Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Gaza Relief Effort


As many of you may have seen from the news, Gaza has been turned into hell the last week or so. Family of many of my friends from the West Bank live in Gaza and are suffering deeply. Much of the real story has not hit the news. Please see the letter below from one of my friends, Phil, who lived in Gaza for two years and who is helping to organize a relief effort. Pray to the prince of peace for the end of this violence.

In the next week a shipment of vital medicines will be going out by way of a group in Egypt to the people of Gaza- which Phil will be joining until the border. If you feel inclined to give towards this, please send money to his paypal account under the following address: philiprizk@gmail.com

Arab Complicity, Israel's Duplicity

At 11:30am on December 27th the Israeli air force bombed Palestinian
government headquarters and civilian buildings all across the Gaza
Strip. Four consecutive days of attacks resulted in over 350 dead and
thousands injured. In the densely populated Gaza Strip the attacks
caused the death of scores of civilians.1 The UN reported seven school
children attending UN schools dead when Israeli rockets hit a school,2 over a dozen traffic police officers in training were killed while Israel's onslaught hit a prison burying inmates beneath the rubble.3 The hospitals are overcrowded with the dead and injured. Behind the images filling media outlets is a deeper story that needs to be realized. Since early November Israel has made it increasingly difficult for journalists, NGO workers, a UN rapporteur,4 and diplomats5 to enter the Gaza Strip.

On November 18th the New York Times reported that Foreign
Ministry spokesman Schlomo Dror justified Israel's closure by
considering "much of their [journalists in sum] previous coverage from
Gaza unfair," and therefore would not be "shedding tears" about
preventing their access.6 Since that time the Erez crossing- the only
entry and exit for foreigners to Gaza- has opened only for very brief periods and has continued to be extremely restrictive as to
who gets in and out. This has severely decreased travel to the Gaza
Strip where even journalists who do make it in are not guaranteed
exit- at times for weeks. As much of the world relies on English
coverage of the news in places like Gaza the images and stories have
severely declined due to Israeli limitations of access to journalists.
This has resulted in a veiling of the day-to-day catastrophe taking
place in Gaza for so many months.

In Gaza the recent deaths and injuries are an added tragedy to the
ongoing hardship. The Gaza Strip has not been under siege since June
2007, when Hamas took control of the small strip of land... it has
been under siege for years. 18 months ago that siege was only increased to unprecedented levels. Former Israeli Prime Minister's aide Dov
Weisglass claimed Palestinians would not be starved subsequent to
Hamas' election victory but put "on a diet."7 Israel determined to
only permit items into Gaza that they deemed "essential," hundreds
have since died due to a shortage of medical supplies, and not being
provided with permits to reach other destinations with better medical

Israel's aerial bombardment has brought to a head the urgent
humanitarian needs in Gaza. As has been the case for months Gazans are
short on blankets, cooking gas and candles, among other essential
items. For the past months food is increasingly being cooked over open
fires- when wood can be found- because cooking gas is now a commodity of the rich who can afford exorbitant black market prices.8 Many areas experience consistent electricity outages most of the day. Gaza has also run out of glass so that windows blown out by the ongoing air strikes cannot be replaced. While babies are going without diapers and children are going to sleep cold without blankets, bakeries are
running out of flour to provide bread to the queuing masses. Gaza has
long since run out of concrete and graves remain unmarked because
wood, a viable alternative is also scarce. The reality of the so-called truce between Hamas and Israel that ran out weeks ago is
that it never really existed: Israel has been increasingly turning
Gaza into a concentration camp- not for Hamas- but for all
Palestinians residing there, Muslims and Christians, Fatah, Hamas and
politically nonaligned citizens alike. In the midst of all the
political jargon many forget that Palestinians too are people, not just a
collective entity called "Hamas." When Israel began bombing tunnels
along the strip's Southern border Sunday, it closed a dire alternative channel- due to closed borders during the siege- for food, clothing and petrol.9

The complicity of select neighboring Arab governments in the latest
US-applauded Israeli attacks is a further factor that merits
reflection. In the week preceding the Israeli onslaught Israel's
Foreign Minister traveled the region to garner support for the planned
attack on Gaza. On December 26th, the day before the Israeli
offensive, Egyptian newspapers carried front page images of Foreign
Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit clasping the hand of his Israeli counterpart
Tzipi Livni as if in agreement of what was to come.10 On December 28th Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas warmed the very seat that Livni
had occupied just days earlier when she had met with Egyptian
president Husni Mubarak at which time Israeli plans had already been
solidified to attack Gaza.11 The complicity of neighboring Arab governments has never been so obvious. London-based daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported Tuesday that Livni had shared plans regarding the attack with Egypt's security chief Omar Soleiman prior to the attacks.12 For the past few days Egyptian state security has listened to the chants of protesters yelling, "all of us are Hamas" – given the Palestinian Islamic
movement's roots within Egypt's own Muslim Brotherhood which opposes the Egyptian regime in power- tacit Egyptian support for a deadly blow in Gaza comes as no surprise.

On a legal dimension there are some considerations to keep in mind. On
Monday Israel declared it was carrying out an "all-out war" on
Hamas.13 In a state of war between two states retaliation is a
justified act and yet in this "war" Hamas is endlessly labeled a
"terrorist" organization thus without any justification for the use of
violence over and against Israel's justified use thereof. Israel's logic
only mirrors that of the USA's stated "war on terror," which is a war
on an unidentifiable, unseen enemy. Rules of international law
regarding war have historically applied to nation-states at war with
each other. The USA has utilized the ambiguity in the law to
legitimize its unlimited use of force, detention and torture against
stateless "enemies" in their campaign on the "war on terror."
The complication in Israel's case is the fact that Hamas very
legitimately won Palestinian parliamentary elections in January 2006-
with Jimmy Carter's seal of approval- and by Palestinian and
international law is a legitimate and representative governing body
for Palestinians. Yet two conditions follow: first, Palestinians have
not been granted statehood and thus Israel can continue to treat the
Palestinian pseudo-government as a "non-state" actor and still be in
line with international law. This means any act of violence by Israel-
an internationally recognized state- on "Hamas" is legitimized in the
eyes of the West's public as Hamas is continually confirmed as a
non-state, "terrorist" entity. The second matter at stake is that
Hamas' election victory was not recognized by Israel, the so-called
international community nor by the losing party in the elections,
Fatah, who have in turn been pampered by Hamas' opponents as a
legitimate representative of Palestinians despite their defeat.

Following Hamas' election win Fatah neglected to hand over control of
all security apparatus while preparing for a US-sponsored coup against Hamas.14 After Hamas took its legitimately gained power by force the Fatah president Mahmoud Abbas- illegally according to Palestinian law-15 deposed the Hamas government bringing about an unprecedented state of division within Palestinian society.
Internal division is the ultimate aim of Israel and its international
Supporters; the weakening of Islamist factions the aim of complicit
Arab governments like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Lebanon. All
this has left Israel with legitimacy in the eyes of the so-called
"international community" to carry out not an attack on Hamas but a
full-fledged aggression on the population of the Gaza Strip, with the
aim of deepening the divide among Palestinians. This illegal act is
another successful step towards destroying the Palestinian cause and
entrenching Israel's aspirations of expanding their control over
Palestinian land and deepening their legitimacy in doing so in the
eyes of a global community drunk on an Israeli-concocted legal ploy,
backed by a tremendous media machine.

