Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Oh Wow Fives

60. Oh Wow, Fives! (23 August 2023)

Faces of loved ones sacrificed in the 2020
Port explosion – a pain and an injustice
continually ignored by authorities.
(4 Aug. 2023 - Beirut Port)

I went into a store here in Beirut to buy something, and as I prepared to pay in Lebanon’s official currency – the U.S. dollar – the cashier saw I had taken out $5 bills and exclaimed  (in English), “Oh wow, fives!” Her delight was due to the fact that as businesses, great and small, abandon the use of the Lebanese Pound, they are always in need of small denominations of U.S. currency to return change to their customers. I provided a much-needed resource to a small business, as people struggle to make their way through daily life unassisted by any authorities, swimming in that morass of disinterest and disconnection that is the country’s ruling elite. Courtesy of our son Sevag’s annual visit to us here in Lebanon, we enjoy the privilege of having small denominations of U.S. currency. Here I was, the hero of the moment, with my crumpled and discolored images of Abraham Lincoln, bringing a moment of joy in the middle of the hot, muggy summer.

But seriously, can't you tell that the
infrastructure has improved?
(11 June 2023 - Bourj Hammoud)

            One of the most distasteful aspects of my life today in Lebanon (though by no means the only one) is the necessity to focus or fixate on monetary issues. Lebanese, especially Beirutis, have always made currency exchange rates, values of precious metals, gasoline prices and more their daily small talk. Though there is so much more to life, though much greater depth is possible in conversation, but this is what one hears from each passerby, from men gathered at curbsides, from women catching their breath over a cup of coffee: the never-ending stream of analysis and “expertise” that has supplanted hopes, dreams and ideals – the very things that young and old should be actively investing in their country in order to push it toward a brighter future. Instead, materialism, reinforced by circumstances created by those in power and their cooperative external powers, is pushing the brightness out of the country just to dissolve in diasporas around the world.

Watermelon? Strawberry gelatin? Sevag and
I puzzled over this one at the Mineral
Museum. (1 Aug. 2023 - Mathaf, Beirut)

            The impact of all of this upon the Armenian community in Syria and Lebanon is what troubles me the most. As the Dons of this kleptocracy look for new ways to fill their stomachs – most recently by a farcical “helicopter tour” of the new oil-drilling rig off the Lebanese coast –small and “unimportant” groups such as the Armenian community are left to fend for themselves. It is interesting to see how a country can continue to appear as a functioning entity while running on “autopilot”. A bit of electricity here, some trash collection there, fixing a water main when it breaks, leaving NGOs to install street lighting and traffic lights, and repair the worst potholes as highways steadily deteriorate, while many, many employees in the public sector come to work but once every one or two weeks, as their monthly salaries hardly cover the cost of transportation – this is today’s Lebanon.

When gas prices rise too high, there are
still great ways to make use of your auto!
(3 June 2023 - Ainjar)

            We’ve been noticing one of the semi-comical expressions of that while driving around various parts of the country with Sevag. It’s the “LPO mode” that auto owners have entered: “License Plate Optional”. Earlier this year I began to notice an absence of license plates of some cars on the road. Now it is probably up to 5 to 10 percent of cars. The office that processes car registrations is clearly not functioning. But in classic Lebanese manner the population is facing the situation with humor. It’s considered a badge of honor to drive an LPO car, even to the point, some say, that people will remove their license plates just to be seen as part of the LPO club!

            This summer I walked into a store in Ainjar, the mostly-Armenian village in the Bekaa valley. Whenever we’re going to be there for a few days I’ll stop in to pick a thing or two, and often times, since this is Ainjar, and since, due to my position, I can’t remain anonymous, I’ll run into people I know including people who know me since the 1990s, or the 2000s, or current times. The lady behind the counter, who does not belong to one of the aforementioned groups, asked me, in Armenian of course, “Are you Ainjartsi (her intent: “originally from Ainjar, but visiting from overseas”)? My interest piqued, I said, “No, I’m not. Why do you ask?” With no hint of malice or sarcasm, just puzzlement, she said, “Well, lots of people are very happy when they see you.”

