Monthly Archives: September 2013

Syria. What am I supposed to write about Syria?

Million of pixels and gallons of ink have been spilled over the subject, much of it good and much of it unhelpful.  It was easier to be a compassionate person back before the internet and rolling news. There was so little of the world you could find any information about to pull at your heart strings so you let your neighbourhood and town do the pulling.  The well worn phrase “charity begins at home” had a somewhat truthful ring back then. But now, you and I are denizens of the global village and we can see up close and personal the suffering of people today in places we didn’t know existed and places we might have trouble spelling.

Compassionate people want to know what to do. Christians want to know what to do because part of the DNA of faith are those pesky “serve your neighbour” genes in which, thanks to Jesus, “neighbour” becomes an overly elastic phrase.  When those genes kick in they tend to raise questions like the following:

1. What can you do when You can’t do anything?  Sure you can pray, discuss and lobby but in the end Syrians and the nations who see them as their pet project are the ones who will have to sort this out.  If you want the Chinese and Russians to get the Syrian government to cease and desist, then you better be prepared to not buy any consumer goods for the next decade and if you live in Europe, don’t buy any natural gas.  Good luck with that.

You might like to see the US and other powers do a bit of butt kicking but the world has yet to see a civil war that a major power couldn’t make worse with better technology and four to five  year election cycles. And if you were honest, Syrians would like to see foreign troops intervene with the same enthusiasm that Britain would have welcomed foreign troops in Ulster during the 1970’s.

2. How patient do I have to be?   Most people aged 45 and over never expected to see Apartheid in South Africa be overthrown in their lifetimes. It took decades for the seed to grow into something that might bear fruit despite some of the most sustained campaigning and boycotting the world has ever seen. What turned the tide was the white population who devised the system and armed it and institutionalised it deciding they couldn’t do that any more.  Waiting for those hearts to change means you are in for the long haul.

3. It’s hard not to be partisan    There are no good guys or bad guys in this.  There is no angle that will somehow make the outcome good for everyone.  This war will end with one side being in the ascendency. There will be no Truth and Reconciliation Commission or an attempt to have some kind of inclusive, consensus led society.  There will be a winner.  And I’m pretty sure that winner will be someone we  have to do business with rather than someone we will want to embrace.  Some Christians are lobbying for Assad to stay in power because without him, the small Christian segment of the population will be slaughtered by whatever Islamist junta takes his place.  But somehow, just because we identify with them doesn’t make Assad the answer. At the same time if we support the Islamists who are really driving the rebellion, then we will have to be prepared for Syria to be an Islamic state and for the lives of many of its citizens, women in particular, to be set back severely.

It is hard to pick a side in this one that makes you feel good about yourself.  In the end, whoever wins, it will be the people who are just trying to get on with their lives who will pay the price.

4. Surely the nations of the world are champing at the bit to act out of compassion? When the chemical attack forced Obama’s hand it was clear that the US (and UK to a lesser extent) response was driven by deterrence rather than compassion.  It appears to be acceptable to stand by the side and watch hundreds of thousands die by means approved by the Geneva Convention, but for a government to use a banned weapon it means a response must be made or they might do it again. Governments are worried about a conflict creating a chaotic region they cannot control, not about what is happening to people on the ground.

5. Surely it is a sign that the big J is coming? For all those who are rubbing their hands together that this might be the beginning of the End and Jesus will descend from the clouds, think again.  The best piece of advice when checking out any end times prophet who says Jesus is coming back in their life time: do they have a pension plan and a will? If so, they aren’t too sure. And they shouldn’t be sure seeing as Jesus himself said the date wasn’t written in his diary.

So, what am I supposed to do about a big problem I can’t solve as a little person?

Jesus’ advice was to start where you are.  Open your house and heart and wallet to those in need and sow the seeds of peace and justice in your locality so that civil wars and oppression have a hard time planting their weeds there.

Our reach is further than it was in the past and if the best we can do is care for the viciims of this war then make sure you help organisations do a job they unfortunately have to do well. The DEC  is the best place to start.

