Friday, January 26, 2018

Andreas Knapp's THE LAST CHRISTIANS: "Christians: The Unlikely Immigrants"

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The Last Christians:  Stories of Persecution, Flight, Resilience in the Middle East
by Andreas Knapp
“Christians:  The Unlikely Refugees”

“Jonah sighs, “We have lost everything.  Even our history.  After nearly two thousand years, we have been uprooted.  Can such an old tree ever be transplanted?”  He goes on to relate how IS terrorists cut down and burned all the trees in his family’s garden in Mosul – a symbolic act by those seeking the root-and-branch destruction of the Christian population.
-Excerpt, The Last Christians, page 36
Two thousand years ago the Man named Jesus walked the very same soil and spoke the very same language that Christians from Mosul, Iraq walk and speak to this very day; but their numbers are slowly disintegrating due to oppression bought on by the Islamic State.    Most people are not aware of these Aramaic speaking Christians who have existed and strived for centuries and who are presently enduring every form of persecution known to mankind.
       German native and priest Father Andreas Knapp, 60, resides in the housing project of Grunau in Leipzig, Germany, which is a temporary home to these Iraqi and Syrian Christians who have been forced out of their own homeland.

My community, the Little Brothers of Jesus, traces its origins back to this adventurer turned desert monk.  Four of us have shared a house in a prefab housing project on the outskirts of Leipzig for the past ten years, and every year we invite friends and members of our parish to our ceremony on the first Sunday of Advent.  When we were searching for a theme for our social 2014 event, my fellow brother, Gianluca, had a brilliant idea:  “Charles de Foucault (Left)  spent six years living as a monk in Syria.  I have a Syrian colleague who’s lived in Leipzig for years and is a Christian.  He could tell us about the situation of Christians in Syria.”  We liked the idea and Gabriel and his family were duly invited.
       As our little gathering gets under way, we are astonished to see more faces in the room.  Gabriel has interpreted our invitation very freely and brought a number of refugees from Syria and Iraq along with him.

Father Andreas cares for these Christians, counseling them on spiritual matters, as well as the trauma in their past and the trauma of living in a foreign country.  He aids them in adapting to their new environments:  from helping them fill out paper work to teaching them how to adapt to a new culture. They are the immigrants, the strangers in the strange country, seeking asylum wherever they can find it. 

One of these families - is Yousif and his wife Tara and their two children – 12-year-old son Amanuel and 10-year-old daughter Shaba.  The family of four live in the 11-story apartment block in the Militzer Alee on the third floor.  Yousif deals with not only the persecution for being a Christ-centered Christian but the guilt of having to leave behind his sick father in order to save his wife and children.  
       Two years after the family’s forced exodus from Mosul, Iraq Yousif with the help of Father Andreas (Right) is able to get a legal and valid passport and plans to visit his father after the New Year of 2016; but his father dies and the plans for the trip of reunion are turned to a trip of mourning.  Father Andres pledges to accompany Yousif from Germany to Mosul, Iraq and attend his father’s funeral with him.       
With only a knapsack for his luggage, Father Andres (Left) encounters people from the region of Iraq and Syria who are Christ-loving Christians and have for over 2000 years claimed this homeland as their birth.
       Father Andreas Knapp detailed his journey and personal experiences in the book The Last Christians Stories of Persecution, Flight, and Resilience in the Middle East published in September of 2017 by Plough Publishing House with cover photograph by Louai Beshara; and translation by Sharon Howe.
These Christians not only have the same language and belief in the gospel as identified by Jesus but also share the same ideology as Jesus Christ:  to love the Lord God with all their heart, love their neighbors and their enemies. The most
controversial ideology held and exemplified by Jesus Christ is that of practicing non-violence,
which these Christians believe is essential to the expression of their faith.   And this essential expression or tenant of their faith is not exemplified begrudgingly but out of love for Christ and their neighbor and enemy– they practice non-violence even in the face of severe persecution to the elderly, men, women, children, and even babies.
       These elderly, men, women, children and babies for simply being Christian were and are persecuted in numerous ways:

-forced to pay protection money in the disguise as special taxes.  If they do not pay the money the individuals are brutally murdered or have limbs cut off.
* From January to June of 2014 Christians were forced to pay protection money to the jihadists in the amount of $15 million dollars per month.

-stripped of money, property and possessions:
       * Christian homes marked scarlet red, a signal that the home was Christian and an invitation for extremists to loot and destroy the home.

-rape and forced prostitution of Christian girls and women

*Christian girls and women were raped for not wearing a veil.
* One woman was raped and beaten repeatedly for days by 12 men.  These rapes can turn to bestial abuse; one woman was so distraught about the abuse that she took rat poison in hopes of a quick death but convulsed for hours before she died.
       *The IS warriors consider the “unbelieving” girls and women to be their own rewards for being warriors.  As a result, these girls and women were raped repeatedly and some sold in slave sex trade market.

