Archive for September, 2010|Monthly archive page
Megan K. Stack of the Los Angeles Times today reported on issues of internal immigration in China and its aftermath on Chinese villages. The Los Angeles Times today reported on how villagers left for economic opportunity and growth, not seeing the underlying story about the survival of immigrants, as the old economy fell apart in the last generation. While the Los Angeles Times had reported on the changes in the economic system in the former Soviet Union since 1989, so many newspaper reporters seemed ignorant at the time of the change in the economic system in the same time span in China. Among a people enslaved to the land to somehow survive.
In this secular age, with secular perspective, Megan K. Stack of the Los Angeles Times today reported on the fraying of the Chinese family, how in China, “routine migration is in the country’s lifestyle.” Lifestyle? Numb to what had happened to a people, in a nation where its leaders had tried to control fertility, Ms. Stack writes of “the fallout “in the rush for economic opportunity and growth.” Were Chinese peasants in these villages really ever allowed to have a “lifestyle”? The focus in the article was on stark psychological and emotional challenges to this next generation of Chinese, when Megan K. Stack herself seemed to have grown up at a time with a rapid dissolution of traditional values. In a rush for economic opportunity. (I have since discovered Ms. Stack was one of five finalists for the non-fiction prize at the National Book Awards for Every Man in This Village is a Liar: An Education in War. She is the best of the best, at her craft. Every Man in This Village is a Liar: An Education in War is a must read book that will stay within you for weeks on end. )
When the social problem of “villagers” and their lifestyles in China will have a lingering affect on the future, there was no real mention today of the stark psychological and emotional challenge of hunger that anyone over sixty had been through. There was no real mention of the stark Cultural Revolution that saw millions put to death and others imprisoned—where Mao’s physician had written of the death of ninety million Chinese. There was no real mention of China’s silent conversion to capitalism, with hopes of a job in a city. There was no real mention of the stark psychological and emotional reactions in Chinese families as a nation’s leaders tried to enforce a control of fertility. There was no real mention of the reactions in Chinese families to the missing political reforms after all the stark economic reforms.
The story on the “routine migration” starting point was how villagers on their own left their long-time homesteads in great great number, as the economics of life in the village changed. After the largest migration in human history over thirty years, something like 260 million Chinese out of a total population of 1.34 billion. A 2004 report by the Beijing Suicide Research and Prevention Center named suicide as the leading cause of death in China among people between the ages of 15 and 34, as a result of the movement in the story. “It happens all the time,” said a European language teacher who has lived in Beijing for a decade. “Someone loses everything. They lose their job. They get divorced. They kill themselves. It happens so often here that no one notices anymore.”
And then there was the grandparents, in a nation that had tried to control fertility, locked into perpetual parenthood. In the same afterward of the Bush Campaign’s No-Child-Left Behind era, twenty-five percent of Chinese children now stay with grandparents, great-grandparents or any other relatives who can shelter and feed them, while their parents migrated over the past 20 years to big cities for work. There was the same old unrecognized theme of an underlying story on immigration, not unlike in the United States. Only legal internal immigration, with stiff penalties imposed on families who want to enroll their children in schools outside their own own.
In a book on the rapid disintegration of traditional Chinese values with intensive parenting and traditionally prized togetherness, author of Hurt Village, Nie Mao said, “Their (these separated children) safety is always compromised because they are far from their parents. And their education is always lagging behind.”
This social problem of the left-behind children developed as migration rates exploded over the last two decades. This generation of Chinese had lived, in a nation that had tried to control fertility, with dissolution of traditional Chinese values since they were born. This generation saw the imposition of the one-child policy followed by the the dissolution of Mao’s economic system. In a rush for economic opportunity. Who could, in this generation of Chinese, or any Chinese person for that matter, trust any more? Or simply, who could trust? Anyone?
Managing explosions in the economies, managing explosions in fertility, managing welfare, managing fear, politics was best defined by how we care for each other. With a recognition that some people do it badly and some people do it well. As tightknit families become unbound, there was a stated general unease, among the undefined intelligentsia, among government officials. When children never have known their parents well enough to miss them.
The alienation in this society could be seen in an underlying anti-foreigner sentiment in China. The deep-seated xenophobia that has been an integral part of China for centuries. The fear of the sinister. The left-handed. The stranger. It still exists to a certain extent. Whether after five wars of foreign aggression and five revolutionary civil wars over the past 210 years since 1800 or in ancient China, there never had been any place to go. The unique perspective on the development of the Wutong cult into a god of wealth, with the popular conception of the nexus between money and social relations. A product of all the rhetoric of China‘s humiliation at the hands of the West; and now this new humiliation. The desire for the old ways, to close down and shut off to the rest of the world. A Chinese form of acedia which Kathleen Norris writes of in Acedia & Me.
