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Category: In the News

Parable at a Bridge

07

Idaho’s 486-foot-high Perrine Bridge is one of the world’s most-frequented sites for parachutists who jump from fixed objects. But when Tamara Judkins and her daughter, Rebekah, drove through on a summer day in 2008, they noticed that the man “sobbing and leaning over the railing” didn’t have a parachute.

Judkins recounted to the Times News of Twin Falls how she circled back, parked, and told her daughter to call for help. Then Judkins did something that none of the 20 or so bystanders had thought to do: “I took off towards him, wrapped my arms around him and held onto him.”

Judkins later said that as she tried to talk the man into coming into town with her for a cup of coffee, the gathering crowd just watched, “many of them snapping photos.”

Eventually, Twin Falls County sheriff’s deputies were able to grab the man, whose name was not released, and pull him back over the railing.

For weeks after I read of the incident, there was one detail that I couldn’t get out of my mind — those people in the crowd, watching and snapping photos.

It reminds me of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Plenty of passers-by saw the man at the side of the road, obviously suffering from his injuries, naked and close to death. But most of them were too busy to stop.

In this newspaper account — a parable for our age — the issue isn’t one of busy-ness. No, we are a society of gawkers, eavesdroppers and peeping Toms; and we have plenty of time. The problem is that suffering — a potential suicide, a televised hanging, tortured prisoners half a world away — too easily excites prurience instead of sympathy . . . leaving me to question my character (and my motives):

Am I more likely to sacrifice for a neighbor in need?

Or take pictures?

Am I more likely to sacrifice for a neighbor in need? Or take pictures?

Contrasts

02

We live in a culture of violence, a place where it is “known” that the best answer — the pragmatic answer — to evil acts is stronger acts that punish or even kill.

I call myself a pacifist — a peacemaker — and as a Quaker, I’m not alone. The denomination has a long history of peacemaking. But if we are to make a difference, to actively bring peace to the world, we must teach our neighbors that life at its fullest is heavy with vital contrasts:

Unfulfilled waiting teaches patience. Through suffering, we learn to experience joy. Deep love — the kind that changes the world by giving life to another — comes best from a heart that’s been broken.

Through suffering, we learn to experience joy.

Religious Crazy

06

There’s a lot of crazy in the world. England has a cheese chase (canceled this year for health and safety reasons). Spain has a tomato fight. Lind, Washington, has a demolition derby for combine harvesters. And crazy comes in all shapes and sizes. Exhibit A: some people still drink instant coffee. Exhibit B: Tootsie Rolls.

But the kind of crazy I’d like to discuss here is the kookiest, scariest kind of crazy I know, the kind of crazy that doesn’t know it’s crazy: religious crazy.

Early Monday, nine members of a religious militia were charged with conspiracy to “kill an unidentified member of local law enforcement and then attack the law enforcement officers who gather in Michigan for the funeral. According to the plan, [they] would attack law enforcement vehicles during the funeral procession with Improvised Explosive Devices.”

The men and women involved in this group identified themselves as followers of “the testimony of Jesus.” They claim on their Web site that they “live by faith” and that they have been called to “stand, stay and pray for the defense of the word.” They claim Jesus has called them to a full-on fight with the government.

I can see that this kind of thinking is inconsistent with the message and witness of Jesus. So can you. Neither one of us is in danger of falling for such a specious reading of scripture. Or are we?

The real problem is that this fringe group wasn’t as far out on the fringes as maybe we’d like to believe. Their ideas about faith (as promoted at their Web site) don’t sound so different from things I’ve heard at my own church.

So how does this kind of crazy come about? It has to do with belief. Belief serves as a prism through which I filter experience. As a result, my beliefs also direct my interactions, dictate the ways in which I view others and the treatment they will receive from me.

Dr. Jerry Falwell, now deceased, held the belief that every event is an act of God. Not so crazy. Is it?

Here’s how the reverend used that belief to filter his experience. He said the collapse of the Twin Towers in 9/11 was a God-ordained act that killed thousands of innocent Americans in order to teach the country a lesson about the evils of homosexuality, abortion, and feminism.

This belief justifies acts of terrorism. Definitely crazy.

Author and historian David Barton, founder of WallBuilders, published an online essay in which he indirectly called for the elimination of the capital gains tax, federal minimum wage, inheritance taxes, and the end of a progressive income tax: “In the Bible, the more profit you make the more you are rewarded. . . . The landowner had a right to determine the wages his workers received. . . . The current income tax structure in the United States mandates a higher tax rate or percentage the more a person makes. This tax system is contradicted by scripture.”

This belief favors the rich over the poor, encouraging those who have to gain even more at the expense of those who have not. Might not be crazy, but it certainly is inconsistent with Jesus’ teaching.

One of my favorite thinkers, Erich Fromm, claims the real problem is belief itself (although he refers to it as dogma). Fromm suggests that evangelical Christian churches created a problem for themselves when they decided to do away with high-church tradition and symbolism: “Religions which are consolidated by extra-religious elements are able to dispense almost completely with a system of dogmas.”

What’s wrong with a little dogma? It tends to control the mind. Again with Fromm: Dogma is a “powerful suggestion, which is experienced subjectively as reality because of the consensus among believers.”

What he’s saying is that if it’s you that’s crazy, it won’t feel crazy. And if it’s me that’s crazy, I’ll probably just call it “faith.”

Exhibit A: some people still drink instant coffee. Exhibit B: Tootsie Rolls.

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