FROM GARTH STRANGE October 30, 2017
I have a few moments to write my blog this evening from Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina. I have a lot of mixed thoughts. Over a week ago I went with the poet and his wife (and a great cab driver who stayed with us) from Mostar to Blagaj – about a 20 minute or so drive. Blagaj is the site of a 15th century Dervish retreat and monastery. It is built at the base of amazing rock cliffs and sometimes holds the nests of eagles. The Buna River flows out from the base of the cliff beside the Dervish buildings. This is a very sacred (and tourist-filled in the spring and summer) place. We learned a lot from our cab driver as we sat at one of the many restaurants and had kafa and a snack. Learned about the corruption (political and business) that kept the country – in many ways – from moving forward. Making unemployment for 18 – 24 year olds 50 – 60%. Making pensions very low and delivered very inconsistently to all including veterans. Making getting a job dependent on who you know or how much you can pay to the “right” person. I’ve heard all this before, have heard it many times in the six weeks we’ve been in BiH and heard it last Saturday when we took a cab to Medugorje – about a 30 minute drive to the west of Mostar. The cab driver was good at his English and talked about the same issues of corruption – political and economic – and how they are linked. He dropped us off in front of St. Jacob’s Church in time for the 10 a.m. mass in English which we were wanting to attend. I paid him (I seem to pay the bills often when I am with these two colleagues from America!!). HaHa!!
We found a pew, sat down and soon, to a very full church (unusual around the world except for the miracles that draw the pilgrims and the curious here, a million a year!). The main priest, from Canada, gave a long homily about the fires of hell that are waiting for gays and lesbians. He talked about the evils of liberation theology which are the basis for much of my own theological thinking and life (Yes, I do “got religion”). I found myself with tears rolling down my cheeks. Is there no cleft in the rock for me? Then came the celebration of communion which, of course, the three of us could not “celebrate.” Because of the size of the crowd there were a dozen priests carrying the wafers to believers up each of the aisles. A couple of pews in front of me, I noticed a non-white young woman, indeed a black African young woman, as it turned out. She stood at the edge of the aisle as one of the priests came along with his basket of wafers. He dutifully gave a wafer to each person except when he came to the black young woman – her hands raised in praise to her God. The priest looked at her, LOOKED at her, but did not give her the bread of communion (or as I call it, community). Here in St. Jacob’s Church – patron saint of lost causes (?), the needy, I saw what seemed to me like discrimination because of skin color. All of a sudden, I became needy, a seriously lost cause, and did not know what to do. I could see the disappointed face of this black young woman. I became agitated thinking I must do something. In front of all these priests and hundreds of believers (or the curious). Everyone sat down, I excused myself past a couple of people, got to the aisle and went to the young black woman. Quietly, I asked her if she did receive the bread. She said no – her face was hurting. I asked why? She said, I don’t know. Looking down the aisle, I noticed a different priest coming down the aisle with his basket of wafers. I whispered to him that this young black woman did not receive the bread. He gave her a wafer. I returned to my place in the pews. I think it was all done with a minimum of disruption, although sometimes disruption (turning over the temple tables???) is needed in the church – even one named after Jacob, who wrestled someone, maybe an angel, apparently came away with a limp, but also a new name, Israel, now illegally occupying Palestinian land. God, does it never end????)
The rest of the day was very nice, although I felt like I was suffering with irritable bowel syndrome, without the bowel part. I was disturbed, upset, thinking, my spiritual spine crunching and twisting and turning into question marks and exclamation marks. I felt the need to go off by myself for a while but I stuck with my traveling companions. Today I find myself looking for some form of gentleness, kindness, a repair of the physical and emotional self. The spiritual self will squeeze in there, too, seeking its own relief from desolation and fear. But those angels – maybe the same one that wrestled Jacob (!!), thankfully urges me – all of us – not to be afraid. See you soon.