Mega Man X Complex: The Shield

As Mega Man X enters Sigma’s fortress, Vile is still yet to be defeated. In game-play, I always assumed that Vile had no particular weakness and so spent time maneuvering, picking him apart with X-buster blasts when the solution was already with me: The Shield. Vile’s weakness, all along, was a weapon called ‘Rolling Shield’ that X acquires in battle with another maverick robot. It makes a florescent bolus that rolls along the floor and bounces off walls— very useful in vertical shafts.

X looks good in pink -- receiving 'Rolling-Shield'.

X looks good in pink — receiving ‘Rolling-Shield’.

The apostle Paul alluded to a ‘Shield of Faith’ in his letter to the Ephesians, though I lack the education to know which Greek word corresponds to ‘Faith’ in this instance. Faith’s multiplicity of shades and convergences with spiritual life are far too complex for blogging, more suitable to extended study. For the record, when ‘Rolling Shield’ is fully charged it envelopes X with an energy that makes him impervious to small opponents. My Faith must not be fully charged, yet…

Though Dr. Light hoped X could choose a more sedate path, he created* X with an operating system compatible with the upgrades X needs to pursue Justice. That resilient operating system endows him with the special ability to take a new weapon from each maverick he defeats. My original plan for this entry was to inventory the Fruits of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22/23 and draw metaphor to each of the eight maverick bosses and their corresponding weapon upgrades. I included a highlight reel at the bottom of this entry, just for laughs. What I really needed, from the beginning, was some self-bolstering. I need to identify my own maverick moments and claim the character enhancements that came to me at each juncture. Indeed, I might need to do it more than once.

One ‘shield of faith’ came to me at the Chinese Restaurant in Bethlehem (there is only one), on Land Day in 2012. That was also the morning when Palestine changed to “daylight savings time”, swinging an hour ahead for the summer. The planned, peaceful demonstration was delayed 90 minutes due to time-shift confusion. The ‘real’ demonstration came an hour after that, when shabaab arrived with kefias around their faces and pummeled the floodlights and security cameras on every guard turret with stones, concrete chunks, and more stones. Several internationals and I retreated to the Chinese restaurant for lunch, which was a foolish mistake. The excited teenagers in the guard tower shot their tear-gas and the excited teenagers on the ground, in turn, pummeled their windows with stones – some of which missed and smashed through the windows of the restaurant instead. I finished eating – no good could come of being shaken.

Something comes loose and it is difficult to know whether it is an ability or a disability. The moment I keep coming back to, during my quiet anxious moments, is the day at Sheikh Hussein bridge and looking an Israeli guard directly in her eyes while I lied about where my work was taking place—I told them Haifa, consistent with my letter of recommendation. She said “we know you’re lying – just tell us the truth,” which seemed, to me, to confirm that they did not have enough evidence to turn me away and wanted me to crack and vacillate. I held integrity with my mission, not the reverse, but I always return to heaviness I felt when I willfully distrusted someone and, instead of being edified, was uncomfortably vindicated by their obvious interrogatory ploys and my extended detention. I regret nothing but I lament all of it.

The entire exile into Jordan should count for some kind of special ability. It was in Jordan that I really knew what it meant to live as a foreigner in a large city and cemented my ‘transactional Arabic’. Far from being perfect, there were too many days where I laid in bed and waited for news about my return but, at my best, I was walking the bending lanes of ‘Al-Ballad’ and learning the dark fissures that formed alleys between its building encrusted hillsides. I befriended the juice-man, the bread vendors, and the Iraqi restaurant owner who served me the best chicken dinners of my life. In Amman, I negotiated with cab-drivers and embassy curriers. In that city, I survived bed-bugs, high-fever, long-waits at the Israeli embassy, and long hours in the Roman gardens watching cargo-planes doing maneuvers. I wondered, sometimes, if my life was beginning there in the shadow of those ancient pillars.

