John Kerry got in trouble. His crime, as Israeli columnist Noam Sheifaz put it, was “speculating that theoretically, in the distant future, Israel could do something bad.” Specifically, he said that unless a two-state solution can be brokered between Israel and Palestine, Israel will either end up with a democratic society without a Jewish majority or an apartheid state in which Palestinians don’t have equal rights. The problem was that he said the word apartheid. And the right-wing pundits have pounced, calling him an anti-Semite and saying that he should resign as secretary of state. So what’s with these words “apartheid” and “anti-Semite”? Is it anti-Semitic (racist against Jewish people) to say anything about Israel that isn’t cut-and-pasted from the Israeli lobby’s talking points? I wanted to share some perspective that I gained after a conversation with a rabbi friend that began very heated but ended well. Continue Reading
Today is Yom Kippur, Judaism’s day of atonement. It’s a day for fasting, repentance, and healing. Atonement is a concept that Christianity inherited from Judaism. Jesus’ cross is our Yom Kippur for our sins. The Hebrew word kippur means most literally “to cover.” In English, atonement is a compound of three words: at-one-ment. So what is being made “at one” with atonement? And how does being “covered” by something make us “at one”? Continue Reading
I just came across this video from Nathan Blanc, a 19 year old Israeli who has refused the mandatory time of service in the Israeli military because of his objection to the occupation of Palestine. Israeli law does not allow for conscientious objectors so they are sent to prison if they refuse to serve. Hear what he has to say and judge for yourself, and then check out this link to an article about other Israeli youth who are picking prison over occupation.
The UN General Assembly today passed a resolution to grant Palestine “observer-state status,” which Palestinian Authority premier Mahmoud Abbas declared the “last chance to save the two-state solution.” I’m actually opposed to a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. I don’t think it can be supported Biblically, because the Biblical prophecy about Zion in Isaiah 2:2-4 says that it’s the mountain of the Lord’s temple to which “all the nations will stream” in order to receive God’s judgment and teaching so that no one will “train for war anymore.” There is no mention of national borders, checkpoints, 40 foot high walls, or barbed wire fences in Isaiah or Micah or any of the other prophecies about Zion in the Hebrew Bible, because the Biblical Zion is not an apartheid state in which non-Jews are disenfranchised and under military occupation. Christians who support the Bible shouldn’t be advocating a two-state solution; we should be advocating a one-state solution in which Arabs from Gaza and the West Bank have full citizenship rights as well as Palestinian refugees around the world, who should all have birthright citizenship no differently than Jews around the world currently enjoy. Continue Reading
I realize I’ll get in trouble for writing this. I hope you can love me even when God puts it on my heart to advocate for people whose existence has been delegitimized with the label of “terrorism.” And I hope you understand that my advocacy does not connote moral approval of very evil things that have been done and are being done. I used to be a youth pastor to kids who society had written off on account of their being “gang-bangers” and “illegal aliens,” and I discovered they were beautiful children of God who needed someone to tell them that. Jesus’ ministry was defined by associating with people whose existence had been delegitimized with a label, whether it was “sinner” or “tax collector” or “prostitute.” Thus it seems like not an inappropriate emulation of Christ to try to understand and even defend the human dignity of “terrorists” in Gaza whether they’re labeled that way because of their own sinful deeds or because they share the same ethnicity, neighborhood, or even household with people who have engaged in acts of violence that create terror.
One of the most cogent things that Barack Obama said during his 2008 presidential campaigns was that he would sit down with America’s enemies since it’s bad strategy to “punish” them by not talking with them. He was widely ridiculed by people whose heroes Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon accomplished their greatest foreign policy achievements with the USSR and China precisely through their willingness to treat America’s enemies with dignity, which happened in a different time before American politics became an adolescent conversation. It has been painful to watch Obama walk back his stance so thoroughly that instead of continuing the somewhat successful (though expensive) counter-insurgency strategy of building relationships with enemies that worked in Iraq, now he sends in drones to speak with bombs and missiles instead. How would the Cuban Missile Crisis have gone if Kennedy had “refused to negotiate with terrorists”? Probably about as well as the Gaza disaster is going for Israel. The Communists were no less ideologically committed to the fall of America than Hamas is committed to the fall of Israel. And yet instead of negotiating with Ahmed al-Jabari, the Hamas military chief, Israel assassinated him, which was a huge strategic blunder if they have a genuine interest in peace.
