Road to Guantanamo

I’ve slacked. It’s been busy, but is that an excuse? I have a lot to share, so where does one start?

Where does one start?

I saw Road to Guantanamo last night. I’m definitely at a loss for words, and the fact that there could be plenty more people in the same position as the “Tipton Three”, and our congress passed new laws to ensure the government’s legal protection to continue such actions. Well, makes me sick to my stomach.

The only way one would care is if they put themselves in the shoes of someone like Ruhel or his friends. Have you ever been accused of something you’ve never done? How’d it feel? Did things resolve in a just manner? While Bush contends that the detainees in Guantanamo are “bad people” “killers” and the like. I would say, yes, some are killers, but how do you differentiate the guilty from the innocent. When is “guilty until proven innocent” ethical?

One thing the film did not spend much time on, is answering the question of WHY the three young men went to Afghanistan in the first place. This leaves a lot of holes in the story. While these men were indeed not linked to any terrorist organizations, it’s still hard to fathom why they would up and leave Pakistan and just jet over to a war-zone, in the midst of crisis. Or maybe I have a hard time believing that there exists the kind of compassion where young people want to make a difference in areas of conflict. Maybe I hope is what I’m lacking, and maybe there is hope out there. Unfortunately, an incident like this will make people think twice before stepping into situations where they probably could make a difference, because maybe you’ll find yourselves at the wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe the defenders of the free world will be there waiting for you, and may break you, and may rob your freedom, to protect the rest of ours.

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Waves: A New York City Hurricane Story

Saturday afternoons were the times he waited for the most and cantankerous was his attitude before and after these times. All his favorite sports aired Saturday afternoons, on network TV; the ones that were not worthy of a school night. This particular Saturday, however, he could not watch TV, because Hurricane Ernesto made it impossible. You see, Ernesto had shown up in Brooklyn, and made the conducting of electricity rather impossible for the residents of Bay Ridge, and this, proved to be quite upsetting for this fan of professional golf. Reluctantly he agreed to step out into the storm at the insistence of his wife, who threatened to leave him if he did not go out and buy batteries for the flashlight.

As he put on his rubbers, he whinced at the fact that he was living in a world where rubbers could no longer be mentioned without the snickers and grins of young people he set out to the bodega at the corner to buy the four D batteries that his marriage depended on.

Walking out of the bodega, on the way back to his apartment, he caught a glimpse through a crack between the buildings that the straight-paved roads the the boroughs seldom provided, of a magnificent wave hurling over the cars driving East and West on the Belt Parkway. He had never seen anything like it before, and that was most probably due to the fact that when storms hit, he was inside watching his precious Television, while nature stated her authority outside his building. So naturally, he had to get a closer look, and when he emerged from within the caves of apartment buildings and retail stores, he found a stretch of concrete boardwalk on the other side of the Parkway, lined by a metal fence, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, spotted by passers-by stood, and waited to be covered by the enormous waves that were crashing upon the the highway.

 

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9/11 Revisited

The following is an excerpt from a journal I wrote on September 18th, 2001, just a week after the attacks on NY and Washington. It’s meant to be a reminder to me as to what I had experienced during these events, and it’s the first time I’m sharing it with others in a public setting. I hope that you may be able to connect with it in some way. Just a warning though, it’s pretty raw. You should know that going into it. I was writing as a man who was convinced the world was gonna fall apart. Today I have hope, but it doesn’t hurt to look back at the past…


September 18th, 2001

Here I come again with a whirlwind of events which make absolutely no sense, that I need to get off my chest. Lately I feel so far from everyone. People talk to me, and it’s as if they aren’t even there. Coworkers, Friends… my phone is off the hook with calls, my inbox is flooded with emails, all from people who wanna know what is wrong…. I’ve been in a daze, and I’m tryin to be positive, but the more positive i’m tryin to be, the more people are like – “Paul, something is seriously wrong – please can I help?” And I feel like I’m in a fishbowl…. or maybe the back of a cavern, and I see people very close yet I can’t touch them, like an optical illusion maybe….