Providing an unintentional glimpse into
the dysfunction of the country.
(4 Aug. 2023 - Tabaris, Beirut)

            Amid such a negative environment I’m glad we can have positive encounters with those we meet, and grateful that our casual interactions can be uplifting. Certainly, this is not something we can automatically produce: without God’s encouragement in our times of frustration and discouragement we would have little to share with others. As well, without organizations backing us up it would be a challenge to remain positive in the enforced misery people are subjected to each day. So, I don’t mind being mistaken for an “Ainjartsi”, and I don’t mind that (most) people are happy to see me!

            During the summer a small group of young Lebanese-Armenians in their twenties, on their own initiative, approached Haigazian University in order to present a film series, seven items in all, ranging the gamut from practically “home-made” to professionally produced. Their emphasis was on increasing the public’s knowledge of Western Armenia and elevating the use of the Western Armenian language. They delivered their introductions each evening in flawless Western Armenian as well as English, and it was clear that they cared deeply about the entire project, and plan to expand their efforts to develop other materials that would interest young Armenians in their heritage, using modern pedagogical methods in a technologically accessible way. The name with which they christened their platform is “Hnarti” /Հնարդի, combining the Armenian words for “old” and “contemporary”. Despite the hemorrhaging of young blood from the Middle East, vision and vitality can still emerge from this community.

LebCat 60: Every pharmacy should have a
watchcat at the door.
(14 Aug. 2023 - Hamra, Beirut)

            In eight weeks I’m hoping to bring the Armiss Choir back on stage to sing one or two numbers. Hopefully a couple other Lebanese choral groups will also perform. A colleague and dear friend has just published a book on a century of Lebanese-Armenian choirs (1920-2020). The dedication of the new book will happen in October, and part of the dedication program will be vocal selections. From real choirs singing in harmony. Live – which is how music is best done. So, it’s time to get things organized and underway, and to invest a bit more in the health of the country and in a couple of its modest but essential components, that is, the arts, the Lebanese-Armenian community and the Armenian Evangelical Church.

            Finally, something to talk about besides currency rates!   [LNB]

Wednesday, May 31, 2023


59. Messiness (31 May 2023)

Even the utility poles are puzzled.
(9 May 2023 - Geitawi, Beirut)

It’s not unusual to hear someone comment that “life is messy”. Relationships are messy. Theory applied to real life is messy. Faith in action is messy. International relations are messy. So much messiness. So frustrating.

            Local messiness – that is, life in your own neighborhood – aside from potentially being frustrating and somewhat infuriating, can also be intriguing, and even sometimes beguiling. The month of May being the “Marian” month, we often heard recorded Maronite chants loudly filling the neighborhood, both from stationary (the small church behind our building) sound systems as well as mobile ones (huge speakers sitting on a car roof, as it led a mini motorcade snaking around all of the area’s streets). Although I have all but discontinued listening to recorded music, these melodies fascinate me, even when they are Arabic words set to familiar Western hymn or orchestral tunes.

A beauty of a building in beastly
condition (16 May 2023 -
Ashrafieh, Beirut)

            The street in front of our building is the main artery connecting our neighborhood, with its two major hospitals, to the neighborhood of Mar Mikhael, the dollarized drinker’s Shangri-la. Which means in addition to the late night, loud conversations as people walk between their apartments and the bars, we also get ambulance traffic, complete with sirens. And so, yesterday the ecclesiastical chants boomed from speakers behind us while sirens wailed from the street in front of us. It was a strange effect, the messy “music” of our neighborhood, both off-putting as well as fascinating, both alarming and strangely comfortable. A moment of eternity and human fragility. In an audible way it epitomized our neighborhood as well as our lives.

            Maria occasionally says, “Everybody around here knows you, don’t they?” We, too, have become part of the backdrop of this neighborhood, sought out by producers for their movies and soap operas. When I pass through these streets seated in the back of a taxi, shopkeepers will occasionally wave to me as I go by, just proving my wife’s point. I find that being part of the local messiness allows me to wave a greeting to shopkeepers and continue on my way without feeling obligated to submit to their entreaties. No offense intended, nor taken.

When walls talk...
(23 May 2023 - Khalil Badawi)

            A nearby bakery is run by a fellow who was formerly chef at a fancy restaurant, along with his wife and son. The menu at any local bakery throughout Beirut is very predictable: small pizza-sized manouché, with either zaatar (thyme) or cheese on top. Plus lahmbajiin (lahmajun for us Armenians), mini pizzas (with the inescapable canned corn topping) and spinach pies. Occasional variants are out there, but this is mostly it – the typical Lebanese breakfast food. This baker, however, features his wife’s home-cooked dinner entrees for lunch. Each morning I receive a photo of the whiteboard on the easel out front with the plat du jour written on it.

