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Sunday, October 31, 2010

This Is What I Mean By "Social Justice"


I was meeting with New York Times bestselling author. This was our second meeting. I’d read her book a while back, liked what she had to say, and when I found out that another friend knew her, I asked to be introduced to her. Our first meeting had gone well.

It was a few weeks before the last presidential election. As we sat at a table at Starbucks, she started to tell me about the conversation she’d recently had with a friend who disliked Sarah Palin. 

“I’m voting for McCain.” I told her.

“What?! You’re a Republican?” 

“Yes, I am.”

I could tell she was surprised.  People who don’t know me have a hard time pigeon-holing me. Some Evangelicals feel that I’m too liberal to be a Christian, and non-Christians are shocked to find out that I, a brown-skin Iranian, am a conservative Christian. She wasn’t any different. Her book, which I recommend very highly, is not something that every evangelical would have on their bookshelf. So, she had assumed I was a liberal.

Her curiosity got the best of her, so she asked, “Why do you like McCain?”

“He is for securing our borders,” I replied.

“I want our borders left open.”

Now it was my turn to ask questions:  “Why do you want our borders left unsecured?”

“I want people to come here so they can be helped.”

“If you want to help them, why don’t you go over there?” I asked her.

That’s when everything hit the fan.

In the middle of Starbucks, she began pounding the table with a raised voice saying, “How dare you?! How dare you?!”

Those who know me know that I never shy away from a good confrontation, but I almost never go out of my way to deliberately provoke anyone to anger or hurt their feelings.  My new-found friend’s reaction was a total surprise to me.

I had no idea why she was so angry with me. I was almost in tears and shaking. My brain began to search for the cause of her anger like my Mac doing a search on the hard drive for a lost document.  If she had listened hard enough, she could have heard the clicking in my head. Then, Eureka! I figured it out.

She was angry because a naturalized American, me, had just told her, an American, to leave her country. But that wasn’t what I meant. It took me a while to explain to her what my point was, and eventually she apologized to me. I think I might have been as upset if I was in her place not knowing what the other person meant with those words.

I was simply referring to what I’ve practiced in my own life. For example, when I visited Tajikistan in 1998 (a war-torn ex-Soviet satellite, which is among the poorest nations in the world), I was so moved by the lack of healthcare in the country that the following year I went back with a medical team hoping to alleviate some of the pain I’d witnessed. I didn’t go around demanding that the government should bring all sick Tajiks here so Americans can take care of them. That was my personal issue. I was obeying Christ’s mandate.

In asking my question, I was telling my friend, “If you really care about helping people of other countries, YOU go over there and help them. Don’t turn something personal into a public problem demanding that others take care of it for you.”And to me, this is "Social Justice".

After my explanation and her apology, we went back to being friends. We have met once or twice since in the same Starbucks.
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It’s the last day of a grueling seven days of providing care to over 600 sick people by an American medical team in Ghorghan Tepeh, Tajikistan—a Muslim nation. Except for me, everyone in the team has suffered from some kind of dysentery.  Being born and raised in Iran has its benefits. For over a week we’ve had no water or electricity. It’s in the middle of summer and it’s quite hot.  Although the team is under my care, I mostly act as a translator and at times help with crowd control.

We’re all tired, smelly and desperately in need of a shower.  I am also quite frustrated.  There is so little the team’s doctors can do with the limited resources they have available.  They have no X-ray or CAT scan machines, and can’t run blood tests.  So sometimes the best we can do is pray over the patient.

As Marvin (a team member who’s directed many medical teams before with his doctor wife) and I are guiding patients to where they’re supposed to go, a Tajik lady walks up to us.  She’s crying.  Our doctors can’t do anything for her.

“My in-laws want my husband to divorce me,” she tells me in Tajik.

“Why?” I ask.

“Because I’m barren and my in-laws demand grandchildren of us.  But I love my husband.”

Now, I’m in tears.  I know the pain of being barren.  My wife experienced that for the first eight years of our marriage, but there’s nothing we can do.  I explain to Marvin what the issue is, and then ask her if she would let us pray for her.

I want her to know to whom I’m praying, so I pray in Tajik.  My heart is heavy as we send her away.  She is crying and I’m wondering how God’s going to answer this prayer.  Even if there was a medical solution, these people are so poor and can’t afford even the most basic surgical procedure.

As the end of the day draws near, I’m even more frustrated. There are more patients to see and we’ve ran out of most of our medicine.  I’m grateful that our doctors have so sacrificially put aside their own interests and seen patient after patient for hours on end.  But, I also wish they could do more.  Frankly, I’m beginning to wonder if this has been a successful trip when our infertile lady shows up again.

This time she is full of joy.  Her tears have turned into laughter.  “What in heaven’s name could have changed her so quickly?” I wonder.

