Friday, October 14, 2011

Post #2 - Seeking Peace

I belong to the part of Christianity that is usually called Eastern Orthodox. We think of ourselves simply as members of the church founded by Jesus Christ, only minimally modified in doctrine and liturgical practice since the first century. There will not be much that I write here, however, that could not as easily been written by a Baptist or a Quaker, an Evangelical Lutheran or an AME Church member. I have attempted to apply to this worldly problem what C.S. Lewis famously called “Mere Christianity.”

My faith teaches that I was created to be in communion with others, and so I share my thoughts and communicate my knowledge. If what I write emboldens others to think more freely, feel more deeply or act more courageously, praise God! By the same token, if my readers help me to see things more clearly, truth is also served. In the Orthodox tradition, we say “one Christian is no Christian,” for we believe strongly that it is only together that we are saved. “Being 'knit together in love' (Colossians 2:2), we are to suffer together and rejoice together. Bishop John D. Zizioulas is a well-respected Greek Orthodox theologian on the staff of the Commission on Faith and Order (F&O) of the World Council of Churches. In his view, "we are not essentially individuals but 'persons' who exist in relation to others…and who find true freedom in community.” (This is from an article about him in a British Roman Catholic publication, The Tablet. I have myself served on U.S. Committee of the WCC's Decade to Overcome Violence, which culminated in an International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in May 2011 in Kingston, Jamaica.)

And, as one who has worked a lifetime in international development and exchange, I am in contact with a great many kinds of people, most of them not American or Christians. I am also writing to them. If you, dear reader, are an American, consider what may yet be done in your name if a way is not found to reestablish a bridge to the people of Iran. For those of you who are both non-Americans and non-Christians -- in other words, the vast majority of the world's people – I appeal to your sense of the transcendence of morality and the sanctity of life, even though God may appear differently to each of us.

The Persian mystic poet, Mowlana Jalal ad-Din Mohammad Balkhi (1207-1273), known in the West as Rumi, told a story of Moses admonishing a simple shepherd who he thought had spoken too familiarly to the "unapproachable G*d." God, in Rumi's tale, chides Moses, saying “What really matters is to stay have come in order to connect.” Readers of Howard's End, the wonderful novel by E.M. Forster, if they remember anything from that book written some seven hundred years after Rumi's birth, remember two words: “Only connect.” Dr. M. Scott Peck points out, "The word religion comes from the Latin religio [one meaning of which is] 'to connect'." Writing is one way to make connections, to be in communion with others.

Finally, Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers." I have a duty to weigh in when the times are as fraught with hazard as these, if peacemaking might result from my efforts. The Iranian leader Mohammad Mossadegh said, “As I have remained silent, I have sinned.”

For those who have firmly secular views: though I appeal from a religious perspective; do not dismiss me. The reality of the situation today is truly dire. As a character is Cool Hand Luke memorably said, "What we have here is a failure to communicate." Lack of communication too often, through history has tended to lead to destruction and bloodshed.

The joke has been told of a motorist who approaches two men in clerical collars feverishly hammering a signboard into the ground at the side of the road. On it is the message, “The end is near! Turn around before it's too late!” The driver yells out his window, “Leave us alone, you religious nuts!” After the car passes out of sight around the bend, they hear a loud screech and a splash, whereupon one pastor asks the other: “Do you think just 'Bridge Out' would be more effective?”

The bridge now may be nearly collapsed: the War in Iraq forcefully brought home to us once again the law of unintended consequences; though that war is winding down, the conflict in Afghanistan drags on into its eleventh year, and the list of Gold Star mothers grows longer. The primate of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Iraq told a gathering of church representatives from six continents a few years ago:

"I come from a wounded Iraq and a severely wounded Baghdad. The situation in my country is tragic. We were promised freedom, but what we need today is freedom to have electricity, clean water, to satisfy the basic needs of life, to live without fear of being abducted...

"We Christians were in the country before Islam distinctions were never an issue: Sunni, Shia, Christian. Our relationships were very amicable. These differences only became an issue after the war started...

"However, we work to maintain bridges. We have twice visited the country's most prominent Shia well as the Sunni leadership. And I want to give credit where credit is due. High-ranking Muslim clerics deserve credit for their efforts in trying to prevent the present conflict from evolving into a full-blown civil war...

"I don't see a clash of civilizations but a bungled war with tragic results for both sides... One of the tragic features of the current situation is the fact that they have stolen the nights of Baghdad from us."

Twilight on the Zayandeh River, Isfahan
The number of Christians in Iraq continues to dwindle. Will we be hearing another Armenian bishop in Iran saying, one day, “they have stolen the nights of Isfahan from us?"

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