Saturday, March 24, 2007
I must confess that I did not officially follow this particular “Reflect and Act” option to its specific request. I did not do that, because I have been there. I have walked where Elie Wiesel walked. I have been to Auschwitz/Birkenau.
In May 2006, LTS had the opportunity to participate in a trip called the march of Remembrance and Hope. Originally created for Jewish High School students, this trip had expanded to take college-aged students of any faith to Poland in order to visit the Concentration Camps of the Shoah (preferred term for the Holocaust among many modern Jewish writers). Among the 300+ students that accompanied me on this trip, 4 other students and one professor from LTS also made this trip. Every night we “debriefed” with our bus group, which happened to include 35 women from an all women’s college in upstate New York. Additionally our LTS group made sure to “debrief” separately since we were sort of a “different” group, all studying to be Christian ministers who must face the fact that the early Christian Church sewed the seeds of anti-Semitism in modern Europe.
So in the end, I confess that I did not revisit the subject to watch a movie or simply discuss the Shoah with others. I relied more on the fact that I have walked through the grounds of Auschwitz/Birkenau today, and wondered myself how life could even continue in such a place, even if it simply was plant life. I hae touched the doors of gas chambers only to think about how many thousands of hands had touched that same door, pulling, pushing, scratching and doing whatever they could to open the door. I have walked passed a recess in the ground that I thought was a small natural pond, only to be informed that it was in fact a hold that had been filled in with human ashes and had since covered itself with a distinctly colored, almost neon-green, grass. I have met a survivor who told us about his first night in the concentration camp Majdanek, and listened as he told us about the night he was forced to grow up from an adolescent to a man, because he was the only survivor of his family. I have sung the Kaddish with survivors of the Shoah on the grounds of Birkenau and listened to the echoes of our voices, hoping desperately that our voices somehow made a difference. I have looked at the millions of shoes, the pounds of hair, the innumerable piles of hairbrushes and eyeglasses and wondered how God could possibly let this happen. I have wondered how a man or a woman could separate Jews from the rest of humanity, so much so, that he or she no longer saw them as human beings in any capacity, rather simply inmates to be destroyed. I have learned of the men and women who were given the option, “Kill others or be killed yourself,” who had to join the Nazi party in order to save their own lives and the lives of their own family. I have wondered whether or not I could survive the ghetto, or the concentration camp, or simply stand up for what I believe in, in the face of such danger. Would I have been willing to listen to my inner voice, or simply go along with the rest of society because it was what had been ingrained in my head for my entire life?
Where was God in the midst of that awful time in history?
I’m not sure anyone will ever be able to answer this question. I want to hope and pray that God was with the victims of the Shoah as Elie Wiesel describes in his book Night, that God was there on the gallows. But what does that say about the omnipotent nature of God? Does that mean that God is not omnipotent? If God is omnipotent, yet still allowed that to happen, then what does that say about the love of God? Some people say God was in the “rescuers” of the Shoah, the people who risked their lives for others. This may be true, but why wasn’t God in more people who should have been rescuers? Why didn’t God enlist more people to stand up for what was right in society? My conclusion is not a conclusion of submission, rather a conclusion of absolute honesty and truth. I will never know. I don’t think I will EVER know any answers about the nature of God concerning the Shoah. The more I study the Shoah, the more questions I have, the more questioning I become about God. This is not to say that I do not still have faith in God, because I do. But instead these questions make a distance between me and God. They make a distance between us, as if there were a distance between two long lost friends; two long lost friends who have lost touch with one another, and can say, “I’m not sure who you are anymore.” Only instead, I hope I know who God is no in my life, but I cannot understand who God was back then? What was God that God would allow that to happen? Who was God that God did not provide deliverance for the victims? Has God changed? Is that possible? At the risk of sounding like a process theologian, (which is not problematic, just not who I am) if there is any point in history to which I can indicate a change in the nature of God, it would be the Shoah.
I’m not sure what this change is or was, but no one can be the same. Theology is not the same, history is not the same. Some people refer to the Shoah as the rupture. It is called the rupture because it is the greatest rupture in the time of humanity. It ruptured our understanding of God and humanity, and the relationship between God and humanity and within humanity itself. The rupture separated us from God in a way that is hard to repair. Like Elie Wiesel says, “Time does not heal all wounds.” And this is the exception that I will make for that saying. These wounds can never heal, the never will. As the wounds of Christ remain in our hearts forever as Christians, this wound of humanity will and should, needs to, it MUST remain forever, so that we do not forget. We must never forget.
Friday, March 16, 2007
" 'Let us be able to lose gracefully and to win courteously; to accept criticism as well as praise; and to appreciate the attitude of the other [player] at all times.' That timeless advice was offered by James Naismith, a young gym instructor for the Young Men's Christian Association in Springfield, Massachusetts, who invented the sport known as basketball in 1891 – He had no idea what he had started. With March comes "March Madness," the annual festival of obsession with the round ball. The tournament began in 1939 with eight teams playing in a single elimination format. Now, the twenty-day tournament includes sixty-five teams.
