31 March 2005

People do die, whether they want to or not

  • I find myself totally without temptation to say anything about Terri Schiavo other than "God rest her soul."
  • Pope John Paul II is very very fragile as I write. My most vivid memory of him is from over 25 years ago--I was standing in the rain with Judy and thousands of others on the Boston Common, as he preached a powerful and direct evangelistic message based on the story of the rich young man whose wealth got in the way. "Come to Christ, come to Christ," he said.
  • On March 17, one of my lifelong heroes, George F. Kennan, died at age 101. Thanks to Lyndon Allin's blog "Scraps of Moscow," I found a good op-ed piece about Kennan, "If Kennan Had Prevailed," in the Boston Globe. Allin credits Johnson's Russia List with picking up the Globe piece. Johnson's Russia List is in my own list of links below, but I don't read it as often as I should. The Washington Post has a more critical appreciation of Kennan by Richard Holbrooke.
  • Speaking of heroes, my own father-in-law died last week. An Episcopal priest, he was born on Christmas Day (1919) and died on Good Friday. Rev. Bill Van Wyck packed a lot of life and ministry into the 85 years in between. Here's a draft obituary.

Rhetorical questions prompted by Pope John Paul II's decline

  • Why do people give Ronald Reagan the credit for the collapse of the Soviet Union? If individual heroes must be identified, let the credit be shared by Mikhail Gorbachev and Pope John Paul II. Better yet, let the "credit" be shared by all those who prayed faithfully, year in and year out, for spiritual revival in countries under totalitarian bondage. And it's not yet time to quit praying.
  • By the same logic, why should I give George W. Bush the sole credit for the remarkable elections in Iraq and the hunger for something better that those elections revealed among millions of courageous people? (Nor should Bush's critics begrudge the genuineness of the hope represented by those elections, or their capacity to serve as inspiration for others.) There, too, prayer was and is very much part of the scene. (See this weblog, for example.)
  • Any chance the concept of "a culture of life" can start to include people whose conditions are somewhere between conception and rigor mortis? John Paul II's stubborn advocacy for the unborn was of a piece (a seamless garment, shall we say) with his opposition to unfettered capitalism, capital punishment, racism, and war in Iraq. Can our promotion of democracy have fewer asterisks and less small print*?
*ban on Christian evangelism in Saudi Arabia, where women cannot vote; in the so-called Holy Land there is very limited freedom of religion in Israel, one of the few Western countries where apartheid continues, probably the only one where it is subsidized by USA taxpayers; ambivalence towards human rights issues in China; our lack of due process with detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan; inability to conduct transparent elections in parts of our own country; the F-16 pipeline is open again to Pakistan, but we huff and puff at Spain for selling patrol boats to Venezuela; the International Criminal Court is somehow not good enough for us; the "rendition" of prisoners with suspected bin Laden connections to countries that have, ahem, substandard interrogation practices; malign neglect in Africa--for example, Zimbabwe; our appetite for oil wreaking havoc in the fragile politics of Central Asia; our friend and client, Kuwait, dependent on immigrants while refusing them rights (is that where our modern Minute Men got the idea?); manipulation of the United Nations; the conduct of disaster relief as public relations....

Christian subversion

Eugene Peterson has a way with words ... and not just the words of the Bible (as in his powerful translation, The Message). Len Hjalmarson in nextreformation.com quotes and comments on Peterson's book The Contemplative Pastor:

"Three things are implicit in subversion. One, the status quo is wrong and must be overthrown if the world is going to be livable. It is so deeply wrong that repair work is futile. The world is, in the word insurance agents use to designate our wrecked cars, totaled.

"Two, there is another world aborning that is livable. Its reality is no chimera (illusion). It is in existence, though not visible. Its character is known. The subversive does not operate out of a utopian dream but out of a conviction of the nature of the real world.

"Three, the usual means by which one kingdom is thrown out and another put in its place - military force or democratic elections - are not available. If we have neither a preponderance of power nor a majority of votes, we begin searching for other ways to effect change. We discover the methods of subversion. We find and welcome allies."

A great summary as to how the kingdom contrasts with the world and how it breaks into our world. Peterson says that the chief aim of the Subversive Community is to train other subversives (the Great Commission). Our tools are prayer and parables. "The quiet (or noisy) closet life of prayer enters into partnership with the Spirit that strives still with every human heart, a wrestling match in holiness. And parables are the consciousness-altering words that slip past falsifying platitude and invade the human spirit with Christ-truth."

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