This is what she tells us:  “By the time I got home there was a letter from the government telling us we’ve been approved to adopt the twins we’ve been asking for.  We’ll start the procedures tomorrow.”

She then makes another announcement, “The twins will be called, Shahrokh and Marvin.”  Dear God, I feel sorry for those kids.  Shahrokh is a Persian name and can be handled with much less difficulty in that culture, but Marvin?

And finally she presents Marvin and me with a naan — a flat, round bread popular in that part of the world.  “I want you and Marvin to each take a bite on different parts of the bread,” she tells us.  We comply.

She takes the bread back and says, “We will nail the bread to a wall in our house and keep it there for as long as it lasts.  This is our tradition; something we practice in memory and respect of people who have touched our lives.”

By the time we leave for the States, we have seen over 600 patients. We’re all filled with a sense of gratitude and fulfillment for being able to touch so many lives in such a short time. Yes, there are many more people to be helped, but none of us come away thinking that somehow every American is obligated to share our burden and bring the needy Tajiks to the US so they can be helped.   






Friday, September 10, 2010

I Love My Church, Starbucks II!


I’ve just dropped my car off to be serviced, and have a couple of hours of waiting, so I go to the Starbucks across the street. This is my second time at this place.

As I sip on my coffee, I notice a couple walk in together. The man walks up to the counter and after ordering his drink, he turns around and asks the lady behind her what she’d like to have. He pays for his purchase and goes to the end of the counter where he’s to pick up his order. Anyone watching the couple would have no problem assuming the two are together, but this is not the case.

When it’s the lady’s turn to order her drink, the barista tells her, “Your drink was already ordered and paid for.”

“By whom?” asks the lady with a very confused look on her face.

“By that guy,” the barrister points to the man who’d walked in before her.

The woman walks up to the guy and thanks him insisting to pay the stranger back when the man says, “Lady, I’m grateful to be alive. Riding my bike here, I almost got killed by a driver who didn’t see me. So, please accept my gift to you.” He then walks out.

“Did you see what just happened?” I ask the gentleman sitting across from me.

“No!”

I go on to explain what just transpired and finish by saying, “May God help us all to see life the way this man just experienced it.”

“Amen!” responded the gentleman.

His quick response causes me to ask, “Where do you go to church?”

It turns out that Mike is a worship leader of a very large church in the neighborhood. We hit it off very pleasantly. We spend the next two hours talking about our faith, worship and the church.

As we’re talking I notice a young lady standing in line can’t take her eyes off me. Eventually she walks up to me and says, “Do you remember me?”

I really don’t, but I fake it. “Of course, I remember you! But can’t remember your name.”

With tears in her eyes she says, “Mehri! I’ve been thinking about you so much lately.”

As soon as I hear her name, I remember her totally. Over ten years ago, she used to be one of my church members. She goes to this Starbucks often, and as fate has it today, she’s come in later than usual. If it were any other day, she would not have run into me.  I introduce her to Mike and after exchanging contact info, we promise each other to meet soon.

Eventually Mike has to leave which gives me a chance to fire up my Mac and update my status on Facebook when another young man sits next to me.

“Are you on Facebook?” he asks with his thick African accent.

“Yes, I am.”

“My name is Zach! Can I be your friend on Facebook?”

“Why do you want to be my friend? You don’t even know me.”

“I’ve never met many of my friends on Facebook. At least I’ve seen you in person.”

I find it fascinating what his generation considers friendship.

“My name is Shah. You’re from Africa, correct?” I say, as I shake his hand.

“Yes, but you’ll never guess where.

“Cote d’lvoire”

“No! Benin. I told you, you’ll never guess.”

I’m not going to argue with him about the fact that I was only a country or so off the mark.

“I have over 350 friends on Facebook, but except for a handful, I’ve never asked anyone to be my friend. They all requested to be my friends,” I continue.

“Why’s that?”

“This way, I’m assured that these people wanted to be my friends because they know who I am and what I believe, so my comments and thoughts will not offend them.”

“So, what is it that you believe?”

I know that question was going to come up, and am ready for it.

“Being from Benin, I assume you’re a Muslim,” I tell him.

“Yes, I am.”

I begin to share my testimony with him from a shame-based perspective, a culture he was raised in. He finds my life-story to be interesting and identifies with much of what he hears. He goes on to tell me about some of his Christian friends who’ve been sharing the same kind of life-stories with him.

As Zach and I are talking, I notice another old friend standing in line. I haven’t seen him for over 8-9 years. It’s good to renew our friendship.

Eventually. I get a call from my mechanic. The car’s ready, and I have to leave. As I walk across the street, I realize, “I had church at the Starbucks this morning.” I had fellowship and renewed friendships, exchanged ideas on church and worship, met some new people, and shared my faith with a Muslim man.

