Monday, July 31, 2006

Israeli History and the Current Conflict

A peace movement poster: Israeli and Palestinian flags and the words Salaam in Arabic and Shalom in Hebrew. Similar images have been used by several groups proposing a two-state solution to the conflict.
Israel and Lebanon are in quite a mess. There are a lot of opinions floating around about this conflict - The US should put pressure on Israel for an immediate cease fire; Israel is overreacting; Hezbollah deserves what it gets for its terrorism; Israel has a right to defend itself. What's a white bread American dude to think? Is there any way I can even have an opinion on this thing given that I live in a peaceful suburb in freaking Texas, and my only worry these days is whether my grass will survive the August heat?

Well, I'm not sure I have much of a solid opinion on this conflict. I can certainly see why there are such varying views on this matter. It is, no doubt, a complicated issue, so I thought I'd give a brief history of the conflict surrounding Israel. This is not a comprehensive history, but it should give some insight as to why Israel is such a hotbed of activity in the Middle East. This is not a history of the Israel/Hezbollah conflict as much as it is a history of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. The two are certainly tied closely, but not entirely the same. This should, however, help give the average person an idea of why the region is so divided. I can't claim to be completely objective in this report because of my Judeo-Christian worldview, but I will try to just give the facts that are pertinent to this issue. Here goes:

Judea, home of the Jews in ancient times (From the time of Jacob until just before the time of Christ - some 1,500 years), was conquered by the Romans and renamed Palestine (Remember when Jesus was crucified by Roman order, and Paul was imprisoned in Rome?). Palestine was later conquered and inhabited by Arabs for over a thousand years. The Zionist movement arose to restore the Jews to Israel, largely ignoring the existing Arab population. Following the Balfour Declaration in 1917, Palestine was granted to Britain as a League of Nations mandate to build a national home for the Jewish people. The Arabs resented the Jews coming in to take their land. Led by Grand Mufti Hajj Amin El Husseini, they rioted repeatedly and later revolted, creating a history of enmity between Jews and Arabs in Palestine. Britain stopped Jewish immigration to Palestinein 1938.

Following the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews were killed by the Nazis, pressure on Britain increased to allow Jewish immigration to Palestine. In 1947, the UN partitioned the land into Arab and Jewish states. The Arabs did not accept the partition and war broke out. The Jews won a decisive victory, expanded their state and created several hundred thousand Palestinian refugees. The Arab states refused to recognize Israel or make peace with it. Wars broke out in 1956, 1967, 1973 and 1982, and there were many terror raids and Israeli reprisals.

In the 90's, negotiations occurred at Camp David and Taba, Egypt. Israel offered to turn over 97% of the land in the West Bank and all of Gaza, as well as Arab sections of Jerusalem. This offer was turned down by the Palestinians. Israel is currently implementing a controversial disengagement plan proposed by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. So far, Israel has removed all of its civilian and military presence in the Gaza Strip, (namely 21 Jewish settlements there, and four in the West Bank). Israel does maintain exclusive control in the air space of Gaza, and continues to conduct military activities, including incursions, in the territory. The Israeli government argues that "as a result, there will be no basis for the claim that the Gaza Strip is occupied territory."

The Israeli/Hezbollah conflict is similar in that Hezbollah is an Islamic civil and military force dedicated to fighting the Israeli incursion into southern Lebanon. Hezbollah was formed out of the Iranian movement that was responsible for the Iran Hostage Crisis in the late 70's/early 80's. Formed in 1982, Hezbollah has carried out many terrorist activities throughout the world. The United State's first introduction to Hezbollah was the April 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut that killed 63. Since then, Hezbollah has continued its assault on Israel and friends of Israel by carrying out the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing, a suicide truck bombing that killed 241 U.S. Marines in their barracks in Beirut in October 1983; bombing the replacement U.S. Embassy in East Beirut on September 20, 1984, killing 20 Lebanese and two U.S. soldiers; and carrying out the 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847 en route from Athens to Rome.