            One day recently I went to get two portions of this “slow food served in a hurry” – something made with flat beans, a few cubes of beef, swimming in lots of its juices. You have to understand, whenever I stop there to get the plat du jour, or even just to inquire about it, Tony (name not changed to expose the guilty) nonetheless insists on feeding me a soup spoon full of whatever the main course is. Although I’m going to be eating that exact dish in a few minutes, I am required to sample it right then and there in his shop! Well, that’s where my American logic kicks in – not pure logic, but suburban American logic, which considers this kind of behavior as unnecessary, unhygienic and imposing. You know – the logic that prohibits all the things that help people feel they are part of a community. Until now I was able to emerge from these force-feedings unscathed. But last week the plat du jour did me in. Tony placed almost the entire spoonful into my mouth, but a bit of the juice ended up running down my shirt. Not a problem, he handed me a tissue to wipe it off… So, the rest of the day I wore that badge of honor on my shirt, a tribute to our messy/friendly/business relationship. Each time he feeds me a spoonful of the plat du jour (even if I don’t buy it that day) is followed by “Good, no?” in his borderline English. To I invariably answer in my borderline Arabic: “Akeed!” (“Of course!”) or “Tayyib!” (“Tasty!). And it is! Messy and tasty!

How many languages do you need to get the
message? (30 May 2023 - Bourj Hammoud)

            I’ve experienced similar encounters all around the neighborhood, each one deepening the connection. At the falafel place up the street I am called “Abouna” (“Father”) by the owner, who also invariably hands me a piece of falafel to munch on while he makes the falafel sandwiches. A bonus! At another bakery the baker knows my usual order and rather than me ordering my usual “cocktail” (round flat bread, thin and a bit crispy, with half zaatar and half cheese), when I enter he says, “Cocktail?” and all I need to do is smile and nod. At the mini-markets around here I am also a known quantity, but I enjoy seeing the puzzled look on the shopkeepers’ faces when I show up in clergy garb, knowing I have messed up the category I have been inhabiting. The next time I enter the store they are clearly unsure about how to address me…

A mini-marathon to celebrate 80 years of
Armenian Evangelical Education!
(20 May 2023 - Ainjar)

            None of this is an excuse for the mess that passes for a government here, or the absence of public utilities that brings ever more electric wires to the mess of wires overhead to make up for that absence, or the lack of desire to pursue the common good, only the advantage of your own group's “boss” (witness the recent elections in Turkey). And I haven’t even begun to speak of the state of Armenian communities, organizations and institutions the world over, including Armenia, swimming in money and expertise (and, in the case of Armenia, tourists), but lacking the clarity that comes from a well-studied and broadly accepted national direction.

            We Armenians caught a brief glimpse of unity 105 years ago when, despite the shortcomings of officialdom, Armenian leaders organized troops and volunteers to put a stop to the genocidal enemy’s plan to overrun and annihilate Eastern Armenia along with its Western Armenian refugees. The battles in May 1918 at Bash-Abaran, Kara-Kilise and Sardarabad are a paradigm of wise strategy and unity in the midst of disarray and discouragement in the wake of the “ethnic cleansing” perpetrated by Ottoman Turkey. Today, as the same enemy continues the same genocidal efforts from Artsakh to Armenia, we are amazed at the country’s indifference towards these existential threats, and its inability to find, foster, or choose leadership with these qualities and this far-sightedness. What a mess our people are in!

LebCat 59: "This is Tony's bakery, right?
He uses cheese, right?"
(19 May 2023 - Mar Mikhael, Beirut)

            Messiness is how life is. But being a mess is simply irresponsible.

