Thursday, December 31, 2020

What Have We Learned

 41.What Have We Learned? (31 December 2020)

Repurposing last year's steel Christmas tree
that they never got around to dismantling
(there was an uprising going on for a while).
(19 Dec. 2020 - Karantina - Beirut)

The year has come to a close, but the “course of study” we embarked upon in this most unfavorable of years has not ended. It’s an opportunity to check what, if anything, we have learned up to this point. This is not a complete list, and is not in order of relevance, so feel free to add what you’ve learned. The learning must continue.

            First: that physical boundaries, though not irrelevant, are not as impervious as we imagined. That terrible plague afflicting far-away China quickly transformed into the entire planet’s concern. Thanks to the way we moderns live, transporting the good and the bad is laughably easy. Some of these rapidly spreading things may be worth celebrating, but others present a grave concern. Here in Beirut, unlike in past days when we wrote letters and waited weeks for a response, or requested an overseas telephone line from the operator to make a rare phone call, now we enjoy the ease of instant and frequent connection with our families, most of whom live in North America. Of course, with the pandemic still running wild we are also using the same methods to communicate with friends and colleagues right around us.

A crèche in front of a ruined building facing
the port explosion site, at a Christmas fair
in the hard-hit Mar Mikhael area.
(22 Dec. 2020 - Mar Mikhael - Beirut)

            And yet there is a serious downside to the removal of that which distinguishes one nation from another, one culture from another, one set of values from another. The growing expectation that people everywhere (who, of course, will be technologically interconnected) should hold but one view on major issues, and only disagree on insignificant matters is the enemy of inquisitive and critical thinking. Which explains why countries get polarized, when one group is unable to force other groups to conform to its views. And that polarized world is known today as Planet Earth.

A do-it-yourself Christmas float sponsored
by a local taxi company, complete with an
actual, live sheep among the statuary.
(18 Dec. 2020 - Mar Mikhael - Beirut)

            Second: that small countries like Lebanon and Armenia, after a century of being game pieces on a great political playing board, continue to look to the larger powers of the world as if they were benevolent organizations. Not much learning has happened, despite the crises and misery of this year’s events. Lebanon continues on its happy way, with yesterday’s warlords acting as today’s party heads, standing firm upon the rights of their small fiefdoms at the expense of the suffering population. Armenia, which had almost three decades to build a strong state and progress in its political awareness based on geopolitical realities, instead merely took upon itself the trappings of an exemplary state, complete with a recent bloodless “revolution”. Yet it continued to be emotion-driven, to the point of conducting a defensive war based on making its citizens and the Armenian Diaspora feel good about how things were going. It remains to be seen whether Armenia will chart a different path hereafter, and acknowledge its failures so as to learn from them.

Clementines at two dollars a kilo (at the
official exchange rate) or 37 cents a kilo
(at the street rate).
(7 Dec. 2020 - Mar Mikhael)

            Third: that Armenia’s traditional adversaries, meaning its immediate neighbors to the left and right, are still bloodthirsty and have not removed that subhuman trait from their national consciousness after centuries of being steeped in a sanguinary culture. Yes, there are a few reformist voices from within both countries, including some who are imprisoned for their views and others who have fled their native lands, but at the helm of these countries are jaded realists, supported by other jaded realists, who know all too well how to play the game of politics in this fallen world. The wise old Armenian saying would be instructive at this point (concerning human relations; canines are able to be trustworthy far beyond humans), but only if there are ears to hear: “Befriend the dog, but don’t drop your stick.”

LebCat 41: Ready-boxed for easy gift-giving:
just wrap and surprise your loved one!
(29 Dec. 2020 - Geitawi - Beirut)

            Fourth: that the children, youth and adults of today’s world, including (especially) those in the contexts in which we live (Middle Eastern and Armenian), will make a strong positive impact on their world, but they must first trust each other. Or else they will forever be looking for “a better place”, yet never finding it. We must all begin as visionaries and idealists, continue as good listeners and learners, and progress into the future as those who are not afraid to live with “dirt under their fingernails” and uncertainty over where their efforts will ultimately lead. And so, the first One to trust is the Lord.

            This is my prayer for these times and for this world. This is my hope as well as my plan for serving in the place God has led us, particularly among Armenians in Lebanon and Armenia. May we all be more courageous and faith-filled in the New Year.    [LNB]