Disclaimers, Part 1

Let’s take a step back, away from a fairly heavy emphasis on one chapter of the Bible, and look at the bigger picture. Jesus, whom most of us admire if not worship, is mere steps and minutes away from His crucifixion. And surprisingly, He’s picked out our unity as the most important need to pray about – not primarily our political unity, but neither everything except political unity. There aren’t any footnotes or small print saying that Jesus was only talking about how we treat one another in Church. In fact, if You know Jesus, you know that the very last thing He would have done would be to separate Churchy things from everyday life.

He’s imminently practical, and desires to be Lord of all of life, not just the spiritual compartments.

If a strong majority of the public claims to admire Jesus, then that means Jesus-admirers are in both political parties, and Jesus’ prayer has something to say about our mess.

Image: monika1607/Pixabay

Image: monika1607/Pixabay

If you’ve been following this blog from the beginning, you’ve read most of what will eventually be the first two chapters of a book. So, in case you’re wondering, here are a couple disclaimers, in normal size font.

  1. Is this a Bible study, or a book designed to help us through our political climate? As we’ll see in the next chapter, the answer is more of a both/and than an either/or, but if I had to pick between the two, as the author I’d say my goal is more the latter than the former. I didn’t write this book merely as another study of the Bible or a portion of it. Yet my thesis is that Jesus is the Good News that can be heard above the shrill cacophony of the donkey/elephant brawls, and that this Good News actually could solve our political gridlock. And we don’t have the privilege of remaking Jesus in our own image, shaping Him the way we’d like Him to be. He’s a real person who entered history at a thoroughly documented time and place, and the Bible is our primary source for knowing Him. So I’m putting most of the direct Bible references in the footnotes, but I’m drawing from the Bible to announce the good news for which we all so desperately long.

  2. Are you saying that we should all just get along and ignore our differences politically? Not at all, although you wouldn’t know that for certain right now unless you’d seen the table of contents. There are real differences between the two parties which we’d be foolish to ignore or paper over. I’m not even arguing that everyone should leave a party and become independent, even though that’s what my wife and I did about four years ago. I intend to pick out some platforms from both political parties that I believe Jesus would support, and then argue that we need to start making decisions more on the basis of content than animal species. And in the areas where we may vehemently disagree, dialogue that is substantive, respectful, and humble could actually break off some of the sharper edges to partisan policy and leave us with some options that would be far more attractive than anything available to us now. Those who claim allegiance to an authority higher than any here on Earth will have to lead the way.

Christmas in November, and Always

On that very first Christmas, the angels proclaimed at the birth of Jesus,

Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men! (*1)

Isn’t peace and good will the very thing we need as an antidote to our Donkey Elephant war?

Our culture has been preaching tolerance for decades. How’s that working out? I, for one, don’t aspire to be tolerated.

“Honey, how was your day?”
“It was a great day, dear. I felt thoroughly and consistently tolerated.”


Peace, especially the Biblical kind, is what we need far more than tolerance. The Hebrew word for “peace” is shalom, and it implies wholeness and justice, that wrongs have been righted. Shalom peace is far more than a temporary ceasefire. As a friend suggested over lunch yesterday, perhaps one of the reasons our calls for tolerance have led us to even greater hostility is that they’ve just buried the conflicts deeper. If I believe I must tolerate something or someone that I’m inclined to react negatively toward, I most likely simply suppress my thoughts and feelings. Like tamping down gunpowder, that simply makes the future explosion bigger.

In his final thoughts before giving his life, Jesus didn’t pray for greater tolerance. He prayed for deeper love. Not only did Jesus address the culture’s deepest conflicts, He absorbed them in his body on a cross. From birth to death, Jesus was the Prince of Peace, and exactly the influence we need in our day. Ironically, that exact title was spoken prophetically of Jesus some 700 years earlier by the prophet Isaiah. Tell me if this doesn’t sound like Good News, not just on December 25 but all year round:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,
And the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace
There will be no end. (*2)

Jesus’ Road Map

Taking a closer look, take two

We already saw how intentional Jesus was in describing the subject of His prayer, our unity as His followers. It turns out that He was just as intentional in modeling how that same unity is achieved. And “practicing what He prayed” is the pattern here, too.

My friend Dennis Fuqua first introduced me to this very well-developed pattern in Jesus’ prayer in John 17. It looks like this:

  • There are four different requests that Jesus makes in the prayer.

