Bibi, I’ma Want You

Who can forget the cool vibes from the music performed by the 1970’s soft rock band, Bread?  But the song title is Baby I’ma Want You, not Bibi. Yes, except I really mean Bibi.  Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel to be exact.  What does an Israeli politician have to do with me and you, especially as Christians living in the US?

Israel is our closest ally in the Middle East and the only representative democracy and developed country in the region.  Israel shares its borders with Lebanon to the north, Syria to the northeast, Jordan and the West Bank in the east, and Gaza Strip and Egypt on the southwest.  And you think you live in a tough neighborhood?  There are over 8 million people who live in Israel.  Approximately 6 million or 75% of those people are Jewish, 1.7 million or 20.7% are Arabs, and the remaining 4.3% are non-Arab Christians.1 Arabs live in Israel?  Yes, and they possess the same rights as any other Israeli citizen.  Israel is the only country in the Middle East where Arab homosexuals can live without persecution.  77% of Arab Israelis say they would rather live in Israel than anywhere else.2

We Christians share much with our Jewish brothers and sisters.  We both have Jesus—contrary to what some believe—He was a Jew!  The Old Testament is known as the Torah to the Jews.  Both the Old and New Testaments go hand-in-hand.  Jesus fulfilled the words of the prophets.  All of the great stories, historical and otherwise, of the Old Testament foreshadowed Jesus. Without knowledge of the Old Testament you can’t have a robust understanding of our faith.  Many of our Christian practices are symbolic of Jewish religious traditions and our holy days are entwined with theirs.  Despite what you’ve heard our country was based on Judeo-Christian beliefs.  In 1654 Jews arrived in New Amsterdam, now lovingly known as New York.  Many Jews were honored patriots during the Revolutionary War.3

Israel has the right to exist.  Their people have the right to live without others threatening to hunt them down and kill them for the crime of being Jewish, regardless if they practice the faith or not—they’re still Jews.  Throughout history Jews have been expelled, forced to convert, had their property confiscated, synagogues burned, they’ve been enslaved, outlawed, burned alive, massacred, forced to wear badges/hats, mass arrests, victims of the Inquisition, imprisoned, hung, drowned, public torture and this persecution is not limited to the Holocaust at the hands of the Nazis.  This is throughout time4.

Islamist extremists, whether they are Shia or Sunni, ISIS, or the mullahs of Iran, main objective is to wipe out the Jewish people.  This quote is from one of the Islamic Hadiths:  “You will fight against the Jews and you will kill them until even a stone would say: Come here, Muslim, there is a Jew hiding himself behind me; kill him.5” I don’t know of any talking rocks but these extreme zealots take the words of the Koran and the Hadiths literally.  To say they are not Islamic is ridiculous.  However, their form of Islam is psychotic.  This group isn’t satisfied to simply return us to 7th Century existence.  What they really want is to hasten the Apocalypse.  Sound crazy?  It is.  But not to them!

Let’s look at Iran’s recent history.  Persia, as it was known until 1935 when the Iranian ambassador to Germany persuaded the Shah to rename Persia, Iran or “land of Aryans”.  The definition of Aryan in Nazi terminology was a Caucasian, blue-eyed, blond haired race.  Why would German Nazis court Iran? Simple, it possessed lots of oil and they both hated the Jews.  A Hitler envoy also promised a pan-Islamic state stretching from Morocco to Iran, something the Arabs of the Middle East longed for since losing the Ottoman Empire after World War I, and being lied to by the English and French with the Sykes-Picot Agreement, further breaking the region up into the countries that exist today.  Fast forward to November 4, 1979 when Muslim students stormed the US Embassy and held 52 hostages, not releasing them until January 20, 1981.  Iran has been a theocracy ever since and has sponsored countless acts of terror not only against the US but around the globe, and are working with Hezbollah against Israel.

