Sunday, June 30, 2013

Around the Edges of Differences

Strangers with seemingly little in common can begin to form a friendship at the least-likely  times. During the early days of her widowhood, my mother-in-law was visited by a stranger, an emissary from a religious group very different from her own Christian community. The stranger was making a group-related "cold call," knocking randomly on doors in out of the way places. She had no idea about the death in the family when she knocked on my mother-in-law's door. When she learned about the death pretty quickly, she asked if there was anything she could do to help.  

My mother-in-law told me that she did not want the stranger to think that helping might start any future "talk about religion." She told the stranger, straight away, that she had family nearby to help her. She made her feelings clea: "I don't want to talk about religion with you." 

The visitor said she understood and agreed, yet her offer to help remained open. "Would you mind if I come to visit you again?"  

Now, one might think that the stranger hoped to return so as to carry out her mission... and to talk religion. Yet, when she returned, she did not mention it. 

My mother-in-law said they had regular visits up until she left Florida years later. By the time she left, she and the visitor on that earliest days of mourning had become friends. 

I wonder what they did talk about. Maybe they both just enjoyed having the company and conversation. There must be many places where friendships can form around the edges of loss and, sometimes, around the edges of differences. Maybe it can happen more, in other country and city places.  

Copyright (c) 2013 Opinari Writers and Jean Purcell

Monday, June 24, 2013

A Christian View: To Judge Muslim Ways?

Reading The Last Mughal, I am reminded
 of the walls that religious 
judgments have been building for centuries. 
Judgments of others have layered societies and cultures
with hatreds. Jesus told 
his disciples, "Judge not, so that 
you will not be judged." 

Jesus' teachings about judgments are contrary to what some followers in His time on earth expected. They are ignored today wherever personal judgments run rampant, diluted to name-calling in growing numbers.   

Jesus made a statement that continues to startle people, when He said that He did not come to earth to judge the world; He came so that the world might be saved. He taught His followers to follow His example and not to condemn. He taught this more than once, emphasizing, as in Matthew 5-7--The Sermon on the Mount--the abundant life.  

Yet, deep within our human  nature is the tendency to jump to criticize others, often based on emotions. In The Last Mughal (William Dalrymple, author), is a historical account that shows how some British commanders and other European Christians alienated India's, particularly Delhi's, local leadership. Harsh condemnations due to blindness to the richness of Indian culture proved destructive. Mainly, the British empire wanted to colonize India, not understand her. Thinking they were helping the Faith and the people, foreigners professing Christian beliefs harmed themselves and the country they failed to love. Note that there were British visitors who took a different view and suffered for it, in many cases.   

As a Christian of another time and place, I increasingly am convinced of the good that is part of being informed about others' religious beliefs. And I want to know what Christian scholars know about other religions; in addition, I am learning more about what general members of Islam say about their beliefs.  

I am convinced that peace-loving people of every religion share an opposition to extremism and violence. I remember, as I update this post, that Mogama, in his book Refugee Was My Name, told how Christians and Muslims broke habits of long-standing to pray together in public, due to darkening clouds of rebel warfare spreading over their city and country...Monrovia, Liberia.  

Monday, June 17, 2013

"Solving Syria"


Mass Exodus from Northern South Vietnam: Image 3 Exodus
Organizations and nations are discussing what might be a solution to end the civil war in Syria. From this American's perspective--and for reasons of humanitarian, geopolitical, and national resources, history, and/or religious interests--it is clear that influential Americans have different views. Those views usually include a disinclination to stay out of other regions' wars, a desire to see conflict, and its attendant suffering, end. 
Most Americans are war-weary and war-disillusioned. The solutions expected from going to war, since Korea, have not sufficed. I am not one to rush to a "war solution" view, and I think citizens and voters are weary of U. S. involvement in wars of recent years. As national puzzles grow, if there is a Syria Solution it is not appearing yet on thought-boards, charts, or known lists of acceptable options. 
    "Blood and treasure" is a phrase depicting the human costs of war. Groups like Wounded Warriors remind us of the severity of costs borne by combat survivors. They present a clear picture of "blood and treasure" through the faces, wounds visible and invisible, and families of fighters. We know their wounds could be ours or our families'...and some are.  
     In the 20th century, brain-trust names, presidential advisers, and Pentagon giants like Robert McNamara thought their analyses were correct. In his later memoirs, Robert McNamara wrote that he had long before realized that the Vietnam War, for which he had been a leading strategist, was "wrong, terribly wrong." 
     To leave dictators in place or to take them out has been an unanswered existential question of U. S. foreign policy. Where is the U. S. Congress regarding matters of advice and consultation? The second part of the war powers resolution, for example, reads that the President is required "to consult with Congress before introducing U.S. armed forces into hostilities or situations where hostilities are imminent, and to continue such consultations as long as U.S. armed forces remain in such situations (50 USC Sec. 1542)
     We cannot make other nations' civil wars or dictatorships our military business unless we are prepared with clear, imperative reasons able to past tests learned in U. S. recent  war history. The photo on this page, a mother and wounded child fleeing an overrun Saigon in 1975 when the U. S. was driven from Saigon, is a harsh, yet necessary, reminder that when we try out of fear or any reason not soberly considered, we may do more harm than good in the end. 
     The U. S. was attacked by four civilian planes turned into tools of terror on 9/11/01. Defending against another such attack and any attacks, smaller or larger, is our present war, at home and through intelligence abroad. That war continues, a different kind of combat. I care about Syria and the whole middle east, and they are subjects of prayer. Yet, I do not think we can solve these problems militarily.

