The unliberated Christmas tree

I attended Brandeis University in the early 70s. For my freshman year, there was some controversy about the mass acceptance of “townies” – those from the same town of Waltham, MA – into the school. I knew of no one who applied who did NOT get accepted. It was hypothesized that the school wanted to make some amends for recent political stirrings on campus. Anti-war sentiments were very high at the school, and among the offshoots of those leanings came a group of students who robbed a Boston bank and killed a police officer. They intended to use the stolen $26,000 they gained to overthrow the US government.

I am very grateful for the blessing of attending the school; it was a great experience. It was agreed that I should live on campus, at least originally, and so I moved into a dorm room in September 1971. My roommate was Oliver, a gay Puerto Rican man from Brooklyn. Getting to know him and both communities he represented was a very rich part of my time at Brandeis.

Among the Latinos I befriended were many who had not just liberal, but radical politics. Hailing from some of the most repressive nations in the Western Hemisphere, many of them had family or friends wiped out by those regimes. They were also largely anti-American, at least anti-American government (in that they were in the right school). They were uniformly poor people by US standards. Yet intelligent and good students. Many had lived in NYC, though some came from Latino communities in the south. They were almost all on hefty scholarships, which I thought and still think was great.

I remember one instance when the older brother of one of my friends came to visit the school. A strong anti-government, anti-establishment discussion was brewing and I recall his objection, saying “No! I love my boss. I have a good job and it pays for my family to eat and someday my children will go to a school like this and I will pay for it!” He was regaled by most as a traitor to his people and culture, though his point was made nonetheless.

Most of all, I remember the love.  They would address each other and speak of another in the third person as ‘dito Lydia, ‘dito Edwin.  It was short for “bendito” – blessed.  The closest thing to it in English would be “dear” or “dearest” which was and is so foreign to common speech as to invite skepticism or even ridicule.  But it was completely authentic – they meant it.  From the heart.  And then they started to call me ‘dito John.  It was so beautiful it made me cry.   I had taken Spanish in high school, so I knew a little of it.  But I never heard “simpatico” used in a sentence.  Though it sounds like “sympathetic” it is much more than that.  It’s love that condescends without shaming or belittling.  Today I would say it’s Jesus coming to earth and dying for us.

Part of their culture, part of their group mindset, held that stealing was okay. They reasoned that since everything good in life was out of reach financially, they were themselves the victims of theft, so “liberating” (code for stealing) goods was perfectly ethical. And they would have actual examples of being targeted by agents of “the system” that were perfect descriptions of corrupt government and policing. So, they would sometimes show me clothing they had left on while in the changing rooms at clothing stores, sneaking it out under their outer clothing. And they had other methods.

Since I was a townie with occasional means of transportation, I would act as chauffeur to my friends, though they would humor my gringo presence well enough. We loved each other; let’s be plain about that. I don’t remember whose idea it was – certainly not mine – that my family car would serve as a getaway vehicle for the liberating of a Christmas tree, but it somehow blossomed into a plan without my having much say in it.  The dorm had a need, and no one had the money so ..

I believe it was a Sunday night that we were to do the deed, and we pulled up to the unguarded lot where the trees were. Suddenly I was unanimously nominated to do the actual stealing. It was a moment of truth for me – a true double bind. I wanted these people to be my friends but come on, I’m no thief. Part of the latter conviction came from the grace of getting caught 100% of the times I had tried to steal as I grew up. And I didn’t share the same mentality about theft.

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The Christmas tree remained unliberated.  And I guess I let them down.

My parents later revoked my rights to using the family station wagon to drive anyone around, another grace.

Given today’s biggest qualification – back then it didn’t matter to anyone – I have no idea as to their legal immigrant status at the time. Many were Puerto Rican and were certainly allowed to live in the US.

But I will say this. I loved and still love these people. Stealing is wrong, not because you might get caught. And if your politics justifies it, you need to adjust your politics.

Proverbs 6:30-31 Men do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy his hunger when he is starving.   Yet if he is caught, he must pay sevenfold, though it costs him all the wealth of his house.

That is, though there exist reasons that people might resort to theft, it is wrong.  Period.

