Tag Archives: Iraq

We are called to develop a trust system.

Relationships in the community, whether it is the church community or the city community take trust if they are to flourish. The proverb says:

One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother — Proverbs 18:24 NIV

The proverbs are so honest about life! This one is drawing a contrast we all experience. On the one hand, there is wickedness and superficial gunk that messes up the togetherness we’d like to experience. There are friends who pretend to be friends; they fill up your time with a lie. There are companions who do nothing but chatter; they fill up conversation space but not your heart. There are acquaintances who remain superficial; they fill up on your affection and generosity but never attempt mutuality or sacrificially give. There are a lot of people who might share a drink with you in a noisy bar, but they don’t bind themselves.

On the other hand, there is a friend who is worthy of the title — it is possible! We are all looking for them, or despairing that we can’t seem to find one. There are people who will go deep, who will connect, who are real, who can be relied upon. Those are the kindred souls with whom we feel bound our whole lives. We want that.

Jesus is that kind of friend who sticks “closer than a brother” — the “friend of sinners” (Luke 7:34), the one who comes with the ancient promise of God: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). People who have Jesus for a friend are blessed (see John 15:14). We can trust him. If we follow Jesus, we’ll see he is moving into the world to make friends and make more friends who can be a friend like him. He is restoring a trust system. We’re moving with him when we  dare to look at what the world is really like (and ourselves!) and try to figure out how to be like trustworthy brothers and sisters in the world.

Trust is shot down on the streets

The recent outbreak of consciousness about the proliferation and protection of automatic weapons has highlighted the level of mistrust in the United States. While hundreds of thousands rallied during the March for Our Lives, NRA allies in Congress pushed the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act. “Congress is currently considering bills that would force every state to recognize every other state’s concealed carry permits,” said Sen. Stanley Chang, D- Hawaii.  Ideological warfare and mutually assured destruction playing out on every block destroys friendship; Christian intellectuals lament the death of trust.

Violence from your neighbor: a teenager or mentally unglued person with a gun no one will regulate, a drug dealer with an automatic weapon, a soldier or insurgent with bombs and weapons in your neighborhood, a super-rich country flying drones overhead, none of it makes for trusting relationships. The proverb notes this.

A violent person entices their neighbor
and leads them down a path that is not good. — Proverbs 16:29

Philly.com keeps track of homicides and puts them on a map.  Periodically they dip into Camden. They try to tell the truth. The president has 75% of the population suspecting that news outlets broadcast “fake news.”  But they try. They also point out the valiant people who try to undo the violence.

Trust is the alternativity we crave

Many people have been “lead down a path that is not good.” We, the people of God, the Jesus-followers, the Church are called to be the alternative, the antidote to the poison, along with good people who would painstakingly make a murder map so we can see what is going on. The proverbs invite us to trust those who can be seen to deserve it, because they are the cement of society. Jesus invites us to develop a trust system so we can rebuild what is being torn down.

We can start by being trustworthy and daring to trust another. We can build cells, teams, congregations, and a network that is devoted to building a trust system. The Circle of Hope proverb in the title says we are convicted to do just that. What might that practically mean today? A few general ideas:

  1. Trust first. Life is too short to wait until someone proves trustworthy (as if you had that right, anyway). Let them prove untrustworthy and make it hard for them to do it. Treat them like Jesus treats you, who entrusts you with the Spirit of God.
  2. Tell the truth. The world is too messed up to hide (as if you could succeed in that). Let people know who you are. Speak the truth in love to them like Jesus speaks to you, who affirms your value and hopes for your best.
  3. Risk relying on people. The world is too dangerous to be alone (as if you ever are). Let people hurt you and recover. Submit to others out of reverence to Christ, who will save you, who lives with you in an eternal now.

One more proverb:

Deceit is in the hearts of those who plot evil,
but those who promote peace have joy. — Proverbs 12:20

There is no little deceit woven into our hearts and seeping into us from the troubled world around us. A few people reading this probably think that proverb is “fake.” But most of us know, since the Holy Spirit brings the conviction to life in us, that promoting peace is the way to joy, even if it is hard, disappointing or unaffirmed. We are called to develop a trust system. Just living in the alternativity of its promise is joy enough. When we taste more of its reality, it is that much better.

