Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.”
The American nation has been examining its soul. It has taken time to focus inward upon systemic injustices that divide and sometimes conquer people. For many of its people it has been a painful experience. For some it has prompted moments of revelation, for others it has provoked resistance.
Sloping away from a global pandemic we are all subject to low-level trauma. We never believed the last two years could have happened. Out of that trauma should we expect the world to behave a little less rationally? A shooting in a grocery store kills ten and is conducted by someone who wants to eliminate people who are different from him. The event is just one sharp tip of a massive iceberg that, hidden beneath an ocean of civility, absorbs the private thoughts of the masses.
What happened in Buffalo on May 14th, is nothing new. It is not justified by a pandemic nor by recent racial introspection. It is as ancient as the first sinful act of aggression. It is another event in the Eden-old narrative of man’s inability to live with either himself or others.
In the garden Adam and Eve demonstrated they were not content to live solely in God’s presence. Out in a field Abel’s death at the hand of Cain was not merely the result of anger as a younger brother usurped the favor of the Lord, rather it was the first manifestation of man’s unwillingness to live with his fellow man. Difference breeds contempt in a sinful heart. A lack of deference nurtures persecution. In gardens and in fields; in homes and in grocery stores; and on the battle front and in the halls of power, the hearts of men and women reveal their true nature. In a world where wise mentors encourage the protégé to ‘just follow your heart’ a wiser word declares: The heart is deceitful above all things!
Beyond the garden and the field came the tower; man’s vain endeavor to reach the heavens in an act of self-aggrandizement as he ran from fear of an unknown wider world. Then came the dispersal as confusion ruled communication and suspicion of the other became endemic.
Today we are living in the age of the paranoid and egocentric authoritarian. Controlling nations of the dispersed the dictator derogates diversity and enforces conformity to a religious, political or cultural norm. Suspicion of the other invalidates the uniqueness of the individual created after God’s image.
A nation far to the east incarcerates a minority community in the name of deradicalization and reeducation. In reality its leadership is afraid of a people exerting their religious and ethnic identity raising the specter of separatism. To the south another insecure totalitarian holds his people in economic misery delegitimizing opposition and mortgaging territory to bluff his way through sham constitutional processes.
In one of the great travesties of our time the successor to the Tsars has manipulated his way to enduring power through the elimination of all opposition and the suppression of objective truth. He distracts his people from economic failure by embarking on a special operation to rid a neighbor of extremists and invokes the name of God in defense of traditional values. In the process whole cities, full of gardens, homes and grocery stores are destroyed. Thousands die and are laid to rest in muddied fields.
For those who survive the purge, wherever it takes place, refuge in strange lands is the prize. That is why a Ukrainian pastor and his family arrive in Richmond, fleeing a war, finding a welcome, but not without frequent worry. That is why the former Afghan finance minister, fleeing the threats of theocratic madmen who violently enforce the will of the minority, now finds himself driving for a rideshare service in Washington only streets from an embassy to which he was once an official visitor. It is also why my Afghan friend Salim is working a custodial job at the University of Richmond rather than running an insurance company office in Kabul and why my Turkish friend Ihsan, a former civil servant in his homeland, is building a new life in the strange surroundings of the Swiss Alps.
The rule of the absolute is not the way of Jesus. His journey took him through the fields, to people’s homes, and whatever served as grocery stores in his day. It ended in a garden where he healed the wound rather than watch his friends discriminate against his persecutors. He had commanded love for enemies, love for neighbor as for self, and love as he had loved, for one another. The life that loved gave itself up with the words: Father, forgive!
I deliberately kept the names of nations out of this piece, except where they relate to nationalities, because I wanted the focus to remain on the issues at the hearts of peoples and nations. However, for those who don’t follow global news as keenly as I do, the nation to the east is China and its treatment of its minorities, and the one to the south is Venezuela. I don’t think the third nation needs naming since it is all over the current news. I also gave pseudonyms to my refugee friends.