When was the last time you did all this at your Sunday service?

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Since our first meeting, I’ve met with Mike again, and have had the honor of being given the three CDs he’s produced. He’s one talented man of God. I also had a chance to meet with Mehri, my old church member. She’s been through a lot these last 10 years including a divorce, unsuccessful attempt to move back to Iran, the loss of all personal possession, a new, but painful start in America, and battling leukemia.

In our last meeting, after sharing all she’s been through, trying very hard to hold back tears, she said, “Pastor Shahrokh, do you remember the first day I came to your church? I’ve never been the same since. Thank you for introducing me to the Lord. Throughout these past 10 years, He’s been my only true friend. I would have never made it without him in my life.”

Thursday, September 9, 2010

I Love MY Church, Starbucks I


The Bible college where I teach is an hour away from my house. To avoid the morning rush hour, I leave home early, which gets me to the college an hour before my class starts. I spend the hour in the neighborhood Starbucks where I get my tall “Awake” with a maple scone, and get a chance to review my teaching notes for the day.

On this particular day, as I sit down, I notice the young lady sitting across from me is reading her Bible. I automatically assume she’s one of my Bible college students, and ask her, “Whose class are you studying for?”

“It’s a Lit. class,” she tells me.

I’m confused. I know there are no literature classes at the college I teach.

“Do you go to LIFE?”

“What’s LIFE?”

“The Bible college a mile south of here.”

“No, I go to CSULA working on my master’s degree.”

“And, you use the Bible in your class?”

“Yes, one of the assignments is studying the Old Testament as a literary document.”

I’m so intrigue by the conversation, I decide to forgo reading my notes, and spend the next hour getting to know this young lady. From then on, till the end of the semester, I keep meeting with Lisa once a week at Starbucks to talk about life and The Old Testament.
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Lisa is not a believer, but her knowledge of the Old Testament would put many of my students to shame. After getting to know her well enough, I asked if she’d be willing to be interviewed by the students in my “Evangelism and Discipleship” class, which she agreed.

On the day of the interview, Lisa sat on a stool in front of the class and let the students ask her questions about her beliefs. Although she was a bit nervous at first, it all went fairly well.

After the class, a student walked up to me and said, “ProfeShah (that’s what they called me) you amaze me. You not only can walk into a Starbucks, and start a conversation with a total stranger, but you can also convince her to come before a class full of Christians and be questioned about her beliefs.”
 “As I’ve been trying to teach you, evangelism is all about a relationship built on trust. Lisa knows I’ll be her friend for life whether she ever decides to follow Christ or not,” I told him.

During the same semester, along with a group of students, Karen and I had Lisa over for a BBQ where she taught the students how to swing dance.

Throughout the years since our first meeting, I’ve continued to stay in touch with Lisa. She’s always been open to hear about my faith and how I became a follower of Christ. At the same time, she’s always made it clear that she prefers to stay a secular person, enjoying her own moral values. So, what took place next was quite a surprise to me.

Last week Lisa called me. She is getting married and she wants me to do the wedding. Apparently, her Catholic fiancé wants to have a church wedding, but doesn’t want it done through the Catholic Church, so, she immediately thought about me.

I met with the couple yesterday. I feel quite honored to officiate the marriage of a young lady I met at my church, Starbucks. I'm looking forward to the privilege of sharing a Christian perspective on marriage with a group of people whom, otherwise, might have not heard it. 

Sunday, August 8, 2010

To Charge Or Not To Charge


I’m invited to speak at a church about two hours north of where we live. The pastor is an old friend and many of his church members know me personally. I look forward to being at the church.

Before getting on the road I put $60 worth of gas in the car; she runs on premium. After driving for about 100 miles, I’m finally there. My 45-minute teaching goes well, and afterward I spend another hour or so fellowshipping with church members. Before I leave, the pastor graciously gives me an envelope with my honorarium in it. As it is my practice, I don’t look at it till I get home. Six hours later, when I get home, I open the envelope. The check is for $120. Deducting my gas expense, per hour, I’m paid a little over the minimum wage.  I’m hurt and feel dishonored. I believe I should have been respected more, but I have no one to blame but myself.
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In almost 40 years of being in the ministry, I never asked for any specific honorarium when invited to speak anywhere. In some cases, I even gave the honorarium back. Looking back, that was done out of a combination of pride, fear of being accused of putting a price on the Gospel or not trusting God and even more important, having a fulltime job which supported us sufficiently so I didn’t have to rely on honorariums as a means of support. However, not having a fulltime job since 2006, things are now different.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that I needed to establish a value system for giving out that which springs from my background, education, knowledge and experience. Coming to this point has probably been one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever made.