My Iraqi seat mate and the Golden Rule

The travel day began with the Zambians sending our new South African friend’s bag to Philadelphia and sending our beloved Bethany’s bag to some undetermined place. It ended with waiting in line for about an hour while the skeleton crew at customs processed us and a Hunger-Games-esque video from Homeland Security repeatedly welcomed us. In between, I watched movies on the plane and tried to sleep in between the baby screams. I watched most of Qatar Airline’s catalogue, I think. I even watched Deadpool, which I had been avoiding (even though no one else did — it has earned $761 million worldwide) – I admit it was clever and funny, even when vile. I think we were in the air for 22 hours, so there was even room for vile.

Burial place of Imam Ali in Najaf, Iraq

Near the end of the last leg of the journey, I finally met my row mate. I found out he was an Iraqi returning home to his job at a Red Lobster in Kentucky after attending his mother’s funeral in Najaf, home of Imam Ali’s shrine. When he arrived in Najaf he learned his visit would start with the funeral of his cousin, who had just been killed in an army battle. Eventually we talked about religion, since I also told him why I had been travelling. Part of that conversation is what I want to talk to you about, mainly.

After we both recounted our horror at the bombing campaigns that devastated Iraq at the beginnings of both wars (he evacuated just before the first), he brought up how people should treat each other like they would like to be treated, like it says in the Qur’an – and in the writings of all the other major religions. His version is that Allah is the one God, the same as the Jews and Christians, so we will all be judged by him for how we follow the rule. We had been talking about how refugees, especially in Palestine, never get the justice they want by repossessing their homes, even though everyone knows that they would hate to lose their homes, their friends, their feelings of belonging, and hate to have to work long hours at Red Lobster to buy a ticket to attend your mother’s funeral 6500 miles away.

It seemed, as usual, very tidy of him to sum up all the religions with one rule – the one thing they all seem to agree upon. And, in the case of Islam, to tidy things up with one Ruler who will judge people according to their capacity to fulfill the rule: “Allah knows best how long they stayed. With Him is (the knowledge of) the unseen of the heavens and the earth. How clearly He sees, and hears (everything)! They have no Wali (Helper, Disposer of affairs, Protector, etc.) other than Him, and He makes NONE to share in His Decision and His Rule” (Surah 18:2). In the end, the Moslem is judged according to their full submission to the way of Islam, and their deeds. Like many Christians do with Jesus, Muslims reduce the requirements of belief to following the rules and avoiding judgment — especially following the “golden rule,” since everyone thinks that makes sense.

The problem is, people are very bad at following the golden rule. Israelis are not giving people back the land they know the dispossessed want and Palestinians are not forgiving them for taking it. The people of the United States do not rise up in revolt because the government dropped 265,000 bombs on Iraq in 1991 and did not stop for twenty years, even though they would not like someone to do that to them. We keep learning the lesson, but never seem to get the application right. We don’t treat our children the way we wish we had been treated as a child. We don’t even treat ourselves the way we wish someone would treat us. Even when we think God is treating us well, we don’t love as we are loved. The whole thin plot of Deadpool was about his quest to get his mutated face restored so his girlfriend would not judge him ugly and reject him. He was sure she would not treat him well unless he was unjudgable; he is a realistic superhero.

Jesus repeats the common sense of the golden rule. Unlike in Islam or Buddhism, he is not giving people a maxim to sum up justice or balance, he is commanding the self-giving love he will demonstrate on the cross. Regardless, when he says it, it serves to point out just how badly we need a Savior. We all love the golden rule and long for it to be applied, but it never gets applied, even by those who are devoted to it. My Iraqi friend looked at me after he talked about Daesh squeezing into a crack in the system so they could get the power and money that the greedy rulers all want, and he said, “I just don’t see a way for this to change.”  I have been thinking of him saying that ever since.

