Pro-War is Not Pro-Life!

From Metropolitan Jonah’s message for Sanctity of Life Sunday:

All the sins against humanity, abortion, euthanasia, war, violence, and victimization of all kinds, are the results of depersonalization. Whether it is “the unwanted pregnancy”, or worse, “the fetus” rather than “my son” or “my daughter;” whether it is “the enemy” rather than Joe or Harry (maybe Ahmed or Mohammed), the same depersonalization allows us to fulfill our own selfishness against the obstacle to my will. How many of our elderly, our parents and grandparents, live forgotten in isolation and loneliness? How many Afghan, Iraqi, Palestinian and American youths will we sacrifice to agonizing injuries and deaths for the sake of our political will? They are called “soldiers,” or “enemy combatants” or “civilian casualties” or any variety of other euphemisms to deny their personhood. But ask their parents or children! Pro-war is NOT pro-life! God weeps for our callousness.

Moral Clarity on Gaza

Steve has a good post on a the ‘war’ in Gaza (the conflict is so one-sided it’s difficult to refer to as a war): Moral clarity, moral ambiguity, moral confusion.

US mainstream media coverage of this conflict is an almost case-book example of war propaganda: part of this is due to the IDF’s ban on foreign journalists entering Gaza, but it’s also very much reflective of American media attitudes and willing compliance with the ideology of American foreign policy, of which the Palestinian conflict is but one- very public- facet. After all, as bears repeating, many of the weapons Israel is unleashing on the people of Gaza are courtesy of Uncle Sam, by way of the compliant American tax-payer.

God have mercy on us all.

Strangeness in the Stacks, And On Seeing (And Refusing to Hate)

This afternoon I made a quick run from my office to the library to retrieve a couple books on early Islamic historiography. Normally this sort of book retrival is as uneventful as one would probably imagine it to be. Not this afternoon. I come to the correct section- the DS38s- an area I’ve been in and out of this semester, and remove a volume. I notice that a piece of paper is stuck in it, which I remove (one time I found five dollars in a library book and often hope I will find some more, though so far no more luck, though I did find 200 dirhams on a dirt road outside of Fes in March…). I open the folded paper, and am greeted with the words (I promise you none of this is made up): ‘Attention Muslim Visitors to America! Here are rules for getting along in America.’

The paper then proceeds to list, um, rules for Muslims in America, which include such enlightening things as: ‘You do not have the right to enslave anyone at any time for any reason [shoot!]. This is going on in Mauritania, in Darfur, in Sudan [somewhere between Darfur and Mauritania, right?] and elsewhere in the Moslem world. Muslims must approve, since they don’t even protest against it.’

‘You do not have the right to riot or pillage…’

‘You come here to expecting to practice your religion, yet your home country persecutes other religions. You should be grateful to this country instead of hostile. Until your country [the Moslem one, I guess- that really big one you know] cleans its own house, it has no business criticizing America for anything. Respect other people’s rights in every way or leave.’

Etc. After recovering from the shock that we’re apparently not allowed to riot and pillage, and therefore having to immediately adjust my evening plans, I looked around in the DS38s, and found more of these fliers stuck in books. In one book (a translations of the early Islamic historian al-Tabari’s work on the ‘Abbasids) there were two copies (everyone knows terrorists are really into those crazy cat ‘Abbasid caliphs). However, there were no fliers in books outside of the DS38s, which was perhaps the most bizarre part of it. I didn’t think at the time to look in the section of the stacks with the books on Islamic theology, jurisprudence, etc., so I’ve no idea if these fliers were more widely distributed. Why the DS38s- did our zealous defender of America suppose those horrid foreign Muslims mainly read historiographical work? One can only speculate. At any rate, it was an all around strange experience, not least for the reminder that my particular field of study- medieval Islam and Eastern Christianity- has all sorts of very immediate inroads in everyday life, even here in East Tennessee. It was also a reminder- not that one is needed- that for many people in this country, their only image of Muslims is the violent fundamentalist, the crazy bearded man in a cave, the zealot gunman in Mumbai, or some vague (heavily bearded and turbaned) figure flitting about a madrasa. This is the image they project on all Muslims, everywhere, including those who live and work and worship here.