These are the instances I often talk about, separately, but friends are encouraging me to put them together. As I recite, I remember even more lessons; Drew from Alabama helped me face my callousness last fall when he joined us as a new volunteer. I felt irritated by his learning process. The disturbance was intrinsic to me: the exile and return from Asia had changed me in ways that I still do not understand, typing in a Washington DC Starbucks. Drew and I had an uncanny moment when, best I could, I apologized for being so curt with him. He said, “I think God is telling me to tell you that you have been counted faithful.” As he shared that with me, I could see him getting misty and I wanted to soften and cry but I felt calcified. I am indebted to Drew for that tender moment.

I could do myself a great favor by remembering some other pieces I brought home from the middle-East. I developed a greater sense of others’ needs, an ability I call the ‘bottomless tea-kettle of hospitality’. That sense of togetherness was necessarily beyond words because we do not all share the same words. Yet, I felt connected. That gift began to hurt, in time. Months later, I felt continents away from my counterparts in Geneva. At Wi’am in Bethlehem we all could take care of ourselves but we chose to take care of each other whereas my two American colleagues were both so… individual. Perhaps I was waiting for teleonomic cues that were not coming – the tea-kettle within me felt very heavy in Europe.

Since I write so seldom on these topics, then it is not really boasting to share – though if there are half a dozen examples then there might as well be two-dozen because every experience is a chance to learn or unlearn. After six months in Bethlehem, I learned that I was fairly savvy about the conflict. Then I visited Ni’ilin village and promptly unlearned that because, of course, the context was too fragmented for a foreigner to be so savvy. I reinforced the value of my solidarity on that trip, still. After I ‘did’ something –planting olive trees– I watched a video of farmers being mercilessly abused while sitting next to the very same farmers. Just an hour ago I told my friend over the phone “if I were planning a trip, it would be advocacy focused…”

If my enhancements were instant, videogame-quality upgrades, then I would not have to go through a dark period, filled with artistic blocks, self-deprecation, compulsive behavior, and feelings of isolation. This is real life. That is good news; I may have already done most of the work. Results are delayed. Vile is still alive in me but I’ve recovered significantly since February’s slide. There is a subtle relief to embracing the strength I actually find from difficult memories rather than trying to suddenly change the timbre of my script or, as happens too often, trying to deepen the suffering to profoundest woe. Mine is a story of being bent but not broken. I remember long ago, when I finally capitulated and spent eight consecutive weeks seeing a therapist, the doctor and I had a discussion about my efforts. I said I was not seeming to get anywhere and he observed that I had not relented. Again, I capitulated and saw a therapist. This time, I visited once and have not heard back from him. He asked me “what makes you think you can stand-up to the challenges in your life?”
“—because I’ve stood-up before. I’m going to keep standing-up until I’m too dead.”

Where is the Faith in that? I think there is Faith throughout that — the string-like roots of that Faith are something I could spend a life-time examining.

* * * Maverick-Fruits Gag-Reel * * *

“Plus, gleefully torching Maverick bosses on their last health-bar is delicious.”

“… if I were not agile enough, I might be swept into his vortex and have my energy sucked out of my body. Yeah—it’s a nasty long battle.”

“Arguably, kindness is like the Boomerangs won from Boomer Kawanger (I’m not making these names up), that comes back to the user.”

“…and has a chain-like tongue that he uses to whip X…”

“…the storm-blast was excellent for clearing stationary turrets; like self-control, storm-blast…”

“With a limited number of both weapons and fruits, that means Goodness is like ‘Shot-gun Ice’, courtesy of Chill Penguin.”

“I am having trouble equating Peace with ‘Electric Spark’ but I am sure you all can help me by using your imaginations…”

~ can you see why I abandoned that draft?

Advertisements

Two Empty Chairs

Fatally wounded dove.One of many stand-out moments at the Kairos Palestine conference came during the second panel discussion. The first panel featured Bishops from two churches in the Holy Land. Each was a signer of the historic Kairos Palestine document, where Palestinian church leaders make a theological case against the Israeli occupation of the land, the oppression of the people. One of them (we will just say one of them) appealed to the audience to lower the ceiling of expectations for the churches. He reasoned their efforts were modest in order to avoid being counterproductive.

