The Common Good

The Lebanon I Know

Sojomail - August 9, 2006

Quote of the Week : Pat Robertson sees the light - and the heat - on global warming
Politically Connect : Reflections on the Lebanon I know
Culture Watch : The art of being David Bazan
Colombia Journal : The children of God will not go to war
Media Watch : Articles you may have missed
Boomerang : Readers write
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Source: Religion News Service

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Reflections on the Lebanon I know
by Deanna Murshed

I wish more Americans knew the types of Lebanese people that I know: The gelled-up club goers, the halter-topped café hoppers. The plain-faced, ankle length-skirted fundamentalist Baptists. The serious arm chair philosophers and poets. Or the fun-loving, eat-drink-and-be-merry-for-tomorrow-we-die types (a state of mind you perfect after 20 years of it being literally true).

The Lebanese I know are as colorful as any nationality gets. But from the perspective of their neighbors, they are most commonly known for their cultural sophistication - a trait borne from living in a land so rich in natural beauty, history, and complexity. But you wouldn't get this picture of Lebanon watching the news of the Lebanon-Israeli conflict - by witnessing the mostly underprivileged southern Shiite villages turn into rubble, or hearing the impassioned pleas of select Arab spokespersons.

What has been almost as frustrating as seeing the disproportionate military response has been watching the disproportionate public relations machines play their parts. Even small differences in communications savvy can lead to wide disparities of power and leverage.

Don't get me wrong. Who can fault Arabs for impassioned pleas in a foreign accent when responding in English? But I can't seem to shake the trepidation I feel when I observe lesser polished commentators try to compete with the likes of Mark Regev (spokesman for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Washington, D.C.) speaking so eloquently on almost every major cable network in his Australian accent. Or seeing any number of press representatives justify Israel's right to "defend its borders" in unaccented English, completely on-point and on-message, over and over again, (in nice suits), as comfortable on camera as any U.S. counterpart. Anyone who understands how PR functions knows the power of presentation and articulate repetition.

But before anyone can accuse me of crying "media conspiracy," I simply wish the American public could see the Lebanon I have come to know. I recently argued with a Lebanese friend that if more Americans knew that Lebanon had been, for most of its history, a majority Christian region, and that churches were being caught in the crossfire, perceptions of the conflict might change. My friend rightly chided me for what he perceived as an attempt to distinguish between the value of a Christian life and a Muslim life.

However, my point was simply that - like it or not - there is a real human tendency to empathize most with those who look and talk like us. And ignoring human nature does justice no real service. The longer the American public remains isolated from the diverse and complex realities in the Middle East, the gulf of understanding and empathy will only widen.

Allow me to take a personal turn and say this: I love America. I wish some of my Arab friends overseas could know the Americans I know - their idealism, goodness, and generosity. I wish that the face of America abroad (through its foreign policy) could reflect the values that I admire and love. Because America, as Bono says, is not just a country. It's an idea.

Recently, while talking about why I love America at the dinner table at home, I welled up with tears when describing to my Jordanian-born father and Syrian-born mother (both my parents are now U.S. citizens) how, unlike many people in the world, Americans will readily give up their life to defend a people they have never met for a just cause. They agreed.

Ironically, one of the people who has most fanned the flame of my love for America has been a Lebanese Christian, one of my closest friends, who is now an American citizen. Having come to the U.S. with her family from a war-ravaged Lebanon in the early 1990s, she had not known a life without the constant threat of bombs (having lived much of her life hiding in bunkers, listening to Simon and Garfunkel). She was my roommate all through college and kept me up at night quoting The Federalist Papers, Thomas Jefferson, and John Locke - making sure I did not take the American experiment or the price of freedom for granted. We would argue until dawn, the way that wide-eyed undergrads do when coming upon universal ideas for the first time, about justice and politics and the Middle East.

But my friend also painted for me a complex picture of Lebanon's political and cultural landscape that I wouldn't have known just living in America. I would not have known the predicament Christian Lebanese felt when forced to choose Israeli or Palestinian allies, simply because they were caught in the middle.

In turn, I hope I offered her something from my experiences as a lover of and believer in the power of the universal church. Though we shared a common personal faith, the public expression of religion had made her skeptical - for its use as a wedge to divide warring factions, or as a naive ideology clouding the post-Enlightenment ideals upon which her new country was based.

But I have maintained a hope that the witness of the universal church can alone offer an alternative to blind nationalism.

This past weekend, my Lebanese-American friend treated me to a birthday weekend in Chicago at the Lollapalooza rock festival. There, we stood in Grant Park with a sweaty throng at the Flaming Lips show. (It was almost like our college days again, only our knees really, really hurt). To our surprise, the lead singer Wayne Coyne, after climbing out of a massive clear balloon he was using to stage dive, asked the crowd to sing along to his next song to "stop Israel from bombing Lebanon!" Everyone around us roared in agreement. My friend received the feeling of comfort you can only get from the solidarity of a crowd of roughly 10,000 (something I wish more of her Christian community could offer her.)

It got me thinking that, without intending it, this rock star modeled what I feel the church has always been called to and why I still believe in its power. Nations and individuals will fail. But my prayer is that the church would still speak for the voiceless, shine for justice and - if that's what it takes to get the crowds to sing its song - crawl out of its plastic bubble and be prophetic.

Deanna Murshed, integrated marketing manager at Sojourners, is a graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School's faith and culture program and a recently-converted The Flaming Lips fanatic.

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The art of being David Bazan
by John Potter

photo by Ryan Beiler
The former Pedro the Lion frontman on the sadness and freedom of going solo, having no chance of being understood, and why he can't stop writing about God.

