I fidgeted on my stool, trying to focus in spite of the noise.
Off-duty doctors huddled nearby. They were glued to a Jason Statham movie, awaiting his next kill.
My stomach churned. Between the cigarettes and the high-volumed intensity characteristic of blown out Iraqi speakers, I honestly couldn’t take one more head-shot.
The one-liner is delivered and my friends rumble their approval, scooting their chairs closer to the flat-screen. I snapped my computer lid shut and retreated—nauseated—as more thunder echoed be behind me.
Half an hour later, I stood in an O.R. filming doctors as they pulled blood from a beautiful baby boy named Abdul before his heart operation. In a way, Abdul’s blood and shrieking made Statham’s flick seem gore-free, but arriving in the O.R. actually helped settle my stomach.
Somehow this was different, and I began to realize it wasn’t about blood.
It was the violence.
All of this happened on my fourth day in the city of Fallujah—the medical mission progressed, and spirits were high. But I couldn’t stop thinking about my physiological reaction to that movie. It’s hard to pin-point why, exactly, but my body and mind can no longer handle violent media.
Photo Credit: “Six Days In Fallujah“, Atomic Games
In college, violent movies and games like Call of Duty never really affected me—they were just fun past-times. But something about being in Fallujah, with all its bombed-out buildings and birth defects… it got too real, too fast.
During research for a video I was making, I watched a ton of archived footage from the battles that happened in Fallujah. The helmet-mounted cameras made the killings almost indistinguishable from my favorite 1st person shooter games—except these were real.
The snarky comments made by soldiers, the way both sides treated prisoners and dead bodies, and all the blood. So much blood. Nobody was respawning after these fights—no ‘extra lives.’
I want to be clear: this post is not about boycotting anything—I’m not saying we should all go tee up our action movies and XBOX games and golf club them to oblivion.
I’m just asking a simple question: at what point have we lost touch with reality? At what point did I lose touch?
As a person who strives to follow Jesus Christ and his teachings, I look at the “Sermon on the Mount” and wonder how I got where I am. Jesus stood up and taught radical enemy-love, pain-absorption over pain-reciprocation, and the happiness of peacemakers. Am I training myself toward those things?
Am I preparing my heart to love the limbless family members who brought their sick, war-stricken children into the hospital for surgery? What if their child dies in the ICU and they blame or even try to hurt me—how have I prepared myself to respond?
Or what about the suicidal American solders—more of whom have died at home than on the battle field—am I ready to love them, given the chance?
This is what we mean when we say “preemptive love,” and, if it doesn’t cost me anything, I have to wonder whether it’s even real.
During a recent gaming spree, my wife asked me, “Is ‘Nazi Zombie Mode’ just an excuse to kill things without feeling bad?” She was right, I want it both ways.
Writing endless blog posts that call people to love their perceived enemies while using a broken-off bayonet to hack mine to pieces in a video game really doesn’t add up, regardless of whether or not the game is ‘real.’
Photo Credit: Karim Sahib, AFP
When you think of Fallujah, you might remember the murdered mercenaries in 2004. How did you react when you saw the charred bodies?
With that in mind, don’t you find it disturbing how excited my Muslim friends in Fallujah were by the heart-numbing gore on the screen in front of them?
Don’t you find it disturbing how many Christians in America enjoy the same kinds of entertainment?
What can we do to prepare ourselves to love when it’s difficult? I would encourage you to start by considering the paraphrased teaching from Jesus below—how far should we take these words? Then email me your thoughts, or connect with me via PLC’s Twitter and Facebook accounts. If you disagree, please share why—I promise not to attack you with a broken-off bayonet.
“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves.”
April 24, 2012 by matt · Comments Off
Over the last few months we’ve seen an incredible influx of new readers and supporters, so it seemed good to put our most informative and successful video to-date back on the blog.
Whether you’re brand new or if you’ve been here a hundred times, watch it and let me know your reaction. Is it naive? Spot-on? Over-the-top? Email me!
February 28, 2012 by matt · Comments Off
At best, fathers in Iraq are semi-absent. At worst they’re fully absent, off spending time with friends and neglecting their family.
Or at least that’s what I thought two weeks ago.
Before Remedy Mission IX, my perceptions of Iraqi dads were pretty negative. And they weren’t entirely unfounded. Having lived in Iraq for a year now, I’ve met a number of dads who spend a lot of time away from their family, and it was hard for me to understand.
So I assumed that these fathers didn’t care. Why else would they be so absent?
The key word in that last paragraph, though, is “assumed.” I applied my own cultural understanding to contexts that demanded further explanation!
What if these fathers are away because that’s how much they have to work to put food on the table? What if they’re ashamed to come home because they can’t put food on the table? How could the handful of fathers I know here even begin to represent all of them? And this is probably most important question: since when did I become the time-keeper for fathers in Iraq?
I started asking questions like this at the beginning of our ninth Remedy Mission after I watched an Iraqi father cry over his child’s desperate need for surgery. It threw me off, and I thought he was the rarest man in Iraq I’d ever met.
But then another man wept for joy in front of me that same day when his child was accepted for surgery.
One father was able to calm his shrieking son just by whispering sweetly in the child’s ear. The boy was even giggling by the end of his echo!
Then another man wouldn’t stop holding his daughter after surgery, as though she might break if he let go.