It’s hard to articulate a legitimate Christian response to the tragedy in Gaza right now. My inclination is to take the side of the underdog and go against all of my fellow evangelicals whose commitment to Israel’s absolute infallibility helps make Israel unaccountable for the $3 billion of our tax dollars that they get each year. But there’s no way to justify the rockets that the Gazans are firing at Israel from a moral or even a strategic perspective. And I can understand that if people are firing rockets at your citizens, your government has an obligation to act to prevent that from happening (though I guess Hamas would say the same thing). Of course, it isn’t that simple. I wanted to share some considerations for thinking about this issue as a Christian not to be an apologist for either side but to challenge some of the misconceptions that I hear Christians voicing around me. Continue Reading
One of the things that makes me hot in watching politics is when one politician criticizes another one’s decision-making without having to explain what he would have done differently. It’s amazing how omnipotent the American president is expected to be about events that are completely beyond his control. Wow, Libya sure did blow up in your face, President Obama; you should have known those Arabs couldn’t handle democracy (say the same people who 9 years ago justified invading an Arab country to “help teach them democracy”). Well, I don’t object to his decision-making per se (since I can’t offer a better alternative), but he should have run all his decisions by Congress (say the same people who were flabbergasted when the opposite side made the preposterous suggestion of “running a military by committee” 9 years ago). This has ceased to have anything to do with making good decisions; it is about coming up with one-liners that stick. And there’s such a desperate need to make Libya into Obama’s Iran hostage crisis that a congressman was willing to do a Wikileaks-style document dump which compromised Libyan allies for the sake of taking down the president. So let me pose the question to you: what would you have done in Libya? Continue Reading
I had a bit of a creative explosion this week while I was attending the Duke Divinity Convocation so I wanted to share the fruit. Basically I wrote two raps and one praise song from Sunday evening to Tuesday afternoon. Then I played hookey from several of the lectures at the Convocation to sit down at my favorite piano in the world in Goodson Chapel and record these three songs and seven others with my iPhone propped on the music stand. The sound quality is actually not too bad. Because of time constraints, I did almost everything on the first take, mistakes and all, unless I completely shut down. So almost all the songs have two or three mistakes. Anyway I’m sharing them below. Some of them might sting a little bit because God is giving me a prophetic word to call out some things about the American church right now. As there’s always a mix of flesh and spirit, some of my cynicism and arrogance may have found its way in. That’s where I depend on you to call me out so I can refine this and make it more glorifying to God. So please critique and offer suggestions!!! (And don’t laugh too hard at the goofy expressions on my face on this page.) Continue Reading
It’s quite presumptuous for a Christian to write about an Israeli political issue in the context of a Jewish holiday, but I do so as someone who has been blessed immeasurably by Jewish thinkers and public figures like Abraham Heschel, Martin Buber, Elie Wiezel, Hannah Arendt, Judith Butler, Jacques Derrida, and many others. I love Torah. I love the Tehillim. If I didn’t struggle enough to read my Christian Daily Office and pray my Jesus Prayers every day, I would strive to embrace the mitzvot of Orthodox Judaism because I know they would draw me into deeper intimacy with my Creator. But I’m grieving this Yom Kippur for the people of Palestine, especially in Gaza. I’ve heard the spin about how the activists are romanticizing the poverty of Gaza. I’ve seen the pictures of the skyscrapers and beachfront resorts. I know Israeli soldiers aren’t monsters even if a few of them have done monstrous things, and that I have no right to put myself in their shoes. I just want for Jews and Palestinians both to have a homeland where there is peace and justice. And I want to tell you what I would do if I had clout and could gather a contingent of American Jews, Christians, and Muslims with clout to visit the Holy Land. Continue Reading