You can be part of an excellent pedigree of people who have believed that one day all this  will be overturned  and pray for the leaders of all the nations involved and for the people of Syria.  You can also prayerfully lobby your elected representatives urging them to see what can really be done rather than posturing and making believe that worthwhile solutions can be plucked from the air at a moment’s notice. Humans don’t tend to work that way.

Part of the way of faith is holding on to that hope when we aren’t given neat solutions to huge problems. They are called to be hopeful when humans seem to be allowed to continue acting human and they are hopeful when we feel powerless to help. The most excellent way is to act as if love and peace and justice may actually accomplish something, because they will in the end. It’s just such a messy path to get there.

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Just doing my job

Okay, here’s the deal.

Technically, we clergy people are supposed to eschew careers and be content to be  “called” to where we are. Of course like all human endeavours calling can be interpreted in certain ways.  There are the shiny vicars who are “called” to big shiny churches and seem not to be called to small struggling churches. There are the slack ones who either run out of steam or didn’t have much in the first place and hunker down in a safe place and see out their career from there.

The majority of us get called to places where we experience joy and pain, victory and defeat, frustration and inspiration. We don’t get our names on plaques or “10 to watch” lists but we’re not quite forgotten when we are gone either. In end, we spend our time just being ourselves and usually that is good enough for God because that is all he really called us to anyway.

But sometimes we in this silent majority wonder what it is all about. We wonder if we are really doing anything of worth. We definitely get edgy about whether being ourselves is good enough. Everything seems so small scale and local.  Our work leaves few foot or finger prints and they disappear in the next rainstorm or dusting as easily as they were laid down.

Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a sad middle aged rant of “where did my life go? I could have been a contender”.  It’s a reflection of a reality that we learn the hard way in our self-centred generation that, as Richard Rohr likes to remind us and we like to forget, it isn’t really about us.

So how do we find meaning in what we do and the place we occupy in the cosmos and in the lives of our neighbours and in our own heads?  I’m finding the antidote in scripture. When I am tempted to look at the big parish across town and think, “wow, now that is really the blessed make a difference place” I turn my mind to Ananias in Acts 9 .

For those with bad memories or who haven’t gotten around to reading  Acts yet,  Ananias is the guy who had a vision from God ordering him to go and find Saul of Tarsus and to restore his sight. Saul was blinded on the road to Damascus when the risen Jesus met him and told him to knock off the persecution of believers.

Based on Saul’s bad-ass reputation, Ananias was understandably reluctant to go and do this without some confirmation of his orders. He reminds God about Saul and his deeds and double checks that this is indeed the person he wants Ananias to visit.

God says yes, it is the bad ass Saul he wants Ananias to visit.

Ananias puts his coat on and goes.  In doing so he restores Saul’s sight and gets the courage to ask if Saul would like to meet some of his believer friends and get to know the church a bit better.  This is akin to believing you have been asked to take Richard Dawkins to the next church social.

The rest is history and we hear a lot from Saul (who becomes the apostle Paul) and nothing else from Ananias.  But all credit to our buddy Ananias for not bottling it. If he said no, maybe God would have chosen someone else; but, maybe not. The point is, he went, he did his job and that’s that.

As far as we know, he didn’t become a bishop or a church leader. There are no churches named after him or monuments raised to him. But he does get a couple of paragraphs in the bible and our enduring thanks.  We are grateful to him because he plays his part and seems content with that.  Yes, Paul is the big story in the New Testament after Jesus and of course he gets lots of mentions. But the fact that Ananias gets a name check is really meaningful. It’s as if Luke, Act’s author, wants him remembered. And maybe that is because he wants everyday people in churches to know that they matter in the big mission of God. That they are the ones to be trusted with the big work, the important work which usually happen in the blink of an eye, in those ordinary places where you don’t find vicars and archdeacons and Bishops because they are too busy doing “important” things.

So hats off to Ananias for being an ordinary guy doing an extraordinary thing. He gives hope to us all.