16 November 2006

November shorts

A one-egg omelet: The leaders in charge of our 100% avoidable debacle in Iraq are still unable to tell us how many eggs must be broken to create a viable omelet. General Abizaid says not to increase troops, not to reduce troops, and not to despair. Just give him another four to six months, although what the plan would then be is not specified. Everything apparently depends on training more Iraqi troops and on the Iraqi government's taking hold of its responsibilities. These imperatives have been mentioned over and over again for many months; Americans have been incapable of delivering on the former, and (despite public bullying by both Abizaid and our ambassador in Baghdad) the rickety Iraqi government seems less capable then ever of fulfilling its assignments.

In a season of awful news, one bright spot emerges: In a decision hailed by America's Christian president and America's ambassador, Saddam Hussein has been convicted and sentenced to death! As the river of blood flows through Iraq, we can indulge in the cheerful expectation of yet another dead body. What a nice boost for our morale, not to mention the public relations coup it represents in the Middle East.

As Eliot Maurer says: Most of the terrible carnage of the last few years, especially the loss of innocent civilians, was, at least, not our direct intention. But this cruel dictator gives us a corpse we can be proud of. Finally there's an omelet we might be able to cook: a one-egg omelet.

Christians as Christians do not have tribal claims in the Middle East. A recent widely-read article in the New York Times reviews the fascinating and disturbing relationship between evangelical Christians and the state of Israel. (Last January, the Washington Post published Alan Cooperman's examination of the phenomenon, "Among Evangelicals, A Kinship with Jews.") I utterly reject interpreting the Bible with the Pokemon-card methodology that too many Christians use to relate to present-day Israel, but I also accept that Christians and Jews are deeply enmeshed in each other's stories, both historically and in the present.

I also understand the Christian history is deeply rooted in the region we call the Holy Land. So it's with mixed feelings I read stories such as "Christian Arab Exodus on Upswing" at ASSIST News Service. We have been warned for years that the Christian Arab population is shifting from the Middle East to such places as Dearborn, Michigan. There are (I hear) more Ramallahites in the USA than in Ramallah. A frequent theme of such stories is represented by a quote in ASSIST's story: "'Christianity started here and should continue to remain here,' says George Ghattas, at the Latin Patriarchate. 'You would worry if the origin of that religion is basically monuments and shrines and stones, but you don't have faith believers.'"

My heart agrees with this. I resonate with Galilean priest Elias Chacour's book title, We Belong to the Land. I also believe that the Gospel should have living witnesses and Jesus-centered communities everywhere in the world. As human beings we have important attachments to our ancestral homes and cultures, and Christians as humans are no different. But as Christians we are no more immune than any others to the vicissitudes of history, politics, oppression, the violent movements of peoples, and the individual decision to seek a safer place for one's family.

I agree with the general point that it would be sad to see the people of the ancient Arab Christian communities uprooted and their churches and monuments abandoned, but I would not pressure one single family to stay in a dangerous place simply for that continuity. Let them stay as long as they are led to stay, and let's exert the same care for them that we would for any other population, but don't pressure them to stay a minute longer than they themselves want. And within the international family of followers of Christ, let those who depart be replaced, perhaps, by others who are gifted and led to bring the message of the Prince of Peace specifically to those places now hostile to his messengers.

A final note on genuine security. (See "Love and control" and "Safety and 'the nature of the world in which we live'.") Not long ago, a children's sermon in a Friends meeting included the reading of a children's story comparing God to a gardener, telling the children that God will water them and take care of them. I am not sure I want to state that as an unqualified promise. Where does that leave children who through illness or accident or violence never survive childhood, and where does that leave the children among the surviving friends and family--is all that consistent with being watered and taken care of by the heavenly Gardener?

I truly do believe that we are loved and cared for, but that love and care happens through community and through eternity, and does not guarantee individual comfort and safety. That promise of love and care is actually even more important in light of the world's real dangers: the betrayed child is not defective, does not deserve betrayal, and the betrayer is answerable to God. (Matthew 18:5-6, for example.) Let's not dumb down that promise to imply a security we have no power to ensure.

Righteous links

Karen Street
provided two worthy links: In the "what happened to plain speaking" department, the word "hunger" is being officially deprecated. And her own blog has this thoughtful minute from Strawberry Creek Meeting (Berkeley, California, USA) on climate change.

Simon Barrow reports that attempting to widen the symbolism of Remembrance Day proves surprisingly hazardous.

Tomdispatch.com offers us Ira Chernus's use of American values to reframe our Iraqi dilemma, in "The Unfinished Story of Election 2006."

Ending on a blue note, here's another delicious Howlin' Wolf clip, "Shake for Me," this one (I believe) from a German television program:

Friday PS:

Tom Engelhardt (Tomdispatch.com) is one of the few commentators on America's international behavior whose voice combines eloquence, humanity, persistent inquiry, and appropriate outrage. Here's an important example: "What it means to 'salvage U.S. prestige' in Iraq."

For Russian readers: Here's an interesting piece, "Irritated Russia," on signs of increased levels of aggressiveness in Russian society.


Chris M. said...

Johan: Perfect! Now that we've eliminated hunger, we can eliminate homelessness. The scientific term will now be, people with "very low housing security." Perhaps we could condescend to call it "extremely low" if they are unsheltered and on the street, but under an eave?

(Sigh. I am prey to the temptation of sarcasm. Please forgive me.)

-- Chris M.

Johan Maurer said...

This is another piece of evidence that the White House admin that bonded so closely with a segment of conservative Christians ironically has no use for truth. I can't help remembering the reformulating of ten-year budget estimates, and of the use of outright lies to kindle a war.