You don't choose your family. They are God's gift to you, as you are to them. ~ Desmond TutuI have always liked his quote, reminding us of our interdependence in our families, and the gifts we are to them as they are to us. But of course, sometimes families don’t get along…
“Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, "Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac." The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.” (Genesis 21)But God would not forget Hagar and Ishmael – when all seemed lost, God heard the cries – God provided water – and we are told “God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness…”
The religions of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all trace their roots through Abraham, Islam through the son Ishmael, Christianity & Judaism through the son Isaac. This family tree has born lots of hatred and lots of violence against the others on the tree, a rivalry from the beginning.
Currently we are watching Iraq tear itself apart as different factions within the family of Islam fight for control; Sunni & Shiite, with many other groups taking advantage of the chaos, like al-Qaeda. “The two Islamic sects split in the seventh century in a dispute over the true heir of Islam's Prophet Mohammed. In most Islamic countries other than Iran, Sunnis have long enjoyed political prominence and economic advantage over the Shiite.” (from USA Today)
Watching the unrest and fighting in the Middle East has reminded me that our Christian family has also had a lot of fighting through the years, much of it religious and political just like Iraq today. Who of us can forget Northern Ireland and the fight between Protestants and Roman Catholics?
You don't choose your family. They are God's gift to you, as you are to them. ~ Desmond TutuToo often we forget this saying. We see family as a burden, especially when we disagree. On a large scale, such family disputes can often evolve into civil wars. But families can also help patch up such disagreements. Ann and I saw this in Mozambique, where after a terrible civil war, a framework for peace has been reached with Bishop Sengulane & others helping to bring the different tribal families back together even as great disagreements still exist.
But Jesus in the Gospel for today, seems to say that following him, will bring conflict with our families. Jesus said, “"For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one's foes will be members of one's own household… whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”
The cost of discipleship, of following him, may lead us to be at odds in our own family. What might that look like? And what might Jesus be calling us to do even as he tells us not to be afraid?
Blonde and giggly, Marla Ruzicka was easy to dismiss. When she first arrived in Kabul, Afghanistan at Christmas in 2001, Afghan guards and western reporters called her "Bubbles." She was easy to underestimate: She gushed and fawned and giggled; she loved to party; everything was "cool" or "awesome." But for four years - first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq, Marla Ruzicka was a one-woman human rights organization for she believed “that governments had a legal and moral responsibility to compensate the families of civilians killed or injured in military conflicts.” She then started her own NGO, Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict."You don't choose your family. They are God's gift to you, as you are to them." ~ Desmond Tutu
Marla's social consciousness developed early: As a teenager in northern California she was suspended for leading a school protest against the Gulf War, much to the chagrin of her family. At her high school graduation, someone shouted as she received her diploma, "Marla, go out and save the world!" And Marla proceeded to do just that.
Fiercely anti-war, Marla was savvy enough to understand that she probably couldn't stop the conflict but she could help the victims. Behind her party-girl personality was a fierce determination and astonishing compassion. With a few dollars she scrambled to raise, she built an impressive network of contacts among aid workers, reporters and U.S. military officers. She located Iraqi civilians who were killed or injured, documented their stories and then secured compensation for them or their surviving families. She cajoled American reporters to write about the innocent civilians caught in the crossfire. She organized a corps of volunteers to visit hospitals and compile the first credible list of people killed or injured. "A number is important," Marla wrote, "not only to quantify the cost of the war but, to me, each number is also a story of someone whose hopes, dreams and potential will never be realized and who left behind a family."
Back home, Marla mobilized relatives and friends to successfully lobby Congress to provide some $22 million in compensation for the civilian victims of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Everyone - from cynical freelance reporters to battle weary U.S. Army officers - came to know and respect her. For many Iraqis, Marla was the face of American compassion.
On April 16, 2005, Marla was traveling with her Iraqi translator, Faiz Ali Salim, along Baghdad's Airport Road to visit Iraqi families who had lost relatives in the violence. Her car was caught between a suicide car bomber and a U.S. military convoy. Marla Ruzicka's last words as they pulled her body from the flames were, "I'm alive." (from the Guardian & Wikipedia)
Marla Ruzicka reminds us of the cost of seeing the needs of the whole human family. Her short life, so packed with adventure and risk, is proof that belief and resolve can accomplish great things. Jesus calls every one of us to take on the work of discipleship: to proclaim God's love in our midst, to be vehicles of God's mercy and justice for all his family. May we see the gift of family, in our home and in our world, and be that gift to all. Amen.