Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Wow, It's been a Long Time!!!

Since I've been on this account, in this blog. And guess what? I have my daughter back and we are doing so well. I thank GOD every day that she found her way back to me.

In case you wonder what we are doing in this account instead of my main myspace, what happened was the myspace applications. They sort of took over my regular myspace to the point where I'd miss good bulletins and things were always so chaotic. So, I decided to move family and friends away from the chaos and into a quieter, calmer place. Thank you for moving with me!!!

A Living Hope

A Living Hope
by Tim King..if ('Sep 27, 2008') {document·write(", Sep 27, 2008");}.., Sep 27, 2008

God speaks to us in many ways and through unexpected voices. Jesus’ story of a Samaritan who helps a wounded stranger, for instance, is not just a moral fable but deeply political tale that shook up the assumptions of his listeners. Could God really speak through a Samaritan?
Elsewhere Jesus tells his followers that they will find him – the very ikon of God, in whom the fullness of God dwells – in the face of the weak, the poor, the persecuted, and the hungry. Could God truly be found among the dispossessed?
God may have ruled through the Israelite kings but he spoke through the prophets. These unlikely voices often stood outside the normal channels of authority and credibility, confronting the powerful with uncomfortable truths – things they didn’t want to hear.
Today it’s easy and tempting to cast ourselves in the role of prophet, speaking the truth to power, and indeed we have a call to do so. It is much less comfortable for us, however, when God speaks to us from an unexpected place. Sometimes we take the role of the powerful David being called into account by Nathan, and this may take us off guard.
The Voice of God
At the Transmillennial 2008 conference, God spoke to us through a man named Bahjat. I don’t mean to suggest that Bahjat, an Iraqi Muslim now living the U.S., is a prophet – he certainly didn’t present himself as God’s spokesman. But I believe that God, for whom national boundaries are irrelevant and religious boundaries less important than we’d like to make them, is at work powerfully in Bahjat’s life and speaks clearly to us through Bahjat’s story.
That story is an uncomfortable one. Bahjat was a citizen of Baghdad who risked his life and his family’s safety to help the U.S. government secure Iraq in the aftermath of the fall of Saddam Hussein. He used his computer training and skills as translator to help an occupying force, risking shame and harm to help rebuild the country he dearly loves. He put everything on the line to help the U.S. while many of us risked nothing as we watched images of the war on television.
Bahjat’s courage is stirring, of course – even inspiring. The difficulty comes when Bahjat contrasts, in vivid detail, the price he paid to befriend our nation and the reception he received from the country he risked so much to help.
In broken English, Bahjat passionately narrated his experience. His slideshow of unforgettable photographs included an image of a bombed car that injured his brother and killed his friend. He questioned the cost of the war as he told of others in his work-group who were kidnapped, tortured and killed for assisting the U.S. forces. Bahjat shared how he worked with a hood over his face so that the opposition would not discover his identity. He told us that on two occasions he and his family received death threats from insurgent groups that felt betrayed by Bahjat’s commitment to freedom and peace in Iraq.
Bahjat realized they were not going to be safe in Baghdad. After several attempts to escape war-torn Iraq, Bahjat eventually made his way to the U.S., taking up residence in Florida. He shared with us the angst of being an Iraqi in America and the fear this caused potential employers who, one after another, turned him away. He spoke of the language barrier as well as the ethnic and religious hurdles. He asked us to imagine how we would feel in Baghdad, penniless and trying to survive in a culture we did not understand.
After risking life and limb to help the U.S., he felt abandoned as he attempted to begin life anew in America. No help was forthcoming in finding employment, becoming a U.S. citizen or even rescuing the remainder of his family still under the threat of death in Baghdad. As he spoke, we could feel his frustration and anger. The palpable sense of injustice and betrayal filled the air.
Contrasting life under U.S. occupation with life under Saddam Hussein, Bahjat invited us to see the world through his lens, to face a perspective unthinkable to those whose patriotism brooks no criticism: the occupying forces had not brought freedom and had actually contributed to making living conditions in Iraq much more difficult.
Most of us have watched the war from the comfort of our living rooms. Bahjat experienced it crashing in all around him. He showed us photographs of civilians killed and maimed and wounded. He dared to ask us to consider what their families would think of our country long after we left. What will history record as the American legacy in Iraq? So far, Bahjat confessed to us, that prospect is dismal.
Bahjat talked about freedom. We tend to think of freedom in abstract terms, partially because we take for granted the fruits of that freedom. We mistakenly assume that political freedom and material prosperity go hand in hand, or that one follows inexorably from the other. But our perceptions are not necessarily true.
Even under an oppressive regime, Iraqis like Bahjat had some basic ingredients of modern life, things like electricity, employment, and the comfort of lying down at night without worry or fear. These few comforts were taken away by an occupying force called “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” We can appeal, of course, to the long view or to the ideals of democracy, but these things don’t translate well to a people living in dread and deprivation.
A few people at the conference saw this as offensive, others saw it as sad. But I think we can all agree that this is his reality and something we had no right to question. I couldn’t help but think that, in his shoes, I would share his perspective.
Perhaps more than anything Bahjat’s story made me realize that if Presence is going to take societal transformation seriously then we must make room for the beliefs, feelings, and perspective of others. We must resist the urge to re-create them in our own image and to force our view of the world onto them. This is, I think, the temptation at the heart of colonialism – one that lives on in the lingering ethnocentrism of nationalistic fervor.
Bahjat and I live in different worlds, but his world is no less legitimate for not being mine. Jesus speaks clearly to us both, and his teachings are available to us both. Regardless of our life-settings, we are not separate. And for that I am called to lift his burden and to share his pain, even if he sees America – even if he sees Jesus – differently than I do.
