Monday, July 21, 2014

On Being Silly Putty in Evil Hands: The Ungodly Tragedy of MH17

I have written extensively here on the blog in the past on my Armenian American identity (especially as it relates to the Armenian Genocide of World War I), but one of the things I haven't really written about much, both because it hasn't overlapped with my blogging interests and because of my general lack of expertise in the area, was (is) Armenia's sovereignty, and the sovereignty (and lack thereof) of other former Eastern Bloc nations, during the 20th and 21st centuries.

Sounds kind of dry, I know, right?

But there's a lot of palace intrigue to it.  Armenia was a part of the Ottoman Empire (the precursor to Turkey) until the empire's defeat in the First World War and subsequent dissolution, at which point Armenia became a nominally independent nation.  Only two years later, though, in 1920, Turkish forces invaded Armenia, forced it to surrender territory it had received through its independence, and taking advantage of that power shift, Soviet Russia annexed Armenia as a Soviet Socialist Republic two years after that, in 1922.  The first independent Armenia of the modern era lived for only four years.

Now, if you were to think that this story shared some noticeable overlaps with the annexation of Crimea in Ukraine by Vladimir Putin's Russia, you'd be right.  Crimea has a majority Russian (as opposed to Ukrainian) population, and Russia, taking advantage of a power gap in the Ukraine, earlier this year supported a referendum in Crimea to annex it to Russia, with nearly 97 percent reportedly voting "yes," although when roughly a quarter of Crimea's population is Ukrainian and probably not bullish on the prospect of Russian governance, well, you read between the lines on that one.

Anyways, the unrest and resulting power vacuums in Ukraine has been something that Putin and the Kremlin have exploited to great effect by aiding pro Russian terrorists (and yes, I think that is an appropriate use of the term) throughout the country, much as Soviet Russia did throughout its history of satellite and proxy territories, and throughout the process of annexing its own Soviet Socialist Republics to make up the eventual USSR.

What does all this history have to do with church and ministry and, well, God?

At worship yesterday, I talked with my congregation a little bit about MH17, the Malaysian Airlines jet that was shot down over Ukraine, by all indications from a weapons system in the possession of pro Russian terrorists.  298 fatalities are the immediate life cost of this bit of evil, and in and of itself, that presents religious concerns.  No person's God should endorse the killing of innocent people, and if someone's God does, then that God is the devil.

But similarly, neither should any person, and certainly any Christian, believe that God calls for the manipulative control over populations of people as though they were playthings in a megalomaniacal quest for evil, and a lot of that has to do with Scripture: from basically the 8th century BCE onward, Israel was treated as one of those playthings to annex by empires bigger than it: the Assyrians, followed by the Babylonians, followed by the Persians, followed by the Greeks, followed by the Romans, followed by the Byzantines, followed by the Arabic and Seljuk Muslims (with only a short intermission for independent rule under the Maccabees in the 2nd and 1st centuries BCE).

And this is to say nothing of how torn about early Christians were until the religion was state instituted by Constantine the Great three centuries after Jesus, or of how the Israelites were used by the Egyptians as slave labor in exile in the Exodus story.

To give a more microcosmic example, the shooting down of MH17 is scarcely different from how, in the Old Testament, King Ahab frames the vineyard owner Naboth and eventually has him stoned so that Ahab can take Naboth's land: an innocent man is killed at the whim of a power hungry ruler who wants to annex more land for himself.

All of this is to say: the Judeo Christian heritage is one borne out of literally a millennium or more of being the rope in a terrible game of tug of war between emperors, kings, and violent men of power.  At some point, you would think we would learn that abusing that power for the sake of ego or selfish, nationalistic gain is a sin.

What the shooting down of MH17 has shown is that we either haven't learned that lesson, or we have and very clearly couldn't give a tinker's damn.  We are still treating the lives of others like silly putty in our hands, where the deaths of literally hundreds of people are treated as necessary collateral damage to attaining one's political power aims.

I write this as someone whose people were once that silly putty in the hands of someone evil and more powerful than they: at some point, this has to stop.

I don't know when.

I don't know how.

But what we are doing to each other is not sustainable.

That I know.

I know because God has taught me this.

And God's teachings are what solely remains as perfect in a world that has been battered and beaten and bruised by its own inhabitants.

Let us follow, then, what is perfect.

In memory of the 298 souls killed on MH17, an in the hopes that one day, we will live in the world that Isaiah prophesies, where swords are beaten into plowshares and spears are beaten into pruning hooks, in the hope that one day we will study war no more.

Yours in Christ,

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