Welcome!

I thought I would create a space to share some of my life thoughts as well as some my life's adventures and misadventures. I am not sure what is in store for this Blog. I love God, I love my wife, I enjoy reading, kayaking, cooking, thinking about ways to sustainably help the world's poor, and leaving a smaller carbon footprint on this planet—Steve G’s Eclectic World. As life is both an experiment and a journey so is this blog. I hope that you will take what you like and leave the rest.



Wednesday, March 1, 2017

CONFUSION AND PEACEMAKING: AN ODD CORRELATION



My amazing mother-in-law, Claude, recently chided me on how my trip to Palestine/Israel was.  I struggle with such broad questions and my beautiful, amazing wife, Helene, was able to ask me several specific questions in responding to her mother’s query.  One of the questions Helene asked was what was one thing you learned that you didn’t know before, even though it is my fifth trip?  The short answer to that question is Confusion.  Below is a slightly edited e-mail to Claude that I felt worth sharing with a large audience on how I came home with a new perspective of confusion.


The focus of our trip is from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in Matthew five--specifically Matthew 5:9.  This passage states "Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they will be called children of God."  What can we learn from this passage that will help us to become better peacemakers.  Somewhat ironically, one word that I walked away from this trip fixated on is "confusion." 


Daoud Nasser and his family are Palestinians who live on a 100-acre farm just outside of Bethlehem they call The Tent of Nations--they have Ottoman Papers showing ownership of their land which has allowed them to, thus far, maintain their land--they have an open court case that they have been fighting in Israeli courts for more than 25 years now.  Five settlements surround their land.  The motto of the farm is "We refuse to be enemies."  They host people from all over the world and the fact that they are well known throughout the world has undoubtedly helped them to keep their farm. 

Daoud shared one story with us where the IDF, clad with weapons and their green uniforms came to the farm and broke down their gate.  Daoud, calmly asked the IDF what they were doing and they said that we have a reason to visit you.   Daoud's response: "Well, here on this farm we have a custom of sharing tea with those that visit us...please come share some tea."  The IDF commander was perplexed and confused, but on Daoud's insistence the soldiers came into one of the caves that the family has made habitable to share tea with Daoud.  Of course, this was awkward, but at the end of having tea the soldiers thanked Daoud and appeared to have forgotten what their original reason for coming to the farm was.  I could not help but think about myself and the last time that I was confused.  What went on in my head?  My answer to that is that most everything else stops--and I focus on what it is that is confusing me--it flips a trigger.  IDF soldiers and soldiers around the world are taught to dehumanize the other--my own father shares that he was trained to kill "gooks" in his Marine basic training during the Vietnam war--gooks not other humans, not fathers, husbands, brothers and sons—no, gooks.  When Daoud invited the soldiers to tea, he overcame fear, he took the power out of the soldiers in confusing them in not playing their game of dehumanizing.  Rather, he recognized their worth as humans.  Let us not forget that the soldiers thanked Daoud for the tea as they left--those soldiers also saw the humanity in Daoud.  This is how one refuses to be an enemy—it is how one is demonstrating what it means to be a peacemaker.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

SOME THOUGHTS ON PRAGER U's TAKE ON THE PALESTINIAN/ISRAELI CONFLICT

I was tagged today regarding the following Prager University video that discusses the causes of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict asking my opinions on the video which can be found Here.  I thought I would share my thoughts not just on this video but also go a bit deeper into the conflict as well.

Dr. Prager, at the beginning of this short video states that the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is one of the easiest to explain, but one of the most difficult to solve.  He then states without any supporting evidence that Israel wants to exist as a Jewish state and that the majority of Palestinians want the death of Jews. He then re-states this claim of Palestinians wanting the death of Jews repeatedly throughout the video.  This is certainly one narrative on this conflict and since it is Dr. Prager’s narrative I cannot invalidate that narrative.  

My narrative differs.  I have had literally more than a hundred conversations with Palestinians and I have yet to meet a single Palestinian that has stated that he wants to see the death of Jews—I would have to ask where Dr. Prager’s source for this.  Granted, I have met one Palestinian journalist who survived a gunshot to the face at the hands of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) and who has been woken up at 2:00 in the morning during an IDF night raid with soldiers pointing guns at him in his bedroom.  He states that he wishes that Israel did not exist, but he has never said that he wants to see Jews dead—his weapon of choice is that of a camera that captures oppression of those that live in his refugee camp called Aida--one of three refugee camps in Bethlehem, West Bank.  My second question for Dr. Prager respecting this video is what was your motivation for producing it?  Is it to lay blame?  Is it to move the conversation away from mere explanation and toward peace or is it rhetoric to support your position, i.e., to be right? 


