Tag Archives: Davos

Daesh, Davos and the vulnerability of prayer

Satellite images provided by DigitalGlobe, taken on 31 March 2011 and 28 September 2014 showing the site of St Elijah's Monastery, or Deir Mar Elia, on the outskirts of Mosul, Iraq

I have been around the world visiting the thin places where faith has been practiced over the centuries.  So I was especially moved last week when I learned that  Daesh (also known as ISIL/ISIS) blew up the oldest monastery in Iraq last year — aerial photographs finally discovered the fact.

Combined with a plea for prayer for Orisha last week, where one of the Brethren in Christ  church planters was killed, this further news of persecuted Christians was sobering.  It sent me to prayer. But not before it sent me searching for the justification Daesh undoubtedly has for erasing history.  I found it.

Daesh erases history for a reason

The caliphate builders justify the destruction of cultural heritage sites by following a stream of Islam called Salafism which places great importance on establishing tawhid (monotheism), and eliminating  shirk  (polytheism). The group’s actions are not mindless vandalism; there is an ideological underpinning to the destruction. Daesh views its actions in sites like Palmyra and Nimrud as being in accordance with Islamic tradition.

Beyond the ideological aspects of the destruction, there are other, practical reasons to destroy historic sites. Daesh likes to grab world attention, terrorizing people and so finding recruits. The destruction also wipes the territorial slate clean, leaving no traces of any previous culture or civilization so they can start fresh, forge their own identity and leave their own mark on history. Dealing in looted antiquities also helps finance their war.

No one writing news seems to be able to understand why these people blow up historical and holy  sites, even when the ideological and practical reasons are listed.

  1. The acts seem so extreme. But to one acquainted with the wars of the prophet Mohammed, these radical Islamists could also seem like Christians hearkening back to the early church. They want to be holy. They want to be as effective as Mohammed was.
  2. The acts seem barbaric. But to young men who have been colonized by Westerners, subject to authoritarian rulers, and bombed to bits by the United States, preserving the symbols of foreign influences could feel like curating their slavery.
  3. The acts seem like a gang is on a rampage. But they have a goal in mind and intend to accomplish it. They are much more organized than a gang, and have been surprisingly successful in the face of the enormous technical superiority of the forces against them.

Even when forced to admire them, I am sad about the people and places destroyed by their hate and merciless quest for power. Like the Khmer Rouge and the LRA, and many other armies in my lifetime, they are the scourge that comes when the world is flooded with weapons and the great powers practice the domination of unshared wealth and overwhelming force.

Preventing Future Shocks: Singer, Sorrell, Zhu, RogoffI’m not trying to justify them. Even though I can show plenty of examples when so-called Christians did the same thing they are doing. The fact that other people have been cruel does not justify cruelty. Seeking vengeance or some notion of equity by force perpetuates the endless cycle that has sent hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and Syrians into refugee camps! Westerners shake their heads and wonder why Daesh is so intolerant. Meanwhile they ignore the powerful people who met in Davos last week to maintain the system that exploits the recruits who join jihadists.

The lessons and losses drive me to prayer

All these lessons give me some understanding for my fears and sadness. But they don’t comfort me too much when the darkness drives my Indian brothers and sisters into the jungle and Daesh blows up the history of the church where it is already so persecuted. I don’t know how Jesus is going to make a difference in the middle of it. But the lessons and the losses drive me to pray. One reason I wrote this short piece about what troubles me is to tell you about how they have inspired me to pray.

I realized not long ago that I shared a trait in prayer that mirrors a reaction other Americans have to their fears: build a wall and try to act normal inside it. Alternatively, I have been sensing God moving me to become more vulnerable in prayer and to welcome people into the safe place I share with God. The practice has expanded my love, I think. Daesh, the murderers of the Indian evangelist, the 1% feasting in Davos are also the beloved of God.

I have enough trouble just letting my loved ones “bother” my contemplation! Then I remember Jesus dying at the hands of evil doers, God submitting to the cruelty through which the world is saved. And I am drawn, even though it feels frightening, to open my heart and hope to embrace the troubles and the troublemakers. While they were yet sinners, Christ died for them. So far, that renewed prayer seems to soften my heart to embrace the troubles right in front of me too. I need to trust Jesus, the safe place maker rather than merely trust the safe place.

