In my own continuing “trip” I go to a Bible/Book study group out of the UCC church in Riga. At one meeting, we prayed for the world in the context of Pearl Harbor and WWII, and then instead of Bible study, we watched the TV movie “Silent Night,” starring Linda Hamilton.
This is the story of a German hausfrau and her 13 year-old son, who have hiked to the family hunting lodge and spend Christmas there. The lodge becomes a resting place and field hospital for three American and three German soldiers. The hostess demands that the weapons be left outside, but the conflict rages on. Conversation ranged over what morality means, where “honor” can play a part in our lives, and what will prompt a person to take action against the standards and norms of the culture in which she finds herself embedded.
It made me realize that I often get into the “US versus THEM” mindset, thinking of others as barriers, obstructions, and problems rather than as my sisters and brothers, not only as children of God but as kindred in the flesh, with aches and pains, sadnesses and easily bruised egos, all of us alike in the frailty of our earthly and earthy bodies as well is in our eternal souls.
The people of the Greatest Generation are aging away from us at greater and greater speed. The Silent Generation (or the “War Babies”) are now our active elders, and the “Baby Boomers” are the adults and soon to be seniors. The biggest difference in the three cultures from my perspective is the lessening of the black and white and increase in the grey for all conflicts. A friend once lectured me that he thought we would all end up in a great sea of relativist morality unless we decided to take a stand. He argued that we must stand firm and draw moral lines in the sand; we must forbid certain activities and punish the violators. But I understand, and that movie on the 6th brought me to appreciate that there are two forces at work in all of us. The first is self preservation, which operated in the Hausfrau – she began to see the evil of the War only when it came to take her 13 year old son away. The second is an innate (God-given) sense of right and wrong which was shown by her outreach to both the Germans and Americans. The miracle described in the movie is that she was in the right place at the right time to save six lives and celebrate Christmas in the midst of the evil war she was fleeing.
Can a person truly understand, empathize and forgive what might also be deemed alien, immoral and unforgiveable? I agonized over the Killing Fields of Cambodia. How could there be such things as the Holocaust and Khmer Rouge’s decimations and the Chinese Cultural Revolution. How could humans with souls like mine commit these atrocities? How could American criminals become mass murderers and torturing cannibals? My father and Goldwater both believed in the philosophy of “just wipe ‘em off the face of the earth.” The Silent Generation wanted blockade and separation – “Let ‘em go to Hell on their own.” Boomers, who earned their stripes questioning the motives of the Viet Nam war, began the process of trying to understand the others. And I believe it is in the trying that we become Christ-like. We must still oppose, but to truly and successfully oppose, we must understand, we must love and we must forgive. To mindlessly oppose is to become mindless. Isolation from the world is impossible. Evil is permutable, so we must be able to perceive, understand and adapt our defenses and even become preventative. Christ’s teachings first and foremost demand that we THINK not that we apply a formula or look it up in a table.