Tension and Violence in Gaza– Beyond Redemption?

Traveling by bicycle through what was then Yugoslavia in December of 1983, my Midwestern American naivete about the world was shaken as I experienced the “Second World”– Cold War parlance for the industrial, communist-socialist countries– for the first time. I wasn’t in Ohio anymore. On the road near Mostar, toothless old women led mules laden with loosely-piled hay. They stared at my fair hair and my Raleigh 12-speed– both marvelously out of place, there and then.

The impression that marks my memory of that Yugoslavia? Crumbly, shabby, dirty, poor– and full of guns: guns on soldiers, pictures of guns, children playing with toy guns, and guns in shopfronts. It seemed like a place that had the tools to become violent, and none of wealth’s satiating, anesthetizing effect to buffer against carrying it out.

It looked like a place ready to fight. And, as it turns out, that’s what it did– all through the 1990s.

Gaza is similar, in that the weapons are plentiful (or, if depleted, have many willing suppliers), and the economic prospects are poor for a different future for its people. It doesn’t help that Hamas seems increasingly irrational (rockets towards Jerusalem? Really?) Gaza, for the foreseeable future, will continue to look like a place ready to fight. The current ceasefire may last for weeks or months, but it will not last long.

Redemption is always possible, but never probable, and certainly not inevitable. In this world–in whatever hemisphere or continent — great destruction and the suffering of innocents are more likely. The wounds and pains that people carry are deep. To see the wounds and pains of the other is the beginning step that might, perhaps, one day lead to the courage for longstanding ceasefire and peace.

GAZA CITY Reuters — With gunshots, sweets and cries of victory, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip poured into the streets to celebrate a ceasefire deal on Wednesday which ended eight days of deadly fighting.

After being stuck at home for days for fear of Israeli airstrikes, tens of thousands of Palestinians crowded into cars and doubled up on motorcycles, waving flags and chanting for Hamas, Israel’s main adversary and rulers of the Gaza Strip.

Women leaned over balconies ululating with joy as children stuffed four-abreast in the open trunks of cars clapped and sent out hoarse screams of “God is Great!”.

via Jubilant Palestinians mob Gaza streets | Maan News Agency.

The Kingdom of God and the Democratic Party

In conversations with some ordained ministerial colleagues of my denomination yesterday– people whom I love and respect– the unspoken assumption was that victories by Democratic candidates, both state-wide and nationally, was good from a Christian religious, follower-of-Jesus point of  view. While this may in fact be the case, it is not immediately apparently so.

More pointedly, are not Christians called to reflect– deeply and, yes, prayerfully– on the building of the Kingdom of God here on earth? And not to reflect only, but to work in bringing that Kingdom to fruition? I take it as axiomatic that the building of the Kingdom of God on earth, and the full implementation of the Democratic Party’s legislative agenda, are not co-extensive. No human agenda can stake down the uncontrollable, Spirit-blown ends of how God’s rule on earth becomes bodied.

So this is not a call for people of faith not to be involved in matters of state, because the God revealed in the Jewish and Christian Scriptures does lay claim to the right ordering of policies and laws. Nor is this a call to the false dichotomy between practicality and spirit which sees politics to be exclusively of the former, and the Kingdom of God of the latter– again, an un-Biblical dichotomy. Rather, the call is to discern where the Kingdom of God is breaking through, in this time and place, in ways that subvert the dominant powers of this world for the astonishing grace of God’s ways.

This discernment necessarily and essentially calls for a deeper and more extensive response than advocacy for particular policies: a response that would eventually call for action that challenges one or more of the unwholesome systems in which we are all parts.

Take Gandhi’s Salt March, for example. Gandhi didn’t work to change the law on salt (say, to advocate for a repeal of the British tax on salt). Instead, he intentionally broke the law (by producing salt without paying the tax), in order to focus attention on the increasingly untenable British colonial rule of India. Rosa Parks, from our own history, is another example. These acts of civil disobedience focused attention on systems of injustice that were antithetical to the kinds of right social relationships characteristic of God’s rule– and which humans, at our best and by grace, have at times approximated here on earth.

In addition to identifying policies for us to support, people of faith need to be identifying the unwholesome systems of which we are a part– systems that are part of our social and political life but which are deeper than party affiliation. What are those unwholesome systems? And how might we focus attention on them, in a way that their unwholesomeness is exposed? That is a vocation worthy of our calling.

Save Us A Vote, Mitt

I saw a hand-painted political road sign this morning– all caps, no punctuation, black lettering on a white-painted square of plywood: SAVE US A VOTE MITT. I briefly wondered if Mitt were somehow hogging all the votes, before realizing that the message was: Save USA– Vote Mitt.

Any use of the word “save” in the political arena arouses my suspicion, and reminds me of the times in Biblical history when the people of Israel cried out for a leader (divinely ordained) to “save” them. Didn’t work then, won’t work today. The story that unfolds in the Christian Bible is a story of the ultimate triumph of a power different from political power– the power of self-emptying generosity and grace, which appears to this world to be weakness and foolishness.

The Biblical account also reminds us that the saving of the USA will come in the most surprising and astonishing ways– in ways that flip our expectations and change our minds beyond any change we think is possible. As unlikely as it seems, saving the USA might come in the contemporary equivalent of a figure who is sold into slavery and then forgives the sellers (Joseph); of a figure who is not a lawyer or businessman but a poet and musician (David); or of a figure whose serpent-like wisdom confronts hypocrisy with truth, and whose childlike innocence heals enmity and brokenness (Jesus).