Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Get in the Game

ATFP hosts book event featuring Aaron David Miller
(American Task Force on Palestine)
Contact: Hussein Ibish
Phone: 202-887-0177

On Friday, April 19, the American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP) hosted a discussion with veteran US peace negotiator Aaron David Miller about his new book “The Much Too Promised Land: America’s Elusive Search for Arab-Israeli Peace” (2008, Bantam Books). Miller served as an adviser to six secretaries of state and is now public policy fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Miller told the audience at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace that peace between Israel and the Palestinians is not only a vital US national security interest but is more important now than at any time since the late 1940s. He was not optimistic about the likelihood of any agreements in the immediate future, but said that efforts to build on the resumption of talks at Annapolis last fall were essential. In both his book and his remarks, Miller urged the United States government to “make the issue a top and ongoing priority.”

Miller recounted his experiences in the quest for Middle East peace, focusing in particular on the failed Camp David summit in the summer of 2000. He said that all parties shared the blame for the failure, but that the United States, as host, had a special responsibility to ensure that it succeeded. He reiterated his long-standing criticism that the United States acted more as Israel’s advocate then as an honest broker, but also criticized errors made by then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian President Yasir Arafat. In an overview of the character of the past two US administrations, Miller told the audience that President Bill Clinton was “all tactics but no strategy” while President George W. Bush has been “all strategy but no tactics.”

Miller said that pro-Israel pressure groups were exceptionally effective and well organized, including many highly motivated Christian evangelicals, but that a determined president could overcome efforts to block US policies that moved both sides towards a successful peace agreement. He also urged the Arab-American community to stop simply complaining about US policies but to engage with the political system and “get in the game.”

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Do We "See" Lazarus?

April 21, 2008 (Marlin Vis Journal)
"They do not listen ..."

Jesus told a parable about a rich man and a poor man. The poor man’s name was Lazarus. The rich man is not named. But it is important to note that the poor man carries the same name as the man that Jesus raised from the dead – Lazarus.

Skipping the details of the story, which I hate to do because in this case the devil is in the details, both Lazarus and the rich man die. We too will one day die and so this story soon becomes our story. The rich man ends up in what sounds an awfully lot like hell, and the poor man winds up in the bosom of Abraham, himself a rich man. So we know that this story of Jesus is not primarily about rich and poor, but rather about something deeper, something that seems to be troubling Jesus, something about all people and especially something about his people, the Jewish people, those to whom Torah has been given, the people to whom Jesus has come.

The rich man wants the poor man to serve him, to give him a taste of water, life-giving water, one of humankind’s basic human rights. In this story, it is Abraham who speaks for God. It is Abraham who delivers the bad news to the rich man. No, Abraham tells him, Lazarus will not be serving you. No one will be serving you again. You had your times of being served, now it is Lazarus’ turn to be served, and I, Abraham, your father and his father, will do the serving. And then Abraham delivers the worst of all possible bad news - after death there will be no reversal of fortunes. But in this worst of all possible bad news is hidden the best of all possible good news: The time to repent is in life before death, not later, because then, in life before death, repentance is possible. In other words, you and I can change.

The rich man accepts this as his lot in life after death and now turns his attention to those whom he loves and who are still in the land of the living before dying – his five brothers. The rich man begs Father Abraham to send to his brothers poor Lazarus, whom he still does not see as his brother as well. Let Lazarus come from the dead as an eyewitness to tell them what is coming to them if they do not turn around and live differently than the way they are now living. We can only surmise that by this the rich man means that they should be more generous, more about giving than taking, more about helping than being helped. It seems that they are have seconds and thirds while some, like Lazaras, have not been through the buffet line even once.

But Abraham slams the door in his face, just as the rich man daily had done to Lazaras as Lazaras lay begging for crumbs by the rich man’s gate. “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31). If the living word cannot convict them of the need to be servants than even an eyewitness to the consequences of greed will not change their minds and hearts is the gist of it, I think.

It seems to me that Jesus is making sad commentary about we who live in the land of living before dying. We are so easily caught up in getting all we can for ourselves and our families, that we are unable to listen to the living word of God, or to those who would give an eyewitness account of the sufferings of so many who are so far behind that they can never catch up without our help. We believe the truths that best suit our own situation and refuse to listen to any witness, whether it be the still living word of God, or any other that might challenge those convenient truths, even when those witnesses tell us what they have seen with there own eyes.
“Marlin, why is it that almost everyone who lives in Israel/Palestine for a good length of time comes back with a very different story than the one we hear from our media sources here in the States?”

I have a different set of questions. Questions that go deeper, I think. Questions that I think help us go to the heart of the matter that was troubling Jesus when he told the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man. Why was the Rich Man blind to the sufferings of Lazarus when Lazarus lay right before his eyes? Why are we blind? Think of how many times Jesus used this analogy to describe the people of his day, especially those who were rich and prosperous. Blind guides, he called them.

Let me get painfully specific. Why is it so few believe the eyewitness accounts of people like Sally and me? Why do so many label us as anti-this or anti-that, instead of listening for what we are for, which is peace and reconciliation in this region and around the world?

Why is it that so many do not believe us when we say that what we want more than anything else is for Jewish people to have a safe and secure place where they can recover from the abuses piled upon them over the centuries?

Why is it that we cannot want and work for the same kind of safe and secure place for Palestinians, especially Palestinian Christians who are slowly being choked out of the place they have called home for generations?

Why is it that we are so afraid of the truth about Israel and her oppression of the Palestinian people, and our complicity in what is happening here?

And why can we not see that this oppression is as bad for the Jewish people living here as it is for the Palestinian people living here?

Why are we so easily led to believe that the problems here are caused by only one group of people?

Why can we not see victims on all sides of this ongoing conflict?

Why is it that even some who come and see for themselves the suffering of the Palestinian people, whether in Gaza or the West Bank, cannot bring themselves to believe that the cause of their suffering is not entirely, or even primarily, the result of their own behavior?

And then let me leave you with two more questions, please.

Why is it that so many of us in the evangelical community refuse to see that these matters of injustice deeply bother God?

Is it because if we acknowledged this basic biblical truth, then we would have to be bothered as well, then we would be forced to ask questions of ourselves, our leaders, and our Bible that we would rather not have answered?

And Jesus said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15).