Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Before We Send Our Sons and Daughters to Bleed and Die...

It now seems inevitable that US ground troops will enter combat in Iraq and Syria.  President Obama has asked for Congressional authorization for the limited use of ground troops in the war on ISIL.  Congress is ready to approve the measure, with the only complaints from his opponents being that the President's request was too limited in scope and would not authorize enough troops.

Before our nation sends our sons and daughters to bleed and die in Iraq and Syria, we owe it to them to closely examine what our leaders are sending them to do.  Jesus said that we should "count the cost" before making such important decisions.  So let us examine the progress of this ongoing conflict involving ISIL (AKA ISIS, Islamic State), and what an expanded US role might look like. Before we send our sons and daughters to bleed and die, shouldn't we consider the cost?

First, we should ask, who is funding ISIL?  The nasty truth is that our US allies among the Sunni nations are funding ISIL. In addition to black market oil sales in Turkey, ISIL is also funded by the sale of illegal antiquities through Turkish black markets. Before we send our sons and daughters to bleed and die, shouldn't our allies stop funding ISIL?

Second, we should ask, where will this war be fought?  ISIL controls territory in Iraq and Syria.  The US will begin the war by clearing ISIL out of Iraq.  Then, when ISIL attacks continue across the border, we will have to invade Syria to stop them.  But then there are also ISIL in Yemen, where forces have pledged loyalty to the Islamic State. ISIL is active now in Libya, where they are fighting the Egyptian government after beheading 21 Egyptian Christians. As Bahrain enters the war against ISIL, they face a Shia uprising at home because of extreme sectarianism. Before we send our sons and daughters to bleed and die, shouldn't we know where the war will be fought?

Third, for whom will we be fighting?  When the US enters the war in Iraq, they will be fighting alongside the Shia government against the Sunni elements of ISIL.  When the US invades Syria, we will be supporting Sunni rebel allies who are also fighting the Shia (Alawite) Syrian government. In a rare moment of candor, Vice President Joe Biden said what people close to the situation in Syria have known all along.  There are no moderate Muslim allied armies to back. The myth that we can go in and help the "good guys" to win is a false one.  There is no side in this fight worthy of our support.  Before we send our sons and daughters to bleed and die, shouldn't there be something worth bleeding and dying for?

Fourth, who is training and equipping our enemies?  We are.  The US is training and equipping the very people that our soldiers will be fighting when they reach Syria and Iraq.  We armed ISIL through weapons given to the Iraqi Army. Lots of weapons.  Heavy Weapons. We armed ISIL through weapons given to militias. We continue to arm and train ISIL fighters by arming and training "moderates" who then defect to ISIL and use their US training and weapons for the cause of the Islamic State.  Now the US will partner with Turkey, one of the greatest supporters of the Islamic State, to train "moderate" rebels.  Thousands of rebels will get US training and equipment, which they will take back to Syria and use against our sons and daughters when they come to bleed and die.
When our troops go into Syria, they will sooner or later fight troops of the Assad regime, and we are also arming and equipping them as well.  Before we send our sons and daughters to bleed and die, shouldn't we stop arming and training the people who will kill them?

Fifth, why is this our war?  I do not want my son, nor any American, to bleed and die in a Sunni-Shia religious war.  This is a religious war, the two sides are aligned against one another in Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon -Sunni Muslim vs. Shia Muslim.  What is the place of the US in such a religious regional war? What is our compelling national interest?  Oil?  Gas prices in the US are hovering around $2 per gallon at the time of this writing.  Before we send our sons and daughters to bleed and die, shouldn't we have a good reason to send them to bleed and die?

Is it too late to stop this insanity?  I pray not.  If we don't send our children to die in a Muslim religious war, then what is the proper response?  Let them fight their civil war; it is theirs to fight.  Let the Sunni nations deal with the consequences of their support for radicalism.  Let them consider the cost of blood.  We can help -food, blankets, medicines, humanitarian aid -no radical faction will be attacking us with the bandages we supplied in five years, nor will they blow up our airplanes with bread a decade from now.  There is a wise approach if we are brave enough to take it.  Email the White House.  Send them the link to this blog post.  Before we send our sons and daughters to bleed and die, shouldn't we consider a better path?

