Tuesday, December 25, 2007

CHRISTMAS MESSAGE

Here's a speech given by a cousin of a good friend of mine. The man who wrote and delivered it is in his twenties, an Army chaplin, on his way to Iraq, and gave this speech to a gathering of other Army chaplins, who nowadays as my posts have been reporting, are almost entirely fundamentalist born again Christians.

As my friend said and i repeate, you may not agree with everything this guy believes in, but the power of the message is pretty undeniable, and certainly, for my taste, represents what this season and all seasons should be about, if people are going to live up to all the "faith" they profess and use to judge the rest of the world with.

Anyway, here's the message from Tim Meir:

FORGIVENESS

My idea of Hell is to be on an airplane and have the person next to me talk to me.

Quite a number of years ago now, I couldn’t wait to get home from the annual Society for Neurosciences International Convention, that year in Miami. More than 22,000 of my closest science nerd buddies were there, presenting their data, leaving me feeling inadequate, ashamed, overwhelmed, and grumpy. Besides, there was a late-season hurricane that November, and in addition to being grumpy, I was wet, constantly.

I arrived at the airport two hours before my plane was to take off – and this was long before 9/11! Bad move on my part, seeing as I discovered at 0400 when I sidled up to the ticket counter to get my boarding passes that my plane had been cancelled. I was wet and cold in Miami airport until another plane finally took off at 1130. We flew all the way to … Orlando. Great. It’s now after noon, I’ve been up more than nine hours, and I’ve gotten a whopping 45 minutes away from Miami. At least I was in an isle seat, with no one in the window seat next to me! Heaven.

But in Orlando, that’s when SHE got on the plane. You see, she started talking to me before she’d even sat down. This did not bode well for Tim. She talked and talked. I put on the headphones. She just kept talking. I remember thinking, “how could someone that short and old and overly tanned have so much energy?” And she just kept talking.

Now, I’d been clean and sober for many years at that point, so I finally said the Serenity Prayer, (when all else fails, follow directions, right?) and I surrendered to the situation. I took off the headphones and began to listen to her. She mentioned that she was excited to be on her way to the West Coast for her eldest granddaughter’s Bat Mizvah, because it meant that “they didn’t win.” She then said was supposed to read a prayer in Hebrew at the ceremony, but she was having trouble with it, since she’d not spoken Hebrew in a long time. I just couldn’t help myself. Besides being powerless over alcohol, I’m powerless over my mouth, and I suddenly heard myself saying, “I can read Hebrew.” She shoved the prayer under my nose, and commanded, “Read it, Schweetie.” I did, and then she said, “Oy! Maybe you should just come and read it yourself.”

I began to like her.

When I asked Hildie what she meant by “they didn’t win,” she asked me if I’d ever heard of the ship the Saint Louis. I admitted that I had not, but was certain I would soon find out. Hope does not disappoint….

In May 1939, an entrepreneur in Europe sold passage on the Saint Louis to Jews desperate to escape the Nazis and emigrate to the United States. Depending upon how much money they paid, people would have to wait from 3 months to 3 years in Cuba before being guaranteed a visa to the US. Nine hundred thirty-seven Jews boarded the ship. There were 60 members of Hildie’s family on that ship: her parents, her siblings, their spouses, in-laws, and children, her grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. When the St. Louis arrived in Havana harbor, the good Christians in the Cuban government would not let the Jews off the ship.

Now Hildie had come to the States to earn money to help her relatives escape. When she heard that the passengers weren’t allowed to disembark in Cuba, she stole $1742 from her job (a LOT of money at the time), took a train to Miami and a ship to Havana, and forced her way bodily into the home of the US Consul General, and demanded to be allowed onto – and off of – the Saint Louis, so she could give that stolen money to her parents. He gave her one hour to get to the harbor, get out to the ship, find her parents, and get back to shore. Hildie succeeded.

She found her parents, gave them the money, and the ship was forced to sail for Europe shortly thereafter, with her whole family on board. Hilde’s stolen money bought her parents’ entrance into Britain. But the rest of her family returned to the Continent.

Every single one of them, though they went into hiding, died in the camps.

