Many of you receive our email updates and know that we will be moving on from Cyprus to Bulgaria this summer.  If you don’t have any idea about this or would like to get our email updates, just post a comment and I’ll be sure to send our latest announcement and add you to the list.  For a few reasons, I would not like to post the details of our upcoming journey here just yet.

But, this post, is meant to answer some questions we have been asked.  There are a few out there who scratch their heads, pull their hair and wonder why in the world we would drag our kids to yet another destination that is not the cozy USA.  Our sanity has been questioned.  Our parenting skills have been questioned.  And, I have been at a loss for how to respond in a kind, graceful way to those questions.  And, surely there are some who know us that we haven’t been able to share at length about our faith or motivations.  Hopefully this post will help with that too.

I would like to first say that I am blessed to be a citizen of the USA.  Being raised there has afforded me great opportunities.  Being near family and friends is a great draw on my emotions.  But, the reason behind our family pursuing something other than our homeland can, in part, be answered by the following sermon by John Piper.

The Radical Effects of the Resurrection – John Piper

I hope this helps convey what my words lack.  I also hope this starts a fruitful discussion venturing toward a peaceful understanding, even if we can’t all agree what my family should or shouldn’t do.  If you have questions or concerns, please post a comment and allow us to respond openly and honestly.  But first, please listen to the talk by John Piper.  I think it will give you a glimpse into how we are trying to live our lives.


Hoping for Mankind???: Sari Nusseibeh 3 of 4

Life has been a distraction from writing lately – an extension of this series to 4 posts is your reward for patience! And, here is a reminder of how I ended the last post:

Dr. Nusseibeh’s faith in humanity and endless optimism is refreshing yet confounding.  The next and last post will be my response to this.  Is this hope in mankind enough?  Is it sustainable?  And, if not, what is?  And, if not, then what are we left with?

Hope in mankind? If you look at the world today with its freedom, enlightened advancement and awareness about very complex things, with this idea of inherent goodness of man, there is virtually no reason the world should not be experiencing anything but prosperity, peace and health. Yet, with even a short gander at world headlines, we see that war, greed and preventable health problems such as hunger, malaria and depression impact every all corners of the world. We, as a race of beings, have everything at our disposal to exist without many of these problems. So, what is the problem? Why have we not overcome the trials of this world?

Inherent goodness in mankind simply does not exist – see the first 3 chapters of Romans. I cannot agree with Professor Nusseibeh on this. By ourselves, we take freedom, wealth and power and seek to increase and defend. And, if any of these are threatened, our actions result in the exact opposite for some others that are seeking these too. We want the good things and we don’t want anyone else to take what is ours. And worse yet, we don’t want anyone to take what someday may, even remotely possibly, might be ours. Our kind deeds often are seeking status or escape from loss of wealth – year-end non-profit giving in the US comes to mind. (Yes, my family benefits from this!) What is a good offer on behalf of the government to allow people to help others has become a calculated scheme to pay the least taxes. “I will give to prevent the government from taking.”

Even (especially) Christians (and other religious people) can take the very good things that God has given us and use them for self-preservation or self-promotion. If you are offended by this, then look up the Crusades…or modern suburbia (yes, my family sort of still lives there) for that matter. Stewardship of family has nearly paralyzed the Western Church, insulating it from true sacrifice.

My overarching point here is that mankind simply does not have an inherent goodness. Any evidence of goodness comes from either societal influence or norms or from a much higher source. And, the formers are an extension of the latter.

I don’t think, given enough time, the Palestinian/Israeli conflict will resolve simply because either group will suddenly care so much for peace that they will concede the necessary points. As history has proven, even if a large group cares enough to really push for peace, others will sabotage this because it means losing power or wealth. Think Arafat here…or Israeli settlements. Arafat could have agreed to a two-state solution producing years of near peace. But, that would have caused his flow of monetary support from across the Middle East to dry up. The refusal to stop or retract the Israeli settlements is about creating a dominant presence and supremely defensible position – in reality it equates more to offense than defense. By procuring more land for Israel it is extinguishing the existence for so many native Arabs. Neither position resembles, in the least, inherent good or care for greater mankind.

So, where does that leave us? Are we destined to self-destruction? I’ll extend this to another post – one just around the corner – not months away – maybe.

Feel free to post any comments or to challenge this in any way. Just click on the comment bubble next to the title of this post.

