SHAMING GOD / Chapter One: Strange Reunions
Updated: Feb 14, 2021
Cruel Aids Death - Christian Parents absent to son's life.
Watch/listen as I read Chapter One: https://youtu.be/XQWdap0JCu8
This is the text:
The following is a story that is loosely based on an actual occurrence. I have changed some details because I am convinced that what is told here has occurred in many and various ways over the years. Perhaps you will know of stories yourself that ring true with this. If you do, please let me know.
He stood at the front of the sanctuary in the cavernously great stone church, its high walls, brilliant stained glass windows, and air of hallowed history for atmosphere. The Catholic priest had done this many times before. He liked to be there soaking up the atmosphere with empty pews and memories, the smell of incense still lingering from Masses of years gone by, through the best part of two centuries. Often, he stood there early in the morning before weekly services in much the same way, calming his thoughts before leaving to robe and await the entrance of worshippers old, young, and in between. Other times too he would be there early for celebrations of weddings, funerals, and Christenings. For him, this was teh best time. A personal ritual that somehow helped him welcome new arrivals and farewell the departed, both in a kind of peace.
Today was different. His face was sombre. His thoughts, dark. Tears not far off. It’s always harder to bury those you have grown to love, especially when the love has grown through suffering, pain, and torment. Like a beautiful rose often has twisted branches and sharp thorns, the best of life grows often in desperate soils.
Thinking of the deceased, he remembered the bright, good looking young man he met at the beginning of the journey. What he remembered most was the clean youthfulness of his face, twixt between boy and manhood, but it was the contrast of fear in his eyes that he had seen and known before and that grew with time. A terrible fear that no youth should face and that prophesied what was ahead. Fear that stripped away the hopes he was claiming in his late teens, and would in just a few months make an old weary man of him.
Such a bloody awful disease.
Then he thought of the tenderness that he saw in the young man’s partner, a few years older and wiser, his commitment could not be swayed by any frailty of human form. That was love, the priest thought. Prior to this, he taught the highest love was God for man in the story of the crucified. Yet now he questioned having seen another love that echoed the former. Not residing in lust of life or beauty, but that transcended the ugliness of an awful death.
He groaned. Involuntarily, too loudly. The weight of it all too much. Embarrassed by his utterance he looked around the church to see if any were there to hear him. It was only then that he saw a couple entering the empty church. On their own, as he was, in their mid 40’s dressed for a funeral and arriving early before the throng that would surely come.
They walked slowly but purposefully down the aisle. An uncomfortable walk. If they were Christians this Church, with its ancient glory was not their familiar place for they looked out of place. He stood, watching their entry. He knew them, even though they had never met. They walked, she, with eyes cast down, and he looking everywhere in the building but at the priest.
Perhaps they weren’t aware of the lone figure at the front. Or perhaps they were. She walked to his left. He guided her gently with his arm behind her back, until they positioned themselves in the front row, left side pew facing the high pulpit. It was then they both saw him.
The priest wanted to leave the sanctuary, ignoring them, but he did what priests do. He walked to the strangers and when their eyes met for the first time he spoke:
“Hello, I’m Father Sam, the priest in charge, are you here for the funeral?”
“Yes,” the man said, looking at, and past him.
“Did you know the deceased?” the priest asked, knowing the answer.
“He was our son,” the woman replied almost as if confessing to a sin, as she looked from the priest to the man..
“Yes, our son”, he said, “we haven’t seen him for some time. Lost contact, as it happens…”
Briefly, the priest looked away. What could he say? What would he say at this time of such grief. His grief, and theirs. So different. How could he respond with the love that he claimed the Gospel held, and yet hold back the rage that shortened his breath and hardened his gaze.
“I’m sorry”, he said, “but I need to ask you. Why are you here?”
Shocked, the woman looked to her husband for response as he asserted.
“He was our son. We raised him. We brought him into this world…”
“And you threw him out of your home when he was just a child, not because he’d committed murder, or stolen cars or taken drugs. You threw him out of his home and out of your lives because you had raised a son who loved....”
“The Bible says …..” the man interrupted.
“The Bible says “You will know them by their love”, not by who you hate!” the Priest responded.
Suddenly, the large doors to the church opened.
The funeral director and staff entered wheeling the chrome trolley bearing a coffin laden with beautiful flowers of many colours.
The Priest took a breath as he and the boy’s parents watched silently as the coffin was wheeled to the front. Then he took a deep breath, looked at the couple and said.
“I don't know what to say to you in your grief. I can’t imagine it. You see, I knew your son. You should have been very proud of him. A wonderful young man. I met with him weekly over the past two years. He told me often of his love for you both, but he also told me often of the pain he felt that you didn’t want to know him or the man he loved. You should know the disease was horrible. Sometimes in the depths of it, he cried out for his mother and at other times, his father. But you weren’t there to watch it take his youth. A good looking young man reduced to a concentration camp survivor. His eyes hollow, his skin gaunt, ugly sores and eruptions. In another time you could have found him in Auschwitz, waiting for the gas chamber. Yet let me tell you there was an angel there for him all the time you weren’t. Michael, you never wanted to meet the young man James loved. He was part of the reason you lost your son yet he did everything for James that you would have wanted to do.