-bomb attacks and destruction of Christian businesses.
       *On December 25, 2013, at least 26 Christians were killed and 38 Christians wounded in a car bomb attack in the Christian marketplace of Baghdad’s Dora neighborhood.

* In 2008, Muslim extremists kidnapped Bishop Pilos Faraj Rahho (Left) Their goal was to force the church to supply them with Christian suicide bombers in exchange for Bishop Pilos Faraj Rahho’s life.   His church exemplified Jesus’s teaching and example of non-violence and he was murdered.

       *On September 10, 2006 Syrian Orthodox Priest Abuna Paulos Iskandar (Right) of Yousif’s family’s home church Mar Aphrem – was kidnapped by Muslim extremists, who demanded that the church disown a speech given by Pope Benedict XVI in Regensbur, Germany: “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman such as his command to spread the sword the faith he preached.”  The relatives of Priest Iskandar disowned the speech and paid the ransom.  Priest Iskandar’s legs and arms were cut off; he was disemboweled; and then beheaded.

-forced conversion to the Muslim faith
       * The Christians were forced out of their homeland of Mosul only to be given a welcome back but then again given a choice on July 18, 2014 by self appointed caliph of the IS the Islamic State Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi  – convert to our form of Muslim or be killed by the sword

-desecration of historical churches, cannons, and relics some thousands of years old.
       *In April of 2015, Mosul’s Cathedral Church of Saint Ephrem was looted by the Islamic religious fighters and is now known as the “Mosque of the Majahideen.”  This desecration from a church to a radical mosque included the severing of the cross at the arms and the body covered by the Islamic State flag and crest.    

-desecration of dead bodies –killing people and blowing up the bodies to tiny shreds in order to prevent proper burial. 
       *On June 3, 2007 Muslim extremists killed Abuna Reghild (also known as Father Ragheed Aziz Ganni) and three deacons and blew up their corpses disintegrating it into tiny shreds.

Father Andreas (Right) reveals in his book how appalled and horrified he was of the atrocities these Christians endure but more importantly he questions himself if he has done everything he can to be aware of the atrocities that are happening.

I wonder whether I haven’t been paying enough attention to the persecution of Iraqi Christians in the news.  Or do such stories simply vanish too quickly from the radar of our Western media?  The unfortunate law of habitation dictates that when terror attacks are carried out with such brutal regularity, they become too routine to mention – and I, like anyone else, am a consumer of news.  In that sense, the Mosul Christians share the fate of victims in many of the world’s trouble spots.  Who spares a thought for the murdered of El Salvador, the gang wars in Congo, the torture victims in the prisons of many dictatorships or the attacks still being carried out in Baghdad?

In 1990 there were 1.4 million Christians actively worshiping in five hundred churches in Iraq; 200,000 and 30 churches resided in Mosul alone.  Today it is declared a “Christian free zone.”
There is so much more in this book – Father Andres (Below Left)  talks about the misconceptions of Muslims and the danger in grouping all Muslims as radical or extremists; he talks about the Armenian Christian Genocide of 1915; but more importantly he asks two vital questions to himself and to other Christians across the globe:

Whenever I hear stories like this and meet Christians of such courage, I can’t help but wonder:  How much is my faith worth to me?  How high a price would I be prepared to pay?

Monday, January 22, 2018

#4 The Fourth Installment of the New CRC Blog Series: BACKSTORY OF THE POEM . . . Sonia Saikaley’s “Modern Matsushima”

*The images in this specific piece are granted copyright privilege by:  Public Domain, CCSAL, GNU Free Documentation Licenses, Fair Use Under The United States Copyright Law, or given copyright privilege by the copyright holder which is identified beneath the individual photo.

**Some of the links will have to be copied and then posted in your search engine in order to pull up properly

***This is the fourth in a never-ending series called BACKSTORY OF THE POEM where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific poem and how the poet wrote that specific poem.  Links to other BACKSTORY OF THE  POEM features are at the end of this piece.

