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bedlam.

8 November 2009

tomorrow, november 9, is the 20th anniversary of the fall of the berlin wall.  i remember learning about it as a freshman in high school, recognizing its importance.  but i think the most powerful experience i had regarding the wall and what it represented was when i visited the imperial war museum in london.  outside, on the museum’s peaceful grounds, i found a chunk of the wall with wide open eyes and an even wider open mouth shouting the words “change your life.”

i spent hours alone at the imperial war museum, wandering exhibits that captured and explained the horrors of the great war and its successor, world war II.  i’ve always had a fascination with these two wars–with how the entire world could get caught up in such violence.  my visit to this particular museum was as much an act of homage to those who died and fought in the wars as it was an educational excursion for my own benefit.  because i had lived through the end of the cold war and the fall of the wall, this particular piece was especially powerful for me.

but what was the most powerful was the location of the museum.  you see, the imperial war museum is housed in what remains of the priory of st. mary of bethlehem, later known as bethlem royal hospital, more commonly known as bedlam.  first the priory and then bethlem royal hospital specialized in caring for the insane.  the juxtapositions of this site, its current focus on two of the most disastrous wars in history, its name’s popular connotation of insanity itself, and the birthplace of jesus strike me as not only interesting, but apt.  i do not believe that christianity necessarily causes either insanity or war, but i do believe that the bastardization and misunderstanding of christianity is at the root of a great deal of both insanity and bloodshed.  and this museum, with its long and rich heritage, captures that unfortunate history of christianity’s bastard children.

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