Talk about a roller coaster ride. Yesterday we got news that the residence permits have not arrived because there is a new ‘convention’ touching on religious people, of which we are the first case, that will cause a delay in their being issued. This is the first we have heard about this, and comes after being assured by the Office of Population in Montreux on 9th November that ‘Yes, all is here and ok and visas will be issued in 10 days, there is no need to come back.’
My (and Robyn’s) feelings have reached levels of Biblical proportions. Which is good, seeing as how we have lots of Bibles in the place to give our feelings expression.
The first thing that comes to me is the anger: anger at being kept in the dark, anger at not being able to speak enough French to deal with the matter on my own (We are always dependent on other people to do things for us.), anger that the bureaucratic systems of the government do not have in them that ‘telling the people concerned what the processes are and keeping them accurately informed is important’, anger that at low levels (like the counter of the Office of Population) incorrect information can be given out and there is no accountability for it: the processes will be what they will be and no matter what anyone says to us, what they decide will happen, will happen.
Next comes the anxiety. Will Robyn be able to go back to Australia as she has booked her ticket, given the fact that she will not have worked long enough? Will we be able to come back into the country if we leave it?
Next comes the sadness. We have waited so long (the first application went in on 13th April, and then the final one on 18th July.) Each time we thought we had ‘got somewhere’, there was a new delay, a new question, a new piece of information that was missing of which we knew nothing.
Which is where we get into the territory of the Bible. The psalms are full of anger in some spots. They wish God’s revenge down upon people who have mistreated the people of God. These psalms give me plenty of words to say. Instead of being ‘speechless’ or ‘gobsmacked’ the Psalms give me voice.
The other thing is that the form in the psalms which is more common than the anger, is the Lament. There is a whole book called ‘Lamentations’. But in the Psalms, and the Prophets too there is a lot of lamentation going on. These lamentations give expression to the truer feeling. ‘How sad it is God that things are like this!’ How sad it is that there is no reliable information about ‘how long these things shall be’. How sad it is that our society is so organized that now no one can ‘get at’ a public servant any more to make them accountable. All the jobs have been ‘de skilled’ and ‘factory-ised’ into call centres. This for me is a truer feeling. The anger motivates, and needs words, but the sadness, when it is given expression in tears is a healing thing, and stops me from taking myself or someone else out.
The other thing that is in the psalms too, is a description of the reality. The one I read this morning is ‘The fool has said in his heart that there is no God.’ The theme of these psalms is ‘Though things are going bad, there is a God who loves me, and in whom I have put my hope.’ The truth of the matter, after the anger and the tears is a continuing hope for the day when things will work out. This, strangely enough is what Advent is about. It is one thing to light Advent candles to help us to wait. It is another thing to experience Advent in the midst of life. Then the test is ‘can our hope in God stay alive when things look pretty black, and we are waiting for ‘the dawn from on high to break upon us’. The true answer at this moment is ‘I think so, but at the moment the feelings of anger and sadness are uppermost.’
The other thing that comes to me about this issue has to do with how it is expressed. Sure there is anger and tears, but where does the anger go? Being in a partnership, the danger is that the darkness ‘gets in between’ so that the place of being angry is a ‘dis-placement. Something dark needs to ‘get out’. Here is a person close by! Let it go there. I would rather let the anger go out into a herd of pigs, than in the direction of the one I love. But it is a common thing amongst all people who suffer from one kind of oppression or another, to whatever degree. The temptation was to take it out upon those who are near at hand. Do you remember when south Africa was making the transition to a majority government, the news papers often talked disparagingly about ‘black on black’ violence. When the people who are the cause of oppression are not there to be accountable for their actions, it is the next easiest thing to lash out at someone else who happens to be close by. I have to sing to myself the song from Taizé. ‘Jesus your light is shining within me, let not my doubt and darkness speak to me.’
This set of reflections then puts me (and Robyn) into solidarity with other people who have experienced oppression of any sort, and mostly worse. We have just heard that the bishop of Jerusalem has his residence permit from the government of Israel after 12 months! Cynthia Gunn who will be coming to preach next Sunday works at the border of Israel and Palestine watching and recording how the relationships between the Israeli soldiers and the Palestinian people go each day, as workers and other people try to cross to work, subject to the whims of border guards. There have been people give birth at the border post, waiting to get through. Each of these women is the virgin Mary.
There is also the critique of Government. At a time when money can move around the world ever more freely, and people who have money can buy themselves a residence permit in this land, people who are religious (including Muslims) and those without money are subject to ever more stringent controls. It is as if governments are reacting by over controlling population movements because they are losing control over the global economy.
The thing that was mentioned by the bishop of Jerusalem when he got his residence permit was how he had been supported greatly by the prayers and kind words of other people. This is also part of our experience of solidarity. There have been at least four different groups of people who have been active on our behalf, apart from the prayers and support of the whole congregation. To remember this is for me to be sustained by the good will and prayers of others. In a time where individualism is a high value in our society, all it needs is for us to be ‘down’ to understand the value of being ‘one body.’ We who are many are one body.