Eclectica: Pre-Vacation Double-Edition (July 15-29, 2014)

You missed out on my favorites from last week, so here’s a double helping of the good stuff to tide you over while I disappear back to the Old Country for the next couple of weeks.

Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza has been on my mind lately, and many good words have been written about it. But words are not enough to help the dead, and it seems they do precious little to help the living.

I happened to read this short piece from Zach Hoag the day after I watched The Grand Budapest Hotel, and I found it quite apropos:

The Grand Budapest Hotel and Gaza: A Barbaric Slaughterhouse

The Grand Budapest Hotel is basically a nostalgic film about nostalgia.

I realize it’s quite a gear-switch but the current Israeli invasion of Hamas-controlled Gaza is a reality check that ought to end any illusory nostalgia. But illusory nostalgia is precisely what drives so much of the conservative evangelical fervor and militant advocacy for Israel. As the civilian Palestinian death toll rises, we should all be seeing a barbaric slaugherhouse. Instead, many Christians are seeing something quite different: the fight to defend their eschatalogical Grand Budapest Hotel.

“We oppose the privileging of Jewish lives over other lives” – Eran Efrati, via Carmen Ibrahim and Our Way to Fight

My name is Eran Efrati, I am Jewish, a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces, and a 7th generation Jerusalemite.

What I’ve seen in Israel over the last few weeks is beyond anything I have witnessed in my life:

  • Like you, I’ve seen the climbing death toll in Gaza, over 192 dead and some 1,485 injured–all by Israeli missiles, with no end in sight. At least 75% of those killed have been civilians and as many as 36 have been children.
  • I’ve seen soldiers lined up at the Gaza border, ready at a moment’s notice to invade.
  • I’ve seen terrified Palestinian children in Hebron and Halhul, sitting on the ruins of their homes.
  • I’ve heard from friends in Tel Aviv who were violently attacked by right-wing Israeli Jews at a rally to protest the ongoing assault on Gaza.

The climate here in Jerusalem reveals a level of hatred and racism in Israeli society that goes beyond calls from isolated extremists for revenge and violence against Palestinians.

Obsessing About Gaza, Ignoring Syria (and Most Everything Else)Jeffrey Goldberg

The Washington bureau chief of Al-Hayat, Joyce Karam, was one of the few people to notice the weekend death toll in Syria. She tweeted, in reference to anti-Israel protests in Pakistan, “Syria is essentially Gaza x320 death toll, x30 number of refugees, but no protest in Pakistan…”

I asked her why she thought this is so. Her answer: “Only reason I can think of is Muslim killing Muslim or Arab killing Arab seems more acceptable than Israel killing Arabs.”

Gaza is not just about them, it’s about us, tooJon Snow

I feel guilty in leaving [Gaza], and for the first time in my reporting life, scarred, deeply scarred by what I have seen, some of it too terrible to put on the screen.

Shifting gears to some interesting theological pieces:

Independence: The False Gospel Destroying American ChristianityJoy Bennett

This American-Christian halfbreed teaches that we can do anything if God is on our side–we can go it pseudo-solo (because we’re not really alone if God is with us, right?). It idolizes independence. And it culminates in the false gospel, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”

When Debating the Bible Isn’t Fair for AnyoneEd Cyzewski

You would think that a clear, easily applied blueprint would lead all honest inquirers to the truth. It’s no surprise that followers of Jesus are fragmented and divided over how to read and interpret the Bible, but if we want understand why we are fragmented so much, we need to look at our starting assumptions about the Bible.

We all believe that the Bible is telling us how to do something, but we aren’t agreed on what that something is. If we view the Bible as more of a painting than a blueprint, then we have a place to begin:

The first and really only “how to” the Bible offers is this: “How to meet with God.” Scripture is a series of paintings that show how people have met with God and points us toward ways we can interact with God—through the mediation of the risen Christ and the Holy Spirit. However, we aren’t necessarily supposed to duplicate the details of these paintings precisely.

Unacceptable: What it’s like to be a Liberal Christian in a sea of ConservativismDavid M Schell

I mention that I’m in favor of marriage equality and people think I’m not a Christian.

I mention that I attend a Presbyterian church and everyone wonders how I can go to a church whose denomination allows (not supports) same-sex marriage.

Friends and family members who once respected me and had high hopes for my future are now praying for my eternal salvation.

I have space for my conservative brothers and sisters in Christ, but far too often for my happiness, they don’t have space for me.

I seriously can’t wait until the subject book of this next one gets published so I can get it for my boys!

On reading my book to my daughter for the first time …Ben Irwin

I think one of the reasons we reduce the gospel to a handful precepts or sound bites is because we’re not sure our kids are up for something bigger. Or because we don’t think of the gospel as being primarily a story. Or maybe we worry our kids won’t have the attention span for something more than a few quick bullet points about sin and salvation.

