Authors: Ted Dekker & Carl Medearis
Title: Tea with Hezbollah: Sitting at the Enemies' Table—Our Journey Through the Middle East
Publisher: Random House, Inc.
It started as a conversation at the Hard Rock Café in Denver. Author Ted Dekker posed the question: "Is it really possible to love your enemy?" Co-author Carl Medearis replied, "Why don't we find out?" And thus, Tea with Hezbollah: Sitting at the Enemies' Table—Our Journey Through the Middle East, the latest offering from New York Times best-selling fiction heavyweight Ted Dekker, was born.
The concept was simple. Medearis would use his connections in the Middle East to line up face-to-face interviews with influential Islamic leaders. Dekker would interview these powerful Muslims about their lives, their ideas, and their views on Jesus' parable of the Luke 10:25-37 and His command to Luke 6:27-28
Their goal was not to gain an audience with well-known heads of state across the Middle East. Instead, Dekker and Medearis seek out the "heart and soul of the region, found among the imams and muftis—the religious warriors, adored by legions on the ground" and take "a snapshot of their lives and their thoughts on the greatest teaching of Jesus."
The idea for this nonfiction work is fetching, but the execution leaves this reader on the fence.
Fiction is Dekker's forte. In Tea with Hezbollah, Dekker steps onto less familiar ground and struggles to find his non-fiction footing. Passages come across as forced and written with too much flourish. A suspense thriller requires adrenaline-spiked verbiage, stunning contrasts and unpredictable twists. On the other hand, a though-provoking travelogue attempting to help the reader see a complex conflict in a new light benefits from a more subtle touch. From a literary standpoint, this Tea has a bit too much milk and sugar.
Despite its weaknesses, there is much to like about the book. Excitement and tension wiz like bullets overhead as our authors travel to war-torn corners of the Middle East. Dekker's writing is at times endearing, like when he describes his relationship with traveling companion and co-author Carl Medearis: "Sometimes I feel like hugging Carl and slapping him on the back…Other times I feel more like locking him in the bathroom and making a run for it."
By far the most engaging sections of Tea with Hezbollah are when Dekker and Medearis include transcripts of their recorded conversations with the people they encounter in their travels. These transcripts scattered throughout the book form inviting windows into a shared humanity that transcends the geographical, racial, and political lines we all draw around ourselves.
An interview with Abdul Fadeel Al Kusi, an influential professor at Al-Azhar University in Cairo is one such encounter:
Dekker: Do you have any hobbies?