1- http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1050688.html
2- http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2008/12/2008122821341625964.html
3- http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1050688.html
4- http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article10055.shtml
5- http://www.democracynow.org/2008/12/17/days_after_calling_israeli_blockade_of
6- http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/19/world/middleeast/19gaza.html
7- http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2006/apr/16/israel
8- http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory?id=6352135
9- http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gvz_gdJXlxgB-vle7CnoV2L0YHdgD95C26D01; http://english.aljazeera.net/focus/2008/09/2008999272950161.html
10- http://www.elbadeel.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=40485&Itemid=120
11- http://www.ahram.org.eg/Index.asp?CurFN=fron1.htm&DID=9811; http://www.ahram.org.eg/archive/Index.asp?CurFN=fron1.htm&DID=9808
12 - http://www.alquds.co.uk/index.asp?fname=latest%5Cdata%5C2008-12-27-14-29-47.htm&storytitle=%E3%D5%C7%CF%D1:%20%E1%ED%DD%E4%ED%20%C7%C8%E1%DB%CA%20%DA%E3%D1%E6%20%D3%E1%ED%E3%C7%E4%20%C8%DA%E3%E1%ED%C9%20%E3%CD%CF%E6%CF%C9%20%C8%C7%E1%DE%D8%C7%DA&storytitleb=%CA%E4%CF%ED%CF%20%C8%C7%E1%D5%E3%CA%20%C7%E1%DA%D1%C8%ED%20%E6%C7%CA%E5%C7%E3%20%E1%E3%D5%D1%20%C8%C7%E1%CA%DB%D1%ED%D1%20%C8%CD%D1%DF%C9%20%CD%E3%C7%D3&storytitlec=
13- http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2008/12/2008122994140674153.html
14- http://tonykaron.com/2007/05/15/palestinian-pinochet-making-his-move/
15- www.carnegieendowment.org/files/abumazinupdatejune1507.pdf

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Importance of Place

Last Wednesday evening I returned to my apartment after a long day of classes and work and was greeted by a host of children from our apartment complex yelling my name and running toward me. The kids fidgeted impatiently while I fumbled with my keys and unlocked my door. They then piled into my small apartment to play with puzzles, read the children’s Bible, get piggy back rides, clean out our pantry (!), and just hang out. Though somewhat re-invigorated by all this new energy, I plopped down on my couch and prayed that one of our neighbors would invite me over for dinner. I really didn’t feel like cooking. Sure enough, in a couple minutes I was invited over to dinner at the home of one our Mexican neighbors. It was a good, though not too unusual, day at Parkside.

An actual update has been long overdue, reflective of the different nature of my life these last two months or so. It’s not that it has been a really busy time (though, it has been at times) but rather it has been marked by unpredictability. Or surprise. This last semester (which is quickly coming to a close) has been a very different and unexpected season of my life.

While I have still been taking a full load of grad school classes (I will be finishing my degree in May) what has really marked my life and been my focus these last months is life at Parkside, the apartment complex where I live. In August I moved in here with Matt (a friend from church) and Teo (a Rwandan friend) expecting some adventures, but not really knowing what was to come. Now, a small community (within the community) has begun to take shape, with two more girls from our church likely moving into an apartment next to us next month. We pray together nightly, take Eucharist once a week, share meals and work at reaching out to our neighbors. We have also, in partnership with a couple local churches, been exploring the idea of a church plant in one of our apartments.

Parkside, where we live, is a low-income apartment complex in the midst of Glen Ellyn, a very affluent suburb of Chicago. About 40% of its residents are refugees who have been resettled here from all over the world. Another, say, 40% are Mexican immigrants and the other 20% are poor African-American and white folks. There are a host of issues that people face here: lack of legal immigration status, lack of English language skills, alcoholism, drug use, and prostitution. At the same time, the community posses many strengths: Neighbors know each other, kids play together in the courtyard, family is highly valued and celebrated, and for many God is their daily bread by which they live.

One of the lessons I am learning by living in Parkside is the centrality of “place” in the Christian way of life.

Eugene Peterson in his book Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places says this:
“Everything that the Creator God does in forming us humans is done in place. It follows from this that since we are his creatures and can hardly escape the conditions of our making, for us everything has to do with God is also in place. All living is local: this land, this neighborhood, these trees and streets and houses, this work, these people…cultivating a sense of place as the exclusive and irreplaceable setting for following Jesus is might difficult…What we often consider to be the concerns of the spiritual life—ideas, truths, prayers, promises, beliefs—are never in the Christian gospel permitted to have a life of their own apart from particular persons and places” (pp. 72, 73, 75).

Following Christ, working for peace and justice, always is rooted in a particular place, whether it is in the suburbs of Chicago or Israel/Palestine. For those who go overseas place is usually in the forefront of their minds: missionaries spend years deciding what country and city they want to work in and then they move there and live among the people they want to work with. If they are good missionaries, they will think carefully about their lifestyle and adjust it to match the place where they are. Us here in the US are not usually as conscious of our specific place. We choose a house based on its size and cost. We don’t often know our neighbors. More often than not we live in one place, work in another, go to church somewhere else, and have friends all over.

Those of us living at Parkside have tried, in a similar way to missionaries overseas, to be intentional in choosing our place where we want to be rooted. We have specifically chosen a place on the margins (others have called such spaces “the abandoned places,” abandoned by a society in search of the American dream). Not everyone, however, has to live in a neighborhood like Parkside, though. What is important is being conscious of one’s own place, one’s own context, wherever that may be. Where you are is where God has placed you. You are a minister of the Gospel in your place: usually the main one’s being your workplace and your neighborhood. Do you know your physical neighbors? Are you aware of the poor in your work place (those who are on the outside)?

Al Hsu, in his book The Suburban Christian speaks about this issue in this way: “Lost today is the sense of physical community, in which “community” refers to a specific geographic area or neighborhood that anchors us and defines us.” Quoting Alex Marshal he says that “the biggest change in “community” is that it is less linked to a physical place than ever before” (117,118).
On this issue of place, one of the issues I am wrestling with, is when, how and if to return to the Middle East. I have found myself doing here in the US many of the things I was hoping to do there (living among the poor, working cross-culturally, etc). At the same time I have so much invested there and deeply care about the situation in Israel/Palestine. I appreciate your prayers for direction and wisdom.

Lastly on a side note, if you know anyone who is interested in a trip to Israel and/or the Palestinian territories this summer, please contact me. What I can offer:
-a custom designed and personally led tour or pilgrimage of Israel/Palestine, with all the details arranged from transportation to travel within the country.
-Possibilities for the trip include: a) visits to the holy sites such as the mount of olives and the sea of Galilee b) meeting local believers, both Palestinian and Jewish c) meetings with local organizations working for peace and understanding d) cultural experiences, such as home stays and visits to museums and other historical sites .

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Gaza Update: Part 2 (from BBC)

Gazans despair over blockade

Aleem Maqbool
BBC News, Ramallah

Woman waits for food aid, Rafah, south Gaza, 18.11.08
Many Gazans are dependent on food aid

"People in Gaza are waiting in lines for almost everything, and that's if they're lucky enough to find something to wait for," says Bassam Nasser, 39.

An aid worker in Gaza City, he, like so many others there, including the UN relief agency, says living conditions are the worst he has ever seen in the strip.

"People queue for two or three hours for bread, but sometimes there's no cooking gas or flour, so no bread.

"People wait in line for UN food handouts, but sometimes there aren't any. The suffering is reaching every aspect of life."

As well as working for an American development agency, Mr Nasser is a Gazan, and a father.

"I've got three young children. It's difficult to explain to them that it's not my fault we don't have electricity and that it's not in my control."

'Severely stretched'

Since June 2007, Israel has allowed little more than basic humanitarian aid to enter the Gaza Strip.

Many there hoped that policy would change, five months ago, when Hamas and Israel agreed to a truce.

Gazan family eating by candlelight, 17.11.08

But while there were some increases in the amount of aid allowed in, Israel's strict restrictions on the movement of goods and people into and out of Gaza largely remained.

Two weeks ago, an already fragile humanitarian situation resulting from the mounting effects of months of shortages, saw a dramatic downturn.

The fighting resumed, with an Israeli army incursion into Gaza and a retaliatory barrage of militant rocket fire. With that, Israel all-but shut the Gaza Strip.

Although there are some goods being smuggled into Gaza through tunnels from Egypt, little else is reaching the territory.

Serious fuel shortages have led to widespread power cuts across Gaza City. That, in turn, has caused problems in pumping water to homes, and sewage to treatment plants.

Israel is preventing many aid workers, and all journalists from entering Gaza too, so our interviews have had to be conducted over the telephone.