Why would Iran, a country so rich in oil, need nuclear power?  They don’t.  They want a nuclear weapon.  They want to destroy Israel, the “little Satan” and call for death to America, the “great Satan”.  Many administrations have attempted to thwart their nuclear ambition.  The Saudis, Egyptians, and Jordanians are against it as well, but they have let the US do the heavy lifting.  The tough economic sanctions imposed on them, which would be lifted if this deal is signed, have practically destroyed their economy.  This has brought dissension on the streets of Iran in hopes that the people would rise up and over through the mullahs and their oppressive government.  While this has slowed them down, Iran never stopped working on acquiring nuclear power.  Now, they are closer than ever.  And what does the US do?  Negotiate a bad deal while Iran conducts military exercises, blowing up a mock US carrier just last week and denying access to UN inspectors.  These are the same people who danced in the streets and passed out candy after 9/11.  What could possibly go wrong?

While our politicians are naïve at best, Israel and Netanyahu who live in this environment are not.  Netanyahu has information that we, the American people and our Congress need to know before signing an agreement that could bring death and destruction to Israel first—and then to us.  The President says John Boehner dissed him by inviting Netanyahu to address Congress without his permission.  I beg to differ.  We have 3 equal branches of government—emphasis on equal.  We do not have a king.  Boehner, as the head of the legislative branch, has every right to invite who he pleases to address Congress—especially when it means life or death.  Unfortunately, several Democratic congressmen and women decided to blindly obey and boycott Netanyahu’s address.  I don’t care what side of the aisle you’re on—their duty is to serve and protect us whether they like what they hear or not.  This is not a democrat/republican issue.  This is an American issue.  This is an end to civilization as we know it issue.  This is a life or death issue.  This is a moral issue. If it offends our enemies—so be it.

Netanyahu said in his address, the days of Jews suffering silently are over.  They will stand.  As Christians we must stand with them.  What would Jesus do? Netanyahu is facing an election in his country within the next 2 weeks and has a lot at stake.  I don’t believe he addressed Congress to win the election back home.  Contrary, he’s losing ground in an election that was his for the taking.  Why?  Because he’s putting the lives of Israeli citizens first.  He’s putting Israel before politics.  What good is winning an election if within a short period of time, Iran will nuke Israel off the face of the earth?  That’s what a leader does.  He tells the hard truth and doesn’t sell candy-coated lies.  He confronts issues and calls evil by its name.  He tackles issues that are not popular.  We have no right to offer Israel as a sacrifice to lunatics in the hope that they will leave us in peace. Who would you rather have as your leader?  Neville Chamberlain or Winston Churchill?  And if you don’t know who either of those two men were, shame on you.

Do you as a Christian want to be on the right or wrong side of history?  Will you stand as Corrie ten Boom and her family stood?  But even more so, do we as Christians want to be on the right or wrong side of God?  In Genesis 12:3 God tells Abraham, referring to the Jews, “I will bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you. All the families of the earth will find blessing in you.”  I know which side I want to be on and that’s why I sing, Bibi, I’ma want you.

1The Jerusalem Post, 12/30/2014

2 Arab Israeli Conflict, 10 Facts About The Arab-Israeli Conflict, www.arabisraeliconflict.info

3 Touro Synagogue, America’s Oldest Synagogue, Jews In America From Inquisition to Freedom.

4 Simple to Remember, Judaism Online, Jewish Persecution, Timeline of Judaism, History of AntiSemitism www.simpletoremember.com

5 Hadith Collection Sahih Muslim Book 041, Hadith Number 6981

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The Name Game

Today is September 11th. It’s such a profound day for those old enough to remember. As the day approaches my emotions usually take a somber tone. It’s just something that you can never forget. The images are burned into your memory. Each year I try to watch the live coverage of the 9/11 Memorial from New York City and the traditional reading of names. It never fails to bring me to tears. I didn’t know anyone in the Towers that morning and yet I feel I knew every one of them.

I’m writing this while listening and watching the roll call of those innocents who perished in the terrorist attack 13 years ago. I listen to the select group of friends and family chosen to read the names. The very last name they read is that of their loved one. I’m always struck by the diversity of the names read. Every nationality, age, and sex is represented. Evil doesn’t take stock of where your ancestors came from, sex or how old you are.

Many of the older children relay the most personal messages. One of them told the story of how her dad tucked her in to bed the night before never realizing this would be the last time she would ever see him. Another stated while he remembered his father, two younger siblings did not, but he was determined to teach them who their father was.  While another young man, so inspired by his father, decided to devote his life to service and had just joined the US Marine Corps.