(c) 2013 Opinari Writers blog

Friday, June 07, 2013

Prism Program Warning: "Trust few, be vigilant over all"

"Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none." -William Shakespeare   


I was surprised when President Obama said recently that if the American people cannot trust him, the congress, and the National Security Agency (all under special scrutiny these days), "well, then, we've got a problem." 
     Yes, then we've got a problem, 'cause many of us reserve and guard where we put our trust. You know, it's true that sometimes I don't even trust myself... as in times of hasty decisions, words, or ...well, like that time that I signed up to sell cosmetics "in my spare time." We are not robots, nor are we genetically programmed. We are continually learning, developing, and changing.  
    The same attitude about trust applies in this instance for me, about government, whether local or state, and whether a president, congress, or judiciary.  
    I often drive by the edge of the National Security Agency's (NSA) monstrous Maryland facility that works with a focused mission to protect the nation against their enemies. Police presence with flashing lights and lowered speed limit are among the norms. What one knows about the huge compound above (and below) ground along Maryland's route 32 can be impressive. And the work done within those buildings and beneath/near the giant satellite bowls has a good reputation, overall. 
    The fact that we cannot know as much as before about what the heck is going on is likely due to, I think, the fact that some national enemies are nearby, right here among us, even citizens. However, some of us do not want any president, congress, and/or NSA to plan and manage secret details of national security as "doing what is best for us." We want to know something...wanting to know is still part of our national character. 
    Finding out about government spying on members of the press, through the Department of Justice and the FBI, and its hiding of the existence of a deep-data-mining program called Prism, Americans immediately felt the chill of invasions of privacy.  
     We don't need to "throw the baby out with the bath water." This is where I am now, that citizens continue to be able to speak and write about concerns. We don't yet have a loss of free speech guarantees, but clearly they must be guarded aggressively.   
Source of opening quotes:

Copyright (c) 2013 Opinari Writers.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Little Eden

It's Spring; ask nature. Our back garden is my Little Eden; ask my husband. In Little Eden I can get 15 minutes of private Vitamin D every day. In Little E, I can have a morning coffee or afternoon iced tea break. And in Little E, I can work and weed, and time flies and the dirt on hands and sweat on brow do not bother.
     I have sat intentionally alone in this broad back yard surrounded by over 120 plantings my husband did on his own, mainly for privacy hedges at the back and side yards. "You told me where you wanted them," he says lightly, when I mention that I was of little help with that big project several years ago. He leaves a lot of the designing to me, but we talk every item over...and over...and over. It's one of our favorite spring things to do. 
     When I have sat alone in Little E, in sun or shade, I have often looked up into the sky, over the top branches of the tall Norwegian Pine (here long before house-builders came); it once oversaw a large Maryland farm. I look into the blue, cloud-spattered sky, with the occasional over-flight of a passenger jet, leaving or returning to the Thurgood Marshall-Baltimore Washington International Airport (BWI) or the whir of a police or Medevac helicopter...maybe from Fort Meade or NSA.  
     When I have looked up into the sky, as God is my witness I have often given thanks for this little green place of peace that is home for Little E.  The back garden is my favorite place on our one-third of an acre within commuting distance of our nation's capital. It is where the old trellis bench now boasts a third and heavy-blooming year of free-spreading wisteria. Where the box-woods grow so slowly they look almost the same every year, yet I can spot the fresh green that gives the growth away; where spirea plants relocated from the front garden get the attention they and their pinkish little flowers deserve; where yellow and deep, bright roses bloom up the hill; where my husband has put an outdoor table with umbrella. 

The table is good, yet it's the umbrella that I most appreciate: it protects our heads from the seemingly dozens of Gingko tree seed-pods that drop all the time at this season. You can hear them "Pop!" or "Plop" now onto the umbrella. Yet, I still tend to duck to avoid their hard-shell contact. And, 'though they don't hit us on the head now, they will roll to the ground to find a way to bore into the soil and spring up as goo-gobs of little Gingko seedlings. We're on to the stems of the fan-shaped green leaves popping up like, well, green popcorn trees; we'll pull up more this year. Fortunately, they pull up smoothly and without much resistance. Nuisances we can get rid of in an afternoon...until more "plops" hit the ground.   
     The thing is...although my LIttle Eden has its upkeep challenges (and you know what I mean, if you do any gardening), it's worth every workout by hand or hoe. 
     I hope that my recent effort to start a short stairway from back porch down the little hill toward the tall grasses will work out. I've put two large and long green bags end-to-end atop the lawn grass and pinned them down with rocks gathered from around a few now-self-sufficient little areas of crepe myrtle trees and plants. The steps will leave a little less grass to mow, and Andrew, whose team takes care of grass mowing, might be glad of that.  
     Spring seasons go by so fast. I don't want to miss any early morning coffees outside, or any afternoon breaks for Vitamin D, or any evenings looking up at the stars from underneath the Gingko tree, that "devil tree," as a neighbor once named it. It's part of my LIttle Eden, full of memories of days when our daughters pulled on a swing whose ropes were tied to a Gingko tree-limb, the big rocks where one child called urgently for her missing dog, and the lawn area where teenagers once earned their own Vitamin D tans. 
     Ah, Spring in Little E!

Copyright (c) 2013 Opinari Writers