US position in the Sunni-Shia War

As the US enters the ongoing Sunni-Shia war, it does so with the full understanding that our forces will be fighting on both sides of that war. In their rush to declare that this is not a war on Islam, our leaders seem to fail to understand that it is very much a religious war. This is why it will probably be a long war, and there seems to be no resolution which does not eventually require US troops on the ground in Syria.

To better understand the background of the discussion, read this earlier blog post.

The two sides of the Sunni-Shia war do have one thing in common, they both want to get rid of ISIL. The Shia have fought them since the beginning, and now that the Sunni rulers see them as a political threat, they are stepping up also to fight them. Tepidly, of course.

The major problem with our current strategy is that we want to fight this war against ISIL more than the surrounding Sunni Muslim countries want to fight it. Right now the US is leading the air strikes with token Sunni assistance. Air strikes alone cannot defeat ISIL, because they will quickly learn how to dig bunkers. Someone on the ground will have to go in and flush out the rats.

As you can see on the above map, the network of ratholes will be very extensive.

In Iraq the US is counting on Kurdish and Shiite forces, who can control the ground in their own ethnic areas, but will meet stiff resistance in the Sunni areas now controlled by ISIL. This will in fact be a recruiting boon for ISIL, who can shout to the Muslim world that the Sunnis are being oppressed by the Zionist-loving Americans and their Shiite lackeys. In order to push ISIL out of Iraq, Sunni troops are needed on the ground.

 Turkey could easily provide them, but has not, nor have the other Sunni nations pledged ground troops.  Why?  They have a love/hate relationship with ISIL and are not determined to be rid of them.  The same Sunni states that we need to defeat ISIL have had some hand in funding them.

Another problem is mission creep on bombing ISIL in Syria. On the opening day, the US began bombing non-ISIL targets. Sure they were bad guys, but not the ones we were supposed to bomb. There are lots and lots of bad guys in Syria and lots and lots of reasons to bomb them. The Assad regime is wicked and brutal, Hezbollah is fighting alongside them, and Al-Qaeida is still in Syria.

We supposedly have the needed Sunni troops on the ground in Syria (FSA) but we will have to train and equip them first. They are already talking about how this US help will allow them to overthrow the Assad regime. How long will it take until the US is bombing all sides in that part of the war?  The need to destroy ISIL will morph into the need to topple the Assad regime so that we can finish off ISIL once and for all.  This is how US troops will be sucked into Syria.

President Obama has called the US-led bombings a “coalition of the willing” composed of European allies and a few Sunni states.  "Willing" is not enough. ISIL is determined.  The US should not enter this war until the Sunnis form a “coalition of the determined” and commit ground troops. Otherwise, it will be Americans on the ground. Again.  This time in Syria as well.

Where might ISIL strike next?

ISIL has already occupied a lot of the "friendly territory" available to it, which was the source of early rapid expansion. Lebanon is not a place where many will welcome them, as they have already discovered.  Hezbollah would prevent any serious ISIL incursion.  There is another area where they'd be welcomed by many, and that is Jordan. 

The fall of Jordan, if such happened, would be worse that the loss of Iraq. It would almost force Israel to take action, since there would now be a border with the Islamic State. It would also open up a new road for expansion into the Hijaz, which might well be one of the stronger areas of support for ISIL (among the people, not the rulers).

Jordan is fairly stable and well defended, so this is not a likely outcome, but it is a possibility. I don't think anyone foresaw how quickly the Iraqis would crumble.

Sunni-Shia War Primer

The first and most important thing to understand about the ongoing civil war in Syria and Iraq is that it is not two wars in two nations. It is one war between two religious groups. From Tehran to Beirut there is an ongoing war between the Sunni and Shia Muslims -a war which dates back to the very founding of Islam. It is not a fight that will be solved by western military intervention.