I guess the events that have occurred in the last 7 days has caused my brain to go into an infinite loop. I’m incredibly numb.. and I was “fine” until Friday. Friday afternoon, it hit me – - the Twin Towers are gone; Andy is gone, Andy is one of 5,000 people who are missing, and many are gonna die in the coming weeks.

On Thursday, I came back to what was my home for the last 5 years. New York City. I sat at the cafe on the corner of Waverly and University where i’d usually have a 4am conversation with a good friend about life, finals, music, fun – and I looked out the window and all I saw was smoke, people walking up and down the street with face masks, sirens, lights, it was all death in the air… i went to the fountain where i would sit and read all the books I should have read over the course of a semester, right before the final of course; and looked up, and the towers were gone…. it was like a bad movie… even better – a made for tv movie…

the following events actually happened…

i walked up to union sq park, where mobs of people were standing, talking, yelling, conversating about unity, one country, one love, and the god that is humanity, and among this were speakers, philosphers, proclaiming their truths,opinions, and many, who had empty ideals about new yorkers coming together finally in one heart…. while at the same time, they booed a young man who urged them not to be blood-thirsty for afghanistan blood. Following a sermon given by a woman who asserted that “peace will come when all arabs are dead”. Horrifying…. I could not be silent anymore. It was impassioned rage that allowed me to get up in front of these 200 people and gave them a piece of my mind and my soul. While I was running on pure adrenaline, and I don’t remember exactly what I said, I somehow got the crowd very excited and it ended up in applause, cheers, and hugs from random strangers (and they didn’t even try to take my wallet)... again… surreal

I went to visit my friend Mike: He and I ended up at Central Operations of the rescue effort as volunteers, and we worked till almost 4AM in the pouring rain, as trucks, army vehicles, helicoptors, lightning, people, dogfood, swam around us. We were in a bucket brigade hurling boxes into fed ex trucks, helping officers, running up and down the west side highway with clean socks, pillows, blankets for the cold, and I was somehow transported to a war zone, when the food came, and it tasted so good, rice pilaf and grilled veggies… again.. surreal….

I somehow made it back to my sister’s place, with enough time to sleep 2 hours before work. I barely made it through the day without passing out.

I was getting emails from my friends about Indian people who were getting beat up, hospitalized, for being ‘the enemy’. Warnings from friends not to speak my language in public. The weekend came and I met up with the band. It was very awkward at first, we all missed Andy (our lead singer who had died in the attacks) – We couldn’t believe just 7 days before, we were all joking around, playing, laughing together, and here we were in silence. Once we started playing, we felt God’s presence, and the unity of this situation brought us together. Brought us close… they understood.

I really miss Andy.

And Sunday came, I was asked to bring my guitar, play Amazing Grace, Shout to the Lord, in a prayer vigil at my church… The people were blessed… well mostly… All but a few who were enraged at the fact that I dared to bring a guitar into an orthodox church.

The world is falling a part and all they care about is the fact that a guitar being played in the church. Have they ever read the Psalms? Does it matter if the instrument is a harp or a Fender Acoustic? I couldn’t even entertain their protests.

That day I went shopping then drove to Boston – I was stared down by a woman, shaking her head, while she stared into my soul… I kept on driving.

The next day at work, I wake up to phone messages, emails, churches being plagued with bomb threats in New Jersey, unmarked package left at our churches door in the city with a decapitated statue of Jesus inside. Our women being spit on in the streets, and our kids being beat up. I call my friend in Los Angeles to check up on him, see if all was ok… he then tells me, his uncle was murdered in his grocery store this weekend by an ‘american hero doing his duty’. I realized how lucky I was – i only got stared down. I worry bout my parents, I don’t want anything to happen to them.

My sister calls me up, she’s afraid…. I can’t be there for her until this weekend.

