Saturday, April 27, 2013


"The word of the Lord came to me:  Mortal, take a stick and write on it, "For Judah, and the Israelites associated with it"; then take another stick and write on it, "For Joseph (the stick of Ephraim) and all the house of Israel associated with it"; and join them together into one stick, so that they may become one in your hand. ... I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all.  Never again shall they be two nations, and never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms."  --  Ezekiel 37:15-17, 22

The above passage relates to the separation of Israelite tribes in the north and in the south.  They lived apart from each other, as separate, if not antagonistic, nations.  And yet this separation was truly artificial, a man-made construction only.  For they shared one heritage, one God, one language, one culture. Any differences between them -- like the differences between any two people -- were minimal in comparison.  They ought to have been one.

This week, I found the above history echoed again and again in the most unlikely book.  I picked up "The International Bank of Bob: Connecting Our Worlds One $25 Kiva Loan at a Time," by Bob Harris, because I'm interested in learning more about micro-loans.  In this book, Bob* travels the globe meeting people whose lives have been significantly improved through the efforts of these small person-to-person loans.  But, along the way, he meets many people who live in countries that have been brutalized by war.  Secondary only to micro-loans, this book is very much about the senselessness of war, especially between fellow countrymen.

For example, Bob meets a group of micro-loan clients in Sarajevo, which in the 1990s was the center of the deadliest European conflict since WWII.  After hundreds of years of peaceful intermingling among Catholics, Orthodox Christians, and Muslims, the country of Yugoslavia began to tragically disintegrate along ethnic lines, fueled by those seeking political control.  Approximately one hundred thousand people were killed and two million were forced to flee their homes.  Eventually, the country separated into six nations.  Sarajevo itself is on the edge of one of these divisions, as Bob finds out when he takes a walk into the hills and comes across a sign telling him that he is now in the Republic of Srpska.  "I was standing on the imaginary, invisible line drawn on the ground that convinced people on one side not to kill real, visible people on the other."  He reflects that he has been on many similar lines before -- "between the two Koreas, the Irelands, the Berlins." (pg.132)  All of these lines are man-made, and therefore, temporary.

The separation of people in Bosnia and Herzegovina has created a tenuous peace that is just as likely to blow up as blow over.  But, oddly enough, these micro-lending groups, which bring together Muslim Bosnians, Catholic Croats and Orthodox Serbs, are able to overlook the differences that tore them apart.  "Why?" Bob asks.  It's simple, their survival depends upon it.  These loans, funded by different people around the country and the world, are often the only means people have to put food on the table and shelter over their head.  As one person observes, without a hint of irony, "Money has no religion."  (pg 141)

I wonder why they could not see this before they went to war with each other.  If it is possible to overlook differences after the war, why wasn't it possible to do so before the war?  Why do we separate ourselves from people who have the same basic needs and desires that we do?   It only limits our own ability to function and thrive, if not survive.

Later Bob travels to Rwanda and tells an even greater tale of senseless separation.  In the 1990s, Hutu began killing Tutsi in an effort to eradicate them from the country.  But, as Bob describes, the Hutu and Tutsi are "essentially the same people -- speaking the same language, practicing the same religion and traditions, intermarrying, etc. -- throughout known history.  ... Even Rwandans can't tell who's who with real certainty."  The artificial  separation of Rwandans into the two groups was instigated by the Belgians, who "armed with calipers to measure facial features and a veneer of pseudoscience, lined up every Rwandan, decided who was whom," distinguished one "racial" group from the other, and fueled the wind of hatred between them.  This wind began to blow in the 1960s when Belgium abandoned their colony and it grew to cyclone proportions in the 1990s when several hundred thousand people -- men, women, and children, the sick, the elderly, even those seeking sanctuary in churches -- were killed, by their neighbors, their fellow church members, and their own family members. (pgs 190-192)  Now the genocide has stopped.  Primarily because the new government has dictated that "nobody is Hutu or Tutsi anymore.  Everyone is simply 'Rwandan'."  (pg. 201)  It's the only way for the whole country to move forward together in peace.

Separation sounds good, doesn't it?  We will be our own group/nation/church, all alike; we will be able to protect ourselves from The Other.  But these are artificial constructs that truly do more harm than good, in the long run. 

I am reminded of the painful division in my own church.  In 2010, our church split because of the denomination-wide decision to allow individuals to choose how they understood homosexual partnerships.  One-third left to form their own church under a new denomination.  The remaining two-thirds stayed with the ELCA.  Now, after nearly three years, what is the result?  The division caused a lasting bitterness, even hatred, among some people.  Some friendships ended or grew apart for lack of fellowship.  And a few other friendships remain strong, sharing love and fellowship and the ability to do God's work together.  Why?  Because they are able to overlook the differences and see the goodness inside the person.  As we should have done to begin with.  For, inside, we are not different.  

At the end of his visit with a micro-loan client in Rwanda, Bob is eyed by two very curious children.  The sight of a white man in this remote village is extremely rare.   The two boys egg each other on to get closer and closer to the stranger.  Bob smiles and says "hello" and "how are you" in their language.  And, eventually, feeling very bold, one boy comes up to Bob and suddenly hugs his left leg.  His friend does the same thing with Bob's right leg.  "For one beautiful minute," Bob writes, "these two kids are squeezing my legs and laughing and looking up at me like the whole world could be friends.  I did not see this coming."  (pg. 209-10)

Two, or three, shall become one through the power of love.

As Bob reflects, "Money has no religion... Neither does an open heart."  (pg 152)

Dear God, thank you so much for teaching me a little more about your message of peace.  Love always, Pam

* Since Bob would rather call people by their first name, and does so throughout his book, it's hard not to do the same with Bob.  (Bob's book is published by Walker and Company, New York, 2013)

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