For me, Dr. Prager makes an argument in today’s context to the exclusion of the context of the time period he is making the argument about.  He rightly admits that the day after Israel became a country the surrounding Arab states declared war.  Here is the context that Dr. Prager omits.  The 1947 United Nations Partition Plan allocated 57% of the land to the Jews who comprised between 20 and 30% of the population.  Let’s say that the Blacks and the Hispanics in the United States represent Jews and that the United Nations has just declared that 57% of current U.S. land is going to be given to them to create a country of their own.  Can we honestly expect the rest of us to just acquiesce to this decision?  Jewish, Tel Aviv, professor Shlomo Sands puts it this way: “I never thought that two thousand years of absence conferred rights to the land, whereas twelve hundred years of presence gave none to the local population.”

Secondly, this video pits Palestinians and Muslims against Jews and ignores the fact that there are Christians in Israel, the West Bank and other Arab countries—the population of Mosul, an Iraqi city, is mostly Christian, that is just one example.  Moreover, last Wednesday I had dinner with a Syrian refugee family that were happy to point out Christian churches in Syria using Google Earth.

This video begins with 1947 and fails to look at Theodor Herzl and the Zionist movement that began the process of creating a Jewish homeland.  Nor does it look at Zev Jabotinsky and the revisionist Zionism which forms the foundation of the current ultra-right-wing Likud party that continues to steal land from Palestinians—the land that Prager alludes to with the 1947 UN Partition Plan.  Moreover, it fails to recognize that during WWII that Prager’s home, the United States of America, closed its doors to Jewish immigrants.

Dr. Prager further fails to mention that the 1967 war or the Six Days War began a military occupation of the West Bank, what is supposed to be the Palestinian state that continues to this day--for those counting it will be a half-century next year.  Also, shortly after this war Jews began to create settlements, which are illegal under international law—these settlements continue to expand today.  I agree with Dr. Prager, that there were other Middle Eastern countries that were looking to destroy Israel—that is a fair assessment.  Even today, I would agree that this is the case.  However, Palestine is not one of them.  The PLO recognized Israel’s right to exist in 1993 with the Oslo Accords and they continue to do so.  Dr. Prager also fails to mention Yigal Amir, a radical Jew, who assassinated his own Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin because of Rabin’s attempts at achieving peace—apparently there is one Jew that did not want to live in peace with a Palestinian state.

This weekend I finished a book written by a Jewish Tel Aviv University professor entitled The Invention of the Jewish People.  This book addresses the contradiction of Israel being both a democracy and a Jewish state.  Dr. Prager, mentions Israel being a Jewish state in the video, but fails to mention that 20% of its citizens are, in fact, Palestinian and based on a dual system of law these Palestinians do not have the same rights as Israeli Jews—there are dozens of laws that pertain only to Palestinian citizens within Israel.  Does not a dual system of laws that discriminates against one group over another perpetuate a conflict?  Israel cannot simultaneously be a democracy and a Jewish state.

I would ask Dr. Prager for clarification on why, if Israel is for a Palestinian state, does it continue to militarily occupy the land set aside for a Palestinian state, why does the separation wall that they have been constructing for more than the last decade not follow the agreed upon 1967 borders, but rather intentionally goes over said border cutting off Palestinian farm lands from the families that farm that land?  Do these tactics not have an impact on why a conflict exists or continues to exist?

Below is one look at the economic impact that Israel’s military occupation has on the West Bank, the land that Dr. Prager alludes to as being for a Palestinian state.  Could this treatment also be a factor that keeps the region steeped in conflict?