            As we do our daily adjusting to the messiness of existence and all the predictable unpredictability of life in Lebanon, we of course keep in mind the training we dutifully took as part of our appointment here, which instructed us to avoid having the same daily routine, to change our commuting routes each day, to have contingency plans at the ready, to be on the lookout for threats, and so forth. And we scratch our heads. And we trust God.   [LNB]

Sunday, April 30, 2023

Hesaid-Shesaid Disease

58. Hesaid-Shesaid Disease (30 April 2023)

It's springtime, and the Mediterranean is not
too cold for a swim. (2 Apr. 2023 - AUB, Beirut)

Supermarkets in the U.S. have (or used to have) bulletin boards near the entrance, a place to post community activity announcements, job advertisements, lost dog posters, Fire Prevention Week fliers, you name it. Occasionally I would notice someone standing and examining each notice; but usually these bulletin boards were merely something to pass on your way out or your way into the store. Now, times have changed, and the bulletin board as well as its relative, the newspaper gossip column, have transformed into a new, electronic format, eagerly consumed by people the world over.

Lake Laziza – stagnant waters
collecting in the site of yet another
useless construction project.
(27 Mar. 2023 - Mar Mikhael)

            Social media platforms guide the thinking of so many people, young and old. Sometimes it guides its users to access well-thought-out writings about important issues or events. Often it entices us into habits that divert us from looking deeply or critically into topics. I would propose that our God-given minds and consciences are also “platforms” to help us consider what is true, or beautiful, or healthy, as well as what is “good, acceptable and perfect” (cf. Romans 12.2). The condition of today’s “marketplace of ideas” – a condition that predates the Internet – swarms with lies and half-truths, as well as with vested interests, mixed together with Truth. Separating the worthwhile from the worthless is akin to trying to separate the ingredients of a tabbouleh salad once it is mixed.

            But effort must be spent in separating the good and bad, no matter how painstaking the task. The discipline of deep thinking, including research and debate, is crucial to avoiding a relativism, antagonism and shallowness. And it is a rare, perhaps endangered, species.

Another sign of spring, high in the mountains
of Lebanon (10 Mar. 2023 - Azzounieh)

            At one time newspapers and periodicals bristled with the pointed tips of journalistic and academic inquiry. They played an essential role in in piercing shells of deceit and kept the “He said-She said Disease”, so prevalent in partisan and entertainment “news”. It pushed back the waves of mendacity of the powerful, and challenged vested interests. Where there should be courageous truth-telling, too often news reports are filled with “he said this, but, on the other hand, she said that”. A shrug of the shoulders, and on to the next story.

             And this is why April is the bitterest month for Armenians. They suffer from the “Hesaid-Shesaid Disease” that runs rampant in popular and populist media. Their just cause, and the unacknowledged and unpunished crime against them, has been turned into a target of the propaganda war by those responsible – the governments of Turkey and Azerbaijan. The Armenian nation, in its struggling Eastern portion, and its exiled Western portion, has been seated at a table replete with impotent statements of sympathy from world powers demonstrating their prowess in verbal gymnastics.

And this is why we now have 24-hour
electricity. And a working elevator.
(6 Apr. 2023 - Geitawi, Beirut)

           Caught in such a worldwide web as this, it is no wonder that militant groups have emerged from among all subjugated people groups, and not just from Armenians. Those who are silenced or sidelined from public forums can often see no other way than this: to force the powerful to pay attention to (and sometimes feel on their own skin) the injustices that are freely roaming the streets of every city and country, easily ignored by an otherwise occupied public. Sadly, the chronic disenfranchisement of such people groups leads to their disarray, dismemberment and dissolution, something widely observed among my people. 

        Allowing “Hesaid-Shesaid Disease” to spread unchecked may be intentional. It enables genocidal regimes to bend the wills of “great powers” who don’t want to endanger their access to resources. It allows Turkey and Azerbaijan to declare historic Armenian lands and culture as its own. It emboldens them to claim that Armenia and Armenians never existed. It gives them a green light to persist in their genocidal policies, both “soft genocide” and “hard genocide”. It gives credence to Hitler’s dismissal of concerns over his genocide against the Polish people, telling his generals in 1939 to abandon their humanitarian scruples: “Who speaks nowadays of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

Armenian scouts headed to their Saturday
meeting, while street lights are being
replaced with solar-powered LED fixtures.
(15 Apr. 2023 - Khalil Bedawi, Beirut)

            The disease has no cure. It is as old as the dialogue between Adam and God in the Garden of Eden (cf. Genesis 3.9-13) and ingrained within the human heart. Although it cannot be eradicated, it can – and must – be kept at bay. As mentioned earlier, deep and rigorous thinking is one of the necessary treatment regimens. Another is careful and considerate listening, something that takes time and commitment. And time is one of the casualties of the information/entertainment glut engulfing the world. The third treatment is to “make love your aim” or to “follow the way of love” (cf. I Corinthians 14.1). Loving others as yourself. Loving the truth. Loving (including a fear of) God. 

