Sunday, July 21, 2013

The House of Fatteh

I recently had the opportunity to visit a great new restaurant in the southern part of Beirut, House of Fatteh.

The name says it all -in Arabic and English

I love a great bean restaurant, and this is a great bean restaurant.  First, and most importantly, it is very clean.  I've eaten beans in some dives and I hate risking gastroenteritis for a good meal.  Now I no longer have to do that!  I can get my sense of adventure from the menu, which has dozens of bean dish choices.

The service was great.  The staff was friendly and courteous, they knew the menu, and they didn't rush me.  In fact, they brought me tea to drink while I was pondering the menu, and some cardamom and cinnamon to chew on as well.

Nice.  These are classy beans.

I decided that since I was at the House of Fatteh, I'd go ahead and order what may be my favorite food in the world, fatteh bilaban.  The service was fast and before I could say "Hey, where's my food?" it was on the table.

Oh, yeah.

The taste was just as good as the presentation.  One of the things I really like about House of Fatteh is that they manage to combine the experience of a real, authentic bean house with a very upscale and modern setting.  It's beans served the way we all wish they could be served.  This place screams "business lunch."

Give a client this and he will buy anything.

Did I mention that the portions are large?  Sometimes it's difficult to judge the scale in a photo, so I have placed my full, distended belly in the shot to give you an idea of how much food I ate.  This meal whipped me, I could not eat all of it.

This reminds me of a scene from Monty Python...

This leads me to my only complaint about House of Fatteh.  Their takeout service does not take customers out to their cars after they have eaten too much to move.  Those guys in the kitchen look strong enough that I think 3 or 4 of them could have managed to get me into my minivan.  I did manage to make it out on my own after some effort.

The meals are also priced right.  Most of the menu is in the $5-$8 range which makes it a perfect place to take your kids or your buddies.  If your wife is a cheap date, take her here!  In the interest of full disclosure, the owner is a friend of mine, who knows how to operate a really great bean house.  Drop by the House of Fatteh and you will not be disappointed.

Jesr Sfeir, In front of Hachem Gaz Station, Beirut, Lebanon

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Formula for a Successful Apology

You've done it.  You've totally screwed up and now you need to apologize, and the words are tumbling around in your head as you try to construct the appropriate apology.  Fear not!  As one who has screwed up countless times, I have far too much practice in apologies, and can offer you advice based on my vast experience.

You are soooo busted.

A proper apology contains three elements.  It is important to include all three, and a very good idea not to go beyond them -regret, confession, repentance.  Here is the framework for an appropriate apology:

"I'm sorry I did that.  I screwed up.  I won't do it again."

If in doubt you can use that exactly as written in almost any situation.  Memorize it.  Use it.

Let's examine the three components:

"I'm sorry" -This is the entry level apology, and we teach our children to say it, while scuffing their foot around to let us know that they really don't mean it.  People want to hear our regret, at a minimum, but this is really not enough.  Are you sorry you did it, or just sorry you got caught?  Are you sorry I'm so difficult to please?  At it's best, "I'm sorry" should also specify the offense - "I'm sorry I forgot your birthday."  Failure to specify leads to confusion and an apology must be crystal clear.

Or, it can mean that your ego is so huge you can't admit fault.

"I screwed up." -Admit it's your fault.  So often people follow "I'm sorry" with an excuse for why it was really OK, or not really their fault.  "I'm sorry I hit you, but your words were making me angry."  That is not an apology, it is blame-shifting.  Admit your own fault without blaming anyone else.  "I'm sorry we had that fight.  I have to listen better."  Failure to accept blame turns the apology into a cloaked accusation.

"I won't do it again." -Show your maturity.  If the action was worthy of an apology, it should not be repeated.  This step is necessary to heal the relationship.  The other person needs to know that s/he should not expect this behavior again.  "I won't go out without telling you any more."  Failure to repent leaves guards up and prevents a complete healing of the wound.

What men really mean by "I won't do it again."

You may be tempted to add to these elements.  Don't.  An apology should be short, sincere, complete, and simple.  Turning it into a story is likely to make things worse.  It will become filled with excuses, blame shifting, and denial.

"I'm sorry I did that.  I screwed up.  I won't do it again."  You can apply this formula to many situations:

"I'm sorry I didn't clean up the dirty dishes.  I should have been more considerate.  I won't forget them again."

"I apologize for eating your lunch from the office refrigerator.  I should have ordered delivery.  I won't eat your food again."

"I'm sorry for posting that embarrassing picture of you on Facebook.  I should have respected your privacy.  I won't post anything else without your permission."

A real pro at work here.

