Sunday, January 28, 2018

Recognise, Rebuke and Reject

I have always loved reading. I was an early reader and as a child it was said that I “always had my head in a book.” I have memories of lying under my bedcovers with a torch (American flashlight) reading until late. The habit continued into adulthood (although minus the torch). After everything else is done I pull out my kindle and read a few pages before I drop off to sleep. Unfortunately, it hurts more when a kindle drops on your head than a book!

One of the genres I like to read is biographies. Last week the Kindle “daily deal” was a book advertised as about a man surviving in World War II. (Laura Hillenbrand, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption. NY, Random House, 2014.)

The title didn’t really grip me but for $1.99 worth it was worth a try. It turns out the man, Louie Zamperini, was a famous runner. Although he is now the subject of two films, I must confess I had never heard of him before.

Last night, I read about his attempt in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. After he had run — he didn’t win a medal but created a new record for the fastest last lap— he met Hitler who shook his hand and commented on his last lap.

It was strange reading this knowing that I was doing so on Holocaust Remembrance Day. The official commemorations take place after sundown when the Jewish Sabbath ends. January 27 was the day the Russian army liberated prisoners from Auschwitz. In 2005, United Nations designated “27 January as an annual International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust.”

 Here are a couple of further quotes from the document. I would encourage everyone to read it in full.

“Reaffirming that the Holocaust, which resulted in the murder of one third of the Jewish people, along with countless members of other minorities, will forever be a warning to all people of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice”

Condemns without reserve all manifestations of religious intolerance, incitement, harassment or violence against persons or communities based on ethnic origin or religious belief, wherever they occur;”

Last night, as I read Louie Zamperini’s story one line caused me to pause and ponder. After his meeting with Hitler he went out on the town. Later that night he decided to steal a Nazi flag which was over a building where he had just watched Hitler enter.

The author wrote, “The banner didn’t yet carry much symbolic meaning for him, or many other Americans, in the summer of ‘36.”

Yet, in the very next paragraph he describes how guards caught him in the action of taking the flag which, ultimately, he was allowed to keep. The comment this time was, “The one thing Louie knew about Nazis was that they were anti-Semitic, so when he gave his name, he delivered it in an exaggerated Italian fashion, rolling the r, . . . for about two minutes.”

So, I paused and reflected. How did these two statements match? How could he say the flag had not got much symbolic meaning and yet know about the anti-Semitism? This was only three years before war broke out.

The book continued with a brief mention of another Olympic athlete, basketball player Frank Lubin. He remained in Berlin for a few days at the invitation of his hosts. He noted many Juden Verboten signs reappearing in restaurants and public places. They hadn’t been present during the games.

With all this buzzing around my head I read the lectionary passage. It is the story of Jesus casting out a demon. It is in the first chapter of the book of Mark (21-28). It is the start of the story, so in some ways sets the scene.

I noted three things that happened that I want to keep hold of. Firstly, a menace, an evil was recognised (23). Secondly, it was rebuked, “Be Silent” (25) and finally, it was rejected, “Come out of him” (25).

In society, in contemporary times, there seems to be a rise in hate. The media is full of stories of hate crimes against those perceived to be different. It is a scourge on present society. According to The Independent:

In the first three months of 2017, the number of antisemitic incidents in the US was 86 per cent higher than the previous year. In the UK, antisemitic incidents last year hit record levels.”

See also

It is important that these things are recognized (seen for the evil they are), that they are rebuked (spoken against) and that they are rejected (refusal to have any part in them).

This weekend, as the holocaust and all those who were murdered, are remembered. It is important that the words “never again” are at the forefront of both contemporary society and individual people’s minds.

I’ll close with more words from the United Nations:

“We must also go beyond remembrance, and make sure that new generations know this history. We must apply the lessons of the Holocaust to today’s world. And we must do our utmost so that all peoples must enjoy the protections and rights for which the United Nations stands."[1]

(Photo: Seahouses UK, August 2017)

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Look and Listen — A New Year is Waiting.

Everything is white!

When I look out of my windows it is all I see, a huge expanse of white interspersed with white trees. Most of it is still untrodden (and at -17C who would want to venture out!). It is a clean sheet of white awaiting someone to make an impression in it.

In some ways, newly fallen snow is a bit like January. A whole year stretches in front of one. Untrodden and unmarked. What will be imprinted on it? What direction will steps be taken into it? What choices will be made?

When I open the door, the pugs rush out into the clean, white snow. Full of joy, bounding through snow, spinning in circles, making tunnels with their bodies until cold drives them back into the house. In some ways that is a great way to appreciate January, full of joy, carefree, leaping into a new experience until something calls a halt to it. What a great way to be. Certainly, in part, I want that to be the way I approach life.

Yet, I also want to be a bit more mindful of how I journey through the rest of the year stretching before me. There are a couple of hints in the lectionary readings that stood out to me as I read the texts for this week.

The first one I noted is found in the story of Jesus calling the disciples. It is just three small words in Philip’s conversation with Nathanael (John 1:43-51). Philip approached Nathanael to tell him about Jesus. Nathanael made a remark that was a little distaining. Rather than engage in a dispute or try to justify his position, Philip simply issued an invitation, “Come and see.”

How wise of Philip to respond that way and how wise of Nathanael to take up the invitation.

The second lectionary passage that stood out to me was the story of the boy Samuel (1 Samuel 3:1-10). As the boy lay sleeping he thought he heard the priest calling for him and went to offer his assistance. This happened three times. In the tale, finally, the priest wisely realized it may be God talking and instructed Samuel in how to reply. Samuel took the advice and the next time the voice called, he replied, “Speak for your servant is listening.”

So, as I put these two passages together, I thought they made a great picture of a way to live. A way to proceed into the untrodden part of 2018. A way to make footprints in the snow of this year.

The phrase “come and see” speaks of having eyes wide open to what is before me. Not to be just content to follow someone else, but to want the experience. To take time to look, to look deeply, into what is around. I don’t want to miss the beauty and wonder of nature and creation. I don’t want to fail to notice acts of kindness and generosity in people I meet. In addition, the phrase “speak, your servant is listening” is equally important. I want to take time to hear. I want to listen. I don’t want to miss the subtlety of the sounds and voices around me.

A year is stretching before me. I want to tread it wisely. So, with all the joy I saw in the pugs, I want to take time to look and listen as I journey through the ensuing months.