As a result of knowing my friends in school, I do understand that mentality. They weren’t making up their stories of poverty. Nor were they trying to establish their culture or Spanish language over English. They were just struggling for an identity as a people – without shame and without stigma.

Much later I would learn about a theological branch called Liberation Theology.  Even in that, I would learn, there is imbalance and a hardened, corporate victim mentality.  The balance is that God does move on the hearts of people to help the poor.

Though I have lost touch with them all (that actually happened by senior year), in my little way, I was glad to give my friends my love. And I was glad I chickened out with that Christmas tree, because that was a small gift to them as well.

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Healing points

Acts 3:6 Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”

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The story of the crippled beggar in Acts 3 is as historical as any we have from the era. There are those who deny the miraculous – usually until they need a miracle. And there are those assign such accounts to some hopefuls stuck in the first stage of grief – denial.  In other words, to them, the need for belief in miracle is a sign that one hasn’t accepted the reality of one’s suffering.

But that’s hardly the context of the story. There was no doubt that the man involved was crippled. He wasn’t expecting a miracle or asking for one, but only for money.  In a day when there was no social welfare, his disability relegated him to being a professional beggar for his subsistence. It was a low calling, and beggars were among the lowest caste in society. The same is largely true today.

So, when Peter and John told the man to walk and as he stood to his feet he was healed, it was more than a physical transformation to healthy legs. (As H. David Edwards once mused “he was asking for alms but received legs”). It was a raising of social standing, a redemption of soul and restoration of dignity to a human being long denigrated to shame.

When we encounter the crippled – and I widen the scope to include emotionally and mentally crippled – knowledge of the nature of transformation to health is vital if we are to use what we have been given to help. I hold as a given that miraculous healing powers are given in a similarly wide array of talents and gifts. That is to say, you who read this likely have gifts that perhaps you have never used. But that’s getting off subject.

I am by no means an expert healer. I don’t even know what that means. But I have learned that to really help people in all the ways this man was helped, there are some guidelines. Forewarning – some of this may sound unloving and uncaring. That’s because the ultimate health of someone is a strategic goal and tactics may in fact be confrontational and challenging:

  • Don’t decide to cripple yourself. Identifying with someone who is suffering establishes a connection to a degree. But adopting the attitudes and pathos of unhealth drags you down and leaves the person you want to help in the same straits where you found him/her. This is not a statement of considering yourself superior. Indeed, you will likely need help yourself if you haven’t already. But you must be true the goal of healing, not merely empathy.
  • Listen before you speak. It is an impersonal insult to classify someone by his/her maladies, even if they are easily categorized and treatment standardized to an extent. You are working with a human being who needs to be heard and understood. It’s required to establish trust.
  • RSVP “no thank you” to pity parties. A crippled person can become so attached to his/her role as victim that it is demanded that you buy into the lies they have told themselves about how they got to their current state. This tempers the “listen before you speak” directive just above. When someone tells their story, it is vital at some point to confront and correct their negativity. This may even cause them to shut down but that is better than letting the recitation of the reasons they got into and must remain in the broken state to define their very identity. Truly, self-pity is uniformly a trap to keep people down.
  • Silver and gold won’t often do anything but enable. To only throw material wealth into a life that is so broken only enables brokenness. Am I saying to not provide for someone’s needs? No. Only that someone who has never learned to balance a checkbook or understand priorities of where money should go is not going to learn by simply having money.
  • The healed should become healers. If there is restoration in a life, it is best to use that to invest in the lives of others. There is no better testimony to the cripple than “I have been there, done that, and here’s how I found my health”.

So yeah, all that. Peter and John saw instantaneous result from their action. That’s great when it happens. But you shouldn’t give up even though it takes time, prayer and sacrifice. You will see healing if you persist, even in your own life

Can we learn from Bruchko? Please?

We have just celebrated the American holiday of Thanksgiving.  Along with the general attitude of gratitude suggested by the holiday is a the history of least a single point-in-time harmony of Europeans and Native Americans.  The image of the two groups in fellowship, enjoying a share meal is seared into the minds of young American children from early age.  And it’s not that inaccurate:

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But it’s also not complete as a story.  Because the whole story mostly features the two group not getting along well at all.

Native Americans were misnamed “Indians” by the wave of southern European explorers who found themselves landing in the shores of the Americas. “America “ itself was a name bestowed upon the new world, after the explorer Amerigo Vespucci.

