Monday, November 7, 2011

Post #52 - Zeal and Xenophobia

Thomas More
"…and give me, good Lord, a humble, lowly, quiet, peaceable, patient, charitable, kind, tender and pitiful mind, in all my works and all my words and all my thoughts, to have a taste of your holy, blessed Spirit." (Sir Thomas More, one week before his beheading)

"Over the last two centuries, we have tamed and converted Jesus -- a Jesus scarcely recognizable to the Jewish Jesus of the 1st century who eschewed the trappings of power and privilege and the illusions of security based in coercion, force, and violence. The American Jesus is a believer in the American Empire and its salvific role in human history. It is the American Jesus that prevails in our discourse and this discourse is itself a sign of a spiritual malady. It is a malady in the sense of a deflection from and distortion of the Gospel -- an idolatrous relation couched and ensconced in Christian discourse. The Gospel no longer confronts us, judges us, moves or challenges us to seek God's mercy, compassion, and forgiveness and to let go of our trust in what is contingent and relative. Instead, we move the Gospel to suit us; we transform the Jewish Jesus into a distinctly America Jesus who supports -- tacitly or overtly -- the American Empire." (Ryan LaMothe, PhD, from "Empire Matters: Implications for Pastoral Care" in The Journal of Pastoral Care and Counseling, 2007)

"I am a sojourner in a strange land." (Exodus 2:22)

For many years, one talked of America perennially swinging between isolationism and internationalism. In the last couple of decades we've managed to combine the least attractive aspects of each. We have projected massive U.S. power abroad while listening to no one else, even our staunchest allies. We have squandered both decades-old goodwill and the special sympathy generated by 9/11, and thereby isolated ourselves more than at any time in recent memory.

Remember that the Christian tradition, starting with the Apostle Paul, is that the Good News is to be proclaimed to all -- xenophobia could have nipped Christianity in the bud, were it not for God's having revealed His truth to the man then called Saul on the road to Damascus – one of the Middle Eastern capitals that our own leaders now decline to visit. Xenophobia is still a poor basis for foreign policy.

Tomb of Hafiz, Shiraz
When I read the excellent ethnography Women of Deh Koh: Lives in an Iranian Village, what struck me most about author Erika Friedl's introduction was the professionalism and humility captured in this short sentence: “For almost five years of the last twenty years I have lived in Deh Koh as a stranger learning to listen.” She decried both dismissive judgments of village life as backward and in need of “saving,” and romantic visions of a heroic and idyllic pastoral existence. Opting instead to actually pay attention to how her subjects themselves understood their lives, Friedl modeled the kind of sober, sensitive approach that we should take toward the people of other nations. To listen is not always to agree, but not to listen is to court disaster. An American who traveled to Iran this year, Stanley Rich, wrote: “The Persian poet Hafiz instructs us in compassionate listening to others: 'How do I listen to others? As if everyone was my master speaking to me his cherished last words.'”

My own prayer, as I prepared to go to Iran in 2006, was this:

Lord, guide my feet to walk in Iranian shoes.
Lord, guide my hands to reach out to theirs.
Lord, incline my head to listen and understand.
Lord, let my mouth give forth only kind words.
Lord, strengthen my legs to carry me to journey’s end.
Lord, give us Your peace.

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