It’s hard to walk around these days, I love this country, and I’m confused as to where I belong. I am a born citizen, so why should I feel this way?

i know i’ll need time, for all these realities to sink in… so i can start dealin with them…. i’m just in a state of shock right now.

I just didn’t know my face was a mirror into my soul. I’m sitting in a status meeting taking notes, participating, concentrating, when 3 people ask me “Paul – what is wrong, can we help?”

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Only A Brief Moment

Seems that when we’re younger we believe life will be as static as we’ve seen it all those years, until unforeseen tragedies happen that catch us off guard, and they force us to grow up. While the last few weeks have been extremely difficult, I can’t say I was totally unprepared.

It started only a few weeks back, when my buddy Craig, his friend Paul (yes another Paul), and myself, all took a road trip up to the Berkshires (Massachusetts for those who don’ know). Craig is an deep and intriguing fellow, and a great friend who I met as an RA, whom I reunited with on 9/11/01, on AOL Instant Messenger; but that’s another story.

I don’t know anyone who loves Star Wars as much as he does (and if you don’t believe me, just check out the tattoo of the Rebel Alliance on his bicep), and we’ve got the chance to check out some large events in cinematic history such as Opening Night of SWE3ROTS, Jaws on the big screen at Bryant Park, and finally what brought us to the Berkshires in the first place: The Boston Pops Orchestra, Conducted by John Williams, Narrated by James Earl Jones, Solo by YoYo Ma, and enjoyed by Stephen Spielberg, and the rest of us.

The highlight of course, was not necessarily the experience of seeing some of my favorite film music performed live by the people who created the legend in the first place, but it was rather something that caught me off guard. You see, an elderly woman who had the same aura of Lucille Bluth from FOX’s Arrested Development, was passed out, head tilted back, mouth wide open, riding that thin line between heavy breathing and snoring, during one of Yoyo Ma’s solos. And while the rest of the audience was hushed to a deafening silence, I took one look at the glistening of drool on her overly made-up lips that was being pulled towards the floor, as gravity so dictated, and I bust out into uncontrollable laughter that was not only mildly disruptive, it was also contagious.

Later on that evening as I was driving to Boston, I had this strange thought as I made my way towards Springfield, MA at around 1AM. A sudden thought occurred to me “I don’t deal with loss very well.” Huh? Who said that? The thought popped into my mind like the flash of a camera-phone, awkward but somehow effective. “Paul, loss is the one thing you don’t deal well with at all. What’s going to happen if you lose a loved one? It may happen someday.” After wrestling with these facts and trying to push them out of my mind for 30 minutes, I gave up, and surrendered and sat with myself and accepted the fact that, yes, loss is something I don’t take gracefully, especially involving people I love; for you see, I’ve been at too many funerals for someone my age, and have never gotten used to them.

I figured I might as well admit this fact, because, acceptance is the first step towards growth? I think Dr. Phil said that.

Not 20 minutes after this long dialogue with my inner-consciousness had come to a conclusion, I received an email from my Uncle Mak, letting me know that he’d been diagnosed with cancer of the liver. I closed the email, then the words took a few minutes to actually sink in. Tears, swig of beer, Kleenex, email. You have to understand the relationship between me and my Uncle. He is one of my heroes in life. He’s taught me so much about life, and about loving others, and standing up for what is true. I have a feeling my big mouth is somewhat owed to him. I didn’t quite understand what was happening, and why my Uncle, the man who I considered a saint, had to go through something like this. He is the head of our extended family on my mom’s side, here in the States and overseas. The voice of reason, the mediator, the one who will travel thousands of miles to offer his guidance during times of trouble. He is also someone who I’ve definitely taken for granted at times. I guess we all do it. We think our loved ones will be here forever.

The next day an email clarified by him let me know that, while it looks like it is cancer, they will do a biopsy to know for sure. We spoke soon after, and I was amazed at what he told me. Even in a moment where no one would even think twice about feeling bad for someone, his only concern was everyone else around him. “Paul, the further away I am from my body, the closer I am to the Lord.” He went on to explain to me how this urges him on even more, to live every day to fulfill the purpose he believes that God put him on this earth to do. In illness, even, he shines like the brightest star.