I don’t know what it’s like for Muslim immigrants here in East Tennessee; a few weeks ago I talked with a young man from Bulgaria who had been working in Pigeon Forge on a temporary visa. While not Muslim, he had an accent and looked ‘Eastern’; he said that occasionally people would come in and speak in their most affected local accent and in general try to yank his chain, knowing that English was his second language. I had a roommate earlier in the year who was working at a JiffyLube out in North Knoxville; he is from Maine and sounds like it. His co-workers constantly harrased him over his origins, until he finally left the place. Feelings towards Latinos here seem to be strained at the least, which is strange since there are so few Latinos around. So I wonder- with just the evidence of my library propogandist to go on- if the same sentiments flow towards people from the Islamic world. Probably, if I had to guess. And let’s be clear- the sentiments that lay behind my anonymous writer are at the least racist: all Muslims are, secretly if not openly, party to the worst of crimes, are part of the Problem. You may be tolerated here, but only barely, and we don’t really trust you, or want you here. Maybe it’s too much to call the web of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim feelings (some of which lie just under the surface and only show up in public from time to time, maybe over a secretly Muslim Presidential candidate…) hatred, but I’m pretty sure parsing it that way is all too often accurate.

Hatred of the brown-skinned peoples of the dar al-islam has been both facilitated by and fostered by our wars in the Middle East. Being able to reduce all Muslims and Arabs to that image of barbarian bloodthirsty (or secretly restrained for purposes of infiltration) savages lets one think about the war in Iraq or Afghanistan or wherever else without associating the deaths incurred with real humans; those people are not my neighbor, are not even really human. Muslim people are people who are either shooting and blowing up things or getting blown up and shot; that is what they are there for and nothing can change it (‘they’ve always been like that’). Of course this is nonsense, and many of us know that it’s nonsense. But it’s powerful nonsense, and it infiltrates our minds and hearts, even when we recognize it for what it is. Way back in the spring while in Morocco I had been reading the news out of Iraq online, and I recall reading some particularly troubling stuff. I took a walk down towards the old city, and as I walked I looked at the people- men, women, kids- I was passing, and thought: people who look like this are the ones dying every —- day in Iraq, with my tax money, my unspoken acceptance. People like this, like the family I’m living with [see the photos below], like the people I am seeing now, living alongside. Real human beings. Of course I’ve long known all that- but for some reason it just clicked, and I nearly broke down with emotion, there on the sidewalk between the Hotel Zalagh and the McDonalds… These ‘bloodthirsty savages’ that we are conditioned to throw all together in one horrible image and hate- they have lives, dreams, children, flesh, blood, souls, voices, faces.

So. That leaves me a long ways from a bizarre occurrence in the library stacks.

Lord have mercy.

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Said Muhammad, Saida Fatima, and their two kids, Maryam and Yusef.

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This man, whose name I have unfortunately forgotten, makes excellent fried bread. He also helped me practice my fusha Arabic (though one of his friends suggested I ought to drop the classical stuff and just do ‘street Arabic’!)

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A zellij craftsman over in the Andalusian quarter.

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This Heart is Filled With Pity For All God’s Creatures

I am stealing the quotation below from Fr. Stephen; it sums up the way we must relate to a very unjust and violent world, stuff like this and this and this and…. Those injunctions about loving your enemy, putting down you sword- they seem easy enough when we’re just talking about personal enemies (not that they are easy in those instances, even), but they’re even harder when we’re talking about genuinely evil actions, systems and pervasive patterns of injustice- shooting wars, not just the personal verbal battles we fight all too often. What is the way the St. Silouan offers? Pick up the sword only when a really genuine revolution summons? No- pray for the evil people (yourself included), feel the deepest compassion for them. This is the only way, the only way really to truly and authentically resist evil. Lord knows I’ve often felt the urge to pick up the sword, to want to see the powerful evil-doers pay, here, now, to not get away with it. According to St. Silouan- and he has Christ Himself backing him up- that is the wrong spirit. Only love can overcome, forgiveness and compassion- for all- are the only real way.