It's so hard to see where the hope is, and so hard to stop these conditions breeding more hatred
Bassam Nasser, aid worker, Gaza

"I never thought we would see days like this," says Monther Shublak, head of Gaza's water authority.

"The water system was severely stretched even before this crisis, but now, things are much worse.

"For the last four days, around 40% of people in Gaza City have had no access to running water in their homes at all."

"People ask me 'When will we get water?' I simply can't answer them," Mr Shublak says.

"But we are putting all of our resources into sewage pumping. The health consequences of that system totally failing are too worrying to think about, but it could happen unless things change."

Alongside attacks by its military, Israel's government says its Gaza closure strategy aims to deter Palestinian militants from firing rockets across the border at Israeli towns.

It also wants to choke Hamas, the Islamist faction in charge of Gaza, an enemy Israel sees as one of its most deadly.

But the rockets keep being launched and Hamas shows few signs of losing its grip on power.

Question of blame

There is much discussion among Palestinians as to why this sudden increase in pressure on Gaza is happening now.

Some say Israel is preparing for a big invasion; others feel there is an element of political posturing ahead of an Israeli general election in February.

Gaza map

Many will tell you that they feel a time of deep division in Palestinian society is being taken advantage of.

Few take Israel's explanation, that it is only protecting its citizens from the horror of rocket attacks, at face value.

"Isn't it enough that their army kills the people who fire rockets?" asks Mr Nasser.

"We are not responsible, so why are we all being punished? It makes no sense."

He talks of the long-term impact on children in Gaza, including his own, aged six, five and two.

"It's getting harder for us to answer our childrens' questions about the situation, without instilling hatred in their minds about the people responsible for our suffering," he says.

He does not just mean the Israeli government.

"People here see everyone as responsible for their miserable lives. They see Israel closing Gaza, but they also see people around the world doing nothing.

"They see Hamas making things worse by using the blockade as an excuse not to be accountable, and they do whatever they like.

"People see the silence of the PA, [the Fatah-dominated Palestinian government in the West Bank] and blame them too," he says.

"It's so hard to see where the hope is, and so hard to stop these conditions breeding more hatred."

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Gaza Update

A personal update is coming soon, but until then please read the following from CNN about the humanitarian crises in Gaza:

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- A U.N. agency in Gaza will stop distributing aid to more than 750,000 Palestinians because Israel has halted border crossings into the Palestinian territory, the agency's director said Friday.

Palestinians protest Israeli sanctions Thursday evening in Gaza City.

Palestinians protest Israeli sanctions Thursday evening in Gaza City.

"We have run out of food. Our warehouses are empty," U.N. Relief and Works Agency Director John Ging said.

"These interruptions on the crossing points affect us immediately," Ging said earlier. "So the immediate impact is that on Saturday morning, we won't have any food to distribute."

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Israel "to allow urgently, the steady and sufficient supply of fuel and humanitarian assistance," according to a statement from the U.N. chief's spokesman.

Ban also called on Israel "to resume facilitating the activities" of UNRWA and other relief agencies by allowing U.N. officials and humanitarian workers unimpeded access to the region, the spokesman's statement said.

The Israeli military said it was forced to shut down the border because of rocket attacks on Israel and security threats.

The Israeli government denies that its actions have interfered with UNRWA's ability to provide assistance to some 80 percent of the territory's 1.5 million people.

Hostilities between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza continued for an 11th day Friday, bringing an effective end to a five-month cease-fire and creating what one U.N. official called a "desperate" humanitarian situation.

The Israeli military carried out airstrikes on a suspected militant rocket-launching site in northern Gaza early Friday, an Israel Defense Forces spokesman said.

The strikes targeted militants who had been firing rockets and mortars from Gaza into Israel. Five militants were wounded, according to Palestinian security forces.

Around a dozen rockets have been launched from Gaza in the last 24 hours, according to the IDF, with about 80 fired over the last 10 days. Shrapnel lightly wounded an Israeli woman in the southern border town of Sderot in one of the attacks.

Fighting between Israel and Palestinians flared up last week when Israeli troops entered Gaza to blow up a tunnel that the military suspected militants were going to use to kidnap Israeli soldiers.

That incursion set off a wave of fighting and rocket attacks in which 10 Palestinian gunmen have been killed and one Israeli soldier was wounded. It also prompted Israel to seal its borders Thursday, halting the already limited aid from reaching Gaza.

Gaza City went dark Thursday as a result of a power shortage, according to Palestinian officials. The Israeli government maintains that Gaza's Hamas leaders purposely cause power outages in the Palestinian territory in an attempt to garner international sympathy.

Ging said UNRWA usually stocks two months' supplies of rations, but the organization had been prevented from maintaining its strategic reserve during the five-month cessation of hostilities.

He characterized the policy as "a deliberate political decision" to keep the civilian population on the brink of a humanitarian crisis.

But Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli prime minister's office, denied the allegation, saying, "We have been very cooperative with UNRWA."

Regev said, "We did not hear complaints that not enough aid" was being allowed to enter Gaza during the cease-fire.

He said recent Jewish and Muslim holidays probably had prevented the buildup of UNRWA's reserves.

Regev said the most recent round of fighting was instigated by Hamas, arguing that Israel's detonation of the tunnel was defensive and aimed at preventing a much larger escalation.

Regev said Israel was again prepared to abide by the truce if Hamas halted firing rockets.

from: http://www.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/meast/11/14/israel.gaza.humanitarian/index.html

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Welcoming the Stranger

Matthew 25:43: I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.

Last month my roommate and I drove Diego and his cousin Luis to the car repair shop. Earlier that month he had been hit by another car who pulled out of a driveway and ran right into him. His car was fairly damaged and one of his friends in the car with him was bleeding. He decided to call the police. The police came and within minutes Diego had a ticket and a court date. Why? He was driving without a license. It didn't matter that the other person claimed responsibility for the accident. Later, on the day of his court date, the court room was filled with Hispanics there for similar reasons. The root of the problem: Diego is an undocumented immigrant. He can't get a license.

Diego is 20 and came to the US to join his family here and to help support his wife and young daughter back in Mexico. He works at a restaurant in town and now rides his bike to work. He pays taxes off his paycheck (without any of the benefits, of course), is taking English classes, and plays soccer on Mondays at a local park.

In the last months my eyes have been opened to the glaring injustices of our American immigration system. My apartment complex, smack dab in the middle of the western suburbs of Chicago often noted for their wealth, is roughly made up of 40% Mexicans. Most of them are undocumented. What does this mean? It means among many other things that they can't work legally, they can't get drivers licenses, and they face the threat of, if caught, being deported and forced to leave everything here behind, often including other family members. Just think how crucial it is to have a driver's license (the main form of ID) and social security number here in the US. Without one, everything is more difficult and much is simply impossible.

Everyone—the government, the businesses, the police--- knows that there are undocumented people all around. Take the court room scenario described above. The judge knows that all these Hispanics are illegal. The same thing goes for the police officer who gave him the ticket. The system, which benefits from them, turns a blind eye. The truth is we all benefit from them and our system depends on them. Their low-cost labor, the taxes they pay, etc, all contribute to the American way of life and economic system. They, due to their undocumented status, however, do not reap the benefits from that system (health insurance, retirement, legal protection…) that they contribute to uphold. This is a glaring injustice to which many of us "documented" people are blind.

The truth is, however, that they are not a "they" or a "them." Undocumented immigrants are not "illegal aliens," or the "immigration problem." They are beautiful people with names and faces made in the image of God. As Christians we are to remember that our loyalty is not ultimately to the nation-state with its artificial drawn borders and little pieces of paper that make claims as to who is to be welcomed or not. Our "status" comes from elsewhere. Our allegiance is to a foreign country, to a foreign King named Christ. It is to his higher law of hospitality that we are to submit. Ultimately, we as Christians are all strangers and aliens here on earth.

Some Quick Stats on Undocumented Immigrants in the US:

-Only 56% of undocumented immigrants are from Mexico. There are also 1.5 million from Asia and 600,000 undocumented Canadians and Europeans.

