Tuesday, November 11, 2014

On the coming 10th anniversary: A Common Place Reader; selections from past Novembers

"The Lord has plucked up proud men by their roots, and planted the lowly peoples." "He hath put down the mighty." - from the daily office in May, 1965.

If I were more fully attentive to the word of God I would be much less troubled and disturbed by the events of our time; not that I would be indifferent or passive, but I could gain strength of union with the deepest currents of history, the sacred currents, which run opposite to those on the surface a great deal of the time!

--Thomas Merton

The Roman Empire was based on the common principle of peace through victory, or, more fully, on a faith in the sequence of piety, war, victory, and peace. Paul was a Jewish visionary following in Jesus' footsteps, and they both claimed that the Kingdom of God was already present and operative in this world. He opposed the mantras of Roman normalcy with a vision of peace through justice, or, more fully, with a faith in the sequence of covenant, nonviolence, justice, and peace. 

In Search of Paul, John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed, (New York: HarperCollins 2004), xi. 

World War I ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, yet an irresistible current of nihilism had been set loose. Fought in the name of democracy, that war was in fact a triumph of militarism and imperialism - on all sides. It led to the punitive imposition of artificial borders in Europe, which were the immediate cause of World War II; in the Middle East, the remote cause of today's most dangerous conflicts; and in Africa, where consequent genocide has found its niche. Perhaps most damaging was the 1914 legitimizing of mass violence, with the trenches anticipating both gas chambers and the unleashed atom. Hitler and Stalin were empowered by the so-called Great War, which is why both World War II and the Cold War should always be considered in its context. To regard all three conflicts as a single War of the 20th Century obliterates any notion that categories of "just war" apply.

What are we to make of these three anniversaries? First, while honoring the memory of veterans tomorrow, we should also acknowledge that the Great War was a mistake. America should never have joined. Second, in properly recalling the demonic Hitler's antisemitism, we can also reckon with the complicity of a larger culture. What crimes make us bystanders today? And third, trumping the horrors of the 20th century, its most important event was the nonviolent resolution of the nuclear-armed Cold War. "Power to the people" proved true, and what they used their power for was peace. Three anniversaries, with emphasis given to hope.
--James Carroll
At the root of Niebuhr's thinking lies an appreciation of original sin, which he views as indelible and omnipresent. In a fallen world, power is necessary, otherwise we lie open to the assaults of the predatory. Yet since we too number among the fallen, our own professions of innocence and altruism are necessarily suspect. Power, wrote Niebuhr, "cannot be wielded without guilt, since it is never transcendent over interest." Therefore, any nation wielding great power but lacking self-awareness - never an American strong suit - poses an imminent risk not only to others but to itself. Here lies the statesman's dilemma: You're damned if you do and damned if you don't. To refrain from resisting evil for fear of violating God's laws is irresponsible. Yet for the powerful to pretend to interpret God's will qualifies as presumptuous. To avert evil, action is imperative; so too is self-restraint. Even worthy causes pursued blindly yield morally problematic results.

--Andrew Bacevich

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth

before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Stir up your might, and come to save us!

Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

O LORD God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people's prayers?

You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure.

You make us the scorn of our neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves.

Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself.

Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name.

Restore us, O LORD God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

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