Cappuccino with Barzan: Friendship and Betrayal in Kurdistan

The Beginning

Around eleven o’clock every morning, Barzan would look through the door of my office and say “Come! Let’s have cappuccino!” I would look up at him and respond enthusiastically “Yes!” Five minutes later I would find myself seated at a chair by his desk, stirring a cup of instant cappuccino made in Turkey and readily available in the Kurdish market. That was when our conversation would begin.

It began in early May. May in Kurdistan is when you begin to feel the change in weather. Spring with its rain and lush green fields is gone, but the high temperatures of summer have not yet arrived. The days get longer, and you feel the joy of a season’s change. This May however, the holy month of Ramadan had just begun, and that changed things. The days were long and the nights even longer. For Muslims around the world, the month of Ramadan is a time of fasting and prayer. From sunup until sundown, strict Muslims abstain from food, liquid, smoking, and sex.

Instead of a normal May, Ramadan overlaid it with spiritual highs and physical lows. The latter seemed to far outweigh the former. Everyone was grumpy. Everyone was self-righteous. Everyone had a headache, and everyone claimed they were feeling the best they’d ever felt.

As an outsider, I too was feeling the change in temperament and temper, so the first time Barzan invited me, I looked at him in complete surprise.

“But it’s Ramadan!” I said, shock evident in my voice.

“Yes, and sometimes we need to have cappuccino during Ramadan!” His answer was priest-like in its authority and conviction.

I looked at him with joy and amazement. Here was someone who I could relate with, who worked out his faith practically with room for questioning, and perhaps going against the crowd.

Iraqi Kurdistan

The Kurdish Region of Iraq (KRI) is an autonomous zone in Northern Iraq. Unlike the surrounding countries of Syria, Turkey, and Iran, Kurds in this region have carved out a semblance of autonomy. Kurds consider this area to be Southern Kurdistan, one of four parts of Kurdistan, the other parts being Northern Kurdistan (southeastern Turkey), Eastern Kurdistan (northwestern Iran), and Western Kurdistan (northern Syria). Kurds themselves are divided as to what would be best for the people of the region. One more nation state, or more independence within the boundaries of their existing countries? Talk to one person and you’ll get one thought, another and you’ll get a completely different opinion.

For Kurds in Northern Iraq, carving out this autonomous region was not easy, and it continues to have significant challenges. An uprising against Saddam Hussein in 1991, a United Nations Security Council Resolution establishing a safe haven for Kurdish refugees, and a “No Fly Zone” established by the United States and Coalition forces all worked toward a common purpose and in October of 1991, the Iraqi government finally left, allowing Kurds in the region to begin to live and govern independently. This is a simplistic overview of a much more complex political reality, but it helps outsiders to understand a little of the fierce independence and pride that characterize the area.

The Kurdish Region of Iraq is home to approximately five million Kurds. The solidarity shared with Kurds in the surrounding countries is important to understand. Just like family, I can criticize my family, but you have no right to because you don’t belong, is much the way I experienced Kurds solidarity with each other. They may fight within, but when faced with outside threats, the solidarity and unity is profound. The fight against D’aesh (the Islamic State) was symbolic of Kurds being willing to put aside their differences and come together to fight against an external threat. They did so bravely and selflessly, ridding the region of terror and allowing families to return home after long exiles.

This is what I have been thinking about as I read and react with tears to the recent invasion of Syria by Turkey. Kurds are feeling this acutely. If you’ve watched any recent news, you don’t need me to tell you this. Far more learned and qualified people are writing extensive articles and opinion pieces.

So why does my voice matter?

Maybe because of cappuccino with Barzan.

First Encounters

We first visited the region in 2015 at the height of the crisis with D’aesh. Massive movement had taken place in Northern Iraq. Arab Christians from Mosul and Qaraqosh had left homes, factories, businesses, and restaurants to get their families to safety, away from the tyranny of the Islamic State. Churches and businesses in Erbil, the capital of the KRG, opened their doors to people who had arrived in crisis.  Unfinished malls and apartment buildings were quickly equipped with particle board and moveable walls to create rooms for families. At one building we visited, 120 people shared the same kitchen and bathroom. Families left most everything behind as they moved to the area for safety. And Kurds welcomed them – welcomed them with jobs, food packets, and homes. The stories we heard during that time will remain with me forever, stories of hope and horror, humanity at its best and worst. My husband and I left after ten days in the region with only one thought: We wanted to return. We wanted to move to Northern Iraq. Specifically, we wanted to move to Kurdistan.

