Quiet

Surprise, I have not been up to much of anything this week. We had our first solid rain yesterday and I was pleased. It felt good, even if it didn’t really seem to influence the city-ness of the air. And my walk to work is only like five minutes, so I wasn’t even that wet. Back in Dublin, it was tough when it started raining part way through my forty minute walk and there were no buses on their way. Anyway.

On Wednesday, I had a small addition to my routine. Normally, I go into work to putz around, plan, and grade or whatever miscellaneous work needs to be done before phone sessions. This week, I was in charge of a review session for the first part of the day. Basically, we looked at answers the kids all had already, chatted about topics they only vaguely remembered, and played games. But it wasn’t so bad.

I don’t really have anything else to report. Sometimes I appall myself with how truly and utterly I fill my time with nothing. I don’t even watch that much Netflix. I have no idea what happens to the time, though I know even if I had more I lack the willpower to do anything much with it. I have a few theories about this particular iteration of nothingness here in Seoul, maybe I’ll share them at a later date.

For now, I’d like to give you a bit of insight at how my BA in international studies continues to actually mean something in my life, even if it’s not directly related to my job.

I recently subscribed to the blog Political Violence at a Glance, which issues both a weekly compilation of important news articles and longer topic pieces on relevant issues. This is the latest of three similar updates I follow to keep track of international events. I claim this neither as many nor few, but I encourage everyone to take some time regularly to look at what’s going on from sources that don’t only care about things in other countries when our country is involved or there’s a horrendous disaster.

This week’s discussion was on the fighting, both militarily and socially, the violent extremist groups in the Sahel and Maghreb (if you’re interested, you can read it here). Importantly, as the piece notes, counterinsurgency is not just about wresting control of territory from violent groups, it is also about the classic winning of hearts and minds. This has long been the dilemma of people involved in counterinsurgency efforts. The author drew a comparison between contemporary states’ attempts in the region and colonial French policies and I think it’s an important one.

The writer talks about the ways in which groups are defined by the state as constitutively violent change depending on who’s in power (because generally religion doesn’t advocate a whole lot of violence). The problem they describe, therefore, is not one of message but of identity. The solution, it follows, is then not about amending your ways but of amending yourself. It’s “be a member of this sect” instead of simply “don’t preach violence.” This isn’t entirely unhelpful but it will not bring a durable peace.

In my studies, I have encountered a wide variety of ways to talk about peace but this brief article provided a new one for me, and one which I immediately took to heart in times like these. Defining the problem in the terms outlined above does not actually distinguish between violent and peaceful groups. They certainly are violent but the response to them comes from a redefinition by the group in power. The line drawn is between revisionist and politically quietist.

I may have run across the term “politically quietist” before but it didn’t seem to make much of an impact. Here though, and now, I find it resonating deeply. And the term is easily transferable. Protesters: Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, Women’s March ect. Viewpoints: political correctness, legal discrimination, minimum wage ect.

Is it peace or is it status quo? Do you want what’s right or what’s easy? What’s true or what’s convenient? Political quietism is just a fancy way of saying the people with the power want to protect and (pre)serve power. Keeping things the same is a heavy and powerful idea.

And do we see people as essentialized, petrified bastions of oversimplified beliefs or human beings who can make mistakes and learn from them? Who are deserving of mercy and grace? Who can be forgiven even if they do not seek forgiveness?

Using another term, I want to seek positive peace–not the absence of war but the presence of justice. I want unity in diversity. If that makes me a troublemaker, so be it.

I reject quiet. I pursue peace.

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Cold as Snow

If you do not currently or have not ever lived in the Puget Sound lowlands, you may perhaps not understand the excitement with which I write to you: it snowed this week!

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Our backyard

Of course, because it is the way of things, the snow did not amount to much nor did it remain long. Nonetheless, I rejoice because I love snow and there is little joy quite like watching snow fall, even if it’s in huge, wet flakes that foretell the incipient return of rain. the morning was made even more delicious by the fact that I didn’t have to work so I could wake up lazily (at seven) and spectate without a cloud of weariness. Indeed, I basically glanced outside (after winning the battle to leave my warm bed), saw white, turned on my phone to take pictures, and ran outside in my bare feet.There are some things worth numb toes.

Regardless of the length of the snow’s stay, this event has helped me overcome, in part, the difficulties in feeling Christmasy mentioned in last week’s post.The snow also recalled to mind a wonderful carol from my childhood, but more on that at the end. Suffice to say, the snow was well enjoyed while it lasted and called attention to inner chills of perhaps greater import. Anyway, a brief feline interlude.

The cat picture this week is a little different….. because variety is the spice of life? Also because the British Museum is the single most incredible building I’ve ever had the privilege of spending a day inside.

