Thursday, February 23, 2012

Bringing the Faraway Home: King's Mountain

(Alonzo Chappel, 1863, from Wikipedia)
I can think of three travel-related instances during my mid-to-late teens when I was jolted out of my zombie state and made to reconsider the life ahead of me. That’s not necessarily something expected on family road trips cross-country, but it happened nevertheless.

The first occurred at Kings Mountain National Military Park, the site of a pivotal Revolutionary War battle in which a number of my ancestors and their extended family had participated. The stillness of the forest, reminiscent of the past, and the unusual coolness of that summer morning gave the site an almost sacred aura that firmly impressed on my mind images of what had occurred centuries earlier. I gained a new respect and admiration for those who had risked and sacrificed their lives to protect their families and their community. However, in the end, that wasn’t what touched me the most.

At some point during that day, a park ranger happened to mention some recent visitors from Scotland. They were kin of Major Patrick Ferguson, the Royal officer who had led the Loyalists to defeat. These Fergusons had travelled across the Atlantic to pay their respects and lay flowers at his grave. Suddenly, I saw the dead man as they must have seen him: not as a stereotyped image of political oppression yanked out of an American History textbook, but as a family man who was just doing his job and whose body had been needlessly defiled at the hands of the Rebel Patriots.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” - Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad
A historian hundreds of years from now might try to pinpoint that day as when I first started on the path towards pacifism, but that would be incorrect. Yet it was the first time I clearly saw “the enemy” as a human rather than as a deranged, soulless, faceless monster, be him Muslim, Spanish, French, German, or Vietnamese.

A typical family vacation led to an unforgettable lesson, and I had not even left my home country. If anything, you could say I had returned to it. I had let down my guard, believing that I had perfect foresight regarding what I’d experience. Instead I had made myself vulnerable, and a shock to the system caused the walls of my secluded world to come crashing down. “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:43-48, Luke 6:27-36) has taken on a whole new meaning ever since.

Note: “Bringing the Faraway Home: King's Mountain” was originally posted as “Bringing the Faraway Home - Part 2” on Monday, March 21, 2011 on The Lady Traveller, my travel blog that has now been discontinued.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Thoughts on Amos

Piecing together the histories of lost cultures must be grueling work for archeologists and historians of antiquity. The downside to this is that, when it comes to interpreting brief Bible passages, there might not be enough external evidence to make sense of what’s being said. Recently, I returned to the prophet Amos because one passage had puzzled me during my reading last year.

Chapter 9 is a warning to the people of Israel about their destruction and subsequent restoration. When God compares the people of Israel to the other nations (9:7), the commonality appears not to be sin (as in multiple other passages) but deliverance. The reference to the Cushites might be vague, but there’s an obvious parallel among the others: God brought out Israelites from Egypt, the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Syrians (or Arameans) from Kir.

If the wording was forward-looking, then the verse might be read as a prediction of what would come: all unbelieving nations turning to the Israelites’ true God. However, instead, it’s historical, reminding the Israelites not only of their own captivity and exodus but also those of known adversaries. I’m unsure what to make of this. Is Amos saying that God led other people in the same way He did the Israelites? Maybe Christians often make a poor assumption that, if Israelites are God’s “Chosen People” from whom the Messiah would come, God couldn’t have led other groups in a similar way. However, other passages in Scripture, such as those in Genesis and Judges, make it clear that there were other nations with knowledge of the true God and non-Israelites who communicated with Him. Maybe the Philistines and Arameans didn’t receive the Law or witness the Advent, but I do wonder what their missing histories would’ve told us.