Hezbollah has also resorted to kidnapping in its quest to fight Israel. In 1994, Hezbollah kidnapped three Israeli soldiers and exchanged them for over 1,000 Lebanese prisoners held by the Israeli government. The current war between Israel and Hezbollah is the result of the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers. Rather than surrendering to the release of prisoners in exchange for the soldiers, Israel has decided to instead engage Hezbollah in a conflict. This is an ugly mess, and there do not seem to be any easy answers to this war.

I hope this is a helpful overview of the history of the Israeli conflicts. I don't think we in the US have any idea of the kind of zealous measures that people are willing to pursue to maintain/recover the land they claim as their own. The only thing I could relate it to would be if Native Americans were to displace US citizens claiming that the land was rightfully theirs. Nobody could blame Native Americans for wanting their land back, but it would be difficult to blame US citizens for fighting against such a claim. Even this kind of conflict wouldn't be sufficiently analogous to the conflicts we see in the Middle East. These are ancient conflicts that have been ingrained in the lives of those on both sides. I wish I had more hope that a resolution were attainable. In any case, I pray for peace in this region. It's all I can do.

Friday, July 28, 2006

If you love Jesus, say "Ho!"

I showed this video at our collge worship service last night, and it brought the house down. It's from the Saddleback Worship Conference, and might be the best Christian parody I've ever seen. The dance moves are my favorite. Check it out and enjoy!!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Statue of Liberation!!

My man Keith and his amazing site,, has given me a virtual gold mine of information. I'll be stealing lots of stuff from Keith, but let's begin with a post that I wrote a little while back about the fine line between idolatry and celebration that many churches walk on traditionally patriotic holidays.

You think this church went over the line?

The Statue of Liberation also replaces the famous inscription with the lines “Give me your tired, your poor … ” with Roman numerals representing the Ten Commandments, and in place of a torch, she held aloft a large gold cross

A tear falling from her right eye represents her concern for America, church pastor Apostle Alton R. Williams said.

Beef Jerky!!

Sometimes you just see something that makes you "sad/happy". That's the feeling you get when your heart aches to the point of tears, but you also want to belly laugh at the same time. This strange blend of emotions doesn't occur often, but when it does it's quite a sensation.

I recently experienced sad/happiness at the sight of a wretched animal in Mexico. I didn't recognize this vile beast until it was almost too late, but when he made a full appearance, sad/happiness is the only way I can describe my emotional response. I was pushing a small Ford car backward down a crusty dirt road when one of the ladies in our group shouted "Watch out for that dog!" "He'll move" I replied, but I never saw any movement, and it appeared that whatever was taking refuge from the heat under that Ford may not have been alive. Suddenly a black 4 legged creature appeared from under the car. This... thing... scurried off into the distance, and it looked like gristle with legs. I swear I've seen charbroiled meat that looked more alive than this thing.

We affectionalely named the beast "Beef Jerky", and joked that he was under that car stroking a ring, whispering "My precious". He was Gollum meets charcoal, and he made me sad/happy. I was sad that we were witnessing an animal that was so beaten down and void of love that he was literally wasting away, and I was happy that I got to see something that was so ugly any description wouldn't do it justice. I know it sounds cruel of me to ever be happy about something like that, but c'mon, how many times in your life do you get to see creatures that are the things of myths and legends?

I'm obviously not a card-carrying member of PETA, but my heart really went out to this dog. He was a microcosm of his community; poor, hungry and in desperate need of help. That was the most tragic thing about Beef Jerky... he needed more help than we could give him... just like the community from whence he came.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Praise for "Hallelujah"

purchase Grace
I'm a big fan of the song "Hallelujah", originally written and performed by Leonard Cohen, the Canadian writer/musician. This song has been covered and re-covered, but my favorite version has to be Jeff Buckley's haunting rendition on his 1996 release "Grace". The song is a bit depressing, but there's not a better sit-in-your-car-after-a-long-day-and-look-at-the-moon-and-drive song, ever. You've got to listen to it when you're in the right mood or else you'll miss the greatness.