Backstory of the Poem
“Modern Matsushima”
by Sonia Saikaley
Twitter: @SaikaleySonia

Can you go through the step-by-step process of writing this poem from the moment the idea was first conceived in your brain until final form?
In 2007, I went to Japan to teach English through the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme. I read about the three most scenic views in Japan and one of them was Matsushima, Miyagi. It was about twenty-minutes away from my new home, so
in August of 2007 I hopped on a train and headed there. One of the first things I saw in Matsushima was a papier-mâché of the Japanese haiku master Matsuo Bashō. I had a photograph snapped with Bashō. After I walked around the area with many tourists and took in more sights before crossing a bridge and resting there for a while. I pulled out my journal from my backpack and started writing this poem about Bashō and Matsushima. I wondered what he would think about all the frenzy going on in a place he once wandered centuries ago. I came back to
Matsushima a few more times and attended an outdoor oyster festival with food vendors, bought some kokeshi dolls and thought more about Bashō. I added these scenes to the poem when I got back to my quaint apartment in Shiogama. A year later, I returned to my home in Canada and rewrote the poem until it was in its final form, so in a way the poem travelled with me. It was conceived in Matsushima, developed in Shiogama and birthed Canada.

Where were you when you started to actually write the poem?  And please describe the place in great detail.
I was standing on the long red bridge in Matsushima leading to one of the islands. With a slight breeze and the beauty of the bay surrounding me, I wrote parts of this poem. Other people were crossing the bridge and stopping to pray and I wondered if Bashō had perhaps rested here too. Matsushima Bay is a stunning area with lots of greenery and natural beauty. Gardens, temples, flowers. After I crossed the bridge, I wandered along the walking trails, with cicadas singing in the trees. I stood on a hill that overlooked the bay. From this standpoint, I could see the other islands. I gazed at the cluster of pine trees and the water that seemed to change from blue to green
as sunlight glittered over the bay. The sky was a brilliant baby blue with seagulls soaring above. Everything was so peaceful. Walking some more, I stopped at a temple and prayed. I was so grateful to have had this chance to be in this beautiful country and to share in its history, which included Bashō and his haiku. As I walked, I thought more about my poem. Much of my writing process includes stepping away from the actual writing and thinking and processing scenes in my mind. Out here on these trails, I was able to envision the tranquility of this beautiful place and contrast it to the “rows of spectators”, “zealous travellers” and “souvenir shops” surrounding the papier-mâché of Bashō and I thought how did our modern society take over such natural beauty. 

How many drafts of this poem did you write before going to the final? (And can you share a photograph of your rough drafts with pen markings on it?)
It took about six drafts to complete. Oh, I wish I still had those initial drafts. I wrote them in a journal. When I write poetry, I prefer longhand over typing on a computer. There is just something very special about the stroke of a pen on paper. That physical act of creating a poem makes me feel closer to the images. I do still have some journals during my time in Japan, but unfortunately, the one containing my drafts with pen markings for this particular poem was lost when I moved homes.

Were there any lines in any of your rough drafts of this poem that were not in the final version?  And can you share them with us?
Most of the lines in the rough drafts made it in the final version, but some words were chopped and carved and some lines were split into breaks in order to make the poem more concise, more powerful.  

What do you want readers of this poem to take from this poem?
I hope readers take from this poem that sometimes we have to slow down and appreciate the beauty around us like Bashō did on his travels across Matsushima and other parts of Japan. Modern life sometimes forces us to move fast, sometimes too fast, and I hope this poem is a reminder that life doesn’t have to be so complicated. There is simplicity in the beauty around us be it a park we pass or a sunrise or sunset we might witness on our daily commutes. If we stand still for a second and take in our surroundings, we can find so much beauty and peace. Just like Bashō did.

Which part of the poem was the most emotional of you to write and why?
He blinks and murmurs,
I once roamed the islands of Matsushima.

I find there is such sorrow in these lines. Is Bashō blinking and lowering his voice because he is holding back tears? Does he not like what he sees of modern Matsushima? I tried to imagine what it would feel like for someone of another century or another generation to witness change. Of course, we must adapt to change but in the process we sometimes lose something and this can produce sadness or longing for a previous time in our lives. When I look back at my own life, I sometimes long for my childhood where life was simple and both my parents were still around. The progress of age is inevitable and this involves losing
family members and the life we had with them. In these lines, Bashō longs for that period in his life when he was in Matsushima mesmerized by its beautiful nature. It is natural to reminisce and long for the past but it is also important to move forward with what is in our present lives. We can look back either with fondness or sadness but then we have to keep moving forward and learn to accept change.

How has Basho influenced you as a poet?
I must confess that prior to my Japanese experience, I was not familiar with Bashō. I read about him shortly before my journey. In Sendai, I found a translated copy of his haiku and was quickly drawn to his moving and powerful poetry. His haiku inspired me to learn more about this art form and to attempt to write them. Some haiku are included in my latest poetry collection “A Samurai’s Pink House”.