I don’t know everything about Islam or all the other religions. I tend to feel generous about people seeking God from wherever they start. But I don’t think all the seeking merely leads to the need to follow the golden rule no one follows well. I think the seeking leads to Jesus whom God has made the final judge. Life is not about becoming good enough to love or not being bad enough to kill. The way Paul describes his experience with Jesus is that he has already received the mysteries of God and lives with a clear conscience. Not because he is perfectly knowledgeable or faithful, but because Jesus has poured out the love of God. That undeserved grace is holding back the end of time with its inherent judgment. We can live in the hope God gives us in the middle of our personal and corporate failures to follow what we all agree is the truth.

deadpool
Christ in Deadpool.

What I finally hear from pondering my conversation with this friendly Iraqi is that Jesus entrusts us with the golden rule, not condemns us with it. Like in the ending of Deadpool, Jesus removes the mask that hides our mutancy and kisses our scarred face, and the scarred soul that goes with it. Only that will undo whatever evil we have committed or will commit – like the impending sequel.

Top ten posts of 2015 and before

You may have missed some of the posts others found interesting in 2015!

1. Obama runs over Jesus in victory lap

Even though I give the speech a high rating (which I am sure Barack is waiting to hear), and even though I can whip up some admiration for the president’s audacity, competitiveness and attention to some of my greatest irritations, the speech made me glad, as usual, that Jesus introduced me to an alternative way of life and glad that Circle of Hope keeps giving me a chance to practice it.

2. If I tell you not to watch Kingsman will it make you want to see it?

Continue reading Top ten posts of 2015 and before

Iraq Aftermath — six things Christian peacemakers can practice right now.

Gulf War — began on August 2, 1990 and ended on February 28, 1991. “The U.S. Department of Defense has estimated the cost of the Gulf War at $61 billion. Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States covered $36 billion.” (CNN)

Iraq War — began on March 20, 2003 and officially ended in December 2011 (troops were recently added to fight ISIS). ”The U.S. war in Iraq has cost $1.7 trillion with an additional $490 billion in benefits owed to war veterans, expenses that could grow to more than $6 trillion over the next four decades. “ (Reuters).

iraq aftermath

I start with a few facts (although true financial facts are hard to get from the U.S. government) because many people who attended our event: Iraq Aftermath, did not have too many facts at hand for themselves. We were blessed with four people who had been to Iraq personally, spanning the 25 years of U.S. warmaking: Gwen White before the first Gulf War, Joshua Grace at the beginning of the Iraq War, Shane Claiborne during the Iraq War and Scott Krueger once during the Iraq War and twice after. They were full of facts and memories that astounded many of us who listened.

iraq aftermath panel

 

Continue reading Iraq Aftermath — six things Christian peacemakers can practice right now.

Longing for Peace in the Rubble

Kirkuk car bomb, Feb 2011

Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace—
      in peace because they trust in you.
Trust in the Lord for ever,
      for in the Lord God
      you have an everlasting rock.
For he has brought low
      the inhabitants of the height;
      the lofty city he lays low.
He lays it low to the ground,
      casts it to the dust.
The foot tramples it,
      the feet of the poor,
      the steps of the needy. Isaiah 26:1-6 (NRSV)

Lofty cities are laid low.

I admit it, I long for the day when the feet of the oppressed walk freely over the rubble the high flyers have made of the world. Poor Iraq. The Congo. The Pacific garbage patch. Nuclear waste stored all over the country. Isaiah seems to be hearing the trampling: the feet of the poor, the steps of the needy, on their way to God’s city. I admit to longing for the trampling.

I am not sure that God will fulfill my vengeful dream. And I am pretty sure my true self does not truly dream it, anyway. It doesn’t matter so much what the end will be when the rubble of our city is piling up on the oppressed right now! Pondering some future repay is less important than pondering whether we have any capacity to dig people out of the rubble piling up outside the door. There is not a lot of time to care about how to get even with who did this to us!!

I still remember Parker Palmer On Bill Moyer’s Journal saying that his personal depression was mirrored in and mirroring the depression of our financial system. At our breakfast table yesterday we were wondering if we were feeling the same way about the persistent deterioration of our school system and the pernicious political philosophies that have a foot on the necks of the poorest people in Pennsylvania who are our neighbors and who attend our public schools. The feelings were alarming.

