As If It Weren't Complex Enough…
Maybe it's this spring that just can't manage to arrive, but lots
of us are feeling things are oddly out of balance. As many of
you know, usually at this time of year we'd be looking to talk
about the meaning of Easter and seasons and cycles and getting
our hands back into the earth again. Phoenicia's named for a bird
that rose from its own ashes, and it's not that we're not interested
this spring in resurrection, but maybe we'll come back to it next
year. For us, for now, the war's changed things. Look at what's
going on over in Iraq.
Thousands of men and women are fighting and dying with a courage
that can't be taught or explained or really even understood by
most of us. And while that's certainly true of our extraordinarily
professional and committed Americans and Brits on the front lines,
it might even be true for some Iraqis, fighting what they know
is a hopeless battle. It's not that they're stupid. What courage
some of them have shown comes from a faith that allows them to
believe what they're doing makes sense. It's true we'll never
understand why some are willing to blow themselves up to make
a point, or send their pregnant wives out to do it for them. Still,
we're about to occupy a city of 5 million, a fair number of whom
are going to fall into that category. So call it psychotic or
whatever, but we might want to at least try and understand a little
about what in God's name and however God is pronounced, we're
dealing with over there.
Most Iraqis and Iranians are Shi'ites, and their whole concept
of history is that it's basically one big protest against intolerable
repression and secular authority. Forget that over in Iran they've
created a state based on repression by religious authority; hey,
making sense isn't one of the criteria for setting up a government.
Most of these people aren't and probably never were fans of Saddam
Hussein. What's interesting though about both their worldview
and that of the Sunni Moslems in Baghdad, is that they're both
seeing the war in a way that's almost exactly parallel to the
way President Bush and our country's political - though thankfully
not our military - leadership is seeing it; as a spiritual battle
in a very specific historical and prophetic context. What's really
weird is that both sides see it as the same battle, and both sides
are sure they're on the side of history and of the angels.
This is a time when any of us who feel sure the war's "really"
about one specific thing or another - global terrorism or chemical
and biological weapons, or democracy or regional politics or oil
or whatever - we might want to also try to stay open to another
way of seeing what's going on, because our President, Saddam Hussein
and Osama Bin Ladin all apparently do. Yes, the war is about those
things. But for them, it's also about the convergence of some
Christian and Islamic worldviews on the subject of, yikes, the
Second Coming, the Messiah, or in Arabic, "Al Madhi".
In fact in the Sunni tradition of Iraq, the Second Coming of Jesus
is actually a big part of their prophecy, as it's he who's supposed
to establish the rule of justice on earth so the Madhi can arrive.
And actually one of the big theological beefs between the Shi'ites
and Sunnis is whether it's Jesus or Al-Madhi that gets to kill
al-Dajjal, the Devil. And how, according to their scripture and
commentary, do the Iraqis KNOW, for sure, who the Devil is? Easy
: The Devil will tempt people by bringing food and water which
will be in short supply when he comes, along with other temptations.
And those things will be a test for sifting the true believers
of God from the false ones.
O - kay. Good thing we've got all that humanitarian aid rolling
in. We sure wouldn't want them to mistake us for, whoa, wait a
minute. So this lunacy or theology or whatever….this is
what our armed forces are actually dealing with now: Many Iraqis
who are ecstatic at our arrival, and others including maniacs
from throughout the Arab world, ready to die in an instant for
the privilege of killing some of us. Our people have done an extraordinary
job thus far, in what's probably the most difficult position any
military's ever had to fight in. They've shown an amazing sensitivity
to situations and cultural values in a way few armies have ever
been called on to do. And they've done it while fulfilling their
mission brilliantly, proving their ability to try and make peace
almost as well as they wage war. Watching them, the pride we all
share is justified, and it's a testament to the strength of who
we as Americans really are. And yet, religious psychosis is going
to stay at the center of whatever happens next.
Does Saddam Hussein think he's the prophesized Mahdi? Maybe he
does (or did), and maybe so does Osama bin Ladin. The speculation's
as rife in some Christian circles as in Moslem ones. Remember
when the Iranians started calling America "The Great Satan"?
That's what they were talking about; we're the Devil in the prophesized
war that ushers in the next stage in human history. As anti-Americanism
intensifies throughout the Islamic world, listen for the chants
of Al-Dajjal and Al Madhi. When you hear them, remember it means
the history we're making now makes perfect sense to them, as they
prepare for the end of days.
This is sobering stuff for Easter and Passover, a chilling reminder
that our world is frighteningly complex and just barely balanced.
It's possible soon the sea of hatred will part, and all of our
brave people will come home to us. It's more likely however the
Battle of Baghdad is but an early one in a war that's barely begun.
If ever our people far from home need our prayers, it's now. And
more concretely, some of their families may be struggling more
than we've thought about, including financially. So please think,
ask, and offer. It's a time when just trying to be there for one
another may be the best we can do.