Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Faith Works 11-4-06
Jeff Gill

What Does That Turban Tell Me?

So last week we were reviewing the basic split in Islam.
To be a seeker after submission to the will of the One God, or "Allah" in Arabic, you have five basic responsibilities. If you follow Islam, or "submission" to Allah in your life, you observe the pillars of prayer five times a day, charity to the poor, pilgrimage to the Holy Mosque of Mecca at least once in your life, reading and affirmation of the prophet Mohammed’s writings in the "Qur’ran" (Arabic "Readings"), and fasting during the month of Ramadan.
All Moslems observe these five basic responsibilities, and through the Koran, each believer is responsible for "jihad," or struggle within oneself for "Islam," or submission and obedience to the will of God.
But the will of Allah according to whom?
This is where the division between Sunni Moslems and Shiite Moslems becomes very important, even when Shiite groups represent as little as 10% of the billion and more adherents of Islam.
"Sunna," or traditions from the Prophet Mohammed make an addendum to the Koranic text; likewise, the interpretations of Sunna can lead to a variety of perspectives, which is true within Sunni Islam. A Caliph, or secular leader accountable to the religious teachers, has not existed in Islam since the fall of the Ottoman Empire (modern Turkey), but the schools of various "sunna," or Islamic traditions are all over the Moslem world.
The "party of Ali," or in the Arabic contraction "Shi’ia," are those who look for authoritative interpretation from the descendants of Mohammed, who get to wear black turbans such as Moqtada el-Sadr, the leader of his father’s Sadr City in Baghdad.
So if you are trying to influence Shia Moslems, you need to focus on relationships and understanding with particular leaders who carry inherited influence. Among Sunnis, civil institutions on one hand and institutions of religious interpretation ("madhab") on the other hand, dealing with Islamic law or "shari’ah," would make a productive approach.
Given that Shia are a minority in the Islamic world as a whole, but a majority in Iran and parts of central Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, understanding how their approach to relating religion and life works isn’t of interest to everyone. You’d think it would be of surpassing interest to Congressional and Defense Department leaders.
But a Washington Post reporter a few weeks ago ran a simple test with key elected and appointed officials, Republican and Democrat. "Can you tell me a little about the differences between Sunni and Shia Islam? And which countries have which groups?"
Almost all of the officials he spoke to couldn’t even take a stab at the question. They hemmed, they hawwed, and they finally took a pass.
They didn’t know.
Which is why I appreciate the fundamental curiosity of the readers here and on-line. Our American problem, and it isn’t a party or a Beltway problem, but across the country, is incuriosity. In Ohio, that’s limiting; in Washington, it’s dangerous.
I shouldn’t have been as stunned as I was to read about elected leaders who deal with foreign policy in the Middle East having nary a clue about basic religious concepts. And I shouldn’t have been startled to read that President George Bush, often referred to by his critics as "essentially uncurious," is the first president to regularly host dinners in the White House to mark the end of Ramadan.
And he knows off the cuff the differences between Sunni and Shia. If that makes some of you proud, and motivates others to make sure they know at least as much as Mr. Bush, then let the Googling and Wikipedia-ing begin!
(Oh, and "The Monastery" has three more Sunday nights at 10 pm, on TLC. Check it out…)

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio, and he’s visited mosques from Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem to Al Tawwhid in Chicago; ask him your faith and religion questions through
Notes From My Knapsack 11-05-06
Jeff Gill

