The Rain Came

The rain came. One minute it was the hot, dry sun of a high desert and rays of light spread across my living room and peeked into the darkened hallway. I took a quick walk to our plant store nearby – we call it our arboretum – and walked back with a green treasure, its large leaves nodding to my step.

And then, the sky darkened, the sun hid, and the rain came.

It came in torrents over the mountain. Flashes of lightening lit up the sky in a diagonal angle. The raindrops beat against our window. The dry clay land filled with deep puddles and rain poured through a small hole in our window, flooding the glassed in balcony.

It came with fury and vengeance, as if to say “I will conquer this dry space and fill it with water! I will win!”

The rain came, and for a while I thought it would never stop. It felt impossibly strong. And then, just as suddenly, it stopped

One of my favorite Indian movies is the movie Lagaan. It is set in a small village in India in the late 1800s when India is occupied by the British. A British captain has imposed an outrageous land tax on the people of the village. It is a tax that is impossible to pay, partially because of a long drought causing huge economic losses for the villagers.  A young man in the village (Bhuvan) decides to rally the villagers to advocate for themselves. As they approach the palace, they observe a cricket match in play. Bhuvan mocks the game, and the British Captain offers a wager. If the villagers can defeat the British occupying forces in a game of cricket, they won’t have to pay taxes for three years. But, if they lose, they will have to pay three times the current taxes.

Bhuvan basically accepts the wager without the village’s consent and then has to rally villagers to create a team of people who know nothing about cricket with the hopes of winning a game against seasoned players. Throughout the film, there is a longing expressed for rain. No matter what happens, the villagers need this drought to end. People are suffering and the only thing that will change that is being able to bring in a harvest. At one point, black clouds roll in and a dance scene suggests that this is it, this is the moment. Rain is coming and no matter what happens with cricket or the British, this will be their salvation.

But it is a false hope. It doesn’t come. Then, at the very end of the film, after the drama of cricket and occupiers being defeated by the occupied, the rain comes. The rain comes in glorious, monsoon force while villagers dance in the downpour. The rain came. The game is over. The innocent are vindicated and there will be no tax.

The rain came on that village much the same way it came today. With a mighty force that can’t be stopped, with vengeance and sound that you can’t ignore; like an unexpected outpouring of grace when you think there is no hope, the rain came.

The prophet Isaiah talks about rain coming this way. In vivid poetry he says: Drip down, O heavens, from above, And let the clouds pour down righteousness; Let the earth open up and salvation bear fruit, And righteousness spring up with it. I, the Lord, have created it.* In Lagaan, that is what the rain represented. Vindication. A wrong confronted and made right. Justice finally came, and with it the rain.

Today, the rain came. And it makes me both tremble and hope – for justice, for wrong to be made right, for people who have suffered to be healed, for clouds to pour down righteousness, for grace to cover this hard, broken earth.

Today the rain came, and with it came life.

A Friday Prayer

The peach looked beautiful. It had the feel of a peach that was ripe but not too ripe and it smelled perfect.

Inside it was rotten to the core. I discovered this as I was cutting it into slices. So beautiful on the outside, so rotten on the inside.

How like the United States, with its rhetoric of greatness and it’s perfect exterior. Well trimmed lawns, good highways, fancy buildings, plenty of goods for consumers, coffee shops by the thousands, grocery stores by the million, parades and protection are all a part of the eye candy that is the U.S. Yet it takes but a moment of digging to uncover the rotten interior. From rates of abortion to treatment of foreigners we live in a society consumed by self and misguided protection. We daily watch men and women with little soul and even less integrity mismanage a nation in crisis.

We hear the cries of children ripped from moms in wombs and at borders, breastfed babies panting for milk from mothers who are nowhere to be found. Bullet holes in black boys haunt our collective psyche as we try to dismiss accusations of racism. Pride and corruption are rampant and the innocent struggle for justice.

Like the Old Testament prophets we cry “How long O Lord? How long?

Tears dry on faces that look up to the Son for justice.

We plead the cause of the orphan, the immigrant, the falsely accused, the unborn who were never given a chance, the dead who can no longer speak.

We plead and we pray.

May we allow the surgery of confession and repentance to root out the rotten core. May we fall on our knees in humility and repentance. May we see with eyes of justice and love with hearts of compassion. May we act with hands of mercy and speak with lips of wisdom. May we pray for our leaders and for ourselves.

May we, like the prophet Micah, do justly, love mercy, and Walk humbly with our God.

Amen and Amen

God of the Displaced and Exiled

Oh God of the displaced and exiled,

Hear the prayers of those in limbo.

Wipe the tears of mothers who parent children without a home.

