Sunday, March 28, 2010

"Crucify Him"

Today, Palm Sunday is the beginning of the end of lent. We commemorate Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem. (Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-10, Luke 19:28-40 or John 12:12-16) The crowds love him and all seems well, but everyone knows what comes next. Only a few days later, the crowds have much different things to say to Jesus. We hear in the passion narrative, later in mass, that it is the shouting of the crowds that convinces Pilate to hand Jesus over to be crucified even though according his own judgment this was not necessary. (Matthew 26:14-27:66, Mark 14:1-15:47 or Luke 22:14-23:56)

In the Catholic tradition, the reading of the Passion Narrative is done in a very interesting and meaningful way. Rather than the priest or deacon reading the Gospel in prose format like the rest of the year it is broken up by parts like a script. There is a narrator, the priest reads the part of Jesus, another reader does other characters, and most strikingly, the congregation does that part of the crowd.

The effect is simple and powerful. The people in pews respond to Pilate's questions with, "Crucify him." Anyone who's paying any attention at all gets the point. It is us that caused the crucifixion of Jesus, our sins. It's not some abstract story of history. To hear yourself say, "Crucify him" makes it much more real. The filter of analogy that often softens the true implication is removed. We become unmistakably part of Jesus' death.

Reading the entire Passion, especially in the manner, might seem too long or too intense for some people, but I think we need it. We need to be reminded of the nature of our relationship with Christ. Of course it isn't all about suffering and our sinfulness, but to not fully understand this first part prevents us from fully understanding and appreciating the glory of the Resurrection at Easter. After all, if we aren't the sinners that, by our sins, shouted to crucify Jesus, then his Resurrection isn't for us.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Free My Emotional Bias

I recently received a facebook invitation to a facebook group, "Free Leroy Johnston" promoting the cause of a soldier allegedly wrongfully imprisoned for something he did while serving in Iraq. The key word here is 'allegedly'. The reason I'm writing is that while I read through "the story" of this soldier supplied on the groups page I came across some serious problems, not with the story itself, but with the method of its telling.

It begins, "On March 20th, 2009, 1st Lieutenant Johnston (not actual name) was sentenced to 25 years in prison for killing a known Al Qaeda operative while serving in Iraq. The “victim”, Ali Mansur..." From the very beginning, the second sentence, I already know the conclusion what will be reached. By setting 'victim' off with quote it is using sarcasm to imply what they want to be true. It implies that because Ali Mansur was a known terrorist then there is no way he can be a victim, no way he can be treated unfairly, therefore it must be the Lieutenant who is being treated unfairly.

Continuing, "During the return of Mansur, Lt. Johnston again questioned the Al Qaeda member for information about other members of the terrorist cell, and financial supporters. During this interrogation, Mansur attacked Lt. Johnston, who killed the terrorist in self-defense." Broken down: "Mansur attacked" --> unknown, heresay "killed the terrorist" --> fact "in self-defense" --> subjective, opinion. The only for sure thing is that Lt. Johnston killed Mansur while the other two claims are unsupported. (If the story cited testimony of Lt. Johnston that would be one thing, but since no claim is made this details seem like personal bias of the author shining through)

"Not only is this a miscarriage of justice on the behalf of Lt. Johnston, who was acting to prevent further loss of life in his platoon, it is demoralizing to the U.S. troops who continue to fight on behalf of the freedom and security of our nation." This holds true only if the above things are true, but as has been shown, they are a poor foundation. The second half of that statement is an emotional appeal to the fears of the reader, subconsciously suggesting that a belief in the guilt of Lt. Johnston constitutes a treat to national security.

"Whether it is U.S. border patrol agents, members of the armed forces, or FBI agents, no individual who is serving on the frontlines in the War on Terror should be so blatantly mistreated." True, but irrelevant, a fallacious emotional appeal.
"We urgently need your help to correct this terrible wrong against a loyal and faithful soldier." That is if he actually is innocent. If Lt. Johnston is actually guilty however, and this situation is reversed(what the story calls corrected) then we would actually be freeing a murderer.

Lt. Johnston's platoon was attacked. Mansur is suspected of involvement. Army Intelligence orders the release of Mansur. "Lt. Johnston, who lost two members of his platoon just weeks earlier, was ordered to transport Mansur back to his home" The inclusion of the details about his platoon members implies (illogically) that Mansur probably is guilty and deserves what happens, thus clearing the Lieutenant.

During trial there are disagreements between the prosecution and defense lawyers about evidence presentation. A mistrial is called for but not granted. (He had been convicted of unpremeditated murder and assault.)

The story concludes, "(1*)Lt. Johnston was an excellent officer...(2)He is from a family of public servants...(2)He has served the Army and the United States with honor and dignity...(4)To sacrifice the life of this Oklahoma soldier over the death of a known terrorist, is a breech of faith with all who are serving our country." (1) Dependent on his innocence. (2) Irrelevant. (3) Dependent on his innocence. (4) If the court knew he was innocent and punished him regardless, then yes that would be a breech of faith. If however, he is guilty and they free him it is a breech of justice.

My interest in writing is not in the guilt or innocence of Lt. Johnston. His story as presented in the facebook group is merely a very vivid example of a type of communication that concerns me. The facebook group presumes to allow me to look at the facts and decide if I would like to support this cause or not. The problem is that the bias is so prevalent in the description that it makes a proper decision impossible. I want him to be innocent but the delivery of the message is so tainted I can't trust it. It supposes to be calling for justice but it presupposes that justice is him being found not guilty(implying that a biased writer with limited access to evidence is somehow a better judge of justice than a military court deeply familiar with the situation and soldiers in general)

I understand that the writer is probably someone close to the situation and can therefore understand why they are so biased, but understanding doesn't make it right. It would be better to present the story as objectively as possible and let the Truth shine through (it has a nice way of doing that) rather than trying to force what they think it is. By forcing it, they have made me and likely others turn away from a perhaps worthy cause.

* - numbers added by me

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

World Vision, you're doing it wrong.

This week, the Christian charitable organization World Vision was attacked by gunmen that killed six people in an attack on their offices. In light of this, they halted their operations in the entire country. Story by NPR here. Christian groups aid groups are often targeted in middle east countries because some see them as there to try and convert people.

On the one hand, if they're up front enough with their Christianity for the Muslims to be concerned, then good for them on that. (Doing charitable work but hiding that you do so out of Christian love is dishonest to those you serve and disloyal to Christ--which negates your charity.)

What bothers me is that they stopped their operations after the attack. If anything, they should work all the harder. Looking at persecuted Christians of the past, when they were martyred, more stepped up and kept the message going. By halting operations it tells their attackers that if they attack the organization will back off.

I know I'm not there and don't know what it's like to be a missionary in a hostile area, but I know what the precedent is for persecuted Christianity and it seems like they're not following it.