I think my first true literary passion was Johanna Spyri’s Heidi. Like other U.S. first graders of my generation, I learned to read on the Dick and Jane series, and I enjoyed learning to read, but I remembered thinking that Jane was kind of useless. She would drop a sack of flour on the floor and go to pieces and then have to wait for big brother Dick to make it all right by bringing her a broom and helping her sweep it up.
I picked up Heidi because I liked the picture of the little girl with the dark curls on the cover and with my limited vocabulary began picking my way through the novel.
A whole new world opened up to me. I mean, here was a girl with real problems. She was an orphan with a craven aunt and a scary grandfather and yet she arose to meet these challenges with a positive, life-embracing attitude. And when she was separated from her beloved Alps and sent to Frankfurt, to be abused by the cruel Fraulein Rottenmeyer, I wept. I read Heidi thirty-seven times between first and second grade; I think it would be fair to say I learned to read by reading Heidi.
Other books that have inspired that sort of rereading passion over the years have included C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Jane Austen’s novels. And it is that literary passion that I associate most closely to how I feel about Joss Whedon’s pre-Avenger’s work. I did not watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel until after they were in syndication and after I had been doing Christian Peacemaker Team’s work for a while, but when I did, they struck a deep chord. In 2004, I wrote the following letter to Whedon:
Dear Mr. Whedon
I have worked in the field of human rights since 1993, serving on assignments in Haiti, the West Bank, Chiapas, Colombia and South Dakota. I worked in the West Bank City of Hebron from 1995 until Israel denied me entry into the country in October 2002.
I had watched Buffy sporadically (because I don’t have cable and have been out of the country a lot) for the last several years and had admired the way you combine humor and pathos. An opportunity to get a copy of season 6 on VHS came my way in September. I am watching the episodes for the second time in a month and have watched the musical episode three times. After I got over being irritated with myself for being so moved by a TV show, (given the actual human misery I’ve witnessed) I began to examine the feelings of yearning and grief that the Buffy episodes seemed to be roiling up inside of me.
There are actually a lot of similarities between the work of the human rights teams and the work of the Scoobies. A special camaraderie develops between human rights workers, and for some reason, most people attracted to human rights work have really good senses of humor (the ones that don’t, don’t last.) A good solid team is way greater than the sum of its parts. People’s weaknesses and strengths are balanced, and sometimes perceived weakness can actually get the job done better than perceived strength. On the negative side, the intimacy on a team and within the human rights community can (and often does) lead to ill-advised romances. Worse, you can never unwitness what you have witnessed or unknow what you have known. You come and go knowing that oppression will continue to grind down people you love, that these people—Haitians, Indigenous, Colombians, Israelis, Palestinians—cannot leave, as you can, that often, oppression and violence win.
After I was deported by Israel in October 2002, all my loved ones at home and abroad were very solicitous of my feelings and anxious to commiserate with me about not being able to return to Israel/Palestine, since that has been a big part of my life. They thought I was being brave when I told them I was happy to be able to catch up on some writing projects, but here’s what I didn’t tell them: I was glad the Israeli government wouldn’t let me return. I was tired of being around suffering people. I didn’t think I could care for one more person, whatever his or her need. I was tired of being assaulted and spit on and called a Nazi. I was tired of providing encouragement to Israeli and Palestinian friends who have worked so hard for peace and reconciliation only to see their work destroyed. I was tired of being a representation of a Christian, an American, a peace activist, etc, instead of a real human being.
So I guess you can see how Buffy coming back from heaven into this earthly hell struck a chord. But, as I’ve thought about Season 6, I realize that it also confirms some deep truths that I have known and repressed: Some forms of sadness are more worth having than some forms of happiness. The fellowship of true minds and true hearts is the engine that will keep you going; you’re never really alone. God can use you along with all your selfishness and fear and despair to accomplish good—even if you’re not a superhero. Love is stronger than the forces of death. And, maybe most importantly, Season 6 made me realize it’s time for me to finish up my writing projects and go back into the field—Iraq or Colombia, if not Israel and Palestine (I’m engaged to an Israeli guy and we’re hoping that may get me back to Hebron, but we’re not sure it will.) Frankly, I would have preferred to get this revelation via prayer or Bible study, but I also know from experience that God often chooses to speak to people in unorthodox ways. So anyway, thanks for what Buffy has given me, even if you didn’t intend this particular outcome.
I have enclosed a Reuters photo and a Christian Science Monitor article to show I’m not making all this up. (See other side of this page.)
Whedon wrote back, telling me that he also had friends who worked for human rights organizations and he had wanted to do a TV series about it, but in the end he couldn’t sell it, so he had just added vampires.
I am embarrassed to admit it took me years before I realized he had been joking.