By most DNA and historical analysis, the tribal groups inhabiting the Americas at the time of the “discovery” by Europeans had migrated from eastern Asia thousands of years earlier. Their distinction as the earliest inhabitants establishes a context for what would follow, but their real origin makes the moniker “Native American” a bit less sticky.

Whoever or whatever existed in the American continents prior to their arrival would be more “native” than they. This does nothing to soften the horrible tale of brutality later practiced against them. I mention their origin only to note that their discovery and settlement of the same land traveling from the east had at least the same aspect of people movement as that of the discovery and settlement from the west by Europeans. And we’ll never know what else it had in common.

I have thought and hard about how the ensuing conflict between the two cultures could have been avoided or lessened. Aside from the Europeans sailing back and leaving the Americas and their residents alone – maybe establishing trade partnerships, say – there was going to be conflict. Consider:

  • The Europeans who came to the New World were discoverers and settlers. Negatively they could be called conquerors, though the European version of conqueror was quite different than these settlers. They were not diplomats or people sensitive to other cultures. There were traders for sure, and perhaps these were the most likely strike a harmonious balance with the indigenous people.
  • Cultures were going to clash. There were many difference, but the principle one causing conflict concerned land. Owning and permanently settling on land was a foreign concept to Native Americans. And restrictions of where could live, hunt, fish and farm were also foreign.
  • There was a profound technological advantage. There has been much said and written about the forgotten (or repressed) advances of the Native American people. In spite of this, the Europeans held a 800-1500 year advantage in development upon their arrival. I do not say that to say that made them better as a people group, though that’s exactly what they concluded. The racist attitudes created an atmosphere that squelched any move for reconciliation.

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Now, Native Americans were not the only people treated poorly by the westward moving whites. Mexicans, Asians and Africans also received prejudice and brutal abuse.

So, beginning with King Phillip’s War, there would be conflicts between the peoples. The Europeans prevailed, supplanting their culture over the land. It is in the wake of that prevalence after conflict that we live today. It can also be said that the conflict is not over – there have been skirmishes that persist even today.

Native American population is thought to have decreased from 12 million to about 250 thousand by the end of the 19th century. Most of the decrease is attributed to disease, but loss of life due to conflict and relocation was awful.

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Saying that conflict was inevitable is not to say that cruelty or maltreatment was. The war had atrocities like many others, and after a point, neither side cared much about the culture or even survival of the other.

There have long been voices calling for restitution and restoration but I would hold that neither can occur without allowing Native American culture to dominate, at least provincially.  And yes, that means the war for cultural dominance is still with us.

I will assign value to advancement in technology for the benefit of people without it, divorced from its often-linked cultural domination. Some might call this culturally insensitive; I really just want the best for all people. I believe that the advancement of the human race through innovation and invention is a blessing for all humankind. And yes, not all technology is good or used well, of course. Like all people who are exposed to new things, we do well to be suspicious of the motives and practices of those introducing us to new things.

So how can Culture A be brought up to speed with the blessings of Culture B? And how can the differing elements of culture be reconciled?

I thought about this and one story came to mind.

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It was Bruchko – the story of Bruce Olson who sought out a reclusive tribe of Native South Americans in Venezuela – the Motilones – and not only brought them into the 20th century, but made them a political force to be reckoned with in the nations of Venezuela and Colombia. They kept their land and evolved their way of live mostly peaceably.

And please, if you assign him a stereotyped role as “missionary” you will miss a very important story of compassion and cultural sensitivity.

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How can this story help us today with Native Americans in the US? I don’t know, but I want to believe it can be done. Because it has been done.

Of Tyrants and Thieves – Part 1

The rich history of the legend of Robin Hood is a study in itself. Legend has its foundation in history. And in historical pattern.

So there was, in this story, a tyrant, King John, the evil brother of good King Richard who was away His minion, the Sheriff of Nottingham, exacted taxes for the royal coffers that financially crushed those who were already poor. Robin Hood righteously rebelled against the Sheriff and King John. He organized a group of colorful, wonderful followers who lived in the woods and raided (stole from) the royal treasury anyway they could. They returned the money to the poor. Robin fell in love with a lady of high social standing, Marian. She secretly helped Robin in his just endeavors. Eventually, King Richard returned and justice was restored to England.