Some dreams become reality while others remain silent and still, occupying our hearts and minds in quiet moments, but unable to be voiced because they hurt too much. Our dream became a reality and in September of last year, my husband and I moved to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. To say we left everything is true. We left excellent jobs at health departments and universities in Boston. We gave away everything except our car, which we sold to an eccentric lady who belonged in a novel. We packed up our lives and our faith and we moved. We didn’t really know how long we would be gone, but we expected to live in the region for at least two years. In one year, you barely begin to understand a new country and culture and cultural adjustments occupy a good amount of your time and energy. You need at least two years, and after that – who knew?

That’s why cappuccino with Barzan was so significant. In the space of a half hour we would talk about everything. Politics (Kurdish, Iraqi, and American), faith, friendship, the profession of nursing, nursing students, marriage, differing cultures, worldviews, and even Wanda, Barzan’s hostess during a time when he lived in the United States. Wanda was an unseen part of every conversation. Barzan and I didn’t always agree – we didn’t have to. Cappuccino made our disagreements sweet and palatable.

Leaving Kurdistan

It was after having cappuccino with Barzan one morning that I found out a decision had been made by the Kurdish Government that dramatically altered our lives. The Minister of Finance had passed down a decree to the Minister of Education that affected all contract employees. Anyone with Bachelor’s Degrees would lose their job; anyone with a Master’s or PhD would lose half their salary. We were summoned to the university president’s office and were given the news. We left the meeting in shock.

We did not want to leave. We wanted to stay in the small city where we had carved out not only morning cappuccino, but also significant community through friendships. My husband taught swimming every Tuesday at a local pool to men who had never had the opportunity to learn how to swim. I was beginning to work with a group of women to teach health classes in the community. We had connected with an NGO and begun game nights every Thursday, and Fridays saw us at an English Talk Club participating with a group of Kurds who we had formed deep friendships with through discussions on many topics all conducted in English. Leave? How could we leave? We had to stay!

A tumultuous month followed, where rumor and fact collided and the truth of the edict was difficult to uncover. But by the end of June we had resigned ourselves to the idea that we would be leaving Kurdistan. The decision was irreversible.

We felt betrayed. Though it was a non-personal decision made at a high governmental level, it felt personal. We watched as Iranian colleagues packed their bags and moved back across the border to Iran. We heard from Kurdish colleagues who were also contract employees and had lost their jobs as well. It was a decision that couldn’t be fought and could take months or years to be reversed.

Our hearts broke. Tears flowed at odd times, our grieving was raw and real. We arrived back in the United States right before the fourth of July and the release of Stranger Things. We had lived our own version of Stranger Things, and it was a relief to binge watch something that took our mind off our transition and grief.

No Friends But the Mountains

The Kurds have a proverb, rightfully born of being surrounded by countries that don’t want an independent nation of Kurdistan to exist. “We have no friends but the mountains” was something we heard from our Kurdish friends over and over during our time in the KRG. We would hear the proverb as we were walking and talking with friends or sitting with them eating a delicious meal and sipping hot tea from glasses.

When I found out that the current administration had made the decision to withdraw American forces from Syria, an area that was being controlled by Syrian Kurdish forces, I thought of the proverb and how Kurds would be feeling and talking about this as they learned of the decision. I felt betrayed with my Kurdish friends by my own government. Had I still lived in Kurdistan, our cappuccino time would be spent grieving the decision.  Instead, it was my husband and me, cursing and grieving the short sightedness of this move. Generally able to look at a decision from multiple angles, this one was political and personal. Destabilization of a fragile area; abandoning loyal allies and paving a path for ISIS to re-emerge are just a couple of the potential outcomes, but largely not understood by many was the ethnic cleansing tragedy waiting to happen. How could America do this? How could we abandon allies that helped defeat D’aesh and be able to sleep at night? How could we not know that the area would create another massive displacement of Kurds and Christian minorities in the region? How could thoughtless leaders not understand the repercussions of this in a world that is so deeply interconnected?