-The Social Security Administration estimates that 3 out of 4 are paying payroll taxes, accounting for $6 billion per year in Social Security revenue paid in the last year that does not match a valid Social Security number

- 1 in 3 live in “mixed status” families, with at least one member a US citizen

My roommate Matt has finished writing a book on the issue of immigration and how the church should respond. It is called "Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion and Truth in the Immigration Debate." Click on this link to get more information on the book and to join the facebook group.

-See this link on the sanctuary movement among US churches working to protect immigrants facing deportation.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Anger and Compassion

This summer on leaving Israel/Palestine, Justin and I were given the special treatment by the Israeli airport security. The reason: they found out that Justin had taught in a Palestinian school three years earlier. It didn’t matter that this time we had come for a well publicized international Anglican conference that had been personally welcomed and sponsored by the Israeli minister of tourism (and that I had a badge to prove it). After this special branch of the Israeli military took every item out of my bags they then escorted me to a dark and dingy back room where I was given a very intimate pat down. Lastly, I was personally escorted to my gate by the same security guy. I was furious. A plethora of not so nice words describing these soldiers threatened to explode from my mouth.

For those working for peace and justice, anger is a common companion. Anger results from seeing the ugly face of injustice that causes suffering to others: a child dying in Gaza because he isn’t allowed to enter Israel to receive the necessary medical care, an old man denied entry to Israel for his Ramadan prayers. Our anger can become directed towards those that are perpetrating this injustice. “How dare those racist soldiers do this to me? Do they have no heart underneath that uniform?” (Think, for example, of all the bumper stickers you have seen railing on Bush.)

Quickly this “righteous” anger can turn us into the very same thing we hate. We begin to generalize and become racist ourselves. They become the “oppressors”, a nameless generalization. We see ourselves as the ones in the right, fighting the cause of justice, and we distance ourselves from “them.” “It’s all those racist, oppressive Jews out there who are the problem.”

This is clearly not the way of Christ, but what is the alternative? Compassion, a true seeing of the other. Nouwen in his The Way of the Heart (p.38) states that “the compassionate person is so aware of the suffering of others that it is not even possible for him or her to dwell on their sins.” With compassion one is able to see the pain that is the root of sin in the lives of others. Furthermore, I would add that the compassionate person is so aware of his or her own sins that it is not possible to dwell on the sins of others.

In my example above, compassion begins when I am able to see the fear in the eyes of airport security soldiers, the insecurity that lies behind the M16 in their hands. Compassion helps me to realize that they have been taught to fear from an early age; maybe even they have had family members hurt in the conflict, deepening their hurt and fear. Compassion also allows me to see my own fears and insecurities, my own tendency to distance myself from others, to stereotype.

Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese peace activist and spiritual teacher, makes a similar point in his beautiful poem below.

Call Me by My True Names by Thich Nhat Hanh

Do not say that I'll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.

Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
to eat the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to

I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and

I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my
and I am the man who has to pay his "debt of blood" to, my
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all
walks of life.
My pain if like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.

(For Han’s explanation of this poem see: http://www.quietspaces.com/poemHanh.html)

Prayer Requests:

-Please pray for Matt and me as we seek to minister to our neighbors in our community incarnationally. Pray especially for the children who are over at our apartment every day.

-Please pray for a partner in ministry, as I plan on returning to Israel/Palestine.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Back in Wheaton

Being back in Wheaton has been wonderful. In many ways it is truly home for me. Getting back almost two weeks before classes began allowed me to catch up with my friends, adjust to living in a new apartment, and prepare for a new semester. It is hard to believe that by May of next year I will have an M.A. in intercultural studies and truly have finished my studies at Wheaton College.

One of the best parts of being back has been my new living situation. Matt (a friend from church and a Wheaton grad.), Theo (a refugee from Rwanda) and I live in an apartment in a little enclave of immigrants, refugees and poor folk in the midst of suburbia. It is loads of fun. After lunch a friend asked me if it was hard for me to be back here after my adventures in the Middle East this summer. Honestly I replied that I haven’t left adventure behind. In the past two weeks we have had a window in our apartment broken, overheard a couple late-night fights in the apartment below us ("should we call the cops?"), had several people arrested from another apartment (they stole from Wal-Mart and from the gas station where one of my roommates works), and have had Mexicans, Rwandans, Sudanese, and African-American children and adults pop into our apartment at all times of the day and night.

Matt, Theo and I are seeking to live as salt and light in this community. One specific way we are hoping to this is by hosting a weekly gathering in our apartment for worship, prayer, and community organizing to deal with common challenges facing the community. Doing this across the barriers of multiple languages and cultural/ethnic backgrounds will be quite a feat. We are going to need the Spirit’s help. This coming Sunday we are kicking this off with a large community-wide meal. Please be in prayer.

Up to now my plans have been to finish grad school this year and then to head back to Israel/Palestine that summer (of ’09) or soon after. All of a sudden this seems very soon. One hitch in my plans is that I have committed to not going back alone and the person I have been planning to go with can’t now. This leaves me in a bit of a quandary. I would appreciate your prayers for guidance and discernment in all of this.

Also, by the way, my new website is up and running! www.awakeningpeace.net seeks to educate Christians on the situation in Israel/Palestine and to spur Christians to work for justice and peace in the Middle East and in their respective communities. Check it out.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Christian Nonviolent Resistance

“True non-violent resistance is…a courageous confrontation of evil by the powers of, in the faith that it is better to be the recipient of violence than the inflictor of it, since the latter only multiplies the existence of violence and bitterness in the universe, while the former may develop a sense of share in the opponent, and thereby bring about a transformation and change of heart.”

Martin Luther King Jr., “My Trip to the Land of Gandhi

Earlier this year I received an email from one of my Palestinian friend’s living outside Bethlehem. Abdullah sent me an email asking if there was any way I could help him. Why? Because his uncle’s home had just been demolished by the Israeli military (click here to learn about this issue). As a Christian living in the midst of such injustice what is one to do? Zooming out to the larger picture, what is a Christian to do in the midst of a whole societal conflict in which a whole people are oppressed and subjugated by another? In the following I would like to make the case for Christian non-violent resistance, something often quite misunderstood and caricatured. It is from within this context that some passing comments on the pacifism vs. just-war theory debate will be made.

What would you do if you were Abdulla’s neighbor? Usually two options are offered: a) violence (grab a shot-gun and defend the home) or b) acquiescence (let them destroy it while you sit and watch). This is the same in larger situations of conflict. The classic example usually given is that of World War 2. Usually in discussions of violence people say, “well, what about WW2? Either you do as Neville Chamberlain did and abdicate to Hitler or you stand up to him like Churchill.” (Chamberlain tried to appease Hitler and signed a treaty with him in an attempt to avert war--to no avail). There is another way, however, a way to fight without bombs: Non-violent resistance, the “third way.” This is a way to oppose evil without mirroring it (by responding also with violence). It is the way to resist, whether as a third party or one intimately involved in the struggle, without acquiescing and thus becoming complicit to evil by one’s inaction.

Non-violent resistance is not well understood within Christian circles. Often there is some general association with people like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., but this is almost to its detriment as it is thought of as some saintly or otherworldly practice only able to be used by such great people. “It may work for saints, but in the real world it’s the gun that works.” This, however, is not the case. Gandhi and King largely succeeded in their goals, not because they practiced non-violence, but because they led movements where thousands and millions of common everyday people chose it over violence. (Furthermore it is a myth that violence actually works. Violence multiplies itself; it is the mythical beast medusa that if you cut off one head grows two in its place.)

So what is nonviolence? Non-violent resistance is a means/method of balancing power between two parties, of seeking to bring about change in a specific situation of injustice. Some famous examples are the lunch counter sit-ins and the bus boycotts during the civil right’s movement. Each were used successfully to counter specific elements of racial segregation. Non-violence is not to be confused with pacifism, the belief that all violence is morally wrong. It can be practiced by those who believe all violence is wrong and by those who believe violence isn’t necessarily morally wrong. There are two kinds of non-violence: 1) pragmatic non-violence believes simply that non-violence is more effective in bringing change than violence. It doesn’t necessarily believe that violence is morally wrong. 2) Principled non-violence believes that violence is wrong ethically and that it is ineffective.