Lord have mercy on us.

If you think evil of people, it means you have an evil spirit in you whispering evil thoughts about others. And if a man dies without repenting, without having forgiven his brother, his soul will go to the place where lives the evil spirit which possessed his soul.

This is the law we have: if you forgive others, it is a sign that the Lord has forgiven you; but if you refuse to forgive, then your own sin remains with you.

The Lord wants us to love our fellow-man; and if you reflect that the Lord loves him, you have a sign of the Lord’s love for you. And if you consider how greatly the Lord loves His creature, and you yourself have compassion on all creation, and love your enemies, counting yourself the vilest of all, it is a sign of abundant grace of the Holy Spirit in you.

He who has the Holy Spirit in him, to however slight a degree, sorrows day and night for all mankind. This heart is filled with pity for all God’s creatures, more especially for those who do not know God, or who resist Him and therefore are bound for the fire of torment. For them, more than for himself, he prays day and night, that all may repent and know the Lord.

Christ prayed for them that were crucifying him: ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.’ Stephen the Martyr prayed for those who stoned him, that the Lord ‘lay not this sin to their charge.’ And we, if we wish to preserve grace, must pray for our enemies. If you do not feel pity for the sinner destined to suffer the pains of hell-fire, it means that the grace of the Holy Spirit is not in you, but an evil spirit. While you are still alive, therefore, strive by repentance to free yourself from this spirit.

St. Silouan

St. Moses the Ethiopian

Today is the feast-day of St. Moses, who had led a life of crime and violence before renouncing the sword and entering a monastery in the Egyptian wilderness. Thinking about his story and his example makes me wonder- how do we renounce the violence and injustice in our lives? Sure, I might not be going around beating people up and stealing their money literally, but what am I doing- or not doing- that perpetuates violence, whether it is through my unforgiveness, or resentment, or my lack of concern and love. That, and how much are we culpable for participating in the unjust structures we live in? The other night I was re-reading the book of Revelations, as part of a class assignment actually, and in doing so I was struck by how incredibly political the book is. God judges the systems and ways of the world- a world that is bloated with injustice, with greed and consumption, not just of goods and capital, but of humans. The saints are called out of that system, out of that world- they refuse to participate in it, and for that they suffer. Those who refuse the mark of the beast- participation in the evil and injustice of the world- suffer for it.

I thought while reading, how do we refuse that injustice, how do we refuse to take the mark of the beast, as it were, while living lives in the world? How do we reject the callous and bloodthirsty ways of the world- what is the correct path? Does the fact that I pay taxes, for example, make me complicit in the wars and intrigues of the government I thereby support? What I am going to tell Christ when He asks about the homeless living a mile from my house, the panhandlers I meet on the sidewalks and do my best to get away from? Sorry, Lord, they were the wrong sort of poor? I’m sorry, God, I disagreed intellectually with the evil I ignored/was complicit in. Will that cut it? For St. Moses, living a life of Christ’s peace in the world was, in some ways, very straightforward- he put down the sword, literally. In a less obvious way, he taught and modeled forgiveness, the root of the peace of Christ. There is a story in which a brother is brought before the community for judgment; St. Moses comes to the church carrying a jar of water with holes in it. The brothers ask about it, and he replies, my sins are like water- they run out behind me and I cannot number them. How am I to judge my brother here then?

He lived the life of Christ’s peace and forgiveness, of his rejection of the methods and systems of the world. He, like Christ, died- not just the death to the flesh, to the ways of the world, but literally. What are we called to? What am I called to in this place I live, in this city, now, to live in a concrete, painful if need be, the life of Christ, the Prince of Peace, in a world of war and hate and violence? That is the struggle- and it is the most important thing, to live-in-Christ, here, now. St. Moses, pray for us who live in a world of drawn swords and angry hearts- pray that we would be blessed with the wisdom and the peace of Christ, our God.

