Watch Aaron in the film Holy Wars

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A tortured life cut short--A reflection on Michael Jackson's tragic life


I used to draw crowds doing the moon- walk. Granted, I was five years old and the crowd was my friends and family. And my moon walk, well, let’s just say that white boys can’t dance—at least not this white boy. I can remember watching the Thriller video at my neighbor’s house and then asking my kindergarten teacher every single day if she’d play Thriller during the “magic carpet” hour. I was always disappointed when we got the Letter People instead.

Until I was at least 8 years old, Michael Jackson wasn’t just another pop star. He was a larger than life icon, the coolest guy on the planet that every little boy wanted to emulate. By the time I was 15, Jackson was already becoming a laughing stock, with his bleached skin, child molestation allegations, and the Oprah interview where he tried to convince the world that his white skin was the result of a skin disease. It was all down hill from there. For the rest of his life, Jackson tried to regain his glory days, but he never quite got there. Then last weekend, it all ended. Jackson died a tortured soul.

Those of us that remember the height of Michael Jackson’s glory—indeed he is already being called the Elvis of our generation—I think it would do us well to take a moment and reflect on how a man that achieved such spectacular success in his lifetime could delve to such depths of misery in his inner life. How could a man such as Michael Jackson be so miserable that he had to build an amusement park, bleach his skin, distort his facial features, pump his body full of pain killers, and who knows what else he did to himself that led to his early death? What can we learn from the tragedy of Michael Jackson?

Perhaps it’s best to hear from the man himself. In an interview with his former spiritual advisor Rabbi Schmuley Boteach, Michael had this to say about his life:

"I am going to say something I have never said before and this is the truth. I have no reason to lie to you and God knows I am telling the truth. I think all my success and fame, and I have wanted it, I have wanted it because I wanted to be loved. That's all. That's the real truth. I wanted people to love me, truly love me, because I never really felt loved. I said I know I have an ability. Maybe if I sharpened my craft, maybe people will love me more. I just wanted to be loved because I think it is very important to be loved and to tell people that you love them and to look in their eyes and say it."

It’s difficult to read these words without feeling pity on a soul so troubled and alone. On the other hand, it’s easy to cast the blame for Jackson’s soul-emptiness on his abusive father and unusual childhood. From the time Jackson was born, his entire life was based on having to perform to be loved. Although Jackson was adored by millions, the love that his fans gave him was based on his ability to sing and dance and entertain, not based on any intrinsic value in the man himself. It’s not that Michael Jackson wasn’t loved in his life. It’s that his experience of love was largely the kind with strings attached. If we listen to Michael’s words carefully, we’ll hear the words of a man longing for unconditional love.

My parents were by no means perfect, but I always knew that their love for me was not based on academic performance, musical talent, athletic experience, or even good behavior. I knew that they loved me because I was their son. More importantly, they raised me in a Christian church that taught me that I had a Father in heaven that loved me unconditionally. I knew that in some mysterious way, the meaning of Jesus dying on the cross had to do with the fact that God’s love for me had nothing to do with any kind of performance on my part. Knowing that was an anchor for me then, and it still is for me today.

As a Christian, when I look at Michael Jackson’s life, I wonder how it might have turned out if Jackson had come to know the God that I have always known. How might his life had turned out if Jackson would have realized that there’s a God up in heaven that loved him as he was, not as he should have been. Millions of people around the world have had terrible upbringings, but have found a spiritual anchor in the God of the Bible nonetheless. My prayer is that millions more will find the same love after reflecting on the tragedy of Michael Jackson’s death. One tortured life cut short is one too many.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Israel orders demolition of Christian homes in Old Jerusalem



I've been saying for the past three years that Israeli settlement expansions kick Christians out of their homes, so why don't more Christians in America speak out against it? Here is an article I found on my friend Stephen Sizer's blog:

Today the Jerusalem Inter-Church Centre has learned of new house demolition orders against at least four Christian families living inside the old city of Jerusalem where local Churches accommodate more than 500 homes for Palestinian families.

The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and the Catholic Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land own most of these homes. Churches are already facing difficulty in attaining renovation permits and expansion is almost impossible. One of the Church lawyers confirms that even the Churches already have court cases with the municipality of Jerusalem on similar issues.

One of the Church leaders bitterly criticize the different treatment given to Jewish settlers inside the city wall where they are granted permits for expanding and renovating the properties under their control. In these four cases in particular, the families were addressed individually by the Israeli municipal authorities and court cases are underway. One of the defendants, Sami Wakileh, recalls the Judge telling him, “It is a waste of your precious time. Do not dream of receiving any permit…”

This means that the existing home will be demolished sooner or later. Sami's house is actually an old building that he leased from the Church and spent over a hundred thousand dollars to fix and renovate. In another case, Bassam Ayyash, who rents a 50 square meter apartment from the Greek Orthodox Church inside the Patriarchate's convent has also received a demolition order claiming that this 50 square meter apartment is an expansion to his home! Bassam is puzzled with the persistence of the authorities in not agreeing to come and investigate the matter when he confirms, “My only home is the 50 square meter apartment."

Last month, ten Christian families in Beit Hanina, a suburb area of North East Jerusalem, received demolition orders for their six year old apartments in the Al-Sunbula building. Half of the building was licensed originally while permits to formulate the rest were not given. Now all the inhabitants face the same fate if the municipality carries out its threats. Housing inside Jerusalem has been a burden for all Palestinian families. With an extremely difficult process and impossible permit system coupled with the high cost of living in Jerusalem, building or having one’s own apartment is becoming a dream.

The Christian community struggles with the family re-unification system and residency rights restrictions imposed by the Israeli Authorities. When one Jerusalemite cannot live together with his or her spouse who is a West Banker under one roof inside Jerusalem, the ultimate effect is that less and less couples decide to get married. Father Ibrahim Faltas, the Roman Catholic Parish priest of Jerusalem, declared last week that the number of Catholic marriages this year is almost half of what they experienced during the previous years. New Jerusalem Christian families are more and more forced to leave their home city either to the neighboring West Bank or emigrate if they have the chance.

