Tuesday, July 04, 2006

More of Omar's Story

Last summer my older cousin Ali was able to come in from Ohio to be at our wedding. I think it was really good for my dad to have someone from back home who was able to be there, and he filled in as my grandmother’s escort, sitting with her on the front row.

Ali was forced to serve in the Iraqi Army in the first Gulf War. Other cousins were also conscripted, stationed on the front lines and in Kuwait City. Some of them were rounded up in the mass-surrenders after the ground war began, and they all made it home. But Ali had a different story. He was a field surgeon on the front lines with the Republican Guard. Sadaam thought that if he placed the medical units close enough to the rest of the soldiers then the Americans wouldn’t bomb and shell them. He was wrong.

Somehow the Iraqis knew when the American ground troops would be coming over the dunes, and so they were given a five-day pass to go home to Baghdad and say their goodbyes. Ali knew it would be a meat-grinder, and he knew that under Sadaam desertion meant death and trouble for your family. So while he was in Baghdad he had another surgeon friend take out his perfectly good appendix. While he was in the hospital, his entire unit was annihilated.

Around that same time a Marine friend of mine named Nelson had been part of an artillery outfit that was shelling Iraqi positions inside Kuwait. Suddenly an Iraqi artillery shell slammed into the hood of the truck Nelson was standing next to, but it was a dud and didn’t go off. He lived to come home and tell me that story.

Also at our wedding, only four rows back from Ali, was my friend Joe, who is an Army Ranger veteran. On the other side of the isle from Ali was one of my two mother in laws, whose stepbrother was part of the Army forces that moved through the same area of Kuwait where Ali had been. On another pew was my friend Johanna, whose husband has served in Afghanistan and is now training for Special Forces duty in the Middle East.

I could go on, but you get the idea. The best phrase came from a taxi driver in Cairo, right after the invasion of Iraq three years ago, who upon finding out that my brother was half Iraqi and half American said, “Ahhh… is funny. Your country is attacking your country.”

I have often become frustrated when I have heard people in my church make statements like, “Remember who we’re fighting here,” before they lead prayers for our military victory. A professor here once said that the only two choices we have is to either “convert them or keep them from hurting us.”

Well… first of all you can’t fight and win a “war on terror.” Terrorism is a method, not a country or ideology. I once heard it said that fighting a war on terror is like having the flu and declaring a war on sneezing: you’re only attacking the symptoms. As long as there have been people, there has been terrorism.

But what frightens me is the mindset in this country, and in the church, that seems to think terrorism was born and raised in the Middle East, and if we can take out the Muslim Arabs then the world will be a safer place. Put this idea up against the ideas in large parts of the Arab world that America has, in a sense, been a terror herself with her policies toward the Middle East. So you get what we had last week. The cycle continues, and we have “become a monster to defeat a monster.”

So who is the enemy? I believe that on this side of the Cross, according to the Scriptures, that “we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12)

If you track through the entire story of Scripture, you see that while God may have fought battles on Israel’s behalf in the Old Testament, the trajectory was always towards the Cross, which redeemed the Creation intent. Jesus set for us an example of living and witnessing that intent through loving, serving and forgiving our enemies. The way of Christ was not to kill and destory those who had abused and killed Him. But for some reason we still say, “in God we trust” while we drop the bombs (just in case God doesn't come through, I suppose).

Imagine what would have happened if the entire mass community of Christians who prayed so fervently for our troops to “defeat the enemy” would have instead prayed against the real Enemy and for peace between humanity.

So who is the enemy? Well, I have Iraqi Army veteran family and U.S. Army veteran friends. I have been raised by Southern Methodists and Shiite Muslims. I cannot abdicate the gospel message of Christ to a bomb, but can only bear the Cross, the ultimate battlefield victory over the Enemy.



Jonathan Marlowe said...

Wow, thanks for sharing Omar's story in this post and in the post from a few months ago. It is so important to humanize the events that have become so depersonalized by the mass media. It is sometiems unclear whether CNN is covering a war or a video game. Thanks for reminding us that behind the headlines and political posturing, there are real people, many of them our brothers and sisters in Christ. It reminds me of something Bishop Peter Storey once said, that from a Christian perspective, all war is civil war.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Thanks Omar, and Dr. Witherington, for sharing this story.

It gets to the heart for part of the reason I see war as so untenable, and especially evangelicals' propensity to rubberstamp war, even more than the American general populace.

