On a Book Review: The Mighty and The Almighty

One afternoon while in Alabama, we went to the public library. I knew the book I wanted wasn’t available, so I browsed. When I saw this one, I knew this was for me – The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs by Madeleine Albright.

This book by the former US Secretary of State focuses on the success and failures of US foreign policy in the Middle East after the horrific events of 9-11 – but with a definite eye on religion. We know presidents intertwine politics, religion, and policy, but what about if they proclaim a special relationship with God that is derived from God? What are the religious forces acting on the political?

The Middle East is the home to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Three faiths descending from the same genealogical tree – three faiths claiming the importance of obedience – three faiths with a religious fundamentalism driving the narrative while not representing the majority in that faith.

Published by Harper-Collins in 2006, The Mighty and the Almighty divides its 352 pages into three sections (plus endnotes, bibliography, acknowledgements, and an index):

  • Part I (seven chapters) examines “America’s position in the world and the role played by religion and morality in shaping US foreign policy.”
  • Part II (ten chapters) focuses “On relationships between Islamic communities and the West” with dedicated chapters on Iraq, Al Qaeda, Saudi Arabia, Jihads, Israel & Palestine, and more.
  • Part III (two chapters) are “Personal thoughts about how US foreign policy and religion can intersect.”

Two particular chapters caught my attention because they can stand alone as important reading for anyone. Chapter 4 focuses on Madeleine Albright’s personal belief system. It’s very personal, edgy, and sprinkled with quotes from leading authorities supporting her point. There were times I even laughed. One doesn’t have to agree with her on every aspect, but this chapter helps readers understand her.

The second, Chapter 8, should be required reading for every non-Muslim because it provides a condensed view of Islam – a religion that most people know very little about, therefore hold many misconceptions that reside at the core of decisiveness.

The 2006 publishing date was during the George W Bush presidency, The Mighty and the Almighty offers readers a chance to look back at the early years of the post 9-11 world through the lens of what we know today. Throughout the text, Albright offers personal insights from a diplomatic perspective, as well as supportive quotes by prominent people.

There are times when she is critical of the Bush administration – so I’m confident this bothers certain partisan readers who also won’t notice the times when she praises President Bush. Christian conservatives won’t like this book because it does not reinforce their worldview and Middle East perspective.

While well-written, absorbing, and easy to read, The Mighty and the Almighty is insightful about the complexities of foreign policy. After all, foreign policy diplomats have a toolbox of available tools to use such as diplomacy, economic incentives or sanctions, law enforcement, military action or support, and using intelligence to gain more information about the situation.

Anyone looking for excruciating detail will be disappointed because Albright wrote this book for the general public – not experienced, well-informed diplomats. How much detail can a 14-15 page chapter about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict deliver? However, for most of us, there is enough information woven together that explains the situation’s complexity.

Perhaps her dedication says it all: “Dedicated to those in every nation and faith who defend liberty, build peace, dispel ignorance, fight poverty, and seek justice.”

To Madeleine Albright and her book – Thumbs up to The Mighty and the Almighty.

Opinions in the Shorts: Vol. 236

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On Politics
In the US, the Surgeon General would be the point person in the fight against Ebola. As Republicans are (predictably) attacking President Obama on Ebola, let us not forget that President Obama nominated Dr. Vikey Murthy for the post in November 2013, whose nomination is being blocked by Republicans. Once again I say that Senators should act on any and all presidential nominees regardless of the president’s political affiliation.

In the fight against ISIS, Turkey is remaining on the sidelines as much as possible, which causes me to wonder if its leadership is doing with hopes of eradicating the Kurds. I don’t know, but just a thought to ponder.

I like this statement in a recent Cincinnati Enquirer article regarding climate change and politicians … When you get politicians in the room to talk about climate change, science doesn’t seem to enter into the equation. What does? Money, geography, party politics, and a region’s history.

Recent quotes for talk-show host Bill Maher and some of his guests about Islam has received much media attention. On the topic, I enjoyed this column from Fareed Zakaria (Washington Post).

I always appreciate the Stealers Wheel song clip Michael Smerconish uses on his XM radio show: Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, stuck in the middle with you … and now I see this one from Nancy’s book review: Don’t go to the right, don’t go left, go deeper. Thanks, Nancy!

