It Was Only A Rape

It is an interesting coincidence that I was reading N.T. Wright’s “Evil and the Justice of God” one night recently, and when I put the book down to take a break and scanned the CNN web site my eyes ran across a story about a gang rape which occurred during spring break on Panama City Beach in Florida.  Although hundreds of people were partying and walking to and fro within feet of the attack, police would still be unaware of it having taken place except that it was captured on video and posted in the internet by some bystanders.  The face of the victim, whom it is believed was drugged, was blurred, but she recognized her tattoos and contacted police.  She knew that something wrong had happened but had no idea exactly what it was.  Now she knows.  Make no mistake here; this event, including the primary actors in it and the passive bystanders who did nothing to prevent or stop it, is a monstrous evil.

There are many schools of thought about the nature of evil and how we should deal with it, and one of those schools teaches that evil will fade away as more of the population becomes educated.  Greater exposure to great ideas will eventually tame the beast which lurks within us all.  I am not at all convinced that this is true.  This event took place on spring break, and spring break is an event which represents time off from – – – school!  Three men have been arrested for this crime and at least two of them were college students.  I have not read any details on the third arrestee, but the odds are better than even that he, too, is a student.  The bystanders, or at least the vast majority of them, were in all likelihood students as well, and their role in this tragedy is even more despicable than was that of the three rapists.  If education is supposed to be elevating our social game above such acts of evil it is glaringly obvious to me that it is failing miserably.

And then there’s the devil.  Many of us do not like to talk about Lucifer, Ha Satan, Beelzebub, Old
Scratch, or whatever you want to call It.  For millennia it was not so, and the devil was widely acknowledged to be behind much of what is wrong with the world.  Too much, I think.  Most people in the past saw demons and the devil behind every rock and bush, and some still do so to this day.  But can we say that they are entirely wrong?  Is there no such thing as a negative spiritual or supernatural force which hates life and creation and strives against it to our injury?  Jewish and Christian traditions ascribe evil to be the special province of a devil and Its cohorts and I suppose that other spiritual traditions do as well, but a great segment of the population at large does not believe in the existence of a devil and many Jews and Christians are not comfortable even talking about It.  This of course is a great comfort and strategic asset to the devil.  It is a good deal easier to harm an enemy when that enemy (us) does not even believe that you exist.

But I have to ask myself, whether by devil or otherwise, how could this event take place in America?  Literally hundreds of partying young people either stood by and watched or, what is even worse, paid no attention at all while a woman was sexually assaulted within a few feet of where they were standing.  I think it would have been better if the observers had cheered or maybe even participated.  To simply ignore the attack as something beneath notice implies to me a soul deadness that is the most frightening aspect of this whole event.  The rape leaves me shocked and furious.  The dismissal of it by the bystanders as something no more noteworthy than a paper hot dog wrapper blowing by on the Gulf breeze while it was going on at a few feet’s distance leaves me frightened and shaken to my core.

I am not using this event to smear all college students, all young people, or all Americans with a broad brush.  It is my hope and belief that if this had occurred in Central Park in New York City, the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque New Mexico, along the shores of Lake Michigan in Chicago Illinois or in Esther Short Park in Vancouver Washington, or even Panama City Beach on any time other than spring break, it would have ended quickly and painfully for the attackers.  What I am saying is that at one time and one place a vicious act of evil occurred and America – all ages and genders and ethnicities and social strata – should look at it and ask how we could let such a thing happen.  And just as the Jews said about their holocaust, which now happened several holocausts and genocides ago, we should look at this together as a society and say “Never Again”.

Reflections on Lent, Day 35

Just because a person becomes a Christian does not mean that they will now be blessed with every good thing and will walk smiling through a life without troubles, wondering why everybody else doesn’t simply adopt their easy plan for love, money, and a life for the most part free from pain.  I know that this caricature of life as a Christian is pure bull caca, and it continues to amaze me that it is preached by some and accepted by great crowds of the gullible to this day.  Jesus and ten of the first eleven disciples (Judas excluded), seemed to miss out on the health and wealth aspect of this strange description of Christ’s mission on earth, so why on earth would anyone think that such a vision would work for a true Christ follower today?

This topic of pain and trouble has been dealt with already by writers and thinkers far sharper than Yours Truly.  Harold Kushner wrote “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” in 1978, and Rabbi Kushner did a wonderful job of explaining this topic.  I will not summarize that book here, but I encourage anyone wrestling with this issue to give it a read.   This is only a Lent reflection however, and not a book review.

During this Lent period I have been trying to focus more sharply on God and my walk with Him/Her (at ease now;  I’m not trying to be unnecessarily incendiary here.  I just believe that trying to apply gender roles and limitations to God is a fool’s errand).  At the outset of the Lent season I naively expected a significant spike in the quality of my prayer life, a quiet confidence that God was in control of the wildness and confusing randomness of my health, work and family life, and that maybe I would hit on the lottery.  As it has turned out, this has been one of the most trying months-and-change that I have had in a while, and if you consider that my last year included a heart attack and bypass surgery, that’s saying quite a lot.

I won’t go into all of the details of the trials which I have endured during this Lent season, and I also won’t try to say that I have not also experienced great spiritual successes and blessings too.  The point of this reflection is that we all, Christian and non-Christian alike, live in a bent and broken world, and that becoming a follower of Christ does not remove a person from that world.  All of the pain and wrongness which afflict the atheist or the Hindu or the Muslim or the Capitalist or the Vegan afflict the Christian too.  I don’t know why that is so, but I do know for a fact that it IS so, and nobody will gain anything by denying that fact, except perhaps silver-tongued preachers who prey upon the fear and greed and weakness of those who listen to them.  I am not judging anybody here (that would be way above my pay grade!), but I am not overly confident of those “preachers'” odds for a good outcome when the judgement day arrives.  I hope for the best, but I’ve got some doubts there.

With all of this in mind, it is probably reasonable to ask why it is a good idea to become a Christian in the first place.  I miss out on the sex and drugs and rock ‘n roll, I don’t get to make fun of people who are different than me, and I don’t get to cheat on my taxes with a clear conscience if I buy into this Christian thing, and in return I get  –  What?  Maybe I’ll go to heaven if I get the luck of the draw (if Calvin’s caricature is right), or maybe I get a crutch to prop my weak ass through the life that everybody else seems to be living just fine (NB: they aren’t!) .  Maybe I’ll just get the prestige of being the adherent to a barely tolerated subgroup in American society and earn the right to get a shellacking in the next election if I decide to run for president.

No, any benefit received by following the crucified Christ is not likely to be monetary, political or positional in society.  So what is it”  I have learned this Lent season that God is, as David Benner writes in “Surrender to Love”, madly in love with us.  Jesus does not stand between us and the shit that the world, the flesh and the devil throw at us.  Instead, He stands beside us, getting covered up in that shit the same as we are.  I count it a privilege to be covered in the same shit that the broken world threw on my God, and when He/She cleans me off some day I hope that He/she will clean off the world that was throwing it as well, and that all of us who will accept God’s grace will dine – no, dine isn’t the right word – will PARTY together, while those who chose to reject Christ to the end will nurse their grudges and drink their bitter cup in an outer darkness of their own choosing, in a prison or tomb locked from the inside.

So yeah, life can be a bitch.  So what?  That’s not news.  Put your tough pants on.  Life is also a gift, and while you can’t always dial up the life you want, you can always draw on His/Her power to make it reflect a little bit of Christ back into the world.  For me, that is enough.