Watching and waiting with the Christian peacemakers in Iraq - news from ekklesia

By staff writers
December 24, 2005

Watching and waiting with the Christian peacemakers in Iraq

-24/12/05

As the families of Tom Fox, Jim Loney, Norman Kember and Harmeet Singh Sooden face the prospect of Christmas waiting for news of their loved ones who have been kidnapped in Iraq, Lee McKenna duCharme offers her reflections to Ekklesia on ëthe reason for the seasoní:

I decorated the Christmas tree last night. The first effort had been a family one, but in the midst of dinner, it falls crashing to the floor. Now I am on my own. As I place red and silver balls on the tree, I feel strangely distanced from my work. What am I doing here? I ask myself. What is this all about? Just over there on the mantle, four candles burn without ceasing above four photos of our friends.

I watch my hands doing their mundane work and wonder. The lights, already plugged in, are dancing in some electronically programmed sequence; off, on, off, slowly on, slowly off. What is the meaning of this strange action in the midst of our anxiety-filled days of waiting? Is this capitulation? Or defiance? Capitulation to Santa Claus? Or a defiant declaration that, indeed, the Child will be born, regardless; the light will come and nothing, nothing will extinguish it. Capitulation to the cultural hijacking that has turned the greatest story ever told into a maudlin gift exchange and a commercial must-have? Or defiant assertion that violence will not have the last say?

Preachers often struggle with the apocalyptic passages that accompany advent. Just when comfortable pews want to hear happy stories of good things, the Lectionary takes us to apocalypse. We're not keen to recognise that advent is a preparation for conflict. The climax of this season comes with Christmas and the birth of a Child whose coming is nothing like that of Santa Claus. Santa brings toys to all the good little girls and boys. Jesus, on the other hand, brings scandal, brings a threat to our customary ways of living, challenges those in seats of privilege and power, turns things upside down. Herod could have handled Santa Claus, no problem. It was Jesus that threw him into a murderous fit.

The Jesus-who-comes-no-matter-what invites us to defy the lines, cross the boundaries, break the rules that need breaking. No matter what the cost. Reinhold Niebuhr, in the years leading up to the Second World War, abandoned his earlier pacifism for something he called 'practical Christianity'. His starting point was the sinfulness of human kind ñ an incontrovertible fact, he believed, that turned the 'hard sayings' into impossible sayings, lovely ideals for a later life, but not for here. Impractical.

By a few commentators, our friends have been called impractical, irrational, naÔve, stupid, even. Why, after all, would anyone do such a thing? Taking Jesus' call to enemy-love and solidarity with the oppressed seriously, they placed their bodies, unarmed, disarmed and disarming, in the way of violence to offer a different word, a different witness. This is not a seeking after crucifixion; but it is a Jesus-walk that takes them down a path shadowed by a cross. It is our path.

Meanwhile we pace in the waiting room ñ for what? for the uncertain; for the certain. The Child will be born, the Light will come; the darkness will not overcome it. And, unknowing, we grieve, we lament ñ even as we hope; and the two are related. In our lament we point out to God the gap between who we understand God to be, what we understand God wants for humankind and creation ñ and the reality. But we do so out of hope.

Without hope, lament sounds like the death rattle of the dying. Against the backdrop of hope, lament is the wail of the newborn gasping for breath: clearing throat and flexing lungs, stretching for life outside the womb. Why life must begin with a bloody scream is a mystery. Yet it is so.

Hope is the radical refusal to calculate the limits of the possible (WS Coffin). Each in their very different and particular ways, Norman, Jim, Harmeet and Tom took steps, made decisions, clear-eyed, expecting to be home by now ñ or in Bethlehem for Christmas. Aware, certain of the risks and the arithmetic of occupation; yet refused the calculus.

In the waiting room we pray, often with only groanings that cannot be uttered, refusing to hedge our bets, bow down to other gods ñ "O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace Ö BUT IF NOT, be it known to you that we will not serve your gods Ö " (Daniel 3.16-19)

The last ball is hung; the tinsel reflects back the sequenced flashes of little lights. The candles burn stubbornly away. Jesus has come into the world, born of a teen-aged mother, placed in a feeding trough and swaddled in rags against the cold. Inauspicious flicker against a long night, but yet light of the world.