There are three main categories of non-violent action: 1) non-cooperation: such as an Israeli soldier who refuses to serve in the military and goes to jail (see: the refuseniks) or the Palestinians who refuse to pay taxes to Israel. 2) protest and persuasion: such as in the first Intifada or uprising (which was largely nonviolent) of Palestinians against the occupation. It was illegal to fly the Palestinian flag or to sing at weddings and yet Palestinians did both and often went to Jail with pride 3) Non-violent intervention: getting in the way of a home being demolished. (see: http://www.wagingnonviolentstruggle.com/)

For Christians there are really only two ways to look at war and violence: the just-war theory and pacifism. What many Christians forget is that the Just-war theory still views war and violence as evil, though at times a necessary evil, a tool to bring about justice. To be true to the theory and to church tradition from which it comes, a Christian should go to war with fear and trembling and with a tear in their eye. There is no room for the glorification of war and violence for Christians. This is still speaking from the perspective of just-war theory. What non-violence offers to both pacifists and just-war theorists is another option to resist evil. If nonviolence as an option is an effective method then there is no excuse for Christians of any kind to use war or violence.

[There is much more that could be discussed here related to pacifism and the just-war theory. One more point I’ll quickly mention is that just-war theory only legitimates violence done on behalf of the state and those in power. The theory offers no justification for violence by the powerless and oppressed who, as in the case of Palestinians, have no state to legitimate their violence for the sake of justice. This is a major weakness in the theory.]

Non-violence offers a way for all parties to avoid violence. It is a tool that can be used by the weak and the powerful to bring about change. It is not a fanciful, utopian or impractical method. It works in the real world. As has often been said of Christianity, it is not so much that it has been tried and found wanting, but that it is not really been tried very often. Generally, though more research needs to be done, when it has been tried it has proven more effective than violence. See here for historical examples where non-violence has worked: http://www.aforcemorepowerful.org/.

So as a Christian living in situations of injustice one is called to resist. Whether this be Hitler in World War Two or Israeli bulldozers coming to demolish Palestinian homes in Israel/Palestine. Silence and passivity are not options. Neither is violence.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Quick Update

Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart [and especially in Israel/Palestine and in the US], that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
(Book of Common Prayer)

It’s been an amazing summer. Thinking back over it, I can’t believe that I have had these three experiences: three weeks studying peace at Eastern Mennonite University, two weeks in Israel/Palestine at a global Anglican conference, and then three weeks at a Trappist monastery (not to mention the great times in between at home with my family). These have definitely been undeserved gifts.

These three experiences may seem disconnected, but in actually are very integrated. At EMU I studied peace and gained key skills in peacework. In Israel/Palestine I put my new knowledge into action and began to see how this work could take shape. Finally, at the monastery I sought to become peace, in silence and solitude to have the Holy Spirit root out the violence in my own heart and to bring me the peace of his presence. I sought to become the kind of person that can be used by God for peace. I am still learning how much of my own work for peace and justice is simply a projection of my own insecurities, pain and inner violence on others.

I will be in North Carolina with my family until the 16th. Then I’ll be heading back to Chicago for my last year in my graduate program (Intercultural Studies, with an emphasis in community development).

One of the most exciting parts of this next semester will be living with Matt, a good friend of mine from Wheaton and from church. He lives in an apartment complex, which is made up of mostly refugees and immigrants. One of our neighboring families is from Rwanda and the other from Mexico. We will be living simply and seeking to get to know our neighbors. I’m excited to get to use my Spanish and Arabic!

Check it out:

Good News. Some Palestinians are going to the Olympics, against all odds!! Check out the encouraging story at: http://www.voanews.com/english/2008-06-03-voa23.cfm

Famine in India: One of my Indian peaceworking friends is currently working in India with famine relief where there is a really bad famine. This famine is in the Manipur South Districts and in the state of Mizoram. Are you in a position to help in any way? He can be contacted at: immanuelvarte@gmail.com

Great Book: “A book to provoke the Christian political imagination.“ If you haven’t read any of Shane Clayborn, you should. Here is the site of his new book: http://www.jesusforpresident.org/ His blog is great too, http://jesusforpresident.org/blog/

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Monking Around

(Picture of the monks of Mepkin)

-Click here to see my pictures from my most recent trip to Israel/Palestine.
-If you would like to receive an email each time I update my blog, please sign up in the window to the right.

I get in the car, drive for less than a minute and find that I’m back in this crazy world of rush and noise. Not much has changed in three weeks. Monday night I returned from my three weeks at Mepkin Abbey, a Trappist monastery close to Charleston, South Carolina. This is the same order of Thomas Merton and this specific monastery was actually started as a plant from his.

With hopes of starting a Christian community in Israel/Palestine, part of my motivation in going to Mepkin was to learn from this classic form of community and spiritual life which has been practiced now for roughly 1,500 years. Beyond this, I hoped to simply encounter and hear from God in a deep way, through what Richard Foster calls the “recreating silences,” to learn about contemplation and prayer. My hopes were far exceeded.

Participating in the three pillars of Benedictine spirituality: the Liturgy of the Hours (seven daily community prayer times, based largely on the psalms), Lectio Divina (meditation and prayer through Scripture) and manual labor, I became one of this community of 20 monks. What a crowd! Ages ranged from Br. Leo, age 25, to Fr. Christian age 94 (with 3 Phds.!). I think only with time will I see how deeply this experience has shaped me.

There is much I could write about from what I have begun to learn, but I think I will just touch briefly on one topic, what I have called dirty, or earthy spirituality.

Coming into the monastery, I had somewhat of a romantic view of what deep prayer and life in a monastery entailed, even though I had been to several before on short visits. I sort of expected my experience and the spirituality of the monastery to be an “otherworldly” experience. Soon I discovered that this place was full of quirky characters who farted, fell asleep during the prayers, swore, got cranky, and also loved God with a deep, quiet love (I think there was at least one resident saint). I discovered that life in the monastery was pretty mundane and everyday, just like life in the “real world,” but that this wasn’t an impediment but rather an aid to prayer and meditation.

I learned that some of the most basic, mundane things like food, sleep, work, and other people are the most important parts of “spirituality,” not just the ethereal times of private prayer. Some of the most powerful experiences were shoveling chicken manure, picking eggs and walking under a pristine dawning sky (while getting bit by mosquitoes). Our otherworldly view of spirituality is a mistaken (and gnostic) view of our relationship with God. That is the beauty of the incarnation. As we say at my church: matter matters!

This “earthy spirituality” slaps you in the face in the Psalms. As I mentioned, the Psalms is the main component of the Liturgy of the Hours and chant the whole book out loud every two weeks. What a powerful experience! In reading these Psalms I was confronted with: betrayal, hate, sex, blood, war, the poor, justice, the land, and sights, sounds and smells. These are not what we would consider proper prayers (and thus many of these Psalms are actually not found in our lectionaries nor talked about much). A “gentleman” wouldn’t be able pray them (nor for that matter, a Buddhist or Muslim), they are too dirty, too earthy. Surely, this is not the stuff of spirituality! Yet it is. It is in bringing to God all that we are and seeing him in all that we do. It was in the mundane, everyday events of life that God could be encountered, what someone called the sacrament of the mundane.

The poem below tries to bring this point home and to summarize some of my experience.

Earthy Spirituality: Ode to Mepkin Abbey

3:20 AM: Vigils
With the monks I sing “Lord, make haste to help me,”
Otherwise I might pass out from lack of sleep
At this seemingly ungodly hour,
when the candles flicker and the dawn awakes.

5:30 AM: Lauds
As I struggle to find the right page in the Psalter
all of a sudden everyone’s bowing. I look a fool, again!
Finally, I found it!… and nearly rip out the worn page
(to the enjoyment of my neighbor)
It’s the Magnificat, the hauntingly beautiful song of Mary.

