Thursday, February 24, 2005
Friday, February 18, 2005
Sunday, February 13, 2005
Steven Vincent wanted to do something after the attacks of 9/11/2001. Being a journalist, he felt the best thing he could do was explore and chronicle the struggle going on inside this war-torn country. However, Vincent is an arts and culture reporter. He knew that no paper would be sending him in to do news stories in a war zone. So he went on his own. This turned out to be a remarkably good thing, because it allowed him to travel as an individual into parts of Iraq that are normally not covered by reporters.
Vincent has not produced a systematic history of Iraq or of the war. Rather, he has told the individual stories of the people he met. He does a fantastic job of laying out the complexities of Iraq culture. It becomes apparent very quickly that when you ask questions like, “What do Iraqis think of America?”, you get very different answers depending on who is speaking.
Above all, Vincent explores the painful paradoxes and contradictions in much Iraqi culture and thought. For example: Iraq under Saddam was a horrible place, filled with unspeakable tortures and terrors. Iraqis are very, very happy to be freed from Saddam, yet they are filled with shame that it was a foreign invading force that freed them. The apparent ease with which U.S. troops crushed the supposedly mighty Arab army is humiliating. It leaves many people simultaneously wishing to emulate the United States while filling them with shame-based hatred of it.
The crushing victory of America also gives Iraqi citizen a convenient scapegoat for all problems. To many Iraqis, America proved in the war that it was practically omnipotent. We could kill with such precision and force that it seems nothing must be impossible for the U.S. armed forces. But if America is so powerful, surely it can restore water, power, government, police, hospitals, law and order, and a thousand other services overnight as well. The only reason American forces would not bring all of these things back to full operation immediately was to further humiliate the Iraqi people. Many Iraqis constantly feel that America is simultaneously doing too much and too little.
A very refreshing aspect of the book is Vincent's willingness to diagnose cultural pathology when he sees it. He notes how the combination of militant Islam (with its antisemitism and anti-Americanism) and tribalism (especially with its attendant misogyny) is deeply destructive. These two forces are, in his opinion, the key obstacles to the formation of a peaceful and just society.
Sunday, February 06, 2005
There are (at least) two types of trials that beset modern man in America. The first is common to all men through history, and that is dealing with suffering. When we are given suffering, we must endure it, grow through it, and, if we have been blessed with the gift of faith, we can redeem it by offering it up to Jesus and joining it with His suffering.
But modern Americans have another trial that has not been so common to so many: Dealing with surplus. Most Americans (certainly including myself) have been blessed with more material goods than we need. We have been blessed with security, clothing, shelter, education, and general opportunity beyond what most of the world has ever known. One of the things the distinguishes a great life from the life of mediocrity is what a man does with this excess. It is so easy to get swallowed up in it, to see life in its terms. No matter how much we have, we can always want more. There are endless amusements and diversions that can pull us away from the deeper things of life.
I really see the wisdom of God in ordaining marriage. Very often, the one thing that keeps me from being completely absorbed in trivial amusements is the call of my family upon my time. I'd like to play video games, watch movies, go dancing, and many other things that would serve no purpose other than to amuse me for a time. Yet I seldom get to do any of these things because I need to work, change diapers, read stories, tuck into bed, and a 1,000 other things that need to be attended to when one has four young children.
At the time, each of those obligations can seem a burden. But when I am faithful to them, I am so much happier than I would be if I had just played. There are men throughout history that have accomplished amazing things by keeping laser-focused upon accomplishing some task or completing some work. They staid single and used their lack of attachment to achieve great things. I would not have been such a man had I never married. I am so thankful to God, my wife, and my children from drawing me into a much deeper life than I would have ever lived on my own.
Along these lines, please pray from my wife, Denise. She is pregnant with our fifth child, she is in the yucky first trimester, and she has a bad cold. Please hold her up to the Lord that she might receive healing, hope, and strength.