LebCat 58 - Not sure how I got into this
building (UAECNE HQ). Could you provide
me with an escape route? Please?
(26 Mar. 2023 - Geitawi, Beirut)
                            April 24th – Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day – has come and gone, with various and sundry observances here in Lebanon and in many places throughout the world. It was noted by the diseased as well. The governor of Istanbul forbade its observance for the second year in a row. Azerbaijan increased its propaganda about the nefarious designs of the Armenian government, and intensified its military aggression against Armenia and Artsakh. Therefore, I have no choice but to do my part to combat this disease with faith in God, for the sake of my descendants and the inheritance of their rightful legacy.   [LNB]

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Dead Foxes

57. Dead Foxes (28 February 2023)

Commemorating 35 years since Azerbaijan
began targeting Armenians for
extermination. (26 Feb. 2023 - Beirut)

Earlier this month, while driving along the coastal highway, I slowed down behind a line of cars and trucks exiting and noticed an animal lying alongside the roadway, obviously dead. From a distance I could tell it was too large to be a cat, too small to be a dog, and my guess was confirmed as I slowly crept alongside… a red fox. I was happy and sad at the same time; happy that there is still wildlife in this overbuilt metro area, and sad that it met this fate. I realize that those in rural places might not share my dismay, considering the losses they may incur because of foxes. Here this death is sadly poignant. While actual foxes become road kill, human foxes are left alive. And the “fox hunters” trying to pursue this latter kind are systematically eliminated, and the foxes pretending to be humans continue their sadistic rule over the henhouse.

Empty since the port blast, Lebanon's electric
company building - gutted, just like the service
it provides (20 Feb. 2023 - Mar Mikhael-Beirut)

            One of the more insidious of that species is now facing a “natural disaster” of his own making. Over the years he granted waivers for poorly constructed housing in exchange for ballot-box loyalty, so that he could establish full political control. That narcissism transformed the tragedy of this region’s February 6 earthquake into an unmitigated disaster. Will he be held accountable for the crimes he is now heaping upon the corrupt lower-level operatives? Not if the spin doctors around him can do their psyops job well, and transform this fox’s image into, let’s say, that of a pussy-cat. A devout, embattled fighter for the rights of the ordinary citizen. A strong leader his country needs to rebuild it and make it proud. Any of a raft of addictive lies that people in so many lands believe, sad to say.
The value of $300 in local currency, in
2019 (right) and 2023 (27 Feb. 2023 - Beirut)

Meanwhile, others try to dodge the traffic that would run them over and put an end to their positive impact. Though contributing to the betterment of society, and though they are not the ones able to cause a fundamental, systemic change in the status quo, yet their activity is nonetheless significant in the long term. Unlike the wealthy foxes who continue to find ways to launder their money or sink it into building more empty buildings in the capital, they are a different sort of investor. They sink their time and effort into human capital; into teaching students to think, into inculcating character and faith into young people, into creating cultural riches to feed the souls of generations yet unborn. The anniversaries of the region’s Armenian institutions (churches, schools and so forth) are reminders of the deep investment our forebears made to rebuild and sustain a broken nation after the Genocide, making the Middle East’s Armenian communities the powerhouse of the Diaspora. And it continues to serve in that capacity, feeding and nurturing Armenian identity but with a frighteningly small number of visionary laborers engaged in this crucial work.

As spring approaches, tree branches and
neighborhood generators begin to
sprout offshoots
(27 Feb. 2023 - Bourj Hammoud)

            Who are they? First of all, they are teachers of all subjects and in all manners. Especially focusing on language, history and culture, they might be using state-of-the-art methods and materials, or they might be solidly stuck in the 19th century in their approach, but at least they are making an effort. Others who develop new, relevant materials for various grade and knowledge levels are also part of that army, along with those who digitize existing materials (a special shout-out to the Armenian National Library in this regard). Then there is anyone making a difference in just one child’s or adult’s awareness or self-awareness of his (or her) identity as an Armenian. I would also include “influencers”, who know how to make effective use of information media and place it or disseminate it in easy-to-find locations. Really, in our world so full of foxes, all Armenians should be engaged in this effort on the micro or macro scale, and spend less time self-absorbed in things that do not satisfy (see Isaiah 55.1-2) or edify, such as self-promotion on social media platforms.