Anyway, here's a link to a vast collection of "Hallelujah" with renditions by Buckley, Sheryl Crow, Imogen Heap, Bono and Bob Dylan, just to name a few. Check it out and enjoy!!

Special thanks to my man Keith and for the list. You the man, Keith (and you have one of the funniest and most interesting sites I've seen in a while)!!

Monday, July 24, 2006

The Upside of Primitive

I'm still digging rocks out of my shoes and nursing blisters on my hands from a trip I recently took to Mexico with 11 college students. We participated in a vacation Bible school for Mexican children, poured a concrete floor in a small church (Power and Victory Church in Acuna, Mexico), built a latrine for the church and cleared the land around the church of those pesky mesquite bushes. I feel like a zombie today in large part due to the hard work we did all week, but there is something else gnawing at me like a Mexican street dog on a rare scrap of food.

Everything we did in Mexico was as primitive as it gets. We mixed concrete in the dirt, leveled the floor with a 2x4 and dug the latrine with a pick axe and a large rock-crushing steel wedge. The VBS was nothing special, just a few crafts, some games and a puppet show. It was not even comparable with the mega-entertaining VBS's that many churches pull off for thousands of kids each summer. This thing was dirty, gritty and hot. Most of us clean, suburban parents wouldn't have allowed our kids to attend for fear of dehydration. So, with all the poverty we witnessed, the heat we endured and the dirty little kids we hugged and kissed, this might have been my favorite trip ever. And that's where this thing starts gnawing at me.

Why in the world do we think we have to be so sophisticated to get the most out of life? In our culture we constantly hear that without an education, or money or some level of luxury, we can't really be a part of the "American Dream." Well, if being a part of that dream means that we can't find meaning in the primitive aspect of serving each other, the dream is more like a nightmare. Since when did our culture begin to value the almighty dollar over the kind of riches that can only be found in sweating to the point of dehydration for someone else's benefit? When did we start to place more weight on entrepreneurialism than charity? When did the primitive things that taught us things like hard work, community and helping your neighbor get replaced by the sophisticated things that showed us that the bottom line means more than the least of these, efficiency matters more than the process and rugged individualism is better than community support? How could we have been so stupid as to buy into this junk?

Here's how... after all I've shared with you in the lines above, I'd still rather live in my suburban home, chock full of comfy furniture and amenities, than live in a Mexican hut in a bario community. As long as I/we value comfort over community, we're doomed to sleep in the shallow beds we've made for ourselves. When will we begin to see through all the stuff and get to the heart of the matter, which, for that matter, is the heart. How would our culture look different if we got more primitive and actually cared about things that mattered more than things that materialized? In other words, what would happen if we loved each other more than our stuff? Personally, I think we'd be much better off... or do I? Question: If I really felt that way, why wouldn't I live every day like my trip to Mexico? Answer: Because I'm too comfortable living with things just as they are.

Ever get the feeling life would be much better if we were more primitive?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Corporate Church?

OK, I had this funny thought last night (it doesn't happen often, so when it does, I have to write it down). We were talking about church building projects, and somebody said that it's always better if a church can find an investor to front a large portion of the money needed for a new building. That got me thinking that we're not far from acquiring corporate church sponsorships.

Say hello to your new church staff!

Think of that picture: The pastor stands at the "Interstate Batteries" podium in a three piece suit with patches on the lapel and sleeves reflecting the logos of sponsors like "Slim Jim" or "Yahoo", or - heaven forbid - "Viagra". Before delivering the sermon the worship pastor, wearing a suit adorned with logos of hair care products like "Paul Mitchell" would ask everyone to turn to hymn #44 in their "Black and Decker" Hymnals. The pastor would then stand and thank all the sponsors for making the service possible, while opening a bottle of "Coke" only a few inches from his face.

