Partition – Is It Ever A Good Thing?

I live in the United States of America and I am very proud of its melting pot of culture, religion, ethnicity, and political beliefs. In respects to religion, I am a Christian sharing this great land of freedom with Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Scientologists – among many others. In general, people get along in America counter to what people see on the news and social media – the fact that it is “news” gives you a marker for context. This cohesion is in large part due to economic, social, and geographical cooperation. The fact that all 50 states have relatively fluid borders – sorry Hawaii – allows people to interact and form connections; connections which provide the zest to America’s delicious stew. Not everyone agrees with me on these points and some desire to split away from the red, white, and blue; nearly every election, there is a call for Texas, Northern California, Southern California, Florida, the south, or the north to form their own country. Today, around the world, there are serious calls for partition. To better understand this history of division, I read about one of the most contentious partitions in history – the separation of Palestine and Isreal – in the book O, Jerusalem! By Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre.   

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The partition of Palestine occurred after WWII and was caused by several concurrent events: A British desire to withdraw from the region because of increased retaliation from both Jews and Arabs; reparations for Holocaust victims and Jewish refugees who had no place to go; an increased nationalist movement by Zionists; and the West’s desire to keep communism from gaining a foothold. The United Nations voted to partition the region in 1947 and on May 14th, 1948, the state of Israel became official. Partition began a war that still rages today between Arabs and Jews – the first year of conflict claimed the lives of thousands of men, women, and children. Between 1947 to 1967, the Arabs had the upper hand on the Jews with their control of Jerusalem and major trading settlements. The Jews flipped the table in the War of 1967, and since then they have been slowly suffocating the Palestinians. Today, the state of Israel, with the backing of America, maintains dominance in the region. That dominance results in the persecution of Palestinians and continued hatred between the two groups.

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My question is this – Why was Palestine partitioned in the first place? Why couldn’t the region be one cohesive state with multiple religions like America? Maybe a better question…Why does America support the current state of separation when it goes completely counter to her own beliefs? Another example of the disaster of partition is the formation of Pakistan and India in 1947 which resulted in the death of 600,000 people and today is one of the most dangerous borders in the world. On paper, partition seems like a great idea; divide people based on their differences and then each state will have cohesiveness. The problem is that we don’t live in a bubble and arbitrary borders don’t mean much in real life. When a partition occurs, it is impossible to expel all members of a religion or ethnicity – there will be Jews in Palestine, Arabs in Israel, Hindus in Pakistan, and Muslims in India. The result is an obvious division between states and greater conflict within countries because the “unwanted” groups are seen as “internal outsiders” – separate in identity and a matchbox for intra-neighborhood conflict.

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So is partition ever a good thing? I think not. I think the state can unify people under a common banner of religion, ethnicity, and culture. I am a white-Christian-male, but that doesn’t mean I should have my own country. I am an American and that means that I share a connection with all Americans. The key is a balance between the two extremes; we can respect differences while maintaining a collective identity. So what is the solution to the problems in Palestine and India? To start with, we need to be good role models of statehood – let’s show the world what it looks like to be unique and united at the same time. One of my favorite leaders is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He didn’t push for a separate black nation but pushed for a united America behind a universal belief – the belief that all men are created equal. Is this an easy thing to do? Heck No. Is this something that can work? Heck Yes. Change is slow, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. What’s impossible is unification through division.

 

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My Case for Christ

Just this past Easter I went to church with my family; I don’t always look forward to church but when I do it is on Easter Sunday. The pastor covered a lot of the standard resurrection points, and I was having a difficult time concentrating. All of a sudden my ears perked up when I heard him cite The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. This book gets mentioned a lot in the Christian community and on that particular day the pastor was challenging us to read it for ourselves. I finally got around to getting the book, and I was honestly skeptical about its content. Strobel was a former atheist who set about to disprove Christianity. In his journey, he ended up accepting Jesus as his savior. It sounded almost too good to be true, and I slowly dipped my toe into the meat of the text. Strobel was actually a journalist with the Chicago Tribune and approached the “case” for Christ as if he were covering a courtroom proceeding. In a trial, there is a variety of evidence presented to a jury: eyewitness, documentary, corroborating, scientific, rebuttal, identity, and circumstantial evidence to name a few. Strobel was a skeptic and went about interviewing professional academics who had spent their entire lives researching the subject of Jesus. He grilled these individuals with difficult questions: Can the biographies of Jesus Christ be trusted?; Were the biographies of Jesus reliably preserved?; Is there credible evidence for Jesus Christ outside of His biographies?; Does archaeology confirm Jesus’ biographies?; Was Jesus’ body really absent from the tomb?; And are there any supporting facts that point to the resurrection?

