Monday, June 25, 2007

When Christians Torture

The Torture Of St. Victor was created by an unknown painter in 1490.
O to be delivered
from the rational
into the realm of
pure song...
---Theodore Roethke
Remember these teachings, remember the clear light, the pure bright shining white light of your own nature. It is deathless.
---The Tibetan Book Of The Dead
The healthy person doesn't torture others. Generally, it's the tortured who turn into torturers.
---C.G. Jung
I've never been comfortable with the notion of the United States as a Christian nation. Even as a child, I wondered what trusting in God was doing printed on all our money. Was it supposed to be a reminder not to get too involved in the things of this earth? If so, I'm not sure that strategy has worked.
I knew no Pagans, Muslims, Buddhists or Hindus in the 1940s, but Jews were among our neighbors and family friends. A classroom assignment in the second grade in which we were supposed to write a paragraph about our family's Christmas celebration and then read it aloud reduced a Jewish friend to tears when it was his turn. He read, "In my family we have no Christmas. We have no Christmas tree. There is no Santa Claus or presents." And he put his head down on his desk and cried. That's a long time for me to remember that essay. Obviously it changed me forever.
In the 1950s during the "Red Scare" and McCarthy's era, I remember distinctly when "under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance. We said the pledge in school everyday, and at first nobody could get it right. The teachers finally said we didn't have to say the new thing if we didn't want to, but just be silent during the time others might say it. I still don't say it.
So it's been quite a stretch for someone as old as me and so often described as a kid who always was thinking about things to get my head around the policies my government has evolved the last quarter century. Bush described his foreign policy at first as a Crusade. He quickly was shut up, not so much because it didn't describe the spiritual nature of Globalization, as his family saw it, but because the term obviously brought back some memories for followers of Islam...and after all, some of those guys are clients.
When the first photographs from Abu Ghraib came out, I thought sure the White House game was up...and I said so. I remembered a couple of photos from Viet Nam that lost us that war, or whatever it was. But the years and months and deaths have dragged on since then. Aren't Americans affected anymore? And what of the Republican "Christian base?" How do they theologize treatment of "detainees?" Do they think about it? Do they pray for them? Do they forgive? Do they love?
As I've written before, we have a new priest at The Church of the Good Shepherd. Bill Carroll and his family have been with us a year now, and so I'm glad to let him know he's not "new" to me anymore but instead a wonderful leader and accepted easily as my personal priest. His wife Tracey is a priest too, although understandably she ministers as Mother more to their 2 children than to us right now.
Both share strong academic backgrounds and Bill clearly is a biblical scholar and Anglican historian. Sometimes his sermons reflect a prior career of lecturing to theology students...which is fine with me. Perhaps there's some of that in the message he delivered yesterday. He used as his text a line from Psalm 63, which we had chanted earlier in the service, and spent most of the sermon differentiating between an idol and an ikon. That's an important distinction to make in one's worship, in whatever religion, but why am I writing to you about it this morning?
It's because at the end, he suddenly made a connection between idolatry and the frame of mind it must take to torture someone that I find stunning. And of course it's because Christians worship Christ who was tortured to death.

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