"The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.
Sunday, March 09, 2008
The Dream of Shane Claiborne
The following is a dream Shane Claiborne, a founding member of the Simple Way Community in Philadelphia, had while in Iraq at the beginning of the war and occupation. Read it carefully and prayerfully.
"Sometimes it is hard to sleep -- so many thoughts. A bomber flew over. I looked up and could see, 'U.S. Air Force' on it. I tried to think only of Jesus – the beautiful Lover of Nazareth. The other night I dreamed of Jesus. At first I could only see his back, somehow I knew it was him. His large, strong back was shirtless (and not as fair-skinned as I had once thought!). He was stooped over on all fours as if he were cradling something on the ground. I wondered what it was, so I tried to get a better glance.
A little head popped out from beneath his arm, giggling hysterically. Then another squirmed out from the other side. And another. How many were there?! Still kneeling on all fours with his arms spread wide, Jesus frantically tried to keep them gathered beneath him, as if he knew danger was looming. There were hundreds of little faces [Author's note: Jesus was gigantic, not to scale. I know it's weird; it's a dream.] So there was this huge Jesus, sprawled out above all the children. He looked like a kid frantically trying to keep a litter of young puppies from scattering.
And then there was a loud crack. Out of nowhere a whip struck Jesus on his back. He yelled in pain. Then again – the skin ripped open. And again. The children began to cry. A few young stragglers ducked safely under Jesus' chest with the others. As the whip continued to strike him, rocks began to fall from the sky like hailstones – pounding on his back and bouncing off. The children huddled beneath him, sobbing. His body convulsed in agony, but he never loosened his grip on the little ones below. As the rocks kept falling, something else started to drop from the sky. These objects looked similar to the rocks, but when they hit his back they did not bounce off like the rocks had. They sunk into his skin ... and then they exploded, tearing huge holes into his back, one after another. His bones became exposed, and soon his body stopped moving. Blood poured off his sides and rained down on the children.
STOP! STOP! In the name of God, stop. I could not wake up. The holes continued to tear into his flesh until the body barely resembled anything human. Then, at last, there was silence. Stillness. Slowly, the children began to stir. They crept timidly from beneath the rubble, covered with blood ... but alive. And I awoke ... sweating, panting, but alive." - Shane Claiborne, "The Passion of the Iraqi Christ"
The dream is rich with the truth of Jesus' love. We see Jesus suffering to protect his Iraqi children from U.S. bombs at the cost of his own flesh. We can feel the motherly compassion he feels for the Iraqi people and how he tries to keep them beneath his protecting body when they might scatter to be picked off by American snipers. In this Lenten season, these tears to the flesh of Christ are what we receive in our own bodies as repentance for the mortal sin of war and our silent complicity in it. Each bomb that falls on the Iraqi people rips another hole in the flesh of Christ.
When Shane awoke, he attended worship with the Iraqi Christians, who have since been decimated by internecine warfare in Iraq. After the service, an Iraqi bishop responded to Shane's query about Christianity in Iraq with the following, "He looked at me blankly and said gently, 'Yes, my friend. This is where Christianity began. You did not invent it in America. You have only domesticated it. Go back and tell the church in America that we are praying for them ... to be the body of Christ, to embody the gospel of Jesus.' His words still echo in my soul." - Shane Claiborne, "The Passion of the Iraqi Christ"
It does often seem as if the main American contribution to Christianity has been to "domesticate" it, extract its teeth, its bite, its power. How desperately we need the prayers of the Iraqis, both Christian and Muslim, so that we may at last become the body of Christ. Perhaps such prayers can rip us out of our air-conditioned spiritual dream, our fantasy land of higher beings who strangely care so little for the brothers and sisters whose lives and blood are the fuel of the empire which "protects" us and feeds us the luxuries that keep us tame. May we, like the Iraqi children, begin slowly to creep from beneath the rubble, covered with blood, but alive in Christ.
The "gospel of prosperity" is indeed a fitting religion for the empire. Those who accept it will get their reward, but it will not be the reward which Jesus Christ gives. The liberation which Jesus brings us is the inward growth toward an ever-deepening and ever-widening sympathy with our brothers and sisters across the wide world, especially those suffering political and economic oppression. "In terms of the Gospel, the history of man's liberation from injustice is an outward aspect of the inward growth of man into God. Liberation is the consequence of God's explosion of love in history, made visible in the cross of Jesus of Nazareth. Liberation is the political expression of humanity's transformation in love. It becomes possible whenever man turns from the will to power and instead acknowledges in his depths the power of Love. The growth of God's Love in man, and his transformation into the man-God, is the process which results finally in the breaking of chains and the freeing of slaves. The political liberation of humanity is a sign of God's redeeming presence breaking the bonds of sin." - James W. Douglass, "Resistance and Contemplation"