I have known many pastors and Christian leaders who, not only have a set honorarium, they also must be flown first-class when invited to speak somewhere. “But those are well known successful pastors and leaders with much more knowledge and experience than me,” I’d say. But, in reality, the majority of those pastors don’t have a fraction of the knowledge, experience, background or even accomplishments in my field. When I’m invited to speak somewhere, it’s because the audience wants to hear what I have to offer—an Iranian Muslim-background Believer, with a B.S. in Civil Engineering and a M.A. in Cross-cultural ministries; who planted the first Iranian Christian organization in the United States; taught at a Bible college for 5 years; and as a Middle East regional coordinator, planted churches all over the Muslim world for 6 years. However, in my case, that was easier said than done. I had to struggle with many issues.

Am I putting a price on the word of God? Am I not trusting God to support me? How can I swallow my pride and ask for a certain amount without offending anyone? These were the questions that kept haunting me, until something interesting took place that put my soul at ease.
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It’s a few days after speaking at the above church. My phone rings. It’s an old friend who’s recently become the pastor of a church.

“I’ve been teaching on the Beatitudes and this coming Sunday I’m teaching on persecution. However, not ever being persecuted myself, I thought it would be great if someone like you who knows a bit more about the subject could come and speak about it,” he tells me.

I’m delighted at his request. Frankly, it’s been a while since I’ve gotten any speaking invitations. However, I have a dilemma I must deal with.

“George, I’m going to ask you a question that I’ve never in my life asked anyone. I hope you don’t get offended,” I say quite uncomfortably.

“Of course not! Go ahead and ask it.”

“How much is your church prepared to pay me?”

“Our honorarium is $150.”

Then comes an even harder statement to make, but I’ve done my research and know my request isn’t unreasonable.

“Well, that’d be fine. You’re my friend and I’ll be honored to speak at your church for any amount, but I’d like to know that my honorarium is....”

After getting all the info, we say our goodbyes and I hang up.

The next day George calls to tell me that after talking to his board, the church is prepared to pay me what I’ve asked for.

That Sunday after I’m done speaking, George hands me my honorarium, but at the same time he says, “Please don’t leave yet. We’re writing you a second check—another gift from some of the members.”
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I still struggle with the idea of having to negotiate a price for my expertise, but I also realize if I don’t honor myself enough to set the price, albeit with pure intentions, neither will the majority of those who invite me to speak at their gatherings.

You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. (James 4:2)










Wednesday, June 2, 2010

They Don’t Care How Much We Know Till They Know How Much We Care


Recently, our good friend, Bill, told us about a conversation he’d had with a server at a restaurant with whom he’d developed a friendship.  Upon discovering that Bill was a Christian, the server told him, “All of us waiters draw straws on Fridays to see which one of us ends up working on Sundays when, after church, many Christians come here to eat. We hate waiting on them. They have the worst attitudes and are lousy tippers.

Both my children worked as servers in various restaurants while going to college. In fact, my daughter still works two days a week at a high-end Japanese restaurant while going to graduate school. So, when I relayed the above story to her, she laughed and told me the following story which had happened to one of her friends at the restaurant:

After waiting on a grouchy and complaining church-going couple on a Sunday, instead of a tip, my daughter’s friend was left a Christian tract entitled, “Why the love of money is evil”. I guess this enlightened couple had no idea that anyone loving money wouldn’t necessarily become a waiter since servers usually work for minimum wage and the tips they receive are their main source of income. 
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It’s Mother day 2010. After speaking at the Philadelphia Church in Seattle, some of the church leaders take me to a picturesque water front restaurant. Our server is a young beautiful Asian lady. She reminds me of Megan, my daughter.

As soon as she leaves to get our drink orders, I ask the table, “OK, what do think her nationality is?

That’s one of my hobbies. I take pride in the fact that I can often tell what foreign language people are speaking or what their nationality is.

But, not today.

We go around the table and each makes a guess, so by the time our server comes back, we’re ready for her. I’m quite wrong. It’s Grethe who’s gotten it right. The lady’s Filipino. We all laugh and have a lot of fun with it.

A while later, on her third trip to our table, Allan, one of the guys in our group, asks her the following, strange question, “Do you have a recurring dream?

“Yes, I did when I was a little girl,” says the server.

“What was it?
“I used to dream I’m in this dry and lonely place where everything around me is brown and dying.  I’d be walking by myself when all of the sadden a Transformer appeared in front of me. I would get so scared that I would wake myself up.

And then she leaves to attend to other patrons.

“Why did you ask the question,” looking at Allen, I ask. Of course, I have a feeling why he did it, but I have to be sure.

“I don’t know! Every time she walked up I was impressed to ask her the question. Now, let’s interpret her dream. Any ideas anyone?

Everyone has something to contribute.

