08 April 2010

Over fifty million

Our L-shaped building is on two streets. The section we live in is on Yalagin Street. The other leg is on a street named Boulevard of the 60th Anniversary of the Victory. The "Victory" referred to, celebrated here every May 9, is over Fascist Germany in World War II.

Reminders of World War II and the upcoming 65th-anniversary victory observances are popping up often. First there was Vladimir Putin's visit to Poland last fall; then the controversy over posters of Stalin in Moscow; now the press is covering yesterday's ceremonies at the Katyn massacre site. As for my own reading and viewing habits, I'm never far from a book or film about this war.

World War II killed more than fifty million people. (Some would say well over fifty million.) That number, "over fifty million," was once again seared into my head by a film I just saw again a few days ago, after first seeing it five years ago. This film--Der Untergang (The Downfall)--pulls the viewer into the Reich Chancellery's underground bunker for the last ten days before Berlin's capitulation. The film's two and a half hours are so finely grained that they almost feel like ten days. After the final scene of the drama come the frames counting up the human toll of the barbarism and butchery catalyzed by Hitler's campaign of national and racial hegemony.

So often, World War II is the trump card in the anti-pacifist's rhetorical deck. What can a Christian say in the face of such globally-organized evil? Could you or I truly have exempted ourselves from the struggle to oppose it with every atom of our strength and resources? Good people, courageous people differ in their answers, particularly in our definitions of "struggle." The collective efforts of the Men of Peace may have seemed microscopic on the world stage, but they preserved a precious testimony to the hope of a better future.

But I want to make a different point. Hitler and his ideology were indeed the catalyst, but in causing those those fifty-plus million deaths, he had many allies. Daniel Jonah Goldhagen has demonstrated how the machinery of the death camps required thousands of compliant Germans and others. Some people aided Hitler's cause through dedication to the same corrupt ideology; others were opportunists; still others were passive; and perhaps many were just too lazy or spiritually inert to make a difference back when nonviolent interventions might still have been possible.

Thomas Kelly said, back in 1938, in a time of apparent peace,
One returns from Europe with the sound of weeping in oneʼs ears, in order to say, “Donʼt be deceived. You must face Destiny. Preparation is only possible now. Donʼt be fooled by your sunny skies. When the rains descend and the floods come and the winds blow and beat upon your house, your private dwelling, your own family, your own soul itself, then it is well-nigh too late to build a house. You can only go inside what house you have and pray that it is founded upon the Rock. Be not deceived by distance in time or space, or the false security of a bank account and an automobile and good health and willing hands to work. Thousands, perhaps millions as good as you have had all these things and are perishing in body and, worse still, in soul today.”

An awful solemnity is upon the earth, for the last vestige of earthly security is gone. It has always been gone, and religion has always said so, but we havenʼt believed it. And some of us Quakers are not yet undeceived, and childishly expect our little cushions for our little bodies, in a world inflamed with untold ulcers. Be not fooled by the pleasantness of the Main Line life, and the niceness of Germantown existence, and the quiet coolness of your well furnished homes. For the plagues of Egypt are upon the world, entering hovel and palace, and there is no escape for you or for me. There is an inexorable amount of suffering in all life, blind, aching, unremovable, not new but only terribly intensified in these days.

One comes back from Europe aghast at having seen how lives as graciously cultured as ours, but rooted only in time and property and reputation, and self-deluded by a mild veneer of religious respectability but unprepared by the amazing life of commitment to the Eternal in holy obedience, are now doomed to hopeless, hopeless despair. For if you will accept as normal life only what you can understand, then you will try only to expel the dull, dead weight of Destiny, of inevitable suffering which is a part of normal life, and never come to terms with it or fit your soul to the collar and bear the burden of your suffering which must be borne by you, or enter into the divine education and drastic discipline of sorrow, or rise radiant in the sacrament of pain.

One comes back from Europe to plead with you, you here in these seats, you my pleasant but often easy-living friends, to open your lives to such a baptism of Eternity now as turns this world of tumbling change into a wilderness in your eyes and fortifies you with an unshakable peace that passes all understanding and endures all earthly shocks without soul-destroying rebelliousness. Then and then only can we, weaned from earth, and committed wholly to God alone, hope to become voices crying in this wilderness of Philadelphia and London, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord. Make straight in this desert a highway for our God” (Isa. 40:3). These are old truths. But now is no time for enticing novelties but for a return to the everlasting truths of life and suffering and Eternity and unreserved commitment to Him who is over all.
(from A Testament of Devotion --"Holy Obedience.")

It seems to me to be so incredibly urgent that we people who profess peace keep praying and hammering out the mechanisms of prophetic discernment. We need to draw on our worldwide networks to alert each other when people are being systematically objectified and oppressed whether or not they are Christian!!--and to respond in all our various ways, according to our gifts and resources. Nothing need be uniform, mechanical, or pretentiously messianic--but when the Hitlers of the future arise, we need to rise up.

There's something else that this film reminded me of, particularly Bruno Ganz's incredible portrayal of Hitler. Evil is real; as a movement we cannot respond with anything less than the "whole armor of God." We can't let demagogues set evangelicals against liberals, or create other distracting divisions. We need the commitment to spiritual warfare that evangelicals claim and the social/ethical zeal that is often the province of liberals. We all need all-out revival that sweeps over all idolatries--not just the blatant blasphemies of the world's would-be Hitlers, but the more subtle ones that keep us Christians safe, domesticated, and distrustful of each other.

An Easter day walk to Elektrostal's cemetery

Righteous links:

Ever notice how much Western coverage of Kyrgyzstan's turmoil focuses narrowly on the USA-Afghanistan and USA-Russia contexts? Sean Guillory goes a bit wider.

Why are Chechens so angry?

Elesha Coffman on "The History of Glenn Beck's 'Social Justice'."

Dion Angus Forster, "The Role of the Church in Reconciliation in South Africa."

Can Yoga Be Christian? (add to the comments!)

Harvard Business School cases: "iPads, Kindles, and the Close of a Chapter in Book Publishing." Sample: "I don't know of many successful examples of pricing a product based not on what it costs or what people want to pay for it, but based on another format that is completely different, just because you want to keep that format alive," -- former Random House CEO Peter Olson. Less than half of all American adults ever read a book after leaving school [according to this article]. Most of the remainder read, at most, only one or two books a year. Industry estimates indicate that somewhere between 15 and 25 percent of the population purchase books on a somewhat regular basis.

National Public Radio: "Ham Radio Growing in the Age of Twitter." Thanks to slashdot.org for the reference.

From Denmark: "Hallelujah," Gary Snider & Olav Poulsen, featuring Frida. This ballad isn't a gospel song, despite the title (though maybe you should decide for yourself). I'll be putting more clips up from these excellent guitarists, but in the meantime visit AlruneRod2811.