Feed those who are hungry; keep safe those who are in danger.

Give strength to the helpers and the healers; to those who work tirelessly for justice.

Give us the spirit of courage and not fear that we might welcome the stranger in our midst.

Root out lazy prejudice that would block us from receiving those in need.

Give us ears to hear the voices that cry out in desperation, making impossible choices for their families.

Consume the conscience of lawmakers and policy enforcers with the holy fire of compassion, that they may open their hearts and their borders to those desperate for shelter.

Remind us that your prophets spoke words many years ago that are still true today; remind us that you have always cared for the oppressed, have always urged your people to care for the displaced and exiled.

Oh God hear my prayer for the displaced and the exile.

“Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.”*


All week my heart has been aching for those displaced. This morning my brother Dan sent me an article that the United States is on track to admit less refugees than it has since the beginning of the refugee program in 1980. There is simply no excuse. With the resources we have and the crisis being what it is, there is no excuse.

*Daniel 9:19

Palestinian Christians and a Prayer for Healed Eyesight

Women's Health Network_Site Visits

“The perseverance of small, powerless drops of water dripping on the same rock, in the same place, ends by breaking the rock. In the same way, the power of faith with perseverance can break walls of hatred, of rejection, and of violent injustice.”*

The book sits on our book shelf, old and dusty with pages breaking out of the binding. The inscription on the first page says only this:

God does not kill! 

It is signed by Elias Chacour – the author of this small paperback.

The book is titled Blood Brothers and I read it in 1990. Some books influence you for a week, some for a year, others for a lifetime. This book is in the last category.

Blood Brothers healed my eyesight.

Prior to reading it I had sympathy for Palestinians but held to my minimally researched view that saw things quite simply. The Jews, as the chosen people set apart for God, had a right to their land. It was the Abrahamic Covenant. Therefore, whatever they did to protect their country, their land was okay – the ends justifying the means and all that. Not completely okay – I would have twinges of doubt when I read news reports on the plight of Palestinians but in the big, eternal scheme of things okay. To think otherwise would be disloyal.

Or would it be disloyal? Was the situation for Palestinians really okay? 

Blood Brothers tells the story of one Palestinian Christian and his struggle to reconcile what happened to his family in 1947 – 1948, a time when they were exiled from their home of generations. It captures his struggle as a Palestinian Christian and Israeli citizen who loved God and the word of God, and struggled with how to live at peace in the midst of conflict.

At the time I read the book we were living and working in Egypt and felt close to the conflict. I wrestled mightily with my feelings. Was I blinded by my surroundings? What about “chosen people?” What about covenants? It was during this time that my husband took a new job in Cairo starting a brand new Middle East Studies Program for American Christian students who wanted to learn about the Middle East. In directing this first ever program, he was tasked with several things. One of them was to give students a more balanced view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than the one narrative that they knew. He began to travel regularly to Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, and Golan Heights. Each time he returned he had more stories of the conflict, more tales of meeting with both Israelis and Palestinians. With each story I heard and each book I read, my eyes began to open and my vision began to heal.

A Short History

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict dates back years ago. Contrary to what many think, the conflict is not religious. It began, and continues, over land. The land that both Jews and Arabs claimed was called Palestine until 1948. Between 1948-1949, the land was divided into three parts: The State of Israel, West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. The West Bank and Gaza Strip were separate territories and movement between the two was difficult. Until that time Palestinians were in the majority and had lived peacefully, owning land, houses, olive groves, and vineyards for centuries.

As Israel became a nation, over a 2-year period they carried out a mass eviction, driving over 700,000 Palestinians from their homes. Over 85% of Palestinians were evicted from what then became the state of Israel. Palestinians call the 1948 event “alnakba” literally meaning “the catastrophe.” Refugees by the thousands had to leave homes, families were separated and many lost their lives. To this day, the displacement of Palestinians has created a massive and near forgotten refugee crisis. In fact, Gaza is considered one of the worst places to live in the world. It is an overpopulated food desert with 60 percent of the water undrinkable, purposely kept this way by the state of Israel. In the years following al-nakba, laws were created that denied citizenship and previously owned land to Palestinians.

Common Beliefs

Many Christians have historically held to a belief in Israel as a blessed land, a land that has a unique place in history. They see the modern-day state of Israel as being much like the ancient land of Israel. I was much like one of those Christians. Yet, the modern day state of Israel is a secular state, and could hardly be described as a godly nation. It is not an example of biblical righteousness. In holding to this viewpoint, Western Christians have ignored what scripture says about the aliens and strangers in the land, they have ignored the breaking of a covenant relationship, and they have not questioned Israel’s policies and history.