Allen suggests what colors mean in dreams. Ed talks about her lonely feelings, and Grethe and Christa remind us of her fear. This isn’t my first time facing such an unusual encounter, but I’m still quite intrigued.

I don’t have a gift of dream interpretation, but after years of practicing Lectio Devina or “Meditative Prayer”, I’ve learned that if I bring my thoughts into submission to God and focus on him, I’m often directed as how to pray.  My focus is on the Transformer.

“A Transformer is a shape-shifter. It can reveal itself as one thing, when, in fact, it is something else. To me it symbolizes a lack of or a broken trust,” I commented.

We can’t wait for her to come back. By this point we’ve treated her with so much respect and light-hearted conversation that she’s willing to hear what we have to offer. No sooner she gets back to us, she asks, “So, did you figure out my dream?

Allen looks at me and says, “Go ahead, you tell her.

I tell her our conclusion: “There’s a deep lack of trust in your life due to something that happened to you when you were little. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was your parents’ divorce. Since then, you’ve been having a hard time taking things at face-value, fearing, no matter what it is, it might shift its shape.

By now our lovely server is in tears.

“Yes, my parents are divorced,” she says while sniffling and wiping tears off her face.

“Now, for the good news,” I continue.

“Today, God brought us here to let you know that even though people, even your parents, can and will fail you, He never will. He wants you to trust Him.

While crying harder, she manages to say, “My mother’s at church right now. She’s been asking me to go with her. I think I’m going to start doing that.”

We make sure to leave her a great tip.
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A majority of people we interact with in our daily lives don’t care for our Message because they don’t know if we care for them.  It’s a foolish and dilapidated thought process that assumes that somehow giving a tract to someone as a means of witnessing exonerates all your other actions. After all, let’s not forget:

You are a letter from Christ...written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the Living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts..."                      II Corinthians 3:3

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Pacifist, At Whose Cost?

Yesterday, my son, Todd, an officer in the United States Air Force posted the following on his Facebook wall: “Todd Afshar only regrets that he has but one life to lose for his country,” which was promptly commented on by a friend saying, “Cats have more lives to give. Learn jazz.”

Todd’s comment and the letter he had sent to his American grandparents (Todd’s grandfather served in the armed forces during WWII) reminded me of a conversation I once had with a Christian pacifist.

The pacifist’s brother had posted an anti-war article on his blog. His post was filled with a bunch of bumper sticker slogans such as, “War is not the answer!” “War, what is it good for?” mixed with Christ’s admonition of, “turning the other cheek ” and “loving your enemies.” I had no problem with much of what the man had to say, but what really got me was the title of the blog: “Which War Has Ever Helped Anyone?”

I respect pacifists, but I have a great problem with naïve Christians who get their biblical macros and micros mixed up.

In response to the brother’s question, I left a comment on his blog saying, “I don’t know! Maybe you should ask your question to the Jews who were freed from Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Dachau and other Nazi concentration camps at the hands of those valiant American soldiers who shed their blood willingly to free the world from the tyranny of an evil man named Hitler.”

The writer quickly replied to me by quoting Christ’s admonition and that somehow we could have reconciled with Hitler, Mussolini and the Japanese Empire if the US had not overreacted toward those animals.

This is what I replied:

So, according to your understanding of what Jesus said, after bombing Pearl Harbor and killing several thousand American soldiers, we should have told the Japanese, ‘In response to Christ’s mandate, we are not only going to ignore what you have done, but we also offer you San Francisco to bomb.

I think, just like so many other Christians, the above writer couldn’t separate Christ’s micro principles from his macro principles. To make my point even more clear to the author, I went on to challenge him with the following question:

Suppose a man breaks into your house and rapes your wife. In keeping with Christ’s mandate and wanting to turn the other cheek, would you offer the rapist your daughter also?

Unfortunately, our friend was quite upset at my question and assumed that I was calling him an unfit father, which, by no means was my intention. I was only trying to show the brother how faulty his reasoning was. If you can’t apply Christ’s mandates to an everyday personal situation (a micro principle) — which, I believe, was Christ’s true intention in the previously mentioned mandates — how naïve are you to think it could be applied to all international dealings of various nations particularly in defending the innocent against blood-sucking parasites who are a billion times worse than the imaginary rapist?

As I said, I have no problem with pacifists, but please remember that your act of pacifism comes with a price — the blood of our military men and women. The same price people like my son are willing to pay at any moment they are called upon so you can continue to exercise the luxury of being a pacifist in the comfort and security of your country.

One final warning to my pacifist friends: If and when the Muslims take over a Western nation, among the first people they’ll execute will be the pacifists. If you weren’t willing to fight for your own faith and country, you will certainly not fight for theirs. So, really, you’re nothing by a liability to them.

Friday, March 12, 2010

IT’S ALL ABOUT HONOR!



