Category Archives: politics

Abandoned Democracy and Emptied Tombs

Today is a big day in Turkey. Today is all about abandoned democracy and emptied tombs. Most people today will be casting a vote to decide if it is time to do the former. While they do so, others will be taking the narrower road in celebrating the latter.
As you, wherever you are, celebrate the empty tomb today, please remember to also pray for an infusion of common sense into those who are considering the possibility of abandoning democracy. Fortunately, no matter how the vote turns out, we know who still reigns.

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Love Trumps Fear

Where do I begin?

I am running late. Normally, I have this letter all written and sent at least a few days before the month ends. Yet here I am at 8PM still looking at my keyboard wondering where I begin. I have a lot I want to say, but how to say it? From my perspective I could simply say the three words in my title, “Love Trumps Fear” then drop mic and walk away. For me that is all there is to it.

But I know that most of you don’t know my kids as I do. It is so much harder to love people you do not know. It is also so much easier to fear people you do not know. So I really wish you could just visit with me in my classrooms for a day or two. I wish you could walk down the street and shop with me, or get on a bus and ride with me, go to my church and sit with me while really understanding the messages given in English, then later in Turkish and simultaneously in another room in Arabic.

But that can’t happen. They don’t want people from other parts of the world coming here right now and especially not Americans. As it is, I daily wonder how long I will be able to stay myself. As long as I can I will continue to love. As long as I am able I will continue to risk letting people into my world and sharing in theirs. I will continue to teach English and Jesus with kids who have deep deep scars that cannot be seen. I will continue to have tea with parents and adults who want to practise the ten English words they know. I will continue to let my world know that Jesus loves them even when America (who they associate with Christianity) says by her actions, “but we don’t”.

An Open Letter To CAIR

These aren’t my words. I agree with most, but not all of this address given by Rev Laura Everett at the Boston rally against the Muslim Ban yesterday. So I will share it, comment a little, and then ask what you think. Do you agree or disagree?

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I greet you in peace. My name is Rev Laura Everett, and I serve as the executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, a statewide network of thousands of Christian individuals, congregations, and denominations convinced that what binds us together in Christ is stronger than anything that divides us.

If you are a Muslim here because you are concerned about your rights, and the rights of others, please raise your hand.

 

If you are a Christian, a Jew, a Buddhist, a Hindu, a Sikh, a Mormon, a Baha’i, a humanist, a person whose deep values compel you to stand with our Muslim neighbors, please raise your hand. Keep your hands up.

 

My Muslim neighbors, look around. You are not alone. You are surrounded by people of many faiths and shared values who stane with you this day, and in the days to come.

I come to you today with the prayers, well wishes, and solidarity of so many who grieve this executive order and the violence it compounds. For every person here, there are many more across this state who share our commitments.

 

I come to you today not in spite of my faith, but because of my faith. I believe, and strive to life by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In my heart and in my bones, I am a Christian.

Here me say this: There is nothing Christian about a ban on Muslims. There is nothing Christian about refusing refugees.

There is nothing Christian about denying safe harbor to those fleeing violence. Nothing.

You’ve heard it, the efforts to wrap this Executive Order in the guise of Christianity. Resist it. Disprove it. Unmask it.

There is nothing Christian about refusing refugees.

Pope Francis said yesterday, “It’s hypocrisy to call yourself a Christian and chase away a refugee or someone seeking help, someone who is hungry or thirsty, toss out someone who is in need of your help.”

Because our tradition is clear. Deuteronomy 10:19 commands, “You shall also love the foreigner, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.” God’s people have always been refugees.

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The story of Jesus’ birth is the story of refugees. Refugees invite our increased compassion, not our hardened hearts.

Jesus was born, not in a time of peace, but in a time of fear and political instability. Mary and Joseph were migrants, forced to travel because the Emperor Augustus required all people to be registered. The Holy Family was later forced to flee the violence of their homeland. (Luke 2, Matthew 2)

So for Christians, Our Savior was a migrant. Jesus Christ was a refugee.

