Tuesday, August 31, 2021

45.Another World (31 August 2021)

Children's Conference restarted with two one-
day events (KCHAG, Monteverde - 24 July 2021)
It has been two-and-a-half weeks since we left Lebanon for our 5-month “Home Assignment”. The question that dogged us when we told people in Lebanon of our trip (“Are you going to come back?”) is still dogging us here in the U.S., but inverted: “Are you going to go back?” Because things are terrible in Lebanon, and even worse than they were when we flew out, people assume that our (unwise in their estimation) answer must be based only on conditions on the ground. We tell them, “Yes, Lord willing, that is our plan,” since our move there four years ago was also based on the Lord’s guidance above all else. But to those living in this world, we must be unaware of what the situation is on the ground – or in the news.

Enjoying a scavenger hunt at the conference
(KCHAG, Monteverde - 20 July 2021)
            When we think of Lebanon, we do not first of all think of the rampant corruption, the hoarding of resources, those seeking a profit from peoples’ misfortune, the long hours without electricity, the lack of sleep in the hot summer nights, the anxiety over finding food and medicine, the terrible banking system, the destruction of last year’s explosion and much, much more… We think of the people, the friends and loved ones we have, the children and young people, our colleagues, the small businesses we frequent, the churches, schools and institutions where we serve, the Armenian community we are a part of, and so much more. We also look to the coming years, to “what’s next”, the challenges ahead, the opportunity to add our strength and experience to the efforts of others, working with God to sustain life in a place and among a people whose muffled cry is: “We want to live!” The misery that their leaders are spawning all over the land must not determine our steps, but rather the One who placed this on our hearts. It won’t convince everyone questioning our planned return, but that’s the way it is.

A prickly-pear (cactus) seller finds a whole
row of customers, waiting to fill their gas
(25 July 2021 - Beirut)
            As the memory fades of the hardships we faced each day and each moment in Lebanon, it seems like we are currently living in another world. We remember that people continue to suffer even more humiliation there, but it has started to disappear from our consciousness, as we experience the luxuries of life in the U.S. Luxuries such as 24-hour electricity, uninterrupted water supply, filling a tank of gas without waiting in a long line, stable prices and currency, banks that allow you full access to your savings, fully-stocked pharmacies, the ability to plan a work day or a vacation day, heating and cooling of homes and businesses as needed, schools and universities happily planning to receive children and youth for the new school year, continuous internet at fast speeds, and on and on. We are inhabiting a parallel world from the one we left; a world where, strangely enough, things function as they were intended. Much like the world of privilege Lebanon’s leaders inhabit while they perpetuate a world of misery and humiliation for their people.

Socially-relevant graffiti, quoting
prophecy from Isaiah 6
(30 July 2021 - Beirut)
            Although it may seem so to anyone who has to endure daily deprivations, everything is not perfect in this parallel world we inhabit today. As time passes the dark side of life in the U.S. gradually reveals itself to us more starkly. One thing that has begun to creep into my consciousness is the “irrelevance” of being Armenian in this “far” Diaspora (far from the lands we were dispossessed of). With so much to do, buy, see, download, play, watch, consume, fix, replace, who has time to think about existential issues? Questions that keep some of us awake through the night are so irrelevant; questions such as, “Who am I? To whom do I belong? Do we Armenians have a collective future? What are the internal and external threats facing us? Are we our worst enemies, or are the criminal regimes surrounding Armenia? Can we work toward a coordinated Diaspora that neither ignores its own needs nor discounts those of Armenia?” One by one these concerns fade from view as I get wrapped up in the busy-ness of each day, and the many things that insist I pay attention.

            I also consider how “irrelevant” these questions now seem to many enduring great deprivations in Syria, Lebanon, and elsewhere in the “near” Diaspora, where the very visceral struggle just to subsist overtakes any considerations of national identity, of strategic planning for the future, of battling “red” or “white” genocides, of challenging globalization’s threats to us and other small nations… Each of these parallel worlds, one shiny and bright, the other dark and dreary, imposes itself on me, and on us, and makes us push aside any considerations of what truly matters, what keeps us human, what gives us meaning and identity, what can help us endure and flourish as a nation.

From every walk of life, walking to the city
center to remember those lost on August 4,
2020, and demand accountability
(4 Aug 2021 - Geitawi, Beirut)
           Even issues of faith are affected by the powers at play in these worlds. When you have every thing (emphasis on “thing”) available to you, God can become just another add-on to your life, and faith can be a pleasant – and optional – diversion. One that you meld and adjust to fit the values and standards of society. On the other hand, when you have nothing, faith can turn into a mere lifeline that you use to survive each day. Lifting your head up from the misery of each day in order to seek and do God’s will where you are right now can appear as an impossible luxury. How easily the immediate and urgent can supplant the important and foundational, and how often the temporal overwhelms the eternal. How hard it is to live in God’s world no matter what “real world” you occupy.

Portraits of the fallen in the 2020 port blast
(6 Aug 2021 - Saifi, Beirut)
            We had a full summer before we left Lebanon, including an extended stay (again) by our son Sevag, and preparation for our absence. Despite the steady decline in living conditions, we enjoyed being at home together. He had time to serve, time with friends, and time to eat bouza arabi (natural Arabic ice cream, home-made with goat’s milk). When people in his “usual” world ask him, “How was it in Lebanon? Wasn’t it dangerous? Wasn’t it difficult for you?” he simply answers them, “It was very good to be with my parents.” He, too, realizes that it is difficult for people in one world to grasp the reality of another world.

LebCat 45: Dreaming of donuts and other
easy handouts from the AUB crowd
(28 July 2021 - Bliss St., Beirut)
            Having experienced the Port Explosion of 2020 together with Sevag, we also experienced its first anniversary together. Sevag participated in a service of remembrance and prayer at Ashrafieh’s Armenian Evangelical Church, whose church and school buildings were hard hit by the blast. It was also a day for us to express our gratitude to God that we emerged safely from that maelstrom. A Christian artist from the U.S. honored the over-200 dead from the blast by preparing their portraits and pasting them around the perimeter of one of the big, empty buildings being built in downtown Beirut, a few steps away from the Martyrs’ Statue. As we walked past those portraits, gazing into their eyes brought home the pain and the reality of the loss – to their families, their communities, and their country. It’s a temporary exhibit, as those panels will be removed once the construction is completed. Hopefully their memory will not be temporary, and a new generation of those who love the truth will emerge and prevail, to pursue what is right, true and merciful in the world God so loves.    [LNB]