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Cats deserve an afterlife too. Yes, there’s a mummified cat inside.

Many, many moons ago, I sang a song in choir called Child of Peace for our annual Christmas concert, Gift of Song. The third and final verse reads, in part, thusly:

Child of Peace who came so long ago!
Child of Love still with us here we know!
Let thy tears of passion freely flow,
Melting hearts within us cold as snow.

This world is certainly not at peace. This world certainly does not exhibit much love, it seems. This world is a world of snow, and not the fun holiday kind. Like, snow in January snow– nobody wants it because January isn’t a warm, cozy month full of Christmas decorations. The next world, I think, will only have December snow. But until then, we look to that Child who came so long ago and in so looking we are reminded that he is with us here, now. We not only wait for the surpassing peace of the world to come, we work it out now because the Prince of Peace is with us.

Let us, then, be melted.

Let us pray for peace, people everywhere.

Let us serve both the poor in body and the poor in spirit.

Let us remember that his law is Love and his gospel is Peace.

Love-Light

I’m dreaming tonight of a place I love

even more than I usually do.

And although I know it’s a long road back

I promise you…

Early Saturday morning, I head home to spend a few weeks back in the Pacific Northwest. Very much looking forward to seeing friends and family and just being home. I know I haven’t been away for a long time, really, but this season just brings my love of home right to the fore. After all, it’s all the things we do for love that feel like Christmas. Basically, I want this whole post to be quotations from Christmas songs, but I’ll try to keep them to a minimum. To get things started, here are a couple pictures of my cats getting in the Christmas mood.

So, my final week of classes included only two actual classes, one of which was a group presentation. I still have two assignments, one of which I’m in the midst of  and the other not due until the end of January. School-wise, this semester ended up being really good. There were some things that were difficult to love (Research Methods) and some that were interesting in content and kind of awful in delivery (UN) but generally I really enjoyed what I learned and my professors were, generally, pretty wonderful. So I’m grateful for that, because things would have been a great deal worse if I came all this way for a lame education.

Also this week were a couple fun events that really helped facilitate my procrastination. On Sunday, I sang carols with Choral Society in Heuston Station to raise money for a charity and we’ll be in front of the General Post Office this Friday for another charity. It’s a lot of fun and who doesn’t like caroling, yeah? So really enjoyed that. On Monday evening, I attended the Graduate Students Union Christmas Commons and it was absolutely fabulous. We had a three course meal in the Great Hall at Trinity, then moved next door for dancing (though there wasn’t a ton of actual dancing, they had some technical difficulties with the music or something). It was 1920s/Great Gatsby themed and was just generally, all-around good fun. On Tuesday night, we had our last Community Group of the year with dinner and everything. There was a great deal of laughter involved, so you know it thoroughly enjoyable (and probs extended our lives by several months in one go).

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m super pumped to go home. I’ve really enjoyed my time in Dublin and will look forward to returning in January, but I’m glad that I’ll be home for Christmas. In the immortal words of the Muppets, it’s the summer of the soul in December. There’s a great short story I my family reads every year around this time called If He Had Not Come. A young boy wakes up on Christmas morning and nothing is different from normal–no decorations, not presents, no goodwill toward men, nothing. He goes down the road to the Hospital of the Good Samaritan–an empty lot, with a gateway arch inscribed with the words of the title. He then rushes back to bed and wakes up again to the real Christmas morning and says simply, “You came! You came! Thank you for coming.” It’s such a piercing reminder how connected everything around us this season is to a small human in the Levant who changed the world.

In my last post, I was pondering what the world would be like without Christianity, particularly around this time of year. Because pagan Europe certainly had midwinter festivals and things and some of those traditions are actually preserved in modern Christmas celebrations. But at the same time, nothing would be the same because it would still be a season of hope. Hope that spring would come, that the crops wouldn’t fail, that the Vikings wouldn’t attack… Instead, we live in the reality of hope (if that’s possible?) because all our hopes were fulfilled in Jesus’ birth (and life, death, and resurrection). We don’t live in hope anymore, it’s more like expectant waiting. We know that spring is coming (and so much more) and we’re just sitting here tapping our feet impatiently.

I love Christmas (let me make this clear) and going home to see friends and family. But it’s so much more than that. It’s even more, dare I say it, than songs and presents. It will come without ribbons, it will come without tags, it will come without packages, boxes, or bags. It will come because two thousand some years ago, he came, and that changed everything.

In singing carols this past week, a particular line of one of my favorites stuck with me, relevant to my life, my studies, and the world at large. Bid thou our sad division cease and be thyself our King of Peace.

So here’s to peace on earth.