Anyway, this week, I stumbled across a contest on Twitter that was looking for a mashup of Shakespeare and Whedon’s work as a promo for Whedon’s new film rendition of Much Ado About Nothing, starring Amy Acker, Alex Denisof, Nathan Fillion and some other familiar faces from the previous collected Whedon oeuvre. And it became one of those things where I couldn’t stop thinking of jingles and puns—while I was gardening, in the bathroom, over lunch, and, frankly, when I should have been working.
Here’s what I came up with:
For a vamp is a knobbly thing, and this is my conclusion.” (From Much Ado’s “For a man is a giddy thing, and this is my conclusion.”#buffybard
Refers to the bumpy foreheads of Whedon vampires. Not my best effort.)
Sigh no more Joss sigh no more,
Networks were clueless ever –
Titillation’s blowsy whores-
To erudition constant never #buffybard
(A reference to Whedon’s history of canceled TV shows and a take off from the song in Much Ado:
Sigh no more, ladies,
sigh nor more;
Men were deceivers ever;
One foot in sea and one on shore,
To one thing constant never
I thought it was a little bit suck-uppy, but one of the winning participants, who is an actual Shakespearean scholar favorited it.)
Behind Whedon’s new
of Much Ado
are Two by Two
(GASP) Hands of Blue #buffybard
(I think this one was probably my favorites. The Hands of Blue are from Whedon’s series Firefly. According to Firefly.wikia.com they “were a pair of mysterious men, who wore suits and blue gloves. They were contractors to the Anglo-Sino Alliance and were in pursuit of River and Simon Tam. Anyone who had any form of contact with River, even Alliance personnel, was killed without mercy with the use of a sonic device that induces massive bleeding from every orifice.”)
“Buffy/Spike, Darla/Angel, Dr. Horrible/Penny, Echo/Paul” are too wise to woo peaceably” said no one EVER #buffybard
(From what Benedick says to Beatrice in Much Ado: “Thou and I are too wise to woo peaceably.”
Bad Horse! Bad Horse! My kingdom for Bad Horse! #Buffybard
(Bad Horse is the head of a crime organization in Dr. Horrible’s Sing-along blog. He is an actual horse.)
Fairest Cordelia, that art most rich, being poor; Most choice, forsaken; and most loved, despised! #BuffyBard
(This is actually just a quote from King Lear but seemed to describe well the character of Cordelia Chase, who appears in both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel.)
There is no evil angel but Love–or Angelus #BuffyBard
(Angelus is the evil demon that the vampire Angel turns into when he loses his soul.)
For ’tis the sport to have the slayer hoist with her own Mr. Pointy #BuffyBard
(This was my first, and probably weakest effort. It comes from Hamlet’s “hoist with his own petard” quote, and for some reason, I had imagined that weapon to be something pointy, but it was actually a bomb. In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series Mr. Pointy was a special stake given to Buffy by another slayer.)
The winner? “Scooby or not Scooby.” Of course.
URGENT INVITATIONS from Colombia and Elsipogtog First Nation in New Brunswick
Now back to my real job: In the last seven to ten days Christian Peacemaker Teams has received urgent request for accompaniment from Colombia and Elsipogtog that we don’t have the people to fill.
On May 30 a member of Las Pavas community in Colombia had been attacked with machetes by workers for Aportes San Isidro, the palm oil company that has been trying to push the community of Las Pavas off their land for many years:
He was walking from the farm “El Oasis” back towards Las Pavas after having gone to fetch water for a meal when the security guards beat him using machetes, cutting one of his legs and his arm, kicking him in the head repeatedly, and insulting him. They threatened his life and that of other community members and shot at him twice. Hearing the shots, Bladimir Alvear ran out to find Tito bleeding while the company guards ran away. – from COLOMBIA: Palm oil company security guards shoot at Las Pavas community members, attack Tito Alvear with machetes
My colleague Tim Nafziger visited Las Pavas community and wrote here about the destruction of their crops and cattle that he witnessed last year. This attack is an escalation on the pressure on this community that is deeply committed to nonviolence. It comes three days after a breakthrough in the high level peace talks between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the government of Colombia.
In response, the community has asked CPT to provide more frequent presence on the ground as part of our accompaniment of them. Our team on the ground is already stretched thin and they’ve made an appeal to CPT reservists to support them.
On June 8, our Aboriginal Justice team sent a group of reservists to New Brunswick, Canada in response to an invitation 48 hours earlier from Elsipogtog First Nation. Mi’kmaq and Maliseet peoples have been using creative Nonviolent Direct Action to stop shale gas exploration on their traditional lands, including peacefully blockading a truck hired by the exploration company, SWN Resources Canada. “They broke the law a long time ago when they started this fracking in our traditional hunting grounds, medicine grounds, contaminating our waters,” Elsipogtog chief and protest leader John Levi told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Tim notes, “As we’ve seen in Syria most recently, violent actors and arms dealers are right around the corner, ready to step in. If we truly believe that the cross is an alternative to the sword, now is the time to step up: cpt.org/participate.”