29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
I had mixed emotions about this book upon completing it, because I really, really wanted it to be good. The idea of discussing Jesus' most important teaching with Middle-Eastern Muslims is ground-breaking, and the idea was ripe with possibilities. I truly hoped the book would live up to my expectations. But in the end, I left a bit disappointed, having felt that it fell short of its goal, and even got way off track at times. The authors explain the purpose and goal of the book, and I had hoped that the bulk of the book would be the interviews with the mullahs, muftis and members of "terrorist" organizations. For reasons that never really became apparent, they chose instead to weave a fictional story into their non-fiction narrative.
The fictional part of the book, which I won't give away, was certainly interesting, and would have made a great novel. As I read it, and not knowing that it was fiction, I kept wondering why this story hadn't already been made into a movie. I also smelled a rat...I follow the news from this region very closely, and had never heard about this person, even though the story leads the reader to believe it had been covered by all the major news outlets. Upon finally discovering it was fictional, I was disappointed and even a bit angry, as it took up space in a book that could have been better used to address the stated purpose of the book.
In the end, I simply felt that the authors should have spent much more of the book dealing with the primary subjects. That's why I wanted to read it, and I was disappointed that they had to share billing with a fictional character. While the fictional tale was gripping, it really seemed out of place in this book and would have been better served by putting it into a book of its own. I was also surprised with some of the questions they asked their subjects. I understand that the authors wanted to show the similarities westerners share with these people, but I felt the questions could have been much more probing, and should have been asked in a manner that would reveal more about their character and motivating beliefs. The uneven nature of this book was my only real complaint, but it is a big one. I will say that I still enjoyed the book, but not nearly as much as I wanted to. The idea was rich with potential, but I felt that the execution of the idea was mediocre.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on February 1, 2010
The book, Tea With Hezbollah, was quite interesting and different than I thought. I wasn't sure really what to expect, and what I found was both very well done and disappointing as well. The reason I say disappointing is that I thought the book was written by both Ted Dekker and Carl Medearis, when in reality, it was only written by Dekker. This was both informative and lacking. Here is what I mean.
The book is set up as the story of the journey of New York Times best selling author Ted Dekker and the most official title you'll ever get out of Carl Medearis, which is "Mr. Carl." Carl is actually the most prominant Western White "Christian" (better referenced as a follower of Jesus) to ever build bridges and share the life and ministry of Jesus to the insides of the most dangerous places on earth for most Christians to go. The journey for these two is to go to those that are considered the enemies of the United States and sit down and try and show their humanity through "People Magazine" type questions and then ask them on their thoughts on Jesus' command for us to love our enemies. The idea was for them to see if they could find "the Good Samaritan" living today. The list of who they actually sit down with is quite astonishing (some names so high up that they had to be changed for safety reasons):
Abdul Fadeel Al Kusi (head of Al Azhar University in Egypt)
A colonel in the Saudi Arabian army
Hussein Shobokshi (an influential media personality Saudi Arabia)
Two of Osama bin Laden's brothers
Sheik Muhammad Yamani (minister of information in Saudi Arabia and in charge of making Islamic law)
Sheik Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah (regarded by many to be Hezbollah's spiritual leader)
A Bedouin Prince
Two Lebanese Hezbollah Fighters
Hezbollah Sheik Nabil Qaouk
Mufti Abdul Fattah Al Bizem (Damascus Mufti who significantly influences the interpretation of Islamic law throughout entire region)
Sheik Ekrima Sa'id Sabri (Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, appointed by Yasser Arafat)
Sami Awad (to most a modern day "Christian" Gandhi in Bethlehem)
A top leader in the Hamas.
The questions that were shown in the book were things like:
What makes you laugh?
What is your favorite joke?
When was the last time you cried?
What are Americans wrong perceptions of Muslims?
What are Muslims wrong perceptions of Americans?
What do you think of Jesus' teaching of loving our enemies?
and more, depending on the interview
Now, the reason I say that I was disappointed that much of the perspective of Carl Medearis wasn't given is that the depth of the conversation just wasn't there. The purpose of the book, however, was to put a face and personality with these people we call our enemies. For the most part, they are our enemies as a country and politics, but for my personal convictions, they are not my personal enemies in any way.