Charlene Amsden said...

As Christians we are charged to be salt and light. I don’t believe that means rubbing salt in wounds or lighting bombs under people who’s political or religious outlook disagrees with our own.

As Christians we are called to pray for everyone…:
…all of God’s children – all -- not just the ones who play nice with our toys,
…all the world’s leaders, not just those we agree with;.
…all the soldiers on both sides of every armed conflict; and –
…all the innocent bystanders who suffer the repercussions of war.

From our highest levels of government to the lowest gutters in our city we are called to pray without ceasing. Pray for our brother’s and sisters in Christ, but pray even harder for those who do not know him.

Ben Witherington said...

Thanks one and all for these posts. You are getting to the heart of the matter--- a worldwide fellowship of believers throughout the earth. The ambition of every Christian should be to be a world Christain not a partisan of any particular natio for "our commonwealth and citizendship is in heaven" not on earth.



yuckabuck said...

"war on terror"
I think the problem here is that our current generation has been influenced by a cynical post-modernism, so that an idealogical crusade against certain global terrorist groups cannot be sold with such a phrase (unlike the past examples that Gordon provided). Perhaps W. Bush has realized this, for he has switched from denouncing "terror" (who?), to denouncing "Islamic Jihadis." Right or wrong, it is at least more accurate.

"world Christian"
For American Christians to gain a sense that we're a "worldwide fellowship of believers throughout the earth" would be awesome. When I did a study of some of the 18th century religious "communes" and compared it to the "communism" of the early church (Acts 2:44-45), it seemed that whenever the community gave way to individualism (losing its sense of a groupp identity), it would break apart and lose momentum. I think the American church's lack of a group identity in Christ is one reason for its general anemia. (We're Republican or Democrat first, then Christians.)

So if the worldwide church recognized its essential unity in the body of Christ, would there be more Christians in Israel and Palestine working to get both sides to shun violence as an answer?

Ben Witherington said...

Chesterton's comment needs to be read in context, and the context is this--- using violence to solve problems must always be a last resort, not something we do at the drop of a hat or just because some soldier is taken prisoner. And above all we do not target civilians or essential life services--- say like the power plant in Gaza, because if we do that we've not only violated the Geneva convention we've abdicated any claim to being humane much less Jewish or Christian. We do indeed live in an evil world, but if we respond to that evil by doing more evil then we've simply become what we despise. And while we're at it, what does it really mean to say 'Greater is he who is in us than he who is in the world'. When you abdicate the moral high ground and you ignore Jesus' command to love your enemies you become what you despise.


Unknown said...

We must remember that we are to love our neighbor as much as we love our enemies. If our enemies pose a mortal danger to our neighbors, we have a duty as Christians to protect them, even unto our death or the death of our enemies.

Kevin Rosero said...

A wise and challenging post. Thank you, Omar.

Matt said...

Interesting post from Omar.

A couple of anecdotes come to my mind that could perhaps be understood as "bad" and "good" examples: responses to evil and violence as people of Christ:

In 1988, an American Navy ship mistakenly fired a missle at and destroyed an Iran Air passenger jet en route from Iran to Dubai, killing some 290 people on board. It happened on a Sunday, and when the news came out, , one pastor in the US was reported to have read out the news to his congregation, looked up, and said, "Praise the Lord! 'Vengence is mine, saith the Lord, I will repay!' " That was obviously a bad, even extreme example.

At the same time, one of the best examples I can think of is that of the great Chinese evangelist and teacher Watchman Nee. After the Japanese invaded his homeland, he managed to escape, and went to England (among other places). At the Keswick meeting, sitting on the platform with others including a Japanese gentleman, he prayed the following:

"The Lord reigns; we affirm it boldly. Our Lord Jesus Christ is reigning, and he is Lord of all; nothing can touch his authority It is spiritual forces that are out to destroy his interests in China and Japan. Therefore we do not pray for China, we do not pray for Japan, but we pray for the interests of thy Son in China and Japan. We do not blame any men, for they only tools of thine enemy. We stand for thy will. Shatter, O Lord, the kingdom of darkness, for the persectuions of thy Church are wounding thee. Amen."(Angus I. Kinnear, The Story of Watchman Nee: Against the Tide, Tyndale House, Wheaton, Il. 1973.)

Shalom and Salaam to all,


see-through faith said...

Thanks for this.

Omar said...

Great stories. Thanks for sharing.