And of course there are the parents who lost children and the husbands and wives who lost their spouse. All refer to them in the present tense, as if they are still alive and living within the walls of the waterfall memorial. As it gets closer and closer for them to recite the words they wish to say, the more their lips quiver and they tense up. Many say they know they are with God and they will all be united once again. They are right.

This year I noticed more young people between the ages of 13 and 18 reading the names. They do not speak with the same emotion. As they recite their personal message to their loved one they tell them, mom, dad, grandma or grandpa, uncle Joe, I never knew you… I’m not criticizing them because they are telling the truth.

There are so many lessons to be learned from this day. I won’t touch upon those that our government, intelligence agencies and military need to learn. I’m talking about lessons we can learn from the grieving. There but for the grace of God go I. My own child lives in New York City. Those planes could just have easily attacked Chicago. Last night I asked my youngest daughter if she remembered that day, thirteen years ago. She was only 10 years old but she remembered watching the horrible sequence of events with her 17 year-old sister. When she began to cry, her older sister comforted her. I’m sad my children have to have a memory like 9/11. I’m also happy that they have a memory of it because I know they’ll never forget.

Which leads me to the larger lesson to be learned. I watched a wife give a heart wrenching remembrance of her husband, a New York City police officer. In her hands she clutched an 8×10 photo of him taken on 9/11, leading an injured woman to safety. A nervous young man, approximately 12 years old, stood next to her, waiting his turn to speak. She motioned to her daughter in the crowd and said that her father was proud of her as she followed in his footsteps. Holding up the photo, she said this is who her husband was and this is how he lived and died, laying down his life for a stranger. She then invoked God’s name and His blessing on all grieving survivors and on America and closed by stating her husband was now with God. When it was the young man’s turn, he mentioned his uncle’s name, said he missed him, and God bless America. The difference in demeanor and emotion was striking.

As parents we want to protect our children from evil. It’s a natural instinct. We don’t want them to see atrocities. A college freshman today has no memory of 9/11 because they were too young to remember. News agencies don’t show the images of 9/11 because it might upset someone. I believe those images should be shown every day so we don’t forget. Especially since our education system is not teaching US history.

Thirteen years after 9/11 firefighters can’t wear American flag or Marine Corps stickers on their helmets. Do you remember how each firefighter proudly wore that flag on 9/11? Members of the military can’t go to their children’s school in their fatigues because it might offend a student. All of us are alive and free today thanks to the sacrifice of members of our military.

We cannot allow ourselves to forget and become indifferent. Those younger children who lost their parent on 9/11 have no memories. It’s not their fault. But what will become our fault is if we deny our young people their history and the right to know what happened that sunny day in September, 2001. Sometimes seeing evil is the best defense against it.

Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning?

Alan Jackson is one of my favorite country singer/songwriters. Most of his songs are about simple country living, but what affected him on September 11, 2001 cut deep—just like it did to all of us. As in his song, we remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when those planes crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. While Jackson may have been on stage prepping for a concert, most of us, like the innocent victims of the terrorists, were also at work or school just like any other day. But September 11, 2001 was no ordinary day.

It was a warm and sunny morning in Chicago. A university meeting was scheduled but I was too busy to go, so my student and I were alone in the office. I had my radio set to my favorite station when the DJ announced that a plane had hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center, and then a few minutes later another plane slammed into the South Tower. My student, who happened to be Muslim, knew exactly what happened. I’ll never forget the fear in his eyes when he shouted at me after the second plane hit, “Do you know what this is!”

I immediately picked up the phone and called my Dad. I wanted to hear his voice and make sure he turned the news on. My youngest daughter was with him. I remember how angry I was at her earlier because she claimed to be sick, but I didn’t believe her. I was now relieved she had stayed home with grandpa. My second call was to my eldest daughter’s high school. The shaky voice on the other end said the girls were OK and they were watching the coverage in their classrooms. My husband, a City of Chicago employee, called me. We both knew if a plane hit anywhere in Chicago, he’d have to go.

The university meeting ended abruptly after the third plane hit the Pentagon and employees returned to their offices in a panic. It was a day at work where no work was done. My radio was the only outside link we had. Rumors swirled that Chicago was next. Everyone was scared.

