Questions to Ponder: Syria

"Cause I wonder sometimes
About the outcome
Of a still verdictless life
Am I living it right? 
Am I living it right? 
Am I living it right?" 

Does it always come back to John Mayer lyrics? Yes. Most of the time (in my brain) it does.

Those are lyrics from the song, "Why Georgia?" So, how do those words relate to Syria?

I have a feeling in my gut that I am not "living it right" when it comes to our brothers and sisters in the Middle East. First off, I'm about 99% ignorant of world issues. And second, I am somehow embarrassingly capable of knowing a portion of the realities and looking the other way anyway. It's bad. Really bad. And I know I'm not alone in this ineptitude.

Today's post is framed around a broader question: "Are WE living it right?"

We have a country of politicians convening to respond to President Obama's proposed bill which would authorize the use of force in Syria. This is the perfect time to ask the question: Are we living it right?  If so - great. If not - what might we do differently?

The "Questions to Ponder" posts are not intended to provide a "right answer." Instead, they are meant to bring about conversation and reflection. And I'll certainly throw in some of my own ponderings along the way.

First off, a map. I find this alone to be a helpful tool. Syria is really in a critical geographic location.

Next up, a few personal ponderings. These aren't particularly political in nature. Instead, they are mostly reflections on what it means to be both human and Christian. What are my responsibilities to help and serve those in need in other parts of the world?

It's "back to school" season here in the US. It's wonderful. Teachers, parents, and students are excited. Facebook news feeds are full of happy, excited children posing for pictures beside the school bus. Families are looking forward to a year of possibility and excitement. We're also getting ready for a new season of Sunday School and Confirmation at church. I am so excited to welcome a new bunch of 7th and 8th graders to the program in the congregation where I serve.

Also today, there are about 1,000,000 Syrian refugee children who are not able to go to school because they live in tents with their families. Of the 2,000,000 total refugees, more than half are under the age of 11.

These are such sharp contrasts. How can things be so different? (Clearly I'm generalizing here. It's not as if every child in the US has a perfect life and can't wait to go back to school. There are MAJOR concerns nationally, too.  And certainly, children in Syria still experience laughter and joyful moments. But on the whole - as of today, life in Syria and life in the US are quite different.)

I don't bring this up because I think we should all spend our days feeling terrible about kids in Syria (or Egypt or Somolia or North Korea).

We should continue to celebrate the start of a new school year. We should continue to relish the joy we experience that comes along with this season.

But also, we do need to care about those other kids, right? The gifts and abilities they bring to the planet? The injustices they face? I believe we are called by God to care deeply. We are called to care and to act. Don't we want joy and peace for children in other places? Are we willing to work for it? Make sacrifices? Change? Ask questions?

I can't speak for anyone else. Only for myself. But seriously: I don't want to be a person who basically ignores world matters other than listening to NPR and lifting up a weekly Sunday morning petition during the Prayers of Intercession. 

Is there a way to be truly conscientious of serious global matters and important local matters at the same time?  I think so. I think there must be a way. Many people have figured it out. It isn't as if we can all be fully invested in every global matter and every local matter at all times. But we can be aware. Local matters. Global matters. I think our hearts and minds have space for both.

My problem: I tend to "opt-out" of global matters and that's not okay. It's not okay to opt-out just because an issue is complicated or far away. It's not okay to opt-out just because pastor life is busy and there are plenty of people to serve locally.

The more I read the gospels, the more I realize that Jesus spent the majority of his time and energy encouraging people to step OUTSIDE of what was comfortable and expected.

On countless occasions, he spoke with really religious people. Insiders. People who seemed to have it all together. And these religious folks had good intentions. I think sometimes they really did. They thought they were on the right track. They spent a lot of their time and energy maintaining the status quo. These people believed that their institutions were good. And they wanted to preserve them.

But then Jesus flipped it all over. Instead of affirming their religious institutions, he spoke critically of ANY religious model that prioritized some people over others.

Jesus worked hard to help people see the value of every person. Every single person. Regardless of religious background, geographic location, health, or wealth.

I don't know about you, but sometimes I fear that I'm on the wrong side of the table. Lately, when I read Jesus' words and preaching directed toward the overtly religious, I feel like he's talking right to me. Like Sunday's gospel text: When you throw a banquet, don't invite your friends and family and all the people who will repay you. When you have a party, invite the people who can never pay you back.

Whoa. This is some serious stuff. And seriously opposite to how I live the majority of the time (thanks be to God for grace).

Sometimes I'm afraid I am participating in and leading an expression of Christianity which all too easily ignores the very people Jesus was most interested in connecting with, serving, and learning alongside. Jesus didn't spend all that much of his time helping religious people preserve their institutions. Instead, he spent his time engaging real people in real-life circumstances, spreading a message of forgiveness, peace, and justice.

Let it be clearly noted: I love the Christian Church. A bunch. And I think there are a lot of things about it that Jesus loves, too. There are so many faithful folks and organizations built around a shared desire for justice...locally, nationally, and internationally. Also, anytime we're involved in loving God and loving neighbor - that's something to celebrate and continue.

But when we (the Christian Church) become more interested in self-preservation than service to others, we may want to pause and do some rethinking. When we feel like we don't have 'time to care,' we may want to pause and do some rethinking.

First and foremost, we're global citizens, right? At the core of my humanness, I am not interested in the country of origin printed on someone's passport. At the core, I'm interested in helping to create a world where all people have the opportunity to experience life - and life abundant

I don't know the answer to what's happening in Syria. I really don't. And I'd have to read about a billion more articles to even begin to have the right vocabulary and awareness to have even a mildly informed opinion. I know the UN isn't okay with President Obama's plan. On the other hand, I know many congresspeople are supportive of the plan. There clearly isn't going to be an easy answer.

All this to say: even if there is no clear solution, this issue matters. So do all issues relating to peace and justice.

Perhaps if we all find a way to care and care deeply (while still joyfully celebrating and living life)...if we all choose to opt-in and not out....true and lasting peace can someday find a way to take root. Not only in Syria. But throughout the world. And also in our families and friendships. 

We start with our own little square on the quilt of life, and we keep stitching.

We're all connected. Perhaps much, much more than we realize.  

Questions to ponder when developing a personal opinion on whether to use force in Syria:

-Are there ever instances when violence resulting in civilian death is permissible?

-How will we talk about Syria to our children and teens?

-What is our responsibility as global citizens?

-How do we view the role of the UN?

-Do you believe that sometimes violence is required to fight violence? 

-Where is God in all this? 

-How can we be globally conscious and locally conscious at the same time? 


  1. A longer commentary than I had planned, but just expressing some thoughts that rattle between my two brain cells. Just thoughts. I don't claim to be right or an expert.

    Syria is just a tiny tip of a very large ice berg. To solve this (or any) problem, we first need to clearly understand it (which I don't). What are the root causes, and what are the various options for fixing them. This entire geographical region (Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc.)has been a hot bed of turmoil and conflict for centuries. One common thread is the strong religious culture, that is very oppressive to women, and has various conflicting spins of interpretation depending on which tribe you belong to. Some are relatively passive; while others are extremists, and tend to take the lead in many cases, which they successfully do because of the lower literacy and educational levels in general. Basic philosophy is that anyone not of their culture is an infidel; and should be avoided or eliminated. By increasing their numbers in other countries, they will eventually become the majority; establishing their religious culture as the law of the land. Sounds similar to the Trojan Horse story. I read this week that Japan is not allowing this religious culture into their country, because of it's conflictive nature. Sometimes I wonder about our good Christian character of welcoming everyone with open arms. Could it be that we lambs are potentially welcoming other lambs who are actually wolves in sheep's clothing?

    I am not educated well enough on this topic to know what the right course of action is. I do know that I have lost respect for this religious culture after seeing a city of them in Michigan cheering and celebrating in the streets, burning the American flag, when 911 happened. Totally despicable and inhumane behavior, and we Americans allow them to do this and become citizens of the USA. We bend over backwards "not to offend" them, but no one seems to care if WE are offended. There are definitely some very good people amongst them (my co-workers), not all are bad, but the overall culture certainly has to be questioned.

    What's happening in Syria is atrocious! My opinion is that the only way to attack this situation is through a joint coalition (UN) of other countries. I'd like to see all major countries, including those from the middle east, get involved. USA should NOT do it unilaterally, nor take the lead. We have a bad track record if you look at past involvements: Vietnam, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, etc. We went in and spilled our blood, spent our money (that we borrowed), used up our resources, and for what? Conflict continues. We were asked to help, then told to "go home". We look like the big bullies who come in to do some dirty work others don't like or want to do. The luster on our country's reputation gets a little more tarnished with each engagement in conflict.

    We can pray to God for guidance. Maybe all is unfolding as planned, but I am clueless as to what the plan is, so just have to trust in Him. A good step for America would be to get a "functional" and "respected" government in place, along with true and honest leadership.