I want you to hear me promise you this: If, God forbid, our newly elected officials decide to force Muslims to register, then I will register as a Muslim. My colleague Jeremy Burton at Jewish Community Relations Council has vowed the same. If, God forbid, our elected officials decided to force a registry of Muslims, as a Jew Jeremy Burton will register first and I will register next. Our American tradition of religious liberty is not just for some, but for all. A threat against you is a threat to us all.

I also promise you this: we will do our own work in the Church. We know that there are other Christians who misunderstand or misrepresent Muslims. We will continue to work to educate ourselves.

As Christians, we vow to follow Jesus in standing with the vulnerable. The Christians across Massachusets want you to know that you are valued, loved, and essential members of the community. We are tempted towards despair, but we believe in a life stronger than death and a love stronger than fear.

Please accept our sorrow in your suffering, our solidarity in your struggle, and our friendship in faith.

I’d like to bless us:

Holy One, we know You by many names.

Bless us. Make us faithful, and make us brave. Amen.

OK, back to me (BJ) for a few comments. 1) I would not register as a Muslim. I am a Christian, I am proud of that fact and I would never consider representing myself as anything else. While I would refuse to register as anything at all, and while I would actively, 1960’s style protest any attempt at government registration, I would not classifying myself as anything but what I am. 2) I think she is misrepresenting what Islam actually teaches when she talks about educating the church. There is a huge gap between what the Quran teaches and what most most Muslims practise. This is a good thing because most Muslims are taught and raised to be good, honest, loving, decent people. However, the Quran is not a good book and those who follow it are the ones who end up being the radical extremists we rightly fear. This is why the Arabic speaking world tends to have far more extremists than Muslim cultures in other places. They actually understand what they are taught to recite.
3) I am not a fan of her short prayer at the end. It is not one God known by many names. The God of Judeo-Christianity is vastly different than the god of Islam. Part of respecting people of other cultures and faiths is to not just recognize our similarities but also acknowledge and respect our differences. 4) I understand that this was the prepared speech but what she actually said in Boston was shorter. The reason for that was because she was pressed for time and also she had to use the people’s mic because the sound system wasn’t adequate for the size of the crowd at the rally.

Anyways, what are your thoughts? Where do you agree with her thoughts? How do you disagree? What are your views on the ban? I know this is an incredibly divisive issue but would love to offer up this space where those of divergent viewpoints can express them that we might learn from each other without all the rhetoric and vitriol that abounds in the twitter and facebook world at the moment.

So if you are still reading, stop. Scroll down. Start writing. It’s your turn.

 

 

 

 

Here We Are Again

I am sitting here on my keyboard just hours away from the most recent terrorist attack in Turkey. Just outside a courthouse in Izmir, a car bomb went off killing two and injuring several more. That is what we know for sure at this point. There are two things that seem whento be widely speculated.  The first is that these attackers actually planned something larger but had to launch their attack early when discovery seemed immanent. The second is that this was an attack carried out by PKK freedom fighters, not ISIS.

Normally, I would take that second accusation with a grain of salt. The knee jerk reaction is always to blame PKK first and then start digging into facts later. That is just the way the government works around here. But when the dust is settled and what truth that can’t be covered up is revealed, it almost always pans out that any attack with a high list of victims carried out in civilian areas is ISIS but any attack with a smaller number of casualties targeting a police or government institution is PKK [or some offshoot]. ISIS’ stated goal is to spread Islam. PKK’s stated goal is to gain independence. So this time around, I think the government might actually be telling the truth. Hey, even a broken clock is right twice a day.

when1My heart breaks for Izmir and the victims of this second national tragedy to strike Turkey in a year that is not yet a week old. My heart also breaks for the countless victims caught in the crossfire of the multiple simultaneous conflicts that are ravaging my home of Southeast Turkey as well as Syria and northern Iraq. When will it end?

