Meditation on “Imagine” pt. 2

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…

This part screams to me. “Imagine there’s no countries / It is isn’t hard to do…” To which my first response is “Duh! How can anyone believe countries exist?” I’ve posted on the subject a couple of times before here and here; not only do I find it “not hard” to “imagine there’s no countries,” but it seems a simple, obvious fact that there are none.

However, looking back, it wasn’t always obvious to me… it was a revelation that came to me over a period of reflection. I think I was in high school, and I was thinking about phrases I would hear in the news… “Russia said,” “China announced,” “Washington replied,” “Israel demanded,” etc.

I realized that statements like these were simply shorthand for quickly describing something far more complex: “Russia” hadn’t said anything… A statement was issued with the authority of the Soviet government declaring something. And that statement probably had probably gone through some quick drafts and discussion among General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev and his advisors, clarifying shades and nuances of what precisely was meant, what should be said, and why. In short, a small group of people, strongly influenced by a single individual, in essence different from no other persons on the globe, had made a statement.

Now this statement had some weight in the world, because the individuals who issued it were presumed to have “power” over a “country.” I realized that “power” itself was another slippery fiction. Again, it was a shorthand for the notion that a person had the means to effect what he or she desired to do, in spite of opposition. In the Soviet Union, the “power” of the individuals making a statement, was considered close to total… that if anyone resisted their effort, say they tried to turn off the microphone or take the statement out of the speaker’s hand, they would be immediately arrested and certainly face dire consequences.

Yet the only way they could be arrested was for other individuals chose to act in accord with his orders, thus granting him “power.” If no oneŚno soldiers, no police, no judges, no comrades—would cooperate, he would have no “power.”

Ditto, then, for all the supposed countries making statements. All that was really happening was persons at the head of organizations with usually-respected chains of command were making statements… Countries were not talking. The country was something with no existence other than the fact that a large group of persons agreed to pretend it existed and respect the established chains of command.

Could a mass of people destroy a country by simply no longer agreeing to pretend it existed? That was a question on many minds in 1991. For over a year, persons in Vilnius, Lithuania had declared that “the Soviet Union” did not exist in the area called Lithuania, that Lithuania was “independent.” Yet most people inside and outside the Soviet Union kept agreeing to pretend that it did.

Their willingness to do so collapsed following the kidnapping of President Gorbachev in August that year. Suddenly “the Soviet Union” seemed a flimsy and undesirable fiction to hold on to. Others were proposed and found more appealing: Russian Federation, Ukraine, Commonwealth of Independent States, etc. On Christmas Day, 1991, the flag of the Soviet Union was lowered from the Kremlin forever, no longer a symbol of “rule” but a piece of cloth evoking the past. Influential persons living in the landmass that had been called the Soviet Union had agreed to stop pretending it existed, and it was gone.

That is the extent of reality a country has. That is why you were taught to believe your country (no matter what it is), is real, and that your country (no matter what it is), is “good.”

At this time, Southwest Asia, from Afghanistan in the East, to Iraq in the center, and Lebanon and Israel in the West, is engaged in varying levels of warfare, with Syria and Iran participating behind-the-scenes.

But imagine there’s no countries… only people. No past to avenge. No future to fight for. No cause to enlist into a militia or terrorist group for. Nothing to kill or die for. Only men and women, boys and girls, all alike in having the same human needs, fears, aspirations.

That’s the way I see it now. What will it take for others there to imagine it too?

Posts in this series: pt. 1, pt. 2, pt. 3, interlude, conclusion.

Something there is…

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.

israelwall.jpgThe Wall. If there was a receipe for fueling the resentment that in turn fuels terrorism, this is it.

I’m thinking of how enlightenment teachers emphasize that waking up is necessary for us to stop the madness of war, violence and oppression. Karma is rather simple to understand; you don’t have to be enlightened to see it. Resentment unresolved leads to violence, which leads to violent responses, which lead to more resentment. . . and the wheel keeps on turning on the axis of attachment, hatred and ignorance.

Sarah Walker, a Columbia seminary student created a beautiful, thought-provoking, photo essay on the wall from a Christian point of view: The Gospel according to . . . The photos are by Adam Cleaveland, a Princeton seminarian who spent last summer in Bethlehem, and whose blog pomomusinngs

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Citizen of a country or a Kingdom?

It occurs to me, that practically speaking, the Church has neither the interest in, nor the ability to further Jesus’ mission of helping people to realize the Kingdom of the Father. No matter what its stated purpose is, the de facto purpose of the vast majority of churches is to create “good citizens” strongly anchored in a belief system that Jesus never taught.

