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Beirut is a city by the Mediterranean Sea facing West. Huge, multi-million residents. Mountains just behind or East, somewhat like LA or San Francisco but much closer and higher mountains with the city climbing the sides.

Our hotel is in a community up the mountain about 30 minutes from the city proper. Long way from the sea but can see it and the city clearly whenever we travel down hill. Sunsets spectacular. Birds everywhere, first wildlife I saw: pigeons.

City features few Western-style skyscrapers of glass and steel, instead, thousands of all off-white stone, cement, or manufactured stone-surfaced highrises maybe 20-30 stories at most with smaller windows and less glass than Western buildings, probably due to the constant sun. Many residential buildings have huge canopy-like curtains hanging from the top of the balcony to shield the sun and heat.

The Lebanon flag is a distinctive one: a red band on the top and bottom covering about one-third of the flag with a wide, white band in the middle two-thirds. In the middle of the white is a green Cedar of Lebanon. Red, white, and green. Beautiful.

Boiled eggs and goat cheese for breakfast, along with Nescafe coffee brewed in my cup at the table, served like tea with hot water and makings, very strong, which I like. Also black olives with every meal, salty and not bad but not my favorite.

English-language CNN available on the tube and maybe one other English station, the rest Arabic of course, along with some French. Lebanon has a French colonial history, so people here speak Arabic, French, and maybe English. My cab-driver spoke no English, but we got to "J'mapelle Joe" and Rex.

People at the hotel call me "Mr. Rex." I thought this was because they had confused my last name until I heard them address others in a similar way. The hotel key is attached to a bolt-shaped piece of gold metal that weighs a good pound or more. Probably won't forget it's in my pocket.

Went to another Lebanese restaurant tonight at 7:30 pm, ordered meal about 8:20 and it came a half hour later. Long mealtimes. Left the restaurant at almost 11:00 pm. Restaurant was a huge outdoor patio on the side of a mountain over-looking a deep valley. Patio covered by various canopies, lots of flowers, seating areas part couches with cushions, part straight-back chairs. Interesting place. Ate raw liver, chicken wings, sausages, a sort of hush puppie with beef inside, salads, and more. Dessert here is about 10-12 kinds of fruits placed on the table in bowls. Cantaloupe and watermelon fantastic.

For those who wish, meals end with a small cup of Turkish Coffee. Strong enough to kill a moose, probably why I didn't sleep much at all last night--either that or the jetlag. Restaurants we've been to both had pools of water with frogs in them that made an incredible racket. Few or no bugs. Balmy, pleasant to sit outdoors into late evening.

Full moon out tonight over the mountains populated by thousands of lights in the dark. Looks like San Francisco.

Saw Martha Stewart on a TV channel called "Fatafeat." Found out this word means "Crums," their version of the Food Channel.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

Since New Year’s Eve several countries in the Middle East and North Africa have experienced a wave of unprecedented social unrest played out in street demonstrations, many of them ending in violence. The countries involved include Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria and more. The goal for most protesters, as far as can be discerned, is to replace long-time autocratic regimes with some version of democracy, or at least a more open society.

Among the more than 500 million people in the region many are fed up. They want to share in the freedoms, opportunities, and material wellbeing they’ve seen in the West or elsewhere in the world. They do not generally want to transpose Western values and practices upon their cultures but rather develop their own versions of open societies that respect human dignity, life, and liberty.

Christians can and should support all efforts to achieve human freedom. To do this, Christians do not necessarily need to “take sides” in the political processes at work in the region, although this may at times be warranted too. They can support change by presenting moral structures and providing principles based upon a Christian worldview.

The Word of God is not a political manual, yet it speaks to politics. Our task is to ever seek to apply unchanging biblical principles in a rapidly changing world.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

I’m in Beirut as I write, my third visit to Lebanon, so I’m beginning to learn a few things about this interesting country and people. Here’s my lengthening list:

--The food is excellent. Hummus, varieties of spiced meats, sweet and to-die-for fruit, which tends to be fresher than what’s available in supermarkets in the States because most of the fruit comes from within the country.

--The children, as all children everywhere, are beautiful. But there’s something about Lebanese little ones that attract my eye every time. They look like black-haired (sometimes curly), dark-eyed, olive-skinned angels.

--Beirut fills a basin around the Mediterranean Sea and quickly climbs the mountain backdrop to the east. Four to six story residences and even larger apartment buildings dot the hillsides offering spectacular views of the city and sea to the west or valleys and mountains to the east.

--The Lebanon Mountains, or Mount Lebanon, run along the central part of the country north to south. The highest point reaches above 10,000 feet. I saw snow patches on several mountaintops during our drive over a pass yesterday. The mountains boast some good ski resorts, are populated by pines (including the ancient Cedars of Lebanon), and a tree-line that can be seen on most of the ranges, meaning the tops are bare, much like California’s southern ranges. Another range called the Anti-Lebanon Mountains runs along the eastern border with Syria.

