Bulgaria…What!?@!!@@#

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.

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!

Two Questions

We get asked a few questions frequently.  Here are two with today’s version of responses:

How long are you staying in Cyprus?

We get asked that a lot. We tend to answer with contractual obligatory details. But, we typically leave this open ended. Not sure this satisfies the interrogator. It is peace….for us. Time and location are no longer within our desire to control, on good days. Certainly this produces some discomfort in missing family, friends and our home culture, in tandem with this is the miracle of certain peace.

A good third of our life (pending normal expectancies) has been spent procuring the place, position, domicile and monetary idols, which our world deems as normal. Get a bit more, stay a little longer, and make it softer and bigger. Yep, we were the picture of the American dream. Peace it wasn’t. And, the moments when we drift back towards this elicits a bit of chaos within our family.

Continue reading

Unrestful Celebration

Cairo, Misrata, Benghazi, Busra – these cities have been at the forefront of my mind the last few months. 

UNREST.  

This term has become equivalent to breathing.   Yet the heaviness of the reality of that term is the yoke that working in ministry in the Middle East and North Africa bears.  It taints everything.  Because the term UNREST does not just involve masses of people, challenging ideas and military actions.  It carries with it the reality of mothers, fathers, daughters, sons and dear friends pressed to the point of breaking, pressed even to death.  And, if we stop and ponder just for a minute the grief each one must experience, we can realize that no one chooses revolution and conflict easily.  Yet, there are causes that warrant the sacrifice of UNREST.  Mere existence, freedom of breath and expression, ability of spiritual brothers and sisters gathering for encouragement and worship together, these are worthy morsels worth putting on the line hearts, relationships, homes and life.  

Let’s pause now and not just think of these situations as news stories, as happenings from afar.  Let’s approach these as intimate, tactile, dirt under the fingernails, tear or blood matted hair – real situations.  Unlike the typical headline: More Unrest in the Middle East, we should refer to UNREST in a different light.  A more realistic headline should read:  Breaking News – More Unrest in the lives of Bushra and her daughter Daliyah who can’t find one another amidst the acrid smoke of tear gas and smell of burning tires, who can’t return home because the way is blocked and even if they did, their home now has a gaping hole in the southwest corner from an errant mortar.  And, tomorrow they will need to begin finding a way to scrape together enough money to buy bread since Ali their husband and father was slain as he returned from gathering supplies, in the Middle East town of Misrata, Libya.  This is the meaning of UNREST.

I bring this to you today because I’ve just had my perspective hit with a 7.2 temblor.  While my work requires me to think often about the above scenarios, I found myself this weekend on a furlough in the USA, on the American Independence day.  In some respects it is the most joyful time to re-enter my previous habitat.  This independence celebration is newly joyful but also weightily pensive in contrast to my new region of domicile.  

We took the kids to the 4th of July parade in a local Michigan town.  It was festive, colorful, peaceful.  Celebrating freedom that was won on the backs of hard fighting men and women from long ago is such good place to be.  Sitting in the sun, watching the flags, veterans, kids and candy is so sweet.  I soaked it in with my inner being.  

It also became clear that there is a strong correlation between the sight and sounds of this celebration and the UNREST still on-going in the Middle East and North Africa.  In the midst of a fight ending in either an uncertain freedom or certain death is the pinnacle of tribulation.  The people fighting now are not any less loved by God, are not any less diligent in their struggle, nor less deserving of their freedom.  And, they may or may not actually obtain their goal despite fighting as hard as our forefathers did.  

So, as it turns out our return at this time was a blessing.  The freedom in the USA is a blessing.  But, these blessings are not deserved, nor a privilege of being from a certain location, nor for being righteous.  It is undeserved favor.  If this is true, receiving these blessings without uttering words of intercession on behalf of those enduring or even succumbing to the struggle is far short of the mark set before us.  This idea is causing me to be in a state of UNREST.  Time to pray.  Will you join me?

An Easter Celebration

We love our church here in Cyprus!  One of the reasons is that our kids are able to be surrounded by the global church.  Another reason is that they are encouraged to act out their faith.  For example, Elisa (age 7) was recently welcomed on to the worship team.  Here is a video from today (Easter Sunday) where she was able to be a part of the Easter celebration music.  She doesn’t just sing, she worships…it’s what she was made to do.  She said to me this afternoon, “Dad, today (during the normal worship time) I didn’t even have to look at my paper.  I just closed my eyes, raised my hands and sang to Jesus!”  As a Dad, not much is better than that!  Enjoy this clip…Oh Happy Day!!!