Today at work, our websites took down our Red Cross donation buttons. This is when the focus shifts from the American Katrina disaster, to the South Asian earthquake disaster. It’s now estimated that 80,000 people are dead, unknown numbers homeless, and reconstruction can’t even begin until summer next year. But our websites aren’t going to encourage you to donate to the International Committee of the Red Cross, and there will be no prime-time fundraising concerts on our TV channels. No matter how much greater the need is. Hey, they’re not Americans, are they?

I think of the media, dutifully honoring every single American soldier who dies in Iraq as a hero, regardless of the circumstances of their life or death (and some undoubtedly are — don’t get me wrong). But no newscast is going to spend 5 minutes reporting and mourning the life of an Iraqi mother, father, son, daughter killed by the insurgency—or by our fire. Being an American is what counts.

Some people’s beliefs cause them to join terrorist groups, and wreak havoc in isolated attacks. Some people’s beliefs cause them to join massive armies that wreak havoc by trying to remake the world in its own image. And the Church, with certain exceptions, applauds the latter. The institution forsakes Christ, and serves Caesar.

I can’t imagine that the myopic culture of Americanism — imagining America simply to be the world, or the only part of the world that counts—would have developed if the Church had kept the Gospels paramount. But “coming as a little child” is hard work, and becoming a good citizen believer is so much easier. But there’s a difference: Jesus told us we must become as little children again, or we miss this Kingdom of heaven.

Little children don’t care about national boundaries —at least not until their parents and teachers brainwash them into think that imaginary lines we superimpose on the trees, hills, rivers, and seas actually separate the world into “us” and “them”. To the little ones, there is just one realm, one Kingdom to live in. And we miss it.

I had a spiritual conversation with someone recently, who’s been conditioned to hear the voice of God in one place only, speaking only certain approved things. He’s a good citizen. And a believer. A really great guy. But, he’s missingthe Kingdom.

Call me a Christian, a Buddhist, a mystic, a heretic, an apostate, an unbeliever. Your labels are your business. All I want is to know God’s heart, and reflect it. What is really is there, but God’s divine love, underneath and within all things, causing them to be? And what purpose is there except to realize it?

Show me a national boundary that God respects, which neither the wind nor the Spirit cross. Then I’ll take countries seriously. Till then, enjoy the dream. Or wake up.

The Constant Gardener

Constant Gardner poster This is easily the best film I’ve seen this year. It’s a conspiracy thriller that breaks all the rules: there are no long chase scenes, no fights, no James Bond-esque heroics, no dramatic explosions, no wrenching suspense, and no pat happy ending. But it works, and works brilliantly.

Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles (City of God) weaves languidly in and out of linear story-telling and stream-of-consciousness with flashbacks used in a unhurried, dreamlike way. Rather than just seeing the love that Justin and Tessa Quayle have for each other, we feel it, in meandering sequences of snapshots, home videos, and flashbacks lovingly photographed.

Interspersed in this intimate tangle of images and experiences, is the unfolding mystery: Justin (Ralph Fiennes), an experienced, middle-level British diplomat in Africa, is trying to solve the mystery of the murder of his wife Tessa (Rachel Weisz), whose activism on behalf of Africa’s poor has begun to make many enemies. Even worse, he began doubting her faithfulness to him shortly before she was killed. Read more…

The Center of the Hurricane

Quick thoughts:

  • The center of the hurricane is pure stillness.
  • The yin-yang illustrates the cycles of action swirling within an immovable circle, and around a still center.
  • Jesus said, the sign of the Father within you is action and stillness. (Thomas 50)
  • Everyone struggles to save the world according to their causes and principles, so the world keeps needing to be saved.
  • The Universe will last as long as God wills.
  • Universes will be as frequent and as many as God wills.
  • Can God exhaust his own creativity / curiosity?

Farewell, John Paul

I haven’t read the book, but I’ve heard that in his novel Angels and Demons, Dan Brown (author of The Da Vinci Code) imagined the world largely ignoring the passing of the Pope. He was wrong. Very wrong. In fact, he couldn’t have been more wrong.

Millions—no one knows exactly how many—flocked to Rome to say farewell this week. Mourners included not only Catholics of every nation, but thousands of Protestants, Jews, Buddhists, and Muslims. The heads of state of Iran, the United States, Israel, and Syria sat close together, and the latter two shook hands and renewed their commitment to peacefully resolve their differences.

