Social Capital: Seeds of Friendship Growing into a National Symbol for Reconciliation

By Manal el-Tayar

Her voice quivered as she started speaking. One could sense how intimidating it must have felt for a twenty-year-old to address a crowd of religious leaders, politicians, ambassadors, civil society leaders, academicians and other notable delegates about her vision for a united Lebanon. As Alaa spoke, she glimpsed back a couple of times at Jennifer who stood by her. Jennifer’s beaming smile reassured her friend. Slowly, Alaa grew more confident in her speech and her words resonated with the audience.

The contribution of Alaa and Jennifer to the Celebration of the Annunciation[i] in downtown Beirut on Sunday 26th of March 2017 seemed to be the highlight for many in attendance. “You are the hope of the future,” said one ex- combatant in the civil war: Continue reading

Statelessness: Banned from Belonging

By Brent Hamoud

Much has been made of US President Trump’s executive decisions temporarily banning select nationals and refugees from entering the USA. The order has been met with opposition in forums ranging from airport terminals to federal courts, which have so far blocked the executive decision from going into full implementation. The ban stirred strong feelings across the globe; there is something about singling out particular nationalities and rejecting the extremely vulnerable that simply does not sit well in the hearts of many. (The topic received the IMES treatment here.)

While I personally have been unsettled by the logic and the implications of Trump’s proposed travel and refugee resettlement ban, I see it as a comparatively small issue compared to a much larger, harsher ban that has been enduring for the better part of the past century. Continue reading

The Death and Resurrection of Jesus Were the Culmination of His Life and Teaching: An Easter Reflection

By Martin Accad

In the gospel of John, chapter 12 (1-8), we read the story of a woman called Mary, who anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume. But who was this enigmatic Mary character, and what was the significance of her act?

1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3 Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. Continue reading

A Reflection on Traffic through a Theology of Sin

By Caleb Hutcherson

Have you ever thought about your theology of sin in the middle of being stuck in traffic? That chortling I hear doesn’t faze me. And of course, you are right. My friends and family chuckle, too, at my goofy probing of the everyday with theological lenses. But, I think there is something to be gained when we recognize and reflect on how the actions and practices of everyday life are, in a very real sense, a form of speaking about God. Reflection can be short or long, focused or philosophical. But the practice of reflecting theologically on the everyday can help us to grow to be more mindful of the ways that our speaking about God (in words and actions) shapes and is shaped by life.

This particular reflection burst through the mind-bending frustration that built as I once again sat in traffic in Beirut, trying to get home from work. Continue reading

Migrant Crises in Muslim and Christian Countries

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are 63.91 million “persons of concern”, which includes refugees, people awaiting recognition as refugees, and people who have fled their homes but not sought refuge in another country. Of these, 16.1 million are refugees, that is people who fled to a different country in search of safety.

The largest number of refugees registered with UNHCR hail from Muslim-majority countries: Afghanistan, Syria and Somalia. UNHCR figures do not include Palestinian refugees, who number an additional 4-7 million. The largest numbers of refugees are also living in Muslim-majority countries: Jordan, Turkey and Pakistan, Continue reading

Re-Reading Our Times

The 1970s were defining for me. Those were my high school years. Growing up between Lebanon and the US gave me the opportunity to experience those formative high school years cross-culturally. I was a mid-western boy living in a Middle Eastern home. Recently, I’ve decided to reread some of my old high school English literature readings to see how my viewpoint has changed over the years.

One book, in particular, which caught me by surprise, was Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, written in 1899. Heart of Darkness is considered to be no. 32 on the list of the 100 all-time best English novels.[1] I love Conrad’s evocative use of English, which wasn’t his first language. In an economy of words, he takes us on a journey of the consequences of unbridled Empire. Continue reading

Defacing the Image of God: The Children of War and Our Collective Human Failure

By Jesse Wheeler

For what purpose do we older folks exist than to care for, instruct and bring up the young?” – Martin Luther[1]

The Children of War

Martin Luther, the justifiably controversial father of the protestant reformation, poses the above question with regard to our collective reason for being. Amidst the sheer wealth of theological topics about which he wrote, he is led to conclude that our greatest and most defining responsibility as “older folk” is to care for, instruct, and bring up the young. He continues, “It is utterly impossible for these foolish young people to instruct and protect themselves. This is why God has entrusted them to us who are older and know from experience what is best for them.” Tragically, this is a task at which I must conclude we have failed miserably, a failure for which Luther warns: “God will hold us strictly accountable.”[2]

Given the fact that we have been inundated recently by story after story of the most unimaginable, gut-wrenching horror to which young children have been subjected, both within and beyond the region, I can’t help but agree that we must be held accountable. Continue reading

Theological Education as Formation for Prophetic Ministry

By Martin Accad

When we think about theological education in a country like Lebanon, we are forced to think differently from the way that seminary education has traditionally been understood in Europe or North America. In many seminaries around the world, both in the west and sadly also in the Middle East, students are still primarily taught how to interpret the biblical text largely for preaching purposes. They may also take a couple of counseling courses and some classes in pastoral ministry. They may be offered a limited number of courses in missiology, but often in the form of electives that students can opt out of. This reflects an older mentality, where the seminary views itself as operating at the service of ‘Christendom’ – a society where Christianity is dominant and where the church often lives with a triumphalistic mindset. A large proportion of seminaries, however, have become increasingly aware of functioning in a post-Christian world. Continue reading

The Church and the Banality of Evil

By Suzie Lahoud

“For Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.” 2 Cor.11:14

The Banality of Evil

When the great political philosopher, Hannah Arendt, agreed to cover the trial of Nazi leader, Adolf Eichmann, it is doubtful that she or anyone could have predicted the shocking conclusion she was to reach. Coining the term, “the banality of evil,” Arendt exposed the frightening normality of the Nazi machine in executing its Final Solution.[1] In what Arendt described as a “show trial,” the villain put on display proved to have been motivated less by psychopathic sadism and more by an unwavering obedience and sense of duty.[2] Equally disconcerting was the description of Eichmann’s own dislike of gratuitous violence and weak stomach for gore. Here stood before the court, not the very portrait of a deranged, cold-blooded murderer, but rather, an ordinary “law-abiding citizen.”[3] Continue reading

The US Immigration Ban: A View from the Kingdom

By Mike Kuhn

Thus the so-called outsiders are really only “insiders” who have not yet understood and apprehended themselves as such.
(Karl Barth, ”The Humanity of God”)

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”
(Engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty from “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus,1849–1887)

It was a day of jolting irony.  I stood beside Atallah as the priest pronounced the marriage rites. My wife stood beside his bride. Our friends looked on. Together we drank the cup of blessing…just the four of us. Together we clasped hands and processed around the altar of the church nestled in a crowded quarter of Beirut known as the local home to several refugee communities. I was the shabīn—the best man and my wife, the shabīna—the matron of honor. So it goes without saying that we have become close with this special couple. The honor they showed us was almost embarrassing—one of those honors you feel you can never deserve. It’s just given to you. They wanted us to stand beside them on their wedding day in front of their siblings, cousins, parents and friends.

Atallah is from Dara’, Syria. Gladis, his bride, is from Aleppo. Continue reading