At the risk of being a serial poster on this issue, I wanted to share the following article about Davos from today’s NYT. I feel that this event, given the current economic conditions, epitomizes the tension between the theologian of glory and the theologian of the cross:

AP file photo congo refugees

Davos is usually about rubbing elbows in tight quarters at standing-room only cocktail parties. But just steps from the main conference center is a very different take on rubbing elbows in tight quarters: A simulation of what it is like live in a refugee camp facing rebel attack has been set up for politicians and business people participating in the World Economic Forum. Richard Branson is leading a delegation of executives and NGO leaders in the simulation on Friday.

I participated in the simulation on Wednesday and it was quite an eye-opener. In three different rooms, tents were set up, with chained-link fences and barbed wire surrounding the area to simulate a refugee camp. All participants were assigned roles; I was a 40-year-old farmer with a bad left leg and tuberculosis. Actors dressed in army fatigues played the rebels. The lights would go out, and in the pitch black the rebels would push people around and point guns and lights in their faces. I know it may sound hokey, but it wasn’t.

This is how Global Risk Forum Davos, the co-host of the simulation describes it: “For a moment in time, participants will be thrust into another environment, stepping ‘into the shoes’ of refugees who face a rebel attack, a ‘mine field,’ border corruption, language incapacity, black marketeering and refugee camp survival. Following the event, a debrief will invite participants to discuss the refugee situation and explore ways to assist, should they so wish.”

Nonetheless, the organizers are taking flak for it. William Easterly of Aid Watch asked:

“Can Davos man empathize with refugees when he or she is not in danger and is going back to a luxury banquet and hotel room afterwards? Isn’t this just a tad different from the life of an actual refugee, at risk of all too real rape, murder, hunger, and disease?

“Did the words ‘insensitive,’ ‘dehumanizing,’ or ‘disrespectful’ (not to mention ‘ludicrous’) ever come up in discussing the plans for ‘Refugee Run’?”
I do not pretend to know what the solution is for the refugee problem (current UN estimates are at 245 million people worldwide). It do know that it is virtually impossible for me as a white, 30-something, educated male, to truly understand life from the perspective of a mother who sifts through a garbage dump every day in order to feed her 4 hungry children. I haven’t a clue what it might be like to feel the hot breath of a machine gun toting guerrilla against my face as the rest of his squad undresses my wife and daughter in front of me…after all, I’m just typing up a blog post, sipping espresso. No simulation could ever make these horrors a reality, especially if I am a CEO who knows that he’ll be heading back to a posh hotel suite in 40 minutes when the exercise is over.

The same problem applies to the incarnation…who among us can identify with Jesus’ disassociation with glory and identification with the mundane? He was the divine refugee, living in Egypt, wandering through Palestine, touching lepers, making friends with prostitutes. There is something much different about Jesus’ solution to the world’s sadness…it was not a simulation, it was an identification to the point that he became the incarnation of our sin upon the cross…our garbage dump, our hot breath…our salvation.