The current conflict arose when peaceful demonstrations against the Assad regime in Syria were met with brutal suppression by government forces. As the bloodshed of the mostly Sunni protestors grew unbearable, Sunni troops, units, and leaders of the Syrian Army defected and formed the Free Syrian Army. Early success led them to capture a number of Army and Air Force bases which supplied them with weaponry to fight effectively against the government forces.

Who is ISIL?

ISIL stands for Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. The actual acronym name of the group in Arabic is DA'SH. You will see it rendered inaccurately in western media as ISIS Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The “SH” sound actually represents “Sham” -a reference to Greater Syria, which extends from southern Turkey to the Sinai. Their territorial ambitions are much larger than the inaccurate western name implies. The map below designates the areas covered by “Iraq and Sham”. This is the area that they envision as the nucleus for the re-establishment of the caliphate.

This group is a splinter of Al-Qaeida, originally being Al-Qaeida in Iraq. They fell under the influence of an Iraqi terrorist, Abu Bakr AlBaghdadi (real name Awwad Ibrahim al-Badri al-Samarri), who was a protege of Osama bin Laden. After the death of bin Laden, he has refused to recognize the authority of the new Al-Qaeida leadership and has taken his own initiative in Iraq and Syria. The ISIL fighters are from all over the Muslim world. Many of them have engaged in the jihadi wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen. ISIL was initially welcomed by Syrian rebels in their fight against the Assad regime. Much of the original training was done in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and (ironically) Iran. They have fought in so many theatres with such a wide range of equipment that they are familiar with almost anything they find on the battlefield.

After ISIL entered Syria, there was an initial power struggle between Jabhat Al Nusra and ISIL. Jabhat Al Nusra was the original AlQaeida group in Syria. ISIL tried to exert authority over them and bring them into ISIL but the leadership refused and AlQaeida ruled that they should fight alongside one another in cooperation. ISIL refused this ruling and began taking control of areas of Syria and independently governing them. They have captured an oil producing region of Syria, and the revenues from black market sales fund their continuing operations.

ISIL government has imposed a very harsh Sharia law upon the populations. Women are warned to stay at home. Hands will be chopped off from thieves. Any unIslamic business is forbidden. Extreme punishments including execution by sword are visited on any who oppose the ISIL government. Now large segments of Syria and Iraq are under these harsh laws.

The ISIL are so savage, and the populations under their control have cried out so loudly, that the other rebel factions have turned on them to expel them from Syria. You have to be ruthlessly savage to be kicked out of AlQaeida for being too extreme. Currently ISIL and the Assad regime do not fight one another. Both of them fight the rebels, who are caught between the government and even more extreme Islamists.

What is the Shia-Sunni war?

The Sunni Shia war dates back to the power struggle between the fourth caliph (leader of “all” Muslims), Ali (cousin of Mohammad), and the followers of a powerful Syrian leader named Muawiyah. Ali was ultimately assassinated by one of his former followers who belonged to the Kharijites, a group who broke away because Ali was not strong enough in asserting his authority as Caliph. Muawiyah became the fifth Caliph and the followers of Ali (thereafter called the Shia) refused to recognize him. The war ended in a bloody battle (Karbala) where Ali's son was killed and the Caliphate passed firmly into the hands of those called Sunni. This battle is remembered each year in their highest holiday of mourning by the Shia, who have not forgotten the killing of their leaders even after 1400 years.

This is key -the current Sunni-Shia war is being fought in these regions of Syria and Iraq just as it was 1400 years ago. The Caliphate passed back and forth from Sunni to Shia hands over the centuries, but the struggle to control Islam has not lessened. In modern times, Shia live mostly in Iraq and Iran, with smaller groups scattered in places like southern Lebanon and Syria (The Alawites).

Who are the parties other than ISIL?