  • Each one is repeated. (The last one, that we as His followers would be one, shows up four times; the other requests each show up twice.

  • Before Jesus repeats each request, He shows specifically how He had practiced what He prayed.

While the application of this prayer is much larger than America’s divided political landscape, let’s briefly see how it applies here.

hiker map.jpg

Glorify the Son.

Unity starts by lifting up Jesus. This principle applies in every setting. If I’m in the middle of a disagreement with my wife and I ask the question, “What would glorify Jesus right now?” half the conflict is solved. Because much of our conflict comes from asking the wrong question, “What would glorify me?”

I don’t expect either political party to ask the “What would bring glory to Jesus?” question. Both are interested in a different question: “What will bring us more votes?” But as followers of Jesus in both parties, we can ask that question. It takes something larger than the gap to bridge the gap, and that something is a Person, Jesus.

Protect us from the enemy.

I don’t believe in the red cartoon character with the pitchfork, but the more mass shootings, genocides, abductions, human trafficking… it’s not hard to believe there’s an enemy. The Bible describes his motives as stealing, killing, and destroying, and his fingerprints are all over the news. We don’t need to fear him, but we dare not forget about him.

His chief strategy is to divide and conquer, which explains why Jesus would pray (and encourage us to pray) for protection. When we’re conscious of the divisive work he’s constantly sowing, we’re less likely to be part of that same work. And when it comes to politics, we clearly have our prayer work cut out for us.

Sanctify us in the truth.

Think back over the last several conflicts you were involved in. What’s the common denominator? Bad news – it’s you! You were in every conflict you were in. We have a tendency to drag our baggage with us wherever we go. The third request Jesus makes in His prayer for unity is that each of us would be sanctified in the truth – that we would mature and grow up.

We can’t control the way other people behave. But “other people” aren’t what prompted me to write this in the first place. It’s us – the various ways we forget who we are, make assumptions, invite the war into our living rooms, and Facebook firebomb our “friends.”

If you look back over those three petitions, they form an amazing acronym without any manipulation on my part at all – in fact, it works in Spanish just like it does in English.

Glorify the Son,

Protect us from the enemy,

Sanctify us in the truth.

It’s our GPS for unity, which is the fourth petition in the prayer. The first three requests Jesus prayed are how the main focus, the last request, comes to pass. The first three are the road map for unity.

Practicing What He Prayed

As a child growing up in the Sonoran Desert, I would regularly pray for snow when it would get cold enough for there to be a snowball’s chance in Tucson. And I would regularly be disappointed – my earliest crises of faith. There was nothing I could do to be an answer to my own prayer, nothing at all. Unless God brought the snow to Tucson… no snow. (*1)

In weightier matters, though, God sometimes marks our prayers “returned to sender.” Like praying for a job but not applying for one, or praying for a neighbor to come to know the love of God but doing nothing to share the love of God with our neighbor. Jesus didn’t pray for unity but live for division. Jesus’ prayer for unity matched His lifestyle.

You’re probably familiar with the term Samaritan, as in the Good one, even if only from a legal standpoint like the Good Samaritan laws that protect a well-meaning neighbor from getting sued for their kindness. But did you know that Samaritan is a more loaded political term than Republican or Democrat ever will be?

When ancient kingdoms would be victorious in battle, they would often transport the captives into exile, and displace some other people to live in the newly conquered territory. Such was the history of Samaria, so that when Jews in Jesus’ day looked at Samaritans, they didn’t see them as the real deal, either ethnically or religiously. The animosity between the two groups rivals anything the donkeys and elephants have achieved.


In an earlier chapter in the gospel of John, chapter 4, we read this simple little statement in verse 4 that Jesus had to go through Samaria. Jesus’ need to travel through Samaria was less one of geography than it was of mission. Jesus looks for dividing walls of hostility (*2) and like President Reagan addressing the Berlin Wall in 1987, Jesus seeks to tear down such walls wherever He finds them. In the story of a Samaritan woman whom Jesus encounters at a well in the heat of day in John 4, Jesus not only tears down the dividing wall between Jews and Samaritans, but additional walls between men and women, and between those who’ve apparently lived righteous lives and those who obviously haven’t. Jesus went straight after the donkey elephant war of His day, the Jews/Samaritans, regularly choosing Samaritans to be the heroes of His stories. And the political (as well as religious) tension between Jews and Samaritans wasn’t the only one He addressed. When Jesus put His team together, He intentionally invited people from all fragments of the farm. There were uneducated fishermen, a tax collector (probably significantly more well-off financially, but relationally challenged, since the occupying Roman empire was his employer), a revolutionary, and more just among the twelve.