In believing this way, Christians ignore the bigger story. We forget about Palestinian Christians – Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant. We forget about justice and peace and do  not hold the nation of Israel accountable to a history of wrongs committed against Palestinians. The prophet Isaiah had strong words for a people who cared more about a nation than loving God and pursuing justice.  

A Challenge

In Blood Brothers, Chacour challenges these beliefs, gently and patiently pointing to a way of justice. While he begins with his own story, he moves on to talk about the bigger picture. In his words, Western Christians visit Israel to see holy stones and holy sands, all the while ignoring the living stones – Palestinian Christians. His call is not to demonize Israel or Israelis, but rather a call to reconciliation, peace, and non violence.

Five years after I read Blood Brothers, I had my own opportunity to travel to Israel and Palestine with the group of students in the Middle East Studies Program. It was my husband’s 8th trip to the region and I got to experience first hand the stories I had read and heard. One day we would be sitting in a synagogue eating a Shabbat meal with Israeli Jews, the next day we would be in the home of Palestinians hearing their stories. The conflict became even more difficult because it now had faces and names. We visited ancient churches and we met those living stones that Elias Chacour talked about – Palestinian Christians. Despite all they had experienced, they still hoped for justice. They still hoped and longed for others to see what the Israeli Occupation was doing to Palestinians – both Muslim and Christian. They still hoped to live as equals in the land of Israel. I was deeply moved by the faith, resilience, and perseverance of these people of God. I began to see why Father Elias Chacour says to people “Don’t choose sides! Learn what it means to be a common friend to both Arabs and Jews!”

I began to see that true justice and peace is to believe that both Jews and Palestinians should be able to live side by side in safety and freedom, with Palestinians enjoying all the rights of citizenship including homes, land, jobs, freedom of movement, education, and hope. Demonizing either side was not the answer. I began to pray that this would become reality.

A Prayer for Justice

The contradictions between biblical nationhood and the modern state of Israel are profound. Human rights abuses, an exclusivist state, arrests and detentions, destroying homes, stealing land are just a few of those contradictions detailed by Dr. Gary Burge in his book Whose Land? Whose Promise? And whether we be Orthodox, Catholic, or Protestant Christians, we need our eyesight healed and our vision restored. We need to see the nation of Israel for what it is – a nation deeply in need of grace, forgiveness, and restoration; Jews for who they are – a people who have experienced unconscionable genocide and should not have to fear suicide bombers and rocket attacks; Palestinian Muslims for who they are – a people who are rightly angry at living conditions and past and present injustice, some who have committed inconceivable acts of terror that do not help the cause of peace; and Palestinian Christians for who they are – people saved by grace, living in oppression and injustice, yet continuing to love the Lord their God and seek His peace – our brothers and sisters in Christ.

I don’t know much about politics, but I do know that God cares more about those living stones than he does about nationhood. He cares about reconciliation and weeps at oppression and injustice.  I do know that he cares deeply about us being agents of peace. From the ancient words of Isaiah we hear this:

“A bruised reed He will not break
         And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish;
         He will faithfully bring forth justice.

“He will not be disheartened or crushed
         Until He has established justice in the earth;
         And the coastlands will wait expectantly for His law.”

Today is the 70th anniversary of El Nakba. It is a day to remember and to think about the importance of looking at history, remembering an injustice that continues daily in the lives of Palestinians. It is a day to pray for peace and justice. It is a day to ask that our eyesight be healed. 


*We Belong to the Land p.207

Reading List: 

Also, take a listen to this beautiful, poignant video sent to me by an Israeli friend:

How Do You Draw Mercy?

dock into ocean mercy of God

If you were asked to draw a picture of mercy what would you draw? How would you take the tools of pencil and paper and use them to craft a concept like mercy? Would you draw an event in your life; an event where you were shown mercy and after that you would never be the same? How do you draw mercy?

But all the wickedness in the world which man may do or think is no more to the mercy of God than a live coal dropped in the sea.” William Langland

Though crafted with words and not a drawing, this quote has given me a picture of mercy that I never want to forget. I found the quote through Madeleine L’engle’s book One Live Coal to the Sea; a book where she explores mercy in the life of a family. Mercy in the midst of evil and dysfunction; mercy despite selfishness and betrayal; mercy when life demands justice.

In the midst of life’s journey, in the middle of hearing, seeing or thinking about evil, it is easy to forget the mercy of God. Mercy for apathetic teens and adults, mercy for passionate teenagers shot out of evil intent, mercy (dare I say it) for the men who shot her, mercy for me.