Blinders Off — the Rich Have Succeeded (again) in Gobbling Up the World.

Juan is second from left at the top.
Juan is second from left at the top.

Juan Marrero put a couple of things together for me last week. He did it when the Kingdombuilders bowed their diverse heads for prayer and he started reading from James 5. Let me try to bomb into your day with the same aggression:

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.  Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.

It may be a lost cause to say it, but, “Listen you rich people!” Before Juan started reading, I had been flabbergasted all week over Oxfam’s report that the annual income of the richest 100 people in the world could end extreme poverty THE WORLD OVER four times. Here’s the claim: “The richest one per cent has increased its income by 60 per cent in the last 20 years with the financial crisis accelerating rather than slowing the process. Oxfam warned that extreme wealth and income is not only unethical it is also economically inefficient, politically corrosive, socially divisive and environmentally destructive. Jeremy Hobbs, Executive Director, Oxfam International, said: ‘We can no longer pretend that the creation of wealth for a few will inevitably benefit the many – too often the reverse is true.’“ James would add, “You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.”

a break at WEF in Davos

Oxfam got their report out in advance of the World Economic Forum held in Davos (in Switzerland, of course, the first tax haven). The WEF is a non-governmental group devoted to making things better, they say. One look at their video, at the people attending, and at the place they are meeting shows just how far away they are from Juan Marrero in North Philly [link]. It is fascinating to get a peek at how the super-rich and their institutions behave [link]. They certainly don’t look like they will be slaughtered any time soon, but they do look well fattened.

I appreciated how Juan Marerro was just not having it. He’s not too susceptible to promises from the rich who put themselves in charge of making things better. I suppose the Comcast building, the local castle that houses a corporation fat from recently gobbling up NBC, casts a shadow that reaches clear into Juan’s Fairhill neighborhood. That’s where he is pastor of Christ Centered Church and executive director of Crossroads Community Center. He says he is dealing with people “Who have nothing.” The church he leads opened on Christmas Day 2011 and by last summer had about 80 people involved, about half of whom are ex-offenders and their families. It bears saying that ex-offender bankers who have not been prosecuted were likely dining in Davos. Ex-offenders in North Philly can’t get a job because they are perpetually tracked as ex-cons, even though they have served their time. There are actually laws that require employers to screen for people who have been in jail [link]. He’s upset that the supposedly “fair” AVI assessment will drive his people out of their homes because landlords will pass along the tax increase, which will be substantial in his neighborhood.

Marerro was not having it like James was not having it. As usual, the most authentic Christianity can be found among those who have nothing. At least they can read James and feel it. I suspect many of the Christians in the United States have no idea what to do with James 5. They might know better how to deal with the World Economic Forum. More likely than doing anything with James 5 or dealing with the WEF, they are just zoned out, trying to ignore the poor who live in the shadow of their local corporate giant, or trying to ignore the rich as they continue to gobble up resources in any way possible. Check out the PBS piece “Park Avenue: Money, Power & the American Dream and it will help you to stay wake.

You can tell I am upset. I’m trying to blame it on Juan, but I was primed by the time I saw him. He just had the audacity to speak the truth. Yet he did not neglect to aggressively read the next few lines of James which aren’t usually connected to the writer’s aggressive prophecy against the rich. James cautions his people to Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.  You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.”

The Lord’s coming is near, now and later. Getting righteously angry is important in a world in which the richest people and their institutions charge themselves with taking care of the poor while not injuring their economies. They are failing. But their godless pursuits are doomed to failure, no matter how hard they use Comcast to convince us they are doing great. Whether we have nothing, or we just don’t know what to do, if we keep planting truth in love, we can be assured that the Lord will bring about the harvest.

OK. I am going to do that. But I am patiently impatient. I trust the Lord to be near, but I think keeping some fire burning, and some anger reserved, is part of that. Today and all during Lent, at least, I intend to look at my city, region and world with blinders off, as much as possible, and try to see what the Lord wants to do now. The corrosion is testifying and eating flesh like fire.

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