To lead you into The Onion, I appreciate these two recent gems they provide on our upcoming elections.

  • Voters excited to use midterm elections to put country back on different wrong track
  • Congress waiting until after the midterms to address nationwide plague of hornets

On This Week’s Headlines from The Onion
TV show under fire for depicting murder
Man thinks people care enough about him to be let down by his failures
Facebook offers to freeze female employees’ newborn children
Entire conversation with parents spent changing subject
Lifelong dream no match for first brush with adversity
Susan G Komen Foundation launches deep-space probe to bring breast cancer awareness to rest of galaxy

Interesting Reads
A white-only town in South Africa
Constitutional balance
Evolution and faith: one’s journey
Columnist David Brooks on campaign spending
Top geologic sights in the UK (great pics, too)
Infographic: Extinction by Numbers
Microsoft Office is not needed

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On Potpourri
Another story of a young lady from the Cincinnati area with cancer is getting national attention. She’s a college freshman with a wish to play in one college basketball game. Here’s the video from a local channel (one in which the reporter has a difficult time) and this written report from Sporting News that has a video for a different local station.

This week I made my first appearance to the weekly dance gathering for those with disabilities. It was a great 45 minutes, plus the dancer teacher was pleasantly surprised to see me. Later, I sent her the link to my post about the event, and she loved it.https://afrankangle.wordpress.com/2014/10/13/on-an-extra-special-event/

CNN has a series (CNN Roots) about the family roots of some of their studio personalities. I’ve enjoyed the three I’ve seen so far, but this one about Michaela Pereira is outstanding, so I encourage you can watch it here. By the way, CNN will have a primetime special regarding this series on October 21st at 9:00 pm (Eastern US). Here’s the CNN page on the series with all the videos.

This week we got a new neighbor, and they used a POD storage system, which I’ve seen – but I’ve never witnessed one either loaded or unloaded to/from a truck. I must say, Very interesting! … so here are two videos for those who want to know more … from the moving company (1+ min) … and … by a user (4+ min).

Another act of Life: The Musical is in the official record, so thanks to all participants … and, as always, I love listening to all the songs. What’s your thought on this idea: Should I compile all the songs for the entire musical?

This weekend is going to be a busy one for us, so there won’t be a Saturday Morning Cartoon this week.

Your weekend celebrations

  • (Fri) Wear Something Gaudy Day, Pasta Day, Alternative Fuel Day, Black Poetry Day, Eradicate Poverty Day, Mulligan Day, Mammography Day
  • (Sat) Bridge Day, Chocolate Cupcake Day, Menopause Day, No Beard Day, Sweetest Day, Boost Your Brain Day
  • (Sun) Toy Camera Day, Evaluate Your Life Day, Get Smart about Credit Day, Seafood Bisque Day

Thought I’d send you into the weekend this week with a 2-fer. First, Stuck in the Middle with You by Stealers Wheel (because I mentioned it in the post), plus one that you may not know .. but I like the beat and its a great dance song … so here’s Ms. Jody with At the Bop. Have a safe weekend and in the words of Garrison Keillor, Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.


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On I Did Not Know

I attended a lecture about Islam that was part of an interfaith dialogue series at a local church. On this night, a professor from a Lutheran seminary delivered the lecture and answered questions that led to small group dialogue among the participants.

In the discussion group served as an opportunity for misconceptions to come forth. For instance, a person in my group stated there are just as many mosques in the US as Christian churches. I relentless challenged him and used it as an example of the importance of learning, thus I had difficulty giving credence to his other point.

Back to the lecture, are some points that the lecture increasing my awareness.

I did not know that the Islam creation story involves Adam and Eve.

I did not know that the Qur’an includes many Biblical characters as Abraham, Joseph, Noah, Jonah, Miriam, Job, Mary, and Jesus (to name a few) … yet one character’s story may be interspersed over other chapters.

I did not know that Islam sees the Adam and Eve creation story in the same themes as Christianity: disobedience, repent, and forgiveness

I did not know that after the opening chapter, the Qur’an’s 114 chapters are generally from longest to shortest, thus not chronologically.

