God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

Reflections / Gedanken

Only those who live the Torah… observations from a sommer study

Summer academy in Tabgha and Jerusalem – refresher course on bible history, Islam and Judaism and as always something new to learn.

To speak about Israel is a minefield, especially for a German. The Holocaust lingers constantly over all discussions, and the trauma somehow continues. To criticise Israel, whose politicians have cleverly conjoined the State of Israel and the Jewish faith, is consequently made difficult. How easy is it to be called an antisemite while criticising Israel’s politics towards the Palestinians.

The wilful ignorance towards the original plan to keep Jerusalem under UN administration has added to the woes. The trauma of the Holocaust has obviously also caused Israel to use massive force against Palestinians in a way which clearly hinders any political solution and kills also innocent bystanders. The violence on the part of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other groups does not help either. It is a poisonous circle of violence, madness pure and not leading to any solution.

Visiting a Jewish service in a synagogue to welcome the Sabbath is touching, observing the ritual joy of welcoming the day of rest. It is admirable to see how traditions are kept and hopes are lived while having endured so many changes in their history from the deportation to Babylonia, the destruction of their sacred temple via the murderous crusades till the Holocaust and all the Antisemitism growing again in our days.

Having Jewish lecturers for the topic of Judaism, it was interesting to be reminded, that ultra-orthodox Jews oppose the State of Israel. A man-made state is not acceptable because at the end only God can establish the new Israel.

Besides this, we learned that the promised land is from a religious point of view only for those who live the Torah – and looking at the modern Israel on a Sabbath shows that Israelis are not per se living according to their holy books.

Another observation is that obviously the stretch of land has a history before the promised land was occupied by Jewish clans – and there are historians indicating that the people led by Moses originally have been from the same background as the Canaanites they battled.

Living in South Africa, there comes the same thoughts: What a beautiful country, and how magnificent could it be if only the people living there would keep peace. My stay here has reminded me how intertwined the problems of trauma on both sites of the fence are. Judging becomes a difficult task, but there is something I believe in:

Jerusalem, the holy place for the three major monotheistic religions, should be an open city under the UN, belonging to nobody than human mankind – to be a witness for the peacefulness, all three religions somehow claim. It is a failure of the UN not to have followed the original plan; and it is a failure of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faithful not to create a location where love, hope, tolerance, goodwill and peace are liveable and touchable in this space and place.

Shalom, Salam and Peace

Filed under: General, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, , , , , , , , , ,

Asking hard questions

Looking at the social-economic & political consequences worldwide of the Russian attack on Ukraine, there comes a point, where the removal of Putin by all means possible and any means necessary must be ethically discussed.

The UN writes about the global impact of the war in Ukraine:

“The war in Ukraine, in all its dimensions, is producing alarming cascading effects to a world economy already battered by COVID-19 and climate change, with particularly dramatic impacts on developing countries. Recent projections by UNCTAD estimate that the world economy will be a full percentage point
of GDP growth lower than expected 1due to the war, which is severely disrupting already tight food, energy, and financial markets. Ukraine and the Russian Federation are among the world’s breadbaskets.
They provide around 30 per cent of the world’s wheat and barley, one-fifth of its maize, and over half of its sunflower oil2. At the same time, the Russian Federation is the world’s top natural gas exporter, and second-largest oil exporter. Together, neighbouring Belarus and the Russian Federation also export around a fifth of the world’s fertilizers.”

The world is factually a global village and the digitalisation has contributed strongly to interconnect the economies. This means that the unfolding war will bring not only hardship, but also hunger and additional poverty, and with it premature dying of people worldwide.

The full report of the UN titled “Global impact of war in Ukraine on food, energy and finance systems” is available here

Besides looking at the ethical possibility to remove a leader violating with his actions the dignity of millions of people, the current situation has also made it very clear again, that the UN mechanisms, created after the second world war, are not carrying any more the weight needed to send a clear-cut message to those violating international laws and committing war crimes without even making the attempt to hide it.

Looking at other challenges like energy needs and climate change it becomes, especially after Covid-19 and now the attack of Russia on Ukraine crystal clear, that human mankind has to change tune if it wants to survive as the human race. We are not essential to the universe nor to our planet; if we want to live and thrive and create a future for the next generations in peace and dignity, we better get our acts together.

Looking into our world with the mounting numbers of fake news and outright lies, of unashamed violence and exploitation, those ethical questions of how to respond need a new reflection and answer for our time. Philosophers and religious institutions are challenged to come up with guidelines when it comes to political and social actions determining the future of humanity and the human race on this planet.