The Jewish political leaders, the Sadducees and the Pharisees, had limited authority, since the whole area was under the control of Rome. So when the Sadducees and Pharisees decided that Jesus was too much of a threat to their status, they had to get permission from Rome to put Him to death. The political tensions between Pilate and Herod, as well as between both of them and Caiaphas, the High Priest of the Jews, forms quite the backdrop to Jesus’ final hours pre-resurrection. When Jesus says from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” (*3) I believe He was speaking to the entire mess and everyone who had a part in it.

Jesus continues this mission after His resurrection from the dead. One of the Pharisees likely present and shouting for Jesus’ death was Saul of Tarsus. When reports came that Jesus was now alive again, Saul was determined to stamp out such a ridiculous idea before it gained any traction. While on His way to Damascus to arrest some more of these first Christians (or Followers of the Way as they were first called (*4)), Saul was literally stopped in his tracks by the resurrected Jesus. And in a powerful picture of how far Jesus goes in breaking down the dividing walls of hostility, Jesus asks Ananias, one of the very men that Saul is hunting down, to go and lay hands on Saul and heal him of his new physical blindness which reflected his previous spiritual blindness. (*5) Ananias obeys after a brief discussion with Jesus, and this same Saul became better known as the Apostle Paul, one of the greatest “foe becomes friend” stories in history. In subsequent years Paul, too, would address newly surfacing political tensions within Christianity. (*6)

Not only did Jesus practice what He prayed, but so did those who ministered in His name. And such is our call in our day.

  1. I still remember December 8, 1971 when we got 6.8 inches of snow, the largest ever recorded in Tucson. Proof that there is a God, haha.

  2. Ephesians 2:14, referring to Jesus, says, “For He Himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility”

  3. Luke 23:34

  4. In Acts 22:4 Saul/Paul speaks of his persecution of the Followers of the Way. In Acts 11:26 we learn that followers of Jesus were first referred to as Christian in Antioch of Syria. Jesus says in John 14:6, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life…”

  5. The entire story is gripping, and can be read in Acts 9.

  6. The biggest one was between those who argued that Christians had to become Jewish first by following Jewish law. Acts 15 declares the resolution of this tension.

No Donkephants

Let’s look a little closer at this diamond in the rough, this gem of a prayer that addresses the painful divisions that divide families, groups, and nations. There are five very specific descriptors that we can unpack from John 17 (*1) :

  • Verse 11 - Unity, not uniformity

  • Verse 15 - Public, not private

  • Verse 17 - Substantive, not watered down

  • Verse 20 - Timeless, not just first century

  • Verse 23 - The means to an end, not the end

Jesus’ immediate context for His prayer is the small group of followers surrounding Him, and the prayer begins focused on them. But this prayer stands the test of time, which He specifically articulates in verse 20, so I believe it’s appropriate to apply it to our current donkey elephant war, especially with the reminder that my primary intended audience for this writing is those Americans who self-identify as having an affinity for Jesus.


Unity, not uniformity.

If we took Jesus’ prayer seriously and applied it to our political conflict, I don’t think Jesus is praying that all labels get wiped out. One of mankind’s very first acts, even before the train came off the tracks, was naming the things God had created, with God’s watching approval (Genesis 2:19). Jesus isn’t praying for a new hybrid animal, a donkephant. Different perspectives and different priorities are part of the asset side of the equation, not the liability side. The problem comes when what God joins together, what God sees as parts of a whole, we tear apart. The problem is demonizing the other side, rather that recognizing that we share common goals and each bring valuable ideas to the table (*2). Jesus prays that we would be aligned, not that we be alike.

Public, not private.

In case you didn’t read my last footnote, let me bring it to the forefront now. Does Jesus want unity within the various congregations and churches throughout the land? Yes, but that’s not what He prays for here. He wants our unity as brothers and sisters in Christ to go public. I am sure there are some readers who’ve adopted the viewpoint that “religion should be private.” That’s a bigger discussion than this paragraph warrants. Putting my cards on the table, I’m of the firm belief that unless followers of Christ who claim to be both elephants and donkeys find ways to drink from the same watering hole and declare a ceasefire, we’ll destroy ourselves as a nation. I’ll unpack that more later.

