Monday, March 06, 2006

Dan Schreiber, Levite Schmuck

I was reading “Shalom: The Bible’s Word for Salvation, Justice and Peace” by Perry Yoder the other night, resonating with its message that God is on the side of the poor and the oppressed. God’s shalom justice is concerned with making the world as it should be, and has nothing to do with retributive violence. I am, like, so down with that, man. If only everyone did their part to bring about such justice, we’d have a totally groovy world.

But the phone rings, and I’m jerked out of my reverie. I’m becoming a cranky old man who doesn’t like answering the phone anymore, because it is invariably some unknown person wanting something from me. Sure enough, it’s a solicitation call. Yuck. Amnesty International. Didn’t I just give them money at the end of last year? They want $50 for a campaign against torture by US interrogators. I’m pretty sure I gave them money already. At least I intended to. Did I follow through? No, I answer, I don’t have $50 for this. How about $25 they ask? No, I say, annoyed, I don’t have $25. Just leave me alone.

I hang up. Now, what was I doing? Oh yea, reading my Shalom book.


Did I just lie to Amnesty International that I don’t have $50? To support anti-torture advocacy? While reading about justice making, and thinking that if only everyone did their part, we’d have shalom justice in the world? I have $50. In fact, one of the ways I console myself about being so comfortably well-off is that I can give money to worthy causes. What kind of hypocritical schmuck am I?

Luckily enough, there is a parable that will tell me exactly what kind of schmuck I am. Luke 10:4, the Good Samaritan. Let’s see, I didn’t beat or rob anyone, nor am I a priest. Yes, here it is: I am the heartless Levite, who passes to the other side of the road so he doesn’t have to see a guy who’s naked and bleeding and suffering. That’s me. The Levite Schmuck. Hooray for me.

In all seriousness, when I checked the actual text, I was quite horrified by the description of the thieves stripping a man, beating him, and leaving him for dead. It isn't horror that evil people do this kind of thing, but that it is such an accurate description of what we are doing to our so-called enemy combatants. Some of them may be evil terrorists bent on our destruction, but a number of them are apparently just people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, or had enemies that wanted them out of the way. That is exactly what is so insidious about our locking them up without trial and torturing them – they have no chance to tell their stories or defend themselves. Not only is it against all principles of a free democracy to do so, but it is exactly how Jesus says not to treat others.

If we apply the good Samaritan story to our present circumstances, then who is who? Who strips, beats and leaves people for dead? We do. Which Christian leaders fail to say or do anything when confronted with this knowledge? Ours do. Who walks to the other side of the road and ignores injustice so they can feel safer? We do.

Who has the courage in these dark days to see “The Other” as fully human and worthy of basic human decency? Who believes enough in Jesus’ message of radical love of our enemies, even to those who might not extend it to us? Amnesty International apparently does.

Well, I don’t want to be the Levite Schmuck, that’s for sure. So, within a few minutes of hanging up on Amnesty, I went to their website and made a $50 donation. I may not be able to be a Full-On Good Samaritan, but at least I can write a check to support those who are. It is quite literally the least I can do. It may mean I only move from being a Levite Schmuck to the regular Privileged Middle-Class Comfortable kind, but at least it is movement in the right direction.

Anyone who wants to join me in this middle-class comfort zone can also make a donation to Amnesty here.


Patrick Gabridge said...

Great post, Dan. Nice to see someone blog about something and find out that their thoughts about injustice actually led them to take action in the end. Very inspiring.

Anonymous said...

You're not a hypocrite by refusing to deal with a telemarketer. You're a decent human being who is working for peace and justice, the kind of peace and justice that discourages an obnoxious and odious invasion of privacy.

You did the right thing. Discourage the phone call, then go to the website and give. Even though it might not have felt right at the time, in the end it will make the world a better place.


Anonymous said...

I'm glad Amnesty is fighting torture but it's not clear that there's an absolute right and wrong in the situation you faced when your telephone rang (and you already know that, of course)

Through my work as an attorney I started getting a ton of collect calls from inmates most of whom just wanted to talk to anyone out of an immense loneliness. Some of whom wanted free legal advice for hopeless causes and some of whom wanted to say strange and inappropriate things to a woman. I couldn't take the calls, there were hundreds. If I think of it I get a sadness and I hear the phone ringing and ringing and ringing.

And just like in your scenario, I know a Bible verse I can apply to my sadness to make me feel guilty. Jesus said that if we visit those in prison it counts as visiting him. So now the phone's ringing and ringing and ringing and I'm not picking it up and it's Jesus on the line!

I like your musings Mr. Minor Mennonite, but I am wary of applying the Bible to personal circumstances.

Your friend,