Monday, March 14, 2011

Why I am not ignoring Japan, Peter, or the Bible: Ruth Behar

This is a quick 15 minute post.  I want to address (a) the needs in Japan, to address (b) some ignorance, and to address (c) the Bible while drawing attention to (d) how Ruth Behar has helped with my reading of it.

a.  It's via Facebook where I've been able to connect with my former college roommate from Japan, who lives now in Tokyo with his family.  Likewise, face to face, I've been able to meet with each of the Japanese students here in ESL programs I work with on a U.S. university campus.  The horror of the earthquake and the humanity of those trying to help the affected is very touching.  My buddy in Tokyo, for example, and his family are reaching out to others, offering money and even room in their home for anybody who needs and might use it.

b.  Then there's this strange statement by a blogger friend, Peter Kirk, whose post today is entitled, "Why I am ignoring Japan."  Peter states:  "as Christians we should not let ourselves be distracted by giving excessive attention to natural disasters, which are bound to come, but should keep our focus on the work of building God’s kingdom."  Before I respond with a couple of questions or three, you may want to know I've been reading Viktor Frankl's book Man's Search for Meaning, and I'm at the point where he's asking and answering the inevitable question "about the psychological make-up of the [horrific concentration] camp guards."  Frankl answers to suggest there's ignorance.  Frankl points out the sociopathic guards; but then he discusses those others who were dulled, who were willfully ignoring the pathologies of their fellows (the "sadists")  and the unspeakable sufferings these then inflicted on the prisoners because of racist and sexist divisions, divisions of mind and of heart.  There were natural disasters in the camp too, also ignored.  I've read an old blogpost of Peter Kirk's that he himself links to today, and I've read through all of the comments others left for him and also his responses.  I'm struggling now to see the point of his willful ignoring of the people suffering now in Japan (and suffering by being away from their loved ones in Japan).  So here are my questions for myself first and then for Peter:  1.  Can there ever be excessive focus on the work of building God’s kingdom?  2.  Why the willful binary between the work of building God’s kingdom, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the work of giving attention to natural disasters?  3.  When Jesus spoke of God's kingdom was he really speaking to "Christians" per se (or it is that Peter's pathos-less binary Christian construct is somehow anachronistic or even preferentially, exclusivistically futuristic, favoring his own construct of us-vs-them Christianity)?

c.d.  To my knowledge, Ruth Behar although an anthropologist is not a Christian.  She is a Jew (like Jesus) and is also a Cuban born American with bilingual facility (which Jesus also seemed to have).  She's a wonderful poet as well, which her website shows.  I only have time to re-post something that she wrote as somewhat of a plea for passion after one of her colleagues had died; maybe you'll figure out how it is that Bible reading for me now after reading Behar is one of those things that breaks my heart, that as translation must break your heart:

Yet the shift toward intersubjective, Self-Self relation challenges the boundaries of anthropological discourse and raises some crucial questions: Is this turn toward identification going to lead us to ever more insular forms of anthropology? Even to anthropology’s demise? On the other hand, on a less apocalyptic note, couldn’t we say that the new focus on the possibilities and limits of identification is making anthropology finally and truly possible by leading us toward greater depth of understanding, greater depth of feeling about those whom we write about?....

Daring to speak of his sorrow, of his loss, his rage, daring, yes, to privilege sentiments, he dares to be ‘feminine’—that is, feminine in the terms of our cultural logic and the way we ascribe genders to our writing. And immediately the sons come along to chastise him for not being macho enough.

“... but I say that anthropology that doesn’t break your heart just isn’t worth doing anymore.”

And I mean it. Really mean it. Because my heart is broken. Because the one person I wish had heard me sing this lament for him isn’t here. Can’t be here.
--Ruth Behar
“Anthropology That Breaks Your Heart”
The Vulnerable Observer:  Anthropology That Breaks Your Heart

If the catastrophe in Japan breaks your heart, there may be something you can do to help.


Peter Kirk said...