I’ve inherited my dad’s looks and many of his characteristics. Just like him, I’m very easygoing until I’m cornered or dishonored.

The year was 1963. I was still living in Abadan, Iran, when a new family moved into a house across the street from us. All the neighborhood kids knew the man of the house was nothing but trouble because he was just plain mean.

For example, while playing soccer, if our ball accidentally went over the fence, and landed in his yard, he didn’t give it back to us. He’d cuss us out —something completely unheard of in our community—for having a good time, and laughing out loud, but we couldn’t do anything about it. Within that society, kids didn’t question an elder. This went on until the man had to face my easygoing dad.

Mr. Golcheen, our new neighbor, had a dog that was just as mean as her master. One day the dog got out of the gated front yard and bit one of my brothers. After he came home crying, my mom approached Mr. Golcheen and very politely said, “Sir, you shouldn’t let your dog get out of your front yard.” To which, he very sarcastically replied, “Madam, you shouldn’t let your boy get out of your front yard.”

The poor soul wasn’t aware that my dad, who’d just gotten home from work, was standing across the street listening to the whole conversation. Having his wife insulted, and demanding his honor restored, my dad charged the man. That was the only time I remember my dad that angry. Fortunately for the man, other neighbors stopped my dad and allowed Mr. Golcheen to cowardly duck into his house. A few weeks later he moved out of the neighborhood.
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The year’s 2002. This is my daughter’s senior year at Birmingham High, and her best friend has talked her into working with her at this dive of a pizzeria in a shady part of the city we live in. I’m not very happy with my daughter working in such a place, but Megan’s excitement overrides her dad’s disagreement. After all, like my dad, I’m also an easygoing father, whom, as much as possible, never says, “No.”

After working there for a few months, one night Megan comes home crying. The owner of the place, who has a very foul mouth, had cussed her out in front of customers, and she doesn’t want to work there any more. Many Americans may be quite delighted to hear their daughter isn’t going to be working for a place they disapproved to begin with, but not with me. I was raised in a shame-based culture and taught to defend my family’s honor, which is very important to me.

I call my good friend, Dennis. He’s of Swedish decent, and is built like an eighteen-wheeler, burly and strong. I tell him what I’m about to do and ask him to go with me. He readily accepts my request. No sooner than I call, and tell him my game plan, he’s at my front door. We get in his truck, and head for the pizzeria.

I’ve met the restaurant owner before. He’s a scrawny-looking guy who was born in Lebanon but raised in America. As soon as I enter the place, he recognizes me and has a feeling of why I’m here. I ask him to meet us outside. We go out and I sit at a table with my back against the wall across from him. Dennis stands right behind him, just as we’ve planned.

“Are you going to beat me up?” he asks nervously, hoping I get his joke.

“Of course not!” I reply. I’ve no intention of beating anyone up. I just want to teach this spoiled brat a lesson and restore my daughter’s honor.

“You know what “Aaibe” is, correct?” I use the word for shame in Arabic.

“Yes!”

“You know how important our honor is in that part of the world. You’ve brought ‘Aaibe’ on my family by dishonoring my daughter, and that needs to be rectified.”

“You’re correct, sir. I’m sorry for using bad language around your daughter.”

“You should never use bad language around my daughter period, but even more important, you will never direct it at her.”

“I’m very sorry. Please tell her if she comes back, I’ll never do it again.”

“That’s never going to happen. She’s not coming back to this place, EVER,” I smirk.

My family honor is restored, and I’m satisfied. But, even more important, Megan knows that her dad stood up for her, and that she can always depend on me to be her covering and protection.

As we’re walking away, I thank Dennis for going with me and he says,
“Thank you for bringing me along. I learned how my daughter should be treated.”

A few weeks later, I hear that our Lebanese friend is fined heavily for allowing an underage employee to sell liquor to an undercover police officer.
_____________________________
Recently, after posting my last 3-4 blogs, I got two interesting, yet opposite comments.

An anonymous follower gave me a great compliment, albeit, a left-handed one, saying:

“so ive read all of your blogs, never commented, a lot of the times because i felt you were just whiny. i really like the quality of your last 3 or 4 posts, and just thought i should give you a little bit of encouragement. keep going sir.”

The second comment from a friend said, “What happened? You’ve lost your fire.”

My friends were both right and wrong. I haven’t lost my fire, and, no, I wasn’t whiny. Originally, I started blogging after being unjustly fired from my job, which deeply dishonored me. I was cornered and shamed. My blogs were my way of trying to restore my honor. However, once the new leadership in charge of the old missions organization took me to lunch to apologize in person for what the old regime had done to me, I felt no reason to continue writing about the same issues. My honor was restored, and just like my dad, once again, I’m easygoing.

