VIEW FROM AFAR- Vulnerability links CPT hostages with the Christmas story

Four members of the Christian Peacemakers Teams are being held captive in Iraq and the deadline for their execution has passed. The four men are friends of friends of mine.

My friends, Tim Nafzinger in London, Kryss Chupp in Chicago and Gene Stoltzfus, formerly of Chicago but now retired in Canada, know them well-even if I do not.

As I write this, their fate is unknown. As I look out my window on Chicago, the streets are snow covered. My block has fewer Christmas lights than previous years. Early arctic air and astronomical heating costs have prompted folks to stay inside and hunker down for the winter rather than compete for who can put the most extravagant Christmas displays in their windows and front yards.

The Christian Peacemaker Teams always make me uncomfortable. Bunch of tofu-eating, granola munching, Mennonite, Church of the Brethren and Quakers idealists who insist on going to live in areas of conflict-Israel, Columbia, Haiti and, for the past four years, Baghdad.

They worry about injustices in places I know nothing about and the fate of people whose names I cannot even pronounce. They never met a barefoot peasant they didn’t like or a rich guy they did. They are usually cranky about American imperialism.

They are not Christian missionaries in the sense of starting churches and they are not relief workers who bring bundles of clothes and food to poor people. Mostly they walk around and talk with people.

Unfortunately, they tend to wander off and chat with people in areas deemed totally unsafe by the State Department and sleep in neighborhoods that CNN reporters only visit in the daytime.

So, it comes as no surprise that a bunch of jihadists found them easy prey. Their kidnapping has ticked off the American right wing Rush Limbaugh, “How dare they criticize the British-American occupation.”

It has confused Christians-they are not relief workers and they are not missionaries. It has irritated those of us with enough common sense to stay inside during blizzards, let alone wonder off to war zones.

The Christmas story is set in the Middle East in an occupied country with enough political and religious factions to keep scholars entertained for two millennia.

The most astonishing part of the story is not the star over Bethlehem. Rather it is that Three Wise men came to visit the baby Jesus. Today, it would appear, there are not Three Wise Men left in the entire Middle East.

Holy Innocents Church is the tallest building in my neighborhood. It is one of two Chicago Catholic parishes not named for a saint. Rather its name recalls the birth of young male children killed by King Herod.

I often ponder about this as I walk by the church to my car in the morning. The sentimental Christmas story told so often, in fact, conceals the political and social subtext of the narrative. The birth of Jesus is a story about political terror and about refugees.

There is a strain of Christian orthodoxy that believes that in the Incarnation-God was made vulnerable-unarmed, unprotected and finally, terribly misunderstood.

Sort of like the Christian Peacemaker Teams.

You can contact the writer at Suderman@AOL.COM.

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