A reminder to continue being visionary,
despite it all
(28 Feb. 2023 - Gemmayzeh-Beirut)

            I’ve noticed that Armenians (myself included) tend to put things in life-or-death terms; maybe it is because Armenians, like nearly all minorities, face life-or-death realities much more frequently than majority populations. Majority populations and those intent on a homogenized, globalized mono-culture, tend to object to this existential angst, seeing it as unnecessary (which it isn’t) or disruptive (which it must be). The angst felt among Armenians here in the Middle East is because they are battered and dishonored, treated as collateral damage by the major foxes and their sub-foxes who play at political and financial war. As it was a century ago, so it is today. Enabled by a disengaged international community, foxes circle around Armenia and Artsakh, drooling over the thought of ruling over an emptied henhouse, expertly using propaganda, lies, threats and a sham “protest” to lay hold of the remainder of the Armenian homeland devoid of Armenians.

LebCat 57: Hard at work receiving phone bill
payments. This may explain a few things about
the system. (28 Feb. 2023 -
            When the Lord Jesus faced off against the oppression his people were bearing, he dared call the ruler of that day a “fox” (Lk. 13.32). It was a calculated, public insult, and a challenge to his duplicitous authority. Despite the deadly actions of all manners of foxes, God will accomplish his purposes, he will bring hope and healing to the downtrodden, and will revitalize life within all who trust in his Son.   [LNB]

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

With Whom Is God Pleased

56. With Whom Is God Pleased? (3 January 2023)

A glimpse of Christmas joy in the
neighborhood, powered by
(30 Dec. 2022 - Geitawi, Beirut)

Holidays in Lebanon, especially in the winter, have fallen off my list of favorites, probably in no small part due to the lack of electricity we (and so many other Lebanese) experience at home. The offices where I work close, meaning that our building’s generator stays off. Our subscription for supplemental power covers only about half of the day, anyway, bringing inside temperatures close to what is outside. And municipal power supply continues to emulate Halley’s Comet in its rare appearances. Combining all the national holidays with the ones of various religious denominations, plus Armenian holidays, here in Lebanon we experience close to a month each year of these “off” days.

            But there is another layer of distaste. Holidays are too often turned into platforms for social and political assertiveness, rather than times of rest, reflection, redirection and rededication. Firecrackers (and bullets) fill the air over neighborhoods where a particular holiday is most observed. Not to forget the obligatory firecrackers and fireworks launched at important life events, such as funerals and weddings, or your World Cup football team scoring a goal. We were able to watch three games of this year’s football “Mondial” in early December since we were visiting Armenia for a week. There, games were broadcast on Armenian state television for anyone to view. Here was a different story, as is the case with so many things. The sounds of firecrackers and nearby fans yelling would prompt us to refresh the official website in order to see the latest scores — a somewhat anticlimactic method.

Constructing the "New Year's tree" at the
Yerevan train station
(30 Nov. 2022 - Yerevan, Armenia)

            In this particular season the biblical phrase, “Peace on earth, good will towards men,” is widely touted, or more commonly quoted simply as “Peace on earth”, without involving men (in the generic sense) or good will. The more intricate version of Luke 2.14, “Peace on earth among those with whom God is pleased,” is avoided, likely because it doesn’t fit neatly into 21st century greeting cards (i.e., social media platforms and posts), and likely also because it states that there is a God, also implying that this God makes judgments. About us. Also not fitting popular sensitivities in these oversensitive times.

A garden of Armenian letters seemingly
growing out of stones, hopefully an inspiration,
more than just a tourist attraction.
(29 Nov. 2022 - near Artashavan, Armenia)
            Whether or not it plays well in mass culture, a question sticks in my mind: With whom is God pleased these days? My immediate guess is “no one”, as evidenced by the lack of peace on earth. The lofty goal of peacemaking is left largely untouched, while nations allegedly aim for (but fail to reach) the lower goal of temporary cease-fires. Yet even where cease-fires are attained there are always those who find ways to continue their aggression.