Kurk, I do not appreciate being compared with concentration camp guards. I have just as much ground for comparing you with concentration camp guards for ignoring the millions who die each year of malaria and other preventable diseases - at least you make no mention of this important part of my post.

Of course I understand that people with close personal links in Japan, but not in Africa where so many are dying unnecessarily, are more moved by the plight of the Japanese. But I think I have the right to be more moved by the plight of the Africans - and even more moved by the plight of billions worldwide who are going to a lost eternity without Christ.

I note also Jesus' reaction to disasters in Luke 13:2-5.

Peter Kirk said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J. K. Gayle said...

First, I'm sorry that you had to leave a second comment to subscribe to comments here, in this Blogger system. But I'm really glad you have commented.

Second, I'm interested in how you're getting us to focus on our rights, on legalities and practicalities and reasonable limitations and such. It seems we all to easily wall off our hearts almost so that we're guarding them from breaking.

Jesus's Jewish disciples, Mark and Matthew tell us, were very concerned that they didn't have enough food to feed 4000, and that didn't even include the babies, the children, or the sisters, mothers, aunts, and grandmothers, Matthew adds. But Matthew already tells on Jesus, how he'd tried, with his Jewish apprentices' help, to ignorer another mother, a goyim woman, who was making a public spectacle about her personal crisis that had nothing to do with King David or Father Israel, with the kingdom or the house of God. But she had the gaul to persist. Then he couldn't quite ignore her anymore. He called her "woman" but then confess how great her faith was as if nobody in need should ever again be so ignored - even if race or sex or power or limits on one's own resources give a right to stuff down what is deep compassion in one's own heart. Matthew (like Mark) suggest that Jesus learned his lesson, because they let him confess the deep pity he has welling up in this new natural disaster of too many needs but not enough resources. Seems like he tries to teach those Jewish men of his to so learn.

Peter, Yes, of course, I don't want to compare you or myself or anyone to the SS sadists or their Nazi fellows who looked away. I don't appreciate such comparisons either. I don't want to compare Jesus with them as he's ignoring an un-named non-Jew non-man non-father, who's somehow let her daughter romp around with the evil spirits.

But what breaks our dichotomy of "Christian-entitlement" / "non-Christian need"? What breaks the binary between "my right" / "my call"? What breaks our hearts?

Peter Kirk said...

Kurk, in some ways I wish I had answers, but then the kind of answers I might have would be ones Rachel doesn't want, in the poem you posted on my comment thread.

Jesus didn't empty hospitals worldwide, or even throughout Jewish territory, although he could have done. Instead he showed his concern only for those he met in the places where he went, where the Father sent him. Similarly I want to show genuine concern for people I have real relationships with, rather than manufactured concern for people I have only heard about from TV and the Internet.

J. K. Gayle said...

Peter, If you're able to imagine what answers you "might have," then you have some. Please tell us what you assume Rachel Held Evans doesn't want you to answer. You both show us and tell us how active your imagination is when answering Mike at your blog's comment thread. You say:

But I did not actually encourage others to ignore the situation, but not to give it excessive attention. Indeed even for myself “ignore” should be understood as hyperbole, as the very fact that I posted this shows that I am giving the matter some attention.

So some questions you might answer, if only by having imagination:

Won't you admit the irony of telling others not to be excessive when you confess you've been hyperbolic (aka excessive) with your own language?

Why your dichotomy of "Christian-entitlement" / "non-Christian need"?

What breaks the binary between "your right" / "your call"?

Can there ever be excessive focus on the work of building God’s kingdom?

Haven't you constructed a willful, excessive binary between the work of building God’s kingdom, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the work of giving attention to natural disasters?

J. K. Gayle said...

Peter, Just a few more questions to imagine having answers for:

When Jesus spoke of God's kingdom was he really speaking to "Christians" per se? How does one explain his initial, willful ignoring of the Canaanite woman pleading or his reproofs to her with statements about David and about Israel, notable kingdom men?

