Monday, February 25, 2008

Christopher Hitchens on Kosovo

As a Christian and a pacifist, I suppose I'm an unlikely candidate to be reading Christopher Hitchens, but I faithfully  follow his column at I usually find his writing entertaining, often find it informative, and on rare occasions I actually find myself agreeing with it. In his recent piece on Kosova, he stated the case for independence much more eloquently than I have seen it anywhere else.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Congratulations and a challenge for Kosova

I called a bunch of my Kosovar friends today. Here's how the conversation went:

Me: "Hey, this is Marku calling from America."
My Kosovar friend: "Hey Mark! How are you?"
Me: "Well, I'm ok but to tell the truth I'm pretty angry at you!"
My Kosovar friend: "Really? Why?"
My: "I waited 10 years with you guys for this moment, and you couldn't even wait another 4 months till I come back so we could celebrate it together!"
(This followed by racous laughter from my Kosovar friend.)

This really is a bittersweet moment for me. I wish I could have been there to share the joy with the people I love. I want to take this moment to publicly congratulate my Kosovar friends -- and also to issue them a challenge.

It is often said, "Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it." (a slight misquote of George Santayana). From my experience in the Balkans, it sometimes seems that it's the remembering that dooms people to repeat history. History is often rehearsed in such a way as to stoke the fires of hatred and to insure that the current generation of victims will become the future generation of perpetrators.

(Not that the Balkans has a lock on this kind of thing. I often wonder if there isn't a similar sentiment behind the "9-11 - We won't forget" bumperstickers.)

Nevertheless, I think that remembering is important. In the Bible, we read how the people of Israel suffered for 400 years as slaves in Egypt. When God set them free through Moses (Hazreti Musa), He commanded them to remember their slavery so that they who had once been oppressed would never become oppressors.

I wish to say to my Kosovar brothers, "Please do not allow yourselves to become what you hate. You have an opportunity to create a state where everyone -- Serbs, Gypsies, Turks, Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, and Orthodox can experience justice, peace, and freedom. You know what it is like to be refugees; please don't force other people to flee their homes. You know what it is like to be treated with contempt; please treat the minorities among you with respect. You know what it is like to lose loved ones; please don't make more widows and orphans."

I hope I don't sound condescending. I know that we Americans have our own ugly history and our own challenges in the present. I will keep praying for God's blessings to flow through Kosova like the rivers flow down from the Albanian Alps to water the Plain of Dukajgin. I hope to be back among you this summer.

Friday, February 15, 2008

One of the things that I love about Albanian culture is the blessings that they use for specific occasions.  The Albanian language actually has a distinct verb mood that is used only for blesses and curses. (The closest English equivalent would be to the use of the word, "May" as you'll see in the examples below.)  Here are some of the more common ones.

- “May it be good for you!” - If you see someone eating, or if you serve someone food (especially if the guest thanks you or blesses you for the meal.)

- "May the Lord give you a harvest." - If someone gives you something to eat or drink.  (This is one of my favorites.)

- “May your hands rejoice!” – If someone makes something nice with his/her hands. This would include food but could include anything else made with the hands.
- “May your mouth rejoice!” – If someone says something wise or sings beautifully.
- “May your feet rejoice that they brought you to visit me!” –

- “May the Lord give you a harvest!” – If someone shares food with you.

- “May the Lord leave you healthy!” – to someone who has lost a loved one
- “May you be healthy!” – the reply

- “I worship to your honor!” – This is the literal meaning of the Albanian version of “Thank you.”
- “May you be with honor!” – You’re welcome. (In response to “Thank you.”)

- “May your honor increase!” – Another way of saying thank you, most commonly used when someone offers you a cigarette. (One shopkeeper used to thank me for my business with a slight variation: “May your salary increase!”)

- “May you wear it with health!” or simply “With health.” – When someone has a new item of clothing or a new haircut.
- “May you have health!” - the response

- “May you be inherited!” – When someone engages or marries a son or daughter.

- “May your work go well.” – Used most often to get the attention of a busy shopkeeper.”

- “Marshallah!” – Used when admiring someone or something – a baby, a pretty girl, or even a nice fat cow.  Many Balkan people believe strongly in the evil eye i.e., that they can unwittingly curse someone by admiring them. This blessing is used as an antitode.

- "May you live to be 100!" - To wish someone happy birthday.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Organic fertilizer

I came across the following quote while listening to a Soularize podcast.

"There is good and bad soil. And the Bible’s not silent about where you’ll find each, and one of our phrases that you’ll hear a lot is, 'Bad people make good soil; there’s a lot of fertilizer in their life.'"
Neil Cole

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

"Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye!"

I used to hear other kids saying this quite a bit during my childhood days. I don't think my friends and I really comprehended the gruesomeness of it. This saying came back to me today when I stopped to reflect on a phrase in my study Bible: "self maledictory oath."

Many covenants in Bible times were sealed with a self maledictory oath, and sometimes a bloody ceremony to act it out. Circumcision was one example. According to the NIV Study Bible, circumcision meant: "If I am not loyal in faith and obedience to the Lord, may the sword of the Lord cut off me and my offspring as I have cut off my foreskin." To paraphrase Genesis 17:14, "Either cut it off or God will cut you off!"

Sometimes animals were slaughtered and torn apart as in the case of God's covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15. The shocking thing about this story is that it was God not Abraham who took upon Himself the curses that would come as a consequence of violating the covenant. Of course God did just that in an ultimate sense on the cross.

I may be getting in over my head here, but I wonder if there might not have been an allusion to a self-maledictory oath in Jesus words at the Last Supper: "This cup is the new covenant in my blood which is poured out for you." (Luke 22:20)

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Eating weird stuff

A while back I was speaking in Ohio and someone asked me what was the weirdest thing I had ever eaten on the foreign field. I replied that I'm from south Louisiana so I ate all the weird stuff before I ever left the US! Here are some of the stranger things I've eaten.
  • scrambled eggs and squirrel brains: The ultimate redneck dish.
  • live grasshoppers: This is kind of a performance art thing for me. It's one of those things (like preaching) that you can do if you were born to perform but you have no talent. It started when I was doing youth ministry. I had this theory that you have to be weirder than the students if you want them to respect you. Now I've got quite a reputation and whenever I'm outdoors with friends, they want me to do eat a grasshopper for them, and I always oblige.
  • rattlesnake: I've always wanted to try this, and I finally got my chance a couple of months ago. There's a steakhouse near the entrance to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon that sells a fried rattlesnake appetizer. It was kind of tough and stringy to be honest, but I guess no one eats rattlesnake because it's tender and tasty.
  • alligator:  Not really a big deal in south Louisiana.
There was a time when I would have included sashimi on this list, but that's not strange anymore. With our organization we live our life in cycles of four years abroad and one year in the States, so I get this kind of strobe-light look at American culture. I had a Chinese roommate in college who taught me to use chopsticks. Not so long ago that was a nifty skill that was mildly impressive to my friends. (Remember I'm talking about the Deep South here, not California!) But nowadays every $6.99 Chinese buffet in Mississippi has a sushi bar, so eating with chopsticks no longer marks me as a man of the World.

The only thing I've ever eaten in the Balkans that I really had to choke down was some chicken-skin soup that a Roma (Gypsy) family served in Macedonia.

This just in! I've got another one to add to the list. I got invited to a wild game supper at a Baptist church today, and they had (among other things) coon on the menu!