Monday, December 19, 2011

Post #121 - Adjusting Expectations, Hoping for the Best

Salt Lake, near Qom, Iran
Although Qom is the smallest of Iran's 25 provinces, as the “Vatican” of Iranian Shi'ism its capital is arguably more the center of power than Tehran. A geological feature of the area mentioned in a traveler's guide to Iran might hold symbolic significance for the U.S. dealings with the government of Iran: "One of the wonders of this governate [of Qom] is that there is a sandy land near it, which no one can walk in. The river of the city flows until it reaches this sandy land to sink in it. Whoever enters this land will sink as if he sinks in water and mud and he cannot save himself from that." Indeed, ABC News reported in November 2007 that Retired Gen. John Abizaid, who formerly commanded U.S. military operations in a 27-country region that covers much of the Middle East, said "it might take half a century before the U.S. military could leave the region." (Abizaid remained, however, "tremendously optimistic" about ultimate success in the region for the United States -- notwithstanding the experiences of the British and scores of others who bent their swords on the area between the Mediterranean and the Himalayas.)

One cool summer evening in July, I heard a United Methodist pastor preach to a camp meeting outside Baltimore. He spoke of how his father, a country doctor, often would be called away from a rare family vacation to tend to a patient. From that personal history he segued into how Moses had been pulled back from a comfortable life to go free his people from Pharoah; how even Jesus had tried to flee the multitudes by boat only to find they had preceded him to his landing place eager to learn the Good News. Rev. Obenshain was weaving together instances of our "best-laid plans" being upset, only to be supplanted by God's new-and-improved version of the future. As my Iran delegation prepared for our journey in May 2006 at a retreat center on Long Island, I saw a poem on one wall of the convent written by a Sister of St. Joseph (a Roman Catholic order of nuns). In sympathy with what must be terribly frustrating experience for President Obama and Secretary Clinton, I would offer the President these words about Joseph, the husband of Mary, for whom things didn't exactly work out as he had anticipated:

Sisters of St. Joseph Retreat Center, Brentwood, NY
Of his plans
all that was left

was broken,
yet he learned
what was left
was enough

Ultimately, the answers for Iraq, an outcome for the United States in Afghanistan and a solution to our troubled relations with Iran may continue to prove elusive to this administration, too, just as things were for King David:

" was in my heart to build a house to the name of the Lord God. But the word of the Lord came to me, saying, Thou has shed blood abundantly, and hast carried on great wars: thou shalt not build a house to my name, because thou hast shed much blood upon the earth before me."
(I Chronicles 22: 7-8)

It turned out that it was to be during the reign of David's successor that God gave “peace and quietness" to the nation. Whether the next administration is a continuation of the Obama era, or a new crowd are ushered into the White House, I pray that the next American president might be the one to find a path to sustainable relations with Iran, and in the Middle East generally. I feel, however, that it will take a president who is sincere about seeking peace. Si vis pacem para pacem, si vis bellum para bellum
(If you want peace prepare for peace, if you want war prepare for war.)

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