Thursday, October 05, 2006

Contrasting Images

The news from Washington as we prepare for the fall election is nothing less than horrific. As badly as the Democrats had made a mess of things when in power, the Republicans seem to be able to "one up" them. There is a general disgust about Representative Foley and his secret e-mail liasons with adolescent male pages. His revelation that he is both gay and was abused by a clergyman when young himself surely seems to be an attempt to provide a smokescreen and elicit empathy, when in reality it smacks of the height of irony and depths of bathos for a party committed to upholding so-called "family values."

In the meantime, the news media seems absolutely flumoxed by what to make of the grieving Amish community in Pennsylvania. For a culture that thrives on spectacle and bombast, these quiet simple-dressed Anabaptists seem so counter-cultural. Which is exactly what they set out to be. Despite the critique with which theologians are familiar of Niebuhr's "Christ against Culture" paradigm, the sheer iconoclasm and simplicity of a people seeking to live out the heart of the gospel leaves the evening news reporters near speechless. It is almost comical to watch a reporter trying to capture a head shot full-on while an Amish elder seeks to avoid the spotlight.

The Amish approach to both forgiveness and death seems to be where 21st-century Americans struggle the most. While the media revels in images of rage, violence, and vituperation, they remain puzzled by the Amish quietness and a commitment to pray for both victims and the family of the victimizers. When an Anabaptist scholar explains how children are brought in to stand at the coffin of their dead sister and friend to contemplate the brevity of life and the hope of the resurrection, Ann Curry seems caught in the headlights--like a deer in the middle of the highway not knowing where next to move.

The fall season, however, reminds us all too well of the cycles of life. Death must be embraced as a reality and a central part of our lives or we will continue to live in the myth of a death-denying culture. I am reminded of one scholar who once suggested that the 19th century was obsessed with death and spoke rarely of sexuality while we seem preoccupied with the minutiae of sex and run from any extended discussion of death. Thus, this strange juxtaposition of images between power in the nation's capitol and the powerless outside of Lancaster, PA.