Posts Tagged ‘Syria’

It’s not easy to be poor; it’s that simple. A puff of wind pushes you this way or that and you fall off the high wire you’ve been walking. Life is hand to mouth. And if you are a part of the peasant class like Joseph, Mary and their young child, Jesus, you’ll never get out of it. There is no social mobility. It’s not that wages are just stagnant; they are unpredictable. And since a foreign government occupies your land you are heavily taxed to underwrite the cost of the wealthy elite, vast building projects and the empire. Everything is rigged to benefit those in power. Their affluence is funded from the broad bottom. The money runs uphill, the trickle up theory. And that’s where the peasant class lives and dies, on the bottom.

Life is precarious for Mary and Joseph and Jesus, because that is where they live. So the idea of taking a mandatory journey to Bethlehem was no small matter. They could barely afford to live day-to-day.

Living off the charity of extended family and friends in Bethlehem, they couch surf; the manger being that crib, the livestock pen the spare bedroom. That’s what you do when you’re at the bottom, like most the people they knew.

Among other things, that is the absolutely stunning and mind-blowing realization; God chooses to enter the drama through a hatch in the bottom of the stage. It wasn’t the first time, of course. A doomed baby named Moses floated in a basket down the river to a destiny that would change his people. The youngest of Jesse’s sons, David, the one exiled to sheep herding, was anointed to become the king of Israel. And here, again, in the fullness of time and in the basement of history, the Son of David sleeps among the livestock.

I wish I could tell you that it got easier. But I can’t tell you that.

In time, and like a scene from Star Wars or The Hunger Games, the Empire becomes aware of a rebel arising out in one of the distant outposts or districts. In fact, some wandering holy men are escorted by security forces in to have an audience with the monarch of the region, one of the puppet client kings of Rome, Herod. Like most fascist despots this ruler lied and feigned sympathy to locate this rising star. But the wise men are discerning; they intuit the false pretense, the lying, and the posturing. So when Herod releases them – wanting them to find the One for him so that he, too, can pay tribute to him – they know he is not to be trusted. Deeply spiritual people sense the duplicity in those who lust for absolute power. They know that absolute power cannot tolerate a rival. They know he will kill the opposition in one disingenuous way or another.

As a part of a dream fest, the true intentions and situation of threat is revealed to two groups of people. The first is this group of Magi, wise ones, and rather than return through Jerusalem to inform Herod where the star child is they return home by another route. When Herod discovers that his informants have disappeared he is enraged and goes about a campaign of ethnic cleansing to liquidate his supposed rival. He throws a broad net of death over any children who might be in the range of this rival King. The swords flash.

In the meantime, the second group, also informed by means of a sacred dream, has been forewarned. Joseph is shown in a dream that he must flee for the lives of his family. If you thought it was bad to be a peasant, if you thought it bad to be a peasant in an occupied land, if you thought it bad that they had to take the time and resources to travel out of town for an enrollment, it has now become worse.

Mary, Joseph and Jesus have become political refugees. They are not economic migrants moving for better opportunity. No, they are fleeing the threat of death, leaving their homeland that has become a death trap and crossing the border into another land as refugees. Now they are even more vulnerable and depend on the generosity, hospitality and compassion of people they don’t know and that don’t know them. Like their ancestors they have become exiles, strangers in a strange land.

Like his ancestor Joseph of the coat of many colors and his brothers who fled famine in Canaan and crossed into Egypt, so Joseph the father of Jesus headed across the same border but not because of famine. This time he crossed the border to escape the empire’s security apparatus and death squads. The little refugee family hopes the border is open. They hope there is a way to exist in another land. They hope people will take them in.

syrian-refugeesLike this Syrian refugee family fleeing the ancient war-torn city of Aleppo, the sounds of war barely behind them, they hope that someone will take them in. They hope that the doors of Turkey, Jordan, Europe or the United States will be open. The powers and principalities of this world have done their very best to bomb them into oblivion and they flee for their lives, often on foot, by boat, by donkey.

Joseph, Mary and Jesus were just such a refugee family.

If you are wondering how and where God enters the world, here it is. God comes by way of the margins, through the basement and undercroft of history, in the faces of the least of these, in ways that confound the places and people of power. The ways of God are found on the other side of violence and hate, through the hallways of hospitality.

If you wonder where Jesus is today, wonder no longer. Jesus is where oppression is at its worst, in the dark little corners of the forgotten world, abiding in hearts of all who are pursued yet remain courageous. Jesus is born and travels ever at the edge and may be found wherever the wise follow and evil attempts to destroy. There you will find him. Not in the conventional religious places that may automatically come to mind. But rather in the surprising places where the God of downward mobility chooses to show up, a trickle-up movement that confounds the world even as it gives unexpected hope. And when you sing the carols of this season it is for the sake of this Jesus and not another that you lift up your voice.