I did not know that the root that Qur’an means “recitation”, whereas Bible means “books”.

I did not know that some of the differences between Christianity and Islam in found in telling the same story with a different context.

No matter the topic, there are three categories of information: what one knows, what one thinks they know, and what one does not know … and that middle category is where one finds their misconceptions and misinformation – the basis for many ills in society.

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Interfaith graphic by Justice St. Rain (Bahá’í Community) of Interfaith Resources

On 10 Years Ago

Regardless of the type of media, there was no shortage this past week of 9/11 stories. Sorrow, confusion, fear, pride, anger, grief, emptiness, and dismay – the stories were there to capture the emotion – as they were there to capture heroism, patriotism, or genuine service and compassion. This post is not about recounting where I was on that day; nor of my personal encounters with that day; nor is it to rehash the countless stories that already exist – but to stimulate thinking.

Learning is an important tool for everyone. All one has to do is read online comments regarding anything about Islam to conclude that many, if not most, American non-Muslims know very little about Islam and hold many misconceptions.

Forgiveness, an important Christian foundation, is something that one must do in order to heal their wounds. My November 16, 2010 post about forgiveness concludes with a challenge regarding 9/11.

My last aim is to remind us of something we had, but have lost. 9/11 brought a political grace to Washington. The event brought elected officials together. 9/11 gave leaders an opportunity to lead to heal. 9-11 gave Washington the opportunity to listen, discuss, and gracefully disagree. 9/11 gave leaders the opportunity to be country first. 9/11 gave us as citizens to be one. I a column titled Into an Unknowable Future, Tom Brokaw wrote these words a few weeks after 9/11: Will the surge of bipartisan spirit endure, washing away the pettiness that devalues public life and alienates voters? (NY Times, Sept 29, 2011)

It is my nature to be reflective and positive about life.  I appreciate the image above because it reminds us of what was and illustrates the light of hope for what is to come. And yes, a positive image.

On Forgiveness

Forgiveness was the topic in a recent adult Sunday school class at my church. We discussed several examples of publically proclaimed forgiveness as the Amish community forgiving the surviving family of the person whose murder-suicide spree at a local school shocked the community. My hallmark act of forgiveness was watching Pope John Paul II visit the imprisoned person who shot him, and then grant him forgiveness.

The reconciliation period for South Africans after years of Apartheid was a monumental cultural event involving forgiveness. As Lutherans, we also aware of our own denomination recently seeking forgiveness from the Mennonites/Anabaptists for the persecution Lutherans did to them hundreds of years ago during the Reformation period.

Through the words of the Lord’s Prayer – “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” – we ask God for forgiveness to receive forgiveness and to forgive others. Yet, how often in our life do we ask forgiveness from someone? How often do we go out of our way to grant someone forgiveness for something that deeply hurt us? How often do we receive forgiveness from someone for something we did?

If our group is an indication, events of forgiveness do not common occurrences – even though our doctrine is very clear: As a corollary to God’s forgiveness, ELCA Lutherans believe that all Christians have been given the responsibility of forgiving another’s sins against them (Matthew 6:14, Mark 11:25, Luke 17:3ff).

I think of a person with whom I’ve had limited discussions. On our first meeting (and to my surprise) he told me his story of the hateful burden brought upon him by someone close. Months passed, and then I heard the same story in our second encounter. Later it hit me – the only way he can free himself of the baggage he carries is by forgiving the person who deeply hurt him. Unfortunately, our paths have not crossed in some time because I need to say that he is in command of his own heeling.

Today’s culture has its share of attitudes as “in your face” and “don’t get mad, get even.” Many glorify the behaviors demonstrated on reality shows. The instant nature of today electronic media also has a tendency to promote bitterness, grudges, lawsuits, resentment, and mistrust. Our political climate is a story in itself.

Through the current war in Afghanistan, regular threats from Al-Qaeda, and numerous other topics involving Muslims, the events of 9-11 remain with us every day. Is it not our Christian obligation to initiate reconciliation? As Christians, should we be the ones to say to Muslims, “We forgive all Muslims for the inhumane acts caused by a few Islamic terrorists.”

Tenth Avenue North’s Healing Begins