Generous Orthodoxy  

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Preaching the gospel in a time of worldwide danger

The films of Costa-Gavras (born in Greece as Konstantinos Gavras) have always appealed to me because of their political content and moral questioning. Z is the most famous of his works, winning the Oscar for best foreign film in 1969, but several others have won praise and awards. Most of his movies are in French (he was educated in Paris and lived in France for decades), but his English-language movie, Missing, won the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 1982. (It was nominated for several Oscars and won one, for Best Adapted Screenplay.) Missing tells the story of American journalist Charles Horman, who was among the "disappeared" (desaparecidos) during the regime of General Pinochet in Chile. Sissy Spacek plays Beth, Horman's wife, and Jack Lemmon gives an exceptionally moving performance as Ed, his father. Ed leaves his wife in the States and travels to Chile where he and Beth, despite their initial mutual animosity, manage to band together to try to find out what happened to their husband/ son. Ed is a chipper, can-do American male type who initially believes his mission will be successful, but he and Beth come up against a brick wall in the form of American officials who are trying to conceal the degree to which American interests are in league with Pinochet.

After many weeks of struggle and false turns, Ed and Beth are able to gain entrance to a local morgue. They see scores of battered, bloodied bodies loosely thrown together on the floor; the implication is that attending properly to the corpses of political victims is not a priority for anyone. As they go through these rooms of horror, examining the faces of the dead (and finding one they recognize as a friend of Charles'), Jack Lemmon, playing Ed, says these words in a tone of ineffable sadness and perplexity, as one whose eyes have finally been opened: "What kind of world is this?"

"What kind of world is this?" Ultimately, this is a theological question. It is not a question about Pinochet's Chile, but a question about human nature and the captivity of the world under the power of Sin and Death. (It is perhaps not entirely incidental that Ed--as in real life--is a devotee of Christian Science, with its gnostic beliefs that deny agency to evil and emphasize human mental capability.)

I don't mean to attribute deep theological thoughts to Costa-Gavras, particularly, but the way in which this question is highlighted in the film certainly brings the question about human evil to the forefront. The Pinochet regime is just one example of what happens around the world all the time. The history of the Villa Grimaldi, an estate in suburban Santiago, is a case in point. When Pinochet took over the government of Chile, he forced the owner of the Villa Grimaldi, which had been a prominent gathering place for Chilean intellectuals, artists, and leftists during the Allende years, to sell it in order to protect his family. Pinochet and his secret police turned it into an "interrogation center," i.e. torture facility. Thousands of political prisoners were held there in terrible conditions, and many were never seen again. (The methods and conditions, including systematic sexual abuse and shaming, have been likened to those at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.) The land where the villa once stood was reclaimed from a would-be developer and today is a Peace Park and memorial to the victims. The most famous person to die by torture and shooting under Pinochet was the renowned singer and theatre director Victor Jara. General Pinochet, for his part, never had to face any of the numerous charges against him. He continued as the commander-in-chief of the Chilean army until he retired and was made a senator-for-life. He made his way to London, where he was entertained to tea by Margaret Thatcher.

The slogan of the anti-Pinochet activists was nunca, never again. What a worthy thought! How many times have we heard it? Do we put our faith in human nature that these things will never happen again? What sort of world is this? It is a world where nice people doing nice things in the bosom of their families close their eyes to what is going on around them, as we are all doing right now. I have had two astonishing conversations recently with leading church figures who made excuses for 1) Bashir al-Assad and 2) for a prominent Roman Catholic protector of child abusers. I was flabbergasted, but why should I be? It is a fallen world, and there is nowhere we can go to escape that fact. Part of the task of preachers of the gospel is to insist on this, and to show how we are all implicated.

What then shall we do? Throw up our hands and acquiesce in things as they are? A principal hero in the anti-Pinochet movement was Cardinal Raúl Silva Henríquez, who brought great honor to the Roman Catholic Church by courageously standing up to Pinochet until the General was finally ousted in 1990. When he died in 1999, the Chilean government declared five days of national mourning.

An excellent 2013 Chilean film called, simply, NO--starring the ever-appealing Gael Garcia Bernal--tells the story of the national plebiscite of 1988 which marked the beginning of the end of the Pinochet regime. The movie is funny, exciting, thought-provoking, and ultimately a testimony to what flawed (fallen!) human nature can accomplish when God's liberation project is underway.

The great shame is to do nothing, to say nothing.


Precisely as I was preparing this for posting, behold, there came this news:

Too little and way too late? Victor Jara's daughter doesn't think so. His wife and children never cared about the money. They wanted to see justice done. Read her resounding statement at the end of the article. Even the most inadequate human attempts at justice, seen in the right context, mirror the justice of God, and point to the day when that perfect righteousness will be accomplished.

Friday, June 24, 2016

John Donne and Brexit

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.

from Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, Meditation XVII