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December questions

Published in the New Bedford Standard-Times December 16, 2004

by Greg Stone

I hate these wet, dark, rainy, December nights when the damp enshrouds the house and I am alone and so I turn my thoughts to the babe in the manger ­ the warmth of hay, the smell of life and the look of love.

I try to drive away the dark by plunking out the melody of "Silent Night" on the piano, and there is some joy there, but when I look into the childıs eyes I see the man, the all too human man - the one we made a god ­ the one who preached love and we flogged him - the one who said it was more difficult for a rich man to enter heaven than for a camel to crawl through the eye of a needle - and we laughed at him as we checked the holiday sales.

"Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers." Or so the poet said. It all tumbles in there - a host of mixed messages on a dreary December night.

The babe is God, I have no doubt, for we have made him such - and we worship Him, when we are not worshipping the Dollar. And we worship Him, when we are not worshipping the United States of America. And we worship Him when we are full of love, fat of belly, light of heart. But what is it we do to Him now? What is it we do in those secret places where we turn our neighbor - the guy who flips hamburgers on the backyard barbecue - into a roaster of human flesh?

Who is it that we drag through the streets of Baghdad?

"Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" Was that not the plea from the cross? "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" And I see the frightened soldier, the wounded prisoner, and the almost silent kick of the rifle. Then the prisoner lies still. Just who is it we drag through the streets of Fallujah?

Who is this God - the one our president worships? And if He lives - if there is a living Christ - can He be crucified again? He can be born again, in us, they say, so may He not die again? And if so, who wields the hammer? And who hands the hammerer the nails?

Shock and awe - yes, that describes the experience on the Cross, but who is doing the nailing now?

Oh, I know about the first time. On that day some say it was the Romans, some say it was the Jews. But when they say this they are talking about the man, the all-too-human man who walked from desert town to desert town - preaching love, not of your neighbor only, but of your enemy.

Love your enemy! Was that man crazy? Love your throat-slashing, bomb-throwing enemy?

Surely he was dangerous. That man challenged the gods of convention, the gods of the crowds, the gods who have all the comfortable answers; the gods who wonıt ask questions we donıt want to hear. Dangerous! So they nailed him to a cross. And he died.

But He lives, doesnıt He? The risen Christ, I mean - He lives in the hearts of believers and it is they who have given him Life. So is it not they who can kill Him? Is it they who provide a new hammer - more nails? Is it they who cheer on the hammerers? One hundred thousand Iraqi dead - innocent dead - or is it just 10,000? Or only one? Does it matter? How many times must we crush the child in the manger?

Shock and awe - is that what the Roman soldier said as he drove home the nails through flesh and sinew! Whose shock? Whose awe? Whose nails? Whose hammer? Who paid for these bombs that tear the limbs from this child? What manner of men are we who sing of peace and love and joy and a silent night over a sleeping, MidEastern town? What manner of men are we who roll in the Humvees and tanks, and make killers of our children? And get them killed and maimed as well - maimed in body, and maimed more deeply in spirit.

But they hit us first, the Christian cries - and the man, the very human man, dragging his cross through the streets - jeered at, laughed at, and beaten - He says, "turn the other cheek." (No - he doesnıt bother to point out that it wasnıt "they" who hit us. Does it really matter that this time we are the attacker? That this time we have acted out of ignorance and fear and now our pride chokes us so we donıt know how to turn back?

Turn the other cheek? We never make a mistake. We canıt even say "Iım sorry. " Not so much as an "oops" escapes the lips of our leaders - but does it matter? Even had they hit us first, the man - this crazy man with his band of brothers - His crazy, sandal-wearing, bearded and dark-skinned brothers - said even if you are hit first - turn the other cheek. Such a man is far too dangerous to live in a democracy.

And on a dark and stormy December night I sit alone and wonder, who is this God who our president consults in the deepest reaches of his heart?

And I know I should be forgiving, for he too is a man. But I despair, for forgiveness comes hard and grudgingly. It is drowned out by the strut to the podium, smothered by the empty words delivered so convincingly, and finally crushed by the noise and flames and pain that nightly fill the television screen, And in the flames I see darkness and the only thing I am sure of is, the God that he consults is not my God.

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