 

I nodded gently as the translation reached my ears. While I was in Jordan, I lost my temper when I learned an Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem had spoken against Boycott, Divest, and Sanction actions (BDS), condemning them as ultimately harmful to Palestinians and calling for positive investment. I firmly believe in BDS as a practice, that ‘positive investments’ is empty rhetoric, and that most Palestinians support BDS even if it means self-sacrifice. Yet, I came to learn that the Anglican Bishop’s Jerusalem permit was in question. I decided to redirect my angst at those the talking heads which used his statement as an excuse to avoid the prickly divestment issue: churches invested in companies profiting from this occupation. When the bishop mentioned ‘moderate stances’, I was skeptical but receptive. During the first coffee break I saw them by the door with their coats on and wondered if they were going out to smoke.

 

During the second panel, a lady read a letter from a church-leader in Gaza who was, obviously, unable to attend the Kairos conference. There are only 2500 Christians in Gaza, among a population of 1.6 million. The Gazan’s message rang with a lonely timbre and, just as his words called for solidarity from West Bank Christians, the reader looked up from the paper and scanned the audience. She said, ‘I wish that Bishop [ ] and Bishop [ ] were here to hear this but, look, their chairs are empty.’

 

They had left. ‘For other engagements?’ I mused, though I could not imagine anything more pressing than Kairos Palestine. By then it did not matter: those two empty chairs chanted louder than the microphone. Kairos (in Greek) means ‘right timing’ or ‘God’s timing’, the wrong time to leave a chair empty.

 

The Bishops’ position is not easy but the ceiling of expectations belongs where it is. These men may have the right training to rise above the ceiling of expectations but not by operating on a part-time basis. They can operate below that ceiling, with Israel’s implicit approval, or they can be the difference that Christians in Gaza and the West Bank – Muslims too—need them to be.

 

As is often the case in the Holy Land, ‘moderate stance’ has become a cloak for compassion fatigue (temporary, we hope) or balking at opportunities for change. This kind of systematic soldiering – of lowering expectations– is the affliction of those afraid to embrace their grassroots power for fear they will lose their official powers.

 

It seems as if the ‘wrong’ people can find the ‘right’ thrust, regardless. People like you and me, readers.

Banksey dove in bullet-proof gear.

Hope has wings… and Kevlar, baby.

 

Bulldozer Blues

 

Rhinoceros crushes annexation wall

Sometimes I wish I were just a little bit bigger…

I spent my 25th Birthday on the floor of an annual church conference, across the world from the Philippine restaurant where I spent my 26th.  Armed with notes scribbled in a pocket notebook, I prepared to speak about the holiness of two people, a pair of any gender or sex composition, who would commit in fidelity to each other before the eyes of society and The Divine. As the lay-delegate for my tiny church, I spent some hours parked next to the river in my Pontiac Sunfire, reviewing materials. I did not spend much time discerning about divesting funds from Caterpillar: they profit from the Israeli house-demolitions in Palestine, which is self-evidently heinous. Church money should not touch ethically questionable investments, let alone blatantly colonialist ones.

I took the microphone on June 3rd 2011, incredulous to the marrow. Several delegates had conflated the conflicts in Gaza and the Golan Heights with the issue at hand. The floor of annual conference sounded like a tabloid newsroom from the nineteen eighties—some delegates’ perceptions were twenty-years dated and flavored with prejudicial fear. Someone suggested that there might be a Caterpillar plant in Michigan, somewhere (no one knew) and threatened that jobs would be hurt. That seemed like a moot point to me when Arab families could/would be uprooted in less than twenty minutes or else die in the rubble beneath a gigantic, armor-plated bulldozer. The divestment motion was inexplicably defeated and I prayed a fateful prayer. I asked God to send me to the Holy Land to either edify or vindicate me.