I worked just a half-day and returned home to an empty house. I turned on the television and for the first time watched in horror at what was happening. I cried watching victims jump because they believed it was the better alternative, seeing others waving white cloths out windows for help that would never come. I covered my mouth as the Towers came down, covering everything and everyone in white ash. It looked like a movie, but it was real. Later I sat outside and listened to the only music on the radio—patriotic music. It was eerily quiet as all planes had been grounded. When my eldest returned home from school she recounted how they kept hearing planes low overhead and they were terrified until the teacher reassured them their school was near a military facility.

Once the girls and my husband returned home we held tight, grateful just to be together. We watched the coverage of survivors walking around New York City with pictures of loved ones—praying they’d be found. We watched the endless streams of people walking miles across bridges to get home to other boroughs of New York or to New Jersey or Connecticut. The cameras took us inside New York and Washington D.C. hospitals where dedicated doctors and nurses tended the injured and regular folks donated blood. We saw police and firefighters, covered in ash, some sitting on curbs with their heads in their hands and others embracing each other. Three firefighters raised a small flag among the debris. It looked like the end of the world.

In the following days, we cheered as police and fire units from other cities and states rushed in to help. News stations interviewed scores of survivors of all races and religions but nobody saw the differences. It didn’t matter. We were one and we held on to each other for comfort and solace. The candlelight vigils followed. People of all backgrounds formed a human chain, some prayed or sang, while others remained silent, but all stood together. We’ll never forget President Bush’s “bullhorn” speech to the emergency workers at Ground Zero. Churches were full for the first time in years. Chances are if you had a Bible in your house it was in your hands. We vowed never to forget.

If you’re under the age of 18 you probably don’t remember, or you weren’t born. We have shielded our children from the horrific images of September 11th. A huge mistake and why so many Americans are back to the mindset of September 10th. As a child I was taught about Pearl Harbor. I wasn’t there but I’d learned about it, saw the actual footage, and even visited the memorial in Hawaii. But no one is educating our children that true evil exists in this world and will touch us—no punch, kick and knock us down again.

Where does God fit in? Everywhere. Many people cried to Him that day. His name the last words uttered by some. Many demanded to know how He could let this happen. I don’t have all the answers but I know He was there. I saw Him in the faces of those first responders who rushed into the Towers and the Pentagon. I saw Him on the face of the dying Catholic priest, Fire Chaplain Father Mychal Judge and on the faces of those who carried him from the Tower, where just earlier he was anointing firefighters and giving last rites to others. I know I saw God on the faces of all those survivors who carried co-workers from burning buildings or for those who gave comfort to strangers on the streets.

Jesus tells us in John 15:13, “No one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.” Isn’t that what every lost first responder did? Isn’t that what the passengers of Flight 93 did? How many regular people sacrificed that day to save others? Many lost their lives saving co-workers and strangers. A few days after the attack, Franciscan Father Brian Jordan was blessing the remains at Ground Zero when a worker asked him, “Father, you want to see God’s House? Look over there.” At first Father Brian could not see anything but then he saw it. There was a long silence as several workers saw it too. What we now call the 9/11 Cross thrust into the ground. God was there.

St. Paul’s Chapel built in 1766 miraculously escaped destruction. Positioned on the edge of the World Trade Center site, it opened its doors to rescue workers, offered meals, cots, counseling and prayer. On April 30, 1789, President George Washington attended Thanksgiving service at St. Paul’s after his inauguration at Federal Hall on Wall Street. It was at that chapel that President Washington dedicated the United States of America to God, saying the nation would prosper and be protected as long as it remained committed to the will and purpose of God. Only two countries have such a covenant with God: the US and Israel. Do you think that was a coincidence? God was there.

Today I read that two days before the anniversary of 9/11 four Chicago suburban firefighters were suspended for refusing to remove a patriotic sticker of an American flag posted on their helmets and lockers. One came to America from Cuba and said his parents brought him here because the government told them what to do. Another suspended firefighter was an African-American whose father was an ex-Marine, ex-Vietnam Vet, while still another was Caucasian. You see how quickly we forget?

At the close of Jackson’s song, he quotes 1 Corinthians 13:13. “As it is, these remain, faith, hope and love, the three of them; and the greatest of them is love.” We especially loved our fellow man the day after September 11th and the days that followed. Do we still love them today?

Where were you when the world stopped turning on that September day?