Substantive, not watered down.

I’ve read numerous calls for a civility pledge in response to our current, toxic environment. I don’t think that’s the solution. I’m not calling for an uncivility pledge: “More fiery rhetoric and cheap shots, please.” Not at all. I’m just saying that civility and tolerance don’t go nearly far enough. Jesus includes a prayer for truth in His prayer for unity. That means that hard conversations must be had. Areas of extreme disagreement must be examined. And unless people who have a higher allegiance than their political party lead the charge, I see little hope of that ending well.

Timeless, not just first century.

Just like I told the bank-teller who thought that John 17 was my idea, the notion that this prayer could actually help resolve the donkey elephant war comes straight from Jesus’ own words. He specifically says that His prayer that we be one is His prayer in every generation. And nowhere does Jesus compartmentalize, as if our unity were only meant to apply to spiritual things, leaving us to fight with our spouses and name call our political adversaries to our little hearts’ content.

Means, not end.

This one I’ll have to unpack later also, because Jesus is aiming for something higher than just donkeys and elephants at the same dinner parties. That would be a lovely thought, but not what Jesus was thinking about. If you recall the earlier discussion of my friends Celestin and Tass and the work they’re doing in East Africa and the Middle East, respectively, their methodology draws straight from the ultimate purpose of Jesus’ prayer for unity: that through it we all might come to know who Jesus is and how much God loves us.

  1. Both my previous books, Jesus’ Surprising Strategy and If It Was Easy, Jesus Wouldn’t Have Prayed For It, go into greater detail regarding applying this prayer to the Church. Here I’m limiting the application to the political landscape.

  2. Remember my primary audience. I’m not papering over opposing positions in direct conflict with one another. I’m saying that as followers of Jesus on both sides of the political aisle, we can dialogue with people of good will, recognizing that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

It Starts With Us

The more divided our world gets, the better news John 17 appears. Discovering John 17 is like spotting a lighthouse when you’re at sea and being battered mercilessly and perilously by a storm.

If you have a red-letter version of the Bible, where the words of Jesus are in red, the reddest section anywhere is the thirteenth through seventeenth chapters of the Gospel of John. The only black-letter parts are questions that the befuddled disciples kept asking. All of it took place Thursday night before Good Friday. The entire evening is surreal, starting with the Master donning a towel and washing the feet of his own followers, including Judas, who Jesus knew in advance would betray him before the evening was up. Jesus and his followers had gathered to celebrate the Jewish Passover, which Jesus reinterpreted that evening, heightening its urgency. Later Peter would boast that if Jesus couldn’t count on the rest of his buddies, He could certainly count on him, to which Jesus replied that before the night was up and the rooster crowed, Peter would cowardly deny that he even knew Jesus (*1).


In previous months leading up to this night, when Jesus had predicted His upcoming betrayal and crucifixion, the gang of twelve in response started arguing about which one of them was the greatest. Aye aye aye… Add in the differing political backgrounds and personalities of the disciples, and perhaps it shouldn’t strike us as such a surprise that Jesus would pray what he did. Read John 17 even once, and you can’t miss its central themethat we, his followers, would be united.

If it was easy, Jesus wouldn’t have prayed for it.

Keep in mind that Jesus could have prayed about anything He wanted to. He knew exactly what was coming, why it was necessary, and what the result would be. His prayer begins, “Father, the time has come.” So it’s not like John 17 catches Jesus daydreaming. Further, there are three times in the prayer where He specifically points out what He’s not praying. I’m rarely if ever that disciplined or intentional in my prayers. Jesus was intensely focused on His central theme, what He thought would be most important for future generations. Who could guess that our unity as His followers was that important?

If we accept that Jesus is more than just a man, then we acknowledge that He could have been thinking about America coming apart at the seams in the 21st century as He prayed,

Make them one, Father, as You and I are one.

Accessing the divine ability to step outside of time, Jesus could have been as concerned about countries torn apart by tribal conflict of any stripe in our day, as He was intimately aware of the tribal and political conflicts within His twelve (now 11) followers in the Garden of Gethsemane that Thursday evening. He didn’t pray about the Romans and their barbaric empire who would crucify Him before His next meal, just like He’s probably not focused in prayer on all the government leaders who mock Him today, either. Jesus’ strategy for positively changing the world is simply to pray that those who know Him, those who claim affinity and love for Jesus, would simply show that same listening, honoring, self-sacrificing love for one another that He modeled every day of His life.