The above stick drawing and the note is from Megan. She sent it to me just the other day after I got her car fixed. By the way, she’s 24.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Robin Hood Was A Thief

I used to steal.

Years ago, when I worked for a clothing store, one of my coworkers convinced me that stealing from the company was my right. Here’s how he justified the act:

“You see, Shah. What we do is not stealing because, first, this company marks up the resale values of all the clothing by 100% and makes a lot of money. So, stealing a few items here and there will not hurt them at all. Second, these people expect us to steal because they only pay us minimum wage. “

Does the above logic justify stealing?

It sure satisfied me. I became an expert in ripping off the store. I went to work wearing my old clothes, chose whatever I wanted off the rack, and in opportune time walked into the dressing room, and changed to my new outfit. At the end of my shift, I walked out of the store wearing brand new shirts, pants and coats without having to spend a penny.

I was convinced I was entitled to the merchandise. It was my right to have the new clothing, however, at the same time, I had no obligation to the company that had employed me.

I felt like Robin Hood, stealing from the rich to give to the poor – ME.

In those days, the majority of my coworkers did not share my entitlement attitude. But, these days things are quite different.

Today, the Josephson Institute of Ethics released the findings of the first-ever large-scale study of the relationship between high school attitudes and behavior, and later adult conduct.

“The report showed that during 2008, 64% cheated on an exam, 42% lied to save money, and 30% stole something from a store. This new study reveals a close connection between youthful attitudes and behavior and continuing patterns of dishonesty as young people enter the adult world. The survey found that current age and attitudes about the need to cheat and actual high school cheating are significant predictors of lying and cheating across a wide range of adult situations.”

Why the change?

First, let me tell you what changed me and then offer you my opinion for the above question.
As soon as I became a follower of Christ, an inner-voice convicted me of my flawed logic. Nobody lectured me on it. I didn’t hear a “fire and brimstone” message on what happens to thieves. I simply knew I was guilty of stealing. So, I quit. I stopped cheating, lying and stealing to bring honor to my Lord.

What does my conversion have to do with 30% of high school students stealing from stores? If you look at the Ten Commandments, much of it has to do with the wellbeing of the community. I believe the farther our nation gets from God, the more entitlement-minded we become. The more one feels he deserves to have something he hasn’t earned, the more cheating, lying and stealing will take place – acts that eventually will pull communities apart from one another.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Answer Lies Somewhere Between Pat and Bono

By now we’ve all heard Pat Robertson’s explanation of the tragedy in Haiti. According to him, the earthquake was the result of a pact that Haitians had made with the Devil 200 years ago. As soon as I heard what he said, I posted the following on my Facebook:

“If Pat is correct, and Satan is the ruler of this world, shouldn’t Haiti be the most prosperous nation on the face of the earth?”

Why do some Christians see the need to defend God with bad theology? Why do we feel that we have to have an answer for everything under the sun? If you and I had an answer for everything that took place in this universe we wouldn’t need faith.

On the other hand, there are those like Bono, the lead singer of the band U2, who believe these tragedies are a direct result of poverty. His solution? Foreign aid and lots of it. After all, Western countries don’t have as many disasters because they are rich. But, is that really the answer? According to Rabbi Daniel Lapin, “The problem is not poverty, it is priority.”

Take, for example, the continent of Africa. Since 1970, rich countries have given a staggering $2.74 trillion in aid to African nations, but to no avail. Most African governments are corrupt to the core. The leaders of these nations embezzle most of the foreign aid and the help never gets to where it’s supposed to go.

On December 26th, 2003, over 30,000 victims perished in a massive earthquake that struck the city of Bam in Iran. Being a victim-mentality government, Iranian authorities explained away the death toll inflicted by the quake as a direct result of poverty.

For many, it is very easy to blame poverty for such devastation, however the same people fail to realize that just a few days after the Bam earthquake, the United States had one of the same magnitude, which struck the California town of Paso Robles with almost no casualties. Why? Because it is more important for the corrupt Iranian government to spend billions of dollars on a large-scale nuclear weapons program than it is to retrofit buildings in an earthquake-prone region. People, in their minds, are dispensable.

Right after the quake in Bam, I sent several thousand dollars to one of our pastors in Iran, directing him to use it to help the people in the destroyed city. After a few weeks he sent me several newspaper clippings that showed the wide-spread corruption that was taking place in the midst of all that misery. For example, the German’s rescue dogs were stolen at the airport. Supplies sent by the US were sold on the black market. Iranians were stealing valuables off dead bodies, and to expedite the process, the thieves were cutting off bodies’ arms, fingers and ears with the valuables still on them.

So, if it isn’t the Devil or poverty causing this, then what is?

According to Rabbi Lapin, it is the lack of Biblical worldviews. Whether Americans like it or not, in the United States, the standard bearer of Western civilization, “We have two cultural imperatives embedded deeply within our national DNA. Both flow from the Bible with which our founders were intimately familiar and by means of which they sculpted their worldviews.”

