Sunday, October 6, 2019

It's a Sign!

28.It’s a Sign! (6 Oct 2019)
Children in uniform, and parents carrying school bags. A sure
sign that fall is here. (1 Sept. 2019 – Shushi, Artsakh)
For years our family has had a running (inside) joke. When we see street signs or billboards, especially ones with the name of a city or country on it, we call out, “It’s a sign!” Perhaps not particularly funny… except that I’m a pastor, and one of the features / challenges of pastoral life is the ever-present possibility of relocation. And behind that possibility is the art of determining what constitutes a sign from God, particularly regarding a “call”, and the related relocation from ministry in one city (or country) to another. The joke is that if you are looking for a certain answer, sooner or later a “sign” will appear, confirming what you have already decided on your own. And then you can credit God for the sign. One of those Achilles’ Heels of believers everywhere.
An “old” sign, lying face down on the ground,
defeated by a new pole and by the company
that bagged a contract for replacing every. single.
pole. in the city. (18 Sept. 2019 – Khalil Badawi)
            In recent months in Beirut there has been a sprouting of metal posts and brand-new signs on sidewalks all around the city. Considering the narrowness and impassability of most sidewalks in Beirut, this has been an unwelcome intrusion to us walkers. And considering that the existing, if somewhat beaten-up, collection of traffic signs throughout the city was doing its job just fine, it makes one wonder whether there is something more behind this proliferation of poles than traffic concerns. In such an opaque and … not altogether “clean” … system as exists here, who knows? Rumors about this and a slew of other topics are pretty much all the general populace has to go on, as it tries to make sense of the rough road it has been on for decades.
Will they be able to break Mr. Sevag? An intense scavenger hunt at
the Children’s Conference. (7 Aug. 2019 – KCHAG, Monteverde)
Having the thrill of my life, leading a trained choir in concert, the
“Varanda” ensemble, while Zakar looks on. I wonder what he’s
thinking? (5 Sept. 2019 – Shushi, Artsakh)
            As a sign of how full the summer has been, two and a half months have passed since my last blog post. Why? Meetings and more meetings. Sevag’s month in Lebanon, including some vacation time with him, and a week in KCHAG, with Sevag in the children’s conference, and me in a bungalow, pretending to get studying done. Work in Armenia and time off in Artsakh. So much has come and gone. That trip to Artsakh (or Karabagh) was a memorable one, especially as Maria and I enjoyed the cultural and interpersonal riches of that region. I’ve reflected more about it in another place, but a highlight was definitely my being invited to conduct the “Varanda” childrens/youth choir in “Hayrenikis Hed” in concert.
Maria’s niece and family, recently relocated to
Armenia. And a penguin. (29 Aug. 2019 - Yerevan)
We were driven from Yerevan to Shushi by a young taxi driver who talked quite a bit about the hopefulness that is permeating Armenia since the so-called “Velvet Revolution” of last year. Yes, lots of things still need to be “fixed” in the country, but he insisted that the current government will get to it in due time. In contrast, a week later, on the taxi ride back to Armenia we had a different driver: an older, university educated man who worked in the Soviet system and the post-Soviet system, and is now witness to the current setup. His view of things was subtly skeptical, since there is movement going on, but not necessarily progress. He asked us a lot about Lebanon, and laughed, “So it seems that there are many, many similarities between the two countries!” He was referring to human potential, but moreso to the shared pitfalls.
Wait, is this town called "garlic"? The French side of the sign
reads like that Arabic word. Oops, my mistake. Good thing I’m
learning to read/understand Arabic! (10 Sept. 2019 – N. Lebanon)
            Armenia – and increasingly Armenians everywhere – speak enthusiastically about one Armenia for all. The Armenian Diaspora (the majority of Armenians in the world) is frequently relegated to a temporary and passing reality. Yet, once upon a time, in recent memory, the slogan was, “A strong Armenia with a strong Diaspora.” No more is this heard. Once upon a time Armenia had a Diaspora Ministry (usually aimed at connecting Diaspora finances to needs in the homeland). Though the channeling of resources, human and otherwise, continues, that Ministry is no more; it was closed up last year and its work subsumed into the Assistant Prime Minister’s portfolio. The Western Armenian language is a “threatened” cultural treasure, but the only serious attempts to strengthen it are coming from Diaspora organizations. (Armenia also closed its Ministry of Culture last year.) These signs betray a lack of depth of understanding of the importance of the Diaspora for Armenia as well as for Armenians everywhere. And a lack of depth in the thinking of the disorganized Diaspora as well as official Armenia.
LebCat 27: I’m looking fine… but don’t those two guys in the back
know how to pose for a selfie? (26 July 2019 – Beirut Cat Café,
Mar Mikhael - Beirut)
            Here in Lebanon, a sign that summer is over and the fall is here is the appearance of children all over the city in their school uniforms and toting their book-bags. We are all carrying another weight, though, as we closed of one of our schools this summer (shrinking income and galloping debt). It is a sign, not that Armenian Evangelical education is no longer needed, but that this vision is being challenged by other factors outside the church Union’s control. In fact, all Armenian schools outside of Armenia face this challenge. As historian Dr. Yervant Kassouny states in his recent book (Reflections on … Diasporan-Armenian Literature, 2019), “Closing an Armenian school in the Diaspora is equivalent to closing an Armenian army base in Armenia” (p. 11, translation mine). The Armenian school, along with the Armenian church and the Armenian family, is the place where this particular nation (in the cultural, not the political, sense) trains for the battle to survive and thrive in a world that works hard at homogenizing everything, not just milk.
            Keeping your eyes open, paying attention to the signs of these times, staying awake and prayerful – these are the means we employ when facing days like these. “A little sleep, a little rest, a little folding of the arms, and your poverty (including your spiritual and cultural poverty) will come upon you like an unexpected traveler, or an armed robber” (Prov. 24.33-34).   [LNB]

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