Source: Yusef Daher, Executive Secretary
Jerusalem Inter-Church Centre - JIC P.O.Box 741, Jerusalem 91000
Tel :+972 (0)2 627 4534, 628 9858 (Ext. 105) Mobile 050 5545 179

Posted orginally at http://www.stephensizer.blogspot.com,

Saturday, June 27, 2009

This should break down stereotypes

I found this video on Juan Cole's blog. It's a tribute to Michael Jackson from a group of Arab men in the Persian Gulf. Hopefully watching this will break a few stereotypes.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Testimonial for Alone with a Jihadist

Greeting Mr. Taylor, Recently I have attended the Book Expo America at the Javits Center in New York City. I enjoyed finding out more about the publishing world and speaking to authors. I took home a few books including yours "Alone with a Jihadist." At first I did not think I would like to read your book. But after reading a few lines, I have decided to take it home with me. Yesterday I read most of your book, and this morning I finsihed reading it. I must say Sir, you have helped me to understand better about what being Christian is all about. I'm aware about most of the things that you have writtenin your book. But know I have better understanding about how I feel withmy relationship to God, my adopted nation (USA) and my relationship with people in general. I was born in Haifa, Israel in 1950. I have traveled to many nations, which have helped me to understand and love other people who don't look like, speak my tunge and are not Christians. Sir, Please send this book ASP to President Obama. He need to read it in order to help him to make better decioins in how to respond to global issues and conflicts that may concerned his administration and, the USA. Best wishes to you, your wife and love ones. I do remain In the Faith, Michael Matthews Thank you for the book!!!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Should Christians back away from politics?


I just found this poll on Cal Thomas's website.
Is it time for Christians to redirect their efforts from politics mainly to the greater power inherent in the Kingdom of God?

To my shock and awe, 83% of the respondents said yes. Cal Thomas is a bit of an anomaly in the conservative Christian world. On the one hand, Thomas espouses political conservativism in his widely syndicated column, on the other hand he's been one of the leading voices decrying the political tactics of the religious right. Formerly a spokesman for Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority, Cal Thomas wrote a book a while back called Blinded By Might: Why the Religious Right Can't Save America.

In the book Thomas tackles the most prominent issues on the Religious Right's agenda and shows how they can not be won through political action. Here's what the official Amazon review says:
For example, by making the Pro-Life movement a political issue, he claims the Christian right has lost sight of more supportive antiabortion tactics, such as focusing on offering homes and finding jobs for destitute single mothers. Ultimately, the duo calls for a change in strategy--hoping to create followers of the Christian agenda through positive example, consistent living, and devout faith rather than brute political force.

That a conservative Christian columnist would take this position, and that such a high percentage of his readers would agree, is truly extraordinary. Another thing I appreciate about Thomas is that he hasn't succumbed to the mindless take-the-opposite-position-of-Obama-no-matter-what-the-position-is approach of men like Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck. In Thomas's latest column, he even had the gumption to say that President Obama has been right in his careful-not-to-appear-to-be-meddling- approach to the post-election situation in Iran. Rare indeed.

Although I have some substantial differences with Thomas--like for example his idea of transferring the Palestinian population to the surrounding Arab nations (tell me again Mr. Thomas why that isn't ethnic cleansing?)-- it's good to know that Thomas is at least willing to dialogue about some of his extreme views, as his ongoing dialogue with liberal Bob Beckel shows and the book Common Ground that they wrote together.

Which brings me to the point I'm fumbling around trying to make. Perhaps the question isn't should Christians be involved in politics, but how should Christians be involved in politics? However we as Christians decide to engage the political sphere, we should always be keenly aware of the corrupting influence of political power. No matter what side of the political aisle we find ourselves on, we should approach the issues with an attitude of humility and willingness to learn from others. Most importantly, our trust should be in the power of the gospel, not the power of Caesar. Cal Thomas seems to understand this. Let's hope that the rest of the Body of Christ in America catches on soon.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The worsening situation for Burma's Karen refugees


On May 24th 2009, Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), Junta backed troops attacked numerous villages in Paan District, Burma, causing the flight of at least 3,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDP’s). Many of the villagers fled, making their way to the Thailand Burma border where they are scattered in several locations within Thailand.

According to an inside source, whose name I've withheld for security reasons, yesterday’s delivery of relief supplies, consisting of rice and soybeans, was woefully inadequate. Many of the families are now living under plastic tarps donated by the United Nations Higher Council for Refugees. The people, cold and wet from the heavy rains, live in daily terror as they carefully scan the riverbeds, dreading the advancement of Junta soldiers who are positioned directly across the river from them.

With the eyes of the world on Iran lately, the term "human rights" has made it's way into the living rooms of millions of Americans through newspapers, talk radio, cable news, and the blogosphere. Typically the term is used to describe things like jailing political dissidents, shutting down the free press, or heavy handed tactics by riot police. All of these things are terrible, and in no way do I want to make light of the situation the Iranian people are facing today. But when it comes to the plight of the Karen People in Burma, it seems that the term "human rights abuse" falls woefully inadequate. What's happening to the Karen people is mass murder.

When the Karen villages are "ethnically cleansed", the Junta (or the DKBA) then place land-mines in the villages. Those that are left behind are usually forced into slave labor, sometimes having to perform the task of a "mine-sweeper" (use your imagination). Like the situation in Eastern Congo, rape is often used as a weapon of war, along with torture and a host of other crimes. To top it off, the Burmese regime also repeatedly uses "child soldiers" to carry out their most horrific crimes.

As I write this today, nobel-laureate Aung San Suu Kyi remains locked in Burma's most notorious prison for the crime of winning a democratic election nearly 20 years ago--and for helping a clueless man from Missouri who begged her to stay the night in her home after swimming across a river to see her. I'm glad the media gave this situation it's due attention. The problem is that without giving the broader context of the ethnic cleansing of the Karen people, it's very easy to relegate Aung San Suu Kyi's false imprisonment and phony trial to the category of just another "human rights abuse" when in fact there are things far worse going on in the country. The larger story unfortunately gets lost.