Iran (Shia) is the largest factor in the current war. When the (Sunni) rebellion in Syria began to threaten the Assad regime (Alawite Shia) Iran stepped in to support the Assad regime. In addition to sending their own militants (Shia) to fight in Syria, the Iranians also hired unemployed Iraqis (Shia) as fighters to defend the Syrian government. More importantly, Iran mobilized the Hezbollah (Shia) forces in Lebanon to move into Syria and fight on the side of the government.

As the rebels were overwhelmed by the Shia groups, surrounding Sunni countries sent fighters to help the rebels. AlQaeida in Iraq (Sunni) sent Islamist fighters to start the Jabhat AlNusra, with some funding from Qatar. Saudi and Kuwaiti (all Sunni) money funded the Free Syrian Army. The US (supporting both Sunni and Shia) has committed itself to fund and support the Free Syrian Army.

The Syrian Kurds have taken control of the northeastern region of Syria. They have avoided any clashes with government forces, claiming instead to be subject to the regime. Jabhat AlNusra had frequent clashes with the Kurds in the second year. Currently the Kurds are avoiding the conflict.

Update: The Kurds entered the conflict i the summer of 2014 after being attacked by ISIL and losing territory to them.  With US air support the Kurds have made significant advances against ISIL.

Who is fighting whom? (Shia vs. Sunni)

In both Syria and Iraq the fight is a religious one. In Syria the (Shia Alawite) Assad regime has the weakened Syrian Army, and a powerful Air Force that is in the hands of Alawite officers and crews. They are joined by Iranian, Iraqi, and Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, all of whom are Shia.

The rebels are fragmented groups. The Free Syrian Army is Sunni, and relatively moderate, though there are strong Islamist tendencies. There is a collection of smaller Sunni militias allied with the FSA. Jabhat AlNusra is a group of Salafist Sunni fighters from around the Muslim world that was sent to Syria by AlQaeida. These groups form a liberation front together. When ISIL first entered Syria, they were allied with this group.

The FSA/rebel groups are now fighting ISIL, whom they consider too extreme. ISIL is not currently fighting the Assad regime. The Kurds are currently not fighting any group. The Assad regime and Shia allies are fighting the FSA/rebel groups.

What about Iraq?

The same ISIL group that sent Jabhat Nusra and ISIL into Syria are leading the fight against the Iraqi government. They number only a few thousand, but like the Pied Piper, they are collecting other anti-government groups on their march toward Baghdad. These groups are not loyal to ISIL, but will fight beside them against the government.

The Kurds have used this opportunity to move in to protect Kirkuk, which they consider their historic Capital. They will not leave Kirkuk without a fight, so the government may engage them at some point. The Kurdish Peshmerga may be the best soldiers in Iraq at this point.

The Shia Iraqi government has called home Shia troops from Syria. They are mobilizing Shia militias to protect Baghdad. Iran is sending troops to defend the Shia holy sites in Iraq.

Can ISIL take Baghdad?

That is possible, but not probable. We have not seen the Iraqi Army fight yet, so there is no sure answer. The Shia are very strong in that region. So far, ISIL has been in “friendly territory.” There is also the likelihood that the Iraqi Air Force would be supplemented by air strikes from the US carrier group moving into the region. A siege of Baghdad is likely at this point, with some Sunni neighborhoods going to the rebels and the government holding important areas. Beirut was divided by sectarian violence for over a decade (and really still is today), and fighting in Damascus, though not heavy, has followed the same pattern.

What does this mean for the US?

If the US intervenes in Iraq, it will mean the commitment of Air and Special (ground) forces to strengthen the Iraqi government. We will be allies of Iran in this fight. We will be aiding a government that is allied with Iran, Hezbollah, and the Assad regime. We will be on the Shia side of the fight.

In Syria, the US is already committed to supporting the other side of this same fight. We will be supporting the FSA against the government, Iranian, Lebanese, and Iraqi Shia foes. We will be on the Sunni side of the fight.

Imagine if you will, an Iraqi Shia militia that has enjoyed US support, training, and air support. They cross the border into Syria and now engage a Sunni FSA unit that has enjoyed US support, weapons, and training. We are now on both sides of the same fight.