That question has been plaguing me a lot lately. Just to look at one small aspect of this regional mess, what would a positive outcome for Syria look like? Right now Bashar Assad looks to be closing in on winning this multi year long, multi sided war that has displaced more than ten million of his own citizens both internally and internationally. The odds of him completely winning out and his opponents actually putting their guns down is almost 0 but lets say it happens. Is that a good solution? when2There are very good reasons that so many of his own people rose up against him in the first place. Outside of some ultra right wing crackpots who believe the entire Arab Spring was planned and orchestrated by Obama and his cronies, most people realize that it was the outcome of social inequity, injustice, and an angry oppressed minority throughout the region finally saying enough is enough. Assad does not deserve the title of leader. He is a bully, a criminal, a murderer, an egotist. He does not deserve a seat in the global community of leaders no matter how much Russia and Iran want to prop him up. So even if he does regain full control, the people of Syria are no better off than when this all started.

Now lets say there are some major reversals and he does end up being driven from power. What then? Right now most of the various rebel factions have formed a coalition recognizing it is necessary for their survival. How long will this coalition last after he is gone? You can measure that length of time in seconds. Some of these groups are fairly moderate but others are just as bad as ISIS. They are far worse than some of the Muslim groups that have taken advantage of the Arab Spring to rise to power in other parts of the world. (I’m looking at you, Muslim ‘brotherhood’) As difficult as it is to imagine, some of these groups in control could be far, far worse than the current regime.

So let us bend belief a little further and say the moderates do end up rising from the ashes and gain control. Let us stretch credulity and imagine that good people actually want to establish a good government out of the ashes. How many decades will that take? How many of the rising generation have already become part of the scarred victimized fertile field from which terrorists find such easy recruitment? How quickly will the international eye look elsewhere, deny their culpability in this, and leave that new government to its own devices with no money, no infrastructure, and no way to build a stable society?

when3This is just one facet of the many problems tearing apart this area. What of the refugees? How many will return? Who will pay for that? Where where those whose homes have been completely be destroyed live in the interim? How will they all be fed? What to do with the many who have no desire to go back? How much hurt and bitterness remains between once friendly neighbors who have taken up opposite sides in this conflict? What about the tens of thousands who have been injured beyond the ability to care for themselves and live productive normal lives? What do you do with all those citizen soldiers who committed war crimes on the threat of their own death?

Every day my first prayer is for a just peace for this region. What does that even look like? when4I can’t imagine what that will look like. Now I am not one to simplistically blame Islam for the troubles in this region. The issues are far more social, and economic, and political and even if you remove all culpability of that religion in this situation, you cannot deny that Islam is powerless to help bring a solution. A religion based on vengeance and retribution has nothing to offer Syria. What they need is someone who will teach people to turn the other cheek. What they need is someone who will bring forgiveness and reconciliation. The only hope for Syria is Jesus.

Not Enough Christian Refugees?

Over the past week or so, I have seen an abundance of articles like this:

Just A Fraction of the Refugees to the US Are Christian

If you aren’t familiar with this very legitimate complaint, please read the article on the link before my comment below:

I won’t say that the US has no blame for this disparity, but a majority of it does not rest on their shoulders. The situation is far more complex than this story reports. The UN gathers their list of names for which countries like the US screen and pull almost exclusively from those residing in the refugee camps. The problem is, there are almost no Christians and other minorities in those camps. It is not safe for them. Yes, they have been persecuted by ISIS, but they are also being persecuted in these overcrowded, underfunded, and under policed camps.

The situation has become so bad in these that most Christians have fled to try their luck on the streets of cities like Gaziantep and Istanbul. The problem is, once they leave the camps, they lose their eligibility for legal immigration. A very legitimate fear of rape, persecution, and starvation have forced them to flee. I have heard that there are similar problems in the Lebanon and Jordan camps but I have seen and know firsthand that this is the situation here in Turkey. As long these camps continue to be run by AFAD (Turkey’s version of FEMA) this will continue to be the case.

This Is Why

This is why.

This is why I will go to cities like Suruc to teach English and share God’s love.

