Sunday, January 29, 2012

So Loved The World (Part III of III)

Few things are more difficult to understand than the way the Scriptures portray the relationship between God and the world, between Creator and Creation. It is difficult to untangle the many overlapping contradictions a singular understanding of "world" would give us. Are we to live in love to a world whose Prince is named as the Devil? How can anyone be in the world, yet not be of it, without losing some grasp of it, therefore be unable to minister to this world? How can we heard the groans of creation, described so eloquently by St. Paul, if we are not deeply immersed in the world that groans in this way? Just as God demonstrated the radical, free Divine Love by sending the Son in to the world, so, too, are we called to live in the world as Body of Risen Christ.

I sometimes think the easiest way to cut through the many questions and conundrums is to ignore them. That, however, isn't really an option.

I believe, first and foremost, along with everything else we surrender, we should surrender any attempt to answer the unanswerable question raised by the reality of so much death and misery. The very real demand for understanding, for sense in the senselessness of our world, is something with which believers have struggled since the author of Job made the question so plain and so clear. We demean those who continue to ask it by trying to explain it. How does one explain this?
The victims are tie up-most have been women-phone cut- bring some bondage mater sadist tendencies-no struggle, outside the death spot-no wintness except the Vain’s Kids. They were very lucky; a phone call save them. I was go-ng to tape the boys and put plastics bag over there head like I did Joseph, and Shirley. And then hang the girl. God-oh God what a beautiful sexual relief that would been. Josephine, when I hung her really turn me on; her pleading for mercy then the rope took whole, she helpless; staring at me with wide terror fill eyes the rope getting tighter-tighter.
There is nothing in heaven, the earth, or under the earth that can give meaning or purpose to this. Or this:
Archbishop Romero’s spirit lived on in Maura Clarke, Jean Donovan, Ita Ford and Dorothy Kazel, four American churchwomen who journeyed to war-torn El Salvador to help the poor. Kazel was an Ursuline nun who taught indigenous peasants to read and write. She also fed the hungry and taught young mothers how to care for their children. Sister Dorothy greatly admired the unflappable courage of the poor in the face of the deadly oppression they faced on a daily basis. She was just as courageous herself, for she knew there was constant danger everywhere around her. “Those who work on the side of the poor suffer the same fate as the poor.”

Maura Clarke and Ita Ford were Maryknoll Sisters, a Catholic order dedicated to overseas missionary work. “Sister Maura was generous to a fault,” recalled a friend and fellow Maryknoll sister, “She gave away virtually everything she had except what was on her back.” Sister Ita was pensive and politically aware. “Sometimes the United States has to realize it does not own Central America or any other part of the world,” she once said, “ [and] that people have the right to shape their own destiny, to choose the type of government they want. We don’t lose Cuba, we don’t lose Nicaragua because they were never ours to lose. The sooner we accept this, the better.”

Jean Donovan was an executive at the accounting firm Arthur Andersen in Cleveland. One day in 1977 she bravely decided to quit her job, give away her Harley Davidson, leave Ohio behind and join the Maryknoll Lay Mission. She was sent to El Salvador where she worked as a budget manager. Jean was greatly inspired by Archbishop Oscar Romero and was privileged to meet and work with him. Every week she’d bake him chocolate chip cookies and deliver them after Sunday mass. His murder hit her particularly hard. She was there at the funeral when government thugs attacked the mourners and killed thirty people. Although terribly frightened, Jean carried on her work. “Things are so much worse, it’s unbelievable,” she wrote to a friend in May 1980, “People are being killed daily. We just found out that three people from our area had been taken, tortured, and hacked to death.” Not too long after that, two of her best friends were murdered immediately after walking Jean home. She thought about leaving El Salvador. “I almost could,” she wrote, “except for the children, the poor, bruised victims of this insanity. Who would care for them? Whose heart could be so staunch as to favor the reasonable thing in a sea of their tears and loneliness? Not mine, dear friend, not mine.”

On the evening of December 2, 1980 Jean and Dorothy drove to Comalapa International Airport to pick up Maura and Ita, who were arriving from Nicaragua. On the way home the women were stopped by the National Guard, kidnapped at gunpoint, raped and executed. Their bodies were left to rot on the side of the road. The Salvadoran regime claimed that the women had been the victims of a robbery. This was a very convenient lie for the incoming Reagan administration, which was obligated to prove to Congress that El Salvador was making progress on human rights. Reagan was unburdened by any of the human rights concerns that his predecessor Jimmy Carter claimed to care so much about, and the new president turned a blind eye to the most horrendous abuses as he ramped up military and economic aid to El Salvador. Secretary of State Alexander Haig even had the audacity to go before Congress and declare that the four American churchwomen may have been responsible for their own deaths.
Whether the madness of the BTK serial killer or the madness of the governments of El Salvador and the United States turning a deaf ear to the blood of our sisters crying out from the ground, there is no way to explain this. Even calling these, and the oh-so-many-other realities of our world "evil" seems to diminish them. If they can be named, perhaps they can be controlled? If they have a word assigned to them, that word has a definition. It becomes intelligible.