One dad begged me for more photos of his child in surgery—each new glimpse bringing him to tears!
Another persistent father was constantly fretting over his daughter and would grab my sleeve and ask me questions like “Is it OK that she is coughing a lot?” or “When can she eat? How much? What should we give her? When?!”
And, for me, this became the theme of Remedy Mission IX: fathers who desperately love their sons and daughters.
I’m honored to have met them. They changed my perspectives for the better and showed me something beautiful.
February 1, 2012 by matt · Comments Off
Iraq’s first-ever TEDx event happened in Baghdad and, as the only westerner to attend TEDxBaghdad’s inaugural conference, it was an honor for us to have Jeremy attend as a speaker.
Jeremy spoke on the concept of ‘preemptive love’ and its ability to heal, reconcile and restore people to right relationship with one another. If you’re having trouble loading the video above, just click here.
January 15, 2012 by Cody · Comments Off
A lot of you met Ali already, when he welcomed you to Remedy.
Whether he’ll admit it or not, he’s the ringleader and the brains behind The Fantastic Five. When Ali and The Fantastic Five aren’t by my side, it usually means I’m in the OR or in a meeting, in which case Ali will patiently sit right outside the door separating us. Just last night he called me over a dozen times on my phone, asking how I was doing and exhausting all of the Arabic I know.
What excites me the most about my friend Ali, though, is what he wants to be when he grows up. He wants to become a heart surgeon.
Yesterday we sat down and talked about his heart defect and I asked him why he wanted to become a heart surgeon. He responded, “I want to save others like me.”
If all goes well, Ali is just days away from his lifesaving heart surgery, where he’ll be saved by a heart surgeon and his team. I asked Ali if he’s excited for his surgery and he gave me a thumbs up and said “Yes – Yes!”
Ali is one day closer to being saved and getting the chance to save others…stay tuned!
January 14, 2012 by Cody · Comments Off
Baby Ridha was born just 19 days ago. She may not be old enough to keep up with The Fantastic Five, but she was born at the perfect time for the surgeons to save her life. By the time Remedy arrived, Ridha’s heart was at the perfect developmental stage to be fixed, making her the 2nd (and the youngest!) baby to ever receive an arterial switch in Iraq!
Photo credit: AFP
A hospital in Iraq is back up on its feet after years of getting knocked down and now it’s better and bigger than ever!
Rebuilt after many years of violence in Iraq, the Ibn al-Bitar Hospital for Cardiac Surgery in Baghdad is beginning a new program to teach its doctors how to better operate on children who need heart surgery.
“”Until now, we have not been able to conduct heart surgery on infants,’ said Doctor Hussein Ali al-Hilli, director of the Ibn Bitar Hospital for Cardiac Surgery in Baghdad.
‘We receive 80 children a day with various heart-related birth defects that we cannot treat. We need three years to learn because such procedures are complicated,’ he added.”
Want to know more about this amazing project? Check out the full story here and tell us what you think in the comments section below!
Allow me to introduce PLC’s newest video!
If you’re unfamiliar with our work, we consider this our manifesto. Everything we do boils down to this belief: reconciliation happens through healing.
With your help, that which has been destroyed and ‘unmade’ can be rebuilt. It can be healed.
For all you video connoisseurs, what did you think? Give us some feedback in the comments section below, or connect with us on Vimeo.
July 4, 2011 by Cody · Comments Off
Noor’s wait is over!
She’s made it into the operating room and the doctors are hard at work making sure that they send Noor away with a strong and healthy heart!
If they’re able to accomplish all they hope to accomplish with Noor, it will be the 9th lifesaving heart surgery this trip.
Thanks for making this possible! More news to come…
June 12, 2011 by Liz · Comments Off
For a month now we've posted mid-week photos titled “In a Word,” and we've received some great feedback from you guys.
We want you to know that these aren't just pretty pictures, they're tools to help as all build an understanding of Iraq through the artists who live here.
We know you care about the future of Iraq, the kids and the training of nurses and doctors, but we want to offer you even more perspectives.
So here are 3 reasons we believe “In A Word” matters:
1. Images can be used to promote peace.
“Peace is waged when a child is served, a voice is heard, a story is told, a dialogue is created, and a community is engaged.”
We're waging peace when we LISTEN to and TELL a story about Iraq, kids with CHD, local healthcare, local solutions (i.e. politicians, donors, doctors, etc.), Muslim and Eastern perspectives, Christian and Western perspectives, the war, etc. These photos give us the opportunity to engage another community. They tell stories and create dialogue.
They're opportunities for us to understand.
2. We live among the people here.
We work with them, care for them, argue with them – we love them. And many of you have expressed interest in what those things look like here, so “In A Word” is our way of helping you visualize our day-to-day. It helps our families, friends and supporters 'come around', and for a few seconds, that makes us feel like you aren't an ocean away.
3. It's a platform for artists.
These Iraqi and Kurdish artists are unsung heroes, and their work deserves to be showed off and shared. They show their people that beauty can bring hope and truth in the midst of devastation.
“In A Word” is a forum – a sounding board – where artists can show off their work and prove emphatically: we're here, and we're talented.
Do you have any photos that you'd like to submit for an “In A Word” midweek post? If so send to firstname.lastname@example.org, subject “In A Word”