7:30AM: Daily Mass
I’ve already committed sacrilege (or is it the unforgivable sin?):
I kneelt with my back to the Eucharist: Sorry, Jesus!
Then as “we fly to your patronage---” I discover I’ve blasphemed,
I just worshiped Mary. I guess it depends on your perspective.
At least they still let me take Eucharist, being a Protestant and all.

8:45: Work time #1
The super Christian mystics speak of “infused contemplation,”
True spiritual union with God.
All I’ve encountered is infused constipation
A mind clogged up with the same old thoughts.
Yet slowly, as I sort these eggs, my mind begins to be freed for prayer.

12:00 Noon: Sext
“He prepares my hands for war” is a bit of an awkward prayer,
For a pacifist.
From there we go straight into Solomon’s bedroom in Psalm 45.
Looks like he’s got a cute new wife…
Yikes! Is this really Biblical?

1:15 PM: None
“We thank you, Lord, for this [simple, vegetarian] meal”
And I can’t help noticing my 94 year old neighbor
Who has just thanked the Lord in a slightly more noisy and smelly way
I wonder what heaven will be like with these guys

1:45 PM - Work time #2
I’ve already had three naps and its time to shovel some chicken poop,
Or “shit!” as brother, so called, Placid says. I hadn’t heard that in the liturgy yet.
“Maybe it’s a Catholic thing,” I think
as my soul slowly rises in prayer amidst the shoveling and sweat

8:00 PM: Vespers
The end of the beginning and the beginning of the next
In my three weeks I have learned at least this:
That monasticism is all of our vocation,
That God is a God of this earth
And that true spirituality sees the holiness of the mundane (and profane)
Seeing God in all things.

Friday, July 4, 2008

My Monastic Adventure and Israeli Response to Terrorism

Part 1: Links to my pictures from Israel/Palestine
Part 2: My Monastic Adventure
Part 3: Commentary on the Recent Violence in Jerusalem

Part 1: Links to my pictures from Israel/Palestine

Click here to see pictures from my trip to Jerusalem!

Part 2: My Monastic Adventure

Tomorrow I embark on a new summer adventure: being a monk for a month. I will be spending a month as a guest at a Trappist monastery in South Carolina called Mepkin Abbey.

I will take part in all the components of their life including silence, meditation, prayer together seven times a day, and daily work. I am hoping that this will be a special time of drawing near to the Lord and really learning about silence, solitude and prayer. I also hope to use this as a time of discernment related to future calling and ministry.

I will be checking email about once a week as well as my cell phone messages. Please do pray for me during this time. Also, if
you have prayer requests, please send them to me as I will have plenty of time to pray :).

Part 3: Commentary on the Recent Violence in Jerusalem

Many of you have probably seen the latest news of violence in Jerusalem: a Palestinian living in Israel attacked a bus while driving a bulldozer killing several people. What a tragedy. Immediately this was declared the latest act of Palestinian terrorism. This man, however despicable the act, was not a terrorist and did not belong to any terrorist organizations. The Israelis responded with calls to cut off this man's whole neighborhood from Israel with the infamous wall. This is to affectively isolate and withdraw the citizenship of everyone in his whole town. Furthermore, his home, which houses 22 people (!) is scheduled to be demolished. What a tragedy.

In the US it would be as if a school shooting was done by a black student from a poor inner-city neighborhood and then the US government demolishing this student's family's home and then calling for his whole black neighborhood to be punished by removing their citizenship and booting them out of the country. This is collective punishment and this is racism. Inflicting pain on others does not do away with our own pain and
it does not provide security. Let us pray for both the victims of this attack as well as for the family of the attacker.

BBC does a good job in covering the story. Please read the story at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7490212.stm:

Thursday, July 3, 2008

2 Weeks in Israel/Palestine: An Unmerited Gift

(From left: Jonathan, Stewart, Phil-a friend from Wheaton, and Justin inside the Jaffa gate of the Old City of Jerusalem.)

I returned last night to my parent's home in North Carolina after 49 hours of travel (51 if you include the drive to the airport on both ends). What an amazing 2 weeks it has been. Praise the Lord!

This trip has been in the works since December when I first heard about the GAFCON conference and realized that it would be crucial to somehow be in Jerusalem at the time when so many leaders would be gathered together, including likely leaders from my own church. I was right. These last two weeks,an extremely important time for global Anglicanism, have also been an critically important time for my and my church's eventual work in Israel/Palestine. God worked it all out and put all the pieces together in a miraculous way providing the finances, the invitations (last minute) to the conference, and the connections with just the right people while we were there.

The first five days or so were spent together with Justin (a close friend of mine from Rez. and someone who I will likely be working with in Is/Pal) and with Fr. Stewart (the pastor of my church in Chicago). Justin and I, who have both been in Is/Pal before, spent these days taking Stewart around and introducing him to the Holy Sites, our friends, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He was deeply touched by the sites, places and stories that he encountered. We were so blessed to spend this time together with him.

Following this time was the GAFCON conference, an incredible week long conference in Jerusalem of the 1,200 most important conservative Anglican leaders worldwide. This was truly an international gathering with the strongest numbers coming from Africa where Anglicanism is strongest today (over 10 mill. in Nigeria, for example, if I am not mistaken). Here I was likely the youngest delegate, with most of these people being pastors, bishops and archbishops representing large numbers of constituents. This was a historic gathering, which came together to deal with the future of Anglicanism. The result was also historic. In essence, a document called the jerusalem declaration was written and a new body was created made up largely of the Global South Anglicans and conservative Anglicans in the North which no longer is under the archbishop of canterbury and no longer associated with liberal Anglicans. Please see www.gafcon.org to read more about the results of the conference.

The last few days I spent in the West Bank. I spent two days visiting the family of one of my close Palestinian friends from Chicago. His family warmly received my and welcomed me in. They showered me with gifts and love. What a blessing this was for me. Then I spent a night in Bethlehem seeing some of my friends again. This was a wonderful way to end the trip.

This trip further solidified my plans to return next year long term to work and many details came together towards this end. Ft. Stewart's presence was very key, as now he truly understand the situation on the ground there and is committed to himself and Rez. supporting me in that direction. His understanding and support is invaluable. I am very grateful to him and to God for this. Also, I was able to meet and connect with important leaders doing work presently in Is/Pal who I plan on partnering with in the future.

The faces and stories all crowd my minds' eye. They are too many to write in this simple blog entry, but I hope to get a chance to share them with you personally. To all who supported my in this venture through prayer or through finances, thank you. I can't tell you how important this trip was for me and how important your involvement was. To those who prayed, I could feel it. More than ever I recognize the importance of spiritual protection and covering when I am there. You provided it for me this time and I am grateful. God protected me, both physically and spiritually this time.

Praise him for this trip and for what he has accomplished and will accomplish through it.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

quick udpate

I am a bit overdue for a good update. This has been a VERY full week, to say the least and I am exhausted. There is a lot I could write about. Overall things have gone really well and I have been able to meet some amazing people. It is really a privilege to be at a conference full of THE leaders of conservative Anglicanism in the world. At the same time I have seen how broken the church really is., Even here, despite all our finger pointing at the liberal church for its problems, we have been divided and have had our own issues here. I have see the lust for power and the game of power here like never before. Thank God for his mercy.

Today I took a group from the conference to Bethlehem (West Bank) to introduce them to the Palestinian situation. An amazing experience. I feel like crying as I write this. These people’s perspectives were changed for ever and I know that they will pray for peace in the this land back in their home countries. The Palestinians we visited were SO happy by our support (and by my Arabic). We brought joy and hope to their eyes. The day ended with an old man who was infront of us at the checkpoint who gave me a wooded cross made out of olive wood. HE was so grateful that we had come to work for peace and encourage his people. “by this you will remember me” he said. This is why I want to work in Israel/Palestine.

I will be here until Tuesday. The conference ends on Sunday and then I will be meeting with some people and visiting friends. I appreciate your continued prayers! J

Saturday, June 21, 2008

"Shalom Y'all!"

