03 November 2005

Monsoon shorts

The rains are descending on Portland, and the need for self-expression is replaced by the need for coffee. However, in my mind, coffee and reading are closely linked. Here's some of what I've been reading:

Magnus Linklater wrote an article in the Times about the decline of the Anglican Church in the UK. The article seems to blame the decline in part on the absence of magnetic pulpiteers. Although I think this diagnosis is inadequate and tangential, one paragraph about the current archbishop of Canterbury caught my attention:
I have read through Dr Williams’s recent speeches and sermons on everything from abortion to terrorism; they are absorbing, thoughtful and intellectually challenging; straightforward they are not. Reading them is like taking part in a long and exhausting journey towards some distant and elusive truth. Most people will have neither the time nor the inclination to join in, and meanwhile the pews grow emptier.
In my experience, many Anglicans use elegant verbal patches to cover their lack of belief in the formulas of their ordination vows and liturgies. To be fair to Archbishop Rowan Williams, I don't believe that is what is going on in his writings, but the culture of elegant verbal patches has already diminished his available audience.

The bimonthly Books and Culture is a favorite coffee companion. Philip Yancey's recent article on prayer, "Does Prayer Change God?", has the kind of clarity that Magnus Linklater might admire. Yancey presents centuries of reflection on the nature of God and prayer in an accessible form.

When I promise to pray for people, I am sometimes tempted to warn them that most of the people I pray for die. Instead I shut up and remember that prayer is not an invocation of power, but an expression of relationship. Nevertheless, as Douglas Steere says, sometimes "when I pray, coincidences happen." "Coincidences, yes; control, no.

Our friend Maxine Nash, one of the Quaker members of the Christian Peacemaker Team in Baghdad, sent this sobering letter last week:
25 October 2005 in Baghdad

Dear Friends and Family-

Sometimes, when I sit down to write these letters to you, it's so hard to know what to say. I've been here now almost two years, and what I'm discovering is that much of what I see and hear now is normal to me now, not extraordinary in any way. Things like gunfire, checkpoints and Humvees are all usual parts of the scenery at this point.

Yesterday was a bit different.

In the early evening, I was sitting here at the computer writing an e-mail, when there was a loud BOOOMMM. The doors rattled and the windows shook. I flinched and ducked in my seat. It's the automatic response I have to the loud noises now, something the experts tell me is called a "startle response". I jumped up from my seat, with the adrenalin racing, and grabbed the phone to call a teammate who wasn't at home to make sure she was OK. She was fine, safe with friends down the street.

Yesterday was a bit different.

Next thing was to grab a camera and head for the roof and see what the explosion was. After a quick run up the four floors of my building, I found myself on the roof with my other teammates and my landlord and some of his family.

As I was standing next to my landlord looking at the smoke rising from the first explosion, I saw a flash of light and then a second BOOM. That's how it happens, you see the light first because the speed of sound is slower. I startled again, cringing at the noise. Another plume of smoke rose in the sky. I took a photo.

As we were speculating exactly where the blast had occurred, there was another flash of light, an enormous glow of orange and yellow. Then we heard the BOOM. It was much louder than the first two. This time I ducked, feeling a bit foolish as my landlord stood calmly by my side. He's more used to this stuff than I. The plume of smoke rose again, and we stood and wondered if there would be more blasts.

Now, up until this point, all of this was normal. I've run this drill many times when explosions happen. Check on teammates, go to the roof to see what happened, photograph it if possible, put entries in the log regarding time of the explosions and approximate locations.

The part that really made me take notice was when I came back downstairs.

After a time of group prayer for those affected by these explosions, I returned to the computer where I was drafting the e-mail. It was very dusty. That's odd, I thought. Then I turned behind me and noticed a door in our office that leads to an inside courtyard was pushed open. Other things were just a bit out of order as well--a vase of artificial flowers on the desk was toppled over, the plastic vent cover of an air conditioner in the next room was blown off and lying on the bed below it. I realized the force of the explosions had come a little closer to home than usually happens.

All of a sudden, this didn't seem normal any more.

It was in my house.

It was where I live.

As much as I listen to the personal stories of Iraqis who tell me about these kinds of incidents, I wasn't prepared for my own response to the event. Nothing much really happened, just a bit of dust and displaced objects, but it happened to ME.

I feel compelled in my work here in CPT to try to give a sense of the place and the people to try to build a deeper knowledge that helps us make peace through understanding. Yesterday I realized that I've become a bit complacent, a bit toughened to the situation to the point where it's hard to hear the pain in people's voices when they talk about these things, to realize the depth of the impact to their souls.

I stand corrected.

May God be with you this week in your learnings-

I guess this puts our bit of Portland rain in perspective.


Anonymous said...

Maxine's letter is worth 100 news stories. I hope she keeps safe!

The image of the dust hit home to me. Last week, CSIS officials here in Canada were talking about how the war in Iraq has "radicalized" elements in Canada, even though we are not part of the war. They report that a small number of Canadians have even gone to Iraq to join the insurgency. So what does this mean? More anti-terror laws here? More arrests with no trial? More violence? The dust carries everywhere.

Johan Maurer said...

Maybe you've already seen these, but just in case, here's a link to Christian Peacemaker Teams' photo gallery.

I first arrived in Canada for my college years in the aftermath of the October Crisis and the imposition of the War Measures Act. I hope you don't experience a stealth version of those measures. In the meantime, there's an air of unreality hanging over the USA: We can say whatever we want, we can demonstrate and publish all we want, but underneath all that, it's dawning on us that our government is holding people in conditions where the authorities acknowledge no accountability at all. OUR government.

This is not exactly new. For a long time we've championed human rights at home while opportunistically allying ourselves with unsavory authoritarian and totalitarian regimes overseas. Usually these tradeoffs are very openly discussed within interested circles. I have the impression, however, that secrecy and cruelty have both increased in the current situation.

As I've said before, it is time for the church (the whole church, the Body of Christ) to organize an intelligence service that can keep us at least as informed as the governments' intelligence services keep them informed. See Ephesians 5:11-13: Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible.... (With thanks to the late Philip Berrigan for this reference.)