Sunday, July 27, 2014

Reality - Grief - Hope - Reflections on all that's happening in a troubled world

I found myself making connections between a cataclysmic event that shaped a great deal of thinking that's reflected in the Old Testament and the awful news that's coming from Mosul in Iraq, from Ukraine, and from Gaza.

It follows on from this morning's reflections - if you haven't already, have a look at those reflections too.

I wan’t sure whether I wanted to go.

I felt it would be ghoulish.

But something made me change my mind.

It was a baseball game.

The evening we arrived in New York we went to a Baseball game – something special to New York.  And it was exciting – I could see it having a fascination a bit like cricket.

We came out of the stadium and there was a sculpture to photograph of a black baseball player and a white embracing – the first black player to play Basegball in a major league had been picked by the Brooklyn side of the day.  And is celebrated by the door of their 2002 stadium

2002 is a significant date for the building of the stadium.

We left early – as the sixth inning was coming to a close and as Brooklyn had just scored three off one ball.   That was their final score – and it was enough to win them the game at 3-2!

I told you it was  as interesting as cricket!

We left at 10-45 conscious we still had to venture through the Subway back to our hotel!  There was just time to do the Boardwalk of  Coney island and see the world’s biggest wooden roller coaster albeit at a distance and the largest ferris wheel, named of course after George Ferris!

As we were leaving the stadium we noticed a wall of honour – a memorial wall.   We had paid homage to the wall of honour and the memorial wall at Liverpool’s Anfield Stadium the last time Leicetser City played in the premiership.  It had been most moving.

This was moving not just because it was a monument to those who had lost their lives in 9/11, it was especially moving because it slowly dawned on you looking at the wall that there were so many firefighters.

It’s one thing to lose your life in that bulding, another to enter into a building that is about to collapse.

We felt it right to go to honour the people of New York.

To see the water cascading into the black hole seemingly an eternal fountain, to see the names, to see the scale of the towers, the pinpoint accuracy of those flying the planes – the significance of the target – the world trade centre.  To see the replacement.

There was an ambivalence.

It was an ambivalence shared by those we talked to most about 9/11.   Is the new Liberty tower a statement of power, business as usual.  Is there an acknowledgement of what has happened.

We were directed by one of those who was ambivalent to the African Burial Ground. Another tower block, this time the graves of upwards of 15,000 black Africans.  Unmarked graves outside the city wall away from consecrated grounds, thousands of miles away from home – slaves.   When in building a new tower block 400 and more graves had been unearthed they were honoured.  A national memorial put in place.   A moving site to visit.

But not so accessible.

Not so many people there.  A couple of families.

A couple of African American children playing in the water spinkerss, their father on a mobile phone.

Strangely iconic.

It raises questions about what has happened and facing up to the significance of it.

Michelle, who has recently joined us of a Sunday evening, had given me a book to read by Walter Brueggemann shortly before our visit.   It had been a powerful book and resonated with some of what I had to say in my lectures.

We stumbled across a bookshop while we were there – and came across his latest book.

Reality Grief Hope.

Written this year it is a powerful call to the American church to face up to the reality of what has happened in 9/11.

Written in the l ight of what has happened in Iraq and in Afghanistan since – there is a stark reality that the problems of the world cannot be solved by the military might of America.  Much as that may have been the dream.

There is a need to face the stark reality that it is not the solitary power of so much of its narrative.

It is a powerful and hard-hitting book that makes you think.

What Rueggemann does is to suggest that at the heart of the Old Testament the writers of the Bible grappled with a similar cataclysmic event that made the people think again about their world.

The fall of Jerusalem, the destruction of the temple changed the way they had of looking at the world.

WE can learn today, suggests Brueggemann who we can resp[ond to the world of today.

First we need to face the stark reality of what has happened – a loss of power.

Then we need to grieve – re-discover the power of lament.

Ask the difficult questions.

Habakkuk is a book that comes out of that period.

It is a book filled with waling and gnashing of teeth as the world falls about your ears.

Habakkuk 1

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
   and you will not listen?
Or cry to you ‘Violence!’
   and you will not save?
3 Why do you make me see wrongdoing
   and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
   strife and contention arise.
4 So the law becomes slack
   and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous—
   therefore judgement comes forth perverted.

This is what it felt like.  And it was OK to say it.

This is what it can feel like at the moment.

It is disturbing what is going on in the Middle East.

I wonder whether there are things for us to learn.

Maybe especially at this moment in time.

A week on Monday sees the centenary of the First World War – and the start of four years of commemorations.

Last week it happened.  The Christians did leave Mosul.  Andrew White, Anglican priest in Baghdad was poignant on the radio this week.  William Dalrymple, historian of those communities, was filled with despair in the paper this week.

At the end of the First World War the powers that had won that conflict sought to impose the European nation state on the peoples of the Middle East – the straight line borders of Iraq, the monarchies of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the like.

And of course the Balfour Declaration about Palestine – with the British Mandate over Palestine.

Something profoundly disturbing is happening just as we approach that commemoration.  The world created out of that war in the Middle East is unravelling – profoundly disturbing things going on.

How should we respond.

