Saturday, April 30, 2016

 

A Sad Anniversary and a Reminder--The Holocaust

Recently we remembered a sad page in the history of humanity, we recalled the liberation of prison camps and the people in them from the nightmare of Nazi oppression and tyranny. Annually I try to remind myself of the depth of depravity to which humanity can slip, especially humanity that justifies its inhumanity and brutality by science. The Nazis showed the dark beastial side of humanity, the side we all possess to some degree (although most of us will never admit it). The Nazis were more than thugs or brutes or even barbarians, they were humans that (in C. S. Lewis' words from The Abolition of Man) were humans without magnanimity, they were "men without chests." Here are Lewis' own words about such people:

"They are not distinguished from other men by any unusual skill in finding truth nor any virginal ardour to pursue her. Indeed, it would be strange if they were: a perservering devotion to truth, a nice of intellectual honour, cannot be long maintained without the aid of sentiment . . . It is not excess of thought but defect of fertile and generous emotion that marks them out. Their heads are no bigger than the ordinary: it is the atrophy of the chest beneath that makes them seem so." (C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2001, p. 25).

These oppressors were not less human than the rest of us, they just acted as people without that emotion that makes our "better angels" show up instead of the "brutes" in each of us. They became the "elites" who judged other races in humanity as mere brutish nature to be studied. They were Social Darwinists who wanted to keep their race pure, and who ultimately participated in that which Lewis deems "the abolition of man." They were people like us. In many ways we hate to admit, they were us. As one survivor records the event of his liberation:

"The full record of the pseudo-medical experimentations came to light. Prisoners had been used as laboratory animals, without the humane restrictions placed on vivisection. Hannah Arendt suggested that `the camp was itself a vast laboratory in which the Nazis proved that there is no limit to human depravity.' For it was remembered that these experiments were not planned or conducted by identifiable psychopaths. They were performed or supervised by professional scientists, trained in what had been once considered peerless universities and medical schools. Reverend Franklin Littell called them `technically competent barbarians.' Indeed the procedures had the full approval and cooperation of Berlin's Institute of Hygiene." (Sachar, Abram L. The Redemption of the Unwanted. New York: St. Martin's/Marek, 1983, pp. 8-10)

Let us remember with sadness the number of innocents lost and the reality of our own potentially brutish nature. Let us never forget that without grace, we are all irredeemably lost. Could Dachau or Auschwitz (or the others) happen again? Only if humans let it, only if we deny once again our own humanity and treat our fellow humans as mere animals. Yes, it can happen again. Let's pray that it doesn't. Let's make sure it doesn't.

This topic is heavy and sad. I don't apologize for that, but I do want to put the weight down now. Thanks for reading.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

 

Sounds of Silence--A Repeat


Nine years ago I was in the middle of trying to write and to establish a new program of study at Liberty University, and I found myself a bit overwhelmed.  You might even say that I was drowning in busy-ness and work.  Today I often find myself right back in that same ocean . . . swamped by a sense of "things to do" and "work, work work".

I think we all have been there.  The waves of life crash around us, and we sense we are sinking in the foam of life and finding ourselves stuck in the mire of everyday expectations.  The thunder and bluster of life's storms cause fear, and we lose focus on what really matters.  We succumb to the slumber brought about by drowning in activities--e-mail to answer, calls to be made, classes to prepare, friends to meet, people to impress, notes/articles to write, family expectations or obligations, to do lists full of things that just HAVE to be done today, etc.  The raging waves lull us to sleep as we are rocked steadily into a coma of concern.  The cacophony of our activities becomes the lullaby to our souls, and we yield to the siren's call, surrendering to what we think is really important.  We forget that we sometimes need a pause, a moment of Selah, a time to come apart before we fall apart.

In the middle of such a situation nine years ago, I wrote the following words.  They spoke to me then, and they convict me now.  How often I forget to sit silently in the presence of the Father who genuinely cares!  I come into his presence with my own agenda, dropping my "to do" lists in his lap as though they were a heavenly call that cannot be avoided.  Anyway, today I want to remind myself to sit with God, to just be silent in his awesome and awful presence with no agenda except to be with him.  I need some "quiet time", how about you?

Silence, cold eerie silence.

In this post-modern day and age, we rarely find ourselves in a place that is so utterly silent as to be practically without sound. We are surrounded by noise—the chattering of talk radio, the booming of the latest music craze, even in the shopping centers and elevators of life we encounter the ever-present reminder of Muzak to keep us company. At work we are assaulted with myriads of sounds, from the boss handing out assignments to the response of the assistant or the ringing of the phone. Even the internet is now wired for sound so that you can search for the latest piece of news or information with surround sound convenience. We return home from work only to turn on our cable TV to act as a kind of “white noise” in the background of our family lives. Some of us even go to sleep with the latest tunes playing on the radio to soothe our tired souls and “give us rest.” Today a human can actually go from womb to grave completely surrounded by the music of their own chosen personal soundtrack. Surely we are rarely without noise in our lives!

In this post-modern life we seem to have grown afraid of silence. We avoid it. We try to fill it with something that will give “meaning” to the emptiness. Why do we do that? Why do we fill our lives with sound?

Could it be that we are afraid of what we may actually hear if we are silent?

Could we be afraid that we may hear nothing? That we may be drowning in silence?

I believe we have grown accustomed to sound as a substitute for genuine communication with the transcendent. We have blocked out the very voice of the cosmos with our sound track so that we do not have to give our souls pause and just listen.

When was the last time you listened, really listened, to nature around you? I heard a mockingbird this morning, the bark of my dog, the jingling of my cat’s tags as he walked up the walk. It was so quiet I swear I could hear the sun groaning as it rose from its sleep!

I sat there, in silence. I listened. After a few seconds I grew jittery, even panicky. I really should be doing something, listening to something, “accomplishing” something worthwhile with my time.

I heard a voice, quiet and still—“Hush, be quiet. Be still and know . . . .” I listened, and in that silence I found a reverence for life that I hope only grows throughout the day. The quiet voice didn’t offer any startling revelations, but my basking in silence lent a kind of sacred feel to my morning. God was there. We had coffee. We sat quietly like two old friends for whom words would be a waste of effort. We silently toasted the beginning of a new day, and I felt as though the Almighty smiled at me. That stillness of that moment had created an almost “holy” space for the two of us to share. I know he was there. I long for a few more quiet moments with my Father and Friend.

Shhh . . .

Listen. . .

Was that the whisper of his voice?

Thanks for reading!  

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