They had all escaped! But they all died, because of the actions and inactions of so-called Christians in the Cuban, US, and various European governments. No wonder to Hildie, that her granddaughter being Bat Mitzvah meant that “they didn’t win”!

I was completely speechless. I know you’ll find this hard to believe, but that doesn’t happen often.

Over the next year, I’d call Hildie every so often. Each time I’d call, she’d ALWAYS say, “How come you never call?” It never mattered that *I* was the one who called, the greeting was always the same. Anyway, in December that next year I received a small box in the mail, and when I opened the box, I burst into tears – huge wracking sobs that took my breath away.

Hildie had sent me a Christmas gift. The note inside said she’d made it herself. I found out later it had taken her more than six months, once a week, at her Jewish Community Center, to complete it.

She had sent me this cloisonn├ę cross that I’m wearing – the quintessential Christian symbol for a Christian minister as a Christmas gift. Her whole family – who HAD ESCAPED – died in the concentration camps as a direct result of the actions and inactions of so-called Christians. One could think she might have a teeny-weeny resentment against Christians. Look at how many Americans feel anger toward all Muslims, despite the fact that only a small number were involved in 9/11! Hildie’s whole family died. In the camps. After they’d escaped. Because of so-called Christians. How would *you* feel? I’d almost certainly be resentful in excelsis.

I burst into tears because I realized instantly that I’d been convicted of my resentments and my inability or refusal to forgive. This little old Jewish woman taught me more in that instant about forgiveness than had a lifetime of reading, Scripture study, and relationships up to that point.

Forgiveness does not mean condoning or excusing. Forgiveness means giving up all hope of having had a different past. When I forgive, I get free from the past.

If Hildie could get to the point of making this cross as a Christmas gift for a Christian minister in the light of her trauma, who am I to rehearse and nurture my resentments against those who have supposedly “wronged” me?

But wait, there’s more!

Shortly after I met Hildie, a friend sent the following prayer to me, after I’d mentioned Hildie and the Saint Louis.

O Lord, remember not only the men and women of good will, but also those of ill will. But do not remember all the suffering they have inflicted on us; remember the fruits we have bought,
thanks to this suffering -- our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart which has grown out of all of this, and when they come to
judgment let all the fruits which we have borne be their forgiveness.

Prayer written by an unknown prisoner in Ravensb├╝rck concentration camp and left by the body of a dead child.

How could someone, in the face of such horror, come up with such sentiments?

I felt enraged at the carnage wrought on 9/11, and even more so after my younger brother as the medical director of the Michigan Urban Search and Rescue team, raced to Ground Zero to look for survivors, placing himself in harm’s way as a result of the actions of those cowards. I wanted to make “them” pay – whoever the “them” was. There were lots of voices on the airwaves and “internet tubes” who screamed for blood. I was right there with them.

But a still, small voice stirred within me and drew me again and again to the Scripture passage we just read: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Mt 6:14-15) This, of course, follows on the heels of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew’s Gospel.

I just HATE that about Jesus! It would be so much easier being a Christian if I didn’t have to pay attention to stuff he said like that!

I’ve scoured the New Testament – even in Greek! -- looking for the parts where Jesus tells his followers, after he’s been resurrected, “I’m gonna make you PAY for having deserted me,” or “you who did this to me are going to be in a world of hurt when *I* get through with you!” But all I can find him saying is mamby-pamby stuff like “Peace be with you” and “Do not be afraid.” (Could it be that I’m using a “Catholic” Bible?”) Instead of hearing Jesus say, “stomp your enemies into the ground,” he says, “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you… Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:27ff) He’s got to be kidding, doesn’t he?

If my response to 9/11 is that we should just “nuke ‘em into the stone age” – an exact quote of mine shortly after the event, and when I was all hot about my baby brother rummaging through the wreckage, collecting human body parts – I’m not “loving my enemies” and I’m certainly not forgiving. I deserve better.

I keep hoping, but I never find what I’m looking for, the New Testament justification of my desire for revenge. So I’m left with the example of Hildie, and this cross, which is the example of Jesus.

I still HATE that!

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