It was just a funny thought, that's all. Shoot, I wouldn't put it past some of these guys in the church growth movement to go to any lengths to get that nice, shiny new auditorium. Let's just all pray that we don't go the way of major league baseball by having corporate sponsorship for our churches.

"I'd like to welcome you all this morning to Ameriquest Sanctuary at First Baptist Church." Sheesh!

Monday, July 10, 2006

A Restless Tale

I am very restless lately. I kind of have that same feeling I had in college when only the slightest amount of down time promted a spontaneous road trip. That phrase - "road trip" - was really a tangible expression of the concept of freedom, a chance to leave it all behind and throw caution to the wind. If I'm honest, the thought of spontaneous freedom still tugs at me like mid-day hunger pains.

It's silly, I know, to still think in those terms. After all, I've been happily married for nearly ten years, have 4 kids, work a full-time job and live in suburbia. When am I ever going to grow up? If, after all these years, I haven't learned to quench the restlessness of my soul, what's it going to take? Of course another question might be, if all the road trips I've taken never quenched my restless soul, is there anything that could?

I've always looked at this restlessness as a bad thing, something that should be despised and curtailed. Now I'm wondering if restlessness is just as natural in this life as traffic and mysterious itchiness (you know, like when your back itches for no apparent reason?). Maybe it's just selfishness of the highest order, or maybe it's the sting of living a small life in a big world. G.K. Chesterton, the great British writer, said "With every step of our lives we enter into the middle of some story which we are certain to misunderstand." Chesterton may not have stated it strongly enough. These days it's more like we are so sick of misunderstanding the story that we no longer embrace the story, but the misunderstanding. We're left with grave uncertainty and empty restlessness, and it seems there's not much of a cure for either.

The only time I feel alive and free is when I connect the dots to this great masterpiece in which we live. When I see the great story at work, when my heart is awakened by an element of nature or art or relationship, and I see God's great story unfold. Only then - if just for a moment - does freedom infiltrate this world and fill my heart with hope. As Frederick Buechner writes,
"It is a world of magic and mystery, of deep darkness and flickering starlight. It is a world where terrible things happen and wonderful things too. It is a world where good is pitted against evil, love against hate, order against chaos, in a great struggle where often it is hard to be sure who belongs to which side because appearances are endlessly deceptive. Yet for all its confusion and wildness, it is a world where the battle goes ultimately to the good, who live happily ever after, and where in the long run everybody, good and evil alike, becomes known by his true name... That is the fairy tale of the Gospel with, of course, one crucial difference from all other fairy tales, which is that it is true, that it not only happened once upon a time but has kept on happening since and is happening still." (Telling the Truth)
I am restless, but I believe. I believe because this story has been written and continues to play itself out in my life and the lives of those around me. Sometimes it's just not as glamerous as Buechner makes it sound. But there are those occasions where it is that exciting and noble and adventuresome. If you've ever had those times, you probably want to take a road trip with me right now. Maybe restlessness isn't all bad.

Soccer A Flop

OK, I gave it a shot. I really did. I tried my best to give World Cup Soccer a chance, but I'm sorry to say I didn't find it satisfying. There was only one game that really intrigued me, and that was the Germany vs. Italy match. All I got to see of this game was the extra time minutes, and there was some fantastic action. Aside from that, I found the matches to be slow-paced, boring and full of some of the worst fake injuries I've ever seen.

Take for instance the guy from Italy who was head-butted by the guy from France in the finals (I'm so into this sport that I refer to its top athletes as "the guy"). Now, the guy from France is trained to head balls all over the field, and that makes his head a weapon of sorts, but it literally looked like the guy from Italy was hit at point blank range by a civil war cannon ball. I've never seen anyone that damaged in my life! To be honest, that was one of the more legitimate flops in the World Cup. Guys were flailing around all over the field, as if a sniper on the roof had just nailed them with an assault rifle, at the mere thought of a collision. It was ridiculous.

