Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tea with Hezbollah

This book is about a year or two old, but I have been wanting to read it since I heard about it. It's nonfiction, which I admit, I typically don't read, but it's a memoir/travelogue of sorts, written by Ted Dekker, who is my favorite fiction author. And with a title like Tea with Hezbollah: Sitting at the Enemies' Table, Our Journey Through the Middle East, I was definitely intrigued.

Tea with Hezbollah is the true tale of how Carl Medearis, a man with a great love for Arabs, and Ted Dekker went in 2009 to sit with Arabs in the Middle East and discuss the greatest teaching of Jesus: loving one's enemies. They got interviews with men no other group could reach, interviews that were often "up in the air" until the very day or hour. They spoke to men who write Islamic law and men who practice it. They drank tea with Hamas and Hezbollah. They met real Samaritans. They visited Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Beirut, Southern Lebanon, Syria, and Jerusalem, some of which were practically war zones, in the middle of cease-fires. And all the way, they asked, "What do you think of Jesus' teaching to love your enemy?" They recorded the answers, and Dekker relates these sessions in transcripts while also telling about his own emotions going into such dangerous territories. It's fascinating stuff, mainly because Westerners don't often get a chance to get into the heads of those from the Middle East. What do they think of us? Do they hate us? Could they love us? More to the point, could we love them?

It was particularly interesting to me to read this from Dekker's point of view, having met him and heard him speak. Believe me when I tell you that the book sounds just like him. I don't think he ever studied writing or English, but he has a brilliant mind and great communication skills, not to mention an awesome imagination. I say this to point out that the book isn't, perhaps, the best written piece of nonfiction. Dekker delves a little too much into history at some points. I think he finds a lot of things interesting and sees the connections in all of it, but for this particular book, I didn't find it always necessary. Nonetheless, the actual tale of his travels is delivered in a very informal way that makes you feel like Dekker is a normal guy with the same reactions his readers would have had in a similar situation. He draws you in and really makes you feel what he's feeling, makes people you wouldn't know how to relate to relatable.

My reaction coming away from this book was that I haven't been loving my enemies the way Jesus tells us to. Like many Americans, I group all the Arabs together and I fear them. I've read books about Arab women, and I feel compassion for them. But I haven't loved the Arab people as a whole. I've always been okay with our soldiers being over there fighting the War on Terror, and I'm still okay with liberating people from terror. But now I'm a little less enthusiastic about the measures we take because I see a little better how it affects our image in the eyes of Arab people. In the end, all the fighting in the world will never bring about peace. After all, that's what the Jews and Arabs have been fighting about all along. Each side wants peace ultimately, but when one side attacks, the other thinks they must retaliate, an eye for an eye at the very least. But how do you keep track of such things? One side, either way, will always feel like it's their turn to deal the damage.

Regardless of what you feel on this issue, this is a good book to read. It's not political. It's only about love. Whether you think it's right to be at war in the Middle East or not isn't the issue. The question is: do you love your enemies? Christians, especially, should be aware of the things this book has to say. You might feel a little less like calling yourself a Christian after reading this. But don't just take my viewpoint on this book. You really need to read it for yourself. I promise, it will make you think and rethink a lot of things.


On a similar topic but in another medium entirely, I recently watched Munich, the 2005 Steven Spielberg film about the Israeli athletes murdered during the 1972 summer Olympics in Munich and the Israeli Mossad agents sent to assassinate those who had a hand in the massacre. It's rated R for graphic violence, nudity, sex, and language in about that order, and I don't recommend it. However, it was interesting to watch, having just read Dekker's book. It's another look at the seemingly hopeless situation between the Jews and Arabs, from a non-Christian, Jewish point of view. It has a similar message in some ways, but it's much more depressing in its interpretation of the situation. The main similarity is that the movie explores the idea that each person has a story. Each Arab they kill has a family, and the conflicted man in charge of the Mossad assassination group has a wife and new baby of his own. Over the course of the movie, this Israeli agent (played very well by Eric Bana) grows from a naive, untested, sensitive soul into a killer who is more paranoid, more angry, and more unsure of himself by the day. It's really sad, and watching it, you are unsure who is right or even if the director meant to say one side is more right than the other. But the end gives no answer except to say we are all human, and each human has the potential to become an animal.

Tea with Hezbollah doesn't really give an answer to the whole Middle Eastern mess either, but it does suggest the individual's role much better than Munich, offering hope where there seems to be none.


  1. I didn't know you've met Ted Dekker! When was that?

    I saw Munich a long time ago for a project during my senior year at Taylor (the viewing/project was my choice). At the time I felt it gave me valuable new insight into the ongoing Middle East conflicts, but it sounds like Tea for Hezbollah is even more valuable. Thanks for the recommendation!

    1. Tim, I met Dekker in Chicago at a book signing after hearing him speak. This was almost two years ago.

      And I do think Tea with Hezbollah gives valuable insight into the Middle East without having to filter through some of the R-rated material of Munich. But Munich is more political while Tea with Hezbollah is not, so you might pick up different things from each.

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