The Syria Series//We Haven’t Even Tried//Westin Miller//

Westin Miller is a Cortina Alumn and a former Cortina RA. He currently works as a Leadership Consultant for Beta Theta Pi.  This is where he stands with regard to the possibility of the United States’ intervention in Syria.

I am not a pacifist.

I follow the teaching of Christ, who was no doubt a peacemaker, but I fail to see an example from His life that definitively calls for pacifism in our conversation about Syria. The Bible never gives an account of Jesus responding to violence being perpetrated against an innocent, unarmed person (other than himself).

“But Westin, remember the most obvious example ever? The woman who was going to be stoned?”

You are right. This story teaches us a beautiful lesson that we have an ABSOLUTE OBLIGATION to preemptively intervene peacefully to prevent violence. Whenever possible, we should be challenging those with violent intentions to seek other alternatives. Our challenge should, of course, be peaceful.

In this particular example, the question I always struggle with is “What if the stones had been thrown?”

If your mind takes you to an answer even remotely related to the idea of stepping in front of them, that is our cue to move specifically to Syria. Because you can’t step in front of a missile loaded with Sarin.

The Bible never gives an account of Jesus responding to violence being perpetrated against an innocent, unarmed person.

The Bible certainly never gives an account of Jesus instructing a nation about how to respond to another nation murdering its innocent civilians. In fact, Jesus never addresses foreign policy at all.

If children are being burned alive in Syria, the international community is obligated to attempt nonviolent intervention.

If nonviolent intervention doesn’t work, I think it is possible to justly engage in violence.

The United States has not attempted nonviolent intervention.

We have not exhausted, or even attempted diplomacy. Our international efforts have been to persuade others to join us in violence and to train and arm the combatants, not to dissuade Assad.

Until we exhaust diplomacy, we cannot justly engage in violence.

We haven’t even tried.

The Syria Series//A Prayer for Syria//Tony Homsy, SJ//

Tony Homsy is a Syrian Jesuit. He is currently a student at Creighton University in Omaha where he studies Digital Journalism and Computer Sciences. He wrote this prayer which was read today during a Prayer Vigil for Peace in Syria at St. John’s Church. The text has been copied from The Jesuit Post

Jesus, my friend, I don’t ask you these things often, but,
what if you were a Syrian in your thirties?

I ask you this naïve question – but it’s really not a question. I ask so I can tell you how the past two and a half years have brought Syria – my country! – to a new turning point, from which we can’t go back. I know Syria is not strange for you, because you spent most of your life so close by. I know you know the color of our land, that you met Paul near our capital, Damascus.

I do not bring this up because I am afraid of the future, or the consequences of war – anything external. I say these things to you because I want to be a Christian inside, not a part of a group that must survive. I want to live a Christian life, as one baptized to be priest, prophet and king – like you. I ask you these questions because I am lost and I cannot find answers that give me peace. Usually I want to be like you, but today – just today – I want to reverse this.

How would you react if you were in my place? Today I want you to be like me, my Lord, while still being my Lord. I want it so you can guide me. So I will know how to live as a good Christian.

It’s not that we are so dissimilar. What you experienced two thousands years ago, it was very similar to what I am living right now. I too was born under a dictatorship. Like so many Syrians, I too have dreamed about the day of freedom.

Do you still remember when you were born under Herod? And the terror? Let me see this current situation as you saw yours. Grant me the gift to see in it not only tyranny, but also a call – like yours, like the one you felt – that encourages me to change this world.

And your family, I am sure it faced problems when the blind bureaucracy demanded of Joseph and Mary a trip to Bethlehem to be registered. I know, too, what it is to face such a bureaucracy each day. All I want for my country is progress. Which is why today, as people around the world pray for peace in my land, I ask you to grant me – give us all – your gifts. So I will be patient and understand that everything takes time. But still, my Lord, can peace come sooner? And progress?

I know you do not need an Internet connection to see the atrocities the world sees, the massacre of children and women. Surely it must be similar to what you heard – the stories of massacres in Jerusalem, like the one committed just after you, an incapable infant, had been born. I wonder if you felt trapped as you lay swaddled in the manger while the killing of innocents happened. I too feel trapped, like a constrained child who cannot yet talk. Today, I ask you to grant me your gift of freedom, the freedom to not respond to such violence with more violence. So I will be meek and not act in violence.

Do you still remember the day, driven by the Holy Spirit, you left home for the wilderness? Didn’t Mary wish that you would stay? It seems impossible a good mother could want her son to leave – but Syrian mothers do these days, they prefer missing their sons and husbands. Better to see them safe, away from home, than in coffins. Today, I ask you to grant consolation to every bereaved mother, and to every mother far from her children. Give solace to each widow and all lovers.

I am one of these far away sons, my Lord. I am far from home and so I feel the waiting in fear and the edgy panic of these days through my family and friends. Do the hiss and whine and the explosion of the missiles launched from one neighborhood to another sound like the thunder you knew? Do you know that the fear your disciples felt while you slept in the boat is only a shadow of the fear my friends and family feel at the sound of the bombs? Today, I ask you to grant us the gift of courage. So we will never feel insecure again – because we feel you beside us.

Do you know, Jesus, that I have never carried any kind of weapon? I don’t even know how to use one. Which is why it is so strange that part of me wishes for someone, someone with powerful weapons, to intervene and deliver us from our misery. It was your Pope’s call for peace that brought a sliver of the desire for peace into my heart. And then I remembered that you refused to carry a weapon as well, even a stone to throw at a supposed sinner. Today, I ask you to grant me your gift of a peaceful heart. So I will call for peace, compromise, instead of the use of power.