It is the pattern of this story that I want to look at in this post. Its archetypes and rehearsed morality. And there are basically two active character types here.

  1. Tyrants – King John has all the goods he needs. Yet he is greedy and wants still more. In his merciless oppression, he forcefully takes from those who can least afford to give. People hate him, except for those in his employ. Those people enforce his rule by violent and ruthless means, because they stand to gain from its bounty. Or they are afraid to cross the king, and that is an important distinction.

  2. Thieves – Given the oppression, stealing is believed to be a righteous act. Robin Hood is a hero as he leads a band of rebels to recover what was stolen by the tyrant. In many accounts, his means of seizing the tax revenues are ingenious and humorous and non-deadly. He’s a good thief, even to the point of enlisting the blessing of the only cleric in the story, the lovable Friar Tuck.

While this is hardly the only story in Western Civilization with these themes and archetypes, it is a prominent one. And I’d say some in the culture repeatedly go to some lengths to project it onto the modern landscape.

Here’s what I mean – I hold these to be provably false:

a. All rich people are evil tyrants. If someone 1) makes a wage above a certain level, or 2) has property above a certain threshold, it’s because that person is greedy and selfish. Any effort to protect wealth is further evidence of these attributes. Everything such a person does is tainted by his/her having too much. Even world-changing charity.

b. All poor people are noble victims. Every crime committed, every dysfunctional aspect of life is caused by deprivation of the goods it takes to live well. Therefore supplying those goods will make the problem of poverty go away. All poor people would be happy and will be happy with more money.

Maybe you look at those and completely agree with them. Maybe you scoff at it and say “who believes that?” Or maybe you’re somewhere in the middle.

To be sure there is a Biblical proverb that covers the sentiment that lionizes Robin Hood:

Proverbs 6:30-31 Men do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy his hunger when he is starving. Yet if he is caught, he must pay sevenfold, though it costs him all the wealth of his house.

In other words, a thief is a thief. He has broken the law. But isn’t this “good stealing”? After all, isn’t Robin Hood just doing God’s work?

Psalm 35:10 My whole being will exclaim “Who is like you, O LORD? You rescue the poor from those too strong for them, the poor and needy from those who rob them.”

Yes, and a tyrant is a tyrant. That person has also broken God’s law of love when it was in his/her power to be generous and supportive.

To be sure, there is justice here. And recompense. It can be said at some level that God used Robin Hood.

The trouble happens when people fall too much in love with the pattern of the story. When we superimpose it onto every instance of rich and poor we find.

More on that in part 2.

Be it known – cops are heroes

First, read this – http://newsninja2012.com/exclusive-nypd-police-officer-speaks-out/

He’s connected some dots – and he’s not the only one – that aren’t as connected as he thinks.

So you know, I’m not a protester. My feelings on the Martin/Brown/Garner cases are that they all involved a fight and someone died. The person happened to be black in each case and the one(s) who survived were not black. Because of the struggles – with weapons at had to be used by either party – they make lousy examples of bias on the part of the police. If the race of anyone in those cases had been different, we would have heard very little about them.

Only in the Garner case did I think there was adequate proof that the cops probably should have acted differently. That is, I think if someone says “I can’t breathe” when you have a choke hold on, even if there’s a 99% chance he’s faking, you let up.

That said, I do believe there is still anti-black bias in America today. It’s not as it had been (I was going to post this picture but due to its graphic nature, I’ll leave it up to you to follow the link – http://abhmuseum.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/7-Beitler-photo-best.jpg – the look on the white people’s faces is vicious and satanic). Truly we have progressed. But we’re not done.

And there’s a part that black people play as well – because sadly the ones who thinks that black lives matter the least are themselves black. I believe the church is the place where this has to be remedied. The gospel, when believed and acted upon, infuses equality and hope.  And I do not mean only the church among the poor, but the church at large.  Segregation and prejudice has no place in the church that Jesus builds.  When those are present; it’s a good church to change.  Or leave.

Over all, America’s race problem has to be fixed. But honestly the fix has been progressing and already it’s taken generations to get to where we are now, from forced slavery to having a black man in the White House. Whatever political stance you make, that demographic is significant as is the long-term perspective. We’re just impatient and for good reason – people are suffering.

