Friday, February 4, 2011

Of blizzards and revolutions

It snowed yesterday. And the day before that. Plus there were steady 40-mile-an-hour winds and 60-mile-an-hour gusts. Oh yes, and snow thunder. Accompanied by lightning. Even native Chicagoans couldn’t remember a decent example of that in recent memory. The executive director of my organization, Interfaith Worker Justice, encouraged staff to work from home because she figured that if Chicago Public Schools called off, maybe we should too. Yup, it was a grade-A blizzard.

There were protests in the Middle East this week. And last week. And the week before that. Tunisia has a new government. Lebanon, Jordan, and Yemen are in the midst of re-shuffling their governments. And Egyptians are hair’s width away from a God’s-own-truth revolution. The winds of change blow across a region that has known only autocratic rule, whether home-grown or colonial, for generations. Whether it is progress or chaos, the world is not as it was.

Politicos like to claim that the people voted for change whenever the minority party gains majority power in the newest Congress. Obama claimed it in 2008 with a big, blue “O” surrounded by “h”, “p”,”e”. Boehner declared it just this past November while apparent Minuteman re-enactors cheered him on. But what changed? Did traffic stop on Lake Shore Drive as it did on Tuesday night when hundreds of people were stranded in the worst Chicago snowstorm in a decade? Perhaps on election night of 2008 it did. And did throngs numbering in the hundreds of thousands remain in major cities until either the president stepped down or the blood flowed in the National Mall? Thank God it has not quite come to that in this country, though at times I wonder if it might help.

When I opened up my laptop to finish translating an OSHA training module from home, I was astounded to see images of pro-Mubarak protestors attacking largely peaceful anti-government protestors in Cairo. And I was astounded to see cars parked on the side street swallowed up by snow drifts. In one place, stagnation had erupted into marching. In another place, harried business screeched to a frozen halt. My heart is warmed by seeing such a popular movement crying out in an unusually unified voice for something truly new, what some analysts say would mean very serious changes to a national constitution. The same happened while I was shoveling out the church parking lot and firemen left their truck to help clear a sidewalk outside of the hair salon on the corner. My breath cut short when I read about rocks and Molotov cocktails being thrown indiscriminately into crowds. The same happened when I thought of the homeless people of Chicago on Tuesday night as the wind blew, the lightening burst, and the drifts grew higher and higher.

On Tuesday morning, my Facebook status read, “Screw the blizzard. May God be with the people of Egypt”. I take that back now. We in Chicago need God in the blizzard as much as the Egyptian people need God in the midst of political and social upheaval. Therein lies the great unity: we are human, and we are God’s creation. The understanding of that concept changes across religious lines, but it is still there. We are human, whether Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, or another religion. We are human whether European, African, Latino, Asian, or whatever other vastly generalized ethnicity we claim on the census. We are human no matter which class, gender, or sexuality with which we identify.

And when something really changes, really jars us awake, whether blasting blizzard or massive protests, we look for something to hold onto.

I think that’s why I’m a missionary.