Maybe we should face up to the stark realities – maybe we should be filled with a sense of grief not simply for that massive loss of life a century ago, but for its impact in the world of today too.

As we face the reaility, articularte the grief, then there comes a sense of hope.

And it is a very real hope that in the writings of the Old Tesatment that come at this juncture in its history carry with it a call to renewed action and resolve.

You see it in Habakkuk.

I will stand at my watch-post,
   and station myself on the rampart;
I will keep watch to see what he will say to me,
   and what he will answer concerning my complaint.
2 Then the Lord answered me and said:
Write the vision;
   make it plain on tablets,
   so that a runner may read it.
3 For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
   it speaks of the end, and does not lie.
If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
   it will surely come, it will not delay.
4 Look at the proud!
   Their spirit is not right in them,
   but the righteous live by their faith.

Hold fast the faith.

Keep to that way of Justice.

There is still a vision.

That is something for us to take to heart.
And it is something that comes to us out of the maelstrom that is Gaza too.

Felicity said I should follow Facebook – I am nearly persuaded.  For when we made friends with that school in Betlehem, when we visited the East Jerusalem Baptist church, when we made contact with Alex Awad and the Bethlehem Bible college we were able to stay in touch.  And we are in touch.

And it has been harrowing.

For of course, the Bethlehem Bible College has a secton over in  Gaza.

Their statement has that prophetic feel about it.

Holding on to faith as the person who co-ordinates the college students in Gaza, Faten spoke of her faith in the face of two children in the Lighthouse school being killed …

And also challenged to the way of Chrsit, the way of justice – hold fast the vision, run with it.

Today God weeps over the situation in Palestine and Israel. Today God weeps over Gaza.  With God, our hearts are broken when we see the carnage in Gaza and in Israel.

We at Bethlehem Bible College consistently called for a just peace for both Israelis and Palestinians. We always sought a nonviolent resolution to the conflict. “All forms of violence must be refuted unequivocally”, stated the Christ at the Checkpoint manifesto. We also believe that as long as the occupation of Palestinian territory and the siege of Gaza remain, the conflict will continue to escalate. To quote the manifesto again, “for Palestinian Christians, the occupation is the core issue of the conflict”.

As Christians committed to nonviolence, we do not and cannot endorse Hamas’ ideology. However, we believe that the people of Gaza have the right to live in freedom and dignity. This means that the siege over Gaza should be lifted and the borders should be open. The people of Gaza need a chance to live.

We oppose Hamas launching rockets at Israeli town and cities. At the same time, we are shocked by the unproportional and inhuman response by the Israeli military and the disregard of civilian life and specially innocent women and children.

We are grieved by the mounting hate, bigotry and racism in our communities today, and the consequent violence. We are specially grieved when Christians are contributing to the culture of hatred and division, rather than allowing Christ to use them as instruments of peace and reconciliation.

In the face of this, we affirm – using the words of our own Dr. Yohanna Katanacho:

We are against killing children and innocent people. We support love not hatred, justice not oppression, equality not bigotry, peaceful solutions not military solutions. Violence will only beget wars, it will bring more pain and destruction for all the nations of the region. Peacemaking rooted in justice is the best path forward. Therefore, we commit ourselves to spread a culture of love, peace, and justice in the face of violence, hatred, and oppression.

We call on all the friends of Bethlehem Bible College to pray for an immediate ceasefire, followed by serious efforts to address the root of the problem not the symptoms. We pray comfort for the bereaved families. We specially pray for the Christians of Gaza, who although are currently under bombardment, yet they are offering shelter and support for the displaced and wounded. We finally call for you to pray for all those - Palestinians, Israelis and internationals – who are committed to spreading a culture of love, peace, and justice in the face of violence, hatred, and oppression.

[Note: Pray for the Shepherd Society – a ministry of Bethlehem Bible College – as we contemplate practical ways to minister and walk along the destitute and displaced in Gaza. We will soon share with you how you can help us respond to the huge needs.

A statement by Bethlehem Bible College’s board of directors, president, deans, faculty, staff and students – and the local committee of Christ at the Checkpoint.]

We need to stand by our resolve … hold to the faith and follow in the footsteps of Jesus.  We are in for some disturbing raking of the embers of memory in the context of what is going on in our world today as we mark the anniversary of war.  Good, maybe that the churches are coming together in the Minster on 4th August to reflect and to pray – a walk from Chrsitchurch to the Minster and then stations for prayer and quiet reflection.

There is a resolve to hold on to in the words of Habkkuk

17 Though the fig tree does not blossom,
   and no fruit is on the vines;
though the produce of the olive fails
   and the fields yield no food;
though the flock is cut off from the fold
   and there is no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
   I will exult in the God of my salvation.
19 God, the Lord, is my strength;
   he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
   and makes me tread upon the heights.

Exactly the resolve Paul invites us to share in Romans 8

35Who will separate us from the love of Christ?

I tend to take that in a comforting, passive sense.  Who will separate us from the embrace of the love of Chrsit who keeps us safe.  What if it is more active.  Who will separate us from the pro-active business of living a life of love, the love of Christ?

 Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? …

37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Hold the faith.

Hang on to the Hope

And keep on the work of brining love into a hurting world.

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