And then there was the sense of personal attack! How could they do this to the Kurds, our friends, people that treated us like family for ten months? Ten months of extravagant invitations to tea and meals. Ten months of learning the history of the region, the horrors experienced during the time of Saddam Hussein and the extraordinary resilience and generosity that characterized the community. Ten months of friendship forged through time, food, and laughter. It didn’t matter that this was not the community where we had lived and worked – these were their Kurdish brothers and sisters, and blood lines are not easily severed in the region. The how coulds got lost in my fury of feeling.

If only we were there. If only we were there to sit with our friends and get angry with them. If only we were there to walk beside them, to show them that the world had not left them. If only we could sit with them and let them see that they do have friends beyond the mountains. But we weren’t there because of the Kurdish government, not the American government. Two governmental decisions. Two betrayals. But one with far more devastating effects than job loss.

But instead of drinking cappuccino with Barzan, tea with Yassin, and eating ghormeh sabzi with Behnaz, we were in a city oceans and continents away.  

Who is My Neighbor?

The feelings of sadness come over me regularly, and I try not to monitor the news 24/7. And I pray. I pray for the Kurds I don’t know, and the ones I know – the ones who opened their homes and lives to us – strangers and Americans.

Many years ago, a man came to Jesus and asked him a question about neighbors; specifically, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus answered him with a story. I learned a lot about being a good neighbor this past year and I didn’t learn it from people who looked like me. I learned it from my Kurdish, Muslim friends. I learned it from Yassin, who offered friendship through time, invitations to dinner, and helping us understand Kurdistan and Kurds. I learned it from Behnaz, a young Iranian Kurdish woman who offered me laughter, joy, and an artist’s eye for beauty. I learned it from Zana and Karwan who taught me how to heat my home and where to buy items in the bazaar. I learned it from Dr. Sanaa who passionately led the university department where I worked. I learned it from Rania who was a patient cultural broker and my fashion consultant.  I learned it from so many people that I can’t even name them all.

And I learned it from Barzan, who invited a foreigner into his office every day during Ramadan to drink cappuccino.  

Ferdinand’s Secret

Ferdinand’s Secret by Anonymous

I am happy to see the story of Ferdinand, that gentle, flower-sniffing, pacifist bull has made the big screen. I have not seen the film, but unless it completely betrays the book, Ferdinand offers us an astonishingly simple, though not entirely painless solution to a vast range of contemporary problems. Handwringing at many of the world’s apparently intractable difficulties – resurgent authoritarianism, Kim Jong Il’s missiles, Harvey Weinstein, Putin’s flaunting of his six pack, the crisis in the Catholic church, Evangelical support for Trump, the ridiculously crowded field of democratic candidates and the looming demographic disaster of an excess of young men in China – might end if we better understood Ferdinand’s secret, which is really not much of a secret at all. Though obscure to me as a boy, Ferdinand’s back story is clear to me now. He had experienced a small, life-transforming operation that freed him from that great plague of humanity – and bulls – which, to maintain the subtlety of children’s literature, we prefer not spell it out. Yes, it does begin with a T, and so do the excised parts. 

I am likely to be severely criticized for oversimplifying many complex problems, but I think that instead we overcomplexify a simple problem. Freud understood this problem better than most. When I was young I thought Freud probably had a puerile mind, though I didn’t know the word. Now, as I shudder at the rash of towers plaguing the skylines of world cities – Istanbul’s is just being erected – I think Freud may have undersold his big idea. I also used to be shocked, like any good Puritan should be, at the Hindu lingam and at the Near Eastern statuettes – I recently saw one at Ephesus Museum – depicting the effects of what appears to be superhuman levels of testosterone. Either that, or an extraordinarily potent premodern Viagra. But anyone who thinks seriously about modern world leaders, Kim Jong Il’s missiles, or our recent #metoo moment surely must see that we still have far more (begins with a T) around than is good for us. We just aren’t as honest about our idolatry as were ancient near eastern idol carvers. 

