Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Myanmar-Sichuan Double Disasters, "Ironman" and "Watchmen", and 2 Samuel 21 - 24

Coastes, Sentosa
We were at the beach in Singapore. Lapping calmly on the sand, the stench of the Irrawaddy waters, which once held mother and child decomposing wrapped around a tree, rendered impotent by distance and good fortune. I have been irritable and grumpy these few weeks. It has been difficult to be patient with the frivolities of lesson plans and the niceties of home decor and attention-seeking self-centredness when friends who'd only just managed to enter Myanmar sent word about Cyclone Nargis survivors sheltering under thin plastic, with fresh prawns as their only means of sustenance. There had so far been little in the way of news: only that there were just too many dead to count; only of the helpless frustration of foreign aid rotting on Bangkok airstrips; only the rehashing of personal anecdotes that survivors still heard the pitiful cries of ghosts at night; only the taking of surreptitious photographs that, even in their graphic R-18 way, sanitised the suffering (sometimes high resolution isn't a good thing). And then also, the observation that the prawns had been unusually plump.

So Ironman seemed an exercise in CG juvenilia. If only high-tech missiles and one bad guy with un-democratic visions of grandeur was all that stood in the way of world peace. If only a hot-rod red powersuit (not the Maggie Thatcher kind) could......ok, but arguably Tony Stark didn't intend to stop universal suffering, only suffering caused by his rather profitable products. And what else is the draw of Hollywood other than the neat glossy solutions endemic to its simulated reality? Samuel L Jackson as the patch-eyed Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. in little easter egg after the credits points the way to a United Nations-type Avengers Initiative sequel. Gloriously Hollywood too, that, considering the emasculated model in current reality.

A Lazy Afternoon: Alan Moore's "Watchmen", A Cupcake, Some Cold Milk
Unlike Ironman, Alan Moore's Watchmen is possibly classified as an adult comic because it presents superheroes as mere human beings wearing homemade costumes, their boxers outside their tights, their capes getting caught in revolving doors (where were you, Edna Mode?), fighting baddies but ultimately, fighting their own rottenness and the pain from the rottenness of others. World peace and utopia-ship? The self-styled smartest man in the world, Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias, attempts to end all wars by the horrific deaths of millions in New York. Even though founded on the blood of millions, the closing panels of the graphic novel suggest that the success of his solution is doubtful. Far too real for the kiddies.

In Bombs from the album All New Arrivals, Faithless sings:
We think we're heroes, we think we're kings
We plan all kinds of fabulous things
Oh look how great we have become

So much heaven, so much hell
So much love, so much pain
So much more than I thought this world could ever contain
So much war, so much soul
Moments lost, moments go
So much more than I thought this world can ever hold
We're just children, we're just dust
We are small and we are lost
And we're nothing, nothing at all

One bomb, the whole block gone
Can't find me children and dust covers the sun
Everywhere is noise, panic and confusion
But to some, another fun day in Babylon
I'm gonna bury my wife and dig up my gun
My life is done so now I got to kill someone
Since we are incompetent at achieving the world peace so eagerly alluded to by Miss Universe contestants not bogged down with the dilemma of saving either their mothers or their boyfriends, perhaps it is easier to think of getting someone to pay for the our pain, to pass on our suffering. Tim Costello, the CEO of World Vision Australia who'd gone to Myanmar to see how he could help, went home and wept in grief at the hard-heartedness of the junta. The international media continues to spew its outrage that the powers-that-be could reject the aid so badly needed by the people. I don't think many would consider it a violation of human rights if a chap in a hot-rod red suit fried certain uniformed men in an Ark Reactor training accident. Ironically, this must be somewhat like how God views us sinners, so terribly in need of aid and not only refusing it but preventing others from getting hold of it too.

Then over the weekend, toddler-sitting, I accidentally taught the said toddler a (fortuitously mild) exclamation. He took to it like a duck to water.
Ants are spotted on the flowers: "Oh dear!"
His baby brother hits a bowl of porridge out of his mother's hand: "Oh dear!"
He is informed that he has run indoors with his shoes on: "Oh dear!"

