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 Art News: Who Will Speak Up For The Expendables?

SpiritualityBy Howard Bess

I serve on the Board of Directors of Palmer Arts Council. Every year the Arts Council facilitates dozens of events that feature music, drama, poetry, films and art. One of our most popular summer programs is theatre for children. It features high quality training in the skills of theatre and culminates in the presentation of plays complete with original sets, imaginative costuming, lights, sound and live audiences.

The first play of the 2010 season was entitled “The Amazing Mr. Fox.” The story line reminds us of the classic Robin Hood. Mr. Fox has been feeding his wife and family with chickens taken from the chicken house owned by a farmer, who is becoming angrier by the day. The chicken house owner vows to kill Mr. Fox. He fires several shots at the crafty fox. He actually shoots off Mr. Fox’s tail. The lurking danger left the Fox family seriously hungry. The situation called for action. The Fox family dug a tunnel and came up in the middle of the chicken house. The Fox family grabbed chickens as fast as they could and escaped with their bounty. During their chicken grabbing venture, the sound tape played vivid chicken squawking.

The play closed with a well-fed Fox family and a frustrated villain, the chicken house owner. AND lots of dead chickens.

I watched the production twice. ...

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It was cute and funny, and kids did a marvelous job of acting. After the final bows, I asked the director “Who stands up for the chickens?”

“The Amazing Mr. Fox” is a morality play. There is stealing, conflict, even shooting. After all, they were the farmer’s chickens. Did he not have a right to protect his property? Mr. Fox was stealing! But was Mr. Fox not simply doing what he had to do to feed his family? Was the farmer justified in declaring war on the Fox family? The play raises serious ethical questions. They are questions that confront thoughtful people in some way every day.

However, if we are going to ask ethical questions about the farmer and Mr. Fox, should we not also ask questions about the expendables in the play? I am talking about the chickens. Chickens are never seen in the play. Their squawking is heard but ignored. The chickens remind us of a disturbing reality. It is not only in a children’s play that we find expendables. Expendables are with us every day.

Over the past two years I have also been involved with our area Homeless Housing Coalition. We have done our research and have numbers to assign to some very volatile and disturbing realities. The Coalition has identified housing homeless youth as the most pressing housing need in our area. As a category, they are referred to as “unaccompanied youth.” They are youth who have no permanent address and are not supervised by a responsible adult. They make up between 4 and 5 percent of the entire high school population. These homeless teenagers that are counted by the Coalition do not include the additional hundreds, who have dropped out of the educational system. The numbers do not include kids who are in foster care or in some sort of institutional setting.

When I first became aware of the large number of unaccompanied youth, I asked myself, “Why have I not seen these kids?” They are like the chickens in the children’s play. No one calls our attention to them. We may hear some of their sounds, but they are expendables. Life’s story line makes bare mention of them. They are casualties that happen with bare mention. They are expendables.

The same phenomenon presents itself on other real life stages. Let’s look at war. I do not consider myself a classic pacifist. However, I have become disillusioned with war. The practice of war, I believe, sows the seeds of the next war. Killing the enemy is not working well for us. St. Augustine’s rules for just war are so flawed to make them useless in a modern world. They have become guidelines for justifying war rather than a restraint to the practice of war. My primary reason to oppose war in a modern world has become the “collateral damage” that is done. The loss of the lives of combatants in modern warfare is tragic, but the heaviest loss of life is not among the combatants.

The loss of American military men and women is regularly reported. Our news sources make a point to report how many of the opposition have been killed. Some reports include the collateral damage that is being done. But the collateral damage is not what the main story line is about. It is no more than the squawking of the chickens in the background. Non-combatants are the expendables in modern warfare.

And do not forget the expendables left at home. Remember the wives, children, and families of the combatants.

In my life-long love affair with Jesus from Nazareth, I have pondered long about what made his approach to life so radically different. I have concluded that he was truly different because his primary interest was in the expendables of life. His stories, his sayings, and his actions identify him with what he called “the least of these, my brothers.”

How can a world be filled with people, who identify themselves as Christians, and still fail so miserably at living peaceful, loving, productive lives? I suspect that typical Christians and churches are trying to figure out whether they should be on the side of the foxes or the farmers. We are in the wrong discussion. Our real calling is to look out for the interests of the chickens. It is the Jesus way.



The Rev. Howard Bess is a retired American Baptist minister, who lives in Palmer, Alaska. His email address is [email protected]


[14 July 2010]

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