The solution is right in front of us in the form of a delightful, warm-hearted children’s book. We might begin symbolically. Suppose we replace the Wall Street Bull, so heavily weighed down at the back, with a more balanced, flower-sniffing statue of Ferdinand, appropriately bandaged. Who could argue with a kinder, gentler capitalism? But we need more than symbols. We need role models. I suggest our presidential candidates might begin leading the world by example. Voluntarily? I am of two minds.  A legal requirement would require a pesky Constitutional amendment, and I can see how the idea might be tough to sell at first. But with some appropriate incentives – a requirement for participation in debates? a massive influx of campaign cash? unparalleled publicity? – who could resist the peer pressure, and the potent benefits – somehow that seems like the wrong adjective –  of such a small operation. Mike Pence would never have to worry about being alone in an elevator with a woman again, and neither would the women. President Trump could clearly demonstrate once and for all that, whatever may or may not have been fake news from the past, he will certainly have no future interest in the Wrong Sort of Playmate. Imagine Melania’s relief.   

But it’s the democrats who stand to benefit most. If the idea caught on, we would likely see an immediate and virtuous thinning of that over crowded field. Those who remained would have the immediate benefit of casting away any past #metoo type scandals, and preventing future ones. What about the women candidates? Wouldn’t this give ambitious women an unfair advantage? The IAAF – the the International Association of Athletics Federations – has shown the way, recognizing the fundamental unfairness of excess testosterone.  Amy Klobuchar, judging from her alleged treatment of her staff, should certainly be tested and disqualified, unless she is willing to submit to hormone suppressants and ongoing monitoring. Imagine the love fest our last Presidential election might have been if the race had been between a Ferdinand-like Donald and a Hillary with suppressed hormones, and smiling in the background an entirely benevolent and disinterested Vladimir Putin smelling the flowers of a new Russian Spring.   

If we Christians truly want to distance ourselves from modern paganism – I’m thinking of the statuette in the Ephesus museum again – then why not just cut if off. Literally.

There is excellent biblical warrant. Origen saw this, acted on it, and has been unjustly castigated ever since. Yet it seems the obvious solution to the modern scandal of the Catholic church. If life long celibacy is really such a good idea, why not make it easier and safer?  It could be a truly back to the Bible moment for evangelicals who have inexplicably resisted application one of the clearest of our Lord’s recommendations.   

So I have a dream, a dream in which crowds of men, all with the face of Harvey Weinstein, fill the Mall in Washington, and like the massive gathering of eunuchs in “The Last Emperor”, hold aloft the evidence that they are no longer a danger to humanity and proudly chant “ME TOO!”  It would mark the beginning of an invigorated – sorry, wrong adjective again – and truly gender-inclusive #metoo movement.  Inspiring!   

*Note: The brilliant author of this piece wishes to remain anonymous.

People Have Friends; Governments Have Interests

When I first began dating my husband, I would joke that I dated him and 30 Iranians. Cliff had hundreds of friends and most of them were international students at the university he was attending.

During those initial dates we would go to underground Marxist events, Nowruz parties, or sumptuous Wednesday night dinners of kebabs, pilau, torshi, and tea served in special glasses with sugar cubes — all with Iranians. He counted them among his best friends. Through our courtship and then marriage they became my friends as well, some of them young men; others whole families. I became convinced that God created Iranian women first and used up so much beauty that there wasn’t much left for the rest of us. Bad theology? Maybe. Truth about their beauty? Absolutely.

It was during the Iran Hostage Crisis that my husband befriended these students and families. In a recent conversation one of his friends admitted that several of them thought he may be with the CIA. Who else asks that many questions?

Iran was not popular with the United States at the time. Three decades have gone by and not much has changed.

The number of countries that the United States considers dangerous has only increased during the past three decades. Different administrations have made a variety of statements and decisions about who is safe and whether they meet the litmus test of coming to this country.

During the same period of time, our friendships with people from these countries has only increased. In the last 7 years, we have had the privilege of traveling to Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan, We have also formed friendships in Cambridge with people from Iran, Turkey, Palestine, Israel, Syria, Algeria, Somalia, and so many more. Two years ago, we were able to introduce a young Syrian family to a young Israeli family at a Thanksgiving gathering. Watching them talk and connect was incredible. Their former views of each other’s respective countries was through the barrel of a gun, not over tea and pumpkin pie.

