Saturday, December 30, 2006

Christmas Greetings: East Timor PM to Osama

East Timor's Prime Minister, Jose Ramos-Horta, sent a message of peace and goodwill via the BBC to Osama bin Laden. Ramos-Horta won a Nobel Peace Prize for his nonviolent resistance to the Indonesian occupation of his tiny homeland, which won its independence in 1999 in a U.N.-sponsored ballot. Listen to his message here.

ON this occasion when we are celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, my words, words of peace, are sent to my brother somewhere in the mountains, in the caves, of Afghanistan and Pakistan, Osama bin Laden. Yes, I consider you to be a brother.

We share some common beliefs, beliefs that come from God the Almighty, that teach us about love and compassion. Yes, there are some differences between yourself, my brother Osama bin Laden, and myself. The differences are that while you seem to have a profound resentment towards those who have done centuries of harm to Muslims, and today to Palestinians - I do understand those grievances - and yet I fail to understand why you carry this resentment, this anger, on to attacking innocent civilians, and that includes also Arabs and Muslims who do not share your vision of Islam.

I come from a small country, East Timor, that was invaded by the largest Muslim country in the world. I lost brothers and sisters, yet I do not hate one single Muslim, I do not hate one single Indonesian. That's the only difference between you and me, my brother Osama bin Laden. I beg you to rethink and extend your love, your solidarity, your friendship, the same ones you feel about Palestinians, extend to the rest of the world, extend to Europeans, to Christians. You will then win them over that way, more than through hatred and violence. I thank you, may God Almighty and Merciful, bless us all.

If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn't part of ourselves doesn't disturb us.

Hermann Hesse

C. S. Lewis writing just after the second world war.

says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive, as we had during the war. And then to mention the subject at all is to be greeted with howls of anger. It is not that people think this too high and difficult a virtue: it is that they think it hateful and contemptible. "That sort of talk makes them sick," they say. And half of you already want to ask me, "I wonder how'd you feel about forgiving the Gestapo if you were a Pole or a Jew?"

So do I. I wonder very much. Just as when Christianity tells me that I must not deny my religion even to save myself from death by torture, I wonder very much what I should do when it came to the point. I am not trying to tell you ... what I could do--I can do precious little--I am telling you what Christianity is. I did not invent it. And there, right in the middle of it, I find "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those that sin against us." There is no slightest suggestion that we are offered forgiveness on any other terms. It is made perfectly clear that if we do not forgive we shall not be forgiven. There are no two ways about it. What are we to do?

It is going to be hard enough, anyway, but I think there are two things we can do to make it easier. When you start mathematics you do not begin with calculus; you begin with simple addition. In the same way, if we really want (but all depends on really wanting) to learn how to forgive, perhaps we had better start with something easier than the Gestapo. One might start with forgiving one's husband or wife, or parents or children, or the nearest N.C.O., for something they have done or said in the last week. That will probably keep us busy for the moment. And secondly, we might try to understand exactly what loving your neighbor as yourself means. I have to love him as I love myself. Well, how exactly do I love myself!

Now that I come to think of it, I have not exactly got a feeling of fondness or affection for myself, and I do not even always enjoy my own society. So apparently "Love your neighbor" does not mean "feel fond of him" or "find him attractive." I ought to have seen that before, because of course, you cannot feel fond of a person by trying. Do I think well of myself, think myself a nice chap? Well, I am afraid I sometimes do (and those are, no doubt, my worst moments) but that is not why I love myself. In fact it is the other way round: my self-love makes me think myself nice, but thinking myself nice is not why I love myself. So loving my enemies does not apparently mean thinking them nice either. That is an enormous relief. For a good many people imagine that forgiving your enemies means making out that they are really not such bad fellows after all, when it is quite plain that they are. Go a step further. In my most clear-sighted moments not only do I not think myself a nice man, but I know that I am a very nasty one. I can at look some of the things I have done with loathing and horror. So apparently I am allowed to loathe and hate some of the things my enemies do. Now that I come to think of it, I remember Christian teachers telling me long ago that I must hate a bad man's actions, but not hate the bad man: or as they would say, hate the sin but not the sinner.

For a long time I used to think this is a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life--namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it. In fact, the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things.

Consequently Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them. Not one word of what we have said about them needs to be unsaid. But it does want us to hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping if it is anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere, he can be cured and made human again.
From The Joyful Christian

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

A Christmas Gift

This being the season that it is I’ve been thinking about gifts, giving and receiving. I wasn’t as well-prepared as I would have liked to been this year, gift-wise. I was quite organised with the cards, but not so much with the gifts. There were times in which I found myself being presented with a gift that I had not prepared to reciprocate. Then came the attendant feelings of guilt, and feeling that I had let the other party down; because they had given me a gift I felt obliged to have had one prepared for them too (which I didn’t, not really). Sometimes, giving a gift is so much easier than receiving one, especially when you have nothing to give.

We sang this song at church and at our Christmas Eve party.

As little children
We would dream of Christmas morn'
Of all the gifts and toys
We knew we'd find
But we never realized
A baby born one blessed night
Gave us the greatest gift of our lives

We were the reason
That He gave His life
We were the reason
That He suffered and died
To a world that was lost
He gave all He could give
To show us the reason to live

As the years went by
We learned more about gifts
The giving of ourselves
And what that means
On a dark and cloudy day
A man hung crying in the rain
All because of love, all because of love

God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them. He creates the universe, already foreseeing - or should we say ‘seeing’? there are no tenses in God - the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated incipient suffocation as the body droops, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath’s sake, hitched up. If I may dare the biological image, God is a ‘host’ who deliberately creates His own parasites; causes us to be that we may exploit and ‘take advantage of’ Him. Herein is love. This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.

C. S. Lewis in The Four Loves

In the Christian story God descends to reascend. He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity; down further still, if embryologists are right, to recapitulate in the womb ancient and pre-human phases of life; down to the very roots and seabed of Nature He has created. But He goes down to come up again and bring the whole ruined world up with Him.
C. S. Lewis in Miracles

In this season of giving we remember most of all, God’s gift of love. Infinitely costly yet freely, and gladly, given.

For to us a child is born
to us a Son is given
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6

Perhaps the greatest challenge that we all face is learning how to receive a gift that is, all at once, both incredibly humbling and hopelessly exhilarating.

Heartfelt thanks to all my dear family and friends.

Wishing everyone a joy-filled Christmas season, and a very blessed New Year.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

In the bleak midwinter

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
in the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain;
heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
the Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
but his mother only, in her maiden bliss,
worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
yet what I can I give him — give my heart.

by Christina Rossetti