Brady Johnson and Gerald Patton were not men to want special treatment, or to be singled out.
Which is why I want to do just that for a moment.
Forget "Greatest Generation" if you will, because they never sought or claimed the honor, and it isn’t even just about "The Good War" because they would be the first to tell you there is no such animal. Brady at Normandy and Gerald on Guadalcanal saw exactly what war is, and it wasn’t good.
And it isn’t about World War II because, believe it or not, there are still a precious few World War I veterans around us, though Hooper McGirr was the last one I knew and spoke to, and that’s been a few years.
Recently, the oldest World War I vets from both sides of the Western Front trenches got together, combined age of the two: 219. Henry Allingham, 110 of Great Britain's Royal Navy, and Robert Meier, 109 of Witten, Germany met to dedicate a memorial in advance of the November 11 anniversary of Armistice Day, when on the eleventh day of the eleventh month the guns went silent at the eleventh hour.
It should be noted, if only in passing, that Allingham attributes his longevity to 'Cigarettes, whisky, and wild, wild women,' while Meier puts his down to 'sport, a healthy diet, especially plenty of fish ... and the odd glass of schnapps.’
We now call Nov. 11 not Armistice Day (except for a few of us odd ducks) but Veteran’s Day, and as such we have a chance to salute those who have served their nation in uniform. Whatever the conflict or era, however their service was worked out: aircraft maintenance, mortar operator, infantry, truck driver, chaplain, pilot, stoker, quartermaster’s mate.
We can’t thank Brady and Gerald personally anymore, because they died in recent weeks. But there are still millions of vets from 1939 to 1946 still with us, though moving slowly. And the decades since have added perhaps too many to their ranks, but whether draftee or volunteer, enlisted or officer, Coast Guard or Marine, elderly or just back from overseas, we have a thin red line that weaves through our hometowns and communities, a thread that ties training camps and battlefields and faraway and the monument in your town together.
In May we focus on those who have died for their country. With Veteran’s Day, let’s make sure to thank someone who lives among us, who took on the task of defending our freedoms with their "lives, fortunes, and sacred honor." Look around, you’ll find one nearby.
And don’t wait until they’re gone to acknowledge the gratitude you feel. You’ll miss out on the gift you receive in seeing how much it means to them.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio, and he offers a "Semper Fi" to the Corps on Nov. 10, too; share a story with him through
Faith Works 10-28-06
Jeff Gill

A Promise Kept and a Memory Shared

Since I promised last week to briefly outline the Sunni and Shia branches of Islam, you’ll get that further on.
But first, a TV program snuck up on me that you still have four more weeks to watch, at 10:00 pm Sundays on TLC.
"The Monastery" sounds like another reality show, fish-out-of-water, cameras everywhere extravaganza. Which it is. Five guys go to a Benedictine monastery for 40 days to live under monastic guidelines, and talk to an in-room "confessional cam" from time to time about how they feel about the whole experience.
They’ve got a Marine who lost a leg in combat, a former Satanist, a fellow who did hard time in prison. The prison guy came from mean streets and saw his brother die in front of him, but observes in the first week that "in prison they didn’t make you get up at 3:40 in the *bleep* morning.
But what they’ve really got is the Monastery of Christ in the Desert, at the end of thirteen bone-jarring, kidney-punching dirt miles off the isolated blacktop highway, by the banks of the Chama River in northern New Mexico.
The Lovely Wife and I have been there twice, and the stole presented me at my ordination, which I still use, was hand woven by a monk named Phillip . . . who I now see is the Abbot. We were last there in 1989, and from the aerial shots the complex has grown considerably.
If you know of Saint Anthony or Abba Poemen and the other ancient Desert Fathers of the early Christian church, this is the landscape you always imagined them in. Thomas Merton (Fr. Louis) visited on his fateful way to Bangkok where he died, but he wrote an essay from a previous stay which is found in their print materials and on their, um, website.
Yes, monks have websites, and in fact well before most of us had heard of the internet, was up and running. Knowing that in their desolate stretch of the Chama Valley they couldn’t make and sell cheese or fruitcakes or any of the other creative ways monks find to support themselves, they developed one of the very first web design and support businesses with a donated server and a bunch of solar panels. Sun, they have plenty of if nothing else. So the modern world has no perils for these followers of the Rule of Saint Benedict, written 1500 years ago.
I may have more to say later, but give it a watch, wouldja? We’ll talk . . .
OK, as promised: "Sunna" means "traditions" in Arabic. Sunni Islam are those who hold to the traditions of Mohammed, the Koran of course, and the Hadith, or oral traditions, and the schools of interpretation that stem from them.
"Shia" is a contraction of the Arabic for "the party of Ali," a son-in-law who was to claim religious authority after the Prophet’s death. A smaller group within Islam as a whole, they are a majority in Iran, central Iraq, and parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan. They number over 200 million, while a billion and more would be called Sunni from Morocco to Indonesia.
Among Shia, the Imams with black turbans (think Moqtada al-Sadr, the fiery wild card in Baghdad politics today) indicate they are descended from the Prophet Mohammed’s family.
Notes From My Knapsack 10-29-06
Jeff Gill

