Thursday, February 24, 2011

God and Middle East Politics

Like many of you who read this blog, I've been trying to follow the news in Egypt and Libya, and throughout the Middle East, and trying to make sense of it all. In addition to the traditional news sources I've been keeping a close eye on the Facebook updates of a former parishioner of mine who currently lives in Dubai. She has access to different news sources and perspectives than I do and that has been informative on so many levels, and a reminder that unless we are on the ground, what we think we "know" has come to us filtered through the biases and perspectives of the journalists who report to us.

My friend, Chris (one of my traveling companions a year ago in the Land of the Holy One) has also been blogging about the Middle East lately, and he is a very thoughtful guy. I commend to you, in particular, both Anxiety and Change and The God Who Makes All Things New.

I am struck especially by the conclusions he draws, and with which I completely concur. 

(1) Grasping at the perfect answer, and attempting to control outcomes, are stock responses to anxiety. Thoughtful theology– thoughtful grounding in the Transcendent One– guards us from over-reliance on our own frail human capabilities, guards us from over-reaction to events, and gives us patience for issues to ripen– so that our policies actually have a chance to fulfill their intent.
(2) If it is too soon to discern whether, where, or how the God Who Makes All Things New is acting in the Middle East (and it is too soon), one thing that the Biblical account makes clear is that God’s involvement in history is surprising, disruptive of human totalistic schemes of domination and uniformity, and biased toward the weak and powerless. We should watch for these things in the Arab world; we should watch for them in the United States, too, as history continues.
My own reluctance, I suppose, to wade into matters that are admittedly "above my pay grade" is more theological than political for precisely these reasons. It is easy, in the midst of anxiety, to seek easy answers and control. We yearn for certitude and the "hand of God" - until we lose interest and the twenty-four hour news cycle takes us someplace else. Things can change on a dime. My own view is that we are witnesses to "crisis" in that double-edged meaning of the word: opportunity and danger. And it's way to early to tell which will win out.

I am reminded that the Exodus event took forty years according to the tradition, and the Exile was longer than that. Along the way, any "snap-shot" taken would have been just that. All those quail falling from the sky in the Sinai? The golden calf? Psalm 137? Ezekiel 37?

So we'll have to wait and see, and hope and pray. Change always stirs up anxiety, but change may also lead to new possibilities. God's will may or may not be good for American foreign policy concerns. As Christians we pray for, and work for peace and justice first; and perhaps also work toward a foreign policy that values these things above narrow, short-term political goals.

I think that Chris is right: we'll have to see what kind of fruit ripens here to figure out how God has been in the midst of it all. Along the way, though, I agree that if it is surprising, and if it disrupts ancient schemes, and if it is tilted toward the weak and powerless, then it is likely that we'll one day be able to look back and discern the work of the Holy Spirit here. In the meantime we can keep praying the prayer that never fails: "thy will be done." And a close corollary to that one: "Lord, make us instruments of thy peace..."

1 comment:

  1. As I read this I was reminded of the prayer of Archbishop Oscar Romero, which I believe you posted a while back:


    A prayer / poem by Archbishop Oscar Romero

    (murdered, 24 March 1980)
    It helps, now and then, to step back
    and take the long view.
    The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
    it is beyond our vision.

    We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of
    the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.
    Nothing we do is complete,
    which is another way of saying
    that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

    No statement says all that could be said.
    No prayer fully expresses our faith.
    No confession brings perfection.
    No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
    No programme accomplishes the church's mission.
    No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

    This is what we are about:
    We plant seeds that one day will grow.
    We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
    We lay foundations that will need further development.
    We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.

    We cannot do everything
    and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
    This enables us to do something,
    and to do it very well.
    It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
    an opportunity for God's grace to enter and do the rest.

    We may never see the end results,
    but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
    We are workers, not master builders,
    ministers, not messiahs.
    We are prophets of a future not our own.