Mining for Hope: Sari Nusseibeh 2 of 3

Mining Hope

The event that brought Sari Nusseibeh to Nicosia was a talk that was meant to juxtapose George Antonius’ book The Arab Awakening(1938) and the current, so-called Arab Spring.  This was a bit of a stretch in some respects as Dr. Nusseibeh pointed out that the awakening mentioned in Antonius’ book referred to a cultural naissance rather than a political or power-oriented birth like the one today.  And, in the book, some credit was given to the Christian missionaries and other Western colonial structures that brought education, health care and nationalism into the Arab context.

The current unrest in the Middle East and North Africa is of a different variety of blossom.  This is a homegrown, give us our basic inherent rights or leave, or in some cases die variety.  This has very little to do with outside influences.  Dr. Nusseibeh points out that Middle Easterners are responding heavily to the concept that an individual and a culture brings with itself naturally a value, a right to exist and even ability to contribute well to the global body of people.  And, they believe that their own right to fully and freely exist is worth standing and dying for.  It’s not heavily influenced by the West.  It is driven solely from the raw instinct of survival and desire to thrive given by God in all of humanity.  The comparisons between the two “awakenings” was a stretch and a distraction from the topics of real merit possible this night.

What about resolution?  What is to make of the release of prisoners? 

Is there hope?

Dr. Nusseibeh’s real insight came from outlining the causes and trials of creating a peaceful resolution.  He outlined the reasons why the fundamentalist surge of the last two decades was in response to failed military and colonialist plans – lines on maps.  These plans have failed to produce peace by division but rather created parties so entrenched in survival that they could either forget or simply ignore their desire for existence, dignity and humane existence.

So, if not the Palest-El idea or the ever-elusive two state solution, perhaps a new focus and hope is needed.  Dr. Nusseibeh leaned on a notion by Samir Kassir which promotes the idea, “the Arab world can overcome its impotence.”  And, that given enough time, as humans who care about dignity and making the “right” choices, the Palestinians and Israelis will eventually choose wisely.  He placed a very high degree of trust in humanity to recognize itself as worthwhile.

The new solution that Dr. Nusseibeh is pondering is a federal approach to the whole region, akin to the European Union.  It could look something like this:

 Federal Solution:  agree on a desire for future based on values:

    • Shared human dignity
    • Open society
    • Peaceful co-existence 
    • Symbiotic economic situation

A federal solution with:

    • Smaller unions with areas of existence for all groups
    • Governance of shared cities/areas
    • 2 tiered governance
      • to separate
      • to combine where appropriate
      • oil wealth of Arab world spread to all areas of Arab world.

This sort of idea is sure to make many uncomfortable.  But, I marveled at Dr. Nusseibeh’s drive and energy to push for peace in completely creative, if not dangerous, directions.

Perhaps he is right.  Given the changes of the last year, who knows the possibilities of the near future.  As Rami Kouri (via a paraphrase of Sari Nusseibeh) puts it, “the political map has seen major changes.  Weak international parties can shake the world.  Military superiority cannot guarantee outcomes any longer.  The US is seeing a waning relevance in region.”  Colonial or Western powers cannot influence greatly the outcomes any longer – unless Libya and potentially Syria prove differently.  Information in the hands of the people has nuclear reactivity in moving political mountains.   If Nusseibeh is right about humanity, coupled with this newly realized Arab/Middle Eastern self-worth, then just maybe the value of what is to gain through peace and shared resources is greater than that which can be gained by exploiting the weaker parties.

With a region at a crossroads, and with new natural resources being discovered in the Mediterranean Sea with Israel, Turkey, Cyprus, Greece, Russia, Egypt, Lebanon and Iran through Hezbollah in Lebanon, all deeply interested, I hope Dr. Nusseibeh is correct.

Dr. Nusseibeh’s faith in humanity and endless optimism is refreshing yet confounding.  The next and last post will be my response to this.  Is this hope in mankind enough?  Is it sustainable?  And, if not, what is?  And, if not, then what are we left with?  

And, what about that prisoner swap?

Confounding Inspiration: Sari Nusseibeh Post 1 of 3

Sari Nusseibeh as a boy

Sari Nusseibeh’s writings and spoken word grab me as does this photo of him as a boy in Jerusalem.