Teach Your Children Well

With a week and change to the election on Tuesday, Nov. 7, I promised last week after saying a good word about the open space levies to offer a thought on education.
Here goes.
I could live with every education levy and bond issue getting voted down if it meant the Ohio electorate rose up with one voice and said "NO" to Issue 3.
What I worry about is that the combination of the negativity around the voter-turnout depression campaign theme this year, and the need to clearly articulate the need to vote not just "no," but "Heck, NO" on special interest constitutional amendments, will combine to make people vote "no, no, no, no, and no" right down their ballot.
We need some voter forethought, preparation, and conversation, as we always do in a democratic republic. But this Issue 3 shell game (gaming monopolies that pretend they’ll help higher education) is so incredibly toxic and dishonest that I’m actually willing to run the risk of pushing more people to vote lots of indiscriminate "no’s" to ensure its failure.
(Side thought: if I were really paranoid, I might wonder if there are interests pushing Ohio constitutional amendments that are so awesomely bad because they don’t want them to win, just to get the few who still have the stomach to vote to vote "no" down the line and keep property taxes lower. If I were really parnoid.)
"A lot of good will come of this." First off, I need to point out that my sainted seventh and eighth grade English teacher, Mrs. Froberg, loathed "a lot," "alot," and the lot of them. It wasn’t good English, and she sought to evoke a similar distaste in all her students. With me, she largely succeeded.
Those who have done their homework on this faux-educational issue know that for at least the next decade and more, only the top 5% of graduating classes get money, and only if they go to in-state public schools. Malone or Cedarville? Forget it. Purdue or Cornell? Not a dime. And did I mention only the top 5% of graduating students?
Having been caught at this, the Issue 3 gang now are saying "it will help everyone." You have to burrow deep in their website to see how: they claim that these dollars will free up other dollars, making more financial aid available for all.
Aside from the fact that their math makes no sense to me in terms of numbers or especially process, get this. Here’s the second most appalling part of the deal with Issue 3 – for their numbers to work, it isn’t just about their claims about Ohio dollars being gambled out of state and getting them "home," but that as I read it, they need two and THREE times as much gambling to take place to make their figures figure.
Is there anyone who thinks, for whatever social purpose, we need three times as many Ohioans gambling than we have right now? And if you do, are you delusional?
But I claimed that’s the second worst part. For once, George Voinovich and I are on the exact same page about something. The senator observes that the fact that we’re amending the constitution of the state to give nine places and five businesses a monopoly on the most addictive form of gambling is reason enough to be against it.
He said that standing next to noted conservative (insert irony here) Michael Coleman, mayor of Columbus, nearly Democratic candidate for governor, who was nodding his head in the affirmative, vigorously.
Folks, I think most of the school levies I know about in Licking County deserve passing, and I plan to vote for my own. But to pass Issue 3 will not only saddle the state of Ohio with a load of stupid we will regret for decades, but it will teach our children something truly sad and tragic that all our best teachers won’t be able to overcome.
And that’s the lesson that we’re casual and indifferent enough to the electoral process that we can be bought with enough misleading ads on TV.
Vote No on Issue 3, please. It’s really important. A lot. (Sorry, Mrs. Froberg.)

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; toss him your opinion, not ticking, to