Today I picture that live coal, burning hot; a coal that can ignite a fire or burn a body, causing great pain and damage. And I picture that red, hot coal hitting the vast ocean where it can no longer do damage; where it is overcome by something so much more powerful. It is so far beyond my understanding, so much bigger than I could ever imagine. Evil confronted by the mercy of God and in that confrontation losing its power — one live coal to the sea.

How do you draw mercy?

“He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” Micah 6:8

Mercy Triumphs Over Justice

call the midwife 2In Season One, Episode 2 of Call the Midwife, we have an overwhelming picture of love and mercy.

The beginning of the show has us at a clinic watching women come in for their regular maternity check ups. A couple walks in, he – older, she – clearly uncomfortable. The midwives check her and give her a perfect bill of health, but they are uneasy and intuitively know something is not right.

Throughout the show we are taken to the home of the couple, privy to the conversations between midwife and patient. But still we don’t find out much – just that she is surprised she is pregnant and worried about something.

Toward the end of the show the woman is in labor. And it is while in labor that we find out why she is worried. She is worried that the baby will be black –  the husband we have met is white. And we are suddenly part of her story, part of the drama unfolding onscreen. What is going to happen? The birth is imminent – what will the outcome be?

The midwife with complete authority reminds the woman that there is a baby coming whether she likes it or not: “I don’t care if it’s green, red, or orange. Your child’s heart rate is dropping, and I need you to start pushing. Now.”

In all the pain and work that is childbirth, the baby is birthed….and the baby is black. It’s obvious that the husband, so excited by this pregnancy, so zealous for the welfare of his wife, so ready to welcome his son into the world, is not the father.

And we don’t know what is going to happen. Will he rage and accuse? Will he leave or throw her out? Will he demean and demand?

At this point there are two midwives, a doctor, the mom, and the perfectly formed, healthy newborn in the bedroom together. The husband is outside, taking a much-needed cigarette. The doctor heads outside and stands silently with him, revealing nothing, just waiting alongside. And finally the midwife comes to tell the husband he can come see her, come see the baby.

And so the dad rushes in.

All is silent as he looks at his son. None of us can breathe as he takes in the obvious. All of life hangs on this moment.

The man takes the baby in his arms. “I don’t reckon to know much about babies” pause “But I can see how this is the most beautiful baby in the world.”   

And so we breathe. For a moment we were the pregnant woman – would he accept or reject? Would we see mercy, or would we see justice? In that instant mercy and love triumphed. Sacrificial love, love that bears a cost, takes a stand; love that would forgive and move forward.

And we respond the only way we know how, with tears, relief, and a small sigh of gratitude escaping our lips.

A highly disturbed reader takes a look at a highly disturbing book: Zeitoun!

Fridays with Robynn

Zeitoun Dave Eggers(McSweeney’s Books: San Fransisco, 2009.)

I just finished a book that’s left me shaken to the core. Zeitoun  is a non-fiction account of one family’s experience during and immediately after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Abdulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun (pronounced zay-toon) run a professional painting business. Abdulrahman is a sympathetic immigrant from Syria. He is a devout Muslim. He works hard and contributes to his community. He is well-respected and liked.  Kathy, his wife, grew up Southern Baptist and is a convert to Islam. At the time of the Hurricane they had 4 children, one son Zachary and three daughters:  Nademah, Aisha and Safiya. They were tracking the storm’s arrival and decided that Kathy and the children would leave town while Abdulrahman stayed back to take care of their house, monitor their rental properties, business office and equipment. What follows is the story of Abdulrahman’s experiences after the hurricane hit. Using his canoe to paddle around neighbourhoods that he used to frequent, he rescues several elderly residents, discovers and begins to feed dogs that were left behind and happens upon friends that also stayed. The story takes a horrendous turn when Abdulrahman and three friends were forcibly arrested and taken to a makeshift prison at the Greyhound bus station. They were not told why they were being arrested, they were not allowed to phone their families or their lawyers, and they were held in inhumane cages and conditions before being transferred to other nearby facilities.

Abdulrahman’s story is absolutely unbelievable. And yet the author goes to great effort to show the research he did to verify the Zeitoun’s family story. It is certainly true.

By all accounts the agencies in charge of law and order and rescue during the days immediately after the hurricane went rogue. Rumours of terrorist organizations capitalizing on natural disasters, the prevailing chaos, the sheer horrors and numbers of the victims and the displaced distorted the judgment and discernment of normally rational individuals.  The New Orleans police department, the Army Corp of Engineers, the Mayor of New Orleans, FEMA –any of these might have stabilized the situation and brought calm and hope to what was a devastating reality. But they didn’t. They rose up with fear and they abused the power with which they had been entrusted. They bullied, they tortured, they neglected care, they mistreated. They fixated on minor infractions while largely neglecting to rescue innocent victims.

