Tuesday, October 11, 2011

And the world lives here

A beautiful,warm, nearly perfect fall day.  Andre is there at the door as I arrive.  I go to pick up the bulletins and a coffee at Barney Greengrass, which is on Gary this morning. When I had been in  Thursday, I said to the counter guy, I know this is a rough week for you guys, knowing of the crush of business that comes each High Holy Day season. Nah, he said, these are hard times for people. A  lot of people don’t have it so good. This, all this business, it’s a blessing. And he’s right. 
Deacon James comes, looking for a broom. They all seem to be locked away. Today’s guest, Mark Koenig, from the Presbyterian UN office arrives and is immediately put to work moving the communion table back up front. The congregation is  characteristically slow in arriving.
I’m glad I’m not focusing on the Lectionary readings this morning, not with that strange Matthew passage (22:15-22) where the guest gets thrown into outer darkenss, that weeping and gnashing of teeth place, just for not having the right robe. 
I invite Mark to join me in a dialogue. There’s a lot in the world to talk about, beginning with rapid and radical changes in the Middle East. What impact has that had in the UN? Mark’s work?  Mark says that even though there’s been rapid change, many of the dynamics remain the same.  And that situations, even arising from a  similar inspiration, can be much more complex than they seem.
For example, in Egypt, the poster child of protest, it appears that a military friendly to the dictator is simply being replaced by a military unfriendly to the dictator. There are real questions about what happened in Libya and how and the potential ongoing problems that may result from international intervention there. And in Syria, given the number of national security forces who have died, it appears more like a civil war than a general uprising.
An accompanying problem is the increasing vunerability of the Christian community in the region, beginning with the Copts in Egypt. In Syria, the Christian community has long been protectd by the Assad governmnet and there is a fear that the oppresion that resulted in Iraq could be repeated there.  Especially those who had earlier fled Iraq to come to seek exile in Syria.  We continue to listen to our mission partners in the region to understand the complexity of the issues as well as to shape our corporate responses. 
Another problem just off the radar, continues in Southern Sudan, a new nation. The security council has wrestled with how to repond to the violence, in light of the questions raised by experiences in Libya. And the suffering goes on. 
Mark also does his best to explain the compicated situation with Palestine’s request to become a member nation. What determines nationhood, he reminds us, is not UN membership but whether any country recognizes you, exchanges diplomats, etc,which many countries already do with Palestine. And there are many ways the decision can go, from outright rejection, to more study, to acceptance with an inevitable US veto to granting of a non-member status that raises them from simply an observer to one that could sign treaties, engage international courts, etc. Behind everythng is the subtle ongoing effects of World War II and the victors.  
So all in all, the passion for freedom, the pent up anger against the way things are, from Cairo to Wall Street, is similar, connected. But the results are anything but coherent or consistent. 
In defining their different roles, Ryan is the across the street guy, meaning the UN, and Mark is the church guy, traveling, speaking,interpreting, hosting church mission groups and occasionally moving communion tables. As West-Park continues to evolve, a commitment to global discipleship is a primary concern. And Mark has proven to be a good friend in developing that concern. Here in New York City, we live in the world. And the world lives here.
After the service, we talk about Wooster, where Mark was last week. For Hope and I, it was our church’s historical international mission involvement that gave Wooster such an international presence even in smalltown Ohio. Children from other countries who had been educated  in our schools as did children of mission workers who’d grown up in the mission fields. It was also mission workers who had sensitized Mark to the complexties of the Israel-Palestine conflcit.
And of course, we both looked forward to another Steeler Sunday. It’s like being from an ethnic group for those of us in the Pittsburgh diaspora. It;s always there.

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