Why have so many people been affected, including hundreds of millions of non-Catholics and non-Christians? Because he spoke to our most pressing needs—freedom, peace, and holiness. Yes, many of us felt he was not speaking to other important needs, but seldom has mankind ever been graced by a more fierce and dedicated champion of freedom, peace, and holiness, and none greater in the age when nuclear annihilation threatened to destroy the world, and materialism to destroy the soul.

Peggy Noonan has written a most illuminating account of how the Pope’s visit to Poland in 1979 precipated the collapse of the entire Iron Curtain. Read “We Want God“.

Blessed are the peacemakers. They shall be called the children of God.

The Pope is Passing

pic of JPIIThroughout the day, I’ve gone to Yahoo! and refreshed the page to see if there’s been any more news concerning the Pope.

I’m 44 years old, and I was raised Baptist. After a born-again experience that radically changed my life when I was 13, I devoted myself to apprehending as much as I could of what God had for me. The adventure took through every major expression of Protestantism, and 10 years ago, into the peace and turmoil of the Catholic Church (and beyond). I’ve never really known a Catholic Church that wasn’t headed by Karol Wojtyla, the pope known to the world as His Holiness, John Paul II.

By the time you read this, chances are that John Paul will be “dead,” a word that I have to put in quotes, because any mystic knows that there is no such thing as death. But his smile, wave, and sometimes-infuriating tenacity will be gone.

Most popes have been chiefly administrators of the Church. John Paul II was a maverick. He traveled to every continent and nearly every country of the world, praying for peace and preaching peace. Behind the scenes, he would meet with dictators and urge them to practice tolerance. He was instrumental in preventing the democratic movements in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union from going the way of Tiananmen Square.

He lobbied consistently on behalf of the poor, against the exploitation of poor people by rich people, and poor countries by rich countries. He argued for dignity, fairness, and kindness to all, since all are created in the image of God. He fought against war and the death penalty; he had seen up close the horrors of war and killing, when the most terrible seizure of brutality that humanity has manifested enveloped his country.

He never wavered in proclaiming Christ as the Savior of the world. Yet he reached out with kindness and love to leaders of other religions, and invited the world to dialogue. He publicly asked God’s forgiveness for the Church’s past sins.

To many Catholics like myself, his weaknesses seemed to be in his official role of governing the Church. He resisted the reforms of Vatican II, and interpreted them as narrowly as possible. He scaled back the ministres of laity within the Church, as the priesthood continued to wither away. He often seemed unable to give the grace to more progessively-minded Catholics that he would give to the world in general. Proponents of change often found themselves silenced or censured, such as Matthew Fox OP, Anthony deMello SJ, Leonardo Boff OFM, Tissa Balasuriya OMI, not to mention dozens of lay teachers. The Church remains a largely pre-modern institution in a post-modern world, locked in Thomistic views about sex, birth control, and the capability of women to minister.

But whatever else can be said of him, he gave his all. He gave his heart, his hope, his health, and his life for his convictions and the world. He loved God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength, and he loved his neighbor as himself. He will be missed, and he will be remembered.

Requiescat in pace, Papa Johannes Paulus.

Frontline has an excellent biography of John Paul II.

Two Years, Two Millennia

It’s been two years now since the beginning of the second American war in Iraq. For the last few months, I’ve been reading Baghdad Burning ». a blog by an Iraqi woman writing under the pen-name of River. I find her blog more moving and informative than any “on the scene” reporting or theological discussion of nonviolence / just war. The blogosphere enables us to share our hearts with complete strangers on the other side of the world in a way that was never possible before.

In her most recent post », she recounts what the attack two years ago was like from her family’s perspective. She ends it with this question:

“Remember when the fear was still fresh- and the terror was relatively new- and it was possible to be shocked and awed in Iraq?”

It’s not that after two years, we still don’t get it. It’s that after two thousand years, we still don’t get it.

>Kyrie eleison.
Christe eleison.
Kyrie eleison.

Say no to the Death Squads

Newsweek has uncovered the Pentagon’s plans for “The Salvador Option »“–creating counter-insurgency groups in Iraq modeled after the notorious Salvadoran Death Squads funded by the Reagan administration.

Sojourner’s » has an online form » that will use the address information you provide to automatically sent your representatives an email condemning this proposal. If you do not want any further email from Sojourner’s simply uncheck the box at the bottom.

I, for one, regret that I wasn’t more active in opposing the war before it started. It’s not too late though, to click two links for peace.