Saturday, July 20, 2019

Not Bad for Your Age

27.Not Bad for Your Age (20 July 2019)
Just some old guy doing climbing for the first time
in his life. (25 June 2019 – Guthrie, Oklahoma)
So, how old are you?
            I was asked this question by children and youth at summer conferences in June, when we spent a month in the U.S., traveling around various cities in the southeastern quarter of the country. It was a new world for both Maria and me, and eye-opening in terms of the differences – as well as similarities – between our “Northern” (in the U.S. sense) outlook and that of the region in which we traveled.
            The first time was by a child in Alabama, at a Disciples (CC/DOC, for those interested) camp. We were giving a presentation about Lebanon the country, and where we live, and why we are there. We showed them a map, held up the flag, talked about Lebanon in the Bible, the cedars, and so on. The 4th and 5th graders before us were listening with rapt attention. “Any questions?” I asked. You have to be a fool or very quick on your feet to open the floor to questions from children. Clearly, I was the former, not the latter. First question: “How old are you?” Ahem. This needs a clever rejoinder. “How old do you think I am?” And they started guessing. I thought I should put them out of our misery, so I picked one answer and said, “We’re in our 60s. That’s pretty old, right?” Bless them, they moved on to other questions. These children included us in their program and their hearts, even filling our “warm fuzzies” bag with notes of appreciation and gifts (of candy and chocolate!) during the week.
When it rains on your summer camp… make your own fun!
Just make sure you’re sufficiently young before the belly-flops
in the mud. (18 June 2019 – Wetumpka, Alabama)
            Maria and I were serving as counselors to junior and senior high campers during most of our time in America. Their concerns and questions were similar in some ways to those of the youth here in Lebanon, but they seemed to be facing so much more social disintegration. The family situations they described expressed a deep longing for significant relationships not just with their peers (though that was very apparent in the way they bonded with each other), but also with caring adults. This was one of the fringe benefits of being with them: to experience their warmth even with us, coming from such a distance.
Bringing insights from the Middle East to the parable of the
Good Samaritan during high school camp.
(27 June 2019 – Guthrie, Oklahoma)
            Our role was that of “mission visitors”, so we had varying amounts of time to speak directly to these youth (and adults in North Carolina, Alabama and Oklahoma) about our work and our friends and partners in the Middle East, and to challenge them to consider taking one year or many years for “overseas” ministry. In one of the camps I told the youth, “Please consider spending some time serving others elsewhere in the world. You will learn humility and grace as you go in Jesus’ name. And you will also have the opportunity to view your country (the U.S.) from a vantage point outside your usual world. You might see this country in a different light, and see yourselves as others see you.”
The message is clear: “developers” are not developing for others’
sake, but instead hoping to catch the wave of climbing
property values. (24 May 2019 – Mar Mikhael - Beirut)
            The guys in my cabin in Oklahoma were high school juniors and seniors, and many of them had known each other for years from attending this camp. A lot of them at the camp, boys and girls, were preparing to enter the military. One afternoon during cabin time (how happy I was for those rest times!) one of them asked me, “How old are you?” Not having learned my lesson from the 4th & 5th graders, I said, “Guess.” The guys said numbers which were all over the place, and that made me smile. When I finally helped them figure out the right number, the original questioner said, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you look really good for 63. I would have thought early 50s. I mean that as a compliment.” And he was totally sincere.
            I’m not sure what to think about compliments like this, or about all those clichés about aging, or about only being as old as you feel. Good health, mobility and flexibility are important to a happy life, but sometimes I feel as if the line is being crossed over to the glorification of youthfulness. Life becomes a matter of feeling good (or young), just like churches often communicate, and not a matter of doing something that matters with your life.
Greening the concrete jungle: flowering plants after they got
their heads plucked off by passersby. (19 July 2019 –
Geitawi - Beirut)
            Again, the contrast these questions were drawing in my head was stark: we live in a place of the world where the signs of old age, the wrinkles, grey hair and bent back are still command respect in many families, even if official programs in this region do not always reflect that. Not surprisingly, it is the religious bodies here that strive to pick up the slack and care for elders – and children. It is why we have institutions like CAHL in Beirut and the Aleppo Armenian Home for the elderly, and why churches here run 5- to 8-week Vacation Bible Schools in the summer. It is why the church has its two KCHAG retreat centers, and why it operates Armenian Evangelical schools, imparting knowledge as well as Christian character with a biblical foundation. This is God’s vision for the church: to be a multi-generational family, a “home”, where respect and care is evident towards all.
Faith, beauty and hope through song at the “Armiss” choir
concert. (2 June 2019 – Beirut)
            I love old things, too. And it’s not just because I’m steadily becoming an old thing. The character that is expressed by things artistic or architectural, things that have stood the test of time, enriches my character and that of the environment. Yet I wonder if these old things can stand the test of money. As I (and others) have often lamented, the ongoing destruction of Beirut’s architectural heritage is most disconcerting. People (who knows who they are, or whether they are even local?) see land as something to profit from, and they aim to create the biggest (and often ugliest) structures they can, in order to gain the most from each square meter. In reaction to this, graffiti artists are creating pieces that express the urgency: “Old Beirut Matters”. Although those with bulldozers rule the day, perhaps sanity, and respect for heritage, will endure these times.
            A couple of days ago a woman entered the mini market I often frequent, brandishing clippers and a broken bloom, complaining to the proprietor, her neighbor, that people walking by her ground floor window boxes snap off blooms as they pass. She was frustrated at all the work she was doing to beautify this world of concrete. After she left, the proprietor turned to me, again in frustration, and said, “Am I supposed to look after her flowers?” Yet today he saw me admiring the plantings and said, “Do you like our garden?” The building across the street, where he lives, had window boxes at every window. I said, “Yes, it’s great! We need to see more green around us!”
LebCat 26: All that a cat could want – fresh garbage and
cardboard boxes! A slice of feline heaven on earth, as
Lebanon's trash crisis looms. (14 July 2019 – Geitawi - Beirut)
            The “Armiss” concert on June 2 went quite well, and had a full house. Afterwards I received many, many words of appreciation for it. The program did not include any new music, but rather traditional works, some new presentations of old music, and some old music that had not been heard for many, many years. I’m currently working on the video footage to create a DVD of the event. I hope that these sorts of events can continue bringing together what is both young and old, fresh and seasoned. Because it matters. It really does.   [LNB]

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