  1. One of my favorite spots on my wife’s and my recent (and first) trip to the Holy Land was a Church called St. Peter in Gallicantu, or “St. Peter of the crowing rooster,” marking the spot of Peter’s prophesied denial of Jesus.

It’s Not My Idea

Good news is when someone knows and cares about our challenges. Great news is when that same person also has the power to make a difference.

So… I have some good news: Jesus knows and cares about the Donkey Elephant War that’s raging. And I have some great news: He has the power to make a difference.

Here’s a story of how the great news broke in to what otherwise would have been simply a mundane chore.

light bulb.jpg

My favorite way of describing what I do is that my full-time job is to see Jesus’ John 17 prayer answered, starting in my hometown, and anywhere else God chooses to grant me influence. If you don’t already know what John 17 is, you likely won’t guess, even if I tell you that it’s what Jesus prayed right before he gave his life on the cross.

J17 Ministries, the name being a reference to Jesus’ prayer in John 17, started as a DBA (*1) of a local church in Tucson. We needed to hit the ground running, rather than waiting for our 501(c)(3) paperwork, bylaws, board of directors, and so forth to get finished before we could begin operating. When we went to open our checking account, the church had to start the process and had been to see the teller earlier in the day. She knew about a retreat we offer called a John 17 Weekend, and so the conversation started with her politely asking me to tell her more about these John 17 Weekends.

“Well,” I said, “We have people from over 60 different Christian congregations in Tucson all coming together for 72 hours to experience more of God’s endless love and learn better how to share that with others.”

“That sounds amazing,” she said, then continued, “I grew up Catholic – is that Christian?” I paused for a second before answering, balancing out the need for this to be a brief conversation with a bank teller, and the reality that the answer is somewhat complicated. “Yes,” I said. (*2)

“I’ve heard of Methodists, too. Are they Christian?” she asked. “Yes,” I said. “And I see on your application that it’s a Lutheran church that owns the account. I have no idea what a Lutheran is. Is that Christian too?” I answered yes once again. “I don’t understand” was her reply.

I told her that the Bible uses the analogy of a body, and that all of those groups are just different parts in the same body. Then I said, “We just have to get better at acting that way.”

“What a great idea!” she exclaimed exuberantly. “Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?” I chuckled before quickly pointing out that I can’t take credit for the “idea.” Plagiarizing Jesus sounds like a patently bad idea. I asked her if she knew what John 17 was, and she didn’t. So I told her that it’s both a chapter in the Bible, and a prayer that Jesus prayed right before giving His life for us on the cross. “This is His idea, not mine.”

The conversation turned more personal, at her leading, as she shared about her family, spiritual questions her son was raising, and so forth. She then mentioned that her boyfriend and she had been talking about the need for a Bible study, and asked if I knew of any that she could join. I did. 45 minutes after we started the paperwork for the new account, I thanked her for her help and left, thanking God for the good news of Jesus. (No, there wasn’t anyone in line behind me this whole time, hearing the conversation and cursing religion.)

  1. DBA is shorthand for Doing Business As. It’s a legal entity by which a corporation or non-profit can work in a related field under a different name.

  2. Basic Catholic doctrine aligns with basic Protestant doctrine in its understanding of who Jesus is and how we’re saved. Some Catholic practice focuses on works, downplays a personal relationship with Jesus, and places more emphasis on Roman Catholic distinctives than on broader Christian commonalities. Latin American Catholicism, which is what many of the Hispanic pastors in my hometown grew up with, mixes in (the theological term is syncretism) a variety of religious practices that most Christians would find objectionable. When I shared this story in one of the congregations that had financially supported me in the past, debate broke out afterwards over my answer and whether or not they could continue to support my ministry. To date, they’ve decided not to… I have a friend, Gary Kinnaman, who regularly says, “Our unity is based on Jesus Christ plus nothing. Not Jesus Christ plus the pope, and not Jesus Christ plus not-the-pope (in other words, unity based on a dislike for the Catholic church).”

I Take This Personally

We have four wonderful adult children, and the youngest was a teenager before my wife and I tripped over our own assumptions. Like all good elephants, we got most of our news from the elephant news station. We knew that the donkey news station couldn’t be trusted, because we were looking for fair and balanced, and that’s what the elephant station claimed to be. Many evenings the elephant news’ views would trumpet away for hours whether we were in the room or not.