For 11 years, Seattle singer-songwriter David Bazan wove desperate tales of death, deception, and occasional joy under the name Pedro the Lion. Recently named one of the “Top 100 Living Songwriters” by Paste magazine, Bazan’s often ironic narratives on faith, hypocrisy, and social justice frequently gain him comparisons with legendary author Flannery O’Connor. Over the course of their history, Pedro the Lion rose to indie rock royalty, seamlessly shifting gears between slow, acoustic hymns and loud, catchy anthems of modern discontent.

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New Discussion Guide from the Editors of Sojourners

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The children of God will not go to war
by Erik Turnberg, Christian Peacemaker Teams

... Today I witnessed a small vision of hope. It is Colombian Independence Day, which is marked in Bogotá by a grand military parade. Our team was invited to participate in a counter parade, organized by conscientious objectors, that would follow the military, cleaning the streets of the death left in their footsteps.

We followed in the wake of this parade bringing song and dance, street theater, signs and brooms sweeping the streets clean of violence. The group we were with chanted loudly "Los Jóvenes de Jehovah, no van a la Guerra!" ("The children of God will not go to war!") There are a growing number of Colombians standing up against great odds, and great personal threat, to struggle for a nonviolent and just peace.

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Alaska's majestic gray wolves are in grave danger. Marksmen use low-flying planes to chase the wolves, shooting them from the skies or running them to exhaustion and killing them at point-blank range. Like all living creatures, these wolves deserve a fair chance at survival. But instead of fulfilling our moral obligation to protect them as a legacy for future generations, the Bush administration has watched silently as hundreds have been massacred. Join us in urging President Bush to put an end to this brutal practice: Sign the petition to Save America's Wolves!


Articles you may have missed

Soldier sentenced to 28 days for refusing to serve in Lebanon Haaretz

Some Israeli pilots 'deliberately miss' targets to avoid killing civilians The Observer (U.K.)

Revealed: Ireland refused to allow bomb flights to land Sunday Herald (Scotland)

Ending the neoconservative nightmare Haaretz

Civilians lose as fighters slip into fog of war The New York Times

Sincere disapproval: Army Reservist's religious beliefs prohibited him from taking up arms Missourian

Evangelical leaders, Bush at odds over North Korea Religion News Service

Sojourners/Call to Renewal does not necessarily endorse the views in "Media Watch" articles or their source publications.

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Uncle Grumps - a Web site of books, music and ideas. This week's essay wonders what would have happened if Israel had dropped paint instead of bombs. Crazy, provocative, and worth reading.

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Readers write

Barbara Gentry writes from Denver, Colorado:

Yes, this is very stupid and unfortunate ["Minimum wage double-cross in Congress," SojoMail 8/2/2006]. However, I suspect if people tell their representatives not to vote for it (even if they explain), the situation will be spun as "People don't support a minimum wage increase." It was this pretzel logic that inspired AARP to support the Medicare drug benefit, even though everyone saw what a nightmare it would become. It's a tough call - hurt the country while giving some working poor (those covered by minimum wage laws) an extra $75 a week or help the poor anyway. I have a feeling if the bill doesn't pass, it will resurrect without the minimum wage part attached. One way or another, the GOP is going to put the estate tax cuts through. The poor might as well be helped at the same time.


Bernadette writes from Corpus Christi, Texas:

I agree with you on almost every topic but not on this one. I am a small business owner as is my husband and many other family members. I can tell you unequivocally that it will hurt the small business owner. Furthermore, I don't think that raising the minimum wage is the answer for employees at that level. I think the answer is, as it always has been, to get a skill or become an entrepreneur so that you aren't making minimum wages. Mowing lawns, delivering newspapers, delivering pizzas - these are all jobs that allow you to work harder and earn more than minimum wage if you're willing to work. They don't even require a skill other than hard work.


Robin Barre writes from Clinton, Washington:

The juxtaposition of the letters from Dr. Tamara Fiche and Maha Said-Shariff is a beautiful illustration of perspective, of how a person's story and perceptions of another's story is based on where that person stands [Boomerang, SojoMail 8/2/2006]. Somehow this seems to be a microcosm of what is going on in the larger world. Until we can learn to stand in the other person's shoes, hear what they hear, feel what they feel, we are going to continue to stand in judgment. As long as we refer to others as the faceless "they," remain righteously angry, refuse to begin being in relationship with the "other," then we are doomed to remain at war with one another. As someone who doesn't claim any religion, I nevertheless do subscribe to the teachings of the great spiritual leaders of the world who seem to me to be saying that we are to be listening to one another, that each of us resides in the Beloved, and the Beloved resides in each of us - whether I am Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Arab, Israeli, Iraqi, or American.


Rita Corriel writes from Allentown, Pennsylvania:

As an ardent peace activist and a Jew, I am horrified and outraged by Israel's invasion of Lebanon. I also believe the behavior of that right-wing government is a threat to all of world Jewry, and as a psychologist, I see this as a perfect example of self-fulfilling prophesy. The "world is anti-Semitic", therefore, we need to always be wary, and armed to the teeth, etc. "Never again!" becomes madness.

However, unfortunately, the "Christian" world has not had a very good history in its treatment of Jews and Muslims. So, I don't see how a "Christian" solution is really going to work here. In my opinion, better to be a human being broker for peace, than a "Christian" broker for peace. Do you truly think that Jesus cares HOW peace is made, as long as it is based in human respect and caring?


Gwen Packard writes from Veyo, Utah:

Our administration bragged about the free elections in Lebanon - but then when it realized that Hezbollah won seats in the new government, it suddenly decided that the government was not what it wanted. If a country has free elections, then its government is legitimate, whether we like it or not. Isn't that what democracy is all about? The people of other countries decide who will govern them, not this administration.


Want to make your voice heard? Click here to respond to SojoMail articles Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views, though we reserve the right to edit published responses for length and clarity.

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