Brussels: Living in a Good Friday World

More than 30 people are dead and more than 200 are wounded after explosions struck Brussels during the Tuesday morning rush hour. Two blasts hit the international airport; another struck a metro station. The city is in a state of emergency. Residents and visitors are told to ‘shelter in place’. ISIS has taken credit for this atrocity.

We in the United States watch this horrific story unfold and our hearts go out to the victims and their families. We recognize that such senseless terrorism can come to any of us. I think of my daughter, a college student, who in January spent a week living and working in Brussels. She told us how beautiful Brussels is and how friendly the people. She arrived at the same airport and rode the same subway that were bombed this morning. It could have been my daughter, your child, anyone of us caught up in this tragic story.

bombing in brussels

The world has always known violence. The 24 hour news cycle brings tragedies before us in quick secession. We feel overwhelmed, frightened, even numb. What then, if anything, are we to do? In this political season some would have us isolate from the world and build bigger walls. Others would have us respond to the violence of ISIS with violence of our own. An eye for an eye.

Is there any hope? Any way forward that does not lead to more suffering, create greater fear?

We reflect on such questions during this Holy Week in the Christian calendar. This week we remember how Jesus was betrayed, arrested and on Good Friday crucified by the Empire of Rome. On that Friday 2000 years ago a reasonable observer would have thought that the forces of violence and revenge had won. That death was the final word.

In the aftermath of today’s bombings in Brussels we too may be thinking that hatred, terrorism, fear and death have won.

Holy Week for Christian’s begins with these words of Jesus as he entered Jerusalem for the last time: ‘As Jesus approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19: 41,42)

What is this way of peace that Jesus speaks of? In my tradition it is the way of forgiveness. Later that week, Jesus would look upon those who betrayed and crucified him with these words: “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”

My tradition tells me that three days later on Easter morning, the risen Christ was seen and touched. Whether you take this metaphorically or literally, the Easter story affirms this truth: That neither violence, fear or even death will have the last word…On that first Easter love expressed in forgiveness had and has the final word.

It’s been said: ‘We are called to be Easter people, living in a Good Friday world’. Whether you are Christian or not, believer or skeptic, we are invited to claim this truth that evil will never have the final word.

We think of Pope Francis washing the feet of homeless children (Muslim and Christian) in Rome. A reminder that love has no boundaries, no limits. Each of us are invited, challenged to put love into practice. To offer an alternative to retribution and fear. What forgiveness are you prepared to offer? Who are you called to embrace? What stranger (who makes you uncomfortable ) are you called to befriend?

Pope washing feet of youth

Today and in the days to come the prayers and love of millions of many faiths and no particular faith will be with the people of Belgium. In time, ISIS will be a footnote of history. And the story of love’s capacity to persevere and guide our shared path, will continue to be told.

Love wins. It is the only force that can.

Genocide of Christians in Middle East and Our Indifference

A great source of shame during the rise of Nazism were the many warning signs of Jewish persecution. Often nations like the United States limited the number of Jewish refugees. The reasons included anti-Semitism, the desire to play it safe politically and desire to save money. As a result many thousands died needlessly.

Similar oppression is happening to Christians throughout the Middle East. From 1910 to 2010 the number of Christians in the Middle East – in countries like Egypt, Israel, Palestine and Jordan declined. Once 14% of the population, Christians now make up roughly 4%. In Iran and Turkey they’re all but gone. In Lebanon long a Christian stronghold, the population has shrunk from 78% to 34%. Over this period many have been killed and many more forced to migrate as the result of civil unrest and religious intolerance.

photo of exhausted Christians

One of the unintended consequences of the invasion of Iraq by the United States in 2002 was the destabilizing effect on the religious and ethnic minorities that make up the region. As bad as Saddam Hussein of Iraq and Assad of Syria were, their secular political parties provided protection from extremist elements. While there were great injustices perpetrated by both dictators, they did provide for freedom of worship.

The political destabilizing in Iraq and now Syria has unleashed long simmering animosity between two branches of Islam, Sunni which makes up 80% of Muslims world wide and Shia which comprise the balance. Their infighting has resulted in the rise of extreme elements such as ISIS. ISIS is committed to ethnic and religious genocide, persecuting Christians along with other ancient ethnic/religious groups (Yezidis, Druze, Zoroastrians). Each group has suffered but according to the United Nations, Christians are being particularly targeted.

photo of persecuted Christians

A typical story is that of a young mother named Rana whose Christian village in northern Iraq was captured by ISIS. Rana’s husband was murdered, she was sold to be an ISIS wife and her 3-year-old daughter, Christina was sold to another ISIS family.

While this tragedy unfolds most Christians outside the Middle East are indifferent. The reasons for our indifference include: Desire by progressives to not to be seen as disrespectful of Islam; the siding of Christian conservatives with Israel.(Many eastern Christians support Palestinian rights, alienating them from western evangelicals); most Christians in the West have never experienced persecution; a growing secularism in the West. Such factors tend to separate us from the daily reality of Eastern Christians.

Since the invasion of Iraq 50% of Christians have fled the resulting political instability and infighting between Sunni and Shia Muslims. Many fled to Syria. Now with the civil war in Syria 2/3 of the 600,000 Christians in that country have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan.

Since the time of Christ these communities of faith (Assyrians, Chaldeans, Orthodox, Copts, Marists) persevere. Now according to the UN commission on human rights, many are at risk of being wiped out. How do we Christians in the West respond? Too often we offer a collective shrug and barely remember to offer a prayer.

Note: To learn more about the oppression of religious and ethic minorities in the Middle East go to:
https://www.facebook.com/DemandforAction And, commit yourself to the daily practice of praying for the needs of our sisters and brothers in the Middle East Christian and other persecuted minorities. Let us pray too for the well being of the many moderate and innocent Muslims who have suffered under the heavy hand of extreme groups like ISIS. May our hearts and minds expand so that the pain and hopes of others, becomes our pain and hope too.