Granted, I think we need to look at the causes of the conflict if we are going to address how to solve it.  However, merely looking to point fingers to one side as the culprit, making blanket and patently false claims that one side wants peace while the other wants the other side dead, adds little to creating dialogue.  Of course, I have presented some of what I perceive as Israel’s faults in a response to Dr. Prager here.  That said, I would ask that you notice the nuance of framing those observations with questions.  John Paul Lederach states it this way, “In settings in which polarization has deepened, all of us tend to highlight the immoral maliciousness on ‘their’ side.  We are equally slow to notice anything but the good intentions, clear justification, and ‘righteousness’ of our side.”  We don’t need further explanations for who is responsible for the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.  The answer to that question is, as Dr. Prager suggests, simple—both sides have fallen short and frankly so has the U.S. with our blind military support for Israel while paying lip service to international law regarding West Bank settlement expansion.  What if we made our financial military support for Israel contingent upon them immediately stopping their support for West Bank settlements?  Even more, or perhaps most paramount, what if we stopped pointing fingers and began the hard work of recognizing the humanity in the other side?  With Dr. Prager’s myopia respecting truth, again quoting Lederach, this time at length, in the context of truth, mercy, justice and peace from Psalm 85 is appropriate: “Too often in the midst of conflict, we take these social energies—we can see them as four siblings—as contradictory forces, voiced by different persons within the conflict.  They are seen as pitted against each other.  Those who cry out for Truth and Justice are taken as adversaries of those who plead for Mercy and Peace, and they often understand themselves the same way.

“The vision of the psalmist is different.  Reconciliation is possible only as each sees the place and need of the other.  This approach means that each voice, and the social energy it produces, is incomplete without the other.

“What does this mean at a practical level?  We must pay attention and give space to the different energies represented by the voices of Truth, Mercy, Justice, and Peace.  When these voices are heard as contradictory forces, we find ourselves mired in erupting conflict and paralyzed by it.  We argue endlessly over which is more important, justified and proper…Let us create the social space that brings Truth, Mercy, Justice, and Peace together within a conflicted group or setting.  Then energies are crystallized that create deeper understanding and unexpected new paths, leading toward restoration and reconciliation.”

And finally, as promised, my own five-minute video (really a video that a friend narrates and helped produce) that describes one problem of the near fifty-year military occupation of the West Bank:






Monday, September 12, 2016

SOME BRIEF THOUGHTS ON THE FIFTEENTH ANNIVERSARY OF THE ATROCITIES OF SEPTEMBER 11, 2001




Amidst our sanctuaries donned with nationalistic American flags it was refreshing to worship at church on the anniversary of September 11 without a single mention of the atrocities that took place in this land on this day fifteen years ago and of course without a flag of any country present. Yes, I agree with the thoughts that the atrocities of this day is something that we should never forget. However, I am conflicted with how we have chosen to move forward since this horrific day. I am in the middle of a book on death penalty at the moment that also touches on this day in history. It has this to say:

“Here’s the key: the ‘eye for an eye’ law was intended to be a limit to retaliation—not a license for it. The goal was to stop the cycle of violence rather than validate or escalate it…Escalating violence is not just a demon in the ghetto, but also of our government. All we need to do is look at what has happened since September 11, 2001, to see the wisdom of the Old Testament ‘eye for an eye’: it would have limited our retaliation to 2.977 (the number killed on U.S. soil) rather than the estimated tens of thousands who have died in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars” (From Shane Claiborne’s Executing Grace).

For those of us that follow a Jewish carpenter from Nazareth named Jesus his message transcends anything that happened 3000+ miles from his home fifteen years ago; a message devoid of nationalism and a message full of inclusion, repentance and reconciliation.

Yes, we should never forget, but how we choose to remember is paramount!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

STRUGGLING THROUGH DAVID'S PSALMS



Does anybody else struggle with reading David's Psalms? I recently decided to read through Psalms after reading an article where Bono, the lead singer of U2, was being critical of Christian music for being perpetually happy and that this was a mask for not looking at the realities in our world.  Moreover, he talked about the Psalms and observed that the spectrum of emotions there is broad and included much darker emotions than what we hear in our Christian music today.

For me however, when I read the Psalms I often find myself offended and aghast.  Many of David’s Psalms are written from an exclusive, imperialistic perspective and I cannot help but think that is why David is held with such high esteem in our Western evangelistic world—David protected empire so we protect Empire--being able to point to David gives us justification.

I have often heard Jesus called the new Adam, but I don’t think I have ever heard Jesus called the new David.  David was the king of an kingdom and Jesus talked often of his kingdom and when you juxtapose the two I do not see where they have anything in common other than being able to refer to them both as a “kingdom.”  Perhaps it is time that we start looking at David and his kingdom through the lens of Jesus and his kingdom.

For an example contrast Psalm 18:36 with Matthew 5:44.