Faith Works 7-22-16
Hope with wings, peace which persists
Lots of rhetoric, political and otherwise, about "who we're fighting." And there is a war on, I don't doubt it. It seems like there always is.
I think it matters to know with whom we are fighting. Paul tells us about "powers and principalities," and we do well to know that our opposition comes from somewhere far beyond the immediately visible, with consequences that go from everlasting to everlasting, but there's a pragmatic side of me that agrees: we need to know exactly what we're up against, and to define our objectives.
In this world, we are often in conflict with groups, nations or peoples. Peacemakers know that there are perspectives which show us how we are more one than many, but the forces of division can hide under nationalism, fascism, tribal boundaries and ethnic identities.
One hundred years ago, there was a World War going on. A "war to end all war" but it was more commonly known then as the war against "the Hun." "Huns" were the frightening, barbaric force of horrific angry imperialism that threatened our friends and fellow-folk; while there were years of debate, in the end the US, and Christians in America, went to war against "Hun-ism" and their "un-Christian barbarism."
During that shift, German Americans found themselves in a difficult position. Harassment and discrimination, both actual and anticipated, led many Germans with US citizenship, many of whom had been here since 1848 and even some (think Baron von Steuben) since the Revolution, to stop speaking their language, change their names, and make other attempts to shroud their connection to the acknowledged enemy. There were the usual cultural excesses: sauerkraut became known as "victory cabbage," frankfurters became hot dogs, and German institutions often painted over signage and symbolism.
In this area, worship in the German language fell out of style, was marginalized and minimized, even after the war ended. And with the war's end, the anger and built up hate of those "Huns" led to a peace settlement in Europe so oppressive that while it took some guilty leaders out of action, the people of Germany carried such a load that it set the stage for an ugly reaction less than a generation later. From 1919 to 1933, the felt condemnation of the world ate at Germans, kept a wound open, and from that pain arose an era of rule by the Nazi Party called in their language a "Reich."
So, it was at first jarring for me the other day to hear the Lord's Prayer in German, in a service of commemoration, with that word quite correctly used as the translation of "Basileia" in Greek or paralleling the English "Kingdom" or "Realm": "Reich."
"Dein Reich komme." Thy kingdom come. In time, for scholars and anyone else, the sound of that word will lose its sting. The German "volk" have learned and changed and continue to wrestle with that era in their common life, while we note our own tendencies and histories which blessedly never got to that level of acted-out evil.
But this is why I simply can't agree with those who ask me so insistently to condemn "Islam" as the opponent the West faces in the world today. No, Islam is not quite the same as Judaism in how each label does and does not refer to ethnicity, but they are used in much the same way to describe a people. I don't believe that Nazism was all there is to say or know about Germans then, then let alone now, and what we need to condemn is not a whole cultural tradition and set of practices, but specifics and particular power-groups within Islam.
And this is, obviously, not because I think Islam's religious claims about divine intentions and human destiny are correct, but because I'd like to think we've learned something from our treatment of the German people after what turned out to be World War One. Too sweeping and crushing a judgment leaves more pain and sorrow to be dealt with later . . . and makes it all the harder to make common cause between cultures to move against evil, wherever it is found.
I will preach the Gospel, and I will condemn evil where it is seen – beginning with casting out the evil I find at work in my own heart, before I spend too much time condemning the evil I think I see in others, especially taken together in lump sums.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's learned just enough German to be dangerous, and not enough Greek to be competent. Tell him about the ways you see language hiding and revealing truth at email@example.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.