What breaks your heart? Can't you imagine Jesus learning from a woman and her repeated, public, hyperbolic (excessive) pleadings - and then his teaching others how he learned from her - to repent, to reconsider, to find the means to meet the needs of the hungry? Would he always and only go to the hospitals for his own kind? Would he let his own kind, following him, stay in Jerusalem because - to this very day - the needs there are so much more meetable and manageable than in Havana and in Dar es Salaam and in Capetown and in Tokyo and in Sendai?

Isn't it interesting in the Sermon on the Mount - which Jesus preached (Matthew tells us) after he'd taught and healed every disease and sickness in the hospitals "all over Syria" and outside those hospitals too by outpatient means also since "people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed" and likely all diseased from those "large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan" - that Jesus tells the healed listeners that the only reason he could, or even would, heal them was because they were in his general vicinity but now that he is actually, and even more reasonably, "even more moved by the plight of billions worldwide who are going to a lost eternity without Christ"? Or have you read this right?

And preaching a little later about some returning King in a parable - Matthew tells us later - didn't he say that He would "say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For you failed to ignore the Japanese dying in the earthquake and neglected to focus, instead, on the Christian Kingdom of God and to be more moved by the plight of billions worldwide who were, without your intervention, going to a lost eternity without Christ’?

Or are you imagining some different Christ, not the one who tells the parable -- Matthew tells us -- in which the king actually says:

"25:34その時, 王は自分の右にいる者たちにこう告げるだろう。『さあ,わたしの父に祝福された者たち,世の基礎が据えられて以来あなた方のために備えられていた王国を受け継ぎなさい。 25:35わたしが飢えると食べ物を与え,わたしが渇くと飲み物を与え,よそから来ると宿を貸し, 25:36裸でいると服を着せ,病気でいると見舞い,ろうやにいると来てくれたからだ』。"

/34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry in Sendai and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty in Sendai and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger in Sendai and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes in Sendai and you clothed me, I was sick in the hospital in Sendai and you looked after me, I was in prison in Sendai when the earthquake hit and then you came to visit me.’/

Peter Kirk said...

Kurk, there are a lot of things I could imagine saying. I could say that natural disasters happen in an imperfect and fallen world. I could talk about the folly of building houses (not to mention nuclear power stations) not on the rock but in sandy coastal areas in a known earthquake and tsunami zone. I could quote Luke 13:1-5, etc etc.

Or I could rewrite your quote of Matthew 25 with "Africa" in place of "Sendai". But that wouldn't be fair. We are not called each individually to bear all the burdens of the world like Atlas. Instead as Christians we are supposed to share our burdens. That means some, not all, are to bear the burden of Japan. God may have called you to take a part in bearing it. But I don't think he has called me to. He has other burdens for me, and I gladly take them up.

J. K. Gayle said...

Why do you feel you have to be Atlas? Why not be the Good Samaritan who - in your case - doesn't even have to cross the road or leave his home or get off his own donkey - since, via the Internet, you can send your help so conveniently and pretty modestly? (And you can even do it anonymously, privately.) Is that really so much more of a burden on you since you already are able to take on "the plight of the Africans - and even more ... the plight of billions worldwide who are going to a lost eternity without Christ"? Or perhaps you really are Atlas?

Peter Kirk said...

Kurk, I am happy to be a Good Samaritan to people I find in need beside the road. That doesn't mean I have to scour electronically all the roads of the world looking for people to be Good Samaritan to, and share my meagre resources out so that no one recipient gets a worthwhile amount. The Japanese don't want our help, even from our experts, as this story shows. Why are you trying to force me to force on them what they don't need and don't want?

J. K. Gayle said...

Peter, I am happy that you are looking at the BBC Headlines. Somewhere between "scouring electronically" and actually reading the stories below the headlines might be a good way for you to proceed. If you actually read "this story" you link to, then you'll find that its the UK's "International Rescue Corps" that is having trouble, not with any Japanese resistence, but with their [i.e., the British's] "own country," for "they [i.e., the Scotland-based IRC] couldn't get the relevant paperwork from the British embassy in Tokyo." As much internet time as you give yourself, you might see how great the need for help in Japan is and is becoming. You might also see that here I'm not at all in the least trying to force you to do anything that you yourself don't want to do. See: I've used "might" thrice now, as a clear suggestion of what you could possibly do - even in your own imagination - if your heart ever were to break and quake like a fault line in the pacific.