With everything that's happening in the world today, please let us not forget the plight of the Karen people in Burma. They need our financial support, our advocacy, and most importantly, our prayers.

If you'd like to lend your voice to the cause of democracy in Burma, check out the U.S. Campaign for Burma's website and sign their petition calling for an official U.N. investigation into the regime's crimes against humanity.

Aaron D. Taylor is the author of "Alone with a Jihadist: A Biblical Response to Holy War" To contact Aaron, you can e-mail him at fromdeathtolife@gmail.com or visit his website at www.aarondtaylor.com

Verse of the day. Psalm 68:5

A Father of the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy habitation.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Spouse or children?


First, a confession. I watched Jon and Kate Gosselin's break-up on Monday night's episode of Jon and Kate Plus 8. It may have cost me my man card, but I couldn't help it. I was glued. Having seen Jon and Kate on the cover of Charisma magazine and their book at my local Christian bookstore, I was grieved to watch another Christian marriage go down the tubes--in front of millions of people. What happened?

Many, of course, will point to the show itself as the downfall of their marriage, and that could very well be true; but as I watched the separate interviews last night (in my defense, last night was the only full episode I've ever watched) I couldn't help but notice the overwhelming emphasis on both of their parts that the ensuing divorce was "for the sake of the children."

In interview after interview, both Jon and Kate emphasized repeatedly that their first priority was their children. What was absent from the discussion was the priority of their marriage. It seems that their underlying assumption was that the health of their marriage had little to do with the physical and emotional well-being of their children.

Understand that I am not writing this in any way to pass judgment on Jon and Kate. Divorce is always a difficult thing to go through and there could very well be extenuating circumstances that the public doesn't know. The reason for me writing this is to pose a question to my readers.

I've always understood that the priorities of married people with children should be:

1. God
2. Spouse
3. Children

The reason for this, at least as it was always explained to me, is that when husbands and wives give priority to their relationship with each other, it provides a stable environment for the emotional health of children. Another way of putting it is to say that healthy children flow naturally from healthy marriages. Therefore, the marriage should come first.

Jon and Kate's assumption on the other hand, and many, perhaps the majority in my generation, seems to be that the priority flow chart looks like this:

1. God
2. Children
3. Spouse

I'm making an assumption of course about the God part. Since I don't know Jon and Kate personally, call that a benefit of a doubt. Here's the question I'd like to pose to my readers. Which of these flow charts do you think is the most accurate? Of course, I realize that if a spouse is a potential danger to children, then the other spouse should do whatever they need to do to protect their children. I'm talking about the marital priorities when normal problems arise. Is the flow chart that I've always understood accurate? Why or why not?

Discuss!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Lee Strobel validates the story approach to sharing faith

I read the article "Changing the Face of Apologetics" in Christianity Today's latest issue with great interest. As many of you know, Lee Strobel is best known for his books The Case for Christ, The Case for Faith, and The Case for a Creator. Strobel is a former atheist that came to faith in Christ when he decided to put his investigative journalism skills to use by subjecting the New Testament to the same rigorous standards he had applied to his profession as a journalist. His book The Case for Christ tells the story of his conversion to Christianity after he investigated the New Testament claims of Christ's resurrection. Countless people have come to faith because of this groundbreaking book.

Here's the part of the article that interested me. In his interview with Christianity Today, Strobel talks about how apologetics (which is the art of defending the Christian faith intellectually)has changed over time and now apologists (defenders of the faith) are much more likely to take a story approach in discussing the faith with seekers. In Strobel's own words:
They have become more relational, more story-driven. Josh McDowell would go on college campuses and describe why to trust the Bible. And people would come to faith in droves. Then they stopped coming to faith in so many numbers, and he didn't know why. And now he takes a story approach. 'You know,' he says, 'I was the son of the town drunk. This is how it affected my life and my relationship with (my dad). This is what prompted me to seek spiritually. This is the evidence I found. This is how my life was changed. This is how I reconciled with my father.' So it becomes a story.

That's what my ministry is about. I tell my story. I was an atheist. I scoffed. My wife became a Christian. It prompted me to investigate. Here's the evidence I found, how I received Christ, the difference it's made. It's a story. And I found that in postmodern America, people often are wiling to engage on the level of story.

Why does this interest me so much? Because here is one of the top defenders of the Christian faith telling his fellow believers that stories are the key to sharing the Christian faith. Since September of last year, my wife and I's ministry took a very decisive direction in making story telling the key to what we do in other nations. Since September of last year, we have aligned ourselves with a movement that emphasizes telling the simple stories of the Bible as the greatest need on the mission field today.

Rather than going into countries and preaching topical sermons, with three point outlines that all begin with the letter "C", we go in and teach pastors, laypeople, and missionaries how to take a simple story in the Bible, tell the story the way it's written in the Bible, and facilitate discussion around the story. We believe that telling Bible stories and facilitating discussion around the stories is the best method we have ever seen for evangelizing and making disciples. This touches on both the story approach and the relational approach that Strobel is publicly endorsing in America's premier evangelical publication. This is big.

Lee Strobel didn't exactly come out and endorse telling Bible stories as the next great movement in evangelism, but he didn't have to. Because if telling personal stories has worked so well in the ministries of some of America's top evangelists, how much more effective do you think that it will be telling God's stories that He put in His Word?

Think about it.

For more information on this radical new approach to missions, check out this website.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The DKBA in Burma is preparing for a slaughter-act now!

Let me get straight to the point. The Burmese army is slaughtering the Karen people as I write this. Over the past couple of weeks, the DKPA has forced thousands of Karen people living in IDP camps (camps for internally displaced people) to flee their homes and swim across the river to Thailand. Since then, they've placed land mines in the camps and are basically waiting for people to return so they can kill them. It's important to note that these internally displaced people have already been forced out of their homes once, which is why they were in IDP camps in the first place.

