Building character in the Middle East

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

A recent article by an Israeli commentator, published in this newspaper (March 8), called for moderation in Muslim governments of the Middle East. As I read his words, I could picture the opposite accusation reverberating in the hearts and minds of Palestinian supporters reading the same article - "How about some moderation from the Israeli government in its treatment of its nearest neighbors?"

Even though the political heat of the situation reaches far beyond the countries involved, there are many neutral observers who dearly want to see peace and prosperity for all peoples throughout the Middle East, including Israelis and Palestinians.

I consider myself one of those observers, tracking the media for signs of hope and breakthrough. A bit too erratically perhaps, but sometimes with gusts of insight and inspiration blowing in, I have prayed in response to developments in the Middle East. I feel certain that God's presence and power make a difference. I am convinced that sincere prayers for peace, by people of all faiths, have a positive effect and have contributed to what progress we've seen in recent years.

Prayer leads us to hope for a lessening of extremism in the Middle East and decreasing acts of revenge and violence - for the sake of the perpetrators of violence, as well as its victims. So it caught me by surprise when I felt uncomfortable with the word "moderation" being repeated so many times as I read the commentator's article. "What is your problem with the concept of moderation?" I asked myself.

Moderate means many things, including having average or less than average quality: MEDIOCRE.

The mediocre, my heart cried out, is certainly not what we need in the Middle East! The region's challenges demand inspired leadership and citizenry to stem the murderous Ping-Pong of killing and revenge across the Green Line which separates the Israelis and Palestinians.

Mary Baker Eddy, a keen observer of the news and founder of this newspaper in 1908, once wrote, "The characters and lives of men determine the peace, prosperity, and life of nations. Killing men is not consonant with the higher law whereby wrong and injustice are righted and exterminated" ("The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany," page 277).

Perhaps we need to hope for more, not less, extremes in the Middle East - extremes of constructive character, as some leaders and citizens have already displayed, instead of destructive action. Extreme forgiveness, for instance, extreme patience, extreme forbearance, extreme trust, extreme wisdom.

What about hoping and praying for a citizenship motivated by an expectancy of solutions that benefit one and all, and governments who adopt a willingness to abandon entrenched positions, including centuries-old hatreds? These hopes are "consonant with the higher law" - God's law of love - and are deeply desirable for the righting and extermination of the "wrong and injustice" which seem to boast a stranglehold in Middle East politics.

I join many people around the world praying to support changed thought and changed lives. I am sure this team that is praying and caring cuts across all faiths. My own prayers are informed by the example of a unique, spiritual role-model from the region, Jesus Christ.

He exemplified the constructive characteristics mentioned above, and many more. Jesus was never a moderate in showing love, despite the onslaught of hate. He was not a moderate in turning the other cheek regardless of the circumstances goading him to angry reaction. He was not a moderate in thinking, being, and doing good, or in illustrating the love he taught by the love he lived.

His character remained rooted in goodness and love despite the extreme circumstances he faced, including his own unjust murder. Jesus also taught, by the example of healing others bogged down in character flaws, that human hearts can change for the better at the tender recognition of God's ever-present love.

Peace is not likely to come to the Middle East overnight. But persistent prayer can acknowledge the ever- presence of God's love and support constructive characteristics overwhelming the destructive ones. This will help shape bold and innovative, if politically moderate, governments and people throughout the region.

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