A week later, he goes on to volunteer with my Aunt Barbara as physicians at a Young Life camp, and life goes on as usual. He just got the biopsy done today, and we’re all waiting for the results. I know in my heart that he’s gonna be ok, no matter what happens, and I can’t help but feel grateful that I was, even briefly, somehow prepared for receiving the news. While I want things to stay the same, and be as static as I’ve known them to be, I am learning to just accept, and be thankful for what I have. And maybe even what I don’t have control over.

But sometimes it’s just difficult.

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The Demonization of an Entire Culture

When we say, “Let’s hear from you,” she advances to us
chanting fluently, her glance languid, in effortless song.”

  • - From the Ode of Tarafah

These are the words of a Qasida, an early Arabic love poem, from a time where Arabic culture was known for its richness, beauty, and its contributions to the modern world. We are living in a world where, because of the acts of a small but dangerous few, an entire culture, its language and people, are the objects of suspicion, discomfort, and hazard.

When I was 5 years old, I would ask my mom to not speak Arabic to me in public because I wanted to be considered more American. I asked her to make less Ta3amiyya, less mulukhiyya, and more spaghetti and fried chicken. What I put into my body would make me what I was. My mom however, wasn’t so happy with my need to hide my culture.

Ironically, it was 5 years ago when my mother asked me to not speak Arabic in public so much, because she was afraid for my well being.

It is 5 years after September 11th, and recent threats that are no doubt very real, are being reported by the media in such a way to induce paranoia of people from Arab descent. Why is it, that the bravery of Korean War hero James Jabara and the leadership of NATO commander George Joulwan are overshadowed by the tyranny of Al-Zarkawy? Why are we forgetting the political contributions of Selwa Roosavelt or Victor Atiyeh every time we hear a report of a terrorist attack? Why don’t we think of Frank Zappa, Ralph Nader, or Steve Mansour, instead of imminent danger, whenever we see an Arab man on an airplane?

The response I get from people is very trite and simple: “Well, if these terrorists didn’t do what they were doing, then Arabs wouldn’t have such a bad reputation. It’s understandable.”

Am I really in control of what religious extremists from the Middle East do? Not more so than an average white person from New York is in control of actions by the KKK, or Timothy McVey? Is it then my right to bear extra scrutiny? Haven’t we seen enough news reports, films, TV shows of what happens when African Americans have been the target of unnecessary blame because of paranoia that’s gotten out of hand?

I, by no means, make light of the clear and present danger that our world is in at the hands of terrorist groups, and these fascist radicals. I am Coptic. My people have been under the threat of persecution for decades in Egypt at the hands of extremists groups. My people have known this real threat first hand for many, many years before Americans had any taste of what it is like living with the threat of these people. I stand against terrorism as much as the next guy, but if we want to see this world become peaceful, we cannot conversely adopt the same extremist mentality that our enemies employ on a daily basis.

The following headlines are but a warning sign to what may be happening to us if we let paranoia take us out of control:

https://www.democracynow.org/2006/8/21/iraqi_peace_activist_forced_to_change

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=401419&in_page_id=1770

The answer is not a witch-hunt. The answer is not demonizing an entire race or language. The answer lies in the hands of our leaders and our protectors to improve security. To have better leads in where danger is happening and where it’s not happening. It’s calling on people to get off their asses and and learn about what it means to be a terrorist, and who can be a threat, and who absolutely is not one. I am not talking about people taking extra precaution on me, because I look like I’m from Middle-Eastern descent. I’m not talking about that at all. Trust me, I feel safer when I’m more thoroughly checked, because I have nothing to hide. I want TSA to do their jobs, and I want them to be diligent, but there is such a thing as extremism.

