Sunday, December 24, 2017

Bless, Don't Curse

11.Bless, Don’t Curse (23 December 2017)

Who says there are no snowmen in Lebanon?
(7 Dec. 2017 – Beirut)
            One of the hardest things to do is to follow directions. The Middle East is a shining illustration of that difficulty. We have seen an improvement in this area since the last time we lived here 10-1/2 years ago, and we’re appreciative of those changes. A positive example: people do not immediately blast their horns when stuck in traffic, or waiting at a traffic light. Nonetheless, it often happens that people ignore what is known as the “common good”. There is a fierce independent streak in society here, or perhaps it would be better termed a disobedient streak. A negative example: they still blast their horns, even when they can see a legitimate reason for a delay, like an old lady hobbling off of a public bus.
            It is very easy to react against these kinds of irritants, and express that irritation by cursing what is wrong in the world, or the country, and then fall into a lifestyle of complaining. To rue the pronouncements of some far-away ruler that set this region in turmoil. To dismiss any sign of improvement in public works as a fluke. To wish annihilation on the ants that have taken over the kitchen and bathroom in our newly-refurbished apartment… There are so many reasons to “curse, not bless” because of the things that go awry in our everyday life.
I got to meet a celebrity: LebCat 7, in the flesh! Or the fur.
(4 Dec. 2017 – Beirut)
            Last week we encountered both an indirect “blessing” as well as some veiled “cursing” while at a Christmas Fair near our home. One amazing young lady engaged us in talking about her handmade products, so much so that you could feel the caring poured into each item. Yet when talking to a couple who are manufacturing innovative Lebanese-made items, they told us, “No! Don’t ever encourage anybody to come to Lebanon. Dealing with laws here is impossible. Whoever relocates here, after the first year, the glow and excitement is subdued, and after five years it’s completely gone.”
The Beirut Christmas Marching Band in Mar Mikhael.
(17 Dec. 2017 – Beirut)
            Something else we notice: when those around us talk to us about Europe and the West, there is an almost exclusive “bless, not curse” mind-set. It matters little to them that they are ignoring vast amounts of negative information about life in their dream destinations, nor that they are casting underfoot the blessings of their (often difficult) lives here. The template has been determined, the categories are set, and all that remains is to sort their list.
            Agreed, it’s hard to choose to bless and not curse. It’s an active choice that you have to make, because it’s not based on the current climate of your life. It’s not based on comparative fortunes (e.g., “We’re/they’re better off than them/us.”). Nor is it a choice to ignore the reality around you and not be wise in your observations. We find it to be a daily choice, in our conversations, in our lifestyle, in our prayers, and in our attitudes. Plus (for Christians), it’s a command from the top-level management. It’s a matter of obedience. So, we do our best to bless so that we can be a blessing.
The last few boxes to be emptied... finally!
(17 Dec. 2017 – Beirut)
            All told, we’ve spent ten Christmases here, and now at our eleventh Christmas we are still bemused to see the infusion of popularized Christmas imagery in local observances. Like fake snow. And reindeer. And English-language seasonal music. At the aforementioned Christmas Fair, there was a mini-Christmas parade going around the Mar Mikhael train station (now an exhibition center), complete with mini-marching band (five musicians) playing, “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”. But since the marching band included a derbeke/dumbeg, I felt I could confidently consider it local!
            Tomorrow, (non-Armenian) Christmas Eve, local church services will be enhanced by Sunday School programs and pageants celebrating Christ’s birth, followed by (in the case of Armenian Evangelical churches) a week of evening services to reflect on the year soon to end.
LebCat 9: Does she look like she owns the
place? She does – the Nor Marash church.
Or is that her identical twin sister...?
(26 Mar. 2017 – Burj Hammoud)
            And what a year it’s been! A moving year, pun intended. We are just now getting our last things out of the boxes and into their places. So it’s feeling more like home, because we’re seeing more of our things around us. We would love to see the faces of our family members, too, but we’ll have to rely on technology to lessen the longing. Meanwhile, we’re looking forward to spending the first week in the New Year, including Armenian Christmas, with a young friend from our previous church. In 2016, Lara left her job in Philadelphia to spend a year (plus) in service to various communities around the world, because “now is the time”. For the last several months she’s been in Armenia helping at “Aleppo NGO”, assisting Syrian refugees. You can read her lighthearted and insightful posts at “Lark on the Move”.
            Wishing you... and our world… and especially the Armenian people… a better New Year, and the hope of Christmas. Because Christ was born and revealed! (Քրիստոս ծնաւ եւ յայտնեցաւ. ձեզի, մեզի մե՛ծ աւետիս։) [LNB]