This is a Sunni-Shia religious war. This war is over 1400 years old, and is being fought by the same sides and in the same region that it was 1400 years ago. The party of Caliph Ali (Shia) is opposing the caliphate of the Sunni on the same battlefields where they fought so long ago.

What about Lebanon?

For now Lebanon is safe. The government has taken precautionary steps of rounding up and arresting suspected ISIL sympathizers. We are fairly distant from the current events. The ISIL is the group who set off the series of car bombs in Lebanon earlier this year, so there is a possibility of renewed violence. If Baghdad should fall, which is unlikely, then the situation becomes much more grave.

Update:  A small ISIL force moved into the Arsal region of Lebanon in the summer of 2014 in a surprise incursion but was repelled by the Lebanese Army.  They are currently surrounded and living in caves in the border region, where they still hold perhaps 2 dozen soldiers and policeman captured in their surprise attack.

A final map of the intertwined and complex relationships involved:

An update of the situation can be found in this blog entry.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

What to Do When You're Married to an Abuser

For most of us, our marriage is our most important relationship. It builds friendships, social networks, and may even give us children. What do we do when it turns rotten at the core? What does one do with an abusive spouse?

The first and most important question is whether he's hitting you. If he is, stop reading this now, grab what little you can, and get out. Finish reading this later. Go to your Mom. Go to your Pastor. Go to a trusted friend. You are living with an ungodly man. Don't let him hit you or your children. When Jesus said “turn the other cheek,” he was teaching against violence. Jesus lived in an age where people responded to insults with violence. He was teaching that insult and injustice do not merit a violent response. They do merit a response. Find a better way to respond. Jesus never, ever meant that your husband can hit you. Now go, get out of the house if you haven't already.

If he's “just” being a manipulative, mean-spirited jerk who treats you like trash, then don't take that either. I want to talk specifically in this blog about a situation where a man claims to be a Christian, but mistreats his wife. If you have married an unbeliever, against the teachings of the scriptures, then I do pity you just as much but I have far fewer answers for your situation.

First, much evil has been taught from Ephesians 5:22-33. It does not mean “shut up and take it because he's the man.” Much of this false teaching can be undone simply by backing up one verse (to verse 21) and reading that into the context of the passage. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Christians must live lives of submission to one another -in every facet and relationship of our lives. We submit to the authority of the Church, we submit to our parents, and we submit to one another. What follows in Ephesians teaches the path of submission for husbands and wives, but do not forget that both submit.

Starting in Ephesians 5 verse 22 we read:
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

This is usually all we get to hear, and even that is poorly taught. The scripture tells wives to submit to their husbands as you do to the lord, and as the Church submits to Christ. How do we make that submission? Do we submit ourselves to God because he is harsh with us, and unjust? Do we submit ourselves to God because he hurts us and dominates us? God forbid! This would make us morally superior to God! The Bible tells us exactly why we submit to God. In 1 John 4:19 we read that “We love because he first loved us.” We cannot love God, we cannot submit to God, except that he loved us first. Wives, submit to your husbands in that same way -because he loved you first. If he does not treat you with love -not just words, but deeds also- he has no claim on your submission.

In Ephesians 5 verse 25 we read:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word...

How has Christ loved the Church? How much did Christ sacrifice himself for his beloved? Don't we sing hymns of praise to Him for these things? Isn't he our Lord because of how he loved us and sacrificed himself for us? Has anyone shown greater love than laying down his life? Don't you dare to show your wife Ephesians 5:22 until you are living this example of love.

In Ephesians chapter 5 verse 28 Paul continues:
In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body.

If you are abusing your wife emotionally, physically, verbally, or in any other way, you are doing it because you hate yourself. If you loved yourself you could love her. You should hate yourself. You are a mean-spirited, selfish, violent, self-serving, manipulative sinner. You need to experience what real love means before you can love yourself or love her. Quit pretending you're a religious man and run to Jesus. Run now. Learn from Him how to love so that you can be the man she should respect.

What do I do if he won't listen?