By telling people what kind of shirts they can and can’t wear, they’re just giving terrorists a clear cut recipe of what they can look like, sound like, act like, if they want to get away with blowing up a building! If TSA is doing their job, they can tell a paranoid person, “Look, we investigated this man, and he is safe.”

Look, I want my family here to be safe. We’re tax-payers, we’ve been contributers to this nation for almost 40 years. We are as American as Pepperoni Pizza. I just think that some middle ground needs to be taken. It’s not an easy answer, and there has to be a balance between freedom and safety. My friend who works in law enforcement tells me I can’t have both, what do you think?

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My Soundtrack

My life is a movie, and this will be the soundtrack:


Opening Credits:
When You Were Young – The Killers


Waking Up:
Dos Gardenias – Buena Vista Social Club


Falling In Love:
Running Memory – Evening


Fight Scene:
Pressed Rat & Warthog – Cream


Breaking Up:
Los Ejes De Mi Carreta – La Zurda


Making-up:
Rest Assured – Eric B. & Rakim


Secret Love:
Feel Like Makin’ Love – Marlena Shaw


Life’s Okay:
Our Lips Are Sealed – The Fun Boy Three


Heartbreak:
Ex Girl To Next Girl – Gang Starr


Mental Breakdown:
I’m Free – The Who (TOMMY)


Driving:
When The Earth Moves Again – Jefferson Airplane


Flashbacks:
The Wonderful Cross – Holland Davis


Happy Dance:
Everyday People – Pearl Jam


Regretting:
Oh My Golly! – Pixies


Long Night Alone:
The Beta Band Rap – Beta Band


Final Battle:
Tonight – Loveless


Death Scene:
King of Carrot Flowers Part 2 & 3 – Neutral Milk Hotel


Funeral:
After Goodbye – Meena Dimian


Ending Credits:
One of These Days – Pink Floyd

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Dreaming of the Dead

“I don’t want your pity – I just want to remember who I was before this”.

This is one of the final statements made by one of five actors who blessed the stage at the Cultural Project: 45 Bleeker Theater, last night in the East Village [GP:EV]. For 2 hours, I left New York again, for a brief visit to the African Continent, but this time, further south… to the Republic of South Africa, but not in 2006, but over a decade ago, during the tyranny of Apartheid. Amajuba: Like Doves We Rise, written and directed by Edinburgh’s Yael Farber, is the story of 5 South Africans who have grown up in Apartheid, and their lives broken and rebuilt by the tragedies they’ve faced. Through dialogue, dance, song, symbolism and at-times heart-wrenching narrative, their stories are proclaimed with such strength, defiance, and passion.

And what I didn’t know, but only discovered afterwards, the actors were the people they were playing. This wasn’t acting. They were telling their own true life stories. I had felt as if I’d seen more into these people than I have ever looked upon another human being. I’ve never seen such vulnerability, and to know that they have to relive their past, but then be healed from it, day in and day out. It’s an amazing privilege. I was given a message of hope for myself, and while although few of us can say we’ve experienced what a life under Apartheid is like, many of us have suffered greatly in this world. Pain is pain, and healing is healing.

For two hours, the audience of about 100 was held captive under a spell, and remained entranced for the duration of the performance. Light, color, props, beautiful harmonies, noise, pain, sweat (lots of sweat) and soul. That’s what I experienced last night.

I want to urge everyone to see this show. Last night was the beginning of a week of previews and opening night is in a week. You can buy tickets at Ticketmaster. Please contact me if you want a discount code, so you can get $25.00 tickets: http://www.ticketmaster.com/artist/1037571

I was given hope. I thought of my boys out in Kibera, and I hope that one day, they will be able to face the past, and then wash it away, and rise. Rise.