He has spent a lifetime researching, thinking on and writing about Arab culture and the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.  His family has deep roots in Palestine.  They are still the holders of the key for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  His own thoughts sprout from his research on the ancient Persian philosopher, poet and Islamic theologian, Avicenna and many others. Dr. Nusseibeh’s take on nearly anything comes from penetrating angles.  But, he doesn’t just benefit from an academic, free-to-think, removed-from-the-streets perspective.  He has been in East Jerusalem for much of his life. He has been striving for a peaceful resolution for this highly contested land and all of its people – even when neither side wanted his contribution – for decades.  He is knowledgeable and unrelentingly passionate and creative about finding a way.  What’s not to like?

Sari Nusseibeh’s idea of a workable solution has morphed throughout the years and is firmly based in the concept that ideas do not easily flow into reality exactly as they are formed in the mind.  He lives out the philosophical approach that says that one only believes and defends an idea as long as it resembles truth.  If it no longer is believable, then one must simply accept a new truth and move on.

His approach to finding a peaceful solution over the years has contained the following and more:

  • Holding to a utopian idea of a one state “Palest-El” solution where everyone benefits from and appreciates the other’s unique attributes
  • As a professor, challenging the views of his fundamentalist students
  • Opening The Lemon Tree Café to allow a place for open discussion to thrive
  • Funneling ideas out of the Palestinian Territories via swallowed capsules because Israel had disallowed organized meetings of more than 10 people among other restrictions imposed via Military Orders (You’ll be shocked at the limitations!)
  • Organizing a student union in spite of restrictions
  • Being beaten by fundamentalists for meeting with Israeli leaders searching for a peaceful solution and sustaining a broken arm and other injuries
  • Imprisoned by Israel for allegedly being an Iraqi spy despite working heavily with Israeli Peace Now
  • Authoring information leaflets sustaining the First Intifada while attempting to ensure it remained a protest of nonviolent civil disobedience. – Israel worked hard to squash information realizing the power of words.
  • Repositioning to support a two-state solution when the idea of Palest-El was clearly not going to come to pass

As I have been inching through his autobiography for two years now, I couldn’t believe when I received an email that he would be speaking in Nicosia.  There was no way I was going to miss this.  His unending energy, his drive for his people, in spite of trials and disappointment inspire and confound.  Also of note: His talk just happened to take place on the same day of Gilad Shalit and the Palestinian prisoner swap – solidifying this as a surely-not-to-miss event.

Now that you have a bit of history and plenty of links to background information, I’ll close this post.  The next post will deal with his talk.  The third post will be my response.

Repost: Clarifying the Path

This was originally posted two years ago.  Before posting my thoughts on my experience hearing Sari Nusseibeh speak on Tuesday night, I thought this would be a good introduction to the topic…and will buy me some time in writing out my thoughts!  Stay tuned!

path2Sometimes I wonder about the state of the world – how it got this way. I wonder how certain people are certain ways.  It is dumb-founding to ponder the root of the world’s problems.  Here in the Middle East, the complexity of the situation can consume even the stoutest of intellectual might.  Yet, many have very strong opinions about the path for peace, or worse, the path for self-dominance – which some believe is better than peace.

I’ve been doing some reading about this region in hopes of, at the very least, holding my own in a casual conversation of my peers, or, at the very best, having enough understanding to offer compassion to the people who exist here.  The first book that I read (I still have a few chapters left), was From Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas Friedman – a Jewish-American, yet secular, journalist who lends a very open mind to his historical exploration of the issues in the Middle East.  I valued Mr. Friedman’s candor and dutiful rendering of the events of the last sixty-plus years of the region.  Yet, I was sure that it wasn’t the whole story.

While traveling to Jordan, I picked up another book, Once Upon a Country by Sari Nusseibeh.  Now, I’ve only read a small portion, and I don’t claim to know or support all of Mr. Nusseibeh’s claims or causes – I simply don’t know enough.  But, I am impressed by his candor and openness in penningwhat seems to be the exact inverse of what Friedman wrote.  Mr. Nusseibeh comes from an Arab academia where a peaceful, artistic, multi-cultural state was seen as ideal.  So, to me, the two books  combined offer great insight into the Middle East dilemma.

From the U.S/western perspective, we seem to align ourselves with the Israeli perspective almost naturally.  I think it is important to challenge our understanding, or even grow our understanding.  Here is an excerpt from Once Upon a Country, circa 1947:

One day a peasant farmer came to his [Mr. Nusseibeh’s father’s] office.  He was from a small village in the south, near the Jewish  town of Rechovot.  His modest house had been blown up, and his village lands had been taken by Jewish forces.  His only son had been killed, and he himself had been shot in the leg and was in danger of losing the limb.