Basketball fans know that putting the entire season on the line for a single elimination tournament is itself a form of madness – but they glory in it. Basketball may have started with peach baskets nailed to opposing ends of an old gym, but the sport is now big business and a major cultural event. The annual NCAA tournament makes and breaks teams, players, coaches, athletic directors, and even university presidents. There is a lot more than pride riding on that bouncing ball.
For players, the tournament is not likely to be a repeat experience. Those whose teams make it to the Final Four – and especially those whose teams win the championship – look back on the Big Dance as the moment of lifetime achievement. Players on losing teams often feel defeat even more acutely than the winners sense victory. "Every year, when the championship game ends, I find myself looking at the players on the losing team," Jay Bilas, starting center for Duke when it faced Louisville in the 1986 championship game, reflects. "Not the coaches – they'll have other chances – but the players. I know how they feel, especially when it's a close game decided by a play or two at the finish. I know they're going to live with the feeling they've got in their stomachs right then for the rest of their lives. It'll always be there. You can talk all you want about how great your season was, the last memory is the one you carry inside you wherever you go, whatever you do, the rest of your life."
Basketball is a contest of athletic ability and brains. The game has been transformed in recent decades, moving to a higher level of athleticism and a higher level of play. A clash of philosophies has often emerged at the Big Dance, with Eastern schools often playing a more traditional game, while schools to the west have pioneered innovations – pushing the game above the rim and stretching the envelope.
Now, the tournament is understood to be a display of individual and team talent, of ego and of determination, of valor and of lesser qualities. In a very real sense, the world of big sports brings out the best and worst in the American character. Genuine valor, teamwork, camaraderie, self-sacrifice, and athletic excellence are often demonstrated on and off the court. At the same time, the world of college athletics constantly risks corruption by forces within and without. In any honest analysis, it is increasingly difficult to refer to starting players as "student athletes." You can count on this – the players on the court for the Big Dance weren't chosen for their SAT scores.
We can all look to the Big Dance, March Madness, and the entire world of athletics with a mixture of admiration and concern. Athletic endeavor and the contest of sport can bring out the very best and most masculine qualities in young players. There is something noble about the millions of kidsshooting hoops in back yards, dreaming of standing on the court when the Final Four meet in Indianapolis this year. The sacrifice, discipline, teamwork, and excellence demonstrated by so many teams, coaches, and players can be an inspiration.
On the other hand, there is something tragic about a society that has so glamorized sport – and has grown so obsessed with victory, that the system is often perverted, lives are often warped, and virtues are too often sacrificed in vain hope of victory. Americans have turned the Big Dance into one of the largest gambling enterprises in the nation's history, with office pools multiplying from coast to coast. We all must know that athletic contest can bring out both the best and the worst in human character. In that sense, we are about to observe a massive morality tale played out in the form of March Madness. So, celebrate the good, root for your team, and learn to discern what is noble, good, and admirable in everything associated with the Big Dance."
Let the Madness begin! :)
Friday, March 09, 2007
I'm very excited to see this movie "300" that is coming out today. Mainly because I have been to Thermopylae where it was said that this battle happened. Just as a small history lesson to those of you who may go see it... This movie is about a group of soldiers from a Greek territory called Sparta. When the Persians came to attack Greece, they were called up to defend and fight. The Spartan army was the best in Greek history, some of the crazy things I learned about them while I was on my trip are....
- Spartan sons were born and bread to fight in battle and to be ready to die
- They would live in the army barracks from the time they were 6 until the time they were 30, to train and also to develop relationships with their fellow soldiers, as this would strengthen the army
- At age 20 they were allowed to get married, but they still weren't allowed to go home and live with their wife until they were 30
- It was 400 years befor the Spartan army lost their first war
- The city of Sparta had two kings, one to go to war with them and one to stay at home.
- They wore red so that their enemies wouldn't see their blood on them...
The way that the story goes is this.... Persia and Greece were well into their war when someone slipped informaiton to the Persians about a a mountain pass that would lead behind the Greek lines. Hearing about this the King of the Spartans, who was in charge of the Greek army, released the rest of the forces and said that he and the Spartans would fight, knowing that the Persians would be coming in from all sides. He did this knowing that the Spartans would stay and basicaly fight to their death, while the rest of the Greek army was allowed to retreat so they could go ready the rest of Greece that the Persians were coming to attack, namely Athens.
Greece didn't have a "national" army perse, because its territories were many city-states put together. So when they had to fight, such as against the Persians, many city-states, including ones such as Sparta, came together to fight. This is where the legend comes in. There were about 300 Spartan soldiers, but there were also many other soldiers from all over Greece, which actually meant there were about 5,500 of them. Also, when they spole of Spartan soldiers, they only meant the soldiers that had been trained and had lived in the barracks since they were six etc etc... However, the Spartans also always had about 3 "personal aids" that also were trained to fight. So each of those 300 had at least 3 "personal assistants" who were also fighting... so this legend about 300 against a million kajillion others.... not so fascinating any more when you realize that the 300 number alone should be multiplied by 4, not to mention the rest of the 5,500 soldiers.
