Sunday, April 04, 2004

I am just finishing up a biography on Hirohito, the Showa Emperor of Japan, or the one who preceded the current one. Japanese Historical trivia: the current one is the Heisei Emperor, his dad, Showa, his dad, Taisho, and his dad, Meiji. They give names other than their actual ones to their reigns, and then the country dates everything according to that reign. For example, we are now living in Heisei 16 (current Emperor Akihito began his reign 16 years ago). I was born in Showa 50. Meiji dates take you back to the late 1800's.

The Showa emperor is the one who reigned during the attack of Pearl Harbor, the bombing of Hiroshima, etc., so this book deals in depth with WW2. Anyway, I am not planning to review the book or anything, I just wanted to write down a possibly strange string of thoughts that I had while reading the book. It started with thinking, wow, if there can be a good guy, then, despite atrocities like Hiroshima, the Americans were the closest thing to a good guy in WW2. And it ended with me thinking how small groups in intentional community is really the best expression of the values of the kingdom of God that I have encountered. Here is the path:

From what I can gather, the culture of rulership in Japan at the beginning of the 20th century had really taken a page from our book. Where I am from, the white man showed up on the shores of... well, pretty much every continent that wasn't theirs, believing that they had come to bring the absolute truth of their superior culture, and to bestow or impose the God-ordained natural racial order upon those who needed some "civilizing". The Japanese at the time had embraced a very similar ideal within an Asian context. They saw Asia, and ultimately the world as existing within a divinely ordained racial order, of course led by the benevolent yet superior Japanese race. I guess the Germans probably thought roughly the same thing. One shudders to think at what might have happened if these facist ideals had not been stopped... but then one shudders again to think that in the case of the Spanish, the British (I include Canada in there), the Americans - the ones who got down to it first and committed their sins two or three hundred years earlier - the same fascist ideals were not stopped. Mass genocides were committed, entire cultures were enslaved or destroyed. From this it would be easy to argue that we got away with our fascism, but had grown up a little by the time WW2 rolled around. It makes one wonder at the answer to the question, what would have happened if the Axis powers had triumphed?? One or two hundred years later, would Japanese and German societes have evolved to a place of increased freedom, though with vague knowledge and guilt about the cultures they had oppressed or destroyed - something like what we have now in North America?

Ok that was a rabbit trail. But my basic thought was that in WW2, all things considered, the Americans were as close as you can get to a good guy. So then my thought becomes, in the realm of the people of God, perhaps the thing that makes the most sense is for the Christian to throw his or her lot in with these "good guys" as they are as good as it gets. But then methinks, what about the Romans? They were the good guys of their times too, known for brutal excess at times, but generally history gives them a good report. Yet it was exactly within a Roman context that Christ and his followers lived out their "love your enemy", "do good to those that hurt you", "though we live in this world, we do not fight as the world does" kind of lifestyles. Christ gives no indication that identifying yourself with these "good guys" is the way to go. On the contrary, in this context of various and competing national loyalties, Christ consistently speaks of only one loyalty for his people, that of the kingdom of God.

And maybe that is because he was a perfectionist. Invariably in the discussion about Christian allegiance the notion of "realism" comes up; something along the lines of "we know Christ said some radical stuff, but it can't really be applied, we have to be "realistic". But Christ was no realist, at least in that sense of applying the principles of the kingdom to over-arching entities, like nations, which have no interest in applying them. Or maybe no ability. One can imagine what a nation applying kingdom principles might look like , but what results is so far from reality that it's laughable. But Christ was the perfectionist, asking for big things from his followers, whether love for enemies or freedom from possessions and money, etc (of course, don't get me wrong, he was also big on grace when we don't meet his perfection - nobody does - but he still points us there).

Perhaps that is why Christ's metaphors for his followers are salt or yeast, because we were never supposed to try to be the whole ball of dough. Generally in history when Christians find themselves in a place of power, a lot of pain for any one in the way, and not a lot of unconditional love and compassion, result. What I am thinking is that maybe, due to the nature of power, large powerful entities are unable to put into practice the ideas that Jesus taught. That is why you hear them finding alternate options to the teachings of Christ.

But if this challenge is impossible for large groups, where so quickly the demand for government and control choke out the heart of compassion, maybe it is just a little more possible in the context of a small group of people committing themselves to love and incarnation. I say "a little more" because where I am coming from, it still seems almost impossibly hard. Everytime I try to live in a place of closer community, I quickly run into my own selfish amibitions or desires which compel me right back out of community. And I wonder if maybe that cycle is the just same thing that has been happening since Jesus went up into the sky that day. The first disciples, the ones who walked with him and knew the best of anyone what he was all about, looked his life and teachings in the eye and decided that the best way to live like he had told them to was to sell their stuff and live in a community setting where "none of them had any need". But bible historians say that right off the beginning is the only place in the early church where you can find this happening. Well, I can tell you what happened. Humanity happened. They found out that it is damn hard to try living that close to a Jesus sort of perfection while having the nature that we have. Then later on, again and again, some brave groups, whether the Franciscans or the Waldensians or the Hutterites or Jesus People USA looked Jesus in the eye and decided once again they had to give it a try, with various degrees of success.

K. Long enough. And that was the basic thought trail, with some embellishment...

No comments: