Saturday, December 28, 2019

Christians in Maaloula, Syria

Maaloula, Syria

On Christmas Eve, news coverage flashed for a moment on Maaloula, Syria, a small town tucked into limestone cliffs 26 miles from Damascus. Orthodox Christians live there and speak neo-Aramaic, a modern form of the language Jesus spoke.

As one of the few places in the world where Aramaic is still spoken, Maaloula is a tourist site, especially around Christmas.

On September 8-9, 2013, Maaloula was attacked by rebel forces trying to overthrow Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. That occurred one month after Assad's forces used poisonous gas on another nearby village, killing some 1,400 men, women, and children.

 The U.S. says Assad's forces fired rockets loaded with the nerve agent sarin on rebel-held areas near the capital before dawn on Aug. 21, 2013, killing at least 1,429 people. Other estimates put the death toll from the attack at more than 500.

Why is there such a difference between the two death estimates?  Maaloula and nearby towns are also the site of a major propaganda battle.  The Assad regime in Damascus controls and protects Maaloula, and the people thus favor his government.  

Russian propaganda sites such as Ruptly (RT or Russia Today) and Mark Taliano praise Assad as a "secular government" and use Maaloula as an example of him supporting a partly non-Muslim town.  SANA, the Syrian government news agency, is controlled by Assad. The Russian and Syrian news sites praise Assad and hate both the US and the Al-Nusra rebel front, because it includes Al Qaeda forces.  

Poor Syria is caught in a major struggle for territory between the two main branches of Islam. Saudi Arabia and Syria are Sunni Muslims, while Iran and Al Qaeda are Shiite.  

The American government under President Obama supported those trying to overthrow Assad because of his murderous attacks on his own people, including poisonous gas attacks.

Under Trump, however, the US supports Assad and overlooks his massacre of rebel Syrians.

What can Christians and Jews and Muslims from the US to do help?  Pray for these people, stay informed, and work to end the murderous regime of Assad.

Another report on Syrian Christians:

Friday, December 13, 2019

Christmas--A Time for Impeachment

It's fitting that the 45th US president's downfall comes during Advent as we honor the arrival of God in humble human form.  

Christmas is about the Almighty taking notice of a small planet and showing up as one of its creatures--not as a priest or king but as a poor working class human.

Such extreme humility shouldn't happen.  But God's humble intervention in human affairs through a child growing up in an unknown village is the model we are called to follow.  Humility--not pomp and power. 

Our current president doesn't understand the call to be a servant, not a king--a slave, not a dictator.  He was a baby born into wealth who grew up to be a showoff and oppressor of the poor, especially migrants.

Most of us grow up with the usual worldly values.  We want to become rich and famous, one way or another, or at least comfortable.

But the Christmas story reminds us that the most unimportant person we see could be bringing God's presence into our life. 

The baby Jesus became a dime-a-dozen craftsman and later a well-known prophet, executed as a trouble maker, a kind of whistleblower,

Mary, his teenage mother, was amazed and shocked when her cousin proclaimed that her unborn baby would be important--that she could be the one to bring God to earth by carrying a child who would shake human powers.

The compiler of the Gospel according to Luke gave Mary a prophetic speech at this point, praising God: "the Mighty One has done great things for me."  

Her words are like the prayer of Hannah, mother of Samuel, who proclaimed that the poor, hungry, feeble, and barren would be lifted up, and that the God of Israel "YHWH will judge the ends of the earth." 

This week the House Judiciary Committee is judging the president.  If God's hand is in this judgment,Washington, D.C., is one of the ends of the earth being judged in fulfillment of this prophecy.  

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, "Who among us will celebrate Christmas correctly?  Whoever finally lays down all power, all honor, all reputation, all vanity, all arrogance, all individualism beside the manger; whoever remains lowly and lets God alone be high...." (God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas (Louisville, NK: Westminster John Knox, 2010).  

Instead of feeling irritated that our Christmas festivities are interrupted by this impeachment, let's recognize that righteous intervention into our lives is what Christmas is all about.

God "has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts... brought down the powerful from their thrones," as the Gospel of Luke says.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

"Parasites" ate up my time

Why did I waste good money and three hours of my life to see the film Parasites?

  • A couple of friends recommended it.
  • It won the Palm D'Or at Cannes, 
  • "Best foreign film in a decade" someone said.
  • Justin Chang, critic for the LA Times, liked it.

Don't believe them.

This film is a blend of the Three Stooges and the Pardoner's Tale in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.

The Pardoner's Tale is about three men who find gold by a tree, eat and get drunk, and all kill each other.  That's what the family of four in this film does.  Not everyone dies, but the plot is blindly predictable.  

So what if there's a subplot about a family in the basement?

So what if it contrasts wealth and poverty?  The characters are so unlikeable that it's hard to care when they start killing each other.   

I liked the foul four until they got greedy, which was about half an hour after the film began.  They connive to get others fired, take their jobs, and then get drunk and make a mess in their bosses' home.  Such pointless stupidity and selfishness makes me yawn and look for the exit. 

Somebody please explain to me why some of the culture's pacesetters liked it.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Why do we still like The Nutcracker?

Cast of The Nutcracker performed by the Westside School of Ballet, 2019
Fantasy... joy.  Pretty music, dances, and costumes.  These all provide escape from the drabness, dullness, and drudgery of real life.

But still I wonder: why does this antiquated ballet give pleasure in 2019?

I've seen it scores of times.

At one point, I swore I'd never attend The Nutcracker again.  That was the year I had so many rehearsals and performances to drive my daughters to that I was satiated with the saccharine, 19th-century classist story as well as its costumes and dance.

The story line of Clara and her toy is brief.  The dream she has afterward is interminable and plotless, just an excuse to showcase one dance after another for every type of candy there was in 1880, followed by a waltz for roses and then solo performances by the Sugar Plum Fairy and her prince.

For some reason, the dances didn't seem to go on forever this year.  The live performance of Tchaikovsky's music by the Santa Monica College Symphony Orchestra carried me along with joy and pleasure.  I watched the 10-year-old next door scamper about as a polichinelle with a cluster of bouncing ringlets on each side of her face.

Sitting next to two of my daughters, I realized that it is exactly thirty years since I first took 7-year-old Roz, 4-year-old Ellen, and 2-year-old Marie to see this extravaganza.  At the time I knew that taking a 2-year-old was asking for trouble, but Roz was taking ballet classes, enjoyed the performance, and still remembers it.  In fact, she became very involved in ballet for the next eleven years.  

The fact was that I couldn't afford a babysitter.  Marie had to come.  By bringing a supply of candy and a juice bottle, I somehow made it through.

This year the stage for me was framed by hours of impeachment testimony in the House Intelligence Committee and the House Judiciary Committee. 

Our nation is plagued by a dishonest president and his cronies, gun violence, cruelty toward immigrants, enhanced wealth, increased poverty, environmental crimes, and a thousand other ills. 

Thus it makes sense that people want to spend three hours in a fantasy Victorian world that presumes wealth and along with servants and poor street vendors.  

The whole show is lies--but they are pretty lies danced with exquisite skill to music that yearns for joy and beauty.  All I can do is succumb and promise to face the grim reality of December 2019 later.