By NEMS Daily Journal
Most people everywhere with access to uncensored newspapers and electronic communications have heard a string of heads of state speaking this week to the opening sessions of the United Nations’ General Assembly in New York.
The tradition of speeches by the world’s leaders has placed some great moments of statesmanship – and more than a small measure of buffoons – in front of cameras and then to the front pages and tops of broadcasts.
In times of international crises rhetorical sabers have rattled, as evident in some of this week’s addresses related to events and situations in the Middle East – all with international implications.
Opinions about the Middle East – informed and uninformed – proliferate when words become menacing and actions turn deadly.
On every side of the complex and interconnected drama of the region can be found episodes of oppression, destruction, captivity – and, in some form, release. The cycles have spun for thousands of years.
Many times one culture’s freedom has meant another’s captivity and oppression. Such situations are not unique to the Middle East. It happened in the American South during slavery (a war of liberation resulted), to most women everywhere until well into the 20th century, and in the context of many European empires.
The Methodist theologian, Jeorg Rieger of Perkins School of Theology, writes in his book, “Christ and Empire”:
“In the Old Testament there is no abstract notion of freedom. Freedom is tied to specific historical situations of oppression. … Freedom is usually expressed through verbs rather than nouns. It is not a fixed state. Rather, freedom is an ongoing process, always in flux.”
It is not surprising that some of the enduring religious literature of the Middle East region – including and especially the Hebrew and Christian scriptures – offer soaring passages about freedom, which includes profound peace, that are easily remembered, offering an ideal.
While hard lines remain drawn among the key players, the passing of centuries has given some of the texts universal appeal:
How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of a messenger
who proclaims peace,
who brings good news,
who proclaims salvation …
(Isaiah 52, Common English Bible)
Isaiah spoke to Israeli captives in Babylon, and his were the action verbs preceding freedom and peace. It’s a remarkable image and could become a more remarkable reality. Messengers who bring good news are profoundly important. They offer hope – and a future.
We all know pessimists, the naysayers, who don’t contribute anything positive or hopeful in seriously bad situations, personal and much wider in scope. Those cynics and bigots come from all sides of issues, all cultures and nationalities, and from all religions.
Rieger writes, “Only those on the bottom, those who have been repressed into the political unconscious of the powers that be, can tell us where liberation is truly necessary.”
In that context, Rieger refers to 21st century issues. The powerless and marginalized in this century have a higher profile than ever because their situations are the daily evening news. Even repression cannot fully silence what the Bible and other sacred texts would call captives. The more the word gets out the harder to maintain the powerless status quo.
Freedom, repression, oppression, and hate are the product of today’s empires of ideology and, sometimes, of perverse religion.
Religion, on the other hand, has the collective power to remain in touch with the voiceless and marginalized, statuses reaching across religious lines.
If people of faith and good will listen to the underside of their cultures they almost surely would hear a voice of many languages saying, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of a messenger who proclaims peace …”