This is why I will invest a portion of each day learning a language I did not even know existed a year ago.

This is why I gave up everything I had in New York to hop on a plane and begin a completely new life in a  new world.

This is why I continue to write and speak ad nauseam that the fact America and the West refuse to open their doors wider for refugees is nothing more than criminal negligence.

This is why I exist.

Some people call me insane.

That’s garbage.

The fact that so many will see something like this and then continue on with their comfortable first world lives… that is what I call insane.

Don’t be crazy. Please, pray for Syria. Pray for the Kurdish and Arab peoples. Pray now. Pray tonight and every day from now until God calls you to come join us.

What Makes A Democracy A Democracy?

HakanThe fastest goal ever scored in a World Cup Match was eleven seconds. Hasan Şükür was the man who pulled that off in a match against South Korea. While that name might not mean that much to those in the West, anybody here in Turkey would immediately know who I was talking about. Şükür was one of the greatest players in Turkey racking up nearly 400 goals mostly for Galatasaray. Since I am a Beşiktaş fan for Turkish soccer and a Yankees fan for baseball, I guess I could say a comparison to Ted Williams is in order. Like Williams, Şükür was a great athlete who happened to play for the enemy.

In another way, Şükür is less like Ted Williams and more like the boxer Manny Pacquiao, the basketball player Kevin Johnson, or the American football player Steve Largent. Like each of these Hasan Şükür used his successful athletic career as a springboard into politics. In 2011 he was elected as a member of Parliament (MP) representing Istanbul. He initially did so as a member of the AKP, the same party President Erdoğan is a part of. However, he later disagreed with the direction that party was headed and switched to independent. That pretty much killed his political career. In February Şükür was brought up on charges for criticizing the government on his twitter account. Yes, you read that correctly. Even worse, just a few days ago a warrant was issued for his arrest for alleged ties to Gulen, the man Erdoğan has chosen to blame for the coup. Currently Hasan Şükür is in America and it looks at this point that he will end up staying there for a long while. It certainly isn’t safe for him to return to Istanbul.

Speaking of returning to Istanbul, I have just done so this past week. My absence made me late in my rent payment and on Thursday I set aside a couple hours to take care of the problem. Now back in America paying rent is a small thing. My landlord’s office was right next door. I would knock and come in. We would spend a minute or two on small talk (sports, weather, etc). He would ask if there were any issues and I’d say no. I would drop the cash, he would write a receipt and I would be on my way. Five minutes tops.

cayHere things never move so fast. I would come in, we would hug and he would offer me some çay (tea). We would then proceed to cover every conversational topic that could possibly be brought up. We hadn’t chatted since before the Istanbul bombing, the coup, or my trips to Izmir, NY, and Gaziantep that was a lot. After an hour or so and a couple glasses of çay we would finally get around to taking care of the rent. I’d pay, he’d write a receipt, and then a third glass of tea would come and we would dive back in. I love it.

I don’t even remember the exact context of him saying it, but somewhere along the line my landlord said something that stuck with me: “Since you are an American, that is especially not safe for you.” While it is true that right now Americans are not as popular as they were a month ago (read this). That statement has bounced around in my mind the past couple days not for the safety implications it might entail as much as the question it has triggered. What makes a democracy a democracy?

The obvious answer is that in a democracy, the right to vote provides the active majority with the right to determine the policies of a nation. This is true and in this sense, both Turkey and America are democracies. But there is a dynamic that exists in democracies of places like America and the UK that are missing from so the called democracies of the Middle East. You can see it in play all over the place on Facebook. In a true democracy, the minority has the right to dissent without fear of reprisal.

trumpI don’t like Trump. More than once on one social platform or another, I have made it clear that I do not like him and that he would be a horrible choice for president. Even if he does get elected, that will not be the end of the world for me. I don’t have to worry that what I said about him might end up getting me thrown in jail. I don’t have to worry that, like Hasan Şükür, something I said on twitter will end up leading to an arrest warrant and prevent me from ever being able to go back. Things like that don’t happen in a democracy.