I know many depressed and distressed people right now, and the number seems to be growing. They amplify the regular distresses that face the church. Such rubble making was evident last week – sexual immorality took a toll; financial issues oppressed people; fear drove people to be self-sufficient, wary and critical; people like Parker Palmer had their feelings overloaded.

I am a bit like Palmer. When my alarm bells go off and my feelings are overloaded, I need to keep my mind on God. I need to consider whether I am being too “apocalyptic” when times are hard. I need to wonder if I should or should not be quoting 2 Timothy 3: “There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, (etc)… lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God– having a form of godliness but denying its power….They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over the weak-willed, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires.” Seeing the rubble, feeling the despair, naming the problems form a good first step toward digging out of it. But a good prophet, like Isaiah, does not let it stop there.

When Isaiah’s city was being brought low, God gave him a vision of the city whose walls are God’s salvation. When we were pondering our sorry state the other day, my visionary friend, Joshua Grace, said, “Something wonderful must be about to happen.” That’s the spirit (and the Spirit)! I’m not so old yet, but I am old enough to know that bad times (like a personal depression) are often the beginnings of the next great time. If we can just keep our minds on what God  is going to do (who makes something out of nothing, after all!), we can have some peace in the midst of our mess!

We are called to develop a trust system.

Like I was saying last night, relationships in the community, whether it is the church community or the city community take trust if they are to flourish. The proverb says:

One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (18:24 NIV)

On the one hand, there is wickedness and superficial gunk that is messing up the togetherness we’d like to experience. There are friends who pretend to be friends. There are companions who do nothing but chatter; they fill up time but not your heart. There are acquaintances who remain superficial; they never attempt mutuality or sacrificially give. There are a lot of people who are fine for sharing a drink in a noisy bar, but they don’t bind themselves.

On the other hand, there is a friend who is worthy of the title — it is possible! There are people who will go deep, who will connect, who are real, who can be relied upon. Those are the kindred souls with whom we feel bound our whole lives. We want that.

Jesus is that kind of friend who sticks “closer than a brother.” And Jesus is moving into the world to make friends and make more friends like himself. We’re moving with him when we  dare to look at what the world is really like (and ourselves!) and try to figure out how to be like brothers and sisters in the world.

I think the Inquirer did an OK job of lamenting the state of relationships in the Philadelphia region last week. They made a graphic that served to highlight the level of mistrust in Philadelphia and Camden. It is at the left. Since 2003 in Philadelphia and Camden, the number of murders almost equaled the number of U.S. soldiers who died in Iraq during the course of the war. That is a shocking comparison.

It is worth being shocked about, but I have to point out that it is a false comparison. We have enough self-esteem issues without the Inquirer making it worse with misleading graphics! The highest number of soldiers in Iraq was in 2008 when there were about 158,000. That is less than one-tenth the number of people in Philly/Camden. What’s more, the comparison is grossly misleading because upwards to 127,000 Iraqi civilians have been documented casualties of the war. In case you are bad at math, that’s nearly thirty-seven times the number of U.S. soldiers killed, and it is also just the number of documented casualties. So it was actually much, much safer to live in Philly during the Iraq war.

Nevertheless, such violence from your neighbor: a teenager or mentally unglued person with a gun no one will regulate, a drug dealer with an automatic weapon, a soldier or insurgent with bombs and weapons in your neighborhood, a super-rich country flying drones overhead, none of it makes for trusting relationships. The proverbs note this.

A violent person entices their neighbor
and leads them down a path that is not good. (16:29)

The Inquirer made us feel like we are terrible (again). I think it was important for them to tell the truth. They tried. They also pointed out the valiant people who have been trying to undo the violence every year since 2003 and beyond. Someone in the organization either procured or made a map of every homicide in the city. Here are the murders in the immediate area of our building at Broad and Washington since Circle of Hope began in 1997.

Many people have been “lead down a path that is not good.” We are called to be the antidote, along with good people who would painstakingly make a murder map so we can see what is going on. The proverbs invite us to trust those who can be seen to deserve it, because they are the cement of society. Jesus invites us to be the cement of society. We can start by being trustworthy and daring to trust another. We can build cells, teams, congregations, and a network that is devoted to building a trust system. The Circle of Hope proverb in the title says we are convicted to do just that.