How quickly the chemical weapons killed so many children, innocents. The blink of an eye. My degree in chemistry won’t help me to describe for you what the poison gas smells like, or what a human feels when they are dying of it. But you know what it is to suffer and choke as you die. Today, I ask you to grant us the gift of compassion. So we can share the suffering and passion of those innocents.

So many of my friends have left Syria, some before, some after this crisis. Why did you come back to Jerusalem? Hadn’t you noticed the success you’d had in Galilee and the Decapolis? Hadn’t you felt the happiness of sitting and eating with friends and strangers? Why did you leave that to go to Jerusalem when you knew what lay before you? Was it because you too learned to love Jerusalem only after you left? Today, I ask you to grant us your gift of fidelity. So that we too may wish to return home, to love Syria, again.

I will tell you a secret today, Jesus, that I have never told to anybody before. Usually, you know, it isn’t proper for me to speak too much about the trespasses of your Church – but you never stayed mute about undesirable attitudes. And today the same cancer is still spreading. So with apologies I tell you that sometimes I am embarrassed by all the speeches about the suffering of Christians while the misery of our Muslim sisters and brothers is ignored. I am almost crazy with it sometimes. Today, I ask you to grant me your gift of merciful compassion. So I will love your Church in its trespasses – and remember that I too am a part of this Church and need forgiveness.

I have one more question, Jesus: how did you forgive them as they crucified you? It’s what haunts me the most, the difficulty of forgiving those who have hurt me. I can’t find it; I have no logical explanation for how you could forgive them as they did it. When I look for one all I can remember is your call to follow you, and buried within that call is the instruction: forgive those who hurt you. So today, my Lord, I ask you for forgiveness. Forgive me and let me forgive my enemies.

I am walking a thin line between hope and desperation, Jesus. I think it is the same feeling that was inside your disciples after your death. Like them I want my dream to come true, I want freedom, and for the blood of the 100,000 to not have been shed for nothing.

I believe in your resurrection. So when I – when we – feel tempted to give up, when we want to stay buried in the tomb of slavery, come and rise in us then. Come rise in us so that we can cross Golgotha to the glory of resurrection. And trusting in your Father we Syrians, and those who pray with us today, can say: God, into your hands we commend our country. Oh my Jesus, bring your resurrection to Syria today.

A “Christian” Nation?

“If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.” -Stephen Colbert

Service Reflection: Community Bike Shop

Our time at the Community Bike Shop has been nothing less than influential during this semester. It all begins with “community,” as the name says, where we have learned and strived to build community there by working in partnership with the neighborhood members, from and people from across Omaha to build a foundation of togetherness. We have also discovered that community extends to the fact that the shop is actually a physical house as well, with a shopkeeper living upstairs and its identity as a home away from home for some of the kids. The service aspect is met because we’re serving the community by being there as a helping hand, while at the same time it comes full circle when they serve us and give us the satisfaction of knowing our presence is meaningful as they laugh and play, many times without a second glance at any bike in there! Our main tangible service aspect is fulfilled by providing others with a viable transportation option and giving those with lesser opportunities a way of going out and being able to hold down a job. Doing this while educating new buyers on maintenance techniques and keeping the shop open for anyone is quite comparable to “teaching a man to fish,” instead of “giving a man a fish” as the bike shop can provide for a lifetime. With their rule of converting volunteer hours to shop credit, the bike shop also goes a long way in relating to attendees the dignity of labor and the value of hard work.

The community bike shop is like a “rallying point:” it’s not just for transportation, but a place where neighborhood kids can take their mind off things and cultivate a happiness for life. Here, they’re part of a safe haven and involved in meaningful projects. It has been refreshing to notice all of the relationships there of the adults as role models and second family, and the children making friends just through the bike shop. It’s always exhilarating to see the children riding bikes after they fixed them and to see the array of people we were able to serve at the shop too. It’s also fun to see the shopkeepers donate their time and energy to run the shop and turn it into a place of caring for others and teaching others a meaningful life.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the Shop, it’s that everyone is there for a common goal: there’s no judgment, each attendee is present to work hard and learn, and volunteers donate effort to others when needed as well. In regards to judgment and seeing the presence of everyone there, we’ve contemplated the spiritual side at our service site as well. Jesus can be witnessed in those whom we serve and all within the shop’s walls. By serving them we serve Him, especially as we follow his parable and “teach a man to fish.” Although there is no visible sign of the CBPO being foundationally built upon Christianity or the Jesuit aspects of love and giving, it inherently is because of its ability to provide for others in a unique way that that no other service site can fulfill.

The first two weeks we were so lost on how to fix bikes, from the handlebars and brakes to chains and tires, we felt clueless, but then we were able to expand our knowledge with hands-on activities and implement them to helping the attendees. Ed’s favorite moment was a time when he was able to find happiness after helping a child accomplish a satisfactory job and enough work to earn their bike. One of Derek’s best memories includes the aspect of service that goes the way of the server, where they actually end up serving themselves and spiritually growing through the meaningful conversations and actions that take place during service. Toni enjoys the times at the Shop when she can take a break from fixing a bike and take the time to talk with the kids, especially the youngest ones, and bring a smile or laugh to their face.