Israel/Palestine is a bizzare place, full of contradictions, clashes and just weirdness. One of the best examples of this is in the t-shirt selection available in the Old City of Jerusalem. "Shalom y'all" says the face of Bush, with his classic little grin, pasted onto the turbaned and bearded head of Mr. Bin Laden himself. Amazing. And this beside the Harley Davidson shirt in Hebrew.

The last two days with Stewart and Justin have been full of such encounters with the bizarre. Yesterday we went to Hebron, a city in the south of the West Bank which is home to roughly 30,000 Palestinians and a small contingent of roughly 300 extremely zealous settlers (and their armed guard of roughly 300 Israeli soldiers) who have their settlement in the heart of the city. In part of the city you see Israeli settlers who have actually built their homes ontop of Palestinian homes and throw their trash down on them.

Our first experience was walking through a checkpoint into the Israeli part of the city (which only foreigners and Israelis can access) and being greeted by a very unfriendly Israeli soldier who asked us if we were Jewish and then went on to tell us that this was a Jewish only road that we were on (which wasn't true). A warm welcome indeed.

The last two days have been a rich time overall, full of laughter and great times of connections between the three of us. Stewart, Justin and I, beyond seeing some amazing sites and places (Bethlehem, my host family from last year, Hebron, the Mar Saba monastery, the Old City, a messianic congregation) have had some amazing talks about ministry in this part of the world, about the need for the church to see both the personal and social dimensions and implications of the Gospel, and about nonviolence and other ways of resisting evil without mirroring it. We have grown closer to each other as well as learned much from each other's perspectives and experiences. It has indeed been a blessing.

Tommorow the conference begins as does a whole new phase in our time here. There is much to look forward to.

Please pray for good connections with other leaders during the confernece as well as other people we would like to connect with while we are here. Please pray also for a filling and guiding of the Holy Spirit, both in our individual lives, as well as in the life of this confernce.

In his peace,


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

In Jerusalem!

We made it! We arrived in Tel Aviv this morning at 5:15am, just in time to see the sunrise over the ocean. By the time we were through security and had taken the taxi into Jerusalem it was around 9AM. Stewart had some problems at security due to traveling to Pakistan and Afghanistan previously. In the end they let him through, though they didn't stamp his passport. This is good if he wants to travel on this same passport to other muslim countries. The bad thing is that it might cause us some trouble if we are ever stopped while in Israel (which we certainly will while traveling in to Bethlehem and other parts of the West Bank) since he has no official proof in his passport that he came in the country. We'll see tomorrow, when traveling to Bethlehem, if this is an issue.

This afternoon we will spend in Jerusalem, visiting the old city as well as having a meeting with the director of the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions (www.icahd.org), an NGO that works on justice issues for Palestinians in Jerusalem whose homes are demolished by the Israeli government. Tomorrow we will be traveling to Bethlehem to see my host family and friends from last year, as well as to show the city to Stewart.

I appreciate all your thoughts and prayers for our time here!



Tuesday, June 10, 2008

On the Road to Jerusalem

Thank you for all of you who actually read these wandering and often incoherent thoughts and musings. I especially appreciate those of you who are in dialog with me, for whom these thoughts spur further conversation. Of late I have had several people take issue with some of what I have written and challenge me on it. This is really great. Bring it on! :)

Much of this, I suppose, I write for my own benefit, to help me process the things I am learning and the inner struggles I face. At the same time I write to share with others what I am learning, to challenge others as I have been challenged. I hope to humbly offer thoughts and ideas that, even though uncomfortable, different or strange, may spur us in the pursuit of truth. Most is simply what I am learning from others.

Personal Update:

This last Thursday I returned to my family's home in North Carolina after three weeks at Eastern Mennonite University where I took two amazing classes in Peacebuilding. For the last several days I have been resting and preparing for my trip to Jerusalem. I leave Monday, June 16th, for Chicago where I meet up with Ft. Stewart , the pastor of my church, and Justin a friend of mine from church. We will then fly out together for Jerusalem.

We will be spending 5 days together before the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) starts on Sunday the 22nd. Since Justin and I have spent a fair amount of time in Israel/Palestine, we will be taking Ft. Stewart around. We will be meeting up with some Rez. folk in the area as well as seeing some of mine and Justin's friends.

The GAFCON conference, which begins on Sunday the 22nd, is a meeting of 1,000 Anglican leaders from all over the world (largely the Global South), gathered to discuss the current crises in the Anglican church and how to move ahead in mission. It is a tremendous privilege to be invited to go as a young, simple layman. Part of my hope for the conference is to learn from the wisdom of these Anglican leaders. Also, I hope to give an informal presentation on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as this is a topic not addressed by the conference and one that I think many people don't really understand. I appreciate your prayers as I prepare for this.

Also, it is my hope to meet with different leaders, both Israeli and Palestinian, with whom I would like to work in the future. It will be an important time of connection and meetings.

May the peace of the Lord be with you!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Painful Self-Reflection: What is "America"?

(dinner with friends from Italy, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Zimbabwe, Ukraine and Egypt)

After a whirlwind three weeks at the Summer Peacebuilding Institute of Eastern Mennonite University, I am sitting here waiting to be picked up to head back home. It has been a rare moment in the last weeks that I have been able to collect my thoughts and to process all that I have been learning. I can't put it all on paper, but I do know that I am a different person than I was before I came three weeks ago.

The two classes I took, Reconciliation and Peacemaking and Identity and Conflict Transformation where both excellent classes full of tools and theories that I know I will use in peacemaking, both in the U.S. and in Israel/Palestine. Though these two classes were great, most of what I learned was outside the classroom and came from interacting with the other beautiful and amazing people from all over the world. These participants came from some 40 countries and are all working for peace in their contexts, most of which are simply mind boggling. What must it mean to work for peace in a country that has lost half of it's population to genocide? These people show such courage and strength while living in these contexts. They set an incredible example to me.

Encountering this multitude of international students, most of whom were in the U.S. for the first time, in a sense functioned as a mirror to my own country and culture as they encountered life in the U.S. for the first time. Questions such as "Why is there no one walking outside?" and "Why do Americans drive such big cars with only one person inside?" peppered my time here and encouraged me to reflect, often painfully, on our life in this place we call "America."

It seems that we "Americans," or at least we middle-class white "Americans" tend to live in a bubble. We hold strongly to this myth that the U.S. can do no wrong, that this is the country of freedom and that this is the best place in the world to live. Everyone out there (in say, Zimbabwe) is un-democratic and uneducated, while we here are a model of democracy and fullness of life. If this myth is ever challenged, very strong emotions tend to arise for people. (Is your blood pressure rising as you read this?) How would you react, for example, to the comment that the U.S. is the most violent nation in the world?

One guest speaker, Lisa Schirk, encouraged this kind of self-reflection by stating in a talk this comment: "The U.S. is the most violent nation in the world." Based on murder, crime, and suicide rates studies have shown that we are the most violent nation. This is not something we are accustomed to hearing very often. A different prof. commented in class how since World War II the U.S. has directly attacked over 50 countries. Yikes. Almost all the international participants in my classes had some very experiences with the U.S. Many of their countries had been attacked, occupied, or coerced by the U.S. in recent years. One man commented "Americans think they are God." Another noted how much of our news and media was inward focused on how little attention was given to international affairs.

I could continue to list the criticisms of the U.S. shared with me by the international students here, including those listed by the African Americans and the First Nations peoples (often called Native Americans) who attended the classes here.

These criticisms should be a wake up call for each of us, a call to reflect on who we are as individuals, communities and as a nation. Each of us needs to begin with ourself: who are we and what are becoming? How can we begin to make the necessary changes in ourselves that will lead to a different world tomorrow, a world more peaceful, loving and just.

(As usual, I would to hear your comments and feedback, so please write!)

Monday, May 26, 2008

Mourning: Part 2

So it seams that my last post wasn't written very clearly (thanks, Dan, for the comments!). Following is the original post and below it some explanatory comments.



