24 March 2010

compromise choice

Today is the 30th anniversary of Archbishop Oscar Romero’s murder. It was, perhaps, the shot that led to a decade-long civil war. In the movie Romero (1989), Raul Julia plays the title role as archbishop of San Salvador. By the late 1970s, many priests were working with the poor, despite increasing threats and violence from the government and the military. The church hierarchy, not surprisingly, allied itself with the powers-that-be.

The movie shows the low regard in which Romero was held. In 1977 after Archbishop Luis Chavez resigns, there is nervous debate about who will be named his successor. After Romero is named, there’s a scene in which two bishops are discussing him. “He’s a good compromise choice. He’ll make no waves.” The other replies, “He’s a bookworm. The whole country could be running wild, and he wouldn’t even notice it.”

During the course of the movie, we can see how events continually escalate—how the various factions try to co-opt him—and he is increasingly treated with disdain. But he does not compromise.

Are there any lessons for us to learn in our country from Romero? Certainly, we’re nowhere near the level of conflict that existed in El Salvador. Still, this week, we’ve seen the passage of health care legislation that is very much the result of compromise. In response, some lawmakers have demonstrated a lack of civility that, by itself, is nothing terribly serious. Yet they set a poor example for others who are quite willing to resort to violence and hateful acts. They compromise themselves.

20 March 2010

commemoration of courage

“The prophetic mission is a duty of God’s people. So, when I am told in a somewhat mocking tone that I think I am a prophet, I reply: ‘God be praised! You ought to be one too.’ For every Christian, all God’s people, every family, must develop a prophetic awareness, convey an awareness of God’s mission in the world, bring it a divine presence that makes demands and rejections.” SEPTEMBER 10, 1978

This quote from Oscar Romero’s The Violence of Love shows similarities between him and someone else about 32 or 33 centuries earlier. Both Romero and Moses reluctantly accepted the position of speaking on behalf of their people to an oppressive government. And, as we see in Numbers 11, both were convinced that their call wasn’t unique. They longed for others to join them.

[16] So the Lord said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tent of meeting, and have them take their place there with you…”
[26] Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. [27] And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” [28] And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!” [29] But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”

(Copyright 2007 by Plough Publishing House. Used with permission.)

19 March 2010

metal life in Iraq

I heard about the movie Heavy Metal in Baghdad (2007) a couple of years ago, but only recently decided to check it out. It tells the story of Acrassicauda, the only Iraqi heavy metal band. (Maybe by now, a couple of others have formed.) Directors Eddy Moretti and Suroosh Alvi follow them over the course of several years, showing the extreme hardships the band and their families are forced to endure. At times, the filmmakers literally risk their lives. But they quickly come to realize that the jeopardy they experience is nothing compared to that of their friends.

Acrassicauda (which we’re told is Latin for “black scorpion”) lives heavy metal. In a nation that’s been invaded—that has had war brought to it—that obviously has more than one meaning. Honesty is revealed, as well as raw emotion: joy, love, frustration, futility, pain, anger. They tell their story of families divided, as they are compelled to flee to Syria, then to Turkey. (“Heavy Metal in Istanbul” is a featurette on the DVD.) A few months after the time period in the movie, the band arrives in the US.

This month, they were finally able to issue a release, an EP called Only the Dead See the End of the War. The “thrash” strain of metal isn’t my favorite (I’m more of the progressive type), but I still give it a thumbs-up.

Still, even if you don’t like heavy metal—or even rock music in general—the movie is well worth watching. It shows the dishonesty of what the mainstream media tells us about the Iraq war, as well as war in general.

10 March 2010

can we truly act like men?

A movie that’s been in our Netflix queue for quite a while, The Stoning of Soraya M. (2008), finally arrived today. I watched it this evening.

So many forms of brutality come together in this film, which is based on a true story, that it makes one’s head swim. Fundamentalist religion, Islamic law, capital punishment, stoning, some other stuff that gets tucked under the name of “faith” and “custom,” and of course, men exercising their thuggish rule over women.

I’m left praying for a swifter evolution of the male psyche, one that isn’t so fearful of women!

04 March 2010

be a lamp

“The church is a lamp that has to give light, and therefore it must involve itself in tangible reality and thus be able to enlighten the pilgrims who walk on this earth. This concern of the church does not mean that it leaves its own sphere but that it perseveres in its difficult duty of shedding light on concrete affairs.”

This paragraph, from Oscar Romero’s The Violence of Love (p. 87), presents some of his thoughts on how the church engages in real-world matters. (Just in case you’re wondering, I agree with him!) He speaks of ways Christians join various organizations to pursue justice and peace. Still, we have to remember who we are. “The church,” he adds, “from its commitment to the gospel, supports the just objectives that the organizations likewise seek, and [my emphasis] it also points out the injustices and the instances of violence that the people’s organizations may commit.”

It is perfectly legitimate—indeed, necessary—to work with people and groups of every stripe if we are to raise awareness and bring about needed change. That’s part of the “difficult duty of shedding light on concrete affairs,” as Romero puts it. If I do nothing but complain to my wife about the injustices in the world, she is totally justified in telling me to keep my trap shut!

Nonetheless, we have to be careful when doing our good work not to lose focus. We can protect a lake and still love each other. Or as the rock group U2 includes in the liner notes for their DVD, Vertigo 2005—Live from Chicago, “Don’t become a monster in order to defeat a monster.”

(Copyright 2007 by Plough Publishing House. Used with permission.)