All in all - I am VERY excited to see it - I know that makes me a big school nerd because I like the history behind it - but we all already knew that I am a huge school nerd. Just remember this when you are watching the movie... the Greek guide that toured me around Greece said there was ONE thing that the movie producers/writers got right. There is ONE thing that is historically correct in this movie. That is.... the Spartans wore red.... :)
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
"What majestic trees!"
"What powerful rivers!"
"What beautiful animals!"
As he walked alongside the river, he heard a rustling in the bushes behind him. He turned to look and saw a 7-foot grizzly charge towards him. He ran as fast as he could up the path. He looked over his shoulder and saw that the bear was closing in on him. He looked over his shoulder again, and the bear was even closer. He tripped and fell on the ground. He rolled over to pick himself up but saw that the bear was right on top of him, reaching for him with his left paw and raising his right paw to strike him. At that instant, the atheist cried out, "Oh my God!"
The bear froze.
The forest was silent.
As a bright light shone upon the man, a voice came out of the sky. "You deny my existence for all these years, teach others I don't exist, and even credit creation to cosmic accident. "Do you expect me to help you out of this predicament? Am I to count you as a believer?"
The atheist looked directly into the light and said, "It would be hypocritical of me to suddenly ask You to treat me as a Christian now, but perhaps...You could make the BEAR a Christian?"
"Very Well," said the voice.
The light went out.
The sounds of the forest resumed.
The bear dropped his right paw, brought both paws together, bowed his head,and spoke: "Lord bless this food, which I am about to receive from thy bounty through Christ our Lord. Amen."
Thursday, March 01, 2007
Hermeneutics: Ways of Reading the Biblical Texts by Rev. Dr. Lisa W. Davison
How is the bible to be read? Does one approach scripture looking for the answers to all life's questions and the rules for how to play the game of Life? Does one study it as an archeological artifact or just another piece of literature? Does one read scripture for insight and inspiration for how to be faithful in today's world?
Hermeneutics is a word used often within the walls of a seminary but rarely discussed outside of academia. Yet, it is an activity in which humans are constatly engaged. Simply put, hermeneutics is about interpretation. Whether we are reading the newspaper or watching a movie or listening to a conversation, we must always interpret what we read, see, or hear. In biblical studies, hermeneutics is about the interpretation of the Bible. More specifically, it is an interpretive framework through which biblical texts are understood. One's framework usually is based on answers to three questions. What type of document is the bible? Who wrote the bible? What authority does the bible have?
The bible is a collection , a library, of different writings that span a variety of cultures and historical periods. If is not a "history" book as we would define such writing today, nor is it a "science" book, concerned with biology, earth sciences etc. Trying to read the bible as either science or history would be like navigating a ship based on a map created when humans believed the earth was flat. It will not get us very far and will keep us afraid of seeing what lies just beyond the horizon.
The bible tells the story of a group who claim a common heritage, the same God and many of the same hopes/dreams. It is a theology book, though by no means systematic. It is concerned with theological questions, but it does not provide simple, consistent answers to those questions. The bible is like a roadmap or "treausre map" that has been left behind for future generations to trace their ancestors' journey of faith and struggles to live faithfully. This provides the next generation an assurance that they are not alone in their journey and not the first ones to struggle with the issues of faith.
The bible can also be a mirror, in that it allows its audience an opportunity to look at themselves through the eyes of faith and to examine their lives for where they excel and where they need to grow. It can be the "conscience" for faith communities.
Who wrote the bible? Traditionally, there have been three answers to this question: God, humans, or both. While there are some who claim that God wrote the bible, with humans functioning merely as holders for the writing utensil, and others who believe the bible is only a human creation, most people of faith hold an opinion somwhere between these two extremes. This approach recognizes that all the words of the bible were authored (orally and in writing) by humans; therefore, they are subject to all possible human errors (e.j., writing mistakes, tunnel vision, ego, etc.). However, this approach also allows for divine inspiration in the process. The bible is the record of certain groups of humanity's search for God. At times, the divine element is allowed shine through strongly, and at other times, it is overshadowed or duried by the human one.
Obviously, how one answers the authorship question will influence what authority they grant the bible. The bible does not have authority for the reader outside of a biblically-connected faith tradition. Even within these faith traditions, people choose how much authority they will grant the bible. Most also grant more authority to certain passages of scripture than others. The concern is that we recognize and name our method for how these decisions are made. This is where hermeneutics enters the process. As we read, study, and seek to understand the bible and apply its lessons to our lives, we will have to make choices between texts that seem to hold universal truths and those that may support a vision of the world that is culturally and historically limited and no longer acceptable in the 21st century. The key is to have a consistent hermeneutic that guides all of our decisions.
For Christians, it would seem that the radically inclusive Divine love revealed in the life and teachings of Jesus could be an interpretive framework thorugh which we read the bible and determine what it means for our lives, as individuals and as the Church.