Assemblies of God Theological SeminaryAugust  2014
 

Ferguson, ISIS, Gaza, Ukraine, and the Texas Border:
Angst and More Angst

 

August 2014

 

Over the last few months, we have experienced a roller coaster of events. We have reached new levels of complexity with these social tragedies, yet clarity remains at a premium. In the world of the 24-hour news cycle, the predictable talking heads, of opposing perspective, fill the air waves with sound bites that only leave us gasping for air and wondering when the pain will subside. The sad truth is that information glut has yielded a world where the poignancy of one tragedy disappears sooner than later as another event explodes into viral reality. We are left with simmering cauldrons of complexity that lingers in the world as chattering media elites chose the next topic to qualify as "Breaking News."

 

I must admit that, with each of these new events, I am increasingly aware of my self-talk, which I don't want others to hear. At the same time, I wish I could just make inquiry to someone who could give me insight as to why they hold a position so passionately, without demanding that I declare my allegiance to one side or the other. The polarization of opinion, which frames public perception and dialogue, cripples well-intended people from reaching out towards more lasting solutions to issues. I can only begin to understand how the parents of Michael Brown feel as they bury their son in Ferguson, Missouri. I suppose if I were an African-American parent and Michael was my son, I'd wonder if we really were that far removed from Bull Connor with his dogs and fire hoses in Selma. However, the reality we must also acknowledge is that the U.S. Attorney General who visited with Michael Brown's parents is African-American, as is the President of the United States. The frustration is that these images of Selma keep popping up and revealing that Dr. King's dream has not yet been accomplished. Offices of power may be held by Holder and Obama in Washington D.C., but somehow that didn't prevent tragedy on the streets of Ferguson. I have growing feeling that the issue of racism is yet alive just below the surface in way too many circumstances in our nation.

 

The brutality of ISIS and the simmering hatred in Gaza get framed in the rhetoric of foreign policy, but are really fueled by animosities that are centuries old. I haven't even begun to understand the historic tensions between Sunni and Shi'a Muslims who have expressed themselves so violently over the years. The tensions in Gaza are the current version of the ancient sibling rivalry between Isaac and Ishmael that seems to thrive on continued blood-letting. I hear the rhetoric of Hamas and the Israeli leadership that lobs rhetorical and literal bombs at each other. I want to feel the pain of the people caught in the crossfire, whether they are Muslim, Jew, or, increasingly, Christian. I must admit considerable frustration at global rhetoric that laughs at the historicity of the Holocaust and teaches its children, from the earliest age, to hate all Jews. I have also seen first-hand the daily lives of Palestinians who's traversing of the border with Israel results in harassment and the loss of dignity. I'm left with the rhetorical question: "How much blood needs to be spilt before we will come to our senses?" I am also not so na´ve as to believe that ancient animosities can be explained reasonably. Actually, they are perpetuated by socializing the next generation into a world view with no room for the stranger or historical enemy.

 

Immigration into the U.S. has always come with pain and tragedy, while being motivated by hope. The tragedy of thousands of young children from Central America crossing into the U.S. is so easily lost in political rhetoric that bogs down in the halls of Congress. So, what would motivate a parent in the mountains of Honduras or Guatemala to send their 6-year-old son with their 12-year-old daughter on a dangerous journey led by greedy smugglers of human cargo?   I've been to those places working for a decade of my life to bring hope and education. The army and insurgent guerrillas, present in the civil wars of the 1970s-90s, have been replaced by vicious cartels who are recruiting children into cartel activity and the unspeakable horror of sexual trafficking. How can one not be moved by this unbelievable example of children whose futures are so tenuous that parents would throw the dice and place their children on the dangerous route to El Norte? And then, remember, this is just one place where children are being robbed of their futures. Iraqi children are hiding out in mountains without water of food. Syrian children, by the thousands in refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon, are being robbed of their futures and their God-given dignity by the strife being perpetrated in their part of the world. I'm also aware that social infrastructures can only handle so many people. The flow of immigrants to new places because of war and economic strife can only be endured by the hosts so long, without lots of breakdowns. In America that's been true for as long as people have immigrated willfully as well as not of their own volition.

 

We'd like to think that the attitudes of the Cold War are but a curious subject in our rearview mirror and only relevant for the heady world of doctoral dissertations, but a dream for the resurgence of Mother Russia is a deeply held passion for millions of people. Just ask citizens of the Ukraine if Russian domination, circa the Cold war era, is merely a curious item for coffee table discussion only.

 

As I ponder the many facets of just a few of these issues, I realize I have written enough to get some people on the diverse ends of these issues mad. I am also frustrated that there seems to be only escalation and not remedies to these tragedies. Quick fixes, if they ever existed, are not on the horizon. The long-term solutions that are necessary seem to be out of reach. And that's where followers of Jesus find themselves. Triumphalist Christianity simply gets neutralized in the withering onslaught of twenty-first century challenges. Those with quick and pat answers for all real world problems simply haven't been to the front lines lately.

 

I am reminded that the most vigorous examples of contemporary Christian faith are in the places where opposition is greatest. How do people thrive in the middle of situations where injustice is rampant and lives seemingly have no value to throngs of people around them? I have always been drawn to George Eldon Ladd's view of the end times. Ladd observed that with the D-Day invasion, the demise of the Nazi regime was no longer in doubt. However, the death toll between D-day and VE Day was higher than in all the previous years of WWII. Ladd's analogy was that with the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus, there was established a definitive beachhead in which the final outcome of created order was not in question. John the Revelator wrote in Revelation 21:3 that the dwelling place of God had found its primary location with humankind. John continued that there would be such an overwhelming adjustment in the framework of human affairs that a whole new order of life would be ushered into being. The presence of Jesus himself guaranteed that a day would come when all the results of human conflict would be counteracted. There would be actually no more tears, death, and mourning-the painful results of humanity's troubles when Jesus Christ is not central to life.  

 

The people who first read John's words 2000 years ago were a minority group with little or no influence in seats of power. They experienced very little justice in their lives. Their world was filled with tragedy that seemed insurmountable, but they had a declaration from God who assured His final word in human affairs. So, in the middle of my questions and wonderment over the lack of solutions to these issues that are so compelling, maybe I need to again align myself with the clarity offered by the Revelator's chronicling of Jesus' words: "Write it down for these words are trustworthy and true. I am the Alpha and Omega-the Beginning and the End" (Rev. 21:5).

 

President Byron D. Klaus

ASSEMBLIES OF GOD THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY



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