Now, go forth and apologize well.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

With the Cross of Jesus, Marching on Before

In situations of conflict Christians often find themselves accomplices in war, rather than agents of peace. We find it difficult to distance ourselves from our selves and our own culture and so we echo its reigning opinions and mimic its practices. As we keep the vision of God's future alive, we need to reach out across the firing lines and join hands with our brothers and sisters on the other side. We need to let them pull us out of the enclosure of our own culture and its own peculiar set of prejudices so that we can read afresh the “one Word of God.” In this way we might become once again the salt to the world ridden by strife.  -Volf, Miroslav (2010-03-01). Exclusion & Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (p. 54). Abingdon Press. 
Volf's book is a sometimes meandering read, but it's given me occasion to think about what the scriptures teach Christians about priority.  In particular, it is helping me to consider how we as Western Churches respond to events in the East.  I will not engage in political commentary, but there is an issue of Christian faith which requires consideration.

After failing to found a cohesive community at Athens with his eloquent preaching, the Apostle Paul moved on to Corinth determined to preach only one thing:  "Jesus Christ, and him crucified."  In the simple statement we see that the cross is the foundation of the Christian community (Volf, p. 47).  It defines who belongs to the community, and the basis for interpersonal relationships within the community.

The community requires primary allegiance from members.  "If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple," Jesus said (Luke 14:26).  All other relationships are formed at the behest of the Cross.  We honor our father and mother because it is the way of the cross.  We love our wife and our earthly family because the cross leads us to love.  All of our relationships are restored and prioritized by the cross.  "Love one another," the cross calls to us, and so we love.

And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, 
"Behold My mother and My brothers!"

The cross establishes our relationships with the secular world as well.  We are told to live quiet lives, to submit to the governing authorities, and to honor the King.  In the modern context, this means that we should be good citizens, but we are reminded that our Kingdom is not of this world.  Our citizenship bows to and serves the cross.  There is only one Church, which spans all cultures, through the suffering of Christ on the cross (Volf, p. 51).

Nowhere is this more relevant than the relationship between Churches in cultures that are in conflict.  When there is a clash of cultures or nations, Christians must first look across the conflict and find those members of our Church that are on the other side.  The first allegiance is always to the cross, and to our community founded upon it.  Opposing the "enemy" must be secondary to embracing our brethren.

In the context of the Arab world, western Churches must realize that they have communities of Christian brothers and sisters in many nations of the region.  While we might be quick to support Christians in the pro-western countries, Christians living in "pariah states" and the "axis of evil" are no less deserving of our love and faithfulness, and of our embrace.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Papal Visit to Lebanon

Lebanon has been abuzz for weeks now in anticipation of the visit of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. The highways have been decorated with billboards and banners in the Maronite areas, which are in Northern and Eastern Beirut. Maronites are in full Communion with the Roman Catholic Church, and are about 30% of the population of Lebanon.

Beirut is a heavily segregated city, and the Maronites and Muslims live apart from one another, avoiding daily contact for the most part. The neighborhoods in our area, Msaytbeh and Burj Abu Haidar are Muslim, so there's been no activity or preparation for his visit here. “You can tell when you're leaving a Maronite area,” I told a group of visitors this week, “because you'll cross a street and the Papal banners will disappear.”

Since we live only a few blocks from the path of the motorcade, we thought it would be fun to stroll over and catch a glimpse of the Pope's car as he came through. All the major highways were closed for the whole afternoon, and side roads were blocked, so most people in Beirut stayed home or left work early.

There were no crowds along the highway, even though it is a heavily populated area. There were no banners or streamers, nor cheering throngs. A few groups of curious onlookers were kept back from the highway by armed soldiers stationed all along the route.

Salim Salaam Avenue is usually packed with traffic
Cars normally park on the sidewalks.

“Seeing the roads so empty was more unusual than seeing so many guards,” Kim commented. “That doesn't surprise me any more because we see tanks and guards all the time.” The highway is normally crowded with bumper-to-bumper traffic, and people even park on the sidewalks because it is so crowded. “I was also curious to see how the Muslims would react to the Pope,” she said. “They were really just curious like me. They were more interested in the helicopters, guns, and soldiers closing the roads.” Even the parked cars were all removed, because any one of them could be a danger.

Security was very heavy for the motorcade, as might be expected. As helicopter gunships circled overhead, his armored Limo was escorted by dozens of police vehicles, including about six jeeps that had heavy machine guns mounted on the roof. A lead car came ahead of the whole motorcade by about two kilometers, and Kim and I joked about how the Pope should really be in that car, with a double in the official car bearing his flag.

The Pope is the guy in the back, we think!

Olivia was excited by the whole event. “There were a lot of cars, and I got to see the Pope's head!” she exclaimed afterward. John had been hoping to see more than a Limo and a glimpse of the Pope, but was interested in all of the armed vehicles in the motorcade. He's more excited about giving a shout out to all his friends in Guntersville. After the motorcade passed, most of the onlookers remained, watching the highway to see when the Army would pull out.