Jesus taught a simple formula in Matthew 18:15-17. Remember, if he is hitting you, this is moot. You do not have a marriage. You should be out of the house.

1) Talk to him yourself in private. Let him read this. Pray that he will be convicted. This is the hardest step, but don't skip it. If he won't listen go to step 2.

2) Take someone with you to talk to him. It might be a family member, friend, counselor, you need a third party involved. If he still won't listen, go to step 3.

3) Take it to the Church. This might mean your Elders, your Pastor, trustees, a bishop, or some other leader or leadership group. It doesn't mean that you get on the phone and start calling people and spreading gossip. Use whatever accountability structures that you can find. If your Church does not have any accountability, then it is not a Church, it is a cult.

I don't know if this will help you in your situation, I pray that it does. Hopefully it will at least encourage you that you should not live in misery. The truth will set you free.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The House of Fatteh

I recently had the opportunity to visit a great new restaurant in the southern part of Beirut, House of Fatteh.

The name says it all -in Arabic and English

I love a great bean restaurant, and this is a great bean restaurant.  First, and most importantly, it is very clean.  I've eaten beans in some dives and I hate risking gastroenteritis for a good meal.  Now I no longer have to do that!  I can get my sense of adventure from the menu, which has dozens of bean dish choices.

The service was great.  The staff was friendly and courteous, they knew the menu, and they didn't rush me.  In fact, they brought me tea to drink while I was pondering the menu, and some cardamom and cinnamon to chew on as well.

Nice.  These are classy beans.

I decided that since I was at the House of Fatteh, I'd go ahead and order what may be my favorite food in the world, fatteh bilaban.  The service was fast and before I could say "Hey, where's my food?" it was on the table.

Oh, yeah.

The taste was just as good as the presentation.  One of the things I really like about House of Fatteh is that they manage to combine the experience of a real, authentic bean house with a very upscale and modern setting.  It's beans served the way we all wish they could be served.  This place screams "business lunch."

Give a client this and he will buy anything.

Did I mention that the portions are large?  Sometimes it's difficult to judge the scale in a photo, so I have placed my full, distended belly in the shot to give you an idea of how much food I ate.  This meal whipped me, I could not eat all of it.

This reminds me of a scene from Monty Python...

This leads me to my only complaint about House of Fatteh.  Their takeout service does not take customers out to their cars after they have eaten too much to move.  Those guys in the kitchen look strong enough that I think 3 or 4 of them could have managed to get me into my minivan.  I did manage to make it out on my own after some effort.

The meals are also priced right.  Most of the menu is in the $5-$8 range which makes it a perfect place to take your kids or your buddies.  If your wife is a cheap date, take her here!  In the interest of full disclosure, the owner is a friend of mine, who knows how to operate a really great bean house.  Drop by the House of Fatteh and you will not be disappointed.

Jesr Sfeir, In front of Hachem Gaz Station, Beirut, Lebanon

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Formula for a Successful Apology

You've done it.  You've totally screwed up and now you need to apologize, and the words are tumbling around in your head as you try to construct the appropriate apology.  Fear not!  As one who has screwed up countless times, I have far too much practice in apologies, and can offer you advice based on my vast experience.

You are soooo busted.

A proper apology contains three elements.  It is important to include all three, and a very good idea not to go beyond them -regret, confession, repentance.  Here is the framework for an appropriate apology:

"I'm sorry I did that.  I screwed up.  I won't do it again."

If in doubt you can use that exactly as written in almost any situation.  Memorize it.  Use it.

Let's examine the three components:

"I'm sorry" -This is the entry level apology, and we teach our children to say it, while scuffing their foot around to let us know that they really don't mean it.  People want to hear our regret, at a minimum, but this is really not enough.  Are you sorry you did it, or just sorry you got caught?  Are you sorry I'm so difficult to please?  At it's best, "I'm sorry" should also specify the offense - "I'm sorry I forgot your birthday."  Failure to specify leads to confusion and an apology must be crystal clear.

