Sunday, November 27, 2011

My Advent Hope & Kazuo Ishiguro's "Never Let Me Go"

Today I finished Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go. The book is a story of recollections from a girl who was raised for the sole purpose of donating her organs as an adult, donations resulting in her death. She and a number of other clones were raised at a unique boarding school that treated the clones similarly to normal children with a liberal arts education.

Their school, Hailsham, was unique because most other clones were treated as commodities, not people. Near the end, the characters weigh whether or not it was good for them to be taught to believe in their humanity or if they should be treated like the commodity they end up being.

One character asks, "Why Hailsham?" Why be taught to create art, to appreciate art, to be more than simply healthy, but also to enjoy life when, in the end, you are not seen or treated as fully human. Why Hailsham if you're going to be ignored and die in the end?

"Why Hailsham?" is a question from everyman and -woman when "Hailsham" is understood to be the home (-ham) from which one hails. Now the question is not only by and for the characters in the book, but also for us. Why life? Why are we raised to seek pleasure and think our lives are significant when we die at the end and donate our organs--and the rest of our bodies--to the cycle of existence?

Side by side with this question about the meaning and enjoyment of life, we are presented with the questions about another's quality life, about the Other's quality of life. What a natural progression: when pondering the meaning of one's own life, you are pondering life in general. If your life has meaning and deserves enjoyment, then the lives of others have meaning and deserve enjoyment.

"Never Let Me Go" left me with conviction. I act as if my life is meaningful, yet my life stands on the shoulders of suffering based on systemic issues about which I cannot change by myself or in a timely fashion.

Yet, today is the first Sunday of Advent, a time for hope, specifically hope for the coming of Christ. The church I attended this morning lit a candle for awareness instead of for hope. How appropriate for Never Let Me Go. In the novel, the main characters become more aware of their status in regards to the rest of the society and the more aware they become of themselves and the world. This awareness raises more questions than anything. The elevation of awareness gives rise to the need for hope--hope for meaning and hope for a better tomorrow.

By "a better tomorrow," I mean a tomorrow in which all life that is meaningful has the opportunity to enjoy life. Hope for fair trade practices, philanthropy, love of neighbor and equality regardless of your race, religion, gender expression, sexuality, nationality, or ethnicity. Hope that those who are hungry will receive bread and that those who have bread will be hungry for justice. Hope that the luxuries of life will not mean the suffering of those less fortunate. Hope that the poor will teach the rich lessons and, in turn, the rich will give the poor opportunities to turn their lives around.

And my hope is built on nothing less than Christ effecting that change. By "Christ" I mean God's transformative power--love. In this season of Advent, it is appropriate that my hope is for Christ's advent. However, my hope isn't a traditional Advent hope. I am not hoping for the second coming of Jesus. Rather, I am hoping for that same Christ we saw in Jesus to be in us. If humanity is to be the body of Christ, then the only hope for advent is that we embody Christ, that we embody the advent of Christ. Our hope is in a holy trinity: God, neighbor, and self.

I hope we will embody that Christ enough to turn the world upside down, like Jesus did before us.

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