“My past is a broken country – but I am not”

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There Are No Murders In Africa

The above image is not from my recent trip to East Africa, but is a screen-cap from the film The Constant Gardener. I’ve watched this movie, and I just kept rewinding this sequence in the first part of the movie (Chapter Index 3, on the DVD entitled “yes or no”) that just shows 45 seconds of life in Kibera. I was so amazed of how accurate life in Kenya was portrayed in this film. But what it left me with was this longing to return. I do miss it there, a lot. I miss the purity there. And by pure, I don’t mean innocent, naive, or even simple. But pure. Emotions are allowed to exist, people are allowed to speak, it’s something hard to explain, and it’s something so subtle, that I can only really describe it as a feeling. It is something you can just breath as you walk down the street.

Lately, I am starting to draw many parallels between the obvious that I experienced in Kenya and the life we live here in the States. People are generally the same, with a good number of exceptions. I think one of the big differences I’m facing is the fact that we here can afford to worry about things that many in Kenya do not worry about, or to a lesser extent. Self-help doesn’t really exist in the communities I worked with in Kenya, at least to the extent that it matters here. Who has time to help themselves?? Finding a school, going to work, feeding a family, and rejoicing and enjoying life in between; some things are ok to just let go of. The self-help phenomenon is huge in the U.S. and really, who doesn’t own a copy of “Your Best Life Now” or “Road Less Travelled” or “South Beach Diet” or

I certainly have a good share of these titles (not the South Beach Diet, tho, I like Egyptian baladi bread too much). One thing I felt there, is that it was more OK to just be able to live life, imperfect. Human.

I wonder if we try to transcend ourselves somtimes; I know I do. But there was an amazing freedom to be able to live in a society where I was able to let go of a lot of these superficialities, and of course, the eventualities.

And even in regards to religion in America, how much emphasis is placed on healing. Healing of emotional wounds, and scars, and memories. Spending so much time on the ideas and passages of healing, and not much on those about sacrifice. I have had my own share of wounds in this life, as every human on the planet. Not a man nor woman exists who hasn’t been hurt, deeply, in some way. And I do believe everyone deserves a time of reflection and understanding, and reconciliation. But there comes a time where one must move ahead. I can’t tell you how many churches out there are preaching the idea that people can be healed from every hurt and every wound. Why would that be the goal of the church, that I can go to church so I can heal myself, or can be healed by a higher power?

Whatever happened to the notion that a church can be a place where I can go, to come together to heal each other and to heal this world.

And I don’t mean by going door to door with a pamphlet with a recipe for salvation! There are tears that need to be wiped, and the kleenex does NOT need to be watermarked with a religious emblem. There are stomachs that need to be filled, and these sandwiches that are doing the filling do not need to have your favorite verses folded up inside. Add extra lettuce instead. An act of love can speak far greater truths than any sermon, than any study; than any tract.

I can afford to lose myself at times, because my life is being taken care of. I get lost pretty often.

I get very passionate when it comes to these topics, because I take them very seriously and I’ve had my own journey through these thoughts and the different modes of approaching life, and trying to experience it in its fullness, and at 28, I realize I know less than I did when I first started, but one thing I have the suspicious feeling of, is the fact that life is much simpler than we make it out to be at times.

Often times our answers are deep down, in our very gut. I often know exactly what I need to be doing, and somehow have become an expert at distracting myself from doing it. But I don’t blame myself, I don’t even blame MTV, I don’t even blame MySpace. I don’t blame anything! That’s just the way it is. But part of the beauty of life is being able to navigate through it, and make all the mistakes I’m supposed to make, and gradually figure it out, and pass our knowledge to future generations, who will only take what they can, but have to re-learn all the lessons themselves.

And maybe…. maybe that’s an ineffecient approach to building a society, but it works. Imagine those who were born into families where they’re given the keys to Grand Central Station… what can they appreciate if everything was given to them. We’d never value our own lives, or each other, if all the answers were given to us.

Inefficient, yes, but perfect nonetheless.

I don’t  where I was going with all that – just some thoughts on my mind tonight.
This one quote stood out, rings with truth and its a statement about the global condition. One that many of us are just not aware of. This was made in regards to the exploitation of Africans in pharmaceutical trials:

“No, there are no murders in Africa.
Only regrettable deaths.