Or, it can mean that your ego is so huge you can't admit fault.

"I screwed up." -Admit it's your fault.  So often people follow "I'm sorry" with an excuse for why it was really OK, or not really their fault.  "I'm sorry I hit you, but your words were making me angry."  That is not an apology, it is blame-shifting.  Admit your own fault without blaming anyone else.  "I'm sorry we had that fight.  I have to listen better."  Failure to accept blame turns the apology into a cloaked accusation.

"I won't do it again." -Show your maturity.  If the action was worthy of an apology, it should not be repeated.  This step is necessary to heal the relationship.  The other person needs to know that s/he should not expect this behavior again.  "I won't go out without telling you any more."  Failure to repent leaves guards up and prevents a complete healing of the wound.

What men really mean by "I won't do it again."

You may be tempted to add to these elements.  Don't.  An apology should be short, sincere, complete, and simple.  Turning it into a story is likely to make things worse.  It will become filled with excuses, blame shifting, and denial.

"I'm sorry I did that.  I screwed up.  I won't do it again."  You can apply this formula to many situations:

"I'm sorry I didn't clean up the dirty dishes.  I should have been more considerate.  I won't forget them again."

"I apologize for eating your lunch from the office refrigerator.  I should have ordered delivery.  I won't eat your food again."

"I'm sorry for posting that embarrassing picture of you on Facebook.  I should have respected your privacy.  I won't post anything else without your permission."

A real pro at work here.

Now, go forth and apologize well.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

With the Cross of Jesus, Marching on Before

In situations of conflict Christians often find themselves accomplices in war, rather than agents of peace. We find it difficult to distance ourselves from our selves and our own culture and so we echo its reigning opinions and mimic its practices. As we keep the vision of God's future alive, we need to reach out across the firing lines and join hands with our brothers and sisters on the other side. We need to let them pull us out of the enclosure of our own culture and its own peculiar set of prejudices so that we can read afresh the “one Word of God.” In this way we might become once again the salt to the world ridden by strife.  -Volf, Miroslav (2010-03-01). Exclusion & Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (p. 54). Abingdon Press. 
Volf's book is a sometimes meandering read, but it's given me occasion to think about what the scriptures teach Christians about priority.  In particular, it is helping me to consider how we as Western Churches respond to events in the East.  I will not engage in political commentary, but there is an issue of Christian faith which requires consideration.

After failing to found a cohesive community at Athens with his eloquent preaching, the Apostle Paul moved on to Corinth determined to preach only one thing:  "Jesus Christ, and him crucified."  In the simple statement we see that the cross is the foundation of the Christian community (Volf, p. 47).  It defines who belongs to the community, and the basis for interpersonal relationships within the community.

The community requires primary allegiance from members.  "If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple," Jesus said (Luke 14:26).  All other relationships are formed at the behest of the Cross.  We honor our father and mother because it is the way of the cross.  We love our wife and our earthly family because the cross leads us to love.  All of our relationships are restored and prioritized by the cross.  "Love one another," the cross calls to us, and so we love.

And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, 
"Behold My mother and My brothers!"

The cross establishes our relationships with the secular world as well.  We are told to live quiet lives, to submit to the governing authorities, and to honor the King.  In the modern context, this means that we should be good citizens, but we are reminded that our Kingdom is not of this world.  Our citizenship bows to and serves the cross.  There is only one Church, which spans all cultures, through the suffering of Christ on the cross (Volf, p. 51).

Nowhere is this more relevant than the relationship between Churches in cultures that are in conflict.  When there is a clash of cultures or nations, Christians must first look across the conflict and find those members of our Church that are on the other side.  The first allegiance is always to the cross, and to our community founded upon it.  Opposing the "enemy" must be secondary to embracing our brethren.

In the context of the Arab world, western Churches must realize that they have communities of Christian brothers and sisters in many nations of the region.  While we might be quick to support Christians in the pro-western countries, Christians living in "pariah states" and the "axis of evil" are no less deserving of our love and faithfulness, and of our embrace.