Here is the part where you come in. The Thai military is considering forcing these people to swim back across the river--to certain death. Last night I received an urgent e-mail informing me of the situation. I called Amnesty International and left a message. Apparently, their office is closed on the weekend. I know that they will know what to do, so I'd like for as many people as possible to call Amnesty International's office and tell them just what I told you. Perhaps they can organize a mass e-mail campaign to pressure the Thai military to do what is right for the new refugees. The number is 212-807-8400.

I urge everyone reading this to pick up the telephone, and then pray!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Evangelical Christians speak out for Afghan Civilians

I think every Christian needs to watch this video:



I found this video on Jim Wallis's God's Politics blog. How refreshing it is that Christians are speaking out for the victims of war!

For more information, go to Rethink Afghanistan's website.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Verse of the day. Psalm 55:22

Cast your burden on the Lord and He shall sustain you. He shall never permit the righteous to be moved.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Finally a Christian speaking out for singles!

I've been married since I was 23, so it's very difficult for me to relate to what it means to be a Christian single, but I've felt for a while that Christian singles, especially those past college age are getting a raw deal. On one hand, secular culture makes Christian singles feel like a cross between a prude and a dork because their values tell them to save sex for marriage--think 40-year old virgin. On the other hand, they have to endure week after week of feeling like second-class Christians in church cultures that practically idolize marriage.

If you don't believe me, ask yourself this question. When was the last time you heard a sermon on the exalted state of singleness? You don't remember? I'm not surprised. Did you know that both Jesus and Paul emphasized singleness as a preferred state of being over marriage? (Matthew 19:3-12, I Corinthians 7:8-9,27,32-35,38)

Let me say it loud and clear. Christian singles, there is nothing wrong with you! Please check out the website of an up and coming author named Ed Houston. I think Houston is doing a great service to the Body of Christ by addressing the subject of singleness in a positive manner, not simply as a dead man's zone between adolescence and marriage.

The Body of Christ desperately needs fresh voices like these.

Thank you Ed!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Save a family from home demolition

Below is an SOS sent out from the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions, an Israeli human rights activist organization. As Christians we should support our Jewish brothers and sisters that are standing for human rights over and against violence and oppression.

Save Beit Arabiya!
ICAHD Staff
Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Urgent action required: The Israeli Supreme Court has just ruled that the home of Salim and Arabiya Shawamreh in Anata, which has already been demolished by the Israeli authorities four times, can be demolished yet again. The Shawamreh home has become a symbol of resistance to Israel’s house demolition policies and deserves our support. Please forward this to your lists and raise this issue in your advocacy campaigns. Contact your political representatives and the Israeli embassies and consulates in your country. Tell them that the Shawamreh home (Beit Arabiya) cannot be demolished again. Indeed, tell them that NO Palestinian home should ever be demolished again!

------------------------------------------------------

Since 1967, the Israeli authorities have demolished more than 24,000 Palestinian homes in the Occupied Territories, some as “collateral damage” in military operations (4000 homes were demolished in the recent invasion of Gaza), some as collective punishment (the obliteration of the Jenin refugee camp in 2002 being just one example), many others for lack of a building permit, though Israel intentionally withholds building permits from Palestinians. In a particularly cruel twist used by the courts, thousands of Palestinian families have been forced to demolish their own homes under pressure of fines and imprisonment. Tens of thousands of demolition orders remain outstanding in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and can be implemented at any time.

The issue of house demolitions first penetrated the public consciousness on July 9, 1998, when the Civil Administration, Israel’s military government in the West Bank, came to demolish the home of Salim and Arabiya Shawamreh and their six children in “Area C” of Anata, northeast of Jerusalem. Mobilized in time by Israeli and Palestinian activists, it was the first opportunity Israelis, diplomats and journalists actually had to witness a home demolition. The courageous resistance of the Shawamreh family and the international attention the demolition received put the issue of house demolitions on the political map. Over the years many local and international NGOs have highlighted this issue, including Amnesty International. Recent reports by OCHA and the EU have also focused on the illegality of house demolitions. Today the obligation of Israel to cease demolishing Palestinian homes is enshrined in the first phase of the Road Map initiative. Much of this success is due to the Shawamreh family’s resistance.

Now they need our help. Last week, after a delay of more than two years, a three judge panel of the Israeli Supreme Court (Justices Eliezer Rivlin, Ayala Procaccia and David Cheshin) rejected the Shawamreh family’s second appeal to have the 17-year demolition order on their home rescinded. The Shawamrehs’ petition to the Court to issue them a building permit was also rejected. As of Sunday, June 7th, the Civil Administration is authorized to demolish their home for the fifth time. It is clear that the Shawamrehs cannot find justice in the Israeli court system. One of the family’s chief claims, rejected out of hand by the Court, argues that the Fourth Geneva Convention forbids an Occupying Power from extending its law and administration into an occupied territory, rendering the very process of granting or denying permits to Palestinians patently illegal under international humanitarian law.

Understanding that this argument has no standing in Israeli courts (who rule on the basis that there is no occupation and therefore the Fourth Geneva Convention protecting civilians under occupation is irrelevant), the family then argued that the legal basis accepted by Israel for demolishing their home and thousands of others in the West Bank – RJ-5, a 1942 British-era plan that designated the entire southern portion of the West Bank as “agricultural land” – was itself illegal since it has never been revised over the past 67 years despite significant changes in demography and land use. Besides using the plan to deny the Shawamrehs their fundamental right to housing, RJ-5, they argue, is also used in a discriminatory manner, since the Israeli authorities set it aside when approving dozens of Israeli settlements on the same land denied to Palestinians for building. This argument, too, was rejected by the Court.