I believe if Medearis co-authored the book, we might have received more in depth information on the spiritual insights that were discussed. But, this doesn't mean the book was a wash, it just wasn't completely what I was expecting. Ted Dekker is a great author and this book was one that I read in three days as Dekker made it easy to connect to as he referenced his fears and troubling thoughts as he was embarking on these journeys to places where literally no Christian had been in years. Not only is the reader given insight to the conversations that took place, but Dekker puts together mini history lessons for each place and person that they are going to interview, which was very helpful in putting more than merely a name and "pin in a map" before going into the interview.
Overall I liked the book. I think it will be very helpful in breaking down some walls with those we consider our enemies. Our enemies' personalities are brought out so that we can grow to understand and love them and try to carry out the most rebellious command ever given to us: love, bless and pray for our enemies.
If one is hoping to get more in depth understanding of Islam, this book isn't for you. If one is hoping to see Muslims and Christians speak about Jesus, this book has very little to offer. For both of those I would highly recommend Medearis' book, "Muslims, Christians and Jesus" or Siljander's book, "A Deadly Misunderstanding." But, if you desire to learn more about those that the United States has on terrorist lists and you desire to love and pray for them, this is a great book to start with.
Also, the follow up event to this book called, "Why Do You Fear Me?" has their video up from the event, which I highly recommend to hear some amazing stories on what is happening around the Muslim world.
I highly Recommend this book.
34 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on March 9, 2010
When I first heard the basic concept for this book, I was curious and excited to read it...
Take two American evangelicals and send them to visit the Middle East. Provide them access to a truly remarkable network of contacts and give them a simple set of questions to ask. Stand back and watch the worldviews shift and rearrange.
Which is apparently what happened, and I'm glad. There are a number of ways it could have gone much worse.
Maybe I should just stop there, but having just finished the book, some things are fresh in my mind:
- The amped-up, "high-energy" writing style is inappropriate to the subject matter. This is a complicated topic and an incredible opportunity. But instead of getting to the point, the author spends much too much time talking about himself and his fears. Here's a sample:
"I am a writer cursed with powers of observation and even greater powers of imagination, and by this point a hundred or so scenarios were now so real to me that our driver became the kidnapper, whisking us away to a compound where we would spend the next ten years until the United States finally broke down and sent Rambo to free us."
Maybe he's trying to get me to identify with his feelings, but I just wanted him to get out of the way so I could listen to the people he was talking to. I felt like I was reading all the outtakes and missing the real story.
- In chapter 4 and woven throughout the rest of the book, a side story about a woman named Nicole is introduced, which quickly becomes the most interesting part of the narrative. We are supplied with names, dates, places, and events, and given to believe that she is a real person with an extraordinary story. Her life becomes a powerful example of the story of the Good Samaritan. Except that it's not true. In fact, she's entirely made up. On the second to the last page of the book, Dekker writes, "Along the way I'd reached into my most reliable source, my own imagination, to relive the parable of the Samaritan...or as you've come to know it, Nicole's story."
At this point, I almost threw the book across the room. Wasn't there one, true story to be found among all the conversations that could have served the purpose? And if it is truly impossible to find a Good Samaritan in the real world, why didn't we spend some time talking about that, instead of making up a complicated fiction to fill the space?
- I had other disagreements with the structure and style, but maybe I should just make my point: I have traveled in some of the same parts of the world and have had similar conversations. I have seen the complexity of the problems and felt some of the frustration that comes from trying to find answers. But I have also seen grace at work in some of these same dark places. I believe there is hope, but it only comes with great sacrifice and great love. And I believe that Dekker actually stumbled into it again and again throughout his journey.
But instead of realizing this, the book ended with a shrug, "Love is the only solution, and nobody does it well. Not Christians, not Muslims, not Jews, not me." It made me sad because it seemed to me that the author had, in fact, found what he was looking for and then tossed it away. The fact that he sat down face to face with people that our government calls terrorists and was treated with respect and hospitality is astounding and beautiful. I just wish that, after all that, we could have really listened to what they had to say.
