Saturday, March 17, 2012


Friday night and I watched “Munich,” which was tense enough that I kept stopping the disc to go get something to eat. By the time the end rolled around (It’s almost three hours), I was over my limit, so I went for a walk to knock back my glucose level. Two very bright “stars” were hanging at the end of the street. Not stars, really, because they are the planets Venus and Jupiter, but extra bright and there’s no moon. I don’t carry a flashlight though I walk around the little park on the next block. It’s dark but the street is dry and I know the way. The dogs are used to me by now and don’t bother to bark once I speak. I should do this every night. I should walk farther. I always feel lifted up when I do, but I forget or it’s late or the wind is blowing too hard. After watching the ambiguities of “Munich,” I really needed to relocate myself in this little village in sight of the Rockies, a relatively safe place.

I’m glad I watched the movie. The first half more-or-less sticks to reported facts (whatever facts are) but the second imagined half is pretty clearly a chance to humanize both sides while paradoxically showing how dehumanizing murder is for the murderers. (It appears that the handlers and politicians were not very human in the first place.) Every murder triggers the necessity or accident of another murder. There is no way to know for sure whether the right people are being killed. The assassination team members become targets themselves and die, if only from the simple risk of bomb-making. It’s an old repetitious story. The last shot frames in the center the twin World Trade Towers, far away, but recognizable. The real damage was not the lives lost there but, in my opinion anyway, the panicky loss of freedoms and confidence. I suppose most people don’t much feel the loss of freedom to go back and forth into Canada but we do here, particularly since it is not Canada but the USA that prevents us.

One of my little email groups remarked on David Brooks’ review of “Religion for Atheists” by Alain de Botton. Brooks was critical. He should brace himself, since another reviewer was critical of an earlier book by de Botton and found himself embroiled in a feud as intense as any Israeli/Palestinian confrontation, though confined to words. Maybe de Botton’s friends will restrain him this time, but last time he said, “You have now killed my book in the United States, nothing short of that. So that's two years of work down the drain in one miserable 900 word review." Not that this is inaccurate or has never happened before, but it appears that de Botton has also killed any chance of a kind review from the NYTimes. I have a movie for him to watch.

Not that I have any intention of getting involved in these “God wars.” At least not unless you can bring back Christopher Hitchens, whose thinking is always worth following no matter where it goes. I mean, what makes arguments about things like God and righteous revenge worth illustrating is not whether they are right or wrong. What counts is how much illumination can be generated about being human.

Tolerating ambiguity without being paralyzed by it seems to me vital. I do not share nor do I understand this constant insistence on KNOWING THE TRUTH and being on the right side and having things settled definitively. There’s a cautionary true tale about early Calvinist times near Boston when everyone obsessed over whether or not their sins would send them to hell. One day a woman staggered into town exhausted and crazed. She blurted that she’d settled the matter once and for all by throwing her baby into the cistern. The neighbors rushed to the woman’s house and, luckily, the child’s instincts had taken hold and it was paddling around in a circle down there in the dark water. What an image for noncomprehending but salvific struggle! Note that it was innate.

What’s wrong with saying, “I don’t know!” Or “I need more evidence.” Or even “this is an unknowable thing.” What makes people think that any God is knowable except one we made up ourselves? There are many kinds of knowing and some of them are more like feeling than rationality. Out there walking in the dark I could see a lot of stars. If I had instruments I could see far more. If I were a big satellite camera I could see zillions, so many that they practically overlap. And I’m part of it. I can feel that. I’m no star, more like a speck, but I’m here with my spiraling molecular code for receiving and it works well enough for me to write this, which feels good. Maybe important.

While I was going along, the Valier team bus came back to town. I never keep track, so I don’t know where they had been, who they played or whether they were likely to have won. They were blocks away but in this quiet town sounds carry well and I could hear boys shouting as they got off, still wound up, joking, slinging their bags out of the luggage compartment. It’s not quite freezing, highways are dry. The worst worry for the driver would have been sudden deer but a deer won’t take down a bus if the driver can stay on course.

One of my seminary classmates who had been in the army used to talk about combat decisions, meaning that then you have to do something and usually with incomplete information. It might turn out that you were badly wrong. You might not be around to find out. The old French Resistance fighter who is Spielberg’s voice in this movie about Munich says, “We’re living at the intersection of secrets.”

All through the plot it was unclear where anyone’s allegiances were: Mossod, CIA, KGB, PLO -- which factions of which nations? Where is God in such a mess? Surely He is leaning on his knees, His face in His hands, weeping. Spielberg, characteristically, finds salvation always in the act of love with a woman who provides forgiveness. But it was Golda Meir, saying “we must show that we are strong.” who ordered the vengeance for Munich.

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