“People have friends; Governments have interests” is a quote that I’ve heard many times. Living in the United States affords many of us unique opportunities to form friendships with people who are from countries considered dangerous, countries that are not counted as ‘friends of the United States’. Because we are not our governments. Our decisions on who to love, who to trust, and who to befriend are not dictated by who or what our government does; by who our government does or does not deem ‘safe’. 

Too many times we confuse the two. Subconsciously our attitude becomes: If the United States Government and the mainstream media sources do not trust a country, then we can’t trust people from that same country. If they are on bad terms we must be on bad terms. 

My husband and I are not unique in having Muslims as some of our best friends. We know many Christians who claim the same. And we are among many who believe friendship and dialogue trump government interests and activity every time. As I’ve seen articles and been in conversations there are times when I fear some Christians in the west allow government policies and opinions to dictate their friendships; other times when media sources control their hearts and minds. I would suggest that this is misplaced loyalty creating a poverty of thought and spirit preventing us from befriending and reaching out to those who God has placed around us.

From Cambridge, Massachusetts to Tehran, Iran, the last few years have given us uncountable opportunities for meaningful interactions, because people are not governments.

“If we leave it to the mainstream, corporate media to form our conception and understanding of the surrounding world, the entire universe will be a gloomy, failing and disappointing entity in which no sign of hope and dynamism can be found.”*

There’s more to say on this topic, but I want to open it up to you. Wherever you live, how does the government and media affect how you view people? Who you will or won’t let into your life? Do you agree with the quote “People have friends; governments have interests?” Why or why not?

*Quote from Kourosh Ziabari — an award-winning Iranian journalist, media correspondent and activist

Note: This post was revised from another written in 2014

A Statement on Life

I am pro-life. I love babies and mamas. I love ultrasounds that show us the beauty of that baby, perfectly safe and growing in the womb.

Because I am pro-life, I am pro-healthcare. I am a nurse, and I have witnessed first hand what it is to have a patient walk in to a clinic with late-stage breast cancer, because she didn’t have money for a check up. I am pro birthcontrol, knowing that it decreases teen pregnancy and helps women to be able to plan their families.

Because I am pro-life, I am pro women’s right to have paid sick leave. I am pro life, so I am pro flexible work schedules and better options for those raising children.

I am pro-life, and because I am pro-life, and I know how many people have been killed by guns in this nation we call civilized, I am desperate for better measures to determine who gets guns, and why they get them. I am pro-life, and so I am against the death penalty. The words from Matthew 5, echoed and expanded by Gandhi “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” have been shown to be true over and over again.

I am pro-life. Because I am pro-life, I am pro justice in the Middle East and long for people to realize the atrocities that Palestinians have gone through since 1948.

I am pro-life. Because I am pro-life, I am for refugees being settled where they no longer have to fear, where they can build new homes and new lives. I am for immigrants, who leave places they love and go through the long and lonely process of moving to a new country, because they want to give their children and grandchildren a better future.

I am pro-life. Because I am pro-life I long for garbage-free green spaces in the cities of the world, and oceans where people can swim and where our beautiful sea-life can flourish. Because I am pro-life, I want children in cities to grow up free of asthma from the mold that grows unchecked in poor housing. Because I am pro-life, I want fresh foods available in food deserts, and safe streets for walking. Because I am pro-life, I long for functional families, where children grow up loved and disciplined.

I am pro-life, and so I am pro caring for the elderly and loving them, making sure they are recognized as important members of our society. I am pro-life, and so I am pro child – every child, not just those who are beautiful, and smart, and athletic. I am pro child who will struggle with learning until the day they die. I am pro child with Downs, who makes the world a better and kinder place. I am pro help for the parent who is loving and caring for a child who doesn’t fit into a normal pattern of development.

I am pro-life, and so I long for the hungry to be fed, the wounded to be healed, the broken-hearted to be mended.

I am pro-life, and so I long for the day when all life will be restored, when tears will be wiped away and God will heal the cracks of our broken world.

But until that day, I will pray for courage and tenacity to live the way I believe. 

A Salute

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Here’s to the bridge-builders, the peacemakers, the ones who seek to understand the actions of another.

Here’s to those who care about people who don’t believe as they do. 

