Sunday, May 28, 2006

Bumper Sticker Politics

Two months ago, Kwakersaur posted a link to an organization I'd never heard of -- Every Church a Peace Church. Two months ago, also, Tom Fox died in Iraq for asserting pacifist beliefs in a war situation. At the same time, while many churches openly supported the peace effort, too many condemned it. I was dismayed at the lack of peace orientation in Christian churches. Tom's giving of his life made me consider becoming more assertively pacifist.

So, if you've been following this blog at all, you'll know I've been writing letters to church leaders asking about their peace orientation. The replies have died off, so I'm assuming I won't be hearing from any more of them. Pope Benedict appears to have declined to reply. I'm crushed.

I contacted this organization Every Church a Peace Church and asked for a bumper sticker. Fortunately for me, they sent two, because the bumper sticker read: "Is your church a peace church?" instead of what you see in the picture. That's just a little too in-your-face for Canada. Or maybe it was just a little too assertive for me. Confrontational, even accusatory. I dunno - I wasn't comfortable with it.

So I cut-and-paste letters from one bumper sticker onto the other to make the current message, whichto me reads more like an idea or a query, something to think about or wish for. A wouldn't-it-be-great-if message or a how-it-should-be message. Getting the letters to line up was a bit of a trick, but it doesn't look too bad from here. I covered it all with clear mack-tack to hold it all in place.

And for the first time in my life, I put a bumper sticker on my car.

It seems like such a small gesture. Slack-tivism, as a friend of mine calls it. "It's the least I could do." Very literally.

But there it is on my car for all the world to see. My neighbours, my friends, dog walkers, shoppers. It's like I'm outed as a pacifist.

Every time I see it, I'm taken aback. It's as if I'm not used to it. I return to the parking lot, key in hand, and then I see it.

Bumper sticker.

For a second, I'm always surprised. Who put that there? I feel naked.

This is an army town. It's also a university town. There is one soldier in our Meeting, who served in Rwanda (and another from upstate NY who sneaks across the border to come to Meeting occasionally -- we don't even know his phone number).

My son's Cub leaders are ex-military. They would have seen my car by now. They're nice people. What do they make of it? Do they think I'm a nutcase? They always smile and talk very nicely to me. Is that for real, or is it because they've read the bumper sticker and want to show that they're open-minded?

It's been on my car for a few weeks now. Nobody has even mentioned it, not even my next-door neighbours, who are very kindly and chatty. Do people feel embarrassed by it? Are they afraid to mention it to me in case I go on a tirade?

I can't hide it because it's there.

Bumper sticker. Read who I am in five words or less.

It doesn't go away now. I need a special soap to remove it.

On the outside, I feel uncomfortable, nervous, apprehensive. But on the inside, deep down, something somewhere is dancing.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Da Vinci Code

In the news today are reports of protests and calls for boycotts of the opening of the Da Vinci Code. Thailand, the Phillipines, Singapore, India, Greece. Probably the US Midwest too, somewhere. Hindu India has put a hold on the release (because in a country of 1 billion people, they've received 200 phone calls!). Even conservative Muslims in some countries have joined in the protest, I guess to help smooth over some of the excesses of the cartoon controversy and possibly to show some open-mindedness. They're saying nobody should ever be allowed to say anything against anybody's religion. Like I said, open-mindedness.

It's kind of funny, really. The media keep interviewing the actors and directors about the controversy. And I admire them all for keeping a straight face, giving solemn answers, refraining from rubbing their hands in glee. I mean, you can *buy* advertising like that.

I'm living proof. I normally wouldn't go to see a thriller. Heck, I normally wouldn't get out to see a movie at all. I didn't even go see The Passion of Christ (I hate when I already know the ending). But I'll probably go see the Da Vinci Code. I want to see what all the fuss was about. I've watched so many documentaries and newscasts and skimmed enough of my husband's copy of the book when he isn't reading it that now I'm intrigued. What a cool idea for a movie.

You see, advertising in action.

The advertisers -- I mean, the protesters -- are conservative Catholic, fundamentalist evangelical, and orthodox. They say that the movie disseminates an untruth, that it will poison people's minds, that it shows disrespect for their religion.

I say it's a movie, people. It's Hollywood. And I think deep down the protesters know that. You'd have to be living in the Pleistocene not to be aware that movies are entertainment. Nobody walked out of Jurassic Park looking for dinosaur eggs to hatch. Nobody protested that Honey I Shrunk the Kids was going to poison kids' minds about relativity. Movies are about the "willing suspension of disbelief." We all get that -- and so do the protesters. So I don't think that's what this protest is all about.

I don't buy the disrespect for religion argument either -- it seems too weak somehow. Does anyone really believe that respect for your religion mean that I'm not allowed to read books or watch movies about whatever my religion-slash-ideology is? I suspect these are just handy slogans to print on protest signs, maybe to drum up a bit of sympathy. They imply that this is a human rights issue somehow, that the protesters are victims of religious intolerance. It's kind of pitiful bleating, to my way of thinking.

But I'm not saying that they shouldn't be angry. They should. I mean, they really, really should. But I think they should be more clear about what they're angry about. Maybe they're not really clear themselves. So I'm going to say it here.