Lee McKenna duCharme works with Christian Peacemaker Teams, and is from Canada.

Watching and waiting with the Christian peacemakers in Iraq

-24/12/05

As the families of Tom Fox, Jim Loney, Norman Kember and Harmeet Singh Sooden face the prospect of Christmas waiting for news of their loved ones who have been kidnapped in Iraq, Lee McKenna duCharme offers her reflections to Ekklesia on ëthe reason for the season':

I decorated the Christmas tree last night. The first effort had been a family one, but in the midst of dinner, it falls crashing to the floor. Now I am on my own. As I place red and silver balls on the tree, I feel strangely distanced from my work. What am I doing here? I ask myself. What is this all about? Just over there on the mantle, four candles burn without ceasing above four photos of our friends.

I watch my hands doing their mundane work and wonder. The lights, already plugged in, are dancing in some electronically programmed sequence; off, on, off, slowly on, slowly off. What is the meaning of this strange action in the midst of our anxiety-filled days of waiting? Is this capitulation? Or defiance? Capitulation to Santa Claus? Or a defiant declaration that, indeed, the Child will be born, regardless; the light will come and nothing, nothing will extinguish it. Capitulation to the cultural hijacking that has turned the greatest story ever told into a maudlin gift exchange and a commercial must-have? Or defiant assertion that violence will not have the last say?

Preachers often struggle with the apocalyptic passages that accompany advent. Just when comfortable pews want to hear happy stories of good things, the Lectionary takes us to apocalypse. We're not keen to recognise that advent is a preparation for conflict. The climax of this season comes with Christmas and the birth of a Child whose coming is nothing like that of Santa Claus. Santa brings toys to all the good little girls and boys. Jesus, on the other hand, brings scandal, brings a threat to our customary ways of living, challenges those in seats of privilege and power, turns things upside down. Herod could have handled Santa Claus, no problem. It was Jesus that threw him into a murderous fit.

The Jesus-who-comes-no-matter-what invites us to defy the lines, cross the boundaries, break the rules that need breaking. No matter what the cost. Reinhold Niebuhr, in the years leading up to the Second World War, abandoned his earlier pacifism for something he called 'practical Christianity'. His starting point was the sinfulness of human kind - an incontrovertible fact, he believed, that turned the 'hard sayings' into impossible sayings, lovely ideals for a later life, but not for here. Impractical.

By a few commentators, our friends have been called impractical, irrational, naÔve, stupid, even. Why, after all, would anyone do such a thing? Taking Jesus' call to enemy-love and solidarity with the oppressed seriously, they placed their bodies, unarmed, disarmed and disarming, in the way of violence to offer a different word, a different witness. This is not a seeking after crucifixion; but it is a Jesus-walk that takes them down a path shadowed by a cross. It is our path.

Meanwhile we pace in the waiting room - for what? for the uncertain; for the certain. The Child will be born, the Light will come; the darkness will not overcome it. And, unknowing, we grieve, we lament - even as we hope; and the two are related. In our lament we point out to God the gap between who we understand God to be, what we understand God wants for humankind and creation - and the reality. But we do so out of hope.

Without hope, lament sounds like the death rattle of the dying. Against the backdrop of hope, lament is the wail of the newborn gasping for breath: clearing throat and flexing lungs, stretching for life outside the womb. Why life must begin with a bloody scream is a mystery. Yet it is so.

Hope is the radical refusal to calculate the limits of the possible (WS Coffin). Each in their very different and particular ways, Norman, Jim, Harmeet and Tom took steps, made decisions, clear-eyed, expecting to be home by now - or in Bethlehem for Christmas. Aware, certain of the risks and the arithmetic of occupation; yet refused the calculus.

In the waiting room we pray, often with only groanings that cannot be uttered, refusing to hedge our bets, bow down to other gods - "O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace Ö BUT IF NOT, be it known to you that we will not serve your gods Ö " (Daniel 3.16-19)

The last ball is hung; the tinsel reflects back the sequenced flashes of little lights. The candles burn stubbornly away. Jesus has come into the world, born of a teen-aged mother, placed in a feeding trough and swaddled in rags against the cold. Inauspicious flicker against a long night, but yet light of the world.

Lee McKenna duCharme works with Christian Peacemaker Teams, and is from Canada.

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