Here’s to those who will listen to those they disagree with and seek to find common ground.

Here’s to the ones who quietly work behind the scenes to make life better for others.

Here’s to those who meet people where they are, listening to wounded hearts and hurting souls.

Here’s to righteous anger that longs for a world where wrong is made right and sin is no more.

Here’s to those who are willing to trust God with their tightly held beliefs, and extend an olive branch of peace.

Here’s to the men and women who pray for the world, believing that prayer is our greatest weapon against evil.

Here’s to the ability to protest and the freedom to make our voices heard.

Here’s to courage in living out, in kindness, that which we believe.

Here’s to those who protest and tear down walls, believing that good walls do not good neighbors make.

She’s an Angry Elf

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Elf is a well-loved film about a man who thinks he’s a Christmas elf. If you know the movie, you are probably smiling right now. If not, then you are shaking your head and wondering where this is going. Stay with me for a bit, I’ll explain.

There is a point in the film where Buddy, the man-elf, bursts into a business meeting at a publishing company. At that meeting, he  unfortunately and unknowingly, but also humorously,insults a well-known creator of children’s books.

As the man gets angrier and angrier, Buddy makes the understatement of the movie “He’s an angry elf!” 

Today I’m an angry elf. I was on the subway in Boston enjoying the sounds of languages from around the world. I recognized Haitian, Hindi, Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, Arabic, and English. These are not tones or sounds that alienate me. Instead, I feel completely at home. I am not intimidated and I don’t care that I don’t understand – though I do try and follow the conversations in Arabic and Hindi.

So I decided to put my happy feelings onto that both hated and loved medium – Facebook. I wrote this:

Sitting on the subway in Boston listening to conversations all around me in Hindi, Mandarin, Spanish, Arabic, Haitian, and English. This is America.

It was a happy, what I thought was a non-political post. But in our world of divisions and politics, it wasn’t perceived the way I intended. Instead, someone questioned the legality of the people on the subway — those that I was listening to.

And – whether right or wrong – I felt angry. Then, the angrier I got, the more I found to be angry about.

My friends – I am an angry elf. 

I have written below a “Woe to us” piece. I say ‘us’ because for every sin I see in others, I have five more. There are times when I think I should be silent and shut up; times when I need to sit back and pray more. And right after I publish this piece? That will be a time when I need to sit back and pray more. But right now, I need to speak up.

Woe to us who support foreign missions and pray for those across the sea, but don’t invite those who are foreign to share our bread and drink our tea. 

Woe to us who think that our skin color gives us a special dispensation of grace.

Woe to us who spend money on Angel Tree and Christmas Boxes, and yet hate the people who receive them. 

Woe to us who defend evil and dress it in riches and expensive clothing. 

Woe to us who make our nations and leaders into gods and idols, and bow and pledge our souls to those idols. 

Woe to us who hold truth in our hearts, but never hold it up as a mirror to convict us. 

Woe to us who grow fat with with the Word, while others are starving. 

Woe to us – when we withhold grace, when we bask in self-righteousness, when we see ourselves as better than others. 

Woe to me – the angry elf. For I must repent. And I don’t want to. 

May God save us from ourselves. 

And a Happy U.S. Thanksgiving.

To add a lighter note – my friend Karen reminded me of some of the best lines in the film. 

“We elves try to stick to the four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corns and syrup.”

 “This place reminds me of Santa’s Workshop! Except it smells like mushrooms and everyone looks like they want to hurt me.”

Rambling Thoughts on Confronting an Idol

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I called my mom before the election with one specific question:

“Mom, when did American politics get mixed up with Christianity?”

I really wanted to know. I didn’t grow up in the United States and throughout my childhood, my parents voted via absentee ballots. I remember political discussions about the U.S. taking place every four years, where my mom and dad would have at least one heated discussion about “their” candidate. 95% of the time, their votes cancelled each other. Never do I remember either one of them talking about which was the better “Christian” choice.

“I’m not sure,” she replied. “I have read that it was when the Moral Majority became a thing. Jerry Falwell and others connected their politics and their faith.”

This was something I escaped during childhood and beyond into my college years. I was far more concerned about the Iranian revolution and the war in Lebanon than I was about U.S. politics, although I would come to learn that U.S foreign policy was critically important when it came to parts of the world that I loved.

