U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel listen during the G7 Summit working dinner in BrusselsThis week, Germany expelled the CIA’s top spy in Berlin. It was called an “extraordinary escalation” in the espionage confrontation between two close allies, which began with last summer’s revelation that the NSA was spying on its European allies (No!). Thank you very much Ed Snowden, whose cache of stolen NSA documents may possibly outlast the staying power of the Energizer Bunny®.

Shock. Anger. Breach of trust. All of this and more was felt by the German public last year. A formal investigation was launched, and now the expulsion, apparently for political reasons surrounding lingering public outrage in Germany at the United States.

What shocked me when the original story broke last year, and no doubt it shocked you too, was the disingenuous outrage of the European leaders themselves. Friends and allies spying on each other? That’s a surprise? To those in the corridors of power? Come on. They’ve read their John LeCarré.

The scene is the paneled library of Sarratt, LeCarré’s fictional school for British spies, who this evening, in candlelight, are being regaled by true stories from the guest of honor, the inimitable George Smiley, once Britain’s top spy, now retired. It’s the end of the Cold War. The students are graduating, and the usually secretive Smiley is being an exception his own rule, revealing instructive incidents from his legendary career – mind you, in a room where no recorders are running, no notes are being taken, and no official reference afterward my be made to what was said.

It’s now after dinner. Smiley’s introductory remarks about the globe and its spies are going down with the port, and now the questions are coming – about interrogations, about loyalties, about colonialism, about running joes, about espionage …. Then a challenge from Clare, seemingly about journalists but really a hint that spying may be a dying profession now that the Cold War has ended. Why bother with spying at all? she asks Smiley. Nine times out of ten a good journalist can tell us quite as much as the spies can.

True, says Smiley, “very often they’re sharing the same sources anyway. So why not scrap the spies and subsidize the newspapers? It’s a point that should be answered in these changeable times. Why not? It’s perfectly true that most of our work is either useless, or duplicated by overt sources. The trouble is, the spies aren’t there to enlighten the public, but governments. And governments, like everyone else, trust what they pay for, and are suspicious of what they don’t.”

Then quickly to the deeper issue. “Spying is eternal,” Smiley continues. “If governments could do without it, they never would. They adore it. If the day ever comes when there are no enemies left in the world, governments will invent them, so don’t worry. Besides – who says we only spy on enemies? You’re chosen profession is perfectly secure, I can assure you.”

©2014 by Charles Strohmer

Sarratt story from John LeCarré’s The Secret Pilgrim

Image from Reuters


blessing the landWe have been dealing with some disturbing questions in recent posts about the theology of Christian Zionism as a foreign policy in sharp contrast to the ethic of Jesus. These questions challenge us at the core of our being, and in utterly practical ways. This post concludes the topic with more questions we may not have considered.

The ethic of Jesus challenges us:

To consider whether we are following the government policies of the state of Israel more than we are following Jesus.

To consider whether we are giving unqualified support to the policies of the modern state of Israel, as if they were always and only and perfectly just. We know from the Scriptures that in ancient times God judged the nation when it habitually followed unjust policies. Has God changed? Do we think that the modern state of Israel is incapable unrighteous behavior?

To consider whether we are endorsing, however unintentionally that may be, a chain reaction of violent events that encourage adversarial relations and conflict leading to the general ruin of the region. Or are we engaged, as individuals, groups, and churches in prayers and practical efforts to ease adversarial relations and stem the flow of violence?

Our ideas about Israel and the Palestinians ultimately serve either the way of war or the peaceable way of Jesus. Many American Christians who are huge supporters of Israel will be shocked to know that, as a theology of war, Christian Zionism favors a military solution as radial as Armageddon. For that is the inviolable direction of its teleology.

Caveat. Because I have been solely focusing in these current posts on the violent potential of Christian Zionism, in hopes of sparing followers of Jesus from going there, I have not had space to declare my opposition to Palestinian violence against Israelis. On the other hand, I understand why it takes place.

“If you’ve been driven from [refugee] camp to [refugee] camp, if you’ve had the living daylights persecuted out of you by your own people – by the Israelis but above all by your brother Arabs – I can understand that you would turn to violence.”

That’s John Le Carré being interviewed about the time he spent in the Middle East researching Little Drummer Girl. Since I began these posts on Christian Zionism with reference to that book, I thought I would close with him. He visited Palestinian camps talking with refugees. He met with Israeli generals and had help from Israeli special forces to speak with their Palestinian prisoners. He spoke to Palestinian commanders and their “fighting kids.” He even met Arafat, who asked, “Why have you come, what do you want?” “Well, Mr. Chairman, I’m trying to put my hand on the Palestinian heart.” Taking Le Carré’s hand and holding it to his own heart, Arafat replied, “Sir, it is here, it is here.”

“Many people,” Le Carré again, “who have [a] clichéd vision of the Palestinians would themselves, if they had been subjected to the same harassment and persecution and humiliation, if they had no passports, no friends, no permanent home, if they’d been bombed out of one place after another all through their lives, from the age of practically nothing – many of those people would have taken the violent path…. If you are a displaced people, and you’ve got to make the world listen, that is the Palestinian argument.”

That was in the early 1980s. But the solution is not a military one. It is a political one that comes through diplomacy. And today we must add this. When we look at the steadily rising and spreading bloody conflicts of the broader Middle East, it is easy to throw up one’s hands and say, “It’s hopeless.”

But hopelessness is not a gift of the Spirit. It does not excuse the followers of Christ from following him into the darkness with olive branches in hand. Jesus traveled that road ahead of us. We are called to follow him. If God had enough grace for Jesus – and God did – God has grace enough for Jesus’ followers to go and do likewise today. The Cross is the great stopping place in the universe that examines and judges all things, good and bad, even our theologies.

©2014 by Charles Strohmer

Image by UrbanWanderer (permission via Creative Commons)