[Note: This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.]
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
This book is an account of a trip through the Middle East by two friends, both Christian but one with deep connections in that area of the world, who seek out people whom they call "America's enemies" to ask them if they believe in the concept of loving thy neighbor. More specifically, Ted Dekker and Carl Medearis use Jesus's parable of the Good Samaritan to explore whether such a scenario could happen today between people of antagonistic religions.
Here's a short summary of the parable: In Jesus's lifetime Samaritans and Jews hated each other because of arcane differences in religious doctrine. Jesus tells a story about a Jew who was injured while on a journey and was not helped by other Jews who passed the injured man by on the road. Eventually, a Samaritan came long and helped the fellow, a fact that would have stunned most people of the time because it was generally believed that enemies would not assist one another.
So Medearis and Dekker finagle meetings with various luminaries and scholars who could be perceived as "enemies," including Saudi relatives of Osama bin Laden and the leader of today's remnant Samaritan colony in northern Israel. They ask each of these people how they feel about the parable and the commandment to love thy neighbor as thyself. The book is a report of their findings.
I found it intriguing that two Christians would assume that people of other faiths, particularly Muslims living in the Middle East, would 1) revere anything Jesus said and 2) meet with them at all. While the authors satisfy my first point by explaining that Muslims revere Jesus as a great prophet, it nevertheless seems strange to me that given the present circumstances in the Middle East, Jesus would be a welcome topic of conversation among Muslims. As for the second point, I am apparently wrong because a number of people did meet with Dekker and Medearis. And some of the stories that resulted from those meetings are worth reading about.
However, there is another story within this book that I found disruptive and not entirely believable. The authors reproduce a series of emails from a young woman named Nicole who is supposedly captured by extremists. Her story is not quite integrated with the main plot line of the book and, in the end, seemed to me to be a failed attempt to illustrate the principle that was done far more masterly by Jesus two thousand years ago. Beyond that, despite its clever title, much of the writing in this book is not at all clever, or even entertaining. The pacing is often irregular, with some parts dragging on and on and the language and ideas simplistic.
While there are some good ideas in Tea with Hezbollah, I think it would have made a much better magazine article than an entire book. Read it only if you are utterly dedicated to the topic, and even then plan on skipping the slow parts and skimming many others.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
"Tea with Hezbollah" is not a novel, rather it is, what the authors call, a nonfiction travelogue .
Over lunch at the Hard Rock café in Denver, Ted and Carl ponder whether, since Muslims accept Jesus as the greatest prophet, is the message of Jesus taken seriously by our "enemies" in the Middle East. They cautiously decide to try to interview key people in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon, and Israel, to discuss the question.
Strictly as a travelogue, Tea with Hezbollah is truly outstanding. The authors carefully describe the lands they visit and even insert meaningful historical commentary to enhance the content. The picture of Cairo and its people is especially noteworthy. Ted and Carl paint a picture of the Egyptian people, especially the great masses who live in poverty, that is alive and real. After reading about these people, I could see them, chat with them, and bargain for their wares.
The author's description of the country is chromatic. After reading the book, it is as if I actually visited these lands. I have often thought of Israel as the "land of milk and honey", but never imagined its beauty or its danger.
Their quest is to answer whether the teaching of Jesus to love thy neighbor as yourself and love your enemies is actually lived or believed by the peoples we see as "enemies". They seek answers among Muslin people - especially Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine. They visit several of the most infamous people extant.
Ted and Carl receive blunt and open answers to the questions they ask. The book includes a transcript of each conversation. The answers and discussion is fascinating, enlightening, and troubling. Who among the people who claim to be followers of Islam really practice the demands of both Jesus and Mohammad to love everyone? Being honest, who among Jews practice the demands of the prophets to love each other? And who among Christians follow this rule of Jesus?
