Sunday, October 25, 2009

Camel, rope, beam--which doesn't belong?

Bowling Alley - Rosthern October 15, 2009
“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God (Mark 10: 25).” That’s one of the metaphors of Jesus that my class will be pondering this morning. And so I’ve read what I could about the possible interpretations of this enigmatic comparison and have decided that the Aramaic word gml, which can mean a rope, a beam or a camel, should probably have been translated rope. “It is easier for a rope to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.” Evangelical commentators seem to prefer the idea that a gate in the Jerusalem wall would be closed at night but a smaller gate could provide access to man and camel, if the camel were unloaded of its goods first. This theory has been largely discredited.

One of my points this morning will be that one should never overwork a metaphor. Jesus had just invited a wealthy man to get rid of the burden of his money and follow him if he wanted to “inherit eternal life.” The man was heartbroken; he couldn’t bring himself to part with his hard-earned hoard and he walked away. The core of Jesus camel/rope analogy is that money can exert a formidable force on a person. That may be all he was trying to say.

But there’s another angle, I guess. Jack Benny once said jokingly: “If I can’t take it with me, I ain’t goin’!” Whatever realm may exist after death would obviously welcome any newcomer without his/her money. The cash stays behind for the children to squabble over. Call it the unloading of the camel, if you like.

Being a somewhat-anal English teacher, I see the relationship between a rope and a thread and I want to insist that a camel through a needle’s eye is a bad metaphor, whereas a rope through a needle’s eye is superb. I leave it to you to decide whether a camel or a rope is more appropriate to your thinking. (Some have said that a camel is more easily passed through a needle’s eye if it’s lightly greased—a metaphor-overworking joke.)

Actually, it makes little difference. Struggle as you might, passing a camel, a rope or a beam through a needle’s eye are all equally impossible. Point taken. Money (along with a thousand other obsessions: addictions, fame, comfort, status, etc., etc.) has the potential for exerting tenacious holds on people, often preventing them from pursuing nobler objectives.

It still leaves the question of what is meant by needle in this context (2100 years ago) or by Kingdom of God or by pass.

Maybe I should just stay home this morning.

P.S. I led the class through the discussion and it went well, I think. We are agreed that North American Christians (that’s us) are all “rich rulers,” at least by the Two-thirds World’s standard. Sell off our goods and donate the proceeds to the poor? I don’t think so.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Life around the Lemon Tree - a book review

Frenchman River near Val Marie
At the heart of Sandy Tolan’s, The Lemon Tree lies the preponderant question of Palestine: where is justice and fairness when one person’s safety and livelihood must be won at the expense of another, and/or the other way ‘round. Bashir grew up in a house in Ramla; in 1949, Zionist advances into the area of Lydda and Ramla resulted in thousands of Palestinians being driven from their homes and orchards to take refuge in the West Bank and Gaza. A Jewish family immigrating from Bulgaria was given the right to select a new home in Ramla, and it was Bashir’s home they chose. Dalia, a daughter in this Jewish family ended up becoming friends with Bashir, but in one of their conversations, Bashir says:

"The Nazis killed the Jews. And we hate them. But why should we pay for what they did? Our people welcomed the Jewish people during the Ottoman Empire. They came to us running away from the Europeans and we welcomed them with all that we had. We took care of them. But now, because you want to live in a safe place, other people live in pain. If we take your family, for example. You came running from another place. Where should you stay? In a house that is owned by someone else? Will you take the house from them? And the owners—us—should leave the house and go to another place? Is it justice that we should be expelled from our cities, our villages, our streets? We have history here—Lydda, Haifa, Jaffa, al-Ramla. Many Jews who came here believed they were a people without land going to a land without people. That is ignoring the indigenous people of this land. … Zionism did this to you, not just to the Palestinians. (Tolan, Sandy. The Lemon Tree. New York: Bloomsbury, 2006. p. 160-161)."

It seems to me that the Israeli theft of large portions of Palestine will be shown historically to have been one of the major scandals of the 20th Century, extending into the 21st. Sandy Tolan has researched and documented carefully the events that began early in the last century, leading to the situation we have today: an armed and dangerous standoff with Israel continuing to solidify its annexation of the region, unbending in its refusal to recognize the Palestinians' right to return to illegally-appropriated property.

Tolan does what most other writers on the subject have not been able to do. He has given the Palestinian conflict a human face. He tells the story of two families—one Palestinian, one Jewish—whose destinies cross paths, and he tells it tenderly and sensitively. It’s a tale that rises above the dreary plain of politics and worn-out creeds, and brings to readers the heart of the matter. Tolan not only tells what it’s like, he conveys what it feels like to the people to whom this entire conflict really matters.

Tolan sums up his goals in writing The Lemon Tree in his “Author’s Note:” “By juxtaposing and joining the histories of two families . . . and placing them in the larger context of the days’ events, I hope to help build an understanding of the reality and the history of two people on the same land.”

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Read on, Macduff!

Can you read this waffle iron?
Some people read voraciously, some read a little, and some read virtually not-at-all. (You may quote me on this profundity if you wish.) Some of us habitual readers pompously consider reading to be virtuous, and non-reading to be a partner of laziness, ignorance, intellectual lethargy, apathy, etc.

Agnes and I just assumed the administrative role at the Station Arts Centre in Rosthern. One of the events we’re preparing for is the reading-out-loud of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol in December. Will people come? We wonder and are not sure. Will people be found who can do the text justice? When they read, of course, what people hear will virtually be the voice of Charles Dickens telling a story through the medium of print. The words will be the words he chose, placed in the order he considered appropriate and most effective.

Dickens was good at reading aloud, apparently. People would fill auditoriums to hear him read excerpts from his novels.
Anne Enright is a good storyteller as well, although I've no idea how well she reads--aloud. Her short story, “What You Want” in the collection, Yesterday’s Weather, appealed to me more than any short story I’d read for years. Enright’s stories are most often told through the eyes of female narrators who are wives and mothers. Generally, listening to the stories of the regrets, the longings of suburban motherhood doesn’t grab me; Enright succeeds in capturing my attention, and I don't mind listening to her, attentively and without interruption.

Reading, seems to me, represents an eagerness--or at least a willingness--to absorb wisdom and knowledge in one unique way. When you tell a story in print, the listener doesn’t interrupt, doesn’t insist on interposing an alternate viewpoint although he may well have one. Try that at coffee time!

I continue to insist that the ability to read well and the habit of reading much renders people more fit to face a chaotic world. But I guess that’s only true if the choice of reading material is informed, and that’s a whole other issue. Who will tell the masses to read “A” and use “B” to line their birdcages? Ay, there’s the rub!
On the other hand, if you ask me I’ll tell you. Read Charles Dickens and Anne Enright, and next week . . ..