Father didn’t recount this man’s adventures with the detachment of a historian, but rather with the flare and skill of a tragedian.  “Jaffa is the home of 200,000 Arabs,” he writes about their expulsion by Israeli forces.  “And its loss means the dispersion of these people.  The loss of Acre, Nazareth, Safad, Ramle, Lydda, and all the other towns and villages of Palestine means more than red dots on the map.  They mean the warm hearths and proud homes of an old established community.  The hearths have turned to ashes and homes ground to dust and the life that once throbbed within them throbs no more.”

This really grabbed me.  It illustrates just some of the loss of the beating hearts of this land.  It breaks through the idea of good guys and bad guys.  These are people who were solely looking to live out their lives in their own homes, with their own people and with their own families.  It made me ponder what would happen if someone did that to me.  Or, more hypothetically, if some one started taking the land of fourth generation farmers from the Midwest and handing over the land to the Native Americans who had claimed historical rights to it.  Just as we Americans value our perceived right to exist, thrive and own property, the Arabs of 1947 and later do likewise.

This brings me to the last point.  Where is our greatest allegiance? Is it to our nation, our family, our personal rights?    Shouldn’t it be to our Kingdom? We are called to die to ourselves daily.  We are to be meek, loving, humble, sacrificial citizens of a territory that we have yet to step foot in.  Shouldn’t we look at a situation like the Middle East and understand that it isn’t about land, peace accords and lines on a map?  This situation is too filled with complexities of pride, grievances, history and power-struggles for a man-made solution to be effective.  The solution exists in understanding that the New Covenant leveled the playing field and ushered in the chance for all to belong to a new citizenship.  It opened up the only, real and lasting chance there is for peace – this doesn’t just apply to Middle Easterners.  And, the way that people will come to realize this is through the current citizens’ obedience to loving sacrifice.

So, I’ll keep reading.  I’ll share as I learn more.  May we all learn to understand more and love better.  Holy Spirit come!

Royal Construction Zones

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. 1 Peter 2:9

Truth is truth.  If God says we are a royal priesthood, then it must be so.  If I’m honest, I don’t often feel like a royal anything.  I envision to feel like a royal priesthood, it looks, smells and tastes of obedience, sacrifice, grace and love.  Feelings are indeed fickle.  Truth is not.  But, perhaps feelings and emotions are sometimes indicative of areas under construction, and resting too heavily on grace freely given.  So, if I don’t feel like a royal priesthood, self-analysis could determine actions to be taken to draw my feelings and daily life closer to truth.  What can I do that will produce in me the qualities of one holding the passport of a holy nation?

In my life, here are the construction zones:  prayer, Bible retention and actual one-on-one discipling.  Having realized these areas are needing improvement, I’m creating a plan or discipline to bring me closer to His marvelous light.

For you, how are things going?  How are you living out your royal status?  Perhaps the areas of your life that are rightly aligned may encourage me and others.  Are you faithful in the small things of the Kingdom? What aspects of your life have the aroma of priesthood?

Call Me Abihu

Devouring fire

Leviticus 10:1-3

Profane offering to the Lord

Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his
censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered
profane fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded
them. So fire went out from the LORD and devoured them,
and they died before the LORD. And Moses said to Aaron,
“This is what the LORD spoke, saying:

‘By those who come near Me
I must be regarded as holy;
And before all the people
I must be glorified.’”

If our offering to the Lord today is our lives…a lackadaisical approach to living out love
and discipleship, in that love, is akin to offering half-hearted, profane offerings at the altar.
He must be glorified and regarded as holy! His commandments to love and His charge to make disciples ought to be lived out intentionally and visibly each day. What have I done today to offer my life, my day, my minute as a worthy sacrifice?

Is this too much? Shall we ease up? Certainly not! Yet, we press hard toward this goal
critically and simultaneously benefit from the unending slathering of grace as we fail. Let
our works not be an effort to meritoriously seek grace, status or favor. Let us not hold back
nor fail to extend grace to others. But, waking each day, we take on this charge personally in the desire not to be righteously devoured for our poor, inexcusable efforts by One we love.

Have we leaned too heavily on grace? Have we lost sight of the wretchedness that inattentive, unintentional living is in the sight of the Lord?

I have.

Forgive me Oh Lord. Consume me not. Let me not take advantage of your love. Let me live in a manner that regards you as Holy, deserving of only my best offering. Let my breath, each step and word glorify you even today.  Amen.

Your thoughts, prayers and comments are welcome.  Let’s walk together in this!