Hope

Shatila Palestinian Refugee Camp in Beirut, Lebanon

Shatila Palestinian Refugee Camp in Beirut, Lebanon

"Hope is a function of struggle." ~Brene Brown

I have been pondering something. Keep in mind, the pondering happened over my worst jet-lagged nights when I was lying awake until 3AM contemplating things such as…

It’s been interesting getting on social media in the Middle East. I scroll through my newsfeeds as I get tossed around in the back seat of smoky taxis…which keeps my eyes from actually looking at the situation on the road and keeps me from gasping. If I show a reaction, the taxi drivers seem to drive even more reckless. This, so far, has been the only time I have been afraid in the Middle East; ok, terrified.

But, what has stuck with me is how afraid I feel once I get off of Facebook, especially when I check it before I fall asleep. I have caught myself lying awake with my eyes as big as saucers until 3 or 4AM. Partly, I am jet-lagging hard; partly, I am now waiting crazy wide-eyed for the apocalypse.

Do you know when I don't feel afraid? Probably when I should. Probably when most would tell me I am in a dangerous place. And yet, instinctually, I have peace. I know I need to be aware of my surroundings in Beirut, at all times. But, there is a difference between awareness or presentness and fear.

I wasn’t in Beirut for long this trip, and my purpose was to visit friends in the camp while I was there. This is important -- visits, spending time with people. It’s the cornerstone of their culture. I walked around the camp from visit to visit and took pictures along the way. And what usually happens, happened again. Kids run past me giggling. When I greet them and ask how they are, they usually are stunned for a good 10 seconds and then give me the appropriate and polite answer. Women carrying groceries and kids in their arms whisper to their neighbor, “ajnabeyeh” which means “foreigner, femine form” in Arabic. People usually stop what they are doing and take a good, long look at what the ajnabeyeh majooni (crazy foreigner) is doing.

This used to make me self-conscious; now I just roll along with it and chat with those staring at me. Which usually amuses them. At which point, every.single.person tells me, “you speak Arabic very well.” I think they are just shocked that a foreigner can get out a few phrases and have a conversation with them. At one point, a very large young man with a very large Kalashnokov(what do I know about guns?) very politely told me not to take pictures in “his” area and pointed me in another area to photograph…and then invited me in for tea.

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If I am to continue to grow as a person, spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually, I must continue to engage others. Especially those I might have misunderstood or am intimidated by or even afraid of, not for any reason other than whatever wall I have built in my mind and heart against whomever I consider to be “the other.”

In a lot of ways, Social Media can be a wall instead of a bridge.  Self-protection instead of engagement, or engagement only on your terms. Much can happen inside a wall, but it can be pretty isolating. I know for myself, isolation can breed fear and paranoia. Do you know what breaks that for me? Engagement. Engaging others and situations seems to shatter the walls I have built to self-protect. That’s hope for myself, for others, for humanity. That’s why as a Christian, this season of Advent is so beautiful, this waiting. Waiting for the incarnate, Emmanuel, God with us, to arrive in the humble and vulnerable vessel of a baby. God, himself removed the wall and joined us. Dwelt with us. Engaged us. Loved us. Was with us. Is with us.

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Maybe, that’s why it’s so important to get off the internet and start engaging each other with curiosity and good will. And lots of sweet minted tea…and coffee…and…

Suzann MollnerComment