--The BeKaa Valley is a rich agricultural plain lying between the mountain ranges, is some 75 miles long and up to 10 miles wide. The valley is beautiful and produces much of the country’s farm foods like potatoes and fruits, including grapes with associated wineries.

--Baalbek, an approximately 2100 year old Roman ruins is located to the east and north in the BeKaa Valley. It features incredibly preserved stone works, in particular the temple of Bacchus or Dionysus, the god of wine, ecstasy, and madness. Bacchus is the word from which we get the term bacchanalia, meaning wanton orgies. Add temples to Venus, the goddess of love, and Jupiter, the ruling god, and you get the picture of the activities that took place in Baalbek, which by the way gets its name from the idol Baal. But the architectural antiquity is fantastic to see.

--Lebanon is a country divided by religious sectors. Maronites, Christians, Druze, Muslims, Greek Catholics, Greek Orthodox, and more tend to live in historically defined areas. There’s a history of friction, but there’s also a history of periods of productive and peaceful interaction, like now.

--Lebanon is surrounded by politically powerful neighbors: Israel to the south, Syria to the east and north. When the big powers rattle sabers Lebanon gets caught in the middle.

--Lebanon is a geographically small nation. If you dropped it into Lake Michigan, the country would disappear.

--Lebanese people live in diaspora all over the world. About 4.3 million live in Lebanon. As many as 15 million plus people of Lebanese descent live elsewhere, many known for the business prowess, especially in restaurants.

--Lebanon may have some Bedouin peoples, but there are no deserts in Lebanon, the only Middle East country that can make this claim.

--Lebanon enjoys its French colonial heritage in that children often attend schools structured upon French educational systems and take French courses each year. Many Lebanese speak Arabic, French, and English.

There’s much more. Lebanon’s economy is growing and for now its politics are relatively stable. Lebanon is small but influential, an engaging country, people, and culture.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

I meet people who love the Jewish people, their heritage and history, their culture, food, and religion. These people also tend to root for, support, defend, and otherwise embrace Israel as a nation state.

I meet people who love the Arab people, their heritage and history, their culture, food, and possibly their religion. These people also tend to root for, support, at times defend, and otherwise embrace Lebanon or Egypt or other Arab World nation states.

Mostly these two groups, those supporting Jews and those supporting Arabs, stand alongside one but not the other body of people. In other words, it’s like never the twain shall meet, an eternal juxtaposition. It’s assumed or sometimes stated in bold relief: “Love the Jews not the Arabs” or “Love the Arabs but never Jews.” It’s like Jews are North Pole and Arabs are South Pole, Jews are Water and Arabs are Oil, Jews are This and Arabs are That. Never, under any circumstances, are the two great bodies of people brought together. They’re invariably stated as “Versus” but never “And.”

But in the Scripture, God said, “From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.”

The Bible also says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” By “Greek” the Scripture means non-Jews. It means Gentiles. It means Arabs and Native Americans and Australian Aborigines. It means all who are not Jews. So the divine point is that “in Christ Jesus” no ethnic, racial, or gender barriers exist.

The Scripture reinforces this understanding of God and the human race, stating, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame. For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” No difference between Jew and Gentile. “Everyone” who calls…will be saved.

If you believe the Bible for what it claims that it is, the Word of God, and if you believe what it says in these verses, than you cannot join either the Pro-Jew or Pro-Arab group if it means you must therefore be at odds with or perhaps despise the other. No exclusive “this side only” position is presented or promoted in Scripture. A Christian worldview demands a Pro-Jew and a Pro-Arab mentality. We not only need not, we must not, take sides one against the other.

To say one supports Jews still leaves room to acknowledge that Israel is a secular nation state that acts in its own interest, and as such, should be subject to critique—just like the United States and all other countries of the world. To say one supports Arabs still leaves room to recognize that some Arabs give themselves to extremist religious views that in turn lead them toward violence. Loving a people is not the same as giving each individual or even a nation state a free pass to do as it wills without regard for human rights and civilized values.

Yet some Christians, including some Christian leaders, unwisely make comments suggesting or stating outright that “Israel can do no wrong” or “Palestinians should be banished from the Holy Land” or “Arabs are our enemies.” A few, though certainly fewer, unwisely make comments suggesting or stating outright that “Arab nations can do no wrong” or “Israel (and/or Israelis) should be banished from the Middle East,” or “Jews are our enemies.”

How, though, can they justify these negative, nasty, ill advised, and wrong perspectives based upon Scripture? The answer is: they cannot. Scripture doesn’t teach or even fairly lend itself to this kind of simplistic and harmful binary thinking.