And to clarify: No, the war in Europe is not really special, as war governs constantly parts of the world. But I believe that suddenly also Europe woke up to this truth and after Covid-19 there is a kind of sensitivity towards challenges. People have woken up to think the unthinkable – a good moment in time to push for deeper reflections.

Filed under: Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , ,

Another period of silence…

Weeks have passed since the last blog entry – and while the world is debating Ukraine forward and backward, trying to identify what went so terribly wrong in the years before, the fact is: nothing is forever, not even a long period of peace in Europe. So many hopes are dashed, and especially the elder generation suddenly has a déjà vu of their experience during World War II.
Blogwise, I kept a period of silence – withstanding the urge to hammer my convictions into the world. I was witness during my last travel how our friends of HOPE in Germany simply started supporting those fleeing their home country: Bringing people to safety and delivering medicine and food back into Ukraine.

Practical help – urgently needed. Discussions for later. But this “later” is coming, and I have, like so many others growing up in an open and peaceful period of Europe to acknowledge, that the aspirations to be able to create a more peaceful world has its human limitations. Obviously, living in Africa for the last years has given me the advantage to know, that peace and living peacefully next to each other must be attempted and accomplished every day anew.

Still, Covid-19 and now Ukraine – the question remains has human mankind not learned anything – are we sentenced to go through the circles of peace and war, unrest and living tolerant next to each other till the universe swallows our universe one or the other way?

Normally, churches are the carrier of hope and positive aspirations. Covid-19 has shown in many parts of the word that organised religion is not really system relevant. In many countries, people had to live without this carrier of hope, be it out of rules limiting worship, be it out of anxiety – or be it out of being occupied with itself like in parts of Europe and certainly Germany.

So my period of silence was like a cushion for all the questions bombarding the heart and soul of a human being: What gives me hope? What sustains really my being? On what can I count when systems fail to support me as usual?

And more: what is it in human beings that brings up war, torture, brutality, lies and fake news, racism and exploitation as a necessity at times?

I still believe that most people simply yearning for a decent life and a better one for their kids. So where are going our human systems fundamentally wrong? Does it remain a mystery? What is your answer?

Filed under: General, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, , , ,

Signs of the times for the Roman-Catholic Church

I am not sure how to explain the feeling when convictions, you are holding deeply in yourself suddenly are voiced officially and formally in the church, you are serving since more than 30 years. It is not even a triumphant feeling – that would anyhow be much too early, looking at the universal Catholic Church – but it is a relief that thoughts, you were punished for, ideas which were forbidden to speak out lout (like the ordination of women priests under John-Paul II) are not any more only whispered in the dark corner of the church.

Participation of laity when it comes to the election of Bishops, gender equality within the church – and yes, it means all genders; ordination for women, celibacy as choice. A clear jump to overcome the Middle Ages and to arrive as the pilgrims finding their ways through the times into the 21st century.

Obviously we are not there yet, but knowing that German theology had always an impact and is indeed well reasoned and studied, there seems to be suddenly light at the end of a very dark tunnel. There will be now a forceful stand-off of those wanting to remain in the past. And there will be a decision to be made whether the universal Catholic Church allows for a synodal way forward which also strengthen the local churches and gives them the leverage to own decisions on certain levels; or whether the institution is imprisoned in the thought that all must do the same. Diversity in Unity would be the catchphrase; and the Orthodox Church gives us examples of this diverse unity based on baptism and creed.

While the dirty truth about child abuse continues to rage in the church, especially in the German church currently, it opens the view clearly on structural sins of power, male dominance and tons of “brothers in the fog” as the late Cardinal of Cologne described the priestly abusers he and others covered up. Many countries have gone through the discoveries of abuse and many churches in Africa have not even started to look deeply into their own backyards; the German church might be the one which later will be attributed the courage to name and shame the wounds and draw the necessary consequences.

There will be lots of oppositions within the church; there might be more splits and division, but this is part of the process of transformation. There will be the exposure of big gaps between different theologies and pastoral practices when it comes to Europe and Africa. We should not be afraid of all of this. The Catholic Church has waited too long to walk the talk about the values of participation, democratic rule, gender equality being advocated for others but internally rejected those values for their own institution.

Let’s be clear: this is not a German revolution. Think of the Amazon Synod, which also was thought-provoking in their requests. It is about taking seriously the sensus fidei , which was also highlighted in the German Synod text about the framework of its own reflections. It is about taking seriously the synodal church as envisioned by Vatican II; being somehow covered up and almost made forgotten in the times of Johannes-Paul II and Benedict XVI. In many ways, we now start to understand and try to explore the deeper sense of what was said in the sixties of the last century. And if Paul VI would not have forbidden certain discussions, the church would have moved certainly faster into the realities of the 21st century.

