lord, beware of this Philip or he will betray you! Lay your hand upon my head, for without you there is not a sin I may not commit this day.” (In the icon, he’s shown with the little dog he “confiscated” from a cardinal in Rome.)

Sitting there in front of the computer, I really made that my prayer. “Lord, beware of this James or he will betray you! Lay your hand upon my head, for without you there is not a sin I may not commit this day.” I wish it weren’t so, but without God’s grace, I’m afraid that it’s true. We like to think that there are some things we would never do. I don’t know if that’s true for you, but it is for me. Given the right circumstances, the right conditions—or should I say the wrong conditions?—we’re capable of almost anything.

With the recent uproar about Bush-era torture (which I think is a bit late in the game), I ask myself, “Could I actually torture another human being?” I realize that many are playing word games, saying that tactics like waterboarding, forcing people to stay awake for up to one week, locking them into painful positions, etc., may be “cruel and inhumane,” but it’s not “torture.” (By the way, waterboarding was used by the Spanish Inquistion and the genocidal Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.)

Having said that, I still wonder what circumstances would be necessary for me to do that to another person, someone for whom Jesus died and rose again. Political justifications for torture are shaky enough, but how can someone who claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ (who himself was tortured) go along with it?

Still, just like Philip of Neri, I pray for God’s hand to be on my head, because I’m not immune from doing terrible things!

24 April 2009

silent mentors

“A young medical student stood in front of a corpse as sobbing filled the operating room. The aspiring doctor, Hsu Jun-k’ai, worked up the nerve to glance at the relatives crying next to him. Tears trickled down his own cheeks. But the surgery wasn’t a failure. It hadn’t even begun.” That’s how an article in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal began. His tears were inspired by a farewell to eight people who willed their bodies for surgical practice.

This occurred in Taiwan, at the Tzu Chi University’s medical school. Traditional Chinese are extremely reluctant to permit such things to be done to their bodies; they believe them to be gifts from their ancestors. This has caused chronic shortages of cadavers for medical students. Cheng Yen, a 72-year-old Buddhist nun, has appealed to her society at the faith level. She makes the appeal that “society needs you,” and she has incorporated Buddhist belief into the ceremony honoring those whom the students refer to as their “silent mentors.”

Mr. Hsu, the student, spoke of one of his “silent mentors” in this way: “You want the family to understand what we’re doing so they feel part of it. We also learned about Teacher Li Syu. We got to know her as a person.” His class even wrote this poem in her honor:

“Like a warm lantern in our heart,
Like the supple light of the moon,
To embrace you forever
In the fragrance of a flower,
We will remember you forever”

Her daughter said, “This was her will, to let the students learn from her body.” Imagine, medical students referring to a corpse as their “teacher.” We Christians can learn something from the Buddhist concept of compassion. And at the same time, I would humbly suggest (because that’s how we should approach others) that we Christians have something to say about the resurrection of the body. We should respect the body, as part of all of God’s creation. But what we see isn’t the final state; there is a resurrection creation, a resurrection body.

16 April 2009

torturing ourselves

The release today of four Bush-era Office of Legal Counsel torture memos by the Obama administration has, predictably, stirred up a hornet’s nest. President Obama has been criticized by both the right and left wings. On the right, there are a number of concerns, possibly the key one being a fear that this decision could jeopardize national security. On the left, there’s a feeling that, among other things, this is a half-hearted effort of correcting the lawlessness of the Bush administration.

Former CIA director Michael Hayden, while disagreeing with the move, said, “I realize that this is a very difficult decision for the president. I’ve been told by agency folks that the president personally—personally—agonized over the decision.”

I’ve included an image of yet another cartoon I uncovered while packing for our recent move. (The crinkled appearance is due to some unfortunate lamination!) It’s a Calvin and Hobbes from 1995 which is as timely as ever. (“Doesn’t it seem like everybody just shouts at each other nowadays?”) I especially appreciate Calvin’s observation that, “We want the sense of solidarity and identity that comes from having our interests narrowed and exploited by like-minded zealots.”

On this issue, as well as on so many others, we have way too much heat and far too little light. I think we all would be better served by getting over ourselves. To me, Jesus’ prediction rings true: “because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold” (Mt 24:12).

10 April 2009

to be continued

This Sunday, the lectionary’s gospel reading for Easter is either John’s or Mark’s. I couldn’t resist going with Mark. He has that bizarre ending in verse 8: “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” “They” refers to Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome.

I realize that the claim that Mark ends his writing at verse 8—and doesn’t include the long ending with verses 9 to 20—still hasn’t received universal acceptance. Still, it seems to me that Mark’s version is especially suited for Holy Week. His telling of the Easter story still carries the dread—the fear—that Jesus and his disciples felt. The growing storm clouds of that week still haven’t dissipated. There’s a real visceral feel to it.

Since we have the other gospels to, so to speak, finish the story, I like Mark’s “unresolved” version. It reminds me to be cautious about too easily thinking we “have” Jesus. We should also be careful about quickly dismissing those who haven’t “got” the whole business of resurrection. Mark’s version of the Easter story reminds us that the story isn’t over: it’s a case of “to be continued.”

04 April 2009

a new chapter begins

Our call to the Hammondsport and Pulteney Presbyterian Churches officially began on Wednesday, 1 April. (Did it being April Fools' Day have any significance? One can only wonder.)

The churches are yoked congregations in the Presbytery of Geneva, in the Finger Lakes area of New York. The photo of the Pulteney church appears first, since it has the earlier service. Then comes the Hammondsport church.

Banu and I are both tired and thankful. We've had quite a busy past few days, hurriedly packing and doing plenty of last minute things. Our Sheltie, Duncan, seems to still be disoriented by it all. But we're grateful to God as this new chapter in all of our lives begins!