Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Albanian imam: "We would die for America!"

I was riding around today in the front seat of an Albanian friend's Yugo when he stopped outside village mosque to get out and greet his uncle, the imam. The imam wanted a ride into town, so he folded his tall frame into the back seat of the Yugo. He was older than me and at least as tall as me, so of course I offered to get in the back, but I knew full well that their code of hospitality would never allow such a thing.

The imam was carrying a two liter Coke bottle full of fresh milk, which he had obtained for his family's iftar (the evening meal to break the daily fast during Ramadan). "My nephew tells me your American," he said. "I'm going to give you this milk. Make sure to boil it well. We Albanians love America. We would die for America!"

I laughed and said, "I'shallah (God willing) it never comes to that!"

We had a good time on our ride into town. He hardly let me get a word in edgewise, but I enjoyed listening to him as he told me stories of suffering for his faith during the Communist years and his five years of study in Saudi Arabia. Of course I had to endure a bit of a lecture about the superiority of Islam, but that was ok too. He mentioned that the Koran endorses the Inxhil (Gospel), Tevrati (Pentateuch), and Zeburi (Psalms), so I asked him if he had ever read the Gospel, and he admitted that he hadn't. I pulled a New Testament out of my book bag, and he graciously accepted the gift.

I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about his words, "We would die for America." He probably didn't mean to be taken literally, but I do believe that behind the boast was a deep and sincere gratitude for the help American has given to the Albanian people for the last hundred years or so. As an American citizen I can't help but be touched by the love and respect that most Albanians feel toward my country.* On the other hand, I'm aware that my home country like every human institution is fallen and therefore deeply flawed.

What about me? Would I die for America? Of course nobody knows what he would do in the moment of decision, but believe that I would be honored to die for the Gospel. I'm pretty sure that I would be willing to die for a member of my family. I hope that if it came down to it I would even be prepared to give my life for a stranger -- American, Albanian, Serb, Iraqi or whatever. But there's no way that I would willingly give my life for any nation-state.

*This is true of the vast majority, but not of everyone. I heard an Albanian radio station here claiming that it was the Jews who brought down the Twin Towers.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Bono a 3 point Calvinist?

"...U2's 2009 album, No Line on the Horizon, chimes in with,
'I was born to ring for you / I didn't have a choice but to lift you up, '
with the refrain,
'Justified until we die / you and I will magnify / the Magnificent. '
Who knew that Bono was at least a three-point Calvinist?"

from John Calvin: Comeback Kid by Timothy George in Christianity Today

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sept. 11: The right way to remember

When I was in the States I saw lots of bumper stickers that said: "9/11: We will not forget." I'm all for remembering, but I think that there's a right way and a wrong way to remember.

The book of Deuteronomy is all about remembering. Over and over God commanded the people of Israel not to forget. Among the things that they were to remember were their years of slavery in Egypt. Whenever they are told not to forget the evil that had been done to them it was usually in the context of a social justice command. Take for example Deut. 24:17,18: "Do not deprive the alien or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord you God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this." In other words, "Don't forget what it's like to be under someone's thumb in order to make sure that you never turn around and do the same thing to someone else."

Living here in the Balkans I've seen first-hand the danger of the wrong kind of remembering. Members of every ethnic group have committed enough atrocities against one another that everyone has something terrible to remember; everyone can justify the hatred that his group nurses; everyone can see his people as the victims and the others as the aggessors. Remember when you were a kid and you got into a fight with your sibling and your parents intervened and you and your sibling both said, "But s/he started it!"? As a parent I know how tricky it can be to sort how who really started it and what exactly constitutes "starting it". Much of the debate among Balkans people seems to me to come down to a deadly, grown-up version of "Who started it?". Memories are the chips with which this high stakes game is played.

I want to be careful not to be misunderstood here. I'm not trying to suggest that all parties in the recent Balkan wars were equally guilty or that all atrocities were equally atrocious. I certainly don't want to feed that arrogant American attitude which says, "Those guys have been killing one another for thousands of years. If it's not one it's the other. Why should we care?" This kind of statement is not only unbearably smug but also historically inaccurate. The truth is that in the Balkan wars of the 1990s I believe that the Serbs were the primary aggressors, but the point I'm getting at here is that I don't think that we Americans are willing to admit how much we have in common with them. Both of us have caused a lot of devastation in the name of fighting Islamic fundamentalism -- and ultimately fueled its fires.

As September 11 rolls around again, by all means, let's remember. Let's remember the destruction, the economic disruption, the national trauma and humiliation, the suffering of thousands who were injured and maimed, and the anguish of tens of thousands who lost family members in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. And as we remember let's repent of the fact that our very first response was to turn around and inflict the very same destruction and death on someone else.

I'll close with a 9/11 quote -- this one from September 11, 1915. It's by Stanley Frodsham, a Pentecostal pioneer and an early editor of The Weekly Evangel (the forerunner of Today's Pentecostal Evangel.)
When one comes into that higher kingdom and becomes a citizen of the ‘holy nation’ (1 Peter 2:9), the things that pertain to earth should forever lose their hold, even that natural love for the nation where one happened to be born, and loyalty to the new King should swallow up all other loyalties. …National pride, like every other form of pride, is abomination in the sight of God. And pride of race must be one of the all things that pass away when one becomes a new creature in Christ Jesus. . . . When seen from the heavenly viewpoint, how the present conflict is illumined...The policy of our God is plainly declared in the Word, "Peace on earth, good will toward me." Stanley H. Frodsham, “Our Heavenly Citizenship,” The Weekly Evangel, 11 September 1915, 3, quoted in Shifiting Allegiances in the Assemblies of God by Paul Alexander.

As followers of the Prince of Peace, we must make sure that our remembering is not poisoned by national pride. If it is, we will only perpetuate the evil that was perpetrated on us.