Another clarification: All discussions don’t touch on the essential of the good news: the unconditional love for all people, the promise of a meaning in life and the certainty that we are part of a much bigger and divine picture we constantly have to discover anew. The bible is full of stories of people exactly doing this: discovering that understanding and pictures of the divine changes, that the divine touches their lives in ways unexpected; the bible is a book of transformation from Abraham till Jesus. The “word of God” as it is liturgically often called, is not set in stone, but it is set in the hearts of a diversity of humans, we in the church call ‘the sons and daughters of God’. And the church as an institution and a living entity should encourage this living and developing connection between the world and divine. This can be scary at times for many, but diving in the deepest question of existing is not for the faint-hearted.

I often in this day’s think of the first apostles and specifically Peter, who had also to learn that the spirit of God showed him, that his understanding of how things should work, was thrown out of the window. Think of Acts 10:44-48, or think of what we call the first council in Jerusalem.

We live in exciting times for the church, we live in painful times too and in uncertain times. And exactly this uncertainty tends to support the motion to keep the known and to not jump into the unknown. I am convinced that we don’t have a chance but to move if we want to remain relevant as a church. We don’t have to move all in the same speed as a church and within the church, but we have to walk, sooner or later, to keep meaning to our message for this world. Otherwise, we will become a self-serving institution with no relevance for humanity.

Filed under: Catholic Church, General, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , ,

At the end of the year….

I guess, most of us agree: this was a specific difficult year for societies and in politics. Looking around in our world, there seems to be little hope for 2022:

In the USA, we see a country struggling to keep democracy alive and fight off a sort of white male fascism driven by a Republican Party not ashamed to base politics on lies and deception.
In Great Britain, the Brexit promises have failed in a big way and the current Premier seems to have difficulties with truth and honesty, let alone clear policies.
In Russia old demons of power and might through military means aka Putin style becomes dominant and endangers world peace looking at Ukraine.
China demonstrates its willingness to go the extra mile to kill everything which smells like civil rights; only look at Hong Kong.
Europe throws part of its values into the Mediterranean Sea by letting people drown in exactly this sea and looking at Covid-19, the switching on and off of parts of Africa without common sense does not give the impression that values are universal.

The corruption in South Africa continues, and those fighting within the ANC for power are still pretty safe of prosecution. Even the admission of the President that state coffer money was used for party politics does not draw any consequences – business as usual.

Covid-19 and the vaccine story has divided families and societies – and the virus laid open the impossibility for the human race to act jointly and with common sense in a complex world.

Environmental questions remain to be answered with urgency if the human race wants to survive and have a future.

So 2022 starts with an exceptional package of “needs to be addressed” – and if we would only look at the big picture we could fall into depression.
But there is always our small world within the big picture. There is always the magnitude of kind acts, of friendly and supportive smiles, of acts of goodwill, and if the late Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu is to believe – all those acts will at the end form the safety net rescuing and changing the world to the better.

There is hope, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but we can’t wait for any divine force to make it happen here on earth, we have to do it ourselves with our hands and our hearts.
Let’s be honest:
the world will exist even when the human race disappears – the world, our environment and the universe does not need us – we need to relate to all of them in a healthy way. And we only can do this, if we learn much more to understand each other as one human race only being able to thrive and survive if we limit ourselves not only in the amount of human beings living at the same time on earth with limited resources, but also much more share common values not only in theory but in practice.

We have to be much more attentive to this – and we have in church, politics and society to understand much more, that being a leader is not about a career and power play but service; we have to examine our systems of governing and our structure of living whether they serve life and well-being of all or only an elite. We have to understand ourselves as a part of nature, and our fellow brothers and sisters rather as a support system we depend on within our environment. Furthermore, we have to watch out, that our systems and AI are not so perfect, that they don’t allow any more for the diversity human mankind represents. Perfect systems, or rather almost perfect systems, are endangering individual lives and livelihoods.

There is light at the end of the tunnel; there is the prospect of a good future, there is the constant dream not only of a rainbow nation, but a rainbow world, a rainbow human race – a unity in diversity – a connectivity which can be felt when one is attentive and open to it. We can’t leave the world to the doomsday activists nor to the Querdenker or those using and abusing the world and humans for their own advantage only.

Let’s welcome 2022 with open arms and hearts but also knowing that the majority of people of goodwill have to connect more to advance humanity, decency and civil freedoms carried by joined values for all.

Filed under: General, Networking, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, South Africa, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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