Sunday, September 21, 2014

Loving the World, Praying for Peace, and Other Difficulties

I wrote this last year, when a potential U.S. military strike loomed large in the media's lens, that is, a different U.S. military strike that is currently in the news. I planned to post it on International Day of Peace 2013, but overwhelmed with the issue itself, I set this reflection aside for my own sanity. 

International Day of Peace is here once again, yet it seems that war and rumors of war continue to be the default mode of being here on earth. 

Rumors of war

Last year, around this time the headlines told tales of Syria, mass shootings and bombings in the Navy Yard, Chicago, Nairobi and Baghdad, gridlock over Obamacare and serious flooding in Mexico and Colorado. Today we're hearing about domestic violence, ISIS, Ukraine, and Ferguson (remember Ferguson?)

I often worry about the rate at which we consume tragic news, but that's for another time. Even though these thoughts are practically obsolete in our micro-second world, today is the International Day of Peace and I feel compelled to share my struggle written here with the few willing to spend 15 minutes to travel back to my thoughts last year. After all, the violence in Syria is still very real for many regardless of our news networks, as it is in Iraq, Ferguson, our neighbors' homes and, yes, even our own hearts.

Thanks for reading. Let's pray for peace.

From September 2013:

As the violent pulse of Syria encroaches upon the national limelight, diplomats attempt to make clear the blurry lines of international law, and the American public contribute their opinion in grossly over-simplified yays or nays, my mind has been scrambling for paradigms through which I might understand the violence, the politics, and this global landscape.

My neat, contained values of loving the world, praying for the suffering, and promoting peace seem tiny vessels that at face value are inadequate and trite responses to a convulsing, seething, multi-faceted ball of violence, oppression, and self-interest. My daily attempt to live faithfully in my local community is disrupted with questions of a global concern, a call to care and love beyond the boundaries of my influence.

I am called to love the world.

I understand how to love the world I inhabit. I do not understand how to love people I never see. For this reason global crises, the polarizing rhetoric that ensues, and the question of how to respond as Christ's disciple has always frustrated me.

How can I love the residents of Damascus? Any attempt to do so from Huntingdon, PA is removed from real time relationships which in turn is removed from reality which thrusts this "love" into the realm of the theoretical. But love, by its very nature, cannot be abstract. Love requires action.

So, when I hear of violence, chemical warfare, and oppression of a people, I, by virtue of my geographical location, am unable to love the victims of these travesties. Any attempt at love is theoretical. Indeed, so is the violence. Mentally, I know that innocent people are dying at the hand of a brutal regime, but I must convince myself of this fact. My knowledge, void of connection and experience, is limited.

"It's not happening here, but it's happening now"

However another story line challenges this locally-minded love. The mystery of prayer. In the words of Henri Nouwen:
"Prayer for others is the very beat of a compassionate heart. To pray for others means to allow their pains and sufferings, their anxieties and loneliness, their confusion and fears to resound in our inner-most selves. It is in and through us that God's Spirit touches them with his healing presence."
Prayer provides a means of loving from a distance. The discipline of sharing in the grief and the pain of others, even others we do not know, through prayer, relieves burdens in ways I do not understand. Praying for peace in Syria leads me to ask how I am contributing to the cycle of violence, division, and injustice through my action and inaction.

But how do I pray for Syria? How do I pray for a people I do not know? For an end to violence I can't imagine?

But how can I not pray for Syria? Their world, although it feels removed from mine, is a part of my community. Any concern for my next door neighbor demands concern for my global neighbor.
"All of creation forms a harmonious and good unity, but above all humanity, made in the image and likeness of God, is one family, in which relationships are marked by a true fraternity not only in words: the other person is a brother or sister to love, and our relationship with God, who is love, fidelity and goodness, mirrors every human relationship and brings harmony to the whole creation. God's world is a world where everyone feels responsible for the other, for the good of the other." (Pope Francis, Vigil of Prayer for Peace, September 7, 2013)
However isolated I may feel, my corner of the world is an interlocking piece of the global puzzle. And nothing drives that point like a potential U.S. invasion of Syria. This threatened intervention and its subsequent consequences thrusts the foreigners' home into my local scope of vision.

And so, as the headlines point to U.S. involvement in the ongoing violence, we begin to pay attention and we rally for peace.

I confess that I did not pay much attention to the Syrian conflict--apart from skimming the headlines--until rumor of U.S. intervention reached my ears.

I confess that I failed to pray for peace until threatened with another possible place for U.S. deployment.

These are confessions because they betray my self-interest, my local bias, the "my people" prejudice.

During this international crisis, ripe with high stakes and dire consequences, it's easy to pat myself on the back on account of my anti-intervention stance. It's the way of peace. The way of Christ.

But it's more complicated than that. Peace-building is harder than that. It has nothing to do with passivity.

When peace rallies pop up at the rumor of U.S. intervention it makes me wonder if our concern is for the innocent Syrians who will die at the hand of a U.S. military strike, that is the innocent Syrians who are already dying at the hand of their government.

Do we care about these people lives? Do we care about peace? Or do we just care about our nation being responsible for the destruction and about the lives of our countrymen?

Is simply being opposed to U.S. military intervention make me a peacekeeper? Or does it just make me a keeper of the peace for my land and my people?

Now, I know that it is impossible to take on the burdens of the whole world. And I still think that loving the person in front of us and being peacekeepers in our hearts, homes, and communities is our first order of business.

Yet the one I call "Lord" stretches my understanding of love. He asks me unequivocally to love the face directly in front of me. But he also asks the impossible--for me to love the foreigner, my enemies, the world.

And so I will try to love these unknown faces in the only way I know how--by praying for peace. I'm not sure what it does or how it works, but it's all I have to give.

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