Regrettably, I was vindicated 100-fold. Ironically, it is Hewlett-Packard I have learned to despise in daily life. The Jerusalem checkpoints are dehumanizing, blatantly racist chutes from the West Bank into… …what is still technically the West Bank, since the Annexation Wall is illegal and built on Palestinian Land. Look closely and the machines bear the emblematic “hp™”. Hewlett-Packard makes a fortune on normalized apartheid.

I will never buy a piece of hp equipment again but I understand why that evil is not salient. Overt racism is difficult to fathom without brushing against it. If a person has never had to leave their Arab co-worker behind at a checkpoint while white people pass freely, it is difficult to understand why I am adamant about divesting from Hewlett-Packard (and Motorola…). Caterpillar bulldozers destroy homes and water-tanks at the whim of bureaucrats, expenses charged to the owners’, sometimes regardless of who will be hurt or killed. This evil ought to be plain to see.

My role in Palestine before my long exile (13 weeks) was not as heroic as Rachel Corrie’s – I do some editing for “Wi’am Conflict Transformation Center” next to the Annexation Wall. Our idea of protest is to build a play-ground to fill the air with the sound of laughing children. My drive to create a ‘ministry of information’ has only increased. In February I worked on what I hoped would be my most educational newsletter yet: a roster of topics with links to organizations’ websites.

Meanwhile, I started having trouble digesting the tragic nature of the Occupation concurrently with the missing fervor of my general audience. A terrible history of discrimination and land-theft is being perpetrated in the most talked about and, yet, most insufficiently understood region in the world. I wove together many explanations. I questioned why I could not instill the sense of urgency that my predecessor had placed in me. People fail to see how this injustice is so much like what took place in the Americas when indigenous peoples were driven onto smaller and smaller reservations; their homes were destroyed and they were baited into armed conflicts they could not possibly win or else went compliantly into their cells and withered. Now, people are sorry. Now, people don’t have to do a damn thing but be sorry.

Is it my fault? I was still trying to be momentous this February. My Palestinian coworkers accepted me but I felt like I had failed to be pivotal for their sake. Additionally, I am a human being. The rains started and it was dark too much. I was lonely. I saw how pathetic my efforts were when levied against the occupation or even my own star-crossed history. That was when I caught the “bulldozer blues” and started entertaining thoughts of sinking Caterpillar myself. My life could have more impact, I reasoned, in an act of martyrdom than continuing to so ineffectually struggle. I could stand-up to the bulldozer and buy some family another day or else become a new headline.

I had fallen into darkness before I realized how over-extended my young heart was. I decided to confess all of my feelings to my boss. He said, with some warmth in his voice, “We like to celebrate life; I want to celebrate your life with you alive, with us.”

I awoke from my dark-narcissism and realized that fumbling-along together was what made solidarity special and that, really, this was some kind of love: to be dedicated to continuing and not insist on resolution.

Resolution is exactly what I do not have. The first week of May I watched coverage of the global Methodist conference. I was moved when my predecessor came before the assembly and spoke passionately of the truth we both know. Unfortunately, the general assembly was gun-shy and preferred to leave the decision about divestment to a financial board. I wonder if anyone on that board fathoms the occupation beyond trite headlines and the undulations of line-graphs labeled “Caterpillar”, “Motorola”, and “Hewlett Packard”. Could they fathom me, shaving my beard and putting on a suit in order to clarify to them why being morally bankrupt is more serious than losing investments?

I am far from bothering anyone right now. Caterpillar is already starting to lose support from other church denominations and socially conscious investors, which is unsurprising. Caterpillar counters that they cannot control how their products are used but they will need to go further out of their way to preserve their dying brand–sorry. Even though Caterpillar is the most obvious target for Boycott, Divest, & Sanction actions, it remains the most easily redeemed of all Occupation-related companies. When the time comes to destroy the abominable Annexation Wall, it should be a Caterpillar machine (specially designed for the job) that takes the first crunchy bite out of that cement monster. They have a concrete opportunity to be pivotal. Concrete. Get it?

 

Meanwhile, I have seen some‘reclaimed’ Caterpillar back-hoes sporting the Palestinian flag – which, unlike seeing an hp copier printing leaflets, actually brings a smile to my face.