Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Faith Works 2-25-06
Jeff Gill

Western Liberal Democracies Have More Fun

You have surely heard about those cartoons first published five months ago in Denmark, the result of an editor asking 25 illustrators to show how they saw the Prophet Muhammad. 12 responded, and the newspaper printed them as editorial comment on the challenges faced in Europe and around the world in responding to militant Islam. The man in charge admits that he knew the preference against images of the Prophet among Moslems, but said he wanted to make the point that mocking or humorous images of Christian figures were tolerated, but any slight against the Islamic community provoked harsh words and threats of violence, intimidating comics and politicians alike.
In other words, he was looking for a flap, and got a flapdoodle.
A number of Islamic leaders in Denmark put together a portfolio of the images, plus three whose sources have never been identified (and are the most offensive), and traveled to Cairo and other centers of the Moslem world to raise awareness of the affront to faithful adherents of Islam.
Suddenly Syria and Iraq and Pakistan found cause for offense, or at least radical Islamic groups were able to use them as provocations to assemble mass demonstrations against Western influences in general and the freedom to mock in particular. Deaths resulted, so far pretty much exclusively among the rioting protesters, especially young children caught up in the mobs.
Then Iran, whose new president is nothing if not consistent in his distaste for all things Western and therefore decadent, decided to follow up his public speeches (asking for Israel to be wiped from the map and declaring that the crimes attributed to the Nazis are largely fiction) with a declaration of a contest. Send us, he asked, your cartoons that deny the Holocaust.
Israel’s newspapers were swift to respond. They announced the next day a contest, asking readers to submit their favorite pieces of . . .
What do you think properly concludes that sentence? Another round of Mecca-bashing, or snideness about sultans? Nope. They asked for the best examples of anti-Semitic humor, saying "No one is going to outdo Israel in making fun of Jews!"
And they ran them.
I can’t use almost any of this is in a nice family paper like the Advocate, but it turns out Israelis know some pretty good shots at themselves, much of it ruder than I should be able to get the point of, actually.
One well worn joke was noted as needing to be officially retired (the one about the Volkswagen that seats 6,000,004 – think ash trays), and some submitted art was good enough to reprint, including a scene of Moses, Jesus, Buddha, and yes, Mohammed looking down in a group from heaven onto a scene of clashing rioters, with Big Mo saying "We didn’t teach them that!"
Some of my good conservative Christian friends worry about decadent modern Western culture as much as Osama bin Laden on a bad day, and who’s to say we don’t share a few concerns (noting stopped clocks twice a day, blind pigs finding the stray acorn, etc.). But what gives me a smile most days in Western Liberal Democracyland is that we have the social structure that allows us to make fun of ourselves, even mean spirited mocking at times (ask Bob Taft how he feels about capital punishment for cartoonists, or even columnists), and move on, possibly even conceding that we learned something in the exchange . . . but you’re still wrong!
Dr. Pangloss may be wrong about this being "the best of all possible worlds," but I give thanks that we can have a copy of "Candide" in some church libraries, "The Book of Mormon" in public libraries, "Brokeback Mountain" in theaters, and the "Qu’ran" in local bookstores, and no one need riot.
Actually, given that Westernized groups have shown a remarkable ability, even a preference, for taking terms of derision and embracing them as labels (Quakers, Shakers, Methodists, Mormons, or Holy Rollers to name a few), it would seem to be an essential part of our make up.
As Blake said and "Godspell" quoted, "Mock on, mock on!"

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; make fun of him at disciple@voyager.net.
Notes From My Knapsack 2-26-06
Jeff Gill

Touching History, Feeling Distance

In a world of steel plate four inches thick, along miles of corridor punctuated by the step-ups of hatchway and drops down twelve tread accommodation ladders, hundreds of boys rambled widely, parents trying and usually failing to keep up.
Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, and adult leaders from four states spent Washington’s Birthday weekend on board the USS Yorktown in Charleston, South Carolina. Sleeping on four high chain slung racks, just as 3,000 and more sailors and Marines did during World War II, right down to red lights near the deck (floor to you, lubber) and cold water in the heads (restrooms which normally have plenty of hot water, just not much fresh, vets tell me), it was an immersion in history for everyone concerned.
What startled me was not the crowded conditions or the labor of dragging duffels up and down the hangar deck and up to the berth, but a quick mental calculation. The Little Guy, who was fascinated in a seven year old sort of way by the stuff, if not the story, is as far from the events of 1943 as I was at his age from Blackjack Pershing’s expedition against Pancho Villa, with Lt. Georgie Patton showboating around. He is as distant from the start of WWII (not even counting the head start Poland and Great Britain got) now as I would have been from the Boer War or the Philippine Insurrection.
That first decade of the twentieth century still feels about as far back to me now as it did as a kid, but World War II was just a few years back when I was a Cub myself, watching "Combat!" with Vic Morrow and "The Rat Patrol" and "McHale’s Navy" on TV. All my conscious life, politicians have compared where their service in that conflict took them and taught them. George H.W. Bush flying off the USS Intrepid and shot down over the Pacific, young Lt. Gerald Ford almost washing overboard in a monsoon on the USS Monterey, Bob Dole shot in Italy fighting up the Adriatic coast.
But we will never again elect a WWII vet as president; John McCain, a Vietnam naval aviator whose father and grandfather commanded ships and fleets in the Pacific against Japan, now openly wonders if he’s too old to be chief executive (but ends up thinking he’s not, and I agree).
I can’t imagine how exciting this would have been for me as a kid, how fresh and recent the images and cultural memories would have been; it was amazing enough in my mid-40’s, let alone with Fort Sumter as a capper for the Civil War geek in me.
These kids, our own from Licking County and others out of Georgia, North Carolina, and New Jersey, were obviously excited and fascinated. What was less obvious is how they feel the connection to the ship and all she represents.
The exhibits on the hangar deck and all through the compartments, divided into six self-guided tours, tried to tell a story, and each night movies in the ship’s theater – formerly the forward elevator – put pictures together with the surroundings. (Note: "Tora, Tora, Tora" is best seen from the intermission to the end, with the first half reserved for those who read diplomatic history and the Proceedings of the Naval Institute for fun, but "The Fighting Lady" was in 1944 and still is an inspired piece of film making, let alone a fine documentary.)
Still, the gap between the world of our kids today and the world where the Norden bombsight was high tech and jets still a science fiction concept, read in pulp magazines with Betty Grable pin ups on the back cover, may be too great to bridge. The Rough Riders and Baden-Powell still feel as antiquated to me full grown as they did to my younger self, but men who flew TBD’s off carriers or landed at Omaha Beach still are elder contemporaries.
The Little Guy will not grow up with that same sense of nearness, but at least he has the Yorktown. And in that changed world, as we navigated our way among the planes and displays, we heard the voices around us of day visitors, speaking – I kid you not – Japanese and German, Italian and Spanish. All offering a kind of tribute by having chosen to buy a ticket and come to see by what simple tools and valiant young men, now elderly guides in blue vests, the Axis powers were vanquished, and renewed.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; praise the Lord and pass your stories along through disciple@voyager.net.