“Mrs. Holding”, he looked straight at the mother, “He nursed your son’s wounds. Dressed him, bathed him, fed him, just as I would have thought you would have wanted to do.”
“Michael encouraged him”, he looked at the father, “to face each day with courage as you, Mr. Holding, might have done. He was father, mother, and friend to your son to the end.”
“I feel for you in your grief. You lost your son when you threw him out of your house and you never had the chance to really know the son you say you loved.”
“If Heaven is real I have no doubt that your James will be there, and Michael too when his time comes. The love they shared tells me they were ready for heaven. But there is hope for all of us as South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu said:
“We may be surprised at the people we find in heaven. God has a soft spot for sinners. His standards are quite low.”
Rwanda: Where a mother adopted her son's killer
It’s probably about 18 years ago that I attended a meeting in Melbourne, Australia where Dr John Steward spoke about his work in Rwanda for reconciliation after the devastating genocide of the Tutsi people. In the Rwandan genocide of 1994, members of the Hutu ethnic majority in the east-central African nation of Rwanda killed up to 800,000 people, mostly of the Tutsi minority. The brutality and murder were encouraged by local officials and the Hutu led Government.
Death and destruction were horrendous. Women, mothers, grandmothers, and young girls were raped and others watched as boys and men were beaten savagely and then brutally murdered in front of them. Many of the women also were killed. It was neighbour against neighbour, people coming from the same church, the same community, and if you were Tutsi only your extermination mattered.
John was given the overwhelming task of working with survivors to bring about reconciliation and peace in the war-torn country. This was different because it was a genocide organised by the Government against the Tutsi minority. It meant that nearly every person in the country would have personally known or participated in the death of Tutsis who were neighbours, friends, members of their church. He worked in Rwanda in 1997-98 and then visited every six months for nine years as a Peace and Reconciliation consultant for World Vision.
One of the stories he told at the meeting I attended touched me deeply. It was of a mother who recognised her need to forgive the imprisoned Hutsi killer of her son. Recognising that the killer had no mother or person to bring food to him in his prison - without which he would starve - she adopted her son’s killer and traveled a distance to ensure the man survived. This was not just forgiveness but it was genuine love in action. I could never forget that story and recently searched to find “mothers who adopted their son's killer”. I was surprised with how many times this has happened and in different places.
One story, “Woman opens heart to man who slaughtered her family” came from the CNN website. Chief International Anchor (their title), Christiane Amanpour reported that 14 years after the devastation in Rwanda, Rwandan women were weaving peace baskets for sale at Macy's in the United States. Not only does the work bring them a regular salary, the business is also fostering reconciliation between victim and perpetrator.
One of the women, Iphigenia Mukantabana, a master weaver had a powerful story. Living in Gitarama -- an hour from the capital, Kigali -- she made beautiful baskets with her friend Epiphania Mukanyndwi. Their friendship was extraordinary to say the least.
Iphigenia’s husband and five of her children were hacked and clubbed to death by marauding Hutu militias in 1994. Among her family's killers was a man called Jean-Bosco Bizimana, her friend Mukanyndwi's husband.
In the CNN article from 2008 the cruelly childless widow said: "In my heart, the dead are dead, and they cannot come back again, So I have to get on with the others and forget what has happened."
I have always believed in the power of love and forgiveness. I find it so hard to understand any parent giving up a child for any reason such as the grieving couple in the first story, but here is a woman whose whole family was brutally murdered and yet she befriended the family of one of their murderers.
And that wasn’t all. As so many did in Rwanda at that time they saw women and girls gang raped in front of their eyes and men and boys were beaten and then slaughtered. Many times the condemned were told to dig their own graves, get in, and then have earth piled on top of them while they were still alive." Again, how do you move on from this? Hatreds between communities can last not only for generations but centuries. Sometimes so long that the origin of the hatred is neither personally remembered or clearly known.
Christiane Amanpour wrote: “Yet today, Mukantabana shares her future and her family meals with Bizimana, the killer she knew, and his wife, her friend Mukanyndwi.”
The whole article from the CNN website can be found here: http://edition.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/africa/05/15/amanpour.rwanda/
In each chapter of this book two histories illustrate honour and shame. As you read perhaps you might like to reflect on where honour lies and shame. It’s not always simple. In the first story some would think the parents acted honourably and the priest not or the opposite. In the second the same. Is it honouring of the memory of the slain to forgive murderers?
Does it honour a daughter viciously raped and then killed by her oppressors? What part of her memory do you honour?
I’m reminded me of a story in Philip Yancey’s wonderful book “What’s so amazing about Grace?” Yancey tells of a conversation that he once had with an immigrant rabbi. “Before coming to America,” the rabbi said, “I had to forgive Adolf Hitler. “Why?” Yancey asked. “I did not want to bring Hitler inside me to my new country.”
Read more about John Steward here and look for his book "From Genocide to Generosity" http://2live4give.org/
See Philip Yancey and his work here: https://philipyancey.com/ Thanks to Philip who wrote about our book "My Brother's Eyes" "If hypocrisy is, in Matthew Arnold's words, ‘the tribute vice pays to virtue’, then cautionary tales like this one are the tribute that religious cults pay to genuine faith. The Ayliffe saga is gripping, baffling, horrifying, and, most importantly, redemptive. 'The truth shall set you free,' Jesus said. As David learned, if it doesn't set you free, it is not truth."