By John Ballard
A song from my childhood said "I'm a lonely little petunia in an onion patch..." (To my surprise I was able to find it enshrined at You Tube!)
Standing for principles over convention I have sometimes felt like that petunia. And this Christmas, blogging as Christian in a crowd of confessing Infadels of one kind or another, that old feeling comes back, making me reluctant to say much about this ancient observance of the faith. The Church is encrusted with centuries of collective sins but still presents itself as a repository of moral values, very much like an abusive or negligent parent whose failures are evident for all to know, but whose children -- with one of those terrible mysteries of nature -- still love that parent in spite of all they do wrong, if only a remnant of goodness can be discovered.
Faith takes many forms. And a casual glance at history, even archaeology, suggests that most human behavior, both individual and collective, is animated in part by faith. Great works of music and art, many of the world's most durable structures and most conflicts derive from faith of one kind or another. I have successfully altered a lot about myself but ignoring or disrespecting faith has never been on my list. I'm perfectly willing to accept Twain's definition that faith is believing what you know ain't so. Enough of that. Here's today's post.
It was with regret that I learned that Killing the Buddha was declared dead at the start of 2008. I had followed Jeff Sharlet almost from the start of the site, years before his investigation of The Family. Fortunately the site rose from the dead toward the end of that year and has been alive and well since. This essay appeared at KTB on Christmas Eve and I knew it has just the right resonance that readers here might enjoy reading it. I almost put "HCR" into the title but decided against it. It has more to do with faith and history than healthdcare reform.... maybe.
Happy Hopkins Eve
by Mary Valle
This being Baltimore, we�re celebrating Christmas Eve morning by gathering around the grave of Johns Hopkins. He�s buried in the expansive Greenmount Cemetery, which is now located in the so-called �Station North Arts District.� Doctors tell tales of great men and women and their muscle, bravado and intellect. We hear about Mary Elizabeth Garrett, whose grave is in eyeshot of Johnsy�s (I think of him that way). She was the daughter of a railroad magnate, and she made John Hopkins Hospital admit women to the medical school on a completely equal basis. When John Singer Sargent was commissioned to paint her portrait, he liked being in her presence as to a mouse being in the company of a boa constrictor. �A Woman of Quietly Realized Enthusiasms� reads her grave marker.
I�m not a doctor at these things, but I am a cancer patient, still. I was just in Johns Hopkins Medical Oncology a few days ago and I have a lot on my mind. I�m existing in a strange space where, for all intents and purposes, I�m out of treatment but the doctors still refer to the cancer in the present tense, whereas civilians tend to think of me as being �well.� No one really knows for sure if I have cancer or not, but odds are that I do, so what can be done or not done to stop the cells from dividing and massing once again? My body and its functions have become completely unpredictable. I�m taking pills. I�m considering my options.
I place a coin on Hopkins� grave and ask him only to think of me. A photographer from the Washington Post appears and snaps a photo of my daughter doing the same. I consider the vestiges of civilization, and how graves give people a place to gather and speak. Then we�re off to see where John Wilkes Booth is interred, and hear an impromptu lecture on him and the Booth family. Having touched the past and shaken hands with each other, we can now continue with our day. My doctor is going to call me the day after Christmas.
As with most things, the circles repeat, infinitely.
Bringing us back to earth, this piece from Thursday's Guardian is another sad commentary on faith and it's consequences.
If Joseph and Mary were making their way to Bethlehem today, the Christmas story would be a little different, says Father Ibrahim Shomali, a parish priest in the town. The couple would struggle to get into the city, let alone find a hotel room.
"If Jesus were to come this year, Bethlehem would be closed," says the priest of Bethlehem's Beit Jala parish. "He would either have to be born at a checkpoint or at the separation wall. Mary and Joseph would have needed Israeli permission � or to have been tourists.
"This really is the big problem for Palestinians in Bethlehem: what will happen when they close us off completely?"
Bethlehem is the heart of Christian Palestine and it swells with pride every Christmas. Manger Square is transformed into a grotto of lights and stalls crowned by a towering Christmas tree. Strings of illuminated angels, stars and bells festoon the streets. But just a few minutes' drive to the north, the festive atmosphere stops abruptly.
A strip of Israeli settlements built on 18 sq km of what was once northern Bethlehem threatens to cut the city off from its historic twin, Jerusalem. To the Israeli authorities, these have been neighbourhoods of Jerusalem since 1967. One of the settlements, Har Homa, is built on land where angels are said to have announced the birth of Christ to local shepherds. A narrow corridor of land between Har Homa and another settlement, Gilo, still connects Bethlehem to Jerusalem but the construction of Givat Hamatos, a new settlement announced in October, will fill this in a matter of years.
Dr Jad Isaac, an expert in Bethlehem's demographics and a consultant to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, says aside from the physical restrictions on development, Bethlehem's economy is being strangled by the loss of land and restrictions on Palestinian movement.
With work in Jerusalem now impossible to all but the 6,000 granted permits to work inside Israel, unemployment in Bethlehem sits at 23%, poverty levels simmer at 18%. Many have little option but to work illegally for �25 a day building the nearby settlements. Dr Isaac's forecast is bleak.
"The little town of Bethlehem? It will soon be the little ghetto surrounded in all directions by Israeli settlements," he predicts. "We've already passed the stage where Bethlehem can be saved. Frankly, that's why I don't celebrate Christmas any more."