Tea With Hezbollah is an excellent book. It is very well written and presented in a conversational style. I highly recommend this book.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Ted Dekker along with Carl Medearis, his guide, and Samir, their man with the contacts, travel from Egypt to Syria and many points in between in an effort to sit with many of the ideologues of the Muslim world. The authors state that the goal is to find out what the important Muslims at each of the stops, be them Hamas or Hezbollah or unaffiliated (officially) think about Jesus' teaching on loving our neighbors as ourselves. Dekker calls the book a travelogue and it is a fitting description as the book documents their travels in the Middle East, more than actually deals with the issue at hand, which is to say that the question of how important Muslim thinkers and influencers think Jesus' teaching fits with their agenda and actions. Each of the conversations that Dekker has with each of the Muslim leaders is shared verbatim in transcript form so that there can be no issue of out of context quotes or agenda driven choices of quotes.
There are parts of this book that are absolutely fascinating. The history and perspectives were, in many cases, completely new to me even though I consider myself well read on current issues. On occasion, Dekker would go into depth on the history of a specific area and how the temples to such and such god were taken over by the Jews, then the Christians, then the Muslims. I also found the transcripts to be fascinating in that I gained insight into the background and character of those being interviewed. Unfortunately, I found that the book didn't actually answer the question posed in the introduction.
I found most of Dekker's worrying about going into the dangerous areas to be whiny. I get that he was scared, but he went for a book so I found that I didn't connect emotionally with his plight. If he had gone for a more altruistic reason I may have cared more. I also found the story of Nicole to be distracting. Sure it was an interesting aside, but I read this book to hear from the leaders of the Muslim world about the idea that we are called to love our enemies and I just didn't get that. In fact, the biggest let down in the book were the interviews. Dekker had an opportunity to discuss non-violence and love with very influential Muslims and he spent most of the interview asking inane questions like, "What is a joke that makes you laugh?" and "What kind of car do you drive?" The important questions came only at the end and little or no follow-up was made to them. I understand that Dekker is trying to humanize our so-called enemies so that we can do a better job in loving them, but I felt at times that humanizing them with the shallow questions did less to answer our concerns than to fill the pages of a book.
An interesting read that ultimately fails to deliver on its promise.
This book was provided as a review copy by the publisher.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Tea With Hezbollah: Sitting at The Enemies' Table, Our Journey Through The Middle East by Ted Dekker and Carl Medearis is by far one of the best books I have ever read. The authors take the reader on a thrilling real life adventure through the Middle East to have tea and discuss what it means to love your neighbor with many of America's greatest assumed enemies. This book is full of eye-opening encounters that show a softer side of the Middle East not often portrayed in the West.
The interviews and introspection provided in this book are key in understanding the life experiences and mindset of those who live in the Middle East. The book is faithful to seek varied perspectives along the way. The insight gained from this book is key and has helped me personally understand and gain an interest in Middle Eastern affairs. I would highly recommend this book to anyone even remotely interested in Middle Eastern issues.
This is a very timely and well written book that engages the reader every step of the way. Tea With Hezbollah is a must read for 2010.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 22, 2010
Tea with Hezbollah: Sitting at the Enemies Table documents the journey of coauthors Ted Dekker and Carl Medearis through the Middle East to meet leaders of Hezbollah, Hamas, and other groups commonly perceived to be America's "enemies." The book is based on a most captivating idea: to "sit with these so-called enemies, ask them what their favorite joke is, and what they think of the parable of the Samaritan, which teaches us to love our neighbors even if they are our enemies" (p. 8). The book is promoted as a "hair-raising journey" (front matter) through dangerous parts of the Middle East, including southern Lebanon, Syria, and Saudi Arabia.
A. An Abundance of Insipid Talk on Peace
Despite the book's hype on "nail-biting narrative" (front matter) of interviews with "figures whose names would launch the eyebrows of any agent in Homeland Security or the CIA into his hairline" (p. 231), the content is largely comprised of insipid, unexciting conversations on love and tolerance by peace-loving Muslims--"I love peace. It pleases God" (Sheik Nabil, p. 126); "I believe that we ought to love [man]" and live as "humanitarians" (Ayatollah Fadlallah, p. 81). Readers seeking a thriller filled with dangerous encounters will be sorely disappointed to find the only danger to be that imagined by the author, who likens himself to a "frightened little mouse" constantly questioning "the sanity of the whole trip" (p. 37). Readers expecting fiery rhetoric or reflections that shed light on the terrorist mind will similarly be disappointed. Rather, they will find love and compassion in leaders of groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. One such leader gave a story of the Prophet Muhammad to demonstrate how Muslims should live: Muhammad had a Jewish neighbor who hated him and "took his garbage and put it on Muhammad's door." Muhammad said nothing and threw away the garbage. After learning that the Jewish neighbor was sick, Muhammad "went to visit him. Because our religion says to love everyone, even if they had hurt us in some way" (p. 208).
