2.11.2010

Making our way ...

Did you come here for justice, or just to make your way? 

--Al Swearengen, in the final episode of season one of Deadwood, HBO's historically-inspired show of a mining camp on the South Dakota frontier. 

When I heard the line quoted above last night, it was actually the second time I'd been asked the question. Just hours earlier, a yellow-robed Hindu nun had stood before me, trying to explain her understanding of divinity, reincarnation, suffering and the world of relativity. Her peacefulness and intentionality stand in stark contrast to Swearengen's brash approach to life, and yet both essentially ask the same question.

Not in so many words, of course. But in her gentle insistence that everything is temporary--everything, including justice, suffering and joy, heaven and hell--and even more, that nothing is real except for God, she pointed us down the same road as Swearengen. In the face of our protests (we were a group of Christian seminarians in a world religions class) that evil was just as real as joy--and we thus had a responsibility to act--she didn't deny that responsibility, but also persisted in saying that evil is only relative and temporary.

I'm not really trying to make any sort of comparison between Al Swearengen and this nun, who "makes her way" by seeking out divinity and living in the love and joy of that presence. It's about as different a purpose as possible from Al, who makes his way though profit and does all kinds of evil in that pursuit, though his complexity and humanity are compelling nonetheless.

But you can't watch Deadwood without being struck by how closely these characters lived to death--how much it was part of their furniture, so to speak--and how casual--even cavalier--were their attitudes towards death.

And likewise, you couldn't help but be struck by the fact that it was Nishita, the nun, casually saying "For the Hindu, death is really no big deal. It's temporary. Only God is real," while the Christians in the room--myself included--were obsessed with questions about death, evil, sin, salvation and justice. Of course the casual approach to death taken by both Nishita and the Deadwood residents bears out in remarkably different approaches to life. For Nishita, death is temporary and then you are reincarnated, so it matters how you live. For Deadwood folks, life itself is temporary and death is the end, so it doesn't matter how you live, just that you stay alive.

But back to Al's question--did you come here for justice, or just to make your way? This strikes me as the question for Deadwood--a town of people willing to give up both the security and restrictions of law by coming to the frontier, wanting only to make their way. The town may be lawless, and the people coarse and violent, but they aren't without a code, and indeed the show's most poignant moments come when that morality is evidenced. Even so, there is precious little justice in Deadwood, just as it often seems that there is precious little in the world today.

Nishita would say that both justice and injustice are temporary. And while I see wisdom in many of her beliefs, I live in, love, and sometimes mourn this material world. I believe God created it, is still active in it, and is saving it. I've looked on the face of my own newly born son and known real joy, and we've all seen grieving Haitian mothers on TV and witnessed real suffering. So I choose to make my way by fighting injustice where I can, fighting evil within myself and around me, praying and working for the kingdom of God, and relying on my sure faith that just as the Chinese New Year brings flowers and firecrackers, Easter will come and resurrection still happens.

1 comment:

L. DeAne said...

Monte,

Back to "D". Check out this lovely photo: http://newsimg.bbc.co.uk/media/images/47274000/jpg/_47274120_dumplings_afp.jpg

And, have you had steamed dumplings (the ones that looks like American buns)filled with bright green chopped vegetables? If so, do you know what they are called? I'm desperate to find a recipe.

DeAne