Patriotism is a hot-button issue, especially in an election year. Those who fail to display or articulate the “proper” markers of patriotic sentiment may find their commitment to the country, even their citizenship, called into question. For some, patriotism means an uncritical acceptance of our administration’s policies, especially regarding the war in Iraq. Once troops are committed, suggests this line of thought, the time for debate is over and the only suitable patriotic response is unwavering loyalty and unflinching devotion to the cause as defined by the governing authorities.
Dissent at home is construed as unpatriotic and an affront to the truly noble and courageous men and women serving in the armed forces. It’s as if upon entering an armed conflict the entire country is under a warrior code where inquiring into our intentions, our strategy, or the reliability of our information constitutes disloyalty and a grave breach of honor; a true patriot stands behind the government come hell or high water. This line of thinking makes no distinction between supporting the troops and supporting the war. To suggest otherwise is to supposedly betray a naïveté and weakness when it comes to foreign policy.
But this is a false dilemma. It may be that to carefully consider and re-consider our reasons for entering a conflict, our means of prosecuting that conflict, and the terms and conditions for disengagement from that conflict is the only way to truly respect and honor the dedication and integrity of the U.S. forces. When we have, at our disposal, men and women willing to risk their lives at the command of others, it is imperative that we carefully consider the conditions under which we issue such a command. To speak out against an unjust or unnecessary war is to support the troops.
Clearly there are times when we must fight for freedom, when we have no choice but to take up arms in the cause of self-defense. The tragedy of September 11, 2001 is etched upon my mind. I have not forgotten, and I cannot forget. I do not relish war, but I recognize it as an inevitable reality of life in a world where unskillful living seems to be the norm. I believe there are things we must fight for, things we must be prepared to die for. I am not a pacifist.
But my patriotism cannot overlook the contradictions of life in America: Joy and sorrow. Hope and despair. Care and apathy. Poverty in the richest nation in the world. A superpower that fails to empower the least and the last. It’s difficult to read the Federalist Papers and believe that as a nation we’re anywhere close to where the founding fathers thought we’d be at this point. Nonetheless I’m comforted that if enough of us work together we can still do something about it.
Because patriotism has become conflated with nationalism, I feel that many of us have a limited and naive view of America and our role in the world. Too few seem to question the idea that the rest of the world should do things our way, should desire our idea of freedom, and should want what we think is the good life. Over two hundred years ago, we fought a bloody battle for self-determination and now we seem hell-bent on denying it to others. It appears that we prefer, instead, to confuse their freedom with a capitulation to the American Way. Shouldn’t freedom mean freedom to reject our way of life, to allow others to venture out on their own political experiment and seek their own destiny? Shouldn’t patriotism allow us to love our country while allowing others to love theirs?
Every now and then something happens to shake us loose from our complacency. A word from God breaks in and disturbs our slumber. A prophetic voice challenges and enlightens us. This is what Bahjat offered me – offered all of us – at the conference. It was not easy to hear. None of us wanted to face the possibility that we, as a nation, are raining terror upon another people, creating the possibility that they will look out upon a world and see no God, no savior, no hope.
From where I stand, I cannot help but feel we are abusing our power and our privilege whether we want to accept that or not. I hear the prophet Nathan saying to David, “You are the man.”
Embodying Christ
Presence International teaches a four-quadrant approach to life in the world. The covenantal transformation of the first century forges the way for us to live more skillfully and abundantly in the other quadrants – the areas of personal, organizational and societal transformation.
If we take this seriously then we recognize that God does not see national boundaries. Through Abraham’s seed, all nations are now blessed. And while national distinctions may be helpful in negotiating a complex world and our equally complex markers of human identity, there are no boundaries that separate us from God – nor are there distinctions that give us special favor in the sight of God.
National Public Radio gave Bahjat the opportunity to share his story, and a Presence board member (we’ll call him Rob) was listening. Because Rob takes our story seriously, Bahjat’s story presented him with a choice: he could brush off the interview or he could act. Rob could pay lip service to societal transformation or he could play a part in it. He could wax eloquent about American ideals meaningless to Bahjat or he could take a chance and extend himself to Bahjat just as Jesus extended himself toward us.
And that’s just what he did.
Calling the NPR affiliate in Florida, Rob made arrangements to meet with Bahjat in person. After an extensive interview, Rob moved Bahjat and his family into his own home and gave him a job. He got in touch with a U.S. Senator who is now helping Bahjat get the rest of his family out of Baghdad – to get them out of the peril they face because Bahjat helped our country. Through NPR, Presence, and this particular Senator, Bahjat is finally getting some help from a nation that otherwise turned its back on him.
It’s a fascinating story full of twists and turns, contradictions and irony. Most of all, it is a story about Jesus, about Christ coming to Bahjat through the efforts of a few, and of God coming to us in the face of the Other. It is Jesus with the Samaritan woman, God extending a hand to all creation – not just a special few based on religion, nationality or political affiliation.
It’s the story of Presence and our mission to take societal transformation seriously. The story of Bahjat is the story of how the world can be changed, of how we can be changed. Bahjat may never come to know America or even Jesus the same way many of us do. But through the love and compassion of Rob he has seen Jesus, and he is seeing a different side of America. More importantly, we have seen Jesus in Bahjat
Because we don’t live daily in a world where God and Caesar are at odds, it is easy for us to think they’re the same. Bahjat came to remind us that they’re not, and we have the opportunity to show Bahjat, and others like him, that we’re listening.