I want to prove these assumptions wrong—because, frankly, this kind of gospel doesn’t work. It doesn’t stick. Stories stay with us for life. Bullet points, not so much. Our kids need a better story.

Last night, my daughter stayed with The Story of King Jesus all the way through, even though it’s longer than most of her bedtime books.

And let’s wrap this up with two powerful, personal stories.

Hope and friendship on the slippery slopeCarly Gelsinger

“Remember the revivals?” my friend Dee asks me.

We are drinking iced coffee on a Sunday morning in the small town we met, the town of our fiery Pentecostal days. The last time I was at this coffee shop, I was a teenager, sipping a strawberry smoothie and listening to my youth pastor talk about how I need to Press In to God more consistently to see the release of miracles in my life.

Everything has changed since then. Today, I have come to this coffee shop to unpack the damage of those Pressing In days.

Leaving Home: Escaping the Stay-at-Home Daughters MovementSamantha Field

My freshman year in high school, I mentioned my dream to become a marine botanist to my best friend, our pastor’s daughter, and she laughed.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” she said. “You can’t be a scientist. You have to be a keeper at home.”

Keeper at home.

It’s a phrase from the King James translation of Titus 2, and we interpreted it to mean that it was against God’s laws for women to be employed. Our church, however, took it one step further: if all a woman was allowed to be was a “keeper at home,” then it was utterly pointless for her to try to be anything else. Pursuing an education, or longing for a career could do nothing but harm her with shattered dreams. For that reason, young women in our church were asked to be “stay-at-home daughters.”

If you like the mix of what you just read, follow me on Twitter to get more. Peace be with you until we meet again.

That Dreadful Courtesy

I am upset.

Lately there is so much to be upset about. Thousands dead, and thousands more fleeing from Syria’s civil war. The Islamic State crucifying and decapitating any and all dissenters in its annexed corners of Syria and Iraq. The worst outbreak of Ebola ever in West Africa with hundreds dead and a 50% fatality rate, only gaining traction with the U.S. news machine now that two Americans have been infected. Tens of thousands of children at the U.S. border, fleeing violence in their Central American home countries, and being met with stern faces and angry voices.

All of these things are heartbreaking in their own way, but right now my heart keeps getting drawn back to be broken in Gaza.

So much rubble. So much destruction. So many dead children.

I’m not entirely ignorant of the troubled recent history of the Middle East. Today’s pictures of black smoke rising above ruined streets are not new, and don’t have much to distinguish them from pictures taken in the same region two years ago, five years ago, fourteen years ago; but this time around I find them much more disturbing.

In years past, I felt that Israel was generally doing the right thing in seeking to protect itself. No nation can tolerate a situation where its citizens are blown up at cafés or buses on a regular basis. The walls and military actions may have been distasteful, but they were necessary for the security of Israel’s citizens. The effect that they had on everyday Palestinians was lost on me at the time.

Things are different now.

Israel is still under siege from Hamas’ rocket attacks and tunnel incursions, and I acknowledge that I, sitting comfortably half the world away in Texas, can never appreciate the psychological burden of living under those conditions. However, in a real sense, the Iron Dome anti-missile system seems to have almost completely neutralized the threat of significant damage from these rockets. The most recent suicide bombing in Israel was in 2008. Being able to effectively keep Hamas at arm’s length should give Israel the luxury of pursuing peace, however slow the process may be.

Instead, the Israeli government cynically used the violent death of three teenagers as a pretext to resume bombing Gaza and crush Hamas once and for all. Never mind that we have now learned (and Israeli intelligence knew along) that Hamas was not responsible for killing those boys. Never mind that Gaza is the most densely populated area on the planet. Never mind that the millions of Palestinian civilians, when warned to evacuate their homes mere seconds before they get summarily demolished from above, literally have no safe place to go.

Justified actions. Proportionate response. Regrettable collateral damage.

These words do such violence to their dictionary meaning that we should call them what they are: lies.

What’s the body count since Operation Protective Edge began on July 8, 2014? As I write this on July 29, more than 1000 Palestinians have lost their lives. At least 70% of these casualties were civilians.

There is no moral justification for these numbers.

What is a proportionate response when an inbound rocket is intercepted by Iron Dome, or raiders attack Israeli soldiers from a hidden tunnel? Israel believes that leveling an entire neighborhood is acceptable. Too bad, so sad if the residents disagree.

There is nothing proportionate about the recent action in Shejaiya.

And about that collateral damage. Israel’s response to the butcher bill it has inflicted on Gaza’s civilians does not even rise to the level of regret. Israeli shells killed four young boys as they played football on an empty beach in front of a hotel full of international journalists. Multiple reports from these journalist witnesses state that they were killed as they were running away from the first shot. When your demonstrated strategy includes deliberately targeting children, you have thrown away any possible claim of occupying the moral high ground.