These stories in the Los Angeles Times seemed a lot like stories of descendants of nomads. Who left behind everything. Maybe not much different than in these stories of Isaac, and Jacob, and Joseph, when old economies fell apart. When dealing with fertility, the internal migration, after the aftermath. With post traumatic stress following war. With the great restlessness that stemmed from economic times. Restlessness developed from, was caused by, hunger and famine. The most severe forms of hunger and famine. For those just trying to survive. Or those who are in internal flight.
Words. Fellowship. Relationship. Dealing with words. In leaving a homeland.
Fellowship. Relationship. Words. Dealing with waste. Wasted words. Wasted money. In a homeland. Away from a homeland. Without a common currency. Or without a common recognized one God.
One. The unity of fellowship. The image of union, with unity. Sharing. A homeland. In relationship.
The slowly developing themes. Trying to capture the feeling. To stay. To go. In search of a homeland. To defend a homeland.
Giving everything away. The produce from homeland. The slowly developing themes over time. With the image of union, deciding. To go. To stay.
Trying to capture the feeling. About the fellowship which came out of the search. With God. With each other. Trying to convey what happened, to the next generation. About the past. About fertility. In fellowship. In relationship.
Word choice. The reaching out in fellowship to those who have nothing. Hoping to resolve the hunger of a shared humanity. Praying others will help those who hunger.
The blessings. The sharing. Of money and fellowship. In thanksgiving. In a world losing the currency to transact fellowship. When you lost your currency or homeland, or everything.
Loss. Dealing with loss. Imposed self-exile. Or in diaspora. When you were scattered. As tightknit families become unbound, there was a stated general unease. When children never came to know their past well enough to miss it. When you were scattered and the common currency was rejected. The one which had provided unity.
The feelings starting all over again. Of love and fear and anger. The true every day fear while living in exile. The fear when dealing with loss in exile. The fear when scattered. About loss of currency value and fellowship. Living in an unrecognized world. The loss of trust without a common currency, without a common recognized one God. And the resulting unrecognized image of myself.
Thanksgiving. Forgiveness. Thinking somehow forgiveness was lost. In a diaspora, in exile. When there was so little you could do after you said, “I’m sorry.”
Dealing with words. Wasted words. The aimlessness living scattered in exile. The outside fear about losing everything. And the fear within. In dealing with loss, thinking somehow forgiveness was also lost. In exile. Amidst the anguish of loss and horrors of history; of birthrights and inheritance. And wanting to be reconciled, after the forgiveness. Learning of the ongoing process of reconciliation. The movement in the story of Exodus, with the slowly developing themes of love, of forgiveness, and of an ongoing reconciliation.
To be! Or not to be?
These were the High Holy Days, the Days of Awe, the time of the year when the descendants of Abraham who never have relied on evangelism to increase its numbers, once again sat to ask the “to be or not to be” question of Judaism. Rosh Hashanah was a day of remembrance, with the start of a new year. It is a day of remembrance about relationships. Fathers. Sons. The past with the present. The Days of Awe lasted 10 days, this goy is told. At sundown on September 8th so begins Rosh Hashanah.
To be! Or not to be? That was the question that was facing Isaac, dealing with the beliefs of Abraham. A lot like any son had to ask when his formal education was over to address his own inheritance. For an Irish Catholic, I have been thinking a lot during these Days of Awe about Isaac. About the different perspectives of the two men in the story.
Rosh Hashanah. I have been thinking about the comparative approach to life –fathers and sons –and points of view. About binding. The reading on Rosh Hashanah was about the Akedah, the account in the book of Genesis, about the binding of Isaac. When Abraham, at the command of God, takes his son to be offered as a sacrifice. Because the only way religion is learned in a school of public accommodation is through the study of comparative religion.
The comparative approach is all over the use of the reading of the Akedah on Rosh Hashanah. Fathers and sons, and the different points of view on this offering as a sacrifice on Mount Moriah. What does it mean to be bound? Abraham, at the end of life, when he was losing everything. And you had brought a child into the world in old age, having experienced so much loss. What does it mean, what did it mean to Abraham, to be bound? Bound by certain depth of feeling, in a totally pagan world? Bound by a certain way of thinking about life? What was one man’s point of view after living life, as compared to a son who was no older than thirty.
Rosh Hashanah was a day of remembrance for all descendants of Abraham to reflect on the meaning of the binding as they continue the line of Chosen People. Fathers and sons. Women and men. From age to age. In the time when there was blood in sacrifice. When in the modern day with a comparative approach, the young still question why the need for sacrifice? Women and men question. When bleeding for the most part hurt? When there was real hunger, why offer the best calf to this invisible God? When there was pain in sacrifice. How had it all come down to this? The fear. And the pain. And the suffering.
