Ash Wednesday 2003
During these days of confusion and high emotion over Iraq, I happened to be reading the biography of a woman caught in an earlier era of Middle East turmoilbefore and during World War II.
At that time, colonial control of the region was winding down, but the imperialist powers were making sure that the right leaders were in place. Britain was bargaining over how to create a state for Jews without destroying an Arab homeland. The ideological passions and dirty politics sounded all too familiar.
The woman in the midst of all this was Freya Stark (1892-1993), a madly adventurous and brilliant English woman who loved to travel to remote corners of the Arab world simply to explore and learn. She became one of the worlds leading Arabists. Her writing was unequalled in its perceptions of remote peoples who make up the Islamic world (Passionate Nomad by Jane Fletcher Geniesse, The Modern Library, 2001).
This female Lawrence of Arabia, while fiercely British, spurned the imperialist attitudes of her country. She had a deep respect for both Arabs and Jews (but no patience with extremists). She welcomed the changes that came with the independence of Arab states. The colonial powers, however, still controlled many of those changes. As they blithely sliced up the Middle East after World War II, Stark foresaw the legacy of violence and resentment they were leaving to future generations.
The main issues then were Zionism and control of oil. Things havent changed much over 50 years. World politics is still shaped by national self-interest, fear and bigotry. War is still considered a viable option, a quick fix to complex problems. But maybe some things have changed.
On February 15, we witnessed the largest anti-war protest in history, according to reports. Millions of people in cities around the world took to the streets to speak a resounding No! to war with Iraq. This massive uprising, and the broad spectrum of protesters, are surely causes for hope. Even our mass media appear to be digging deeper during this crisis, providing analysis and opinion that go beyond political sloganeering. (An example is the page on Iraq and a hard case in the February 15 Globe and Mail.)
But even if war is averted, the problems wont go away. We will continue to be anxious about rising gas prices and falling markets. We will worry that our comfortable lives are at risk. We will continue to fear the terrorist threat.
The alternatives are stark, noted Michael Lerner, an American rabbi, after September 11. Either start caring about the fate of everyone on this planet or be prepared for a slippery slope toward violence that will eventually dominate our daily lives. Lerner suggested a global day of atonement and repentance to focus on how to become a more just and loving society.
You are reading this issue as the season of Lent approaches. Let us begin this sombre season by clothing our minds and hearts in sackcloth and ashes. Let us begin with repentance for our own sins as we pray for a better world.
Margaret Loewen Reimer, managing editor
What exactly is a missional church? That question has been batted around since Mennonite Church Canada adopted missional thinking as its organizing principle several years ago. In this issue, scholar and pastor David Schroeder offers his answer by exploring the biblical record (page 6). This is the first in a two-part series.
Accompanying Schroeders article is a provocative image of the church on a canoe trip (page 7) and examples of how missional thinking is being put into practice in Mennonite Church Canada congregations (pages 18 and 19).
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