Thursday, January 6, 2011

Popes, Persecution, and Child Prodigies

Two news items from today reflect growing tension in Europe and the Middle East between Christians and Muslims. In the first, as Daniel Henninger notes in the Wall Street Journal, “This being the season of hope, Islamic extremists of course have been engaged in their annual tradition of blowing up Christian churches.”

The occasion for this remark was a Muslim attack on two houses of worship in Nigeria last week, accompanied by the Christmas Eve bombing of a chapel on the Philippines’ Jolo Island, which injured eleven.

Unmentioned in the article, however, was the car bombing in Alexandria, Egypt, which killed twenty-one as they were leaving mass on Christmas Eve. From the Associated Press report:

Nearly 1,000 Christians were attending the midnight Mass at the Saints Church in the Mediterranean port of Alexandria, said Father Mena Adel, a priest at the church. The service had just ended, and some worshippers were leaving the building when the bomb went off about a half hour after midnight, he said.

“The last thing I heard was a powerful explosion and then my ears went deaf,” Marco Boutros, a 17-year-old survivor, said from his hospital bed. “All I could see were body parts scattered all over — legs and bits of flesh.”

Blood splattered the facade of the church, a painting of Jesus inside, and a mosque across the street. The blast mangled at least six cars on the street, setting some ablaze. As bodies were taken away after daybreak, some in the congregation waved white sheets with the sign of the cross emblazoned on them with what appeared to be the victim’s blood.

Health Ministry spokesman Abdel-Rahman Shahine said the death toll stood at 21, with 97 wounded, almost all Christians. Among the wounded were the three policemen and an officer guarding the church.

Blood on an image of Jesus… appropriate, I guess (Isaiah 63:1-8). Mike Bickle is fond of saying that the Jesus of Christmas is the Jesus of Armageddon. Attacks like this are near-constant reminders of why it is, exactly, that we need the Jesus of Armageddon.

The pope has been refreshingly unsparing in his criticism of the full-scale global persecution of Christians, and the evident indifference of the ruling world powers. This from the Wall Street Journal article:

One of the central public events during these days at year’s end is the Pope's midnight Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. In his homily the pope invariably pleads for peace, but on Friday evening a viewer could not have missed the meaning when Benedict XVI twice mentioned “garments rolled in blood,” from Isaiah 9:5.

The image, as befits Isaiah, is poetic and disturbing. Benedict surely intended it so: “It is true,” he said, “that the ‘rod of his oppressor’ is not yet broken, the boots of warriors continue to tramp and the ‘garment rolled in blood’ still remains.” He was of course referring to the sustained violence against Christian minorities by Islamic fundamentalists.

Hours before this, from a window above St. Peter's Square, Benedict also took a pass on the holiday pabulum handed out by other world leaders this time of year by explicitly criticizing China. He said the “faithful of the church in mainland China [should not] lose heart through the limitations imposed on their freedom of religion and conscience.”

And yet, even in the midst of all this, BBC Radio 4 suggests a “moral equivalence” between the murderous ideology of fanatical Islam, and the lone ravings of the (not-quite) Koran-burning Florida pastor, Terry Jones. And Liam Neeson, the voice of Aslan from the Narnia movies, publicly states that Aslan isn’t intended to represent Jesus, but people of “all faiths.” Aslan! All faiths! One wonders if Mr. Neeson even read the lines he spoke. I suppose it should have been obvious that when the noble Lion said, “I have another name in your world,” he was speaking in the marvelous, metaphorical, mystical sense where one means all.

Finally, NPR and Lapham’s Quarterly relate the strange, sad story of a child prodigy—a girl who even at the age of nine had all the makings of a literary genius—and the sudden turns of fate that drove her into poverty, and possibly to death, by twenty-six:

…[B]y September 1929, Barbara found herself stranded and alone with family friends in Los Angeles. It was unbearable: she fled to San Francisco, hid in a hotel, and wrote poetry. But she’d been reported as a runaway, and when police burst into her room, they narrowly kept her from escaping through the window.

“I loathe Los Angeles,” she explained to reporters.

The story made national news; a Times headline reminded readers, “Case of Barbara Follett Recalls Feats of Chopin, Mozart, and Others.” Helen and Barbara were reunited in New York, but their finances were so dire that upon turning sixteen in March 1930, Barbara had to find work. Her timing was awful, coming months after the Wall Street crash. After a course in shorthand and business typing—a “decidedly more tawdry use of its magic,” she mused—Barbara was getting up early every morning to ride the subway to a secretarial job.

“My dreams are going through their death flurries,” she wrote that June. “I thought they were all safely buried, but sometimes they stir in their grave, making my heartstrings twinge. I mean no particular dream, you understand, but the whole radiant flock of them together—with their rainbow wings, iridescent, bright, soaring, glorious, sublime. They are dying before the steel javelins and arrows of a world of Time and Money.”

“O Time, Strength, Cash, and Patience!”

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