            Since mid-December and continuing into the New Year, Azerbaijan-sponsored phony “environmental activists” have been blocking the only lifeline for food or medicine or transit that Artsakh Armenians have, the “Lachin corridor” linking it to Armenia. Add to this the Azeri government and industries that are driving all of this, entities that blithely cut off energy supplies to Artsakh in the cold of winter. Add to this the inaction of those charged with keeping the road open, allowing the situation to be created. And finally add to this the meaningless verbal bravado (and little more) of world powers, busying themselves with statements and resolutions condemning the blockade, but unwilling to intervene in a sovereign country. If all of this looks and sounds like world powers’ failure to prevent the Genocide in 1915, there’s a good reason for that. Summing it all up, it immolates the dove of peace over the flames of war.

A mural depicting Old Beirut, in a park where
an old Beirut building was torn down.
(8 Dec. 2022 - Geitawi, Beirut)
            Peacemaking can be torn apart in various ways: by individuals, societies, companies, governments, you name it. It does not have to be done in the obtuse ways that Armenia’s rapacious neighbors are so fond of. Sometimes it can be as subtle as tolerating inept (fill in the name of your favorite country) governance, or by making self-centeredness and self-indulgence a societal value, or in disdaining others in order to elevate yourself.

            Yet despite all attempts to kill it, peacemaking is alive, and peacemakers are at work. Whenever we hear about or witness a teacher who goes beyond the lesson plan and above the minimum requirements to help her class learn to relate with care for each other, there peace is being inculcated. Last week I was in a store in Bourj Hammoud when an older fellow in tattered clothes stood at the door with his hand raised in greeting - not for a handout. The Arab worker (who happens to speak Armenian) addressed him affectionately, giving and receiving words of blessing; this, too, is peace-building. When someone in the course of a conversation asks me to pray for him right there on the spot, God’s peace hovers over both of us and enables us to express more grace to others.

Christmas bazaar at the Zvartnots Center,
which brings hope and love to special needs
(22 Dec. 2022 - Nor Sis, Bourj Hammoud)

            That message to the shepherds heralding “peace” at Christ’s birth is more of a challenge to self-absorbed humanity than a statement of present reality. The One whose appearance they announced made it his aim to establish peace through servanthood and a particular act of sacrifice. It grew more intense and pervasive as he grew “in stature and in God and man’s favor” . We might strain to see those around us who join him in this endeavor, but the thread that joins each instance together, shining with the angelic light seen outside ancient Bethlehem, is that of service.

            Serving others, motivated by love, produces peace. And only God himself can fill and refill that love.

LebCat 56: Since the electric company isn't
using these anyway, I'll just settle in.
(30 Dec. 2022 - Mar Mikhael, Beirut)
            Since “Armenian Christmas” is but three days away, an Armenian greeting on the occasion and a wish for God-pleasing peacemaking: Christ is born and revealed; blessed is the revelation of Christ!*   [LNB]

*Քրիստոս ծնաւ եւ յայտնեցաւ. օրհնեա՛լ է յայտնութիւնն Քրիստոսի։

Friday, November 25, 2022

Waiving the Flag

55.Waiving the Flag (25 November 2022)

Preparing for school celebration of
Lebanon's Independence Day
(17 Nov. 2022 - Geitawi, Beirut)
Now that World Cup football (soccer for you Americans) has taken over the world for the coming four weeks, enabling some pleasant diversion from the strangeness of these times, Lebanon is once again subjected to the ineptitude of its kleptocracy. No government here means no decision-making regarding broadcasting rights for the World Cup on state television. Which means that football fans, of which there are many, will not enjoy a month away from talk shows reviewing their all-too familiar daily miseries. Daily cheering could provide positive, natural chemicals to bring health to the tired bodies in this country, without having to scour pharmacies for artificial remedies. Instead, a very few people with the financial means to do so will watch the games at home, though many of them will suffer with Lebanon’s insufferable internet speeds, with frozen screens and with dropped connections.

"Green" transportation may not exactly mean
this (14 Nov. 2022 - Ghabi, Beirut)
            A recent news report about this situation in Lebanon showed photos of Lebanese with a multitude of flags of their favorite teams while also recording the fans’ dismay at being deprived of the tournament. They could paying for a month’s cable subscription in order to watch it, but that would be tantamount to telling your family they will not eat for a month. One person quipped, “Meanwhile our politicians are probably in Qatar, watching the games live.”

