Friday, October 24, 2008


I caught part of another History Channel program tonight, on some mass-murdering mob hitman. Kuklinsky. He said, “I don’t know if I should tell this story…” But the interviewer prompted him, so of course it came out. Kuklinsky was going to kill a man, but the man begged and cried and prayed so fervently that Kuklinsky made a deal. “I told the guy, ‘I’ll give you a half hour to pray. If God changes something in that half hour, then you’ll live.’ But God never showed up.” And you could see there was some emotion attached to this fact, that troubled his murderous heart.

And rising from my bitter soul came the idea, God never shows up. Well, in the Bible. But that was so long ago. Then I imagined the man being calm in his last moments, and accepting the inevitability of his death with something like peace. After all, we all know it’s coming. That’s how God shows up -- as peace. Be not afraid. But it’s so subjective. Maybe that peace is just a defense mechanism, like the trance rabbits go into when they’re being eaten by coyotes. Ecstasy is as much a psychological as a transcendent state. Pagans speak in tongues just like apostles do. Yet we know there is a God. We think, therefore God is. It has to do with a theorem by Gödel. You wouldn’t understand.

When MacArthur first landed at Narita Airport after the surrender of Japan, he refused the armored car his officers provided, and instead rode in an open limousine. Hearing this plan, his staff busied itself by inspecting their rifles and handguns, but MacArthur ordered, “No firearms.” During the slow thirty mile processional into the ruins of Tokyo, he stood in the back of the vehicle and saluted the hundreds of thousands of Japanese citizens and soldiers who lined the road standing at attention as he passed.

What conqueror ever did such a thing? Courage is more common than grace -- to find both so perfectly fused is extraordinary. But leaders are great because they embody the spirit of the people they lead. Otherwise they couldn’t lead. America the beautiful. It is beautiful because we are beautiful. To honor a fallen foe by trusting in his honor -- well, what protective hand guaranteed the safety of the victorious general? None that we can see.

Out of so many hundreds of thousands, was there no Japanese with murder in his heart? None who acted. Why was MacArthur spared, and Lincoln taken? Are the Japanese more gracious in defeat than Americans? Was the Japanese Empire’s ruin more complete than that of the Confederate South? It has nothing to do with justice. Just one of the moves in a great chessgame. Sometimes the hand removes pieces.

When the Nazis left Italy, they took care to destroy as many icons as they could. Visigoths to the end. One story has it that some villagers tried to collect all the pieces of one particular shattered Jesus, that it might somehow be reassembled. “The hands,” they came wailing to the priest. “We cannot find the hands -- they have been destroyed!” The priest replied, “You are His hands.”

Certainly, God needs us. How many thousands of years has it been since we, made in his image, were shattered, that we crumble to dust after some scores of years? But his image in us was also shattered, and he can only show up now in pieces. That has to be enough. If we want more, we have to provide it ourselves.



Jack H said...

Bumped up from 5/19/07.

brent said...

Sometimes it takes more than 30 minutes.

Jack H said...

Sometimes 30 minutes is all there is.

Will C. said...

ah Jack, you are simply a pearl of great price...

jack h said...

What, this old thing? Why, I just threw it together.