Peter Kirk said...

I did read the BBC story, in two different versions. The original version blamed the British embassy. The later version (currently "Last updated at 11:12", but the version I commented on at 10:29 was similar) includes a response from the British ambassador clarifying that the embassy was unable to get cooperation from the Japanese authorities. I guess the Japanese are struggling to coordinate a massive relief effort and don't want to be distracted by an uninvited team of rescuers who don't know the country or the language and so could be more of a problem than they are worth. Such uninvited attempts to help, and our western presumption than they will be accepted with open arms, are probably seen in Japan as western imperialism. Why can't we recognise that the Japanese know what they are doing and may not need our help?

J. K. Gayle said...

Peter, Thank you for using the more inclusive "we" in your question above. We agree that "uninvited attempts to help and our western presumption" actually might provide less help than attempted.  This makes us wonder - since you've mentioned Luke 13 twice in comments here - why Jesus responded to an uninvited attempt to help from "a woman was there [in the synagogue minding her own business on a Sabbath day] who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years [and who] was bent over and could not straighten up at all."  Luke doesn't report or even suggest that she asked for help; he simply says "Jesus saw her," called her over, said something to her, and then administered his help to her without her asking for it.  If you're blogging to give unsolicited attempts to help others "become a follower of Jesus," then we have to ask now when it is really okay to be so presumptuous.

J. K. Gayle said...

But many of our Japanese friends are asking for help.

Japanese reporters and news editors at the Kyodo News website in Tokyo on March 11th issued this report in English: "URGENT: Japan calls for U.S. military help after quake."

Later, reporters for explained that it was only "after an overwhelmed Japanese government asked for foreign assistance" that many outsiders "responded" including "American, German, Swiss, Hungarian and Taiwanese [rescue] squads." (At least those Taiwanese are not presumptuous westerners.  Reports of the non-western Koreans pouring out love in the form of money and rescue team assistance is just ridiculous.)

"Japanese Ambassador to the United States Ichiro Fujisaki specifically thanked the American Red Cross for its assistance and directed concerned citizens to make donations there," as report Joshua Runyan and Tamar Runyan of - Jewish News.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has reached out to and teamed up with the U.S. Embassy to offer "free of charge" emergency phone service "from any phone including public pay phones."

The International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano said: "Today [March 15th], the government the agency to provide expert missions." - this according to the English language reports of Radio Television Hong Kong.

The US Associated Press reports today (March 16th) from Washington that "Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano says his government expects to ask the U.S. military for more help with the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami."

Japanese Christians are asking for help from God it seems: "Japanese Christians, although a small minority of the battered Asian nation’s populace, gathered in churches and Bible studies Sunday to pray for those still missing after the March 11 earthquake – now listed as 9.0 in magnitude – and tsunami."  A similar story here and headline here.

"Yuko Shimada (SFS '13), a Japanese student involved in on-campus relief efforts" at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.,  joined several others "as Shinto, Buddhist and Catholic prayers were said to honor the victims and survivors of the crippling earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan Friday."

Peter Kirk said...

I'm glad that Japanese Christians and others are asking for help from God. I also recognise that they are asking for some limited help from outsiders. They are sensible to ask foreigners who want to help financially to give through a major international agency and not by sending their own freelance teams. I just found this on the BBC site:

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague has told the Foreign Affairs Select Committee that any aid groups arriving in Japan needed to be integrated with the wider relief operation or to have their own logistical support, but that the UK team had had neither.

In Luke 13:12-13, the woman came to Jesus when he called her, as otherwise how could he have put his hands on her? As for my blogging invitations to people to follow Jesus, they are strictly on a take it or leave it basis. I don't get upset with people who don't read my material, although I may be sad.