Have you ever visited Matsushima? And if so can you describe your experience that is not covered by the poem?
Through my time on the JET Programme, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Matsushima on several occasions. I experienced the oyster festival in the winter, the cherry blossoms in the spring, the brilliant coloured leaves in the fall and the heat and humidity of the summer. One thing Miyagi prefecture is famous for is beef tongue. I am not a fan of this meat. I still remember my mother disguising the tongue she’d make for my family and me since it reminded my parents of their Lebanese village. My sisters and I didn’t enjoy eating this dish, so when I found out that beef tongue was a delicacy in Miyagi, I was hesitant. But since Japan was an adventure, I decided to give beef tongue a try. At first, I thought I’d choke on the tongue because it was a bit rubbery and tough but it turned out to be delicious. It was easier to eat with rice and salted cabbage with cucumbers. Ah, what we will do for adventure! I’ll remember this the next time my mother makes her tongue dish.

Has this poem been published before? And if so where?
“Modern Matsushima” was first published in Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY 
and is part of Sonia Saikaley’s latest poetry collection “A Samurai’s 
Pink House” (2017, Inanna Publications

Anything you would like to add?
Many of my poems explore being an “outsider” in a foreign land and also in one’s homeland. Marginalized people are predominant characters in my work. In “Modern Matsushima”, Bashō is an outsider in a way, “a relic from the past” yet it is important he is given a voice. Our world is full of diversity and this is what makes life intriguing. 
For the last few years, I have been working on a novel set in Beirut and a mountain village before and shortly after the start of the Lebanese Civil War of 1975. It focuses on a young woman struggling to find her independence while maintaining a close bond with her family. It also involves a family secret. My writing often concentrates on balancing two sides. For instance, in my forthcoming novel “The Allspice Bath”, the protagonist wavers between two cultures, her Canadian side and her Lebanese side. It is not always easy finding a balance but it is possible without denying a part of yourself altogether. 

Modern Matsushima

Snowflakes melt in pots
of steaming miso soup floating
among seaweed
the colour of emeralds,
and rice paddies.
Rows of spectators
wander across Matsushima.

I wait in line for oysters,
grilled corn on the cob.
Beyond the crowd
of people and food stalls,
Bashō sits
alone on a bench surrounded
by souvenir shops,
his gaze on a cluster of kokeshi dolls.

May I take a photograph? I ask.
His mouth curls, No photographs, please.
I sit and watch his eyes dart over
travellers flashing cameras in his direction.
He blinks and murmurs,
I once roamed the islands of Matsushima.
Then stiffens like a papier-mâché sculpture,
a relic from the past, he closes
his eyes and prays.

Sonia Saikaley was born and raised in Ottawa, Canada to a large Lebanese family. The daughter of a shopkeeper, she had access to all the treats she wanted. Her first book, “The Lebanese Dishwasher”, co-won the 2012 Ken Klonsky Novella Contest.  Her first collection of poetry, “Turkish Delight, Montreal Winter”, was published in 2012 and a second collection, “A Samurai’s Pink House”, was published in 2017 by Inanna Publications. She is currently working on a novel called “Jasmine Season on Hamra Street”. A graduate of the Humber School for Writers, she lives in her hometown of Ottawa. In the past, she worked as an English teacher in Japan. Her novel “The Allspice Bath” is slated for publication in the spring of 2019 (Inanna Publications).

001  December 29, 2017
Margo Berdeshevksy’s “12-24”

002  January 08, 2018
Alexis Rhone Fancher’s “82 Miles From the Beach, We Order The Lobster At Clear Lake Café”

003 January 12, 2018
Barbara Crooker’s “Orange”

004 January 22, 2018
Sonia Saikaley’s “Modern Matsushima”

005 January 29, 2018
Ellen Foos’s “Side Yard”

007 February 09, 2018
Leslea Newman’s “That Night”

010 March 03, 2018
Scott Thomas Outlar’s “The Natural Reflection of Your Palms”

011 March 10, 2018 
Arya F. Jenkins “After Diane Beatty’s Photograph, “History Abandoned"

012 March 17, 2018
Angela Narciso Torres’s “What I Learned This Week

013 March 24, 2018
Jan Steckel’s “Holiday On ICE”

016  April 27, 2018
Beth Copeland’s “Reliquary”

017  May 12, 2018
Marlon L Fick’s “The Swallows of Barcelona”

020 June 16, 2018
Charles Rammelkamp’s “At Last I Can Start Suffering”

021  July 05, 2018
Marla Shaw O’Neill’s “Wind Chimes”

022 July 13, 2018
Julia Gordon-Bramer’s “Studying Ariel”

023 July 20, 2018
Bill Yarrow’s “Jesus Zombie”

024  July 27, 2018
Telaina Eriksen’s “Brag 2016”

025  August 01, 2018
Seth Berg’s (It is only Yourself that Bends – so Wake up!”

026  August 07, 2018
David Herrle’s “Devil In the Details”