After a few hours, he decided that a change of repetoire was in order. In his little kiddy voice, with the slight lisp of extreme youth that has seen little, if any, of the pain that this world can contain, he said:"Rejoice in the Lord always!" (and here he lifted his little arms heavenward) "Again I say,'Rejoice in the Lord always!'"

A timely word of inadvertent encouragement from Philippians:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7)
To urge anyone to rejoice in such circumstances seems sick. But we do not rejoice at the terrible suffering or the communal grief. We rejoice that there is a God who is in control of everything. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (Who will watch the watchmen?) We do not worry because this God who is in control of everything is also all-seeing and is just and righteous. He cares for the weak and the vulnerable and the oppressed, and will deal with the bullies and the murderers rightly.

In the sandwich/sub that is 2 Samuel 21 -24, chapters 21 and 24 are the toasted sesame seed buns. Both the 3-year famine in 2 Samuel 21 and the 3-day pestilence in 2 Samuel 24, we are told, are a result of Israel's sin. (That is not to say all disasters are a direct cause-and-effect result of sin. But these are because God tells us so through the writer of 2 Samuel.) Saul was a fabulously bad king and he led Israel to sin against the Gibeonites which caused the famine in Chapter 21. David who succeeded Saul was described as a man after God's own heart. Yet, even this great king who united the tribes and built a great kingdom for God's people fared negligibly better - his census of Israel brought about the pestilence in chapter 24 (see also 1 Chronicles 21:1-28).

We who wish for perpetrators to be justly punished are faced with the awful truth and moral dilemma that we are negligibly better. But not all is bleak because just as God provided a way out from the judgement on Israel's sin through sacrifices, so he too provides us a way out from his judgement on our sins through the sacrifice of his Son on our behalf.

The roast beef and sauteed onions that are Chapters 22 and 23 flavour the entire 2 Samuel 21-24 sub. Unsurprisingly, God is at the centre of everything. David acknowledges the LORD's direct intervention in his life - he has trained him and empowered him and made David righteous and acceptable to God himself. But we know that David, though the greatest king of Israel still = FAIL. So God promises another king, one who rules justly over men, ruling in fear of God (2 Samuel 23:3). David Jackman (download his talk from St. Helen's Media here) gives a good run-down on how Jesus, great King David's greater king, fulfilled all the aspects of a perfect king so that when he died on the cross for our sins, he was the perfectly unblemished sacrifice.

There is encouragement in these universal truths. There is also encouragement in the fact that real people, flesh and blood, humans like us, lived through these things. They thought these thoughts, made these decisions, schemed against others, saw loved ones die, felt joy and happiness and sorrow and anguish. This happened in the life of a guy called David, who was part of God's plan. And the Gospels record what happened in the life of another real guy called Jesus, who was also part of God's plan for the salvation of all humanity.

Spicy Italian Sausage Pasta Sauce
So then, things started to look up. Attribute the chink of light in the horizon to the umami of a potently garlicky and tomato-ey spicy italian sausage sauce for that tasty bioavailable lycopene hit,
Annie's Bunny Shaped Durum Wheat Pasta

married with Annie's little bunny-shaped durum wheat pasta bits, or the joyous arrival of a squidgy bundle of new life called Marisa, or the impending weddings of friends, or the news that foreign aid workers and aid are now trickling into Myanmar.

But good as all this may be, I suspect the real reason for the ability to really rejoice (as opposed to rejoicing = "Everyone in God's house, JUMP AROUND! JUMP AROUND!") is itself proportional to the ability to lean harder on God, to trust him more deeply because we understand his ways more clearly. And we rejoice also because we do not have a king who reigns patronisingly and smugly, all privileged and comfy in his ivory tower but a king who as our mediator, our high priest, who is able to sympathise with our weaknesses, because he was himself in every respect tempted to rebel against God as we are, but yet did not sin.

Therefore, let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

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