How is it possible to live in a world where such as this is possible and not despair? How is it possible to read the words and see the pictures and conclude that, even if God exists, that golf vacation must have been really good. How is faith in the face of this kind of radical evil not a slap in the face to the victims and their loved ones?

To these questions, no more or less than to the realities that prompt them, I have no answer other than this: I have no answer.

Making sense of the world is not something we human beings are very good at. As a part of it no less than the rocks and the stars and the birds and the serial killers, it is impossible to stand outside and grasp it in its totality. This is not to say we haven't figured out a whole lot about the Universe and how it operates, or how to manipulate various energies to serve our purposes. This is a far cry from any of it "making sense." None of it makes sense. Reality itself, as opposed to nothingness, makes no sense. There is no reason why the verb "to be" has any referent. Even something that seems this simple is beyond our brightest minds to understand, yet we who claim the name of Christ in service to the one he called Father somehow have to say something about horrors such as those above that make sense?

Um. No.

The death and resurrection of Christ do not, in any way deny or mitigate the horrors of our Universe, the madness that grips us, individually and collectively, leading to so much mass terror and death. Service to the crucified and risen Christ should never be a license to attempt to console the inconsolable, to claim to have the answers to the most basic question of all: Why is there something rather than nothing? This question always prompts its fear-filled follow-up: Is nothing stronger? The evidence for its strength, indeed its fundamental rule - described as the Satanic principality over this world, at least in parts of the Bible - is impossible to deny.

All the cross and empty tomb do, all they have ever done, is deny final agency and fundamental power to the many powers and forces that would seek to tear apart what is. And they do this by any means necessary. With stealth and guile. By burying half-truths within deeper falsehoods. By consoling with empty words instead of mourning along side those who weep. The cross and empty tomb say only one thing, and sometimes it doesn't seem to mean very much; sometimes it seems like a sick joke; yet I insist it says not only the one needful thing, but the only answer that really matters.

Love is.

I am not speaking of an emotion, although that is part of it. I am not speaking of physical attraction, although that is part of it, too.

The cross and the empty tomb show us, as nothing else before or since has or even could, that the beating heart of existence itself is a love so profound, so gratuitous, so strong it defines what is. That there is something rather than nothing? That is love. That we face the secret terrors of our hearts or the social horrors of power without conscience can in no way undercut or mock the even more fundamental reality that existence itself, in all its routine meaninglessness, is more powerful than any force that would seek to tear it apart.

We Christians are to witness to this reality without fear. We Christians are to witness to this reality without ever once denying the horror that is too much of the world around us. When others mourn, crying out because some part of the chaos that would destroy us all has touched their lives, we are to mourn with them. After all, Jesus wept, didn't he?

Yet, Jesus didn't only weep. He showed Mary and Martha the beating heart of Life, that Love that asks nothing is stronger even than that chaos that insists on its own power.

We are to love the world the way Jesus loved Mary and Martha. We are to be in it so far that we weep with the rabbit, even as we rejoice with the hawk who will now feed. We are to be in it so far that we weep with the families of victims of a madman like the BTK killer even as we seek to visit him and minister to him in his cell. We are to be in it so far that we are enraged by the perfidy and blindness of a nation willing to let the murder of its citizens go without punishment, and also say to those who not only did the crime but allowed it to happen, "You are a fellow child of God, loved and forgiven."

As for the far more routine triumphs and tragedies of life, aren't they wonders to be celebrated precisely for what they are? Since when has death been the enemy? When faced with the mysteries of life and death, in their normal round, we are confronted with mysteries (as should be clear enough by now). Why not take them for what they are, not questions to be answered or problems to be solved, but experiences to drink in as deeply as possible?

Ours is a world filled with wonder and horror, equal parts ridiculous parade of idiots and fools, and canvas of transcendent beauty. All of it is loved by God, the silence of the cross and empty tomb the only response to our pleading for answers. Yet that shows itself, one would think, to be more than adequate to the task.

Virtual Tin Cup

Amazon Honor System Click Here to Pay Learn More