The Great Human Dilemma
Why is it that, capable as we are of extraordinary greatness, our species is better known for acts of unspeakable depravity?
In the last few weeks some of you will have read press articles or heard radio interviews from my sister Val and her extraordinary life in Ethiopia amongst the Afar people, and more particularly of her current situation caught in the crossfire of a brutal civil war.
A couple of days ago she emailed me as follows:
Here things have sunk to an all-time low with the ferocity of fighting, destruction of community, property, and casualties. We are trying desperately to turn things around for the community – it is totally all absorbing. News came this morning that the TPLF fighting headquarters in a district called 'Adda'ar had been smashed. If this is true, this is a breakthrough as there are over 32,000 displaced people now in their 18th day without food - very, very drastic. If we can find a way through, we will reach them [with food].
The insanity of all this is, I guess, as old as humanity. Fighting is [what humans do]. I cannot begin to understand the thinking of the invading army. They are smashing everything in their path, otherwise they burn it. They climb on top of Afar dome-shape houses [deboitas], totally smashing them. They split the 'aloyta' Afar bed with knives. This is so awful for the women who own them - some form of desecration.
Val had previously reported that her medical centres and schools had been pillaged, food ransacked, and people left absolutely destitute.
Well, God will pull the Afar through and meanwhile, we try what is possible to inject normality into life such as under the tree education, rather than doing nothing.
The Ethiopian situation is one of excruciating irony. The prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, forged a peace deal with Eritrea in 2019 and won the 2019 Nobel peace prize.
During the week I watched The People’s Patriarch on u-tube. (I strongly commend it). Michael Sabbah, a Palestinian Arab Christian was appointed Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem in 1987 by John Paul ll. He now lives in retirement on the West Bank. Sitting on the Mount of Olives and looking down on the ancient city he despairs. He says the West, led by the US, is prepared to sacrifice all Palestinians including all Palestinian Christians in its uncritical support of Israel and its apartheid led government. He says the city has lost any claim to the title ‘Holy’. He says this title can only be reclaimed if love once more prevails. Love across the Abrahamic faiths and love from oppressor to oppressed. In the meantime, he says Palestinians have only two choices. Either submit, accepting their downtrodden state, or resist.
This week, the Christian calendar, celebrated the last Sunday of the current Christian year – the festival of Christ the King.
The (bible) readings for the day address this terrible dilemma. We are social beings, we belong together, we need to get on with one another. Our measure of success or failure depends, amongst other things, on how we are led. Who is king amongst us?
The first reading (from Daniel) reflects the terrifying leadership of past and (then)present civilisations – Babylonians – Persians and Greeks, under whom the Israelites and other subject peoples suffered terribly. All these powers, who at the time considered themselves invincible, had their moment in the sun and faded. The writer reflects that above them was/is an authority they have neither known or respected. This authority is not based in ambition, exertion of power, jealousy, or rivalry, but in tenderness and care of creator for creation. The title given to this authority was the title Jesus chose for himself ‘Son of Man’.
The Gospel reading for the day was the well-known encounter between Jesus and Pilate. Pilate wanted to know if Jesus considered himself a rival to Roman authority - ‘King of the Jews’. Jesus responded that his authority was of a very different kind to that of Pilate. He had come into the world to witness to ‘truth’. Pilate famously asked: “What is truth”. (In the end despite strong objections from Jewish leadership, Pilate directed that the inscription on the cross read “Jesus Christ the King of the Jews”).
The truth, which Jesus came as witness, is that kingship (governing) cannot be about power, ambition, control. It can only be about service, love and care, and if necessary, about diminishing, that greater good might flourish. We are taught that whatever we may think about God, this is the nature of the divine, and the true but lost nature of humanity.
Australian political sophistication permits verbal warfare but eschews open violence (although watching the recent protests in Melbourne you might well ask how sophisticated we are).
What has become all too clear is that national leadership is no more than a game. It is not about the best policy on anything, be it taxation, climate change, national security, the pandemic, transparency, or anything else. It is all about the next election. It is not about anything else.
In national leadership truth has become a casualty in the ambition for power retention. What is said is couched to placate a section of the community government relies upon to be kept in office.
The good news is that the truth about which Jesus came as witness is alive and well in the lives of countless ordinary women and men, many people of deep faith, but by no means exclusively so. Let us hope and pray that some of these men and women will feel called and have the resources to stand for high office. Political parties appear not to have space for them, but they can stand as independents.
It is only when leadership of this character predominates in Australian domestic politics that we will be the nation we could be and become a leader rather than a laggard in international affairs.