Who is to Blame for the Rise of ISIS?

Territory controlled by ISIS as of this week (dark red), as well as the area they claim (light red). Wikipedia image by Spesh531

Territory controlled by ISIS as of this week (dark red), as well as the area they claim (light red). Wikipedia image by Spesh531

There are a lot of lessons that we can take from the alarming expansion of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Surely it is a parable, but what is the lesson to be learned? Never end a war without leaving a substantial American footprint behind? Never funnel weapons to a rag-tag coalition of revolutionaries whose motivations may well be dubious? Never trust an Arab government to be able to handle things on its own? Never elect a pussy to be president of the United States?

I can think of nothing more fundamentally human than the desire to cast blame when something goes wrong, to reach for the simple explanation to a complex problem, or to ignore the long view in favor of the emotions of the moment. Beyond that, we prefer to direct our focus inward rather than outward; in other words, we are far more adept at analyzing something according to our understanding of the world than we are at comprehending how another person’s understanding might cause them to act. Because we live our lives at an increasingly rapid pace, we fail to appreciate how deeply rooted humanity remains, both from a historical and cultural standpoint. Continue reading

A Day in the Life of a Professional Mourner

A dance company reenacts a funeral right based on professional mourners in Italy. Flickr photo by Dave Bledsoe

A dance company reenacts a funeral right based on professional mourners in Italy. Flickr photo by Dave Bledsoe

The author was a professional mourner living in Palestine in the first century A.D./C.E.

No one aspires to become a mourner. Even I entered the profession not by choice, but rather out of necessity, for my husband died and left me with such meager wealth that I would have been without bread in a few weeks, but for the kindness of friends. For a time, I accepted that kindness, but I soon found my sense of shame too great to allow for such dependence.

I had often seen the mourners following the funeral trains, their black outer garments torn in an outward display of grief, their voices raised in a kind of rhythmic wailing, their faces red with tears. I had observed them entering the homes of the bereaved to sit with them and provide them whatever small comfort was required. After seven days, they seemed to vanish, only to appear again when another member of the village made his way to Abraham’s bosom.

I approached my new profession with much trepidation. The idea of being constantly surrounded by death was unappealing to me. I could not fathom how I would maintain the continual state of heightened emotions or how I could force my eyes to spring forth with a river of tears. Yet, in time, I found it just as natural as breathing. Both the body and the spirit must be made to obey the demands of the moment, and so they do for me each time I set out in my dark apparel. Continue reading

Scotland’s Referendum in Perspective

If I type the word “Scotland”, what pops into your mind? Kilted men playing bagpipes? “They may take our lives, but they can never take our freedom!”? A blurry image of something claimed to be the Loch Ness monster? Beautiful hills covered in thistles? A Scottie dog? Epic tales of Rob Roy? A style of golf that involves howling winds, bunkers capable of swallowing a man, and grass that can hide a ball from even the eyes of an eagle? Sean Connery or Andy Murray? The lovable accent for which Scots are famous? Shortbread cookies?

All of these things form part of the public image of Scotland, but if you look up the word “Scotland” on Wikipedia, this is the first sentence you will read (as of this writing): “Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom.”

This is actually a good sentence with which to begin the article, as it addresses some of the primary questions I receive regarding Scotland. “Is Scotland a country?” “Is Scotland part of Britain?” “Are Scottish people British?” “What all makes up the United Kingdom?” Continue reading