Over the years, we have hosted some famous people and
important authors here at the shop, or in partnership with nearby
churches. We are always a bit
surprised, if truth be told, that folks of the renown of Jim Wallis, Os
Guinness, Ruth Haley Barton, David Kinnaman, Lauren Winner, Andy Crouch, Margot
Starbuck, or Tom Wright would show up here with us in south-central Pennsylvania.
We are always honored and grateful; it is a real encouragement to Beth and me
and our staff when writers visit. Of course it helps book sales when an
important author appears (which, for a struggling indie shop like ours, is
sorely needed.) Best of all, it is a delight for our customers.
For instance, we know it will be a fantastic time for fans when we host novelist Beverly Lewis on September 11, 2014 to sign her brand new Amish tale, The River.
My heart is especially full, though, as we prepare for what feels like the most important event we've ever done, hosting a young author (on Friday, September 5th) that has accomplished more in the last decade than most people have in a lifetime and who has written a spectacularly thrilling book about it.
Love: Pursuing Peace One Heart at a Time (Howard Books) $24.00 hardback; $15.00 paperback both editions include full-color pictures.
Jeremy Courtney is the author of Preemptive
Love: Pursuing Peace One Heart at a Time and founder of the Preemptive
Love Coalition. Both in his book and in person he has a way of bringing together important concerns of ours --
peace-making, multi-culturalism, global justice, interfaith dialogue, gospel-centered
nonviolence, Christian mission -- in an accessible way as he tells the story of
his advocacy for sick children in war-torn Iraq. The "one heart at a time"
subtitle alludes to his work arranging pediatric heart surgery for children in
Iraq, but is also a large, large metaphor.
Jeremy and his wife Jessica are people who are often guided by their hearts, their big hearts, and the book, laden with political history and medical facts and edge-of-your-seat drama as critical and controversial surgeries are done in dangerous locations such as Kurdistan and Fallujah, Mosul and Kirkuk (the legendary burial site of the biblical Daniel) nevertheless uses beautifully a true language of the heart. They are self-aware and honest about their deepest longings, their dreams, their faith, their foibles and fears; they live out their desire to trust others, to do what they think is right, and live out that line from Bill Mallonee's song about Vincent van Gogh, "sew your heart on to your sleeve and let the chips fall."
And let the chips fall, they do. Preemptive Love tells the
amazing story of the consequences of "loving first and asking questions later."
It is a way of life that is inspiring, even probing, for any
reader who longs to live with integrity -- do you trust God, put the needs of others first, hedge your bets, hold grudges, maneuver for power, shade the
truth, live in fear, failing to heed the hints of the Spirit? Although this book tells the tales of
stuff most of us will never experience, the confessional nature, about their
experiences exploring the efficacy of love, applies to us all.
Can love win, after all?
This way of life, being intentional about being open to God
and grace, living in mercy and love, is also a way of life that leads to adventure, if
not some serious trouble. In their
desire to save the lives of kids with heart disease -- Iraq has one of the highest
amounts of pediatric heart disease anywhere in the world! -- they have to navigate
broken medical systems, deal with the results of bombings and embargoes (and the subsequent damage to
literal infrastructure and on the communal psyche of many people groups) not to
mention religious bigotry and fears. They face down donors that will give money to help "Arabs only" or "Kurds only." They tried to build trust with fearful Iraqi
parents who have been convinced by certain mullahs that working with the
Preemptive Love Coalition and allowing Israeli doctors to help them is just a plot
to bring harm and dishonor. Alas, on the other side of the country, they've
faced parents whose religious leaders similarly forbid them, proud Kurds, to
send their children with the Coalition to hospitals in the land of their former
brutal enemies, the Turks.
Every chapter has its own drama, and it deepens and grows more complex as the story unfolds. We eventually learn that Jeremy and Jessica have been under surveillance -- the betrayal that led to their offices and home and bedroom being bugged is as stunning as anything you'd read in a spy novel -- and when radical Islamists issued a fatwa (death threat) against their team (and anyone who cooperated with them) they knew they had to evaluate if this medical mission was worth the dangers.
Few of us have faced such challenges in our own efforts and
ministries, naturally. But we can
learn much from these kinds of stories, and it is spectacular to hear of meetings
with sheikhs and imams and mullahs, of sharing the gospel of peace with angry
tribal leaders and offering hope to Turkmen, Yazidis, Muslims, Christians and
Jews alike. The book describes vivid internal organizational debates among the small, young staff of the
Preemptive Love Coalition about all kids or remarkable matters. Should they serve the children of known terrorists, what
expenses might be spared (or justified) as they triage the backlog of tens of
thousands of needed surgeries. They nearly exhaust themselves trying hard
to be fair, learning how to be wise and just in such perplexing,
anguishing situations, with literal lives at stake.
