Monday, January 28, 2008

Monuments of War & Peace

"And so what we have learned applies to our lives today...God has a lot to say in his book! You see we know that God's Word is for everyone, now that our song is done we'll take a look." -- VeggieTales

This week I have seen two very, very different documentaries on the Canadian version of the History Channel. (I would watch this channel a LOT more if it actually WAS the History Channel. Unfortunately, too often this show fills in with episodes of JAG or CSI...not sure why.) The first was a highly over-the-top show about the making/purpose of Stonehenge. The second was part of a series on Auschwitz & the Nazi "final decision."

Now, at first, you might think that all these two share is a place on the History Television line-up and me watching them. But I find the juxtaposition, and my interest in the two topics, very interesting.

I'm interested in Stonehenge for a number of reasons. It is in England. It is connected with "ancient tymes" and some of the science fiction/fantasy books I really enjoy reading feature Stonehenge or an idea based off of Stonehenge. To me, it represents mystery and ancient-ness. I wonder at why it was built and what it might have represented through the ages. It meant different things to different peoples - it has been used for gory sacrifice and beautiful ritual. The tall, monoliths are iconic, instantly recognizable. They evoke beauty and remind us of our history and the fragility of a culture.

In contrast, there is no doubt as to why Auschwitz was built or what it represents. It is a horror, a reminder of the depths of depravity, insanity, and evil that humanity is capable of. It reminds us all of what happens when you allow ignorance to be an excuse, when you turn the other way when your brother or sister is in trouble. It is a stark picture, horrific and accusing in its emptiness, but that is the only way we are able to stand it. I have never had a better reason to appreciate a grainy black and white photo over a color picture - if we could see the pictures of Auschwitz in color it would be too terrible. Somehow, somehow, the black and white pictures stare out at me, they call to me with the dignity of the dead and the soft, fragile voices of the few who survive.

I am fascinated with both of these places. They are so different, and yet - so similar. I have never been to Auschwitz, although I desire to make my apologies to the dead there for my living. I have only driven past Stonehenge, visitors are only allowed to walk on it's grounds one day a year - the summer solstice. But I can imagine what it would be like to walk through those stones. The two experiences play side by side in my head, somehow both opposite and the same.

Stonehenge...the grass is so green. My feet so connected to the earth. No building has ever stood here, only these stones, only ancient posts. But this ground has always been precious to men.

Auschwitz...each blade of grass here is precious. You almost feel it was bought with great price. I do not think I can ever be connected here, I exist as a separate entity in this place and it is only because of that separation that I continue forward.

Stonehenge...the stones are so large, so tall. They tower over me, the shadow of them cools the earth and the earth at their feet smells rich and clean.

Auschwitz...the buildings so straight, so narrow. Somehow, I imagine there is a smell to this area even still. The smell of death, the smell of despair, the smell of lost hope. I clutch almost convulsively to my Corrie Ten Boom book...which I may or may not actually have with me. It is there, though, in my mind, and I cling to the idea that a few people, even just one or two, existed in hope here. That even in this terrible place God worked wonders and showed His grace. I do not cling to a book, but lie back and look upwards. The grass holds me like my husband when he is half asleep in the morning as I leave for work...with a fondness that is not really awake but comforting nonetheless. When I stand and brush the dirt from my pants, I am leaving a place of comfort, but I am going onward, exploring something that has nothing to do with me and everything to do with me. It is not at all a part of reality, it is a dreamlike place, I think of all the wonders this world hides, all the wonders of our imagination. the imagination of evil men took the lives of women, children, innocents. But here also the imagination of those women, those children, kept hope alive. For here they could always say..."tomorrow, tomorrow help might come." And they could always say "tomorrow, tomorrow, we might leave this place." But I remember, the dust in my shoes, the breath in my lungs, that not everyone left here. Some are still here...the dust in my shoes, the breath in my lungs.

The two are nothing alike. One is death, the other is life. But both call us to life.

