“A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep
A time of love, a time of hate
A time of war, a time of peace
A time you may embrace, a time to refrain from embracing
To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven”
The more secular-minded among us may recognize the familiar lines above as those from the song “Turn! Turn! Turn!,” written by songwriter Pete Seger, and sung by The Byrds back in December 1965. For the more Biblically-inclined, they would recognize the words as those of King Solomon, from the Book of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.
The 1960s was a very turbulent time, of course. The Vietnam war was just increasing in intensity, while the conflicts in the Middle East continued to rage every now and again, as Arab neighbours waged war against what was then the fledgling state of Israel.
Vietnam is now peaceful, of course. The once war-ravaged country has joined the ranks of the Asian tigers, with its economy eclipsing the growth of its more established kin in Asean. What is still not at peace, however, is the strife-torn Middle East, as fractious now as it was when The Byrds sang their famous song.
In fact, the region has been volatile long before the song became popular, all the way back to the time King Solomon was reputed to have authored the Book of Ecclesiastes, sometime in the 10th century B.C. With its roots originating from the religious strifes that have divided the region since Biblical times, the conflict has evolved and taken on the ideology of the times -– pitting socialism and Western democracy in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and now the protagonists lined up along more politico-religious lines shaped by the resurgence in the region’s fundamentalist ideologies.
The sad thing with the Middle East is that it has often been used as proxy for the powers of the times -- from the Babylonians to the Persians, to the Greeks and the Romans, and now to the would-be new superpowers of the world. This latest exchange of rocket fire between Hamas and the state of Israel, for example, is in large part due to the contentious “peace process” brokered by the controversial former US president --- as represented by his equally controversial son-in-law --- and one that was never really accepted as legitimate by the players that mattered on the other side of the divide –- the Palestinians.
Which of course leaves a mighty mess of a diplomatic challenge to the new Biden administration, who not only has to clean up the mess his predecessor left behind. A mess that includes the Covid fiasco, a racially-tense home front and now trouble brewing again in a troubled region whose people greet each other with Shalom and Salaam, but in truth have never really known the true meaning of real peace.
No wonder that the words of King Solomon still ring as true today as they once did three millennia ago. With long periods of war interrupted by brief interregnums of peace, this is all the region has every known. And so will we have to wait another three millennia before we can expect things to change.
The pessimists among us may say yes, but I would like to think that there is hope. In the lyrics of his song, Pete Seger inserted the phrase “I swear it’s not too late” into the writings of King Solomon, not as much with naivete, as with a deep and abiding faith in men’s capacity for reason and compassion. And so I choose to sing with Pete, in prayerful hope that perhaps, just maybe, the time for love and the time for peace is much finally much closer to hand.
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