And from those deaths
we derive the benefits of civilization,

benefits we can afford so easily…

because those lives
were bought so cheaply.”

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“What Would Jesus Do?”: An answer to the politically religious

Every time I see a man in the pulpit telling his congregation how to vote, I would feel the bile rise up my esophagus. I would rationalize this feeling as a mere testimony to my lack of conviction or devotion in my faith, but the more I’ve lived, and the more I’ve read and studied, the less and less I can stand by a President who plays religion into his campaign, or a religion that aligns itself to a certain political party.

I find myself always at odds with family and some friends, because I’m perfectly fine with the removal of the 10 Commandments from an Alabama courthouse, and I refuse to align myself politically based on how well a politicians social platform aligns itself with a certain religious moral base.

Much energy in this country is wasted in fighting minuscule moral battles, when there is a world falling apart around us. Those who claim righteousness should focus their energy where the need is great.

And I always thought I stood alone, being a Christian but not of the theocratic sorts, until I picked up the Times.  Here’s a piece that resonated with me:

Christ Among the Partisans

By GARRY WILLS (NYT) 1210 words
Published: April 9, 2006

Chicago – THERE is no such thing as a ‘’Christian politics.’’ If it is a politics, it cannot be Christian. Jesus told Pilate: ‘’My reign is not of this present order. If my reign were of this present order, my supporters would have fought against my being turned over to the Jews. But my reign is not here’’ (John 18:36). Jesus brought no political message or program.

This is a truth that needs emphasis at a time when some Democrats, fearing that the Republicans have advanced over them by the use of religion, want to respond with a claim that Jesus is really on their side. He is not. He avoided those who would trap him into taking sides for or against the Roman occupation of Judea. He paid his taxes to the occupying power but said only, ‘’Let Caesar have what belongs to him, and God have what belongs to him’’ (Matthew 22:21). He was the original proponent of a separation of church and state.

Those who want the state to engage in public worship, or even to have prayer in schools, are defying his injunction: ‘’When you pray, be not like the pretenders, who prefer to pray in the synagogues and in the public square, in the sight of others. In truth I tell you, that is all the profit they will have. But you, when you pray, go into your inner chamber and, locking the door, pray there in hiding to your Father, and your Father who sees you in hiding will reward you’’ (Matthew 6:5-6). He shocked people by his repeated violation of the external holiness code of his time, emphasizing that his religion was an internal matter of the heart.

But doesn’t Jesus say to care for the poor? Repeatedly and insistently, but what he says goes far beyond politics and is of a different order. He declares that only one test will determine who will come into his reign: whether one has treated the poor, the hungry, the homeless and the imprisoned as one would Jesus himself. ‘’Whenever you did these things to the lowliest of my brothers, you were doing it to me’’ (Matthew 25:40). No government can propose that as its program. Theocracy itself never went so far, nor could it.

The state cannot indulge in self-sacrifice. If it is to treat the poor well, it must do so on grounds of justice, appealing to arguments that will convince people who are not followers of Jesus or of any other religion. The norms of justice will fall short of the demands of love that Jesus imposes. A Christian may adopt just political measures from his or her own motive of love, but that is not the argument that will define justice for state purposes.

To claim that the state’s burden of justice, which falls short of the supreme test Jesus imposes, is actually what he wills—that would be to substitute some lesser and false religion for what Jesus brought from the Father. Of course, Christians who do not meet the lower standard of state justice to the poor will, a fortiori, fail to pass the higher test.

The Romans did not believe Jesus when he said he had no political ambitions. That is why the soldiers mocked him as a failed king, giving him a robe and scepter and bowing in fake obedience (John 19:1-3). Those who today say that they are creating or following a ‘’Christian politics’’ continue the work of those soldiers, disregarding the words of Jesus that his reign is not of this order.