While on the subject, I'd like to know more about those stretchers that they used to carry "injured" players off the field. Were they made from the Shroud of Turin? There was obviously something supernatural about them because each time they'd carry an injured player off on one of those things, he'd return to the game only moments later with no signs of injury. After writhing on the ground for five minutes, and being hauled to the locker room on a stretcher, these guys would lolly-gag right back into the game and take off after the ball like a cheetah after a gazelle. So much for the life-threatening injury they seemed to have attained.

Look, I'm a sports nut. I love competition, but I just can't seem to make the leap from great games like football, basketball, baseball and hockey... to soccer. If you love the game, I mean you no disrespect. You probably hate football or some other sport that I adore. I'm not offended by that thought at all. I might give your game a second try if they stop all the ridiculous flopping. This is sports after all, not the Academy Awards.

Friday, July 07, 2006

My Brother Wrote a Book!

My brother just published a book called "All Things New: A very basic training on the End Times". Rusty has always been an achiever, but I can't imagine the kind of discipline it takes to put together such a work. Congratulations, Russ, on your first book. It won't surprise me at all to see another one come along soon.

Rusty has been generous enough to donate a large sum of the proceeds of this book to Project Pierce, my autistic son's educational fund. Thanks a bunch, big bro!!

An Eye Opening Experience (Warning: not for the faint of heart)

OK, this probably falls under the "too much information" category, but I went to the doctor today, and got more than I bargained for. Most of you know that I've had quite the struggle with anxiety, and the thought of going to the doctor is definitely not what the doctor ordered for those of us who get nervous at the thought of sharp needles (don't even bring up the dreaded rubber glove).

Well, needless to say, my doctor is very thorough. He asked me a few questions, and insulted my home town ("I'm surprised I can understand you. I've been to Lake Charles, and I have no idea what those Louisiana people are saying"), and then he directed me like a cow at a meat processing plant. I just blindly followed his every instruction! It's hard to remember the last time I was so completely under the spell of an authority figure. You'd have thought I was six years old again, following the instructions of my first grade teacher.

Not only did I get a shot, but I also had to go through the light-headed misery that comes when a person with General Anxiety Disorder gets their blood drawn by some lifeless, soul-less phlebotomist with no bedside manner. I swear this woman had shark eyes. Nothing's more creepy than shark eyes.

The worst part of the visit came when the doctor calmly asked me to drop my pants, and lean on that sanitized prefabricated cushion with the tissue paper draped across it like a coffee table runner. I swallowed hard, dropped my drawers, and listened carefully for the latex glove to pop against his clammy wrist. Then it happened. It's difficult to go into any detail here, but let's just say lubrication was involved, kind of like when you use liquid soap to get a ring off of your finger, except not like that at all.

Anyway, even though my appointment was at 7:30AM, I was certainly not sleepy when I left. I managed to get out of there with updated shots and records, but I also lost something pretty important. Noticeably missing from my person when I left was my dignity. Oh well, I guess it's better to lose your dignity for a day than to find out you've got prostate cancer. I think I'll take that trade any time.

No spiritual message here. I just thought I'd share with you the kind of stuff you go through when your doctor decides to get serious about your health. It's a pretty eye opening experience!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

When Church Becomes State

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I'm sure I'd disagree with this guy on many issues of faith and politics, but he got it right in his journal entry entitled "Red, White and Blue Idolatry & Why I Walked out of Sunday Morning Service". I've often felt this same sentiment as I sat in church and watched the service turn into a 4th of July celebration. I love America with the best of them, but church exists to give worshipers an opportunity to pledge their allegiance to much more than the stars and stripes.

When churches equate nationalism with divine faith, they head down a dangerous path. Ask Nazi Germany how all that worked out. Maybe it's time that churches adopted a "Separation of state and church" clause. It's toatlly appropriate to thank God for the blessing of living in a place that embraces freedom, but it couldn't be less appropriate to dedicate a service to the blessing rather than the blesser. That's the highest form of idolatry.