Happy Advent from Bosnia and Herzegoviina!!  Last night, walking through downtown Mostar after taking the Bosnian language course exam (I was the last one to finish out of about 20 others – all 40 – 50 years younger than me!!), I saw a sign:  EXPERIENCE ADVENT IN ZAGREB. I will miss Advent at Lorraine Ave. but will try to follow the scriptures with the congregation. Many European cities have “Christmas Markets” such as in Dubrovnik, Croatia. But Croatia is a “Christian”(Catholic) country (and Zagreb is the capitol). Mostar, in a predominately Muslim country, does not have a “Christmas Market” although I saw a few artificial Christmas trees in one of the main grocery stores here. We are trying to figure out how to decorate, celebrate, even acknowledge Advent/Christmas this year. We get one day off from teaching at Dzemal Bijedic Univerzitet u Mostaru. In the past week the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia brought convictions and verdicts for several “war criminals.” The most well-known, General Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb military leader of the genocidal campaign for a Greater Serbia (of course, some of this depends on who you talk to but the court, after 377 witnesses presented convicted him), interrupted the reading of his verdict by standing up and yelling at the court and presiding judge with “vile curses in Serbian.” He was removed from the court and was not present in person to hear the guilty on 10 of 11 counts and his sentence of life in prison. A few days later, during the final stages of an appeals court ruling, the 72 year old Bosnian Croat military leader, Slobodan Praljak, similarly interrupted the reading of the court’s sentencing of 20 years in prison for him by standing up (a major insult to the court) and drank a small cup of poison. He announced what he was doing to the court in front of television cameras and other journalists and this complicated and beautiful country. He died shortly after taking the poison. Of course, now there is a major review as to how Praljak got the deadly drink into the courtroom!!  There has been some tension in the air during the past two weeks surrounding these verdicts…or at least curiosity. People came up to me and almost whispered the news of the coming verdicts although no one was engaged in open demonstrations or public protests that I know of (maybe a few in Republika Srpska). There is also anger. Avoidance of the issue. And deep, unimaginable grief at many levels, twenty-two years on. I’ve always thought that Advent was a complicated season between the Christmas music in the stores (ADVENT IS NOT CHRISTMAS!!!), the various and interesting scriptures we read and proclaim as GOOD NEWS!! But mostly I think about the angels and their words: DO NOT BE AFRAID. Yet, I am a little afraid, not sure of what. And I think of Madeline L’Engle’s words: THIS IS THE IRRATIONAL SEASON, WHEN LOVE BLOOMS BRIGHT AND WILD. HAD MARY BEEN FILLED WITH REASON, THERE’D HAVE BEEN NO ROOM FOR THE CHILD. And, finally, I think of Billie Holiday’s song:  GOD BLESS THE CHILD WHO’S GOT HIS (OR HER) OWN.

From one delicate and complicated country to another (!!!!),

happy Advent,

Garth Strange