But the point is: I never got caught up in the melding of Christianity with the earthly kingdom of the United States of America.

I think its time to confront the idol. America and American exceptionalism have become idols and when we make anything into an idol we need to confess and repent.

“….Nothing is more alien to the Old and New Testaments than to sacralize the unholy, or divinize material things. To regard secular America as some kind of Messiah nation, or geo-political golden calf, is sheer idolatry.”*

When rationalizing America as a “nation blessed by God’ the arguments given are generally material and military and use the book of Deuteronomy as a guide.

Material: America is ‘blessed’ by God because we have more wealth than other countries, because we have houses and bank accounts and cars and college price tags of $160,000 and a plethora of other things unknown to much of the world. How often have you heard someone talk about being “Blessed” with a house? That’s wonderful – but if they had an apartment would they be less blessed? Does the blessing include cathedral ceilings, designer paint, and a pool in the back yard? Is the family of four living in 3000 square feet more blessed than the family of six living in 1000? Or the refugee family living in a tent? We’re on shaky ground when we use material goods as our litmus test for blessing.

Military: America is blessed by God because we have a strong military. Really? Are we using “Blessing” in the correct way?

The book of Matthew speaks a lot about blessing in a chapter called “The Beatitudes” literally meaning “blessings”. As I read it I realize yet again that Jesus again excels at turning things upside down, challenging the crowd who is familiar with an Old Testament view of blessing.  Not once is a strong military or material wealth mentioned. Rather we have a dire list of adjectives that include poor in spirit, meek, mourning, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, pure in heart, peace makers, and persecuted for the sake of righteousness, insulted….At this point I begin to feel uncomfortable. Are we through yet? No, there’s more – we end the ‘blessings’ portion with more persecution and false accusation.

The list of blessings is long, and drones, bombs, military intelligence, American exceptionalism, Wall Street, bonds, bank accounts, investments are not included.

But the blessings do include peacemaking.

They include seeking righteousness.

They include mourning.

And so I come to this conclusion: America is not blessed. In fact, we are in need of deep, deep healing. 

One of the ways we heal is by confronting the idol of Christian America and American exceptionalism. It has already begun to crumble before us and yet we aren’t paying attention. 

Nations will come and go. Party affiliations will change. Politics will swing from right to left and back again. This is not the Kingdom of God. Every political system on earth was designed by imperfect people who were all about politics on earth and not about treasure in Heaven.

They are not, and never were, designed to reflect Jesus or the Kingdom of God. And if you see any of these as more then systems designed by imperfect people, then I pray that God would heal your eyesight.

My allegiance is to a citizenship far stronger and greater than any nation. My loyalty and world view are defined less by a country and more by a faith. I am called to a higher calling and a far greater identity than that which is indicated by my passport. 

If I ever confuse my identity as an ‘American’ with that of being a ‘Christian’ may I be called out and challenged by those around me. Believing that a national identity is greater than a spiritual identity is quite simply idolatry.

Maybe you voted for Trump. Maybe you voted for Hillary. Maybe you found either choice untenable. Regardless, if you believe in a kingdom that is not of this world then I challenge you that your job is to build bridges with those with whom you disagree. Your job is not to ridicule, to withold grace, to tell people to stop having thin skin, to condemn, to gloat, to despair, to withdraw, to be disgusted. Your job, your mandate is to build bridges and seek the kingdom. 

There will be a day when the Kingdom of Heaven will come, and on that day I know this- all political systems will dissolve into nothing in the light of the Glory of God Himself.

Until then may God heal our eyesight. May he show us his beloved ones of every tribe and every nation. May we not dismiss stories or perspectives. May we be ones who listen and learn, who are willing to admit we are wrong. May we not justify our wrongs or rationalize our sins. May we be people who see beyond the crisis of the day and beyond our own inadequacies. May we comfort the hurting, give grace to the angry, hear the other side, build bridges of peace, and always fight for the persecuted. May we see the world through the Creator’s eyes of love and grace.

*First Things – “Is America Blessed by God”

Blogger’s note: You may recognize some of these posts – I took from a couple different blogs that I have done in the past.