Sunday, October 9, 2011
The Wall and the Egg
This last week I was listening to some radio program and I heard this fascinating quote from a Japanese Novelist named Haruki Murakami . He had the Jerusalem Award for literature. He traveled to Jerusalem to give this speech. He was warned not to go. He was told that if he accepted the award people would boycott his books. "The reason for this was the fierce battle raging in Gaza - more than a thousand had lost their lives, many of them unarmed citizens children and old people," he explained to the crowd. The reason he did come was this, to give this one personal message. He said that when he writes books he has this expression carved into the wall of his mind. It goes like this:
"Between a high, solid wall and an egg that breaks against it, I will always stand on the side of the egg. Yes, no matter how right the wall may be and how wrong the egg, I will stand with the egg. Someone else will have to decide what is right and what is wrong; perhaps time or history will decide. If there were a novelist who, for whatever reason, wrote works standing with the wall, of what value would such works be?”
I read the extended version of this quote today as a part of a sermon I gave at Camas Friends Church because it spoke to me so fiercely. I guess I could insert for myself, what good would a pastor be, who spoke messages standing with the wall. My message came from Exodus 23, which has some pretty incredible passages about how we are to treat the poor and vulnerable: "You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the wild animals may eat. You shall do the same with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard." When I started studying the Old Testament, one of things that really surprised me was to find a God who cares a lot about the poor and oppressed and vulnerable. One who cares about justice. Deuteronomy 15 goes into even more detail with this Seventh Year of Freedom commandment. "Every seventh year you shall grant a remission of debts." The passage goes on to say "do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted towards your needy neighbor.You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be." The reason they are to be so generous is simple. "Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt..."
I recently heard that something like 85% of people root for the underdog. People have studied this. All other things being equal, a huge percentage of people root for the underdog. It kind of makes sense right. Like if they better team wins, that's supposed to happen, so not a lot of emotional payoff. And if they lose then you're really steamed. But the cost/reward equation for the underdog has the possibility of a big emotional payoff if your guy/team/egg wins and little disappointment if they lose.
But sometimes something quite predictable happens. When we are the wall, we root against the egg. We root for the wall. Can you imagine letting the egg win. I mean, c'mon you're a wall. I can remember when I played basketball that it was far more frightening going against a much worse team that it was to go against a better team. And I can remember that once our team got pretty good then the pressure to win and to perform increased. We had to protect and defend. We weren't just some scrappy team fighting for a win. We had a record. One year we were undefeated at home! So when some struggling team came to play at our court... Our coach had all these diabolical ways to make us perform. He would tell us about what he had overheard the other team saying about us. How they thought they were going to cream us (that's how we talked back then, a lot of cream and whipping). And he would work us into a rabid frenzy until we were ready to come and and show no mercy. Sometimes it felt good to be the overdog.
I actually wonder if this isn't that uncommon. People and nations forgetting what it's like to be the alien, the oppressed, the underdog. Isiah and Micah and a bunch of other prophets chastise Israel for this very thing. In one passage God says "I hate your festivals with all my being. God says, your offerings are detestable to me. When you pray to me, I am not listening." And the reason God gives is simple, they are not seeking justice. God says in this same passage, "Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow."
And when I read Jesus' words about whose side he stood on, it's really no surprise that he got himself killed. Jesus was pretty unapologetic. Blessed are the poor, the hungry the insulted. Woe to the rich, the well-fed, the well-spoken-of.
(More from Haruki Murakami about the Wall and the Egg):
What is the meaning of this metaphor? In some cases, it is all too simple and clear. Bombers and tanks and rockets and white phosphorus shells are that high, solid wall. The eggs are the unarmed civilians who are crushed and burned and shot by them. This is one meaning of the metaphor. This is not all, though. It carries a deeper meaning. Think of it this way. Each of us is, more or less, an egg. Each of us is a unique, irreplaceable soul enclosed in a fragile shell. This is true of me, and it is true of each of you. And each of us, to a greater or lesser degree, is confronting a high, solid wall. The wall has a name: It is The System. The System is supposed to protect us, but sometimes it takes on a life of its own, and then it begins to kill us and cause us to kill others - coldly, efficiently, systematically.
I have only one thing I hope to convey to you today. We are all human beings, individuals transcending nationality and race and religion, fragile eggs faced with a solid wall called The System. To all appearances, we have no hope of winning. The wall is too high, too strong - and too cold. If we have any hope of victory at all, it will have to come from our believing in the utter uniqueness and irreplaceability of our own and others' souls and from the warmth we gain by joining souls together. Take a moment to think about this. Each of us possesses a tangible, living soul. The System has no such thing. We must not allow The System to exploit us. We must not allow The System to take on a life of its own. The System did not make us: We made The System.