All of this testimony by peace-loving Muslims renders the book quite dull. It would have been far more interesting had the coauthors managed to bring the reader face to face with radical Jihadists, to understand what they are thinking, to get behind their psychology to better understand terrorism. But we only hear about such Jihadists indirectly through interviewees, who usually condemn them (e.g., Ayatollah Fadlallah's "I always feel sad when innocent people are victims of ... the extremists" on p. 81).
Readers like me who bought this book thinking that they would encounter terrorists who make theological justifications for their heinous acts will find none of it here. The closest that they will find is an interview with a Hezbollah fighter, but even he turns out to be a sympathetic character. He relates his difficult decision that "whoever shoots at us, we would shoot back. And this is the toughest decision I have ever made. This ... made me cry" (p. 122).
B. Responses to Jesus' Message of Loving One's Enemies
When asked what they thought of Jesus' teaching to love one's enemy, the responses, though quite varied, mostly ignored the question or changed the subject. A Syrian driver turned the interviewer's attention to the Prophet Muhammad: "Isa was a great prophet. The best prophet, who was without fault, as Muhammad has said. We should listen to the prophet Muhammad" (p. 153). Other respondents, while not ignoring the question entirely, did not answer it directly. Abdul Fadeel Al Kusi, one of the "most powerful men in all of Islam" (p. 27), when asked whether he was familiar with Jesus' teaching to "love your neighbor as yourself," turned to his two mottos: "Just love; love justice" and "Peace for all the world" (p. 29).
With all of this testimony by peace-loving Muslims, the reader is left wondering how to explain all of the fighting in the Middle East. Is it all really just America's fault? Perhaps the only response that can be reconciled with the fighting was that of a Hamas operative who on page 208 outright rejected Jesus' teaching: "[the Israelis] are killing us ... I will not turn my cheek. I will fight back."
The only respondent demonstrate that he was living the teaching of loving one's enemy was Sami Awad, a peace-activist and nonviolence advocate who frequently risked his life in building understanding between Jews and Arabs. Sami gave some well thought-out reflections on Jesus' teaching: "when Jesus talks about loving the enemy, he is talking about working to create something new. Creating a new identity through unity. When you have this new identity, the concept of `the other' is completely eliminated ... Their sorrows become your sorrows, their history becomes your history, and their future becomes your future" (p. 195). The reader will find Sami Awad to have transcended his own personal wants and desires through love, and his love does not discriminate between Christian, Muslim, and Jew.
C. The Book's True Objective: to Confront Readers' Prejudices
This book, through its interviews, seeks to bring readers to confront their prejudices against the Middle East. Unlike what the West has been conditioned to believe at the hands of the media, the Middle East is not ripe with hate-filled warmongers wishing death and destruction on Israel and the West. That they are the West's "enemies" is just a myth to be dispelled. This is admitted by coauthor Carl Medearis on Hezbollah TV. In explaining what the book's subtitle, "Sitting at the Enemies' Table," means, he states, "we say `enemies' only because people in America oftentimes think [those] of Hezbollah are our enemies. So we try to help dispel the myth of the Hezbollah and the Muslim world." It in part tries to achieve this objective by helping the reader see things from the other's perspective: "Over here Christians are known as much for violence as the next guy. Heck, the Christians are the ones pulverizing the terrorists and all those who happened to be nearby with shock and awe these days. That's' the way the world sees it, right? (p. 232).