The Shawamrehs then argued that their failure to obtain a permit, despite repeated requests for building permits from the Civil Administration (for which they had to spend $15,000 in fees), was based on no substantive reason. Indeed, the Civil Administration itself had declared in an interview in Ha’aretz newspaper that the Shawamrehs would be granted a permit if they provided what the Civil Administration claimed were two missing signatures on their deed of ownership – yet it would not reveal what signatures were required despite repeated queries, finally saying they lost the Shawamreh file altogether.

All this, plus their repeated appeals to the Supreme Court, constituted, the family argued, an unreasonable state of affairs in which all legal channels of redress were denied or closed. They had demonstrated good faith and a willingness to do whatever the Israeli authorities required, despite the illegality of Israeli policies, but were nevertheless refused. Not only did the judges reject this argument, but in their ruling they accused the Shawamrehs of “bad faith” and “unclean hands” since they had rebuilt their home four times without the proper permit. To add insult to injury, the judges then fined them $2000 for having the audacity to bring their case to court.

ICAHD is extremely concerned that the Shawamrehs’ home will be quickly demolished by the Civil Administration. Beit Arabiya, as it has become known, is a central meeting place for Palestinians, Israelis and international peace activists. The Shawamreh family deserves the support of the international community in their time of need. Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, residents of occupied territories are supposed to enjoy double protection. The Occupying Power, Israel in this case, is enjoined to protect the rights and well-being of Palestinians under its control, while the international community, through the High Contracting Parties, is required to guarantee the same. In both cases the Shawamrehs and the thousands of families they represent have been let down. When they take steps to actualize their fundamental rights, such as rebuilding their demolished homes, they find they have no effective legal or political protection.

Governments will only act if pushed by the people. We call on you to raise your voices against the impending demolition of the Shawamreh home – and in so doing against Israel’s overall policy of demolishing Palestinian homes as it attempts to drive them from the country.

Would Jesus call Sotomayor a racist?


Evangelical Outpost has long been considered one of the top blogs for Christian conservatives, which is why I was pleasantly surprised to see a post from one of their bloggers introducing some sanity to the debate over Supreme Court nominee Sotomayor. While the right wing radio hosts, bloggers, and "Christian" politicians have showed no restraint in using the words "judicial activist" and the more serious label "racist" to describe Sotomayor, here is what EO blogger Evelyn Baker Lang has to say about Sotomayor's supposed statement that the courts are where policies are made:

The trouble with using this statement to prove Sotomayor is a radical revisionist who legislates from the bench is twofold. First, her record simply doesn’t show that’s the case. Second, it’s just a little civics 101. Someone, usually the White House, proposes policy. Congress enacts legislation to put that policy in action. The Executive Branch, usually the bureaucracy, executes that policy. But in the policymaking process, the courts determine what the law says. That interpretation determines what the policy looks like in practice. Instead of fearing a radical jurist, we should be delighted that a nominee to the Supreme Court recognizes that power and, so far, has cautiously exercised that power. Let’s hope for a quick confirmation full of excellent debate over constitutional interpretation!


You can read the rest of the article here.

I've been very concerned lately about how easily "Christian" politicians and opinion shapers have succumbed to throwing epithets around at people they disagree with. Epithets like "racist" (describing people that believe in affirmative action) and "baby killer" (I think you know what that's referring to). The list goes on. You get the idea.

Perhaps they forgot that the only time Jesus resorted to name calling was when He was dealing with people within His own faith tradition. As far as I know, Jesus never resorted to name-calling when dealing with people outside the Jewish community (except when he called the Canaanite woman a "dog" but even then, he was tricking his disciples to expose their anti-gentile prejudice). Jesus did, however, use terms like "hypocrite" and "brood of vipers" when confronting people of His own faith.

The lesson for evangelicals today is that we should be brutally straightforward when dealing with sins like hypocrisy and racism in our own ranks, but gracious towards people perceived to be outsiders (I use the words "perceive" because I have no idea whether Sotomayor considers herself an evangelical Christian or not).

Thank you Evangelical Outpost for not succumbing to baseless name calling.

Right wing blogosphere take notice!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Verse of the day. Nahum 1:7

The Lord is good. A stronghold in the day of trouble. And He knows those who trust in Him.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The line between truth and hate speech is sometimes blurry

Last year in the small African country of Guinea Bissau, a blind man was brutally attacked by a group of radical Muslims inside a church building. In an undisclosed country in North Africa, three Muslim background converts to Christianity were kidnapped, tortured, and, as far as I know, remain in captivity today. In Pakistan, a group that many Pakistanis believe is an Islamic charity has been known to kidnap Christian children, sell them into prostitution, and use the profits to finance global terror. These are stories from people that I know personally from my travels. You’ll find many similar stories in Brother Andrew’s remarkable book Secret Believers.

Allow me to be brutally honest for a moment. Though I think it’s great that there are high profile Christian leaders seeking to build bridges of tolerance and respect with those of the Muslim faith, undoing negative stereotypes through peaceful dialogue; sometimes I wonder why the same leaders seem so hesitant to speak out against what’s happening to our brothers and sisters in Christ suffering under Islamic extremism in Muslim lands. Are they afraid they might be guilty of inciting hatred by telling the truth? On the other hand, sometimes I wonder about what the consequences would be if I went around from church to church telling only stories of Islamic extremism verses Christian heroism. Would I be telling the whole story?

If I sound conflicted. I am. In my upcoming book “Alone with a Jihadist: A Biblical Response to Holy War” I use some pretty strong language decrying Christian Zionism—even calling it “ethnic cleansing for Jesus”—because some pretty horrific things are happening to the Palestinian people and there are lots of clueless Christians in America actively supporting it—financially. When I shared some of my feelings with a close spiritual mentor, the response I got was, “Aaron, there’s a lot of demonically inspired anti-Semitism going around these days. With neo-Nazis and people like that. I just don’t want to see you becoming a voice for the enemy.”