Here's my point -- The arrival of this movie on this theme at this period in our cultural evolution is not exactly an accident. Directors like Ron Howard take on movies that they know people are ready to see, maybe even hungering to see. This movie is not about what Jesus and Mary M did or didn't do, because in the modern world, who cares? The story is a direct attack on the conservative religious mindset. It's a howling of rage against the stranglehold that theology has had on truth. Never mind whether that truth is true, or whether it's a fiction, or whether people will believe it or not, or whether it will make our hands fall off. Stop looking at the plotline and look at the faces.

In this story, fundamentalism is the enemy. Opus Dei is the enemy. Theological suppression of truth is the theme. In this story, fiction and truth battle each other -- and it's orthodoxy that is the fiction.

This is no accident. There is a starkly modern theology to this movie. It says that truth is more holy than books and doctrines. That those who hold themselves up as holy often do so to the point of becoming evil. That a Jesus who was earthy and real is more sacred and believable than a Jesus who was starchy and pure. That fundamentalism and unquestioning orthodoxy is evil. That apostates are heroes. That the pervasive religious ideology of this age is truthful, curious, natural, human.

It's this unspoken message in the movie that should make conservatives shudder.

But I think what really makes them take to the streets is their dread of seeing themselves on the screen. Who would want to be portrayed as being cunning, power-hungry, and darkly efficient? Who would want to see themselves presented as the arch enemy of modern civilization, the stiflers of true inquiry, the upholders of ancient lies?

That's gotta hit a nerve or two.

But it ain't the sort of thing you'd want to put on a protest sign, now, is it?

Monday, May 08, 2006

Baptist Peace Testimony

Today I received a letter from the American Baptist Churches USA to my letter regarding the need to speak out as peace churches. (See previous responses and letters)

It was like getting hit in the head. I've got Baptists all wrong. I am humbled. Here where I would have least expected it is a peace church. So much for stereotypes.

The letter was brief, but enclosed were three documents. The first two were the American Baptist Resolution the Abolition of War, and the American Baptist Policy Statement on Peace. These one-paragraph statements echo our own Peace Testimony.

We record our conviction that war as a method of settling international disputes is barbarous, wasteful, and manifestly contrary to every Christian ideal and teaching...

Therefore, the Christian community is compelled by its understanding of the gospel to seek peaceful solutions to international crises for the sake of abundant life...We will persistently seek alternatives to war as a means of settling international disputes.

The third document was a three-page document entitled the American Baptist Policy Statement on Violence (which can be accessed here), a powerful and deeply moving discussion of violence. Violence in their definition is not limited to war: in fact, war is merely the effect of a history and culture of violence.

Modern U. S. society was born through violent ways, through the subjugation and exploitation of many of its peoples. The multiple horrors of the destruction of native peoples, the enslavement of African peoples, and the exploitation of immigrants are major strands of a web of economic, cultural, political, and societal commitments that have inevitably led to violence.

The culture of violence is manifested both in the pervasiveness of overt acts of physical force and in the more subtle dynamics by which harm is persistently done to people. This culture of violence is reflected in such ways as: the glorified role of violence in historic frontier communities; violence in the family; violence of sexual abuse, incest and rape; violence in the workplace; violence in the schools; violence in the streets; violence in the criminal justice system; violence in the use of guns, knives, and other weapons of assault; violence in the military; violence in war; violence in the marketing of weapons; violence of industries that profit by harming others; violence in the media; violence in music; violence of hate crimes; violence of the systematic destruction of the earth; and the existence of nuclear weapons, wherein we have seized the divine prerogative to determine the destiny of humanity.

Wow. That about covers it.

The paper goes on to discuss how Christians become "numbed by [violence's] frequency and enculturation in our lives." It presents a list of biblical reasons why Christians cannot support violence and must work to dismantle violence as a "witness that affirms the well-being of the creation, peacemaking, and life."

Then the paper lists the prophetic calls of American Baptists:

1. To be peacemakers, builders of God's shalom;

2. To work for the prevention of violence, the peaceful resolution of conflicts and just reconciliation;

3. To advocate for a more responsible media;

4. To challenge ideologies, structures, politics and policies that lead to violence.

The paper ends with a list of tasks:

1. To call on our churches to preach the life-transforming power of Christ, applying this message concretely to our tendency toward violence;

2. To educate ourselves on the constructive use of conflict;

3. To educate ourselves about the violence in the media and culture and to advocate for corrective measures as part of our responsibility as disciples of Christ;

4. To facilitate the development of conflict-resolution teams, violence prevention strategies and nonviolent means of political and social change;

5. To promote the inclusion of victims in the process of creating solutions to issues of violence;

6. To identify and utilize effective models of healing for those who have been victimized by violence;

7. To advocate for further regulations on the manufacturing and use of life-threatening products;

8. To join with other organizations to act locally and nationally to curtail violence.

9. To avoid investments in companies that are involved in the manufacture and/or distribution of life-threatening products.

I've read Jimmy Carter's books and listened to Bruce Cockburn's songs all my life, and I always wondered why they seemed so, well, cool despite being Baptist. But I see their compassion and devotion to Jesusian principles in these statements.

I'll never tell a Baptist joke again.