Monday, April 11, 2011

Quotations From the Chairman

I have a little book I got at a garage sale, published in 1969, Quotations from Chairman Jesus. Its title was meant to be a play on the ubiquitous Red Book of Chairman Mao's quotations, always being brandished by Red Guards in photos from China during the Cultural Revolution. We're a lot less sentimental about the Cultural Revolution and its human toll than people were 40 years ago.

The book itself is a collection of quotes by and about Jesus from the New Testament and some other early church writings, but I have always been moved by the poetic foreword by Daniel Berrigan, whose name was prominent in Christian circles during the 1960s. Here is the first part of his poem, written for a different time of cultural unrest and war in Vietnam (and language that wasn't inclusive), but speaking with fresh words to our time of war in Libya and Afghanistan:

The gospel of Jesus is spoken in a world
intoxicated with death
mesmerized by death
convinced of the necessary rule of death
skilfully conniving with death
technologizing death
acceding to the omnipresence of death

And Jesus says No
to this omnivorous power
So his word makes the slight
all but imperceptible difference
(which is finally the only difference).
A good man, himself powerless,
stands at the side of powerless men
and says to death No
for them for himself

Can any of you
place before you a single child, smiling
squirming in your arms; and say
The death of this child is a fact of modern war; I accede
to that death. I regret it of course
but what can one do? We have to destroy
in order to save; villages, women, children.
The system traps us all...

The system; horrible word! Can the system
trap the conscience of a free man? Traps are for
animals; freedom is for men. I cannot speak
for you but I will not wait upon Caesar
to instruct me in God's word. I am a man. I can read;

If a man will save his life, let him lose it.
I say to you, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.
Whatever you do to the least of these my brothers,
you do to me.
Blessed are you who suffer persecution for justice's sake...

Jesus had nothing to say to "systems", except to deny
their power over him.
He said in effect, violence stops here (pointing to his body)
He said in effect, it is better to die for others
than to live (live?) in a trap.

Be concrete be immediate! Imagine the world!
If you embrace a child, can you consent
to the death of a child? each human face
leads you (follow!) to every human face.

I can only tell you what I believe. I believe
I cannot be saved by foreign policies
I cannot be saved by sexual revolutions
I cannot be saved by the gross national product
I cannot be saved by nuclear deterrents
I cannot be saved by aldermen, priests, artists,
plumbers, city planners, social engineers,
nor by the Vatican, nor by the World Buddhist Association,
nor by Hitler nor by Joan of Arc
nor by angels nor archangels nor by powers and dominations

I can be saved only by Jesus Christ.

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