Monday, September 12, 2005

The Technoilliterata Adds a Link! Despite being technologically illiterate, I have successfully made a couple changes to my blog (and yes, I do think that I just invented the word "technoiliterata"). I've added a link to the only blog I currently read just about every day, Notes from a Byzantine-Rite Calvinist ( With commentary and personal observation on a fascinating variety of topics, I highly recommend a visit.

A View from Gaza Watching the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza has brought back a lot of memories. The fall semester of 1997 found me in the Middle East studying Arabic and learning about regional religion, culture, and politics. The course’s political component focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and altered my perception of that region forever. Though my recollection of political details has gotten foggier with time, the images of my visit to that turbulent land have scarcely faded. Crossing the border from Egypt to Israel was like Christmas morning. For the first time in over two months, the bathrooms had toilet paper and stools to sit on. The clean streets and stylish signs whispered that we were home – or something like it. I remember snippets: a bustling nighttime street lined with coffee shops and bars; a girl’s laughing face at an ice cream parlor; American accents everywhere. This was Israel. Then Gaza. Gritty. Poor. Ugly. A sea of concrete high-rises set in the dusty hills. From the window of the bus, Israeli settlements contrasted starkly with the surrounding land. Their red roofs were surrounded by big yards of green grass accented by bright blue swimming pools. Eighty percent of the precious water used by such a small group of people. We visited a university in Gaza. I remember sitting on a brick wall with my friend Amy while we were taking a break. We were surrounded – accosted, almost – by students. Men and women our age who, despite their education, had no passports and no prospects. They begged us to tell their story. I don’t think that I ever told their story satisfactorily. I still think of them. As I now sit at my desk in yet another foreign country, I wonder how many of them will ever leave Gaza. I wonder how many of them I’ve seen on television. I wonder how many of them are dead. This pullout gives me hope. The Palestinians are faced with steep challenges: poverty, incomprehensible unemployment, virtually no natural resources, lack of control over their own borders. But none of this is new. What’s new is that a thirty-year-old Gazan can stand on the beach for the first time. There are no settlers walking the streets with guns and impunity. There are no soldiers. Hope is a fragile little creature. I pray that it remains in this broken bit of land.


Friday, September 09, 2005

A Failing Grade From Newsweek, September 5, 2005, in an article entitled, "In Search of the Spiritual." Page 53.
Amber Atwat, 28, is one of many converts who showed up at the Islamic center that day with her husband and 15-month-old son. Raised Southern Baptist in Tennessee, she found peace in Islam three years ago after a hard life that included an abusive husband and the death of her infant daughter. "In our church, I saw all whites," she recalls. "Then there was the black Baptist church down the road. Even though they taught the same thing, we did not mix. But in the mosque, there is one identity. I love that."
Oops. Here's what Jesus prayed for just before he died (The Bible, the book of John, chapter 17, verse 20 and following):
I pray...that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. ...May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you love me.
In the days and years after Jesus left the earth, it wasn't unusual for people to exclaim over how much his followers loved each other. In many places we see them sharing with each other and providing for people who were in need. We know that although they weren't always successful, they struggled hard to maintain this unity. In more recent days and years, it hasn't become unusual for people to observe how much his followers squabble with and despise each other. Too often we expect others to care for the needs of others and limit our giving to designated collections for the deacons' fund. We, with our many denominations and our Segregated Sundays, seem to have given up this struggle. It seems that one woman, at least, has given us a failing grade.


Monday, September 05, 2005

Tragedy in New Orleans Shame on us! For all the good things that have happened in New Orleans in the last few days, for all the relief that has begun to arrive, for all the people that have given money and aid, none of it excuses the avoidance of responsibility that resulted in this mayhem. Not only was this inevitable natural disaster inadequately planned for, but the poor were left out of the equation almost entirely. In a drill last year, authorities determined that 100,000 people did not have the the vehicles they needed to evacuate the city on their own. I saw a New Orleans police officer interviewed on CNN this morning. He said that some of these people who remained in their homes (of necessity, not choice!) and were trapped on their roofs were afraid to evacuate by helicopter. This wasn't because they were afraid of heights and swinging from a rope far above ground was frightening. No, they were afraid that it would cost too much and they were afraid that they couldn't afford it. Are we fostering too much of a sense of entitlement in our poor? Or is it perhaps the opposite? The Christian Reformed World Relief Committee is accepting donations at