Christmas and the War Next Door

Author Rev. Linda Macktaby
Author Rev. Linda Macktaby

My mother loves Christmas. I came home to find her big traditional decoration for the Christmas tree. Our house is full of red colors today. Some pictures of Santa Claus here and there. I wanted to be happy and do like every kid: jump and shout out loud that Christmas is one of my favorite seasons, but I couldn’t! I am sad.

Pessimistic? No! Sad? Yes. Sad deep inside. Sad to the extent that I cannot see the red color inside my house except as a reminder of blood.

On my way home today, just around the corner, I saw three groups of Syrian families, basically veiled mothers with many small kids around. It seems they were coming from a Christmas celebration. My taxi driver made fun of them: Muslims celebrating Christmas! They were carrying bags in their hands. The bags do not have games and dolls for these children. They have food inside.

Who gave them those bags? Those people with direct and hidden messages. I intentionally refuse to say indirect messages. Direct and hidden messages. The direct message is that they want to feed them because they are poor and mostly without shelter. No house to warm them in this cold strange weather we are facing. No winter clothes to warm their very skinny bodies. No cookies or candies to cheer them up when they have vacations. No ovens, no fridges, no soup, no beds, no bathrooms, no hot showers, no couches… nothing. Most of them live under the bridges, or sleep on the sidewalks.

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A child smiles ironically at me and asks me to buy him a sandwich; this is the immediate help he needs. He is dirty, torn clothes, long hair, skinny, no shoes on. He asks me only for a sandwich. I feel ashamed of myself.
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Are you sad from what you have read above? Can you imagine how heavy it is when you see it live? These are merely words. Do you want to see pictures of these facts? Could you imagine their feelings if I were to go and start taking pictures of them? “Why?” “Why would I take pictures? Because others need to see how you are living.” “Why?” OK! Now I need to reply to this final why.

Christmas Tree - PDMany possible answers come into my mind: “Because they want to send you food.” “Because they want to send you blankets.” “Because they want to pray for you.” “Because they want…” What do they really want? Support? I know this answer. “They want to provide support. They are not here able see you. They are not here to experience what you are living. I am trying to deliver your feelings by words and pictures. Don’t give me that strange look! I am trying to help. Do you want me to help?”

A child smiles ironically at me and asks me to buy him a sandwich; this is the immediate help he needs. He is dirty, torn clothes, long hair, skinny, no shoes on. He asks me only for a sandwich. I feel ashamed of myself. I help children like this a lot. I help families. And I still feel I have done nothing at all. O, Christmas Tree! O, Christmas Tree! I need your lights in my heart.

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We need to talk about war. Those families on the streets did not make the choice to live such a life. A large worldwide game allows these Middle Eastern wars to take place – the game of who wants to keep his position and for how long.
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After that conversation with the 8-or-9-year-old Syrian boy, I felt I wanted to do more. I arranged a meeting with a small group of friends, spoke to them about my plan, and we agreed to start gathering money from our families and friends to start the New Year by distributing more food and blankets to more Syrian and Iraqi families on the streets, as much as we can. Is that enough?

Syrian children outside their temporary home in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley Photo: DKIK - UK Department for International Development CC 2.0
Syrian children outside their temporary home in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley
Photo: DKIK – UK Department for International Development CC 2.0

To answer this question we need to talk about war a bit. Those families on the streets did not make the choice to live such a life. A large worldwide game allows these Middle Eastern wars to take place. It is the game of who wants to keep his position and for how long. In Lebanon, our leaders inherited their leadership from their parents. The same holds in Syria and many other countries. Some are active agents for these wars and some are passively or reactively drawn into the crimes of violence. Those who want to gain power and wealth allow the weapons to exist. Who gave what to whom? It is hard to care! Naming the recent causes does not solve the problem when all behave almost the same way.

I was taught to ask what real problems are. The problem is that these crimes exist. Weapons are everywhere, their truth hidden in plain sight. Our governments and forces distribute weapons claiming to care for us, in the name of protecting ourselves, our communities, our sects or religions… Yet those who are killing in so many criminally harsh ways, why are they doing so? Is it only because they are protecting their faith, their sacred inheritances? Dig deeper with me. Why can’t they see their faith being saved or proven except in this way of war? They are taught and brainwashed to play this game for those, on the other level of the “great game,” who want to gain or hold power and wealth. However brave and loyal, those fighting in killing sects and armies are tools. Religion is being used. Sad. Religion is being used, so negatively. And passivity is part of the problem.

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Those who distribute gifts have different targets, but also face hidden dangers.
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Those who distribute gifts have different targets, but also face hidden dangers. For the churches, they want to declare God’s love to all. So they give gifts and preach. Caring Muslims also give in their ways. For the NGOs, they want to prove their capacity, that they are able to give the quickest aid, even sometimes in war zones. Yet most of them are rich operations. Don’t be mad at me for saying it this way. I am living here, and I carry the full responsibility for what I am saying.

Christmas Gift BoxThere are many other examples of such mixed motives and messages. Senders are passive givers (who often give at least in part to meet their own inner needs). Senders depend on the mediating bodies to receive the resources (while also gaining funding, power, or moral authority) and deliver them. The NGO people also can be loyal and brave, but (paradoxically) may depend on the passivity of the powerless refugees. Yet those refugees still receive some daily bread.

If they get their daily bread, what is next? What about what we call in psychology “the need to belong?” What do they belong to?

If you want to read the situation in the Arab region, do not hear the news only. The news, the media, are mediators; they can be mistaken. I could be mistaken in what I have written now. If you want to know, know one or two of those people on the streets, then listen. Do not hear! Listen. Read deeply their thoughts, their culture, their faith, their pain, their joy with the piece of biscuit, the tender smile that carries blame to each of us, we – the ones who will celebrate Christmas with glasses of red wine. Red? Blood?

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Ultimately we know that we are either a tool of the whole game of proxy wars, or a reason why that game finally comes to an end.
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Do you want to be part of peace? Don’t let peace be planned for you to deliver. Deliver peace according to your pure Christmas Spirit. There are many ways for you to help. Don’t only pray; Jesus asked us to act, too. To act in that Spirit is not to enable the wars but to resist them. In that way, even in your giving from afar you are belonging to the work of those who meet the refugees.

peace!!The whole world needs action. Not only the Arabs. The whole world needs peace. Not only Africa, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq… the whole world needs your smile, the light of your Christmas tree and your confirmation of hope. Our relationship with those refugees will influence what or who they will decide to belong to.

Ultimately we know that we are either a tool of the whole game of proxy wars, or a reason why that game finally comes to an end.

I am not pessimistic; I am full of Hope because of my Jesus, my salvation, who needs to be known to the whole world as the embodiment of peace. Only a Savior who replaces hatred with love can be Savior of all souls.

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AUTHOR BIO: Linda Macktaby has done work in Muslim-Christian dialogue. She holds a BA in psychology and an MA in theology. She was chosen as one of the women leaders in Lebanon two years ago. She currently serves as the director of BLESSED school that cares of the visual impaired and the special needs.

Read more articles in this issue People, Look East!: Advent and Christmas Reflections on the Middle East.

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