It finally happened. I got invited to a book club! I know I'm supposed to intellectually sneer at book clubs as bourgeois or something, but I've secretly always wanted to join one. There are ones posted at the library and the coffee shop near where I live, but I'm too introverted to just bust into some random club and start offering my opinions (but I'll spew them on the Internet to anyone who'll listen!). But my new friend Kay Lynne legitimately invited me to start going to hers. Look out, book club.
The first meeting is next Monday, and I just finished the book, Tea with Hezbollah, by Ted Dekker and Carl Medearis.
I once read a fiction book by Ted Dekker and didn't like it (don't remember which one), but I approached this with a completely open mind because it is non-fiction, billed as a travelogue. The subtitle is "Sitting at the enemies' table: our journey through the Middle East." The premise is basically that: Dekker and Medearis traveled through Jordan, Syria, Israel/Palestine, and Libya--sitting down and drinking tea with Muslims in order to discuss with them Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan.
Let me say first that I loved the premise and idea of the book. Upfront, I don't belong to any political party and am not particularly patriotic. I try to think like a citizen of heaven, rather than a U.S. citizen. I thought the idea of sitting down with those whom the United States consider our enemies, Middle Eastern Muslims, and posing what Dekker terms "People magazine questions" an interesting proposition.
The best part of the book are the bare transcripts of interviews with taxi drivers, muftis, princes, sheiks, ayatollahs, leaders in Hezbollah and Hamas, and incredibly, Osama bin Laden's brothers. Dekker asks them what motivates them, what makes them laugh, what makes them cry, what is the greatest misconception America has of them, what is the greatest misconception they have of America. He also asked most of them what kind of car they drive, which seemed like sort of a weird man thing to do. I could think of a lot more interesting things to ask than that--like, where do they buy their shoes? What kind of dessert do they have on their birthday? But whatever. Cars. Most of them drive Mercedes, in case you're wondering.
One of the overwhelming views they all seem to hold is that all Americans are Christian, whether or not they're religious. Even American atheists are considered Christian. Most seemed concerned with the same things that concern us: making a living, taking care of their families. Arab humor doesn't translate too well, but most had a cute story of their children or grandchildren that made them laugh--the same things that children do here.
Part of Dekker' and Medearis's mission was to humanize our enemy--under the premise that if we can see our enemy as a human being, that is the first step to him no longer being our enemy.
One of the muftis who is also a grandfather says that when his 4-year-old granddaughter visits him, he likes to joke with her and pray with her.
An influential person in the Muslim media said, when asked what made him cry, "My daughter, Miriam, will be three in July, and she has a very aggressive form of cancer. Her experience has been earth-shattering to me and I've never been the same. She's been through chemotherapy and operations. Her two doctors are Jewish, and her pediatrician is Irish Catholic."
An Arab sheik, when asked "What is the common Saudi's greatest misconception of Americans?" answered, "They look at America as cowboys who all want war. But your information is not correct about the Arab world. If the American people came to the Arab world and discover the culture, they would love the Arabs. Like when I went to the U.S., I liked the people. Why not talk about culture and people? Not politics."
The authors go out of their way to say that this is not a political nor a theological book. They weren't interested in giving the American viewpoint but rather wanted to hear what these Arab men thought about loving their enemies (interestingly enough, no Arab women were interviewed for the book).
Unfortunately, the main point where the book broke down for me was, in fact, theologically. The book did not delve into the Jewish/Palestinian issue in a satisfactory way. By that I mean, the authors claimed that all who they interviewed loved the God of Abraham (interestingly enough, I did not see any reference to Isaac and Ishmael--though I may have missed it), but some of the interviewees were breathtakingly anti-Semitic while claiming peace and love for their enemies.
The real problem for me though was the authors' continuous claim that Jesus was killed for his radical teaching on love for our enemies. One of the most telling parts was when an interviewee talked about being on the radio and claiming to revere the name of "Isa" (Jesus' name in the Koran) and all his friends calling to congratulate him. But later it was said he had claimed the name of "Yeshua" (Jesus/Messiah), and his friends became very upset with him.
Each person interviewed claimed that Jesus was a wonderful teacher, along with Muhammad and would return with one of Muhammad's nephews. Each claimed they liked Christians and wouldn't try to convert any one to Islam, that everyone should live in peace.
But...Jesus wasn't killed for his radical teaching on love for our enemies. Jesus was killed because He said He was God. He said He was the only way to the Father. He said He was the only way to heaven. And just like back then, that's what is the sticking point for people all over the world. As long as Jesus is just a good teacher, everything's fine. It's when He's the only way to heaven that people start getting mad.
I have a friend who has sponsored and befriended a refugee woman from Iraq. A couple of weeks ago, she became a Christian. Already, she's getting hassled by others who live in her apartment complex because she's going to a Christian church.
It's just like in the book of Acts, when Peter, James, and John went around the city, and the religious leaders arrested them, saying, "We told you not to preach in this name," and Peter's all, "Oh, you mean JESUS? The one you killed? That name?"
In all of life, you can be about a generic idea of peace and love and getting along with others, or you can be about crazy, whacked-out, destructive behavior...but you can't be about that Name.
And that was the main problem in the book for me--this insistence that Jesus was executed because He said that the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor. (The other problem I had is actually a spoiler, so I won't tell you about it except that it's, what can I say, a little author's trick that was incredibly irritating to me.)
All in all though, I think this is a good book for both Christians and Americans in general to read. It's interesting; it's a page-turner, and it's eye-opening. The interviews these guys got were incredible. There is a lot of good history interwoven throughout, and there's a helpful glossary and timeline at the back. Prejudice and hatred is often a visceral thing, and this book helps you to stand for a moment in the shoes of the enemy.
So, that's my opinion. I doubt if I'll bust all that out at the book club, or they may never want me back again. Maybe I'll just eat my dessert and scope things out (my friend Mary says there should always be dessert at book club, so I am counting on that). I'll let you know if anything happens!