Stonehenge calls us to life with it's broken stones and the green grass, reminding us of the longevity of our existence as a species, and at the same time, our fragility. In the same way a cathedral calls us to look up to God & the heavens, Stonehenge calls us to look up to God and dance for His pleasure on the green grass and between the great stones.

Auschwitz calls us to life with our own brokenness. It is the sting of a good hard spanking, the rebuke of a mother who says "I am so disappointed in you." But it is God who is talking here. God who says "My people! my beloved!" with tears in His voice. As we walk on these graves, as we breath in this air we are called to have life and to have it abundantly. To recognize evil and be bold enough to call it evil and to do something about it. But, most of all, we are called to avoid past mistakes, to learn from history the lessons it has to give and to pay attention to our surroundings.

You may have wondered at the non sequiter of my quote from VeggieTales at the beginning of this entry. I kind of put it up there and then ignored it. Here's the deal. There are lessons to be learned every day. And whether we will learn them from a documentary on Stonehenge or a documentary on Auschwitz or not at all is entirely up to us. But learn them we must. So, I encourage you, be fascinated with life. Examine the choices of men. And learn to make your own choices. Someday we too will have monuments. What will they be?

PostScript: I am fully aware that Stonehenge is not necessarily a peaceful monument. I give it as an example of something that inspires me and try to give the reasons why. Choose your own monument of peace if you wish, but don't forget the monuments of war. The ones from 1942...and the ones we are encountering and fighting right now in the Middle East.


Doing Better Than I Deserve said...

The Gospel according to Bob & Larry, hmmm...

I think that what you are doing is feeling your way (artist-like) through the dark and towards the human hind-brain...towards the Freudian id / thanatos...towards the God-shaped hole in the heart of every man.

Let me digress. It took me many years to begin to believe that, when I hared off on that kind of journey, the conclusions that I came to were likely to be really valid and useful for decision-making. On the other hand, I know some people who have always made decisions based on their own analysis of the factors. Digression over.

I recommend a middle course. The great thinkers of history did not write their stuff down in order to amuse themselves. They wrote to inform and encourage you. It is unlikely that everyone from John Macarthur to CS Lewis to John Calvin to Paul the Apostle to Soloman the King was wrong and you will suddenly uncover the wisdom of the ages in your musings. On the other hand, you are here / now and understand that better than they did from there / then.

So trust your own calculations (& Scott's). But if you come up with something totally "new under the sun" then ... you probably misplaced a sign or dropped a decimal point.

BTW - What is the relevance of "A Truck You Say?"?

Hannah said...

"A Truck You Say" is a saying, like many others, born in the mystery and mayhem that is/was/will be Friday Night Writes.

And, you're right, I'm definitely feeling my way here. It is a groping, a wondering in the dark. It's funny you should mention CS Lewis, because Real Narnia occured to me several times as an example to further illustrate some of the feelings that Stonehenge pulls out of me...but I decided to save that for another blog entry, probably soon!

Christina said...

For some reason your comments on Auschwitz and life, especially with the peaceful counterpoint, really took me by surprise and made my eyes well up.


Thanks for writing your thoughts, no matter how they wander.

In response to you FNW message, you have discovered her two points of creative writing: 1) contrast and 2)reversal. You contrasted the peaceful to the horrifically violent, which makes each emotion feel more extreme in the reader. Then you REVERSED the situation and politely reminded the reader that they the horrifically violent is also a cause for living life to the fullest. Well done, my friend, you humble me with your talent, skill, and insight.

Jason said...

The good, the bad, and the beautiful. What an interesting yet useful contrast! To me, each place evokes the mystery of "why?"

What were people trying to do when they built those monoliths? Why was an institution erected to murder thousands of people?

These are the timeless why's of good and evil. Of mankind and what we do. Though one fills us with a sense of mystery and peace, and the other fills us with dread and foreboding, we are drawn to each to discover their secrets.

I like how you believe (and I also agree with you) that there is an underlying plan to these whys, and that good can be gotten from looking at them. Lets hope those lessons learned will allow us to build further and grander monuments to the future that evoke a greater why then our current generation could handle.