Frankly, neither do I. I recognize Israel’s right to exist and also condemn Palestinian terrorism. I realize that not all Jews are Zionists and equally true is the fact that not all Zionists in Israel are anti-Palestinian. But am I a hundred percent certain that people will take my words in the spirit in which they are written? Hardly. There’s a common myth in the Muslim world that it was the Zionists who masterminded 9/11, not Islamic extremists. That of course is ridiculous, and so is the idea that the Zionists are the reason why you can’t pay off your credit card balance.

Those of us who think of ourselves as “progressive evangelicals” may comfort ourselves that it was a white supremacist that carried out the horrific attack at the holocaust museum last week, but let’s get honest with ourselves; the attack could have also been carried out by an anti-Israel leftist. Or what about the Muslim convert that killed the army recruiter in Arkansas? Is it possible that all the leftist talk calling Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld war criminals and equating them with Hitler—something I do not agree with by the way—might have incited this man to violence? Maybe.

Scripture says that Christians are to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). That should be our standard. The problem is even if we do speak truth in the most sensitive ways, that doesn’t guarantee that people won’t twist our words to justify their own selfish ends. People certainly twisted the Apostle Paul’s words to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:15-16). Consider the Apostle Paul talking about homosexuals “receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due,” (Romans 1:27). Sometimes I wonder if Paul’s words in this passage would be classified as “hate speech” by today’s standards.

Where is the line between truth and hate speech? To be honest, I don’t really know. All I can do is make the best attempt to let my speech be “with grace seasoned with salt.” Perhaps that’s all any of us can do. Having said that, remember the story in the beginning about the blind man in Guinea Bissau that was attacked by radical Muslims inside a church building? The rest of the story is that after this incident, the Muslims in the region universally condemned the action, calling it anti-Islamic, and vowed never to let an incident like that happen again. Perhaps we could use a few more rest of the stories.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Testimonial for Alone with a Jihadist


Taylor’s journey to pacifism takes us from a charismatic upbringing to dramatic encounters with other faith traditions, and raises pertinent questions for our generation. Challenging the legitimacy of US Christians’ reliance on war amidst worship of the “Prince of Peace,” Taylor guides us down this road of hypocrisy, delivering insight on Christian Zionism, the violent Evangelical, and the US Muslim conundrum. A Christian voice for peace, providing evidence of our need for change as well as practical steps to take to get there, Alone with a Jihadist will make a knock-out debut.

Laurel Frodge, Sojourners

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Another casualty of a white man's hatred

When I first heard that there was a shooting at the Holocaust Memorial Museum today, my first thought was that this despicable crime was carried out by an Islamic extremist. I imagine a lot of others made the same assumption as well. Naturally with so much in the news about Iran's president--perhaps soon to be late president-- Ahmadenijad making public statements denying the holocaust, it's all too easy to cast the anti-semitic stereotype squarely at the feet of Muslims alone, as if being Muslim is somehow equated with being anti-semitic.

As we learned today, what a grave mistake that is! The reality is anti-semitism has historically been a white phenomenon. Think of the Inquisition, the Russian Pogroms--and the Holocaust. This is why it should come as no surprise that the shooter at the Holocaust memorial museum was a white supremacist, not some hot tempered "son of Ishmael" (as the T.V. preachers like to say) destined to create trouble for the Jews because of some longstanding blood feud between the descendants of two historic brothers. Indeed, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has already released a statement saying:

"We condemn this apparent bias-motivated attack and stand with the Jewish community and with Americans of all faiths in repudiating the kind of hatred and intolerance that can lead to such disturbing incidents."

I think that white Americans need to stand up and take notice. Perhaps we need to give some deeper thought as to what we mean when we use the word "terrorist." As we've seen today, a Jew hating terrorist isn't just someone with the first name "Achmed" (think of Jeff Dunham's Achmed the dead terrorist") and an ethnicity labeled "Palestinian." Anti-semitic terrorism comes in all shapes and colors.

My thoughts and prayers go to the family of the security guard that was murdered today. May they feel the comfort of Christ in this dark hour.

Help my friend get his story told on the big screen!

Below is an e-mail I received from Terry McIntosh. I've been following Terry's ministry for about 6 months now and have spoken with him on the phone and interacted by e-mail several times. Terry's ministry has led hundreds of Palestinians to Christ in the West Bank. Now he's asking your help and my help to tell the world a story that took place in his life in 1969 when he was a Green Beret in Vietnam. I've read the script. It's a remarkable read. What's even better is knowing that whatever money Terry would make from this film, much of the proceeds would go directly into spreading the gospel.

Here is his letter:


Well, saints, this is unusual and not ministry related at all. I have a very personal request to make of you as a friend. If you can do it, I much appreciate your input, and if not, I certainly appreciate that just as well without apology from your end.

Let me explain: I served with the Green Berets in Vietnam on an "A" team that was ordered to execute a double agent with "extreme prejudice." Military pundits refer to the incident as the "Green Beret Affair." It is a well documented event that inspired Daniel Ellsberg to release the infamous Pentagon Papers. Some of the info is posted on our website at www.usajourney.us "About Us." It was initially posted to counter claims that I don't understand war as a result of my preaching regarding Israel and the Palestinians. Although I am proud of my military service, I am not proud of this particular incident.

At Susan's insistence, I penned a not so professional book, actually published, about my experience with the affair. Over the years, I have refined it a few times. The character Mac is based on my personal experiences and reflects my thoughts and actions. Every incident in based on a real event, but BASED ON tells you that the story has been dramatized to make it more interesting. Example: In the book, Mac is arrested, but in reality I was not. Since the story evolves around Mac, it was only proper to include the character in the final episode. Some other incidents, and names, have been altered, but everything one reads is based in reality.

The Vietnamese double agent and I ran a few combat missions together. Once he was suspected of spying, orders came down to execute the man. Since our team sponsored a top secret intelligence gathering operation into Cambodia against all the political rules of the day, it was determined that we could not arrest and prosecute the agent without exposing the operation, and therefore place many of our own agents in harms way.