Yet in some ways, the book is shortsighted and its conclusions drawn too quickly. The authors ignore a fundamental difference between Western forces fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, which seek to abide by international humanitarian law and lament collateral damage to civilians or civilian objects as the tragic and inevitable consequence of war, and terrorists, who knowingly and intentionally seek out civilian targets in order to meet their objectives, thus violating the laws of war of civilized nations. Although Western forces have in the past been guilty of grave or even reckless breaches of such norms, such breaches lead to investigations to bring justice to those responsible and apologies to victims. The military branches of the United States, for example, have their own legal corps responsible for investigating and prosecuting those responsible for such breaches.
Terrorist groups, on the other hand, never repent or try to avoid such acts; rather, they directly target innocent civilians in order to create an atmosphere of fear that paralyzes all potential opposition, from both governments as well as from civil society. This is precisely what makes terrorists criminals outside of the norms of civilized nations.
D. Overall Rating
This book is not strong material for those wishing to read about America's "enemies," though it is excellent as an engaging and thought-provoking primer on current conflicts in the Middle East and their historical and political contexts.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
The brief summary: two Christians meet head to head with people labeled as terrorists.
My hope was to listen to their stories, hear what their problems are with the west, their rationale, maybe their feelings on potential solutions - I mean, there is very little access to these people's minds. So when presented at a chance to read about it - from people who met face to face with them... It's basically oozing with potential.
And while you do get some of this, the book spends an inordinate amount of time on the fears and perceptions of the author instead of the topic at hand. I would venture to stay more than half the book is the author's fear or imagination, not the actual content.
You get a lot of things like (and in much greater detail than these snippets *not exact quotes*:
- "I can't believe we're doing this"
- "We're going to be killed/kidnapped/etc"
- "In my life I never imagined I would ever get to... bla bla bla"
All of which are all well and good, if you want to know what the auther experienced or felt when he did those things. So basically, instead of getting a book about the dialogues and minds of our "enemies" (yes we get some of that), we get a book about how scared and what things were going through the author's mind as he travels and meets these people.
It's a good book, and well written, but the author gets in the way of the material. Instead of presenting the material and focusing on our "enemies" and their thought process, the book feels more like the story of the author's feelings and struggles. And how brave and crazy they were for talking to them.
It's probably worth a read, with interesting material, but the extra 100+ pages of personal fears detract from the subject at hand. It could have been a much more interesting book if more of it was focused on "Sitting at the Enemies Table Our Journey Through the Middle East" instead of what he was thinking at every point in time during the trip.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 9, 2010
I always thought sitting down with chocolate chip cookies and a cold glass of milk was key to peace in the Middle East--if only we could all agree to sit down together. That's what Carl Medearis suggested to novelist Ted Dekker one evening over dinner--only the pair would drink tea, a popular drink in the region, with the likes of Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Samaritans.
Tea with Hezbollah by Dekker and Medearis is the travelogue of the duo's adventure into Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, and Israel to meet with some of the most dangerous key players on opposite sides of the Middle East conflict. The result is a fascinating book, which culminates with a visit to the 700 remaining Samaritans who occupy an area just outside Tel Aviv. Written primarily by Dekker, the book is a fascinating look into the world of Arabs, Christians, and Jews who are confronted with Jesus' second greatest commandment--to love one's neighbor. Dekker also weaves together the story of a girl named Nicole, an American who seeks to find her roots in the ghetto of Beirut.
Through Medearis' extensive contacts g in the Middle East region, Dekker and Medearis are able to meet with everyone from Osama Bin Laden's brothers, who think Osama is a jerk, to Sheik Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, known to Westerners as the political voice for Hezbollah. To me, the most interesting parts of the book were not the interviews with Hamas leaders or sheiks, but the thoughts of every day people such as the scholarly Dr. Micah and Sami Awad, a Christian living in Bethlehem (not Pennslyvania--the one where Jesus was born) who embraces non-violent beliefs.
When I say Tea with Hezbollah is a must-read, I'm not mincing my words. To truly understand what Arabs think about Americans and their neighbors, you must read this book. Plus, you will also gain a sense of the "humanity" of our "enemies." Ted Dekker's true story of his journey in the Middle East with buddy Carl Medearis rivals the suspense found in any of his novels.
This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.