Troparion (Tone 1)

You made the wilderness your dwelling, O our Father Moses, the Bearer of God; you became an angel in the flesh and a wonderworker. Through fasts, vigils, and prayers, you obtained from God special graces to heal the sick and sanctify the souls of those who come to you with trust. Glory to the one who gave you strength! Glory to the one who crowned you! Glory to the one who, through your intercession, grants healing to all!

The Police State Hits Home

I got a call from a friend this afternoon; after I answered he told me, in a completely unironic tone of voice, that his mother had been detained by the Feds. Now, knowing his mother, I could hardly imagine a person less likely to be detained by any law enforcement agency, for anything. So I chuckled, but when he didn’t laugh, I asked if he was serious. He was. When I spoke to him this afternoon his mom was apparently still being detained and questioned.

His mother, along with hundreds of other people, were detained and questioned in a massive ICE raid on Jones County, MS’s (my home county) Howard Industries. His mom, I should note, is not Latino, and could never be mistaken for being Latino or any sort of undocumented worker of any sort. Apparently she is being questioned- and detained for we don’t know how long- in order to extract further records on the undocumented workers at Howards. My friend didn’t know a lot of particulars, as the Feds apparenty, in addition to shutting off the company’s physical telephone switchboard (reported in the article), also jammed celluar communications. As you might imagine, the raid completely shut down the company, which is the largest employer in Jones County. Without Howards and a couple of other large employers there wouldn’t really be much of an economy in Jones County; one can imagine what sort of impact this will have on the economy.

I have met quite a few Latino guys who work- or, probably now, worked- at Howards. They were all doing what the politicos tell you is the American dream: working, saving money (well, that’s not very American), contributing to the local economy, going to church, etc. Are these people criminals? Is this how a “free” market works? But I’d best not get too polemical…

Racial tensions in Jones County between locals and the new Latino population have been generally good; I have encountered more positive sentiments than otherwise from both whites and blacks in Jones County. I wonder whether that will change for the worse in the aftermath of the raid- probably.

The Peace is God, Who Came to Us and Became Flesh

1.

Gabriel flew
From the height on the wings of the wind
And brought an epistle from his Lord
To bring Mary the salutation.
He opened it and read it and said to her:
“My Lord is with you and rises from you;
I left him behind up above
And here with you I find him.”
Praise be to him, before whom in the height and in the depth
The angels sing praise.

2.

“Peace, peace
To the far and the near!”
The prophet in the Holy Spirit called out
To the whole race of the house of Adam.
The peace is God,
Who came to us and became flesh.
Praise to him, who humiliated so much
His majesty on our behalf.
And he rose from us after our likeness
And (yet) he did not leave his Father’s side.

3.

Grant, o our Lord,
Peace to your church in all four corners of the globe
And take from her the quarrels
And the divisions and the evil schisms
And gather her children in her fold
In the true faith
And appoint shepherds over her
Who put her to pasture after your will.
And may she rejoice with you in the kingdom
To the right of Him who sent you.

Simeon the Potter of Gesir, Potter Songs

Be A Proclaimer of the Gospel At All Times

50. Rebuke hatred by your deeds rather than by your words.

51. Honour peace more than anything else. But strive first of all to be at peace in yourself: in this way you will find it easy to be at peace with others. How can someone whose eyes are blind heal others?

56. Be a proclaimer of the Gospel at all times. You will become a proclaimer of the Gospel when you lay upon yourself the Gospel’s way of life.

St. John of Apamea, Letter to Hesychius

We live in a world- as did St. John of Apamea, and all the other saints who have come before us- that does not value peace, is filled with various hatreds and all sorts of strife, and in which the Gospel is, if proclaimed at all, often muted by the very actions of we who proclaim it. It is very tempting to face such a situation with nothing but righteous polemical rage- and there is plenty to get angry about. I do not have to go far to find war and hatred, racism and oppression. In fact, I don’t have to leave my house. For, as St. John implies, the root of war and hatred lies, not in some other person or system or State, but in each one of our hearts. In my heart- that is where the violence and hatred, the spurning of the Gospel begins, and unless I deal with it, I cannot do anything about the outside world.