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Growing up a Christian, I took these questions for granted – my faith weakened as I got older because I assumed there just wasn’t much to back up the history of Jesus. I was never a full-blown atheist, but many times I doubted the Gospels. After reading this book, I can firmly say that there is no doubt in my mind that Jesus both existed and was raised from the dead. This is a big statement but all the evidence points towards the truth – if I were a jury member I would be negligent if I didn’t admit this verdict. The most astounding fact that I think everyone must reckon with is the spread of Christianity by the Apostles. These men had nothing to gain and everything to lose by spreading the message that Jesus was the Son of God. We must remember that they were Jewish and in the Jewish culture, tradition is absolute. Nothing could have turned Jewish tradition more on its head than saying that the temple was unnecessary because the Son of God had died for the sins of the world. Preaching this message led to imprisonment and death – far from the best motivating factors for a young religion; yet Christianity continued to spread and has yet to fade away after 2,000 years. The burden of proof lies with those who don’t believe – trying to explain the early spread of Christianity in purely naturalistic terms is very unconvincing.

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Am I biased in my claims? Yes and no. I have grown up a Christian, but I have also studied every major world religion – none comes close to the verifiable history of Christianity. That does not mean that other religions do not have things to offer – for example, I meditate daily from reading about Buddhism, I respect Sufism’s mystical practices, and I mildly indulge in the asceticism of Hinduism. My personal case for Christ is that He is still living in us today. The only way I truly know that Christ exists is that he speaks to me on a daily basis. I know He is with me because I also know what it is like to be in the presence of evil. Evil is powerful and very palpable – when Christ fills you it is like a light being turned on in a dark room – impossible to ignore. Suffice it to say, read the book and see the evidence for yourself. If you are an atheist just give it a try. If you believe in God but are not a Christian give it a try. Having a relationship with Jesus makes my life better, so I want your life to be better also. In the end, there are no absolute answers to these metaphysical questions – that is why it is called belief. I think we should close out this blog with a reassuring quote from the most famous atheist in the world.

“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist.”

-Stephen Hawking

We’re Back From Japan!

Christina and I got back from Japan this past Wednesday after two weeks of nonstop adventure. We flew out of Chicago and landed in a sweltering Tokyo on August 23rd. The subsequent days were filled with tours, hikes, feasts, laughs, and jet lag wake-up calls at 2 am. Japan is a magnificent country and the people are straight out of some 1950’s “Pleasantville” show. Interacting with a Japanese stranger is like a boyfriend interacting with his girlfriend’s parents for the first time – there is a lot of bowing, attentiveness, respect, and reiteration of the word “sorry.” Suffice it to say, Japan is the most well-mannered, clean, and sophisticated country you are likely to visit in your life. Even the toilets try to be helpful with soothing music and a squirt of water for that hard-to-reach dingleberry. Added to the wonderful people we met, the food in Japan raised our trip to a whole different tier of pleasure: there was ramen, udon, okonomiyaki, teppanyaki, shabushabu, takoyaki, yakisoba, yakitori, and a whole host of interesting concoctions that are nicely displayed at this link.

Most of our daily activities included some sort of tour which highlighted the history of Japan. The Japanese mostly believe in both Shintoism and Buddhism. Shintoism is the native religion of Japan which believes in nature as a source of divinity – think of Native American religions – while Japanese Buddhism is an amalgamation of Shintoism, Chinese beliefs, and Indian Beliefs (click here for more on Buddhism). We visited a myriad of shrines which were hundreds of years old and learned some of the customs of worship. There are usually steps of purification at shrines and one must either cleanse with water or take off footwear before entering a sacred space. This is why the Japanese commonly take their shoes off before entering the home or a public space like a restaurant. The tours were great and I was able to juxtapose each experience with a previous book that I read on the subject. The highlight of the trip for me was climbing Mt. Fuji which took Christina and I over 11 hours to complete. This was the highest mountain I have ever climbed and the air at the top caused both of us to have altitude sickness. We had to take a lot of breaks and eat a lot of snacks but in the end the view was worth all the hardship. The trip as a whole was simultaneously amazing and exhausting; by the end I missed America, my culture, cheeseburgers, my bed, my family, my friends, and my chihuahua. Below are some of the best pictures we took.