War brings with it many casualties, and one of the worst is the collateral damage, shrapnel wounds that injure unsuspecting bystanders. One evening our oldest daughter came walking into the living room with great conviction and pain. I remember the scene, but for my wife it’s seared into her memory. She said,

Whhhyyyy are you watching this?

Our elephant viewing habits had probably been questioned before, more subtly perhaps. For sure we weren’t paying attention to the majority component of communication, the non-verbal kind, that could have cued us in to trouble brewing. Let me be clear: the trouble I’m referring to is that the war was taking place in our living room, we invited it in, and alienated our own kids in the process. We didn’t talk politics; we allowed the television to scream politics, muzzling questions or alternative perspectives before they were ever uttered.

We’re still dressing wounds, cleaning up messes, and learning how to navigate the mine fields with fewer injuries. Thank God we’ve learned a lot in recent years, but as you can plainly see: the donkey elephant war is personal for me.

A Family Fight of the Worst Kind

Pastor David Platt of McLean Bible Church in Washington DC had just finished up preaching his sermon on June 2, 2019 and was preparing to lead his congregation in celebrating Holy Communion, when staff members urgently called him aside. They told him, “President Trump is on his way to our church right now. He’d like you to pray for him in the service.” Platt immediately thought of the beginning of 1 Timothy 2 where Christ-followers are urged to pray for all those in authority, and made the impromptu decision to agree to the President’s request, knowing that such a decision probably wouldn’t be universally popular. His prayer for the President can be googled if you’re curious.

The result? A firestorm of controversy both from within and beyond his own congregation. After spending all day Sunday answering questions, the next day he wrote a letter to his church explaining what had happened and why he made the decision he did in agreeing to the request. The result of the letter was that those who hadn’t been angered by the Sunday service were now upset by his letter. Social media acted like social media regularly does, with machete-words flying all around. And in his sermon to the congregation the next Sunday, June 9, he shared that as a result of praying for and with the President of the United States in a worship service, increased security had become necessary at the congregation. (*1)

b&w path.jpg

Praying publicly with a politician has become a life-threatening decision? (*2) When a decision to accept a President’s request to be prayed for during a Sunday service can result in such controversy that additional security becomes necessary, we may not have become Rwanda (in 1994) or the Middle East (any time since 1948), but you can certainly see them from here.

Politics has become so partisan that it’s rarer to see one word without the other than to imagine a peanut butter sandwich minus the jelly. Jonathan Haidt in his book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, defines partisan as

Reject first, ask rhetorical questions later. (*3)

Donkeys and elephants fire away at one another with ever-increasing hostility. Ponder the worst insults or comparisons you can imagine, and I can virtually guarantee that elephants and donkeys have used such labels about one another.

Donkeys are Marxists.

Elephants are Nazis.

Donkeys are stupid and reckless.

Elephants are racists and ___phobic.
(lots of prefix choices)

Donkeys hate America.

Elephants hate the poor.

Donkeys kill babies.

Elephants kill women.

And on and on and on. When both our media and our elected leadership use such hate-filled and incendiary language with such regularity, how on earth can we not expect increased hostility in our classrooms and streets? As I write this, we just endured nationally a weekend with two mass shootings, and of course both the elephants and donkeys are hard at work blaming the other one.

I recently (June, 2019) heard a U.S. Senator share that Washington only has another month or so to even hope to get anything accomplished, because the more momentum the election cycle gathers, the more motivated the donkeys and elephants will be to point to the stalemate as reason why they need more votes in 2020. (*4) The average approval rating for Congress in the summer of 2019 is 17.6% (*5) , and for the first time ever, hasn’t been as high as 30% in over a decade. (*6) The system is so broken that good people seem incapable of fixing it. The donkey and elephant establishments have grown sufficiently strong that it appears the driving question is, “What’s best for us donkeys/elephants?” instead of “What’s best for the land?” We seem to have completely flipped President Kennedy’s famous quote inside out. Instead of

Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,

it’s “Ask not what’s best for the country, but what will get our mammal the most votes in the next election.”

The reason I’m writing this is not because of how partisan our politics has become, or how incapable of solving serious problems Washington DC seems to be. Anyone with an arm can hit the darkness blindfolded. My motivation isn’t even to point out how incongruous our situation is in a country where a strong majority (typically 70%) choose to identify positively with Jesus, meaning that Musekura is prophetic when he compares our political tribes to the African tribes responsible for massacres. This is a family fight of the worst kind.