So many dead children.

Here’s what is different for me this time around: as I see picture after picture of distraught men holding the lifeless husks that used to be their daughters and sons, I picture myself in their shoes, holding one or both of my boys.

I can’t deal with that line of thinking for very long. Palestinians are forced to live with it, day after bloody day, waiting for that dreadful courtesy knock on the roof, wondering if today it will be their turn to gather the pieces of their children from the rubble.

Hamas has plenty of blood on its hands, no doubt about it.

But Israel, acting from a vastly superior position of strength, is exacting its vengeance on the people who have the least culpability while being the most vulnerable. This is immoral, unjust, and will do nothing to improve the long-term prospects for peace.

So I offer my small voice on behalf of the besieged Palestinian civilians. Israel must end its campaign of unrestricted violence and terror. The innocent blood in what’s left of Gaza’s streets cries out for justice. Without justice, there will never be peace.

Throw-Away Freedom, Disposable People

I

If you’ve spent any time traveling through the rural United States, you will likely have seen a pickup truck belching thick clouds of smoke every time the driver guns the accelerator. While unpleasant, I have always written this off as one of the ills of a poorly maintained vehicle. I can relate; keeping cars in tip-top shape is expensive, and as long as your wheels are rolling, it’s easy to find more important things to spend money on than routine maintenance.

My charitable attitude went out the window this week when I found out that there is a sub-culture of diesel pickup drivers who purposefully modify their trucks to blow as much black smoke as possible. They call it “rolling coal.”

This is what freedom looks and sounds like. I’ll leave the smell to your imagination.

This is throw-away freedom: the opportunity to literally burn the excess of my abundant resources for nothing more than self-gratification and let others pick up the tab. Freedom ain’t free, but I came by mine cheaply and to hell with you. What right have you to tell me anything different? Anyone who dares to disagree is a filthy commie, am I right? Global warming is a liberal conspiracy, cancer is something that happens to other people, and I don’t know how to spell “myopic”.

II

This selfish, short-term view of freedom manifests itself in more than a bunch of rednecks attempting to help their rural communities achieve air quality parity with Los Angeles. It is also evident in the attitudes of many people towards the tens of thousands of children who are attempting to escape gang violence in Central America and find refuge in the United States. There is no denying that 53,000 unaccompanied minors arriving at the border presents logistical difficulties for U.S. government officials at the local level, but there is no good reason why they should present political difficulties at the federal level. The response of the good citizens of this country who took it upon themselves to travel to the border and scream at busloads of frightened children is shameful.

It also reveals a cynical, fearful view of human nature.

America used to be known for its optimism. Millions of would-be immigrants who come to these shores each year still believe it, and share that optimism to the extent they think their lives would be better within the United States than without. Then they arrive at the border and encounter the xenophobic locals who greet them with fences, armed patrols, shouted slogans and a deep-seated certainty that if these people – these Others – are allowed in, these great United States will somehow decline and fall. Give me your huddled masses, indeed.

People with a healthy attitude towards freedom do not regard it as a limited commodity or a zero-sum proposition. It need not run short as demand increases. True freedom does not suggest that I ask what’s in it for me, but rather what can we accomplish together?

When a communal desire for freedom for everyone is fractured into an individual desire to take as much as I can and hoard it for myself, I view other people not as fellow members of the human race but as members of competing tribes. Aliens. Others. Those who are not as important as me. Worth less than me. Less human than me.

When I lose sight of other people’s humanity, their welfare is no longer my concern. I care about them only to the extent that I expect my pet politicians to keep them far away from me and my hard-earned and well-deserved luxuries. Why should I worry about their hardships, or pay for their food or healthcare? They have nothing of value to offer in return, so to me they are worthless. Disposable. Let them die.

III

Once we’ve convinced ourselves that it’s kosher to be indifferent to the suffering of Others, we find ourselves on a diabolical highway to a destination where we actively cause the suffering and death of Others. Humanity has been doing this for a long time. Anyone who ever started a war is guilty of this line of thinking. These Others represent a threat to our god, to our race, to our resources, to our very existence. Let us do unto them before they do unto us!

The Middle East has an especially rich history of people doing unto each Other. In the narrative favored by the evangelical Christian West, Israel is the scrappy underdog: a beacon of democracy, surrounded on all sides by neighbors who are hostile to its very existence. Militarily, however, any nation that has enjoyed the support of the United States for the entirety of its history is never the underdog. Whatever the proximate reasons (or excuses) for its current actions in the Gaza Strip, Israel cannot credibly claim to be acting proportionally or morally when the body count after six days of Operation Protective Edge is 167 dead Palestinians, of whom 70% are civilians.

But to the Israelis, and by proxy to their American supporters, the Palestinians are Others. Worthless. Disposable. Let them die.

I have a modification I need to make to my truck.