For the last week and a half I have been taking a class in Reconciliation and Peacemaking at the Summer Peacebuilding Institute at Eastern Mennonite University. It has been an amazing experience being a part of a group of more than 100 people from 40 countries. Friday marked the end of my first class and almost everyone left for the weekend except for myself and Mohammad, a friend from Iraq. Much of yesterday was spent hanging out and chatting with him. I would like to share one of his stories.

One day he was at a large outdoor market buying some things when all of a sudden he saw someone who was acting very weird. He eyed Mohammad and the others in the market. This filled Mohammad with fear. All of a sudden this man stealthily whipped out a gun and quietly locked it. He put it to a man’s head who was walking next to Mohammad and pulled the trigger. The man fell to the ground and everyone froze. The man who shot him then bent down and unzipped the jacket of the man he had just killed. Wrapped around him were sets of dynamite. He was a suicide bomber. The suicide bomber’s killer had himself lost several family members to suicide bombers. Every day he goes to the market searching waiting and searching for other suicide bombers to kill. This was his way to get revenge. “Is this life?” asked Mohammad. “How can I live this way? How can I return to a country like this?“

Meanwhile, here in the U.S. we are mourning the death of our dogs. Yesterday, Mohammad and I were part of a group that went to have dinner at a local Mennonite family’s home here in town. After sitting down for dinner our host told us that they were going to show a memorial slide show for their dog who had died the week before. Some of the neighbors who were present then mentioned that they would like to bring their children over to see it. Lord have mercy. We have no idea what it means to live in Iraq.

Lord, forgive us for ever thinking that we could heal our own pain by instead inflicting it on others.

On this Memorial day Monday, let us not only mourn the deaths of those who we consider our own in an act of blind nationalism, but let us mourn the deaths of all who suffer from death and war. Let us mourn the 4,080 U.S. soldiers who have died in Iraq and let us also mourn the between 60,000 and 1,000,000 Iraqi’s who have died in the course of the war. Let us recognize our common suffering and let us pray for peace.
Comments: all suffering is suffering and it is dangerous to try to rate it on a scale. If I communicated something different in my previous post, then I was wrong. What I meant to do was show the strong contrast between life here and life in Iraq, that is somewhat a consequence of our actions as the U.S.

We have no idea what it means to live in Iraq and worry daily about being shot on account of your ethnicity, for example. Yes, we do have our share of suffering, but in many ways we live very sheltered lives. 9/11, for example, was a tremendous shock to us, but in much of the world this kind of thing is a daily reality.

Also, here we have the privilege of having dogs as pets, treating them as family members and then mourning their deaths. I am not saying that mourning a pet is wrong, but that it is a sort of "privilege," per se, that much of the world does not have. In much of the world it is incomprehensible that we, for one, have the abundance of resources to treat even our animals this way, and secondly, that we in fact do so. Our pet aisle in the grocery store, for example, is much larger and longer than most other "human food" aisles in global south grocery stores.

Last, I was trying to say that simply mourning for those who share our same nationality is wrong. As Christians we are part of a larger body that transcends nation-state lines. We should lament that war has killed Americans and Iraqis, Americans and Afghanis, tutsi and hutus, kenyans, etc.

I love being in dialog about these things, so keep the comments and emails coming!



Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Forgiveness and Reconciliation

One of the men from northern India in my forgiveness and reconciliation class shared an amazing story with me today: When he had gone off to college his younger brother had joined a rebel group that was fighting for local autonomy for the region they lived in. In a confrontation with another rebel group his brother was shot and killed. His family wasn't even able to find and bury his body. Later, he said that he was hanging out with some local guys and one of them was getting a bit drunk. With his tongue loosened up he began to brag about killing someone. My friend realized that he was talking about his brother.

Later, as a Christian, he realized that he had to forgive this man for what he had done and with God's help he was able to. Later, this man realized that the man he had killed was my friend's brother and he came to confess and apologize. Long story short, they were reconciled and this other man eventually became a Christian. His brother's death and this subsequent reconciliation was the impetus that pushed him to begin work in peace. He has now finished his doctor's thesis in development in conflict regions. "Imagine: my brother's killer is now one of my best friends."

These are the kind of stories that have framed our reconciliation and forgiveness class. This is how new life begins in the midst of the most hopeless of situations.

There are many mistaken notions of what reconciliation and forgiveness consist of. Here are some points regarding reconciliation:

1) Forgiveness is done by one person. It is not reconciliation, only one element in it. Reconciliation the righting of relationships between two parties.

2) Forgiveness is NOT the same as forgetting.

3) Forgiving is not condoning and it does not imply impunity. Often perpetrators push others to forgive them, so that they can keep their position of power thinking that if they are forgiven they can escape responsibility.

4) Reconciliation between groups is more than just getting people to relate well interpersonally (as opposed to the pop culture perception as seen in most movies such as "Remember the Titans") it also involves changing the systems and structures that divide (such as racial segregation in schools and economic inequalities, for example).

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Learning about Peace

(the introductory session to the Summer Peacebuilding Institute)

May 15, 2008. Day 1

Abdi is a 61 year old man from Somalia whom I have been able to speak Arabic with. Well, he’s not really sure if he‘s 61. One of my classmates in my reconciliation class at the Summer Peacebuilding Institute, we were sharing our life stories with each other. After commenting that he hopes to have 12 children and that he presently has 6, he suddenly asked me how old I was. “I am 22” I told him. “I am 61 years old” he replied. “But I am not really sure. One day I asked my mother how old I was and she told me that I was 19. 5 years later I asked her again and she told me I was 19. How could I be 19 five years later? All we know is that I was born the same year that two of our goats died, we don’t know what year that was.” I suggested that that is what he should put on his passport for his birth date “the year our two goats died.”

My mind is swirling with ideas, thoughts, and theories. After one class session with Abdi I feel like I have enough thoughts to process to last me a week. What I am learning is that peacemaking is a whole academic discipline and field with a full range of theories, concepts, and terminology. This field is often called Conflict Transformation.

I am learning is that one of the greatest sadnesses of out time is that the majority of our resources world wide and in the U.S. are devoted to the least effective means of solving conflict: force (most often taking the shape of violence). Military science is an extremely specialized and developed field where we send our best and brightest students. This is also the means of conflict resolution (if it can be called that) that receives the greatest glory and prestige in our societies. Look at the respect, for example, that generals command. Mediation and reconciliation, however, are relatively, in some respects, new academic fields with few resources devoted to them. There is even less glory and prestige attached to them. They, however, are our only hopes for establishing true and lasting peace in our societies. What they seek to do is to not merely suppress conflict by dealing with the “problems,” but they seek to go behind the conflict to its’ sources. Unless the roots of a conflict are addressed, another one will spring up in its place farther down the road and true peace will not be established.

Why do we so often recourse to violence as a means to solve our problems? For one, it is the easiest method, especially if one is more powerful than the opponent. Through violence one can force the other party to comply to my demands, without me having to take their interests into consideration.

A helpful chart that has been given to us is the following one. It de
scribes the various means of handling conflict and it moves from the most unilateral means (and thus least effective) on the right to the most mutually enriching and participatory (and thus effective).

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Going to Israel! Miracle!

I got the long expected email today....an invitation to the GAFCON conference in Jerusalem!! A miracle, praise the Lord! The catch is I have to now somehow round up the $ to get there :) I am requesting funds from my church so please pray. This is just a minor obstacle from God's perspective.

Assuming I am going, I will be leading a small delegation from my church including (likely) my pastor and a pastor from another local church. This is a huge responsibility and privilege. I can't believe it. I will now be scrambling to put all the details together. I need your prayers!

Today I arrived at Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia for my "peace camp." Two weeks of intensive classes in peacemaking. It has been amazing so far. There are 260 participants from 50 countries. Today I was one of the only white guys. I loved it ! I already have friends from India, Bosnia, Palestine, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Uganda, Zimabwe, etc. Beautiful.

Please stay in touch over the summer! Give me a call or pop me an email. I would love to hear form you.