It’s very hard to imagine how all of it could happen in modern-day, 2005, here in the United States of America. What went wrong? How did this happen?

As a Canadian, who grew up in Pakistan,  I remember vividly an encounter I had with a US Immigration Officer in Ontario. I was applying, at that time for an R-1 visa. We were hoping to stay in the US for two years. I needed that visa to be able to temporarily live here.  The officer was looking through my records on her computer screen, “It says here that you said you’d be leaving to return to India in three months time.” I had never said that. I wouldn’t have said it. It wasn’t true. The officer completely shrugged me off. The recorded memo of my earlier conversation with a previous immigration officer was considered the truth about me. My word against theirs. And they were right. I was wrong. Accepting their word though meant that I had lied and over stayed my welcome. I was powerless to defend myself. She didn’t believe me. I was in the wrong.

Abdulrahman Zeitoun was in a far worse situation. He was completely vulnerable. Completely at the mercy of those in authority over him. They were authorities that at that time were not to be trusted.

Here in the U.S. we pride ourselves in our systems of justice and defense. We are innocent until we are proven guilty. Justice rules. She is not influenced by money or by power…but only by truth and proof. In other countries these things seem so tenuous, so fragile, so impressionable….but here justice is solid and sure. It’s what, in our minds, separates us from all that is “uncivilized”. It sets us apart. It gives us voice and confidence.

Reading the Zeitoun’s story leaves you wondering though.

Now seven years later, Kathy Zeitoun suffers with Post Traumatic Stress disorder. She will never be the same again.

“She finds herself wondering, early in the morning and late at night and sometimes just while sitting with little Ahmad sleeping on her lap: Did all that really happen? Did it happen in the United States? To us? It could have been avoided, she thinks. So many little things could have been done. So many people let it happen. So many looked away. And it only takes one person, one small act of stepping from the dark to the light.” (p 329)

It happened here.

And it could happen again.

It takes all of us committed to justice to preserve it. Justice, when left unchecked, uncared for, unguarded, untethered, spoils. We all need to protect it.

It’s a precious commodity.

Thankfully a hero rises up in Abdulrahman’s story. A simple black preacher delivering Bibles to the inmates hears Abdulrahman’s plea and is true to his word. He called Kathy and let her know where Abdulrahman was being held. Admittedly this doesn’t sound very heroic. But he was a man who was willing to listen to his conscience. He was willing to be the messenger.

Kathy goes on to say,

                “But did he risk so much? Not really. Usually you needn’t risk so much to right a wrong.  It’s not so complicated. It’s the opposite of complicated. To dial a number given to you by a man in a cage, to tell the voice on the other end, ‘I saw him.’ Is that complicated? Is that an act of great heroism in the United States of America? It should not be so.” (p 329)

I want to be like that preacher. I want to be “one person” who doesn’t look away, who steps from the dark to the light, who defends those who aren’t being defended, who stands up against injustice. Like Kathy Zeitoun said, “It’s not that complicated.”

Note from Robynn:  

A response to Abdulraham Zeitoun and Kathy Zeitoun’s ongoing story.

I was horrified to discover in a quick web search that Abdulraham and Kathy Zeitoun were divorced in early 2011. More recently Abdulrahman has been arrested for violently attacking Kathy on July 20, 2012. He remains imprisoned at this time.

My heart breaks for this family. They deserve our deep sympathy and our compassion filled prayers. At the time of Dave Egger’s book their marriage was described as solid and happy. They were sweet to one another. There was humour and kindness, deep loyalty and respect. One can only wonder, considering the extent of the trauma they endured, how much of their current situation is in part to blame on the injustices they experienced.

It further grieves me that this type of violent behavior is what the media expects of Muslim men. Abdulraham Zeitoun is now who everyone expected him to be. Yet – he was as Muslim before the hurricane as he is now. And yet now thousands will knowingly nod their heads – “We expected as much” they will say. It makes me angry. We will never know the depth of the damage to this one man’s psyche, to his (now ex) wife’s sanity, to his children’s sense of security that occurred when the raw horror of injustice and cruelty was served.

A man now sits in prison. A family is destroyed. A marriage wounded.

Certainly Abdulraham is responsible for hitting his wife. There’s no doubt he’s responsible for his fierce anger and his uncontrollable reactions.

But what happened inside to turn on that rage? When did he break?

Perhaps those responsible for his post-hurricane Katrina treatment should join him in his jail cell. Perhaps they, in part, share some of the blame for the way Kathy Zeitoun and her children were treated.