Put simply, God loves all people in his creation and calls all to himself. He doesn’t write some of them off as if they are lesser humans. Remember how Blacks were viewed as sub-human or not human by many in the 19th Century and well into the 20th Century? It wasn't biblically justifiable toward Blacks, and such an attitude isn't biblically justifiable toward Jews or Arabs.

In a truly Christian worldview it is both commanded by God and possible to love all humankind, even as we “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” We are divinely commissioned to love all people, even as Christ first loved us, and even as we recognize that not all members of any group will always behave properly or do what is right—the same as all people. Arguing for attitudes or perspectives a Christian worldview demands is not pollyanna thinking. What the world does is one thing; what Christians do or say must often be another.

It’s simple, but it’s good theology: "Jesus loves the little children, All the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, All are precious in His sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world." For Christians, it’s Jews and Arabs.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

No one knows where the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are “going,” much less what the political and social landscape will look like when they get there. The region is literally changing as we watch. This is both exciting and concerning.

MENA may eventually feature, God forbid, re-closed countries and new autocratic regimes. If so, we’ll need programs like SAT-7’s (in cooperation with Overseas Council and MEATE=Middle East Association for Theological Education) TEACH/LEARN project that works to develop leaders in Church and culture. SAT-7 is a Christian satellite television ministry based in Cyprus broadcasting in Arabic, Farsi, and Turkish across MENA and throughout 50 countries in Europe. Its US support office serves an American constituency vitally interested in MENA.

MENA may ultimately feature the newly open, if not democratic, societies the freedom fighters, rebels, and the rest of us are generally hoping for. If so, we’ll need programs like SAT-7’s TEACH/LEARN project because the Church will be able to work more publicly, will flourish, and will need more leaders than ever.

I’ve learned a lot about the Middle East in the past 18 months, but I have much to learn. The latter point can be said for US government or Western leaders in general and for Church leaders. The more we learn about the Middle East the better, for a lot of reasons.

MENA is not a block, not the monolith that evening news tends to unintentionally suggest. The region of 22 countries is home to 500+ million people speaking Arabic, Farsi (Persian), and Turkish. The countries, cultures, and people are similar but vary dramatically in ever way.

MENA people are religious, vigorously so, yet many are simply culturally religious as opposed to persons holding deep-seated informed religious understanding or commitment. They generally do not understand, or at least embrace, Western ideas like separation of Church and State and do not think it wise even when they do grasp the concept. So when they look upon the nominally Christian or Christian-by-heritage West, no matter what country is doing what, it is “Christian” to them. This makes true Christian testimony both more important and more difficult.

MENA will be different tomorrow from what it is today. We should work hard to learn more about and from the people of MENA. Learning doesn’t guarantee peace, but then again, nothing but good comes from greater understanding.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

 

Unprecedented social foment continues in the Middle East and North Africa. People demonstrate, protest, and even fight for change, and “Freedom” is the watchword.

Quick revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt may have spoiled us. The world wants peaceful resolution, and the sooner the better. But protesters in Libya are facing the strongest government opposition yet, complete with mercenaries, tanks, and fighter jets firing on Libyan citizens. Each day the prospects of a protracted civil war grow more likely. Meanwhile protesters in Bahrain, Yemen, and several other Arab countries press their governments for more economic opportunities, access to political decision-making, and basic human rights.

So far, it appears the two successful revolutions and protesters throughout the region seem to be nonsectarian, meaning they’re motivated by something other than religious goals. They’re driven by scattered leaders or by groups of freedom fighters rather than by organized religious movements. This is positive in the sense that religious influence generally heightens the stakes, making orderly transfers of power more difficult. The fact this could change as the revolutions settle into some kind of new political normal is a “known unknown” element of Middle East social transition.

On television or the Internet we watch tens of thousands demonstrate and/or fight. This is impressive, but we should remember there are tens of millions on the sidelines, sitting at home watching, doing nothing, or mostly just not engaging knowledgeably with the protests. What we don’t know is whether these millions at home are or will vote in favor of change or in favor of not changing? This is another element of change-by-the-moment Middle East/North Africa social transition.

One hopes that what emerges in all the countries engaged in civil discourse and/or civil war is a new level of tolerance and respect for minority individuals and groups. That is to say, one hopes post-revolution governments will not only protect basic human rights but will set the tone for inclusive societies in which acceptance is extended to all—ethnicities, races, religions, and also women and the disabled. Whether this will happen is yet uncertain but could change by the moment.

Three groups now seem to have emerged in the Middle East and North Africa: 1) people committed to revolutionary change, 2) people committed to maintaining current governments, and 3) the “silent majority” waiting, watching, and wondering which way they’ll cast their lot when the time comes. This could change at any moment and no one knows just how or in which direction.

The Middle East has always been a fascinating and an inherently important region of the world. Never more so than now.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.