Monday, February 18, 2013

Late Cairo Musings

Last night, after preaching through a translator on Peter's sermon concluding at Acts 2: 36, I had supper with 3 of my wife's former music students who are among those who are the hope for the new Egypt. As they talked and I listened to the stressors they and their families faced, I was struck by their calm and insightful analysis of this Middle Eastern world to which I, as a stranger, am seeking admission. It is a strange thing to be struck by the surroundings as new and strange while the feeling of old comfortable surrounding softens the blow. I don't know this place or these people and yet I'm back home and among family. How odd the passing of time in our absence makes our interface with the present and our past. But that is way too much of that type of musing. More pressing things are afoot. Back to the table talk. S from his leadership position in risk consultancy and I discussed the financial situation and the realities of novices (recently released from prisons) being at the helm of the ship of state as she seeks safe passage though the uncharted waters of redefined treaty relationships and international debt. President Morsi and his allies have little experience and hardly more interest in negotiating with the IMF or even the international oil partners on whom the future payrolls of countless Egyptians depend. Every element of the electoral process is being challenged or dismantled by the constitutional court of Egypt and the youth continue to protest the harsh measures of the Ministry of Interior. The situation is very stark. But these three Christian men, one a regional leader for Campus, one a strong free market business man, and the insurance consultant for an international construction firm are not hiding or cowering they are going to work each day and facing life with the knowledge that God loves them. I was reminded of J.D. Greer's thesis in his book, "Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary." At the end of that fabulous fellowship as I slipped into bed at midnight, I pondered again this new world and especially how the Islamic speakers I had spent most of the week with seemed to be different and communicate different themes that those in similar roles twenty years ago. The institutions of Sunni Islam seem to be responding to stressors, not completely different from the precursors of the "Arab Spring" revolutions which are as of yet not yet fully defined. I'm not going to get into the content of the interviews, the project is not yet really begun in earnest. But I will say that the speakers are expressing views which are different from their coreligionist of 20 years ago, and I am beginning to pick up on some of the general influences behind these trends. Briefly. 1. The growing interface with western culture and its rational basis. 2. The rapid shifting of society and population to a younger and more internet equipped educated generation. 3. The need to respond to probing questions by Christians and other non-Muslims. Two decades ago, it seemed that the two possibilities for a future Islamic reality were a reformation type of event which would bring reason into the hermeneutic of Qur'anic thought or a rigid wall between the Diaspora and the heartland or some such division in the Islamic umnah (or global nation)--East/West, or South/North or Heartland with South/ Western diaspora. But the hermeneutic seems not to be Qur'anic but cultural. The imperative seems to be only remotely revelation in the Qur'an and more directly to answer pressing cultural and environmental issues. The issue of western reason would be overlooked by most. The reasoning process operates differently and the pace is controlled by relationships assisted by conventional wisdom. So everything feels and operates differently. Yet, in comparing the "snapshots" of this city taken by these eyes 20 years apart, it is western culture which jumps out of the print. The open-faced veiled Muslim lady with the blue tooth ear piece in place as she walks down the corniche sidewalk. The massive new hotel with a Lebanese Restaurant and a Starbucks, side by side, rocking on until our supper finished just before midnight. Me hearing the call to prayer while I work away on my I-Pad, along with most of Cairo on WiFi or cell interconnection this evening (though most Egyptians are using Samsung or other brands of tablets-sorry Apple). If you speak Arabic and English the cultures are much closer on most issues today. However, there are some dramatic and striking differences, points where the gulf of Orient and Occident is much deeper if not wider. Lest we veer into the content of the interviews we'll more on. Cairo has had a young population especially since the 1967 war. Even with increased life expectancy the vision on the street is of a young population and the institutions of higher education have churned out the thousands of graduates. Young, educated, and internet connected the population has raised their expectations. They want more and they want answers to their questions that make sense to them. Oh. Yeah! And they want them now. The Sheikhs have done away with many standard answers which didn't seem to make sense to us, but what did we know-foreigners and such. The leaders had to answer their students when without timidity they asked the unthinkable questions and expected answers, even if they had to go to Christians to get them. That brings me to the third stressor on the bastions of documentary Sunni Islam--Christian apologist, the most striking example being Father Zakarias and his satellite television show, who asked probing and embarrassing questions. However, while the institutions of Islam are responding and changing, the rumor on the street is of a number of young Muslims renouncing faith. Some are turning their back on organized religion and on God. Some looking for new answers even as Islamic leaders re-frame doctrines like abrogation. Peter was right. You can try to kill Jesus on the cross but God just raises Him from the dead, because Jesus is Christ and Lord. just musing, Profmike

1 comment:

  1. Wow! This is exciting - like it's all on the edge of a diving board. A high diving board.

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