Actually no female appear in the story of the Akedah. And in this all male story, I saw a story about circumcision. Circum, around. Cision. Cutting. Forced circumcision. It had been only Abraham’s idea. And no one else had a much of a choice about it. Just like in the Akedah story. With Isaac. Not Sarah. Not Isaac. Obsessed, by crazy ideals, what a nut.
Crazy. This religion based upon circumcision. This same Abraham who had already decided, well before the Akedah, “Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. Throughout your generations every male among you shall be circumcised.”
Isaac was not Abraham’s oldest, only Sarah’s oldest child. Her only child. One son to Abraham, the Abraham who had already decided that a form of self-mutilation would be a sign of the unconditional love. Not just for him. For everyone who was male. And mutilation for his slaves. “Then Abraham took his son Ishmael and all the slaves born in his house or bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and he circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very day, as God had said to him. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.” Crazy. Son Ishmael had been born thirteen years before Isaac. These crazy intimate self offerings to God.
Long before the Akedah, before sacrificing Sarah’s only child, these were the goings on. Long before, it was God who said to Abraham, “As for Sarah your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”
Reflecting on the meaning of making some kind of an offering to God, when your relationships, with God, with your kin, in sacrifice, were based only on blood. When the entire basis of your identity and the subsequent generations was to be based upon blood–or self-mutilation. That no one would ever see. And in the identity of your slaves. Concerning the blood in the Jewish tradition, I recall a reference in the book From Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas Friedman about the time spent gathering, following an act of terror, spilled blood in violent death by the orthodox.
Abraham who had already decided. His descendants would not go door to door, would not have radio shows. This relationship would be all about blood.
Abraham and his reaction. The original ROFL, falling on his face, laughing. He said to himself, “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live in your sight!” God said, “No, but your wife Sarah shall bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.”
Now Isaac just had to wonder, with a contemplation over point of view, with a comparative approach, when the young always have questioned, “Why did no one else? Why did my friends not have parents like this? What kind of nut case were these parents, my parents, Abraham and Sarah?” Why were only these Jews making sacrifice? Isaac HAD to wonder.
Amidst the descendants of Abraham who never have relied on evangelism to increase its numbers, this was the story of how Isaac for his own descendants discovered inheritance. In sacrifice, and with the story of sacrifice. With blood. As his father was prepared to give everything that was important away. When it looked as you were giving everything away? EVERYTHING! In sacrifice? In a world with hunger. In a world filled with fear. In an abrupt end. A lot like the way life could end so fast. Why?
What does it mean for the next generation to be bound to parental authority and the authority of God, whose ways often seemed so strange? Amidst a people who never who have relied on evangelism but concentrated on this thing called physical and spiritual love to change the world. Amidst a people who never who have relied on evangelism but concentrated, at least for males, on circumcision. And on blood. What did it mean to be a Jew? What did it mean sacrificing Sarah’s only child?
This magazine article on comparative religion had, after a lot of thought, moved me. The comparative approach to religion. The piece really about perspective in a story. The always changing perspective, of each new generation.
How to move the next generation. How to move males? The ones who focused so much in their lives on games. Sports mostly. Men and games. Using power. And somewhere sex fit into the puzzle. Amidst a conflicted pagan world, even today. In the higher tech world. Of speed and power. In a world with so many lifting weights, power lifting. In a world of all the fast megabytes of Apple computers, without as much delayed gratification as Abraham had once had. This was the world when people who did not worship one God, my God, were thought to be pagan. How to keep something alive about the past, so that God would never forget Abraham. NEVER forget.
Thus the strange story of the Akedah. The story about sacrificing the next generation, in the name of God. With Cave Men from Mars, and Cave Women from Venus…and somehow God was, for the future, everywhere between them. Men with an innate ability to envision a future and to encourage one woman to grab hold of that future with him. And to do the same thing, starting a company. Or a family.
And to hear the words of Isaac: “Where is the lamb for a burnt-offering?” When the sacrifice was usually not recognized, for a child. Or by a child. Generation after generation, the conflict in the story is between the unrecognized sacrifices by a parent for a son/daughter who followed fathers and mothers. With no idea where the future would take him/her. Isaac. Or ME! The story about keeping something alive with sacrifice, with my passion, concentrating on this New Year, on this thing called physical and spiritual love, so that God would never forget. ME!
When you prayers were so alive. And you wanted others to have the same experience. In this New Year. The Reading again of
The Akedah. The story of the relationship. The Covenant based relationship. With real people. Where the focus was really on Sarah. “Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and SHE shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from HER.” And God had instructed Abraham to name Sarah’s son Isaac.
So begins this holiday, based on love, instituted in Leviticus 23:24-25, Yom Teruah (the day of the sounding of the shofar) or Yom Ha-Zikkaron (the day of remembrance). The story really about Sarah and Isaac. “I will establish my covenant with him (Isaac) as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.”
So begins this holiday, to see how that relationship was holding up. Bound to God in family. In authentic tradition. This year. Unconditionally.