The airport is in the southern part of the city, and the Papal motorcade traveled through many Muslim neighborhoods like ours before reaching the Christian areas to the north, where his real welcome will begin. He'll be received at the Vatican Embassy in Harissa. We visited that area just the other day and saw the “Lady of Lebanon” shrine which he will visit. His theme for the visit is “I give you my peace” and hopefully his visit will encourage people in Lebanon toward peace.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Other Side of Nowhere

We took our second overnight camping trip to the mountains east of Faqra.  Only the high peaks (9,000-10,000 feet) have names, but the locals call the area the Sinein mountains (two teeth).  The area where we camped was very isolated, and about 7,000 feet.

Nowhere is just slightly to the left.

After we passed the last ski resort on the main highway, we drove about 15 more minutes along the highway.  When I say remote -there is nothing.  Not a single building or sign of civilization other than the highway on which you are driving.  There are only rolling mountaintops and valleys, and the landscape is both stark and beautiful.  It is all rocky, both large formations of rocks protruding from the soil, and a layer of broken rock that covers every slope.  There are no trees, only several variaties of very thorny bushes, mostly in the low areas.

I didn't have to bribe them either!

The ecology is based on the snow melts.  Starting in late fall, the whole area is covered in a snow cap that persists all winter without melting.  Even into the summer, snow remains in crevices on the slopes (I saw some in late July on a trip through the area further to the south).  The moisture allows the otherwise desert area to support enough grazing to be worthwhile to  Bedouin shepherds as well as water holes that still have water in September.  However, it has very much a desert feel because there is no rain during the dry season after the snow melts.

There's very little wild animal life to be seen.  On our first trip we saw a single beetle.  This time the children discovered a lizard under a rock, and some frogs in the bottom of a watering hole that was empty but still had moist soil in the bottom.  We also spotted some bats flying at dusk.  Perhaps this is a result of the harsh extremes -snow covering the ground perhaps 8-9 months of the year, and then a dry desert once it melts.

There are Bedouin tribes that move about the mountaintops.  There was a large camp on the highway (5-6 tents) that was not there a few weeks ago.  They keep honey bees near the watering holes, with sometimes 40-50 stands in a spot.  They also have herds of sheep that roam around the mountainsides, and each shepherd has a donkey and at least one herding dog.

"Can we have sheep Dad?"

We turned off the highway onto a rough dirt road and drove perhaps ten minutes through several unoccupied Bedouin camp areas.  We found one on our first trip that looked promising and it turned out to be an excellent campsite.  It sat in a flat area near an empty watering hole and had a great view of the surrounding valley.  There were a couple of rock formations we could climb, and a small trail that went further up into the mountains.  We followed the trail up to where a concrete bunker had been built on the top, with a flag marking the peak.  I always stay far away from abandoned buildings because during the wars there was a lot of mining, and there could be abandoned munitions.  We stay in areas that the goat herds and four-wheelers have already covered.

Being away from everything is my favorite part, climbing the hills and seeing more and more nothing.  It may not sound that exciting, but for a country boy living in urban sprawl, it was so relaxing.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Thank You, American Workers

Labor Day is a day when we typically just think about a good barbecue.  

This really does merit a holiday.
Trust me, I haven't had them lately.

If we're going to find meaning in the day beyond a rack of ribs, however, then it might be this:  

We live in a society that was built with many hands -some of them sewed socks, some welded bridges, while some others changed diapers.  Some of them taught me to read, while others forced me to learn mathematics against my will -but to my great benefit.  Somewhere along the line, some of them taught me to love writing, and to love sharing the Gospel of Jesus.

I have driven on roads built by the hard labor of workers both native and immigrant.  I have done some great fishing, swimming, and canoeing in a lake built by the sweat of our grandfathers.  Many people have invested in my life.

This canoeing fun would not be possible if not for:

This incredible investment of labor.

To all of you who have lent a hand in the building of a nation that we all enjoy, and that I treasure:  

Thank you!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Heretics Hall of Shame II

Event organizer Rev. William J. Collier and  keynote speaker Rev. Mel Lewis.

Newest inductees into the Hall of Shame

I had to lead with the photo, it was just too appropriate.  These two yokels from Lamar County, Alabama are the driving force behind this monstrosity:

"We don't have the facilities to accommodate other people. We haven't got any invitations to black, Muslim events. Of course we are not invited to Jewish events and stuff," Collier said.

This is what he means by "facilities to accommodate other people"

You can't make stuff like this up.  It boils my blood to think that they are claiming and desecrating the name of my Lord Jesus.  Speaking of which, guess who will not be invited:

That's Right, I'm not a White Christian!

They'd better hope that the Lion of Judah doesn't show up to their meeting.