Understand I am NOT part of the protest movement. I do know people who are or who sympathize, but I do NOT.

Now, going back to what the NYPD cop said, here are the places I think he jumps to conclusions:

  1. That people see the cops as the enemy. First of all, it’s only a small part of the populace that has protested in recent days. Secondly, it’s not clear how many of them think cops are the “enemy”. No doubt some do. But it’s a stretch to say all.
  2. That Ismaaiyl Brinsley acted as part of the protest movement. He could say whatever he wanted, but the protests were at most disruptive. No one was killed and if there were injuries they were accidental. Put another way, if the protesters started carrying and waving (and shooting) guns then they would become an armed militia and enemies of the state, to be put down by quick and violent means.
  3. That no one thinks cops are heroes. This is the one that breaks my heart because TONS of people are grateful for every day that every person wears that uniform. They need to say so and get out there publicly. Maybe that’s me. Maybe I personally need to do more like that, just because there are cops who really feel this way.

The coward and madman, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, is dead. His mother said he was a very sick person; and he used the climate and movement of the day to capitalize on his murderous intents. Think of it, without the protests, what would his crime have been? An isolated incident, no more.

People, inspired by the media, are marching to beats fueled by anger and frustration. Without stereotypes, the march would lose its beat and healing might occur. But that doesn’t sell newspapers or get people elected. The cultural divides are hundreds of years old and though some mending has occurred, it’s not happening through this movement.

Black neighborhoods need MORE police to enforce the law and keep people safe. Instead, those neighborhoods are ruled by gangs who label and duly punish any “rats” who inform the police about them. It would be an interesting study in analogy to compare such “rats” to another species. Would that other species be snakes? Or predatory cats of some kind? Anyway, such a “rat” is a noble person; one who hungers and thirsts for righteousness. Or just justice.

But even the snakes are candidates for grace; that’s the gospel. And that’s where my money is, and my prayers.

I note that Rafael Ramos, one of the slain officers, was training to become a chaplain.

Buried in shame – and how to dig out

“You should be ashamed of yourself” -universal saying following bad behavior.

The statement is intended to do good. When we do something bad, apply the “busted” feeling – being ashamed. And correct the action and the thoughts leading up to it. Then, maybe, we won’t do it next time.

But if it’s applied – and received – more broadly than that, there’s trouble. It is misapplied to failure. And it is misapplied to our entire person. People become ashamed of who they are.

We learn – falsely – that there are things we can’t be and can’t do. Pursuing even things we (might) enjoy becomes a futile practice. Destined for failure and embarrassing exposure.

Here are some aspects of shame. The aim is that you can recognize it:

  • Lingering memories of abuse and degradation – Verbal, sexual, emotional, physical – dark feelings persist. When we were powerless and vulnerable, we were violated. By someone who we should have been trustworthy. We were exposed and harmed. Bullied.
  • Repeated instances or patterns – It didn’t just happen once but over and over. Perhaps with different people. Then we internalized and made it our fault and something we deserved. If we’re part of a shamed group (tribe) then collective history enforces shame.
  • Tenacious faith in shame’s lies – We don”t even know they are lies. We just accept our inferiority. We quickly disqualify ourselves from happiness, competence and esteem.
  • High sensitivity about our areas of shame – We don’t want to talk about those things. We certainly don’t want to do them.

Now, pride feeds on shame. Those who consider themselves better prey upon those who think themselves worse. Entire institutions thrive on shame. Shame makes for very productive, enslaved people. Productive? Yeah, we’ll get into that part below.