The first cultural imperative is to leave ourselves less vulnerable to nature. Americans believed it was God’s will to developed medicine and medical technology to defeat disease. They found insecticides to protect the food supply and built dams to control rivers. They took God’s commandment to Adam and Eve (“Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it.”) seriously. Americans knew they were pleasing God by making the nation safer and more secure for themselves and their neighbors, which then seemed to be blessed.

The second distinctive cultural imperative is the importance of preserving human life, which is driven from America’s Biblical roots and distinguishes her from the peculiar fatalism toward death found in so many other cultures.

As Lapin said, “Together, these two values enshrined in the West in general and in America in particular, are chiefly responsible for the vastly diminished impact that natural disasters inflict upon our society.”

Let me finish this post with Rabbi Lapin’s exact words:

God runs this world with as little supernatural interference as possible. Earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, and yes, tsunamis happen. It is called nature, which is not benign. Fortunately God also gave us intelligence and commanded us to make ourselves less vulnerable to nature. He also implanted in us a culture in which each and every life is really important. That is why Deuteronomy chapter thirty states, “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your seed may live.”

God may have allowed the earthquake to happen, just as he has allowed germs to exist and just as he has allowed cold weather each winter. However under the influence of Biblical culture, people have defended themselves against germs and they have learned how to produce energy to defeat winter’s frigid conditions. A long time ago, in His book, God provided the incentive and encouragement to survive nature. He isn’t to blame for the deaths in the Asian disaster. Many of the deaths are attributable to slowness in adopting the western values that promote technical and economic development along with profound respect for each human life.

Friday, January 15, 2010

You Are How You Act, Not Just How You Believe




“Hey, why the long face?” asked my pastor.

That Sunday morning, I was feeling so bad about something that had happened the day before that my pastor could see it on my face.

“Well, I’m kinda embarrassed to tell you,” I replied.

“Come on, Shah. You know me better than that. Tell me what’s bugging you.”

Like a kid caught after breaking his next-door neighbor’s window with a slingshot, I spilled the beans, “In three years of marriage this has never happened to us. For the first time one of our checks bounced.”

With a surprised look on his face, he began to laugh, and said, “ Let me tell you a secret. For the first time in my marriage, I wrote a check that didn’t bounce.”

Of course, he was exaggerating, but like a neon sign on top of a cheap motel, a light went on in my head, “So, you don’t have to live within your means, and it’s OK to write bad checks? Wow…There really are people who live this way?”

I was raised in a culture where we had to purchase everything in cash. No credit cards. No loans from the bank. There were no entitlement delusions. You were only entitled to that which you could afford in hard currency. No cash, no carry! That was the end of that tune. My parents spent years saving their money so they could carpet a room, or buy a secondhand car – not because they were poor, but because they were wise and practical with their finances. That is why, that Sunday, I was rather ashamed of what had transpired the day before, and did not expect my pastor’s response.

Sure, my pastor was joking, but I’m amazed at how, today, the same entitlement mentality prevails even among Christians.

While at a wedding, in a circle of Christian friends, I over heard one man, without batting an eye, boast, “My house is going into foreclosure. I haven’t paid my mortgage for the last six months, and now I’m looking for a smaller house.”

My first reaction was to slap the brother and scream at him, “Where is the honor in your action, you who boast of your Christian faith? Who told you, somehow, you are entitled to buy a house you couldn’t afford? And now, instead of settling your debt, you’re looking for another house!”

36 years ago when Karen and I got married, I inherited her 1969 VW Bug that her parents had given her as a high school graduation present. I still have the car and drive it on occasion. At one time, some of my church members told me how embarrassed they were to see their pastor drive such a beat-up car, but that didn’t matter to me. I wanted to be an example to my church and was hoping for the members to learn the importance of living within their means even in a land that is built on spending and credit. Besides all that, I truly loved driving my VW. In fact, in 2000 I had it completely refurbished – a job that was done by a friend whom I paid gradually as the work progressed.

In 2005, after paying off our mortgage and existing car loans, I looked through our finances to see if I could afford to purchase a new car (because, any more, I could not hack the summer heat in a car with no A/C). As it turned out, we could afford it, so for the second time in my life—The first time was over 37 years ago--I went out and purchased a new car for myself.

Let me sum up what I’m trying to convey to you in this New Year: You are how you act and not just what you believe. Telling people what you believe isn’t going to cut it if you don’t live accordingly. Jesus told us to let our light shine so those around us would see it and glorify the Father. In these economically tough days when many are desperately looking for solutions that can offer them comfort, we can be that light by putting aside our childish entitlement attitude, and as an example, live wisely within the means God has granted us.