Just before bedtime I turned off all the lights and checked the front door. As I looked out onto the porch through the window I saw a new animal friend helping himself to a snack at the cat bowl. We have received all kinds of visitors – raccoons, dogs, cats, birds – but this was our first skunk. He was quite polite and mannerly, not nearly as raucous as some of the other guests.

Skunk FinalI of course did not draw his attention, tap on the window, or open the door. Best let him enjoy himself without distraction. But I wasn’t the only one watching.

Out on the sidewalk, no more than eight feet away, was Mary the cat. She was the picture of stillness, not flinching, not moving a muscle. She watched with attentive calm. She neither fled nor bristled. She waited. And when the skunk pushed away from the table he turned to see Mary. I wondered what would happen next.

Nothing exciting, that’s what. Instead of walking on toward Mary he turned right, dropped off the porch and headed along the house toward the woods. They had both respected the requisite distance necessary for both to feel safe and went their own ways without incident.

Every creature has ways to defend itself or elude threat. They all sense when danger is coming their way and prepare to fight or take flight. Some just freeze, immobilized. Most of the time, unless an animal is hunting as a predator, it responds aggressively when it feels threatened. If an animal has been hurt and anticipates more it becomes hyper-vigilant about any source of threat around it, lashing out quickly and without much warning. The most abused animals often become the most aggressive.

There are several alternatives to handling hyper-charged standoffs in which one or more of the parties feel threatened. One way is to use more force to subdue the real or perceived threat. Another is to flee and passively find other ways to survive. But another pathway is that of mutual respect, adequate resource and insuring a margin of safety.

It is possible that some day the two legged, big brained creatures will evolve to the level of the skunk and cat. They will insure that all are fed, that none feel afraid, and a margin of respect is maintained for all. This will not be easy for this species. In addition to being advanced in so many remarkable ways, including the ways they can care for one another, they remain a planetary menace. They still don’t know how to handle standoffs on the front porch. They don’t know how to avoid them in the first place. And it may be the end of them.

Those who have ears listen to the parable of the skunk and the cat.


Add the latest egregious violation of humanity to the long list: The use of chemical weapons in a neighborhood just outside Damascus. Once upon a time we read that a man named Saul was heading there to do dastardly things and he was struck down and blinded by none other than the spirit of Christ. We need to be struck down again.

And so I add my voice to the chorus. Do something now, President Obama and Congress. Build a coalition or act unilaterally but don’t just sit there.

The action I propose, however, looks a little different. Immediately organize and lead a world day of mourning for the dead of Syria. Remember how they were preceded in tortuous death by millions elsewhere who also deserve our mourning. Wear black arm bands. Play dirges. Have a moment of silence and project it to the entire world.

And then, as quickly as possible, take a very public shock and awe action that cannot be ignored: Destroy all of our weapons of mass destruction, the ones we have developed, weaponized and are prepared to use. Wheel them out into the international square and in the presence of all witnesses destroy them and vow to never use them. Invite representatives of all countries who also have them in their stockpiles. Invite the Syrian government and its allies.

You could bomb Syria back to the stone age to make your point, adding agony to insult. But don’t. Do something much more subversive.

Syria or Bust (or may bust)

Posted: November 2, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

The human rights record is awful. Following through on the results of negotiations is not a strong suit. Syria’s opening fire on unarmed civilians is indicative of the brutality. Where can it go?

A thought: The Arab League is trying to broker a peace. If Assad turns away, his time is ended, his legitimacy tarnished. But will he? Who can guess. The boil point on the Arab street has already been reached. What the Arab League offers is a last chance, if there is one left.

Another thought: Let the West stay out and encourage the Arab League to sort through things with brothers and sisters. Theirs is an “honor” society in which conflict is ameliorated with certain rituals, ways that intermediary friends broker outcomes.

It’s like prisoner exchanges in the Middle East. This time-honored tradition includes an exchange of prisoners with an enemy. The number exchanged on each side is not really important. Sometimes one side will exchange fifty for one. It doesn’t seem fair or logical but it is. If you’ve got a lot of theirs, and they have an important one of yours, it’s worth it. That’s why it’s important to capture at least a few high value prisoners from the other side, for future exchanges. The trade is made and everyone wins.

When successful all parties are able to walk away saving face, with a few compromises and concessions. Let the Arab League broker it. They know the cultures of the parties involved. Keep the NATO planes on the ground. Nothing is simply regional anymore, but allow a regional solution to work. Don’t muck it up.

What if the United States, countries in the European union, Russia and Iran all said, “Let’s see if the Arab League’s proposal will be accepted. If it is, we’ll stand behind them.”

I mean, at this point, could it really hurt?