(Like most places in the
world, those with money and power seem to be able to get themselves to the
front of waiting lines, pushing their own agendas and demands; when this is
combined with ethnic and religious hostilities, you can see that Jeremy and his
team were literally in the middle of life and death situations, sometimes
connected to significant back-stories of infamous people, with cultural/political
ramifications.) The ethical dilemmas and emotional tensions faced almost every
day among their teams makes for a gripping read.
I couldn't be more glad that we named Preemptive Love one of
our Hearts & Minds "Best Books of 2013" and am confident that you will
thoroughly enjoy reading it if you haven't yet.
CHAI, COFEE, and KLASH,
It is fun, too, to read about the feasts and meals, complete with local coffees, chai teas and other regional delicacies. What a culture that can be so hospitable and relational, full of gift-giving, charitable customs, and tangy food: eggplant and olives and humus and roasted lamb and sometimes tobacco. The book tells of all sorts of celebrations as they hold meetings and share long conversations about God and peace and hope and almost always the growing crisis of a particular sick baby or handicapped child. (And how weird it is, reading about being with sheikhs and clerics embracing Jeremy with kisses and hand-holding -- "Brother Jeremy, you are a true man of God!" -- only to realize that some of these same new friends are also in league with people who want to kill him.) Again, this book is fascinating to read as we learn about Kurdish klash shoes and fenjan cups of Arab coffee and jamming with the three-stringed Persian tar. What fun!
And yet, let us be clear: Preemptive Love is a book mostly about following God's leading to be agents of healing and transformation, reversing centuries of hatred and mistrust by providing life-saving medical health to dying Iraqi children and showing gracious love to all.
The back-stories and description of these surgeries -- the drama of Arab families trusting Israeli doctors, of Kurdish families submitting to the help of doctors in Turkey (from the region that had committed genocide against them), of cooperating with all manner of governmental agencies and mid-level autocrats and diplomatic rules, fighting for money and visas and permits, always against the ticking clock of failing hearts -- are surprisingly moving. This narrative is very well-written, with colorful language and vivid storytelling. The pacing is just right as the book moves from the medical details of a certain heart procedure to a father of a dying child bringing a bomb into Jeremy's office, from the struggle to procure funding for this or that child's surgery to the politics and drama of families learning to trust, to forgive, to love, even after serious conflict or missteps.
For instance, read this account of a surprising move by an important sheikh whose own baby was dying:
We made haste to get Hussein's gutsy initiative to send baby Noor to surgery under way. A group from Baghdad helped with logistics; a church in South Carolina gave generously. The day of her departure, we spoke one last time with her family by phone. Sheikh Hussein was intoning words of comfort in Arabic as they sat in the airport waiting for their flight to take them out of the country; they would be the first in the history of their entire family to leave Iraq. I'm certain the sheikh's smile was felt as much as it was heard on the receiving end of the line. Suddenly, he said, "Okay, one second...," as he passed the phone to me.
Putting the phone to my ear in the home of this cleric where I had never seen a woman, I felt like I was breaking some taboo as I heard Noor's mother on the other end whispering something to the person beside her in Arabic. Turning her face back to the mouthpiece, she took a leap across the Great Gulf of Language in an effort to get to me and convey her gratitude:
"Mister... my child," she said haltingly, "good... is good. You save my child."
Her daughter's name, Noor, means "light," and is often construed to mean "God's light" or "light that guides." And here she was this fifteen month-old little baby girl in the Baghdad airport, illuminating the way into a future where God's light, unlike all the other luminaries by which we live, does not cast a dark shadow across our ethnicity, geography, of history. Light was driving back darkness. The obviousness of it all only made it more profound, as though someone has planned it that way so we would all get the message.
I handed the phone back to Sheikh Hussein, where he received a final barrage of blessings for the both of us and hung up, fearful of what still lay ahead, but overjoyed that we had risked it and taken the plunge together. With the fatwa still looming in the distance, it seemed like the history of a people hanged in the balance.
And who's to say it didn't? How many hearts were really healed that day?
What does it mean to be loving in all things, to be merciful
and just and decent, even to one's own enemies? Should you, for instance, re-hire a
staff person who have betrayed you? Should you confront someone you think is lying to
you, or give them the benefit of the doubt, if even to allow him or her to save
face? He only once quotes the classic spiritual book The
Imitation of Christ, but we gather that this is an extraordinary life
experiment in being formed in the ways of Jesus.
But yet, Courtney is quick to point out that this is not the story of a do-gooder Westerner helping backward, hostile Arabs. In fact, he reminds readers of "the countless times in this story in which Iraqis acted first, offering protection, intervening, or taking a risk to welcome us in, even though we were often cast as their enemies."