The darker the darkness gets, the brighter the light shines. I was put on this Earth to do all I can to see Jesus’ last and most developed prayer answered wherever I have influence. And in a world/country so badly divided, Jesus’ prayer is some of the best news we could ever hear or hope for.

  1. Platt’s June 9, 2019 sermon can be found here: https://radical.net/sermon/on-unity-in-the-church/. It would be a great use of your time to stop reading my words and listen to his. The donkey elephant war threatened to implode his congregation, and he addressed the division phenomenally. I’ll be quoting his words in a later portion of this book.

  2. Platt explains well in his June 9 sermon that the issue wasn’t whether or not to pray for a president, it was whether or not to invite him on stage during a service, and that well-meaning, unity-loving, mature believers could be found on both sides of that argument.

  3. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt, Vintage Books, 2013, p. 127.

  4. I’m not footnoting the specific speech because a) I’ve take the sentiment shared and reworded it for this context, and b) if I revealed whether the Senator was a donkey or an elephant, both animals would likely get more agitated.

  5. Real Clear Politics, August 2, 2019

  6. cnn.com/2019/06/01/politics/poll-of-the-week-congress-approval-rating

Middle Eastern Insight to Our American Problem

I first met Taysir (Tass) Abu Saada in February 2019, and only because of a series of divine circumstances somewhat associated with my full-time job of connecting Christians to one another. The story he shared with the 50 or so of us in the room was so riveting that I boldly requested some additional time with him over lunch. We remain connected due to our common life calling, though our life circumstances couldn’t possibly be any different.

Tass was born in a refugee camp in Gaza City in 1951. He was a Palestinian raised to hate Jews, and his amazing story is told in his book Once an Arafat Man: The True Story of how a PLO Sniper Found a New Life . (*1) Displaced from their family home by the establishment of Israel as a nation, the Saada family suffered the ultimate indignity for an Arab: they owned no land. Tass shared when he was with us in Tucson that the mantra of his friends growing up was “A good Jew is a dead Jew.” By age 17, Tass joined Fatah, a branch of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and became a trained assassin. He eventually became a chauffeur for Yassir Arafat. Part One of his book is entitled, “How I Learned to Hate.”


At age 23, Tass moved to the United States but brought along with him all of his antisemitic baggage. The story of how he came to experience the good news of Jesus is one of the most unusual and most compelling I’ve ever read. So rather than retell it, I simply encourage you to read it for yourself in Once an Arafat Man. He met and came to love Jesus through a dream/vision he had on March 14, 1993, a common experience in recent years for Muslims around the world. It was only after professing allegiance to Jesus that he learned that Jesus was Jewish! He was equally surprised to discover how positively Ishmael (*2) and his family were portrayed in what he had always seen as Jewish propaganda, the Old Testament.

Now Abu Saada, a former PLO hit man, is working for reconciliation between Jews and Arabs. Reconciliation is at the heart of his ministry, Hope for Ishmael (*3) , and Tass, like Rev. Dr. Célestin Musekura, has had to practice what he preaches at great personal cost. Ishmaelites refers to all Arabs, most of whom are Muslim. But the Jew/Arab conflict dates back 4,000 years, where Mohammed only dates back 1,400 years. Hope for Ishmael leads with love, meeting practical needs both in Israel and the West Bank as well as in the United States, and his book ends with a Road Map for Reconciliation in the Middle East that goes beyond personal reconciliation to also include reconciliation between warring nations.

When Tass spoke in Tucson, he said, “We aren’t saved just to be Christian. We’re saved for a ministry of reconciliation. Those in the Church are called to be peacemakers, yet our own division negates our call. Some Christians love Israel and hate Ishmaelites, while others love the Ishmaelites (Palestinians) and hate the Israelites (Jews).”

  1. Once an Arafat Man: The True Story of how a PLO Sniper Found a New Life, by Tass Saada with Dean Merrill, 2008, Tyndale House Publishers.

  2. Muslims trace their spiritual and physical lineage back to Abraham through his son Ishmael. Christians and Jews trace their spiritual and physical lineage back to Abraham through his son Isaac.

  3. Visit hopeforishmael.org to learn more and consider supporting this amazing ministry.