Monday, December 12, 2005

DISSENTER'S NOTEBOOK: Advent in our Time II

How similar to our times are to those of 2,000 years ago:

One megalithic power controlling most of the world. Upstart splinter nations raising hell on the edges of the empire. Torture, intimidation, lies, secrecy, threats as the ordinary rules of political life. Death or secret imprisonment for those who do not conform…

Perhaps that picture is too harsh. Perhaps those days long ago are slandered by comparison with ours. There were powerful politicians then who wanted to hold commerce to high standards. Cicero comes to mind. Seneca… Thoughtful politicians who were also thoughtful philosophers. Marcus Aurelius comes to mind. And before them all, on the world’s other side, Confucius, the Buddha…

So perhaps our times are worse. Politicians -- not philosophers, but ideologues -- hide their actions not behind mere “veils of secrecy,” but heavy tapestries impenetrable to the strongest light. Lies and deceit are their primary strategies to gain their will and hoodwink their citizens. But, “Our Senate,” says Seneca, speaking of the Roman tradition before his own time, “always equated individual benefit with the public good.” The first task of government, Confucius insisted, was to call things by their right names. The first task of personal action, the Buddha insisted, was to do no unnecessary harm.

Into that world, not in any place one would expect it, a child was born in a stable.

What child is born unknown to us now? Who might save us now?

We may never know. Like the “Last of the Just” she may be impossible to discern in the cultural din, invisible even to the most pious. You can bet she will not be born in a hospital, germ free and cared for by science’s best. Nor even in some small town clinic where hard working doctors struggle with limited resources. Certainly not with a physician of any kind present. Maybe it will happen on some newspapers bunched up for a pad near some dumpster so the mother can be out of the wind. A grocery cart will be nearby holding everything the mother owns, a couple other homeless in attendance, frightened, stunned, by what is transpiring, their sighs a white mist in the cold.

And how would our wisest men ever find her? The birthplace would not show up on our satellite photos. If it did, they would be seized and sealed. But the word has already gone out from the nations: It is all right for children to die, thousands of them every day, from bad water. It is all right for children to go to war at eight or ten, carting AK-47’s longer than they are tall. It is all right for children to blow themselves and others apart in a good cause. It is all right for children to whimper in the night because they have not eaten for days, lie on their sides because they cannot sleep on their distended bellies. Unlike that earlier time, we do not limit these things to boys, or children under two. Compared to us, Herod was a wimp.

And how would we ever hear what she had to say? The word cannot go out person to person anymore. We only listen to media and the media only listens to – and speaks for -- obvious power. And our obvious power is determined to prevent peace, now wants to “target” (The language we use!) peace groups. A voice raised too high, reaching too many people with words of challenge to be our best, to feed the hungry and set the prisoner free, to bless those who are poor, to care for all creation, would soon be drowned in a frenzied corporate/ government/military sea of PR to let us know how foolish she must be. Poor, misguided, ignorant soul, she just does not understand how the world works, what we must do to protect our security, which means to protect the wealth of the powerful. She is clearly a threat.

And since too many churches have twisted that first child’s words to suit their own ends, and killed him off more powerfully than any crucifixion was able to do, even if this new one might get the word out, find a dozen followers, start a movement, this government may know that if it is patient enough (though it is not noted for patience, despite its claims), crucifixion will not be necessary. Her own followers will betray her and join forces with those who love power, despise the poor, plead for jails, cheer for war, go for individual gain and ignore the community.

So maybe our times are not much parallel to those earlier times at all. Even Dickens could claim his day as, “the best of times, the worst of times.” We cannot claim the best. Compared to 2,000 years ago, they may be worse.

And yet… And yet,there is this odd hope… perhaps immanent in the very hiddenness, the smallness, modesty and powerlessness such a child might represent, calling us powerfully to care. Born beside a dumpster, no one knowing… such hope in a tiny life, such power to transform a world, the possibility inherent in, insistent on, a new view of the possibilities innate in each of us, a new vision of how we might live, what we might bring from our disparate lives and disparate views to share around a table where we might sit down together and feast in the spirit of love that might move this aching, sick world toward peace, toward fulfillment not for a few, but for all… Sorry this seems so tentative and stammering… It seems so -- so impossible... And yet…

It seemed unlikely 2,000 years ago, and it surely seems unlikely now. But it happened then… We had a chance for a while. Maybe it can come again. No, not maybe: surely there is a chance still. Keep an eye out. Look down an alley, maybe especially the one we most disdain, or fear to walk in… Maybe there, in the shadows under the single bulb over that back door… Listen… there is a song… Hear it? “Rejoice,” it sings. “Rejoice,” it echoes again and again.

No government can kill it.