Reflections on Rohingya and the Burden of Connection 

Feb. 5th, 2018

Right now, at this very moment, as I sip tea at my desk, having eaten a healthy dinner and spent time working on music in a comfortable home, in a safe neighborhood, in what is still - at least theoretically - a free country, an extremely poor Muslim minority people known as the Rohingya are being systematically and brutally targeted and killed or driven out by military forces in the predominantly Buddhist country of Myanmar, halfway around the world. It is being described as ethnic cleansing; another of the seemingly endless examples within our species of hate and violence being inflicted, primarily as a result of differences in race and religion. So much for my pleasant stereotypes about Buddhists. 

At least 6700 men, women and children were killed in the initial attacks that began in August of 2017, with another 650,000 being forced to leave and travel by foot to neighboring Bangladesh when their villages were burned. At this point nearly a million people are refugees in makeshift camps along the border of Bangladesh, as well as in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, in what is considered a humanitarian crisis of major proportions. These people, who already had nothing, are struggling to survive in over-crowded camps, with extremely limited access to clean water, food, or sanitation - let alone shelter, clothing, medicine, etc. – things most of us take for granted. 

I would not have even known about the Rohingya people and the crisis they are facing, were it not for an ad from one of the major aid organizations that popped up in my Facebook news feed, causing me to dig deeper.  This comes on the heels of news of 20 million people facing starvation in in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria in 2017 due to regional conflicts and civil war, the loss of livestock and disappearing water and food resources. And let us not forget the ongoing misery in Syria, thanks to Bashar Al-Assad and his forces. These events are only a fraction of the extreme suffering that takes place throughout our world on an ongoing basis. It is no wonder so many close their hearts and minds to this reality, in order to continue to function. If we open ourselves to what our fellow human beings are facing, by the millions, the feeling we experience is one of helplessness and despair for the sheer magnitude of it all. Close your eyes, right now, and imagine holding a young child in your arms as he or she is dying, never having had a chance to live. 

Yet if we are to ever move toward a true Christ-consciousness, a consciousness of not only being our brother’s keeper, but of recognizing that our own lives are inextricably bound to the lives of all, we must somehow develop the capacity to keep our hearts and minds truly open, not just to the abundant beauty and good in the world, but to the rampant suffering, both seen and unseen. And we must learn to look beyond race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and other characteristics of the individual that separate us or allow us to falsely believe that someone else’s suffering is not our concern. How else can we evolve to that next level of existence, in which we finally create a just, peaceful, and sustainable way of being in the world? And if that isn’t the goal, then truly – what is? 

Of course no one of us can solve all the world’s problems, or attend to the needs of all who suffer, whether we think of those in our own communities or geographically a “world away”. And just as we acknowledge the existence of this suffering, we must also acknowledge and celebrate the amazing number of people, all around us and in every corner of the world, who reach out, giving of themselves so generously - even heroically - in order to help others. But until each one of us who is able is also willing to create our own form of healing ministry and spend some time walking through the darkness alongside those who so desperately need our help, whether we do that through prayer or financial giving or volunteer work or non-violent activism, or arts that heal or enlighten, or some combination of these, we deprive ourselves and others of the chance to know our true identity as the living expression of that divine creative energy and intelligence, that love which dwells within and connects us all. In the search for life's meaning, maybe this is the ultimate destination. Just a thought.

This is a song I wrote for a progressive event some years back, but it still encompasses some of these ideas, as well as a remembrance of the foundation of our own country's democracy, established of, by and FOR THE PEOPLE.

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