If I desire peace in the world, then I must cultivate peace in my own life, in my own heart. St. James writes in his epistle that the root of our fighting and sparing is that we are, first of all, greedy, wanting this and that, and when we don’t get it, we go to war, sometimes literally. And when we do get what we want, we spend it all on ourselves, having set ourselves off against other persons, as if we each had our own little fortress set up against our neighbors. It is a fundamental lack of peace- of contentment with our own state- within the heart that spurs on strife and violence. If we were at peace with ourselves and at peace with God- fully cognizant of the true nature of our own selves and of God and His love- we would hardly be concerned with whatever it was that drove us to hatred and violence in the first place. When we recognize the love and grace of Christ, we find peace, and once in Christ we recognize the true nature of our brother and sister- and hatred must die.

Once we ourselves have begun to acquire peace and remove the hatreds that have built up in us- as the Gospel becomes active in us- if we want to resist the hatreds and wars on the outside, we must labour with love, and not the easy path of mere polemic. I can spend all day telling anyone who comes within earshot how bad it is to hate your brother. I can preach against the evils of war and racism, and bemoan the oppression and injustice of the world. But unless I am actively loving people, unless I am going to the oppressed- and the oppressor- and showing, in concrete terms, the love of God, all my polemic does no good, and can be easily dismissed by those meant to hear it. We rebuke hatred- against ourselves and against others- by countering it with love, as Jesus commanded. We counter war and violence with the peace of Christ, lived out in our love for all the combatants in a given battle. It is not enough for me to spout slogans, no matter how noble, unless I am putting actions behind them- indeed, much of the time it’s best to leave the slogans and preaching behind entirely.

To bring it closer to my own experience, living in the American South I encounter the old racial hatreds with considerable regularity. The old intercommunal tensions of blacks and whites has expanded with the addition of Latino people to our society; I don’t have to go far to find strife and hatred. It would be easy enough- and I’ve done it- to lash out in anger and disgust at the attitudes I encounter in my community, in my own family. But does my anger and indignation really achieve anything? Do I even remove the latent racism and hatred in my own heart? Instead, the right- and so much harder- path is one of engagement with all sides of the strife, of active love towards all those involved. By my love I can show an alternative to hatred; by active, involved love I can give some small evidence of the Gospel and its impact on human relations.

‘When you lay upon yourself the Gospel’s way of life’: this is a task so much harder and more involved than shouting slogans or pushing fliers. The call is for a fundamental shift in the way we live, in the way we exist in the world. To live in love, to live in peace, requires not merely intellectual assent or adoption of some new political or social principles, but an entire restructuring of life. I must leave behind entirely the war and violence and hatred of the old life, and embrace a way of life that runs in an entirely different direction, from a whole different perspective, with an entirely different goal. This is the Resurrected Life, a life that incarnates peace and love. And when we live such a life, the world around is transformed, just as the Resurrected Christ so vividly transformed those around Him. What the world needs now is not merely the idea of love, but the love of Christ, the Prince of Peace, incarnated in flesh-and-blood people, people willing to embrace His life, and live it in the world. Only then can we rebuke hatred, embody peace, and truly proclaim the Gospel.

There Are Thorns Everywhere

After this there was much discussion of patience and forbearance. He [Nizam ad-Din Awliya] said: ‘Everyone who bears injury is better than he who can scarcely repress anger, for one must not be bent on retaliation.’ These two lines of poetry came on his blessed tongue:

   May God befriend all those who are my foes,
   May all who hurt me gain increased repose.

After that he added another couplet:

   May all who in my path place thorns from spite
   Lead lives that flower like a thornless rose rose.

Then he remarked: ‘If someone puts a thorn in your path and you put a thorn in his, there are thorns everywhere! And he concluded: ‘It is like this among men, that you are straight with those who are straight with you, and crooked to those who are crooked. But among dervishes, it is like this, that you are straight with those who are straight with you, and with the crooked, you are also straight!’

Amir Hasan Sijzi, Morals for the Heart