Peter 3: 15 – Stories too terrible to tell

At my church men’s group this week our speaker was too frail to attend. He had escaped death recently and as a result had come to a deeper sense of faith that he hoped to share with the rest of us.

In anticipation of the story which ended up not being shared I handed out copies of the gospel music, “Every time I feel the spirit” which was, as I explained, a bit more rollicking than the subject at hand. Tom S. chose several Bible passages which he felt were apropos to the subject including Peter 3:15. As the NIV translates it:

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

Other Bibles including the King James used the words “meakness and fear” instead of the NIV’s “gentleness and respect.” I found the word choice thoughtful and have been keeping the message in mind ever since. Although I can be matter of fact expressing my opinions on the blog in person I tend to back off of my strong opinions in person unless someone makes it clear he wants me to be frank. I don’t what to repeat one of my Dad’s regrets – overwhelming door to door missionaries with information that confounds them.

The world is a hard place and can be too much for some to bear. Its challenges only served to make Ray Pearson, the founder of our men’s group, a stronger person. Ray was a calm soul although a stickler for what’s right and decent. A retired Hermantown school superintendent he gently let me know he thought my opposition to the Red Plan was a tad militant for his taste. His quiet but firm dissent was not surprising. Seventy years ago Ray helped liberate a Nazi death camp.

Ray was in his nineties when he died and however the sights he witnessed affected him he lived a long healthy life. Other’s have not been so lucky. Primo Levy who survived the camps and went on to write about them committed suicide in later years from the haunting of those earlier times.

Yesterday I was pursuing a number of strands of history online and discovered that Iris Chang, the author of “The Rape of Nanking,” took her life after her book’s publication because what she learned plunged her into a depression. To this day the Japanese as a nation resist acknowledging what their soldiers did in China and elsewhere. A particularly ferocious gang of denialists rule the nation’s politics. Ditto Turkey regarding the Armenians. Currently the Chinese Government is curbing efforts to describe Mao’s Cultural Revolution as one of the worst genocides in history. Death threats rained down on the producer of a film made in 1975 about the life of the Prophet Muhammad despite his having vetted his screenplay with the highest religious authorities in Islam. Before its arrival in theaters they thought better of it and denounced it. Black Islamic Nationalists took hostages in Washington D.C. to have the movie pulled from theaters. To this latter offense my reaction was simple. I just ordered a DVD of the movie.

The small space between peace of mind and acknowledgement of evil is much on my mind since last weekend’s attempt to capture a slice of Duluth’s horrific lynching in 1920. This space has been on my mind a lot this year since I discovered that I had taken a photo of a dead Palestinian laying dead at the feet of an Israeli Soldier.

I haven’t begun to witness what Ray Pearson saw or for that matter what my Dad saw when he strolled the rubbled streets of Hiroshima as a young Navy man months, if not weeks, after the atom bomb was dropped on the city.

As I explained to the men’s group I am a long time agnostic but I appreciated the verse that Tom S. shared with us. To make it apply to me and give it the honor it deserves I’d only change a few words, to wit:

But in your hearts revere kindness and respect humankind. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

The concentration camps and bomb sites I see are all at a significant remove being that I encounter them in the news and history. I can’t always take them in with gentleness but in respect I can’t ignore them. That would be disrespectful. In that regard Japan, Turkey and China have fallen short. I don’t want America and I don’t want Duluth to follow their example. It occurs to me that hope’s best defense is respect.