How to dig out of shame’s dung heap:

  1. Find it – It’s usually not hard to recognize the emotions. Though we can certainly be depressed without shame, it’s one of the signs. Look at what you avoid. Both situations and pursuits.
  2. Dig at it – Identify the patterns that got you there. This can be painful, but the pain already controls you. So do it.
  3. Forgive – Not often easy. But holding grudges is like drinking poison and waiting for someone else to die. Learn the reasons why your abuser did what s/he did. It helps to know. It’s never because s/he was so happy. Abuse reproduces. So forgive relentlessly.
  4. Recognize shame’s symptoms – They can be subtle. For instance I said that shamed people can be very productive. That’s because they try to work off their shame. No one will do more. No one can be as competent. It sounds like the opposite of shame. Until you realize that it’s only a coverup. You’re trying to escape shame through work and achievement. There are many trying to please their dead parents. To finally win the approval of someone who never gave it and never will.
  5. Learn the truth – You were lied to. So much and so often and so powerfully that you believe it. It’s a lie. You’re awesome. THAT’s the truth. God says so.
  6. Accept your limitations – Well, you’re not awesome at everything. Though it’s nothing to be ashamed of. There are things you cannot do. Traits that aren’t yours. Talents you do not have. But don’t let others define your limitations. Do NOT quit what you love, instead ..
  7. Work hard to develop – It is so easy to give up. But that is the only thing that can truly defeat you. Potential never goes away. You just need practice. That means you fail and try again. This hard work is quite different from the coverup above. It’s redemptive. You’re working to create beauty. And you’re part of the beauty yourself.
  8. Stop comparing – It’s devastating to measure up against others. By all means, recognize and celebrate excellence. But even more important – know the uniqueness of your excellence. And you are always at some point of development. No matter what your age. The only person to compare yourself to is you – yesterday. And sometimes that doesn’t even work. Just stop comparing.

I need to share one of my favorite verses from the Psalms. It applies to much more than shame. But it puts God squarely on my side in the battle.

Psalm 3:3 But you are a shield around me, O LORD; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head.

Faith to kill for or die for

The Queen of Hearts “OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!!!”

Disney’s depiction of the Queen of Hearts is accurate to Lewis Carroll’s story.  Wonderland is not a real place though in her dream, Alice is certainly convinced it is.  So the Queen and her army of cards is to be laughed at as a caricature of real power.  Though she may in fact have her capital sentence carried out, it’s make-believe and the reader, along with Alice, will awaken to a more peaceable reality when the story ends.  Or the Queen dies, or something.

Radical Islam in its many apparitions is making similar threats and carrying them out for us all to view on Youtube.  The latest and most savage of the groups with the penchant for separating head from shoulders is ISIS.  Reports are becoming verified that they are in fact doing it against people who don’t share the Muslim faith, showing “what happens” to infidels.  Well, what happens in Mosul to infidels when marauding, ruthless men with guns and knives take the place over.

Beheading, except when done by the guillotine, has never been a particularly efficient way to get the job done.  Even ISIS resorts to mass execution via single-shot-to-head means when time is short.

No, decapitation is to make an example of someone, to humiliate and terrify one’s enemy.  And in the case of radical Islam, it is to keep those in the faith quaking in their boots to stay in the faith.  Such a faith could demand 40-times-a-day prayer instead of the 5 without any resistance.

Except by those who are  pledged to heaven.

I’m going to get quite spiritual here because the whole authority radical Islam claims is purportedly spiritual.  Allah – Arabic for God – is the one whose will they fulfill as they carry out their barbarism.

The God I believe in, in contrast, has exercised authority over death.

1 Corinthians 15:55  “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”

And He will exercise that authority for me and all who believe as well.

It is an elementary observation that, as Jim Morrison pointed out “no one gets out of here alive.”

Now, this is no celebration of death like the gory Islamist but a celebration of life.  Eternal life.

Yup, I believe that, as all –  even those presently in ISIS – are invited to believe.

And I’d rather have a faith to die for than one to kill for.

There a lots of beheadings in the Bible.  Goliath, Saul and John the Baptist, to name three.  And songwriter Keith Green wrote a song of dedication when he read of the story of John the Baptist.  Here’s a cover of it (I don’t know the singer, but he does a good job):

Now because people get things wrong, I need to explain this is NOT a death wish – I am not looking for someone to behead me, specifically.  Nor is it in any way a condoning of the butchery going on right now.  Nor am I a pacifist – I think ISIS will be fought on the ground by international forces someday and it will be just.

But should the end come – however it should come – I have it covered.  You should too, really.

This is not an evangelistic meeting.  Nor formulas, ceremonies or magic incantations.  Just pray, okay?  Ask Jesus (Arabic Isa) to show you who He is.  Just you and Him.  Ask Him to save you.  He can and will.