Such experiences have given Jeremy opportunities to learn much, and we will be better for having read his story. What does it take to tell a poor peasant mother that her
first born has died on the operating table? (Indeed, what does a young
Christian idealist like Jeremy know about repatriating the body of a child
who did not survive surgery back to a proper Muslim funeral, from a plane out of Turkey
to a pick-up truck heading to a desert village?) And how does all of this
effect the marriage (and parenting) of this young Christian couple, once from
Texas, now far away from family and friends and church? Preemptive Love, we come to realize, is
not just a strategy for peacemaking in a war-torn society or the ethic for a
medical mission, it is also the way of life for couples and children, offering
counter-intuitive wisdom for friendship and fundraising.
Is it possible that preemptive love wins in this broken world, full of broken people like the unlikely cast of characters in this amazing book? Among people like you and me? Can we actually step into a faraway country (as Jeremy sometimes calls the beloved community of the reign of God)? If so, this book and its witness of healing hearts will surely help show us the way.
So, yes, this fascinating, page-turning book, so full of
edge-of-your-seat, page-turning drama, upbeat stories, intrigue and glory and
tragedy and insight, informative politics and gospel truth, is a winner. The paperback is due out any day now, and
we are the first bookstore to help Jeremy launch it.
We are honored to sponsor this event and not unaware of the gravitas of the moment; as Iraq explodes and the world watches in horror, we are grateful for the opportunity to host a conversation with Jeremy and Jessica, home for a bit as they make new contacts, raise money and promote their hope that preemptive love is the way of the future.
Does all of this make a lasting difference, besides the obvious difference in the lives of the kids and their families who are healed? I love the last line of this paragraph, written about Arab families who, against religious and political pressures, allowed the Coalition to arrange surgery for their kids by traveling to Israel.
Thankfully, four of the families had the courage to stand their ground in the face of intimidation and moved forward with their scheduled surgeries in Israel. Like those who had gone before them, they found the doctors and nurses and social workers in Israel to be wonderful people who were full of kindness and love, absolutely nothing like the horror stories they had heard. The mullah's nightmare - and that of his friends in parliament - had just come true: of these thousands of children whose lives we would save, some would one day carry the scars on their chest to law school and on to parliament, where a new story of preemptive love would be told to the people of Iraq which would turn over a new page with the people of Israel.
SEPTEMBER 5, 2014 at FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, YORK PA
If you are able, please join us for a public lecture, "Just
in from Iraq: An Evening with Author and Activist Jeremy Courtney" at First
Presbyterian Church, 225 East Market Street, York, PA at 7:00 PM. There's free parking in a lot behind the church, which is in downtown York. After his presentation, there will be
time for questions, healthy discussion, and a reception (with some appropriate
refreshments, although we won't sit on the floor or smoke hookah.) Who knows, maybe even some music. Preemptive
Love books will be available for purchase in hardback or paperback, and
Jeremy will gladly autograph copies.
We think it will be a splendid, informative and encouraging
Please help us spread the word -- if you know anyone anywhere near central Pennsylvania, this will be an amazing opportunity.
If you are unable to attend and want us to get an autographed copy of the book, just let us know. Tell us if you want hardback or paperback, and to whom it should be inscribed and we will try our best to make it happen. It will be a very full night, and we trust we will have copies left available for this, but customers present with us there will naturally get first dibs.
* * *
Enjoy this short excerpt, from the closing pages of Preemptive Love: Pursuing Peace One Heart at a Time
Where you are sitting in the world as you finish this story may influence how you interpret my idea of preemptive love. If you are in the States, you may think first in terms of American kindness toward enemy Iraqis. If you are in Iraq, however, you may be more quick to see the countless times in this story in which Iraqis acted first, offering protection, intervening, or taking a risk to welcome us in, even though we were often cast as their enemies. The truth is, preemptive love does not begin in the heart of humanity. Neither Americans or Iraqis are inherently better at loving first than the other. We are all tribal, programmed to protect our own,
Instead, preemptive love originates in the heart of God. The one who made the universe and holds everything in it - the one to whom Muslims, Christians, and Jews are all ostensibly pointing - is the first and the last enemy lover. And in the end, it is not our love that overcomes hate at all. It is God's... Preemptive Love is who God is...
What Jess and I learned in that broken-down neighborhood so many years ago is still true today: we don't need power to live in peace. Because even though fear, hatred, and violence conspire to unmake the world, preemptive love unmakes violence. Preemptive love fulfills the fears of fundamentalist fatwas, making children love their enemies. And preemptive love overcomes fear.
And before all is said and done, the far country is the near-and-now country for all who enter the marathon, lean on love, and make it to the finish line.
Pursuing Peace One Heart at a Time
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