Some people want to display and honor the Ten Commandments as a political commitment enjoined by the religion of Jesus. That very act is a violation of the First and Second Commandments. By erecting a false religion—imposing a reign of Jesus in this order—they are worshiping a false god. They commit idolatry. They also take the Lord’s name in vain.

Some may think that removing Jesus from politics would mean removing morality from politics. They think we would all be better off if we took up the slogan ‘’What would Jesus do?’’

That is not a question his disciples ask in the Gospels. They never knew what Jesus was going to do next. He could round on Peter and call him ‘’Satan.’’ He could refuse to receive his mother when she asked to see him. He might tell his followers that they are unworthy of him if they do not hate their mother and their father. He might kill pigs by the hundreds. He might whip people out of church precincts.

The Jesus of the Gospels is not a great ethical teacher like Socrates, our leading humanitarian. He is an apocalyptic figure who steps outside the boundaries of normal morality to signal that the Father’s judgment is breaking into history. His miracles were not acts of charity but eschatological signs—accepting the unclean, promising heavenly rewards, making last things first.

He is more a higher Nietzsche, beyond good and evil, than a higher Socrates. No politician is going to tell the lustful that they must pluck out their right eye. We cannot do what Jesus would do because we are not divine.

It was blasphemous to say, as the deputy under secretary of defense, Lt. Gen. William Boykin, repeatedly did, that God made George Bush president in 2000, when a majority of Americans did not vote for him. It would not remove the blasphemy for Democrats to imply that God wants Bush not to be president. Jesus should not be recruited as a campaign aide. To trivialize the mystery of Jesus is not to serve the Gospels.

The Gospels are scary, dark and demanding. It is not surprising that people want to tame them, dilute them, make them into generic encouragements to be loving and peaceful and fair. If that is all they are, then we may as well make Socrates our redeemer.

It is true that the tamed Gospels can be put to humanitarian purposes, and religious institutions have long done this, in defiance of what Jesus said in the Gospels.

Jesus was the victim of every institutional authority in his life and death. He said: ‘’Do not be called Rabbi, since you have only one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no one on earth your father, since you have only one Father, the one in heaven. And do not be called leaders, since you have only one leader, the Messiah’’ (Matthew 23:8-10).

If Democrats want to fight Republicans for the support of an institutional Jesus, they will have to give up the person who said those words. They will have to turn away from what Flannery O’Connor described as ‘’the bleeding stinking mad shadow of Jesus’’ and ‘’a wild ragged figure’’ who flits ‘’from tree to tree in the back’’ of the mind.

He was never that thing that all politicians wish to be esteemed—respectable. At various times in the Gospels, Jesus is called a devil, the devil’s agent, irreligious, unclean, a mocker of Jewish law, a drunkard, a glutton, a promoter of immorality.

The institutional Jesus of the Republicans has no similarity to the Gospel figure. Neither will any institutional Jesus of the Democrats.

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On Charity

When you’re living in a place like Nairobi, a city where American and European NGOs thrive, it seems that people come here to “save the world”, in one way or another.

And it’s not a bad thing.

Yes there are many problems here, and many people have devoted their lives to solving them, for no other reason than their deep love and respect for this land.

Sometimes, the attitude of charity takes a form that is less than noble. Not just for some people, but even within the same person, this dichotomy in what is charitable, may occur. Whether intention is bad or good; that is not what I’m arguing, however, I do believe that true charity is not driven by the desire to meet someone’s needs.

True charity has less to do with being the provider of a person’s basic needs , but has much more to do with reminding a person of their God-given right as a human being to have these needs met.

I believe this to my core, and I will stand by it till the day I die. Giving to someone should restore dignity to them, not remind them that they are, and forever will be receivers. Reminding a person of their need, is as good as robbing them of their sovereignty and self-respect.

This is one of the things I’ve learned by being in Kenya. We’re not here to do anyone any favors. This is one world, and we’re all a part of it, period.

Let’s get together and feel alright? I think it’s time for some Marley… good night.

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