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WHAT TO DO WHEN THERE'S NO FIREWORKS

Around sunset one very hot summer’s eve when we (in the Army Chaplaincy) were in Iraq, about forty miles north of Baghdad, we saw the military police pull up in the building just next door. Out came two Iraqi Prisoners of War, their hands were shackled behind them and they had gunny sacks tied over their heads. They were the first guests in this temporary holding place for them before being taken to Abu Ghiraib, which wasn’t but a few miles away. During the night, and you were up at night because it was so hot, the M.P.’s had placed their captives in an enclosed, fenced in, back yard of this building. I didn’t see how they could rest, but during the night the enemy P.O.W.s were laying in a fetal position on the dry lawn trying to sleep. But the headlights of the Humvee were shining on them all night long, for security purposes, I assume. In the morning I walked over to the building and wanted to take a quick snapshot for the record, with my throwaway camera. As I got nearer however, I had some second thoughts about doing this and those thoughts were confirmed when an MP held up his hand and in a kind voice told me, it wasn’t permitted, that it was considered exploitation, defined as "The utilization of another person for selfish purposes."

This defines the prison of sin we sometimes live in and why we can’t always celebrate. Paul writes: "I see another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members." Yes, we are selfish--in big and small ways we exploit one another, especially those whom we love the most.

A century ago, for the anxious immigrant arriving in the New York harbor, their first perspective before reaching Ellis Island was a bit ominous. They would view first, the back of the statue of liberty as if being greeted with a cold shoulder. Indeed, of the 17 million who disembarked back then, some 300,000 were deported, likely medically or politically unfit to be an American. Yet, by way of contrast, in spite of our sinful maladies and unworthiness, Christ declares us fit, citizens of heaven.

Some years ago I read an engaging account about an escape from the then, communist land of Poland by two shipbuilders. They hid themselves in a large cargo box on one of the ships leaving for Canada and New York. After several weeks at sea in that dark wooden box sustained only by chocolate bars and water and vitamins, the men made it to freedom. Though they sorely missed their families and hoped to someday be reunited with them, their one impression was this: "We had no idea how wonderful it is to live in a free country; it is beyond our expectations."

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