Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Playing Chicken with Evil

I remember the good old-fashioned butcher parties at my grandparent’s farm. Headless chickens flapped frightfully around the barnyard before dropping lifeless, surrendering to a roast pan future. Precious memories; how they linger. Such imagery drives some to tofu. Nothing against tofu, which has a place in the food chain right next to playdough, but we’ve lost sight of what this world is really like.

I once visited southern Alberta’s Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo-Jump (the name says it all) to learn of the amazing ways Aboriginals provided for themselves. A yearly ritual of driving bison off cliffs to their bloody end was needed in order for the community to survive year to year. Life teeters hazardously close to the brink and it’s not always grocery store appealing.

The stark reality of life on our planet has been airbrushed away. As true as this may be with food, it is even more real when it comes to evil. For all the horrors we’re exposed to via the media, the entertainment value of evil has never been higher. We know this is a problem, don’t we? Still, there is the paradoxical belief out there that somehow evil should never actually touch us. We’ve set up ways, means, and securities to make sure it doesn’t and seem honestly aghast when evil slips through our feeble Maginot lines. Now, without a doubt, we—and Christians specifically—should be working with all our might to counter evil in all its chameleonic forms. We know the Good and that in him there is no darkness. Still, I wonder if we haven’t begun, with our culture, to think of ourselves more highly than we ought.

Do we see things too rosy? Do we only see cordon bleu without the plucking mess? Have we swallowed an unbiblical notion of human nature that is highly optimistic, but light on sin and Satan? Have we forgotten that humanity consistently flirts with chaos?

Romano Guardini wrote, “All monsters of the wilderness, all horrors of darkness have reappeared. The human person again stands before the chaos; and all of this is so much more terrible, since the majority do not recognize it: after all, everywhere scientifically educated people are communicating with one another, machines are running smoothly, and bureaucracies are functioning well.” That was penned in 1950, within spitting distance of Auschwitz and Hiroshima. It sounds like it could have been posted on Facebook last week.

We find ourselves in a blind culture. We must be a people of faith and hope striving against evil, but is that possible where we don’t recognize how dark and bloody evil really is?

Perhaps we need courage to name the evils in our communities and begin singing and praying seditiously, “Deliver us from evil.” We do a lot of trying to convince ourselves humanity will grow out of its rebellious stage if only they’d read or vote right. Let’s get over it. Life is messy. That nice lean chicken breast once lost its head and evil will not be overcome with wishful thinking or human philosophies and philanthropies alone. Let’s be honest, we are all—even pacifists—capable of the darkest of deeds, misdeeds, and undone deeds. The head of evil is only smashed-in by Good confronting evil head-on and conquering in love. Have we forgotten the victory of the cross? Have we forgotten what it took to rescue us? Have we stopped praying for deliverance?

So, enjoy your Buffalo wings, join the Lamb in his invasion of goodness, but for goodness’ sake, be awake to the evil that lurks and who the Deliverer truly is.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

I'm confused

The movie Blood Diamond is a fascinating study in what makes men tick. Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a Zimbabwean diamond smuggler who through cinematic fate finds his life tied to a West African fisherman named Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou).

Archer lost his parents tragically as a child and now lives the lonely and dangerous life of a mercenary who makes cheap diamonds a girl’s best friend. He lives for the adrenaline of the chase – the chase for elusive jewels, for money, for women, from enemies, and ultimately, the chase for purpose in his wounded and empty life.

Vandy, conversely, has almost nothing except his family. He is a husband and father in a poor African nation. When his family is torn apart in the brutal Sierra Leone civil war and he is enslaved in the mines everything he does is aimed at reuniting his brood. They are his life. He is as driven as Archer, only his arrow is pointed in the opposite direction.

As Danny and Solomon embark on a final trek to find a valuable and hidden blood diamond it is for divergent reasons. Archer is looking to get rich to escape the life he knows. Solomon is looking to escape back to the life he knew. A telling conversation ensues in which Solomon asks Danny piercing questions of meaning and purpose. Does he have a wife? No. Does he have children? No.

Solomon literally stops in his tracks. It makes no sense to risk life and limb for no real purpose. Why this pointless extreme existence? “I’m confused,” he blurts.
“That makes two of us,” replies the despairing smuggler as he marches off in his perplexity to chase another shiny rock. His life is extreme in its blandness. The rush is a sedative. The karat glint distracts from a heart of stone, a vacuum of purpose, a life with adventure but no meaning.

What’s so extreme about living solely for self? What’s so wild and adventurous about that when we do it all the time? That’s just normal. The Danny Archers and couch potatoes of this world are simply polar opposites of the same reality. The only difference is one goes down in a blaze of glory while the other goes down in a haze of corn chips. Don’t we know if we’re really honest, that such extremes are not extreme at all? At the end of Blood Diamond we pity the tragic Archer whose aim was so late on target, while Solomon’s simple, purposeful, selfless life is always extremely attractive. Which man got it right? Are these the only choices?

Hear the words of Jesus Christ, the Lord of history, “What is impossible with men is possible with God” (Luke 18:27). Any extreme life we might imagine is Saturday morning cartoons compared to what is possible with God. Jesus is responding to his confused disciples about who is in the Kingdom of God. Jesus upends our normalcy, as extreme or honourable as it may be, and invites us into the potential of the Kingdom of God. You see, for Jesus there is a third way besides the way of Archer and even Vandy. Family is good, Solomon has purpose, but Jesus pushes to a new extreme vision for life: “I tell you the truth, no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life” (Luke 18:29-30).

The extreme life is not focused on self, neither is it focused solely on those closest to us, it is life abandoned unto God. This is the third way, the super-natural life to which Jesus points. We are called to a grand yet single purpose, to leave the wilds, the banal and even the admirable for the impossible possibilities of life in the footsteps of Christ. This is the extreme life that confuses our natural tendencies, but it is what Jesus calls us to. Or, is he too extreme?