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Tokyo Fish Market

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Squid on a Stick

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Tokyo Station

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Bike Tour in Tokyo

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Meiji Shrine

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Buddhist Temple

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Multi Level Pagoda

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Famous Shibuya Crossing

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Climbing Mt. Fuji

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Climbing Up

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Near the top of Mt. Fuji

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The Crater of Mt. Fuji

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Christina getting turned into a Geisha

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Christina walking Kyoto as a Geisha

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Buddhist Garden

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Golden Temple in Kyoto

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Hiroshima Specialty

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Hiroshima Castle

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Deer at Miyajima Island

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My Favorite Shinto Shrine

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A-Bomb Dome in Hiroshima

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View from Tokyo Tower on Last Day

Buddhism for a Christian

As a Christian, I think it is important to have a working knowledge of world religions. Studying a different religion not only expands your understanding of varying beliefs but also helps you appreciate your own spirituality to a greater extent. Some people are wary of studying different religions because they believe it will tarnish their devoutness or lead them astray. In reality, the opposite almost always happens – for example, learning about Buddhism made me appreciate Jesus Christ to a far higher degree. Thanks to my physical therapist, I was recommended an excellent book on Buddhism called Old Path White Clouds by Thich Nhat Hanh. Thich Nhat Hand is a Buddhist monk, and a proliferate author – he wrote this book as a factual biography of the Buddha – heavy on doctrine and light on myths.

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It follows the life of Siddhartha, a wealthy prince who seeks the path of enlightenment and eventually becomes known as the Buddha. The word Buddha actually means “the enlightened one” and this book explains how Buddhism was initially spread throughout eastern India around 450 BC. At that time, many religions believed in various gods and degrees of asceticism – how much humans should avoid or indulge in pleasure. Siddhartha followed the greatest spiritual leaders but was never able to reach enlightenment until he understood the actual source of human suffering.

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What is the central root of human suffering? Ignorance. Not knowing the truth is the cause of all the pain in the world. Well, what then is the truth? The Buddha believed that…

“People were caught in endless suffering because of their erroneous perceptions; they believed that which is impermanent is permanent, that which is without self contains self, that which has no birth and death has birth and death, and they divided that which is inseparable into parts.”

Put in another way, people have the wrong perceptions of the world and hence inaccurate realities of truth. So the next question then is how can one fix their reality? Again the Buddha believed that…

“…the key to liberation would be to break through ignorance and to enter deeply into the heart of reality and attain a direct experience of it. Such knowledge would not be the knowledge of the intellect, but of direct experience.”

This “direct experience” is achieved through mindfulness of the present moment. Complete mindfulness requires one to understand that there is no “self” and that there is no permanence – all things depend on each other in a cyclical-eternal fashion. Understanding this interdependence of life – the Buddha was able to shed all the sources of suffering: fear, anger, hatred, arrogance, jealousy, greed, and ignorance. The Buddha taught his followers to meditate to reach this awareness and connectedness. In a way, Buddhism is more of a philosophy than a religion – there is no soul, higher power, or afterlife; the goal is to reach Nirvana which is complete enlightenment and the extinction of self.

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Buddhism is complex – especially with reincarnation – and what I have described are the main tenets; there are many different schools of thought just like those in Christianity. So how did I apply these Buddhist teachings as a Christian? First off, Christianity teaches that you can not earn your way into heaven and that Jesus Christ is the only way to eternal life. In Buddhism, the individual is responsible for their enlightenment, and the path to salvation is earned rather than gifted. Just that fact makes me want to shout “Praise the Lord for Jesus!” I did, however, find several parallels between Buddhism and Christianity in respects to suffering.

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Jesus, just like the Buddha, teaches that we need to love one another and that we are all interconnected – we fall apart because of fear, anger, hatred, arrogance, jealousy, greed, and ignorance. I also took away the important message of impermanence and mindfulness. Nothing on this earth is forever, and this life is just a blip on the map of eternity; we shouldn’t be sad about death because it is transient. We must be mindful of the present because it not only makes us more aware of our blessings but it gives us a glimpse of what eternity will actually feel like – no past or future. I actually have been meditating more, and it helps me with gratitude, calms my mind, and rids me of thoughts that cause suffering. No matter what you believe, learning about different religions will always give you a greater sense of the world and the human condition.