I can’t be alone in wondering what value there is for the people of Haiti in hosting huge numbers of media people who (presumably) are having to eat food, sleep in beds and use power sources to broadcast their ‘stories’. The only English-language television channel I have access to (here in Germany) is CNN. They seem to have a dozen reporters in Haiti who tell us not very much more than we already know, but seem to want us to know how awful it is for them to witness the horrors there.
I fear we are trespassing into voyeurism. Could the journalists not do the decent thing and all leave apart from one or two crews who syndicate their reports out?
Right. Got that off my chest. Now to something that’s been bugging me while enjoying the generous benefits of southern Germany and Austria.
Yesterday (Sunday) I overslept, missed church and found myself instead in the middle of a huge pagan festival. I noticed large numbers of people in fancy dress wandering towards the centre of Langenargen, so I got my coat on and followed them to the heart of the action.
Apparently, it was Fasnet and should take place on Shrove Tuesday – Mardi Gras and all that. But yesterday was Sunday 17 January and Lent doesn’t start for weeks yet. Anyway, the carnival procession started at 2pm and went on through the market place (where I was standing) for nearly two hours. Most of the groups were dressed as witches or ogres and it involved people of all ages – often shouting things I couldn’t understand and lobbing sweets into the crowd of onlookers.
While watching all this, however, I was conscious of the disconnect between the sheer fun of it all and the sheer horror of what dominates our television screens at the moment. I chatted briefly to a woman from Hagnau (mainly to find out where Hagnau is…) and discovered I wasn’t alone in feeling a bit divided. One world, but two experiences running concurrently.
Yet, this is the reality of the world. German celebrations don’t stop because of Haiti and Haiti is not mitigated (or offended?) by Germany doing its thing. Life carries on – with all its mysterious contradictions, with all its joy and pain. We do not all grieve and we do not all laugh at the same time.
It’s a bit like going to the funeral of someone you love and wondering why the rest of the world doesn’t stop to mark the trauma with you. Cars overtake the cortege, shops stay open, people go about their business, life just carries on – but it feels somehow wrong.
This resonates with what I have been reading here, too. Walter Brueggemann writes about the dissonant voices in the Bible and resists the urge to iron them all out in order to find a single ‘voice’. Rather, he maintains, the Bible itself displays the tensions and contradictions that we experience in our lives and we have to live wiht the dialogue between the different voices/worlds.
The classic example of this is to be found in the Psalms – ancient poems that capture expression of just about every human experience and emotion. Some give expression to the praise that emanates from joyful success or contentment; others cry out in anguish at the unresolved pain and injustice of the world we live in. The point is not to pretend that they are the same: rather, it is (a) to allow them (by constant repetition) to offer us a vocabulary for those times of life when words escape us and (b) to remind us that our joy will be accompanied by someone else’s grief and our grief will be accompanied by someone else’s shameless happiness.
What matters is how we negotiate the relationship between the two: celebrating freely but cognisant of the grief of others in a fragile world or weeping for a lost world while others celebrate regardless.
Haiti and Hagnau. Horror and happiness. Honesty and hope.