I’ve had two “No 1’s” in the last week or so – events that have topped my experience list in their respective categories. One good, one bad.
Wednesday morning I sat in what was potentially one of the most important meetings of my job so far – a grilling by an external audit panel. I was the note-taker for the session and I was also there to answer questions on my particular area of operations. Within 10 minutes I knew I was getting a headache. By the time they came to question me directly an hour later, I knew I had a migraine. I survived the meeting, answered the questions with something approaching sense, survived the de-briefing, survived finding an obscure document the audit team had requested. Then I threw up. Then I attempted to make my 90 minute journey home without throwing up again. I worked in stages, rewarding myself after every stage of the journey with the thought that I was one move close to home: to bus stop, bus journey, to platform, on train, change trains, get taxi, home....
I managed to hold out to the last part of my journey until I had to throw up again. Luckily I had a lovely taxi driver, who I had had before, and who’s son has migraine. I also managed to throw up outside of the taxi so I wasn’t that bad a passenger.
Because the migraine had by that point had about 5 hours to establish itself it meant I spent the rest of Wednesday and all of Thursday in bed. I still feel pretty spaced out on Friday – but at least I had a quiet day in the office.
So that goes down as the worse migraine of my life so far (Evan, if you’re reading this, I’m afraid that one where you drove me back from York has been knocked off the top spot, sorry it was a close call).
So on to the good “No. 1”. One of the sessions I attended at my new religions conference last week was on the experience of the Branch Davidians at Waco. We had an outline of the current state of the research into the group and its experiences, and an overview the materials held in archive which are accessible to researchers. Interesting, but didn’t blow my mind.
Then at exactly 15 years to the day and hour of the final assault on Waco we had a chance to hear from one of the survivors. He survived primarily because he was captured at the start of the siege on 28th February. His wife and mother were killed during the siege. He has spent the last 15 years in prison, some in the USA, some in the UK (he’s a British Citizen), much of it in solitary as punishment for not acknowledging what he did was wrong.
He was an ordained 7th Day Adventist minister with a degree from Manchester Metropolitan University before he joined the Branch Davidians, an offshoot of the 7th Day Adventists. He spoke with great grace and faith, describing the horrors and injustice that had been inflicted on the religious settlement that he belonged to at Mount Carmel, Waco, Texas.
To the British people (and other Europeans) in the audience the story behind Waco is pretty hard to get your head around. The community made much of their income through dealing guns – legally, at gun fairs and the like across the state. They were under surveillance as they were suspected of converting semi-automatic weapons to automatic weapons. This is not illegal in Texas, but you do need to pay a fee for every weapon you convert. So essentially this was a revenue issue, not one of religion or arms. The government agents had been watching the compound for some time, and had actually been invited in to inspect, and had taken up the offer. I don’t know all the details of what happened after that but obviously something went fundamentally wrong in the approach of the government agencies involved.
The Branch Davidians do not hold a pacificist theology, on the contrary they believed that they needed defend their faith, with force if necessary. I can imagine that this might have happened if government agents forcibly entered any number of properties around the USA where people hold weapons and do not generally recognise the authority of the state. Being a religious community didn’t really make them any different in this regard – they just had a different reason for doing it.
It was a tragedy – members of the community and FBI officers lost their lives needlessly.
The survivor spoke elegantly of his own experiences at Waco, of his theology, of David Koresh’s religious experience in Jerusalem. He quoted scripture from the Old Testament to the New, focusing a great deal on the Gospel of John and Revelations. His theology was as coherent as any other Christian based theology that I have come across.
Many Christians may not agree with the Branch Davidians interpretation of the Bible, but hearing it just drove home to me again that the Bible (and other religious texts) are open to such varying interpretations – and that’s even before you start looking into the issue of translation.
You may believe in the one true God of Christianity, but if you’re reading his message, remember that you’re nearly 2000 away from when the accounts of the New Testament were written, speaking a different language, and relying on hundreds of years of translation and interpretation. So never get too stuck on a word or a phrase – far better to go one on one with your God.