The spy was taken out of camp on a bogus mission where he was interrogated and then killed by order of higher command. Information leaked out and the trigger man, along with several administrative officers who conspired to kill the agent, were arrested. Charges were eventually dropped when President Nixon refused to allow the CIA to testify. Not all of us were present at the interrogation and execution. We were never charged with complicity because we signed documents under duress stating that we knew nothing about it, or about any top secret incursions into Cambodia. I have not revealed anything still secret about the operation or people involved. The shooter, a fellow team member, eventually admitted to killing the spy, so I have not indicted him against his own will. No further charges have ever been filed, and never will be.

Now to the point: I have made the transition from book to Hollywood movie script form, and have posted the script on a screenwriters web site for public and/or professional review by interested parties. There are many others there, and only the highest rated get top attention. A new script can get lost rather easily among the many listed. The top 5 scripts are highlighted for special attention. Each script is rated by anyone who reads it. A writer cannot review his own script. Therefore, I hope you can review the script and rate it as you feel led to do so. If my work is reviewed and rated favorably, it could become one of those highlighted for attention. I am sure that those who are presently rated enjoy the help of family and friends to get there. In the past, some scripts that began on this website made it to film. All things are possible through Christ, and I remain a dreamer of good things.

The read is 121 scripted pages. A script read is shorter than regular length because of the screenplay format. There is no cost involved to read any script, but you must register and sign in to post a review. It is a simple process and grants you immediate access. Go to scriptbuddy.com, register, and then go to the screenwriter community. Scroll down to locate "Murder by Order - The Green Beret Affair." Instructions on how to rate and feedback are at the end of the document. You can leave the site and return later to finish the review if time does not permit a one time read through.

If you should decide to read through this, it is different from a book read. You should envision each scene as if it was on screen. You are, in effect, the director of scenes in that way. Doing so adds the visual to help you see the story from the movie goer's point of reference.

WARNING: The script contains mild language that some of us have used at one time or another to our own embarrassment. It never takes the Lord's name in vain or uses sexually explicit words. However, if some socially unacceptable words are an offense to you, please do not review it. I don't want to offend your conscience, or have you think less of me because of it. Romance is included, but only refers to an immoral encounter without explicit scenes. It is there because it is part of the real story.

Otherwise, I share this part of my life with you, and if you care to rate the script honestly, I will appreciate your help. If you like it, please encourage your friends to read and rate. It will take a lot of participation to hit the top 5 spot, but if it does, it can get further attention.

Keeping Christ first in all things,
Terry

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Early Christians' views on war, power, and politics

In my upcoming book "Alone with a Jihadist: A Biblical Response to Holy War" I've written some things that are likely going to get me into trouble with a lot of religious people. One one level, I feel sorry that I have to offend so many people, especially people that I love and respect. On another level, I feel a sense of righteous indignation (at least I hope it's righteous indignation and not something else) that what passes for Christianity today in the Western world is so far from what Jesus, the Apostles, and the early Church had in mind. The quotes below cover the period of the first two centuries of Christian history. As far as I know, no historians dispute what you are about to read. As you read these quotes, I'd like for you to ask yourself a question. Which is more likely? That the early Church after the closing of the New Testament, and hence closest to the lives of Jesus and the Apostles, started out in error but then gradually came to the truth around the time of Constantine--or the other way around?

The Early Church and the World, Professor C. J. Cadoux writes: “Up to the reign of Marcus Aurelius at least [161-180 C.E.], no Christian would become a soldier after his baptism.”

“Early Christianity was little understood and was regarded with little favor by those who ruled the pagan world. . . . Christians refused to share certain duties of Roman citizens. . . . They would not hold political office.” (On the Road to Civilization—A World History, A. K. Heckel and J. G. Sigman, 1937, pp. 237-8)

The Encyclopedia of Religion states: “The early church fathers, including Tertullian and Origen, affirmed that Christians were constrained from taking human life, a principle that prevented them from participating in the Roman army.” In his book

“A careful review of all the information available goes to show that, until the time of Marcus Aurelius [Roman emperor from 161 to 180 C.E.], no Christian became a soldier; and no soldier, after becoming a Christian, remained in military service.”—The Rise of Christianity (London, 1947), E. W. Barnes, p. 333.

The book The Early Christian Attitude to War says: “Inasmuch as they [Jesus’ teachings] ruled out as illicit all use of violence and injury against others, clearly implied [was] the illegitimacy of participation in war . . . The early Christians took Jesus at his word, and understood his inculcations of gentleness and non-resistance in their literal sense. They closely identified their religion with peace; they strongly condemned war for the bloodshed which it involved.”

“They refused to take any active part in the civil administration or the military defence of the empire. . . . it was impossible that the Christians, without renouncing a more sacred duty, could assume the character of soldiers, of magistrates, or of princes.”—History of Christianity (New York, 1891), Edward Gibbon, pp. 162, 163.

“The behavior of the [early] Christians was very different from that of the Romans. . . . Since Christ had preached peace, they refused to become soldiers.”—Our World Through the Ages.

” And The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, by Edward Gibbon, states: “[Early Christians] refused to take any active part in the civil administration or the military defence of the empire. . . . It was impossible that the Christians, without renouncing a more sacred duty, could assume the character of soldiers.”

The Catholic Herald of London stated: “The first Christians . . . took Jesus at His word and refused to be conscripted into the Roman army even if the penalty was death. Would the whole of history have been different if the Church had stuck to its original stand? . . . If the churches of today could come out with a joint condemnation of war . . . , which would mean that every member would be bound in conscience to be, like the Christians, a conscientious objector, peace might indeed be assured. But we know that this will never happen.”

“Early Christianity was little understood and was regarded with little favor by those who ruled the pagan world…Christians refused to share certain duties of Roman citizens…They would not hold political office.” --- On the Road to Civilization, A World History (Philadelphia, Chicago, etc; 1937) Albert K. Heckel and James G. Sigman, pp 237, 238.

