>After taking over a month off from book reviews, I am finally back in the saddle. My first review of the year was Tea with Hezbollah by Ted Dekker and Carl Medearis.
Tea with Hezbollah is the account of Dekker and Medearis’ journey through the Middle East to explore the significance of Jesus’ teaching regarding loving our enemies. Their goal was to discover what the people Americans considered to be their greatest enemies think of Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbors, as represented by the story of the Good Samaritan.
It seems an incredible journey, meeting with princes in Saudi Arabia, brothers of Osama bin Laden, representatives and leaders of Hezbollah and even Hamas, among others. The idea of two Westerners, regardless of background or status, gaining an audience with such prominent members of Middle Eastern culture seems impossible. Yet these two men accomplished the impossible and lived to tell quite the tale.
One thing I love about this book is that it communicates a few very important cultural tidbits about Arabs in general. First of all, the hospitality. Arabs are incredibly hospitable people. Although it seems far-fetched to think that Americans could go in and sit down with those we consider to be at the forefront of terrorist activities, on an individual basis it makes perfect sense. Sitting down to visit over tea is a favorite past-time in the Middle East, regardless of nationality. In fact, my parents have sat down to tea or a friendly meal one day with someone who the day before had taken them to court! It is all “okay” and we can be friends right now even if we must stand as enemies tomorrow. This is the Arab way, and although it may seem illogical to our western mindset, it is the epitome of hospitality to them.
Which leads to the second tidbit – mentally we as Americans process information very differently from Arabs. As Dekker and Medearis progress through the interviews recorded in Tea with Hezbollah, they consistently ask for a favorite joke. The interviewees share their jokes, causing all Arabs in the room to laugh uproariously – except for the authors themselves. This shows more clearly than anything else, in my opinion, the difference in mindsets between Arabs and Americans. We think differently. We process differently. And this plays a huge part not only in the individual differences between representatives of each culture, but also in the political incompatibilities. I applaud the inclusion of such a question in the interviews!
Despite the fascinating story of this book, I had several issues with Tea with Hezbollah. The story itself was very compelling. It was a riveting read, from the historical tidbits to the personal interviews, from the harrowing tales of Medearis’ past experiences in the Middle East to their current journey through dangerous territory. From a literary perspective, this was a fascinating book. But, I struggled with several perspectives as I read this book.
First, Dekker and Medearis adopt a very loose view of Scripture. In Matthew 22:34-40, Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is. He responds that the greatest is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind and that the second greatest is to love our neighbor as ourselves. Then in Luke 10:24-37, we find the parable of the Good Samaritan based on these same two commandments. Somehow Dekker and Medearis manage to wrest from these two passages that loving our enemies was Jesus’ greatest commandment, and this is the basis for many of their interviews throughout the book. While I don’t have a problem with asking Muslim leaders what they think about the parable of the Good Samaritan (and was quite interested in their responses), I do have a problem with misrepresenting the Word of God in such a way.
Secondly, I was a bit frustrated with Dekker’s generalization of Christians. I must qualify this by saying that I do understand the Middle Eastern view of the label “Christian.” In Jordan, for example, when a child is born, his religion is put on his birth certificate. He is either Christian or Muslim, based on the religion of his family. Of the “Christians” in the country, however, only a small percentage of them are truly believers in Jesus Christ, just as there are Muslims who do not consider themselves to be religious. Thanks to this religious grouping, many who are called Christian have no comprehension of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Many of the atrocities seen in the Middle East are actually the actions of “Christian” political groups.
.Having explained this, it is easy to understand why there is a warped view of the label “Christian” in the Middle East. Dekker, however, extended this to an overall generalization of Christians worldwide. The greatest frustration with this generalization is not Dekker’s attitude as much as the fact that throughout the book he was critical of the West’s generalization of the Middle East and vice versa. If we as individual Americans need to be willing to recognize the humanity and personality of individual Arab Muslims, and vice versa, then can the same courtesy not be offered to individual Christians? There are Christians around the world – including the Middle East – who still do justice to the label “little Christ,” but apart from one individual act of love, very little credit is given to those believers who truly give their all in the name of Jesus Christ. Most credit is given to those who devote themselves to humanitarian causes, regardless of their religion.
It appeared to me that Medearis and Dekker desired to try to compel Americans as a whole to love Arab Muslims as a whole by reporting what those we consider to be our enemies think of the Good Samaritan. The truth, however, is that loving our enemies is not a national or political act. It is an individual act. We as individual believers are expected to love our enemies, and even in recent months there have been numerous public examples of this love. Having spent a decade of my growing-up years in the Middle East, I have seen my own parents show love and extend grace to those who have attempted to hurt them in one way or another. I see the same thing from believers on an individual basis around world, regardless of cultural division. This is how it is to be done – one on one, from Christ’s followers to the world.
My bottom-line review of this book would be that it is, indeed, a fascinating read and a riveting tale when read as the journey of two men through “enemy” territory.