            It’s not surprising that Lebanese Independence Day, November 22, passed by this week with hardly a mention. Yes, there was a smattering of interesting broadcast advertisements with the independence theme, and an event or two was held for select groups of people. As always, students participated in their schools’ programs in observance of the day. There were even small Lebanese flags planted along traffic circles and roadsides. But there were no army parades or air force fly-overs, and no grandstands because empty chairs would have had to have been placed there for officials yet to be elected/appointed. What was in abundance were the many who expressed their dismay at the use of the word “independence” in today’s reality, since it is apparent to all that Lebanon’s problems and solutions are dependency issues, dependent on other, outside players. On Independence Day 2022 the flag was waived more than it was waved.

The best way to make music is to do it
yourself (13 Nov. 2022 - Geitawi, Beirut)
            It’s encouraging to see that despite all of this, rather than waiting for things to “get better,” people move forward to organize events and activities. This is most apparent to us in our church and university settings, though it is not limited to those circles. Concerts, plays, worship events, film premieres, lectures, debates, leadership training, conferences, infrastructure upgrades, publications, and of course, weddings! And this is just within the Lebanese-Armenian community! None of this means that conditions are improving. The economy is still floundering, the currency is still tumbling, the government is still somnabulate, and youth are still edging towards the exit doors. But there is a realization that consuming one’s time and energy in worry will not lengthen one’s days, and will only yield regrets for things undone or unattempted. So, I am glad when there are more activities that I want to attend than there is time to attend them.

An imaginary cedar of Lebanon, perched on
a narrow outcropping of rock... perhaps not
imaginary at all (29 Oct. 2022 - Gemmayzeh)
           Despite these robust signs, the present and future of the Armenian people is ever on my mind. For Armenia and Artsakh, for the near Diaspora and the far. Few Armenians learn from their past, though they study Armenian history in their school years. Names, places, events, dates, enemies are never in short supply, and swirl around in the minds of those with an Armenian education. But it is rare when your average “Hovsep” can appreciate the myriad mistakes and missteps that Armenians have made over the millennia, especially in the past century or two, up to this day, and then sketch a wiser path forward. Alongside this general concern (dare I say “worry”?) I see a glimmer of hope in my limited encounters with Armenian youth, as they wrestle with questions that their history presents, note similarities with today’s events, and ask “Can’t we do this differently?” Change will only happen when people are free to ask questions and pursue answers, not when they line up in rows and columns and follow leaders unthinkingly.

Something for children to play with on the
steps, but is anybody listening at the other
end? (17 Nov. 2022 - Mar Mikhael, Beirut)

            Leaders clothe their self-interests in patriotic rhetoric, and followers adopt that rhetoric, based on a limited knowledge of the dynamics and background. For small and unimportant peoples (like Armenia), the outcome is always in favor of those who can supply what large entities want. Mostly that means that those who have oil resources are treated with some deference, while those that don’t (like Armenia) have to figure out if they have something to offer to satisfy ravenous appetites. This is the way of the world, no matter that some consider themselves “exceptional”. And this is why the church is so important (as long as it doesn’t play political “world cup”), because it dares to love for God’s sake, not for gain.

LebCat 55: That's my nickname, and, yes,
that's my restaurant. (8 Oct. 2022 - Hamra)

These past few weeks we have enjoyed visits from people outside Lebanon, people who have dared to venture into this land of adventure. Our church’s annual meeting this week, usually held in the summer, hosted a group from Syria and Greece, and some of them had not been to Lebanon in years, despite being “just next door”. Earlier in the month there were visitors from Europe and the U.S., including a few who were here for the first time. We got to see our dear friend (and “boss”, as we affectionately call him) and share some relaxed time reflecting on life, work and ministry in this non-standard context. Although people tend to praise us for continuing to live and work here, as if it were just the outcome of our personal efforts, what is less visible is the support and encouragement we receive from many people, near and far, drawing us forward. And the unexplainable peace of God, helping us to keep our focus not on flag-waving and enthusiastic cheering for or against us, but on our calling from Christ himself.   [LNB]