“Zealous Christians did not serve in the armed forces or accept political offices.”-- World History, The Story of Man’s Achievements (River Forest, Ill; 1962) Habberton, Roth and Spears, p. 117.

“While among Romans it was considered the highest honor to possess the privileges of Roman citizenship, the Christians announced that they were citizens of heaven. They shrank from public office and military service.”-- “Persecution of the Christians in Gaul, A.D. 177” by F.F.G. Guizot, former prime minister of France, Vol. III of The Great Events by Famous Historians (New York; 1905), Rossiter Johnson, ed, p. 246.

“The Christians were strangers and pilgrims in the world around them; their citizenship was in heaven; the kingdom to which they looked was not of this world. The consequent want of interest in public affairs came thus from the outset to be a noticeable feature in Christianity.” – Christianity and the Roman Government (London; 1925), E. G. Hardy, Principal of Jesus College, Oxford, p. 39.

“The emperors disliked Christianity because it seemed unpatriotic and un-Roman.”—The Course of Civilization, Volume One, (New York; 1961), p. 144.


It's time for a Reformation!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Thoughts on Obama's speech to the Muslim world


The world stood at attention today as President Obama gave a historic speech to the Muslim world. In mainstream U.S. media, expectations of the speech ran from highly pessimistic to cautiously optimistic. For a sizable minority in the U.S., the very idea of the speech in a place such as Cairo Egypt represented either a cow-towing to terrorism--or worse, a secret plot to turn the U.S. into a Muslim nation by a president who's secretly a Muslim himself.

Adulation and frenzy aside, since the speech was addressed to Muslims, what matters at this juncture isn't so much how most Americans will view Obama's historic action, but how the vast majority of Muslims will view it. With this in mind, I thought I'd offer some perspective as someone who has lived and worked in the Muslim world and has spent considerable time analyzing world events in light of a Christian missionary perspective.

First, the praise. President Obama didn't waste time acknowledging the achievements Islamic civilization has made to world history. By praising Islamic contributions to fields such as science, philosophy, and architecture; the president touched on an issue felt deeply by most Muslims worldwide--the knowledge of a lost golden age. Although knowing this might not mean much to us, the fact that the president acknowledged some positive aspects of Islamic history probably caused a few teary eyes from some proud Muslims.

The president went on to acknowledge the tension fed by Western colonialism that "denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims" and, even more recently, how during the Cold War many Muslim nations were "often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations." The historical truth of this statement is undeniable, but thankfully, Obama didn't stop there. He also directly challenged jihadist propaganda with the words: "Just as Muslims to not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interesed empire. The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress the world has ever known."

The president also touched on the religious freedom issue, promised additional development aid for Pakistan and Afghanistan, recognized Iraqi sovereignty by honoring their wishes to withdraw troops by 2012, affirmed his support for Israel while recognizing Palestinian grievances, made it clear that democracy should not be imposed on other nations by force, reaffirmed his commitment to a nuclear free world ( a position that John McCain recently signed onto I might add), and made it clear that the U.S. is not seeking a permanent military presence in Afghanistan. All of these are very important steps for eroding the base of support for Al Qaeda and like-minded groups.

Now, the criticism. Obama in my opinion went too far in emphasizing common values between America and Islam. In Obama's words, "America and Islam are not exclusive, instead, they overlap and share common principles." I beg to differ. America was founded on the Christian/enlightenment principle of separation of church and state. In Islam, the idea of a separation between church and state--or more accurately mosque and state--is an anathema. These ideas are worlds apart and it takes a whole lot of cherry picking of Koranic verses by liberal and moderate Muslims to try to reconcile the two.

I also felt that the manner in which the president addressed the religious freedom issue was weak. Although the president did say, "freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one's religion" he didn't touch on the reciprocity issue, which is the fact that Muslims enjoy--and often demand-- freedom in the West to propagate their faith but deny the same freedom to minority religions in their own countries. While the president could have made a clear moral appeal on this issue, all the world got was, "Among some Muslims, there is a disturbing tendency to measure one's own faith by the rejection of another's." Lame.

The president's address of women's rights wasn't much better. While he spoke to the issue of allowing women the freedom to wear the head scarf (translation: we're not France!), this is an issue affecting Muslim women in the West. It has little to do with the lives of millions of Muslim women living in Muslim countries. The president could have taken this time to condemn the stoning of adulteresses, absurd rape laws, the kidnapping of young Christian girls to marry older men, and a host of other rampant abuse that many Muslim women suffer by their male counterparts.

Will the president's speech make a positive difference in U.S./Muslim relations? Yes it will, but the impact will be minimal. It's very important to understand that there was very little in Obama's speech that hasn't already been said by previous administrations--including the Bush administration. Even on the issue of calling on Israel to freeze settlement expansion, the president said nothing new. As a matter of fact, every president from Carter until now has said the same thing, and absolutely nothing has changed because Israel refuses to comply to America's wishes and America continues to bankroll the Israeli government. Muslims know that President Obama is very unlikely to change the status quo in this arrangement--especially with Netanyahu in power.

Another reason why the president's words will ring hallow in many Muslim ears is because the speech seemed to be directed at contradicting jihadist propaganda while speaking very little to the issue that the vast majority of Muslims care about the most--more political and economic freedoms. Poll after poll shows that the vast majority of Muslims want more democracy, not less. Many Muslims, however, see the U.S. as an obstacle to democracy because we are the ones supporting many of the oppressive dictators ruling over them.

Will the speech spur a change of heart in Al Qaeda members and like minded groups? Of course not! The only way to deal with these people is to pursue an aggressive agenda, along with our allies, to disband their networks, freeze their assets, arrest the murderers, and bring them to justice. The speech will however, contribute to eroding the base of support for radical Islam if it's followed by sound policy. Christians should pray that God gives our nation's leaders wisdom on exactly what those policies should be. Because for Muslims worldwide, actions speak louder than words.