Thursday, July 20, 2006

Celebrating the 4th of July – fireworks and ‘bombs bursting on air’

I like fireworks. I think they’re pretty and except when people operate them carelessly, and when they burn up docks on Lake Union, that they are harmless. But, I've been challenged to think about this supposedly harmless celebration of the nation’s independence. Joe and I stood on our roof on July 4th and watched explosions going off all over the city, and I came the closest I’ve ever come (or maybe will come) to feeling what it might be like to be surrounded by bomb blasts and gunfire. And amid the violent symbolism was an air of joy.

I have thought a lot about what it means to be a Christian in my adopted home, a nation of fierce national pride and and almost religious patriotic identity. I’ve thought about what it means to swear oaths, pledge allegiance to the flag, sing an anthem, all in honour of, not primarily a Christian identity but of a nation. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not okay with any of those things. And I think making Christian identity primary is equally important for all Christians not just those of us who live in the US. Our Anabaptist forebears were not okay with identifying first with prince and nation, and they put their allegiance first and only in Christ. If it was good enough for them…

But another key belief of mine and of the Mennonite church is in non-violence. So the Chinese invented gunpowder and fireworks as a tool to create beauty. Western technology got a hold of it and thought, ‘How can I use this to kill people?’ – a thing of power and beauty adopted for the purposes violence and domination.

Frances Scott Key wrote the American national anthem celebrating the star spangled banner flying against a sky alight with the fireworks of war: ‘freedom’ won through violence and bloodshed. I already know that true freedom is found only in Christ. And I eschew violence because that was what Christ taught. Having so committed, can I be comfortable enjoying a 4th of July fireworks display? I certainly won’t see those beautiful and brilliant sparkles without also remembering soberly what kinds of horror that same tool has wrought.

In Canada on November 11th, Remembrance Day (like Veterans’ Day here in the States) it is a tradition to wear red poppies reminiscent of the poem "In Flanders Fields" which celebrates the bravery of soldiers lost in the second World War. MCC distributes as an alternative bright red poppy-like pins pins that say ‘to remember is to work for peace’. I want to continue to enjoy the beauty and awesomeness of a fireworks display. But I also don’t want to forget that there will always be ways to work to make the only fireworks shot into the sky the pretty and colourful ones that we use in celebration.

X-men and the Bible

I was recently told, when discussing the idea that follows, "Just because you see a metaphor doesn’t mean you have to use it." But I just can’t let it go. It didn't make it into the sermon, but this is what blogs were made for…a forum for personal musings and inane comparisons of the biblical figures to popular comic book and movie characters.

I just saw the most recent instalment of the X-men movies - The Last Stand. I liked the character of Rogue (played by Anna Paquin) in the previous two movies and would have hoped that the writers would have developed her better in this ‘final’ instalment of the series. (I guess they can only do so much when there are twenty five characters to develop and there’s a butt-kicking quota). Each of the mutant/superhero/supervillain characters in the series have different powers. Rogue’s power is that she adopts the powers of anyone she touches. as well as the person's thoughts. While Rogue takes on the powers of the person she touches, that person is drained of power. She doesn’t know how to control her ability to do this, and to keep from harming anyone she comes in contact with. Since she can't control it, it controls her. She is unable to touch anyone without harming them and this is most painful to her, a teenage girl, where it comes to her relationship with a boy she cares about.

So in the same span of time that I saw X-Men I was working on a sermon on Mark 5:21-43 about Jesus healing a girl and a woman. So maybe it's true and drawing a comparison between Rogue and the woman in this story is stretching it. But in some ways, this woman is like Rogue. First of all, she is isolated because her disease. She has endured 12 years of vaginal bleeding (there you go…if you were ever wondering what ‘haemorrhaging’ meant) which makes her unable to touch or come into close contact with anyone without transferring her uncleanness to that person. It isolates her from society. Second, more specifically, what would have been especially hard: she is unable to marry or be with a man because having sex with a woman who is bleeding goes beyond unclean. Levitical law calls for death. In that culture not only does her disease rob her of the intimacy of marriage, it robs her of the status that only comes to women when they can be a wife and mother.

In the movie, Rogue sneaks off to the evil Magneto for the ‘cure’ to the mutant gene that causes her to be able to take power from others. The bleeding woman sneaks up to Jesus. And there the comparison comes to a big fat end. Jesus is the one with the power and no-one else - no super hero, no individual by her own power, not even doctors, though we are grateful for the gifts that God gave them. Jesus' power to save is for any of us who will reach out an touch him in faith. We too are gifted by the Holy Spirit to love and to heal and to restore relationships. Yet when we use this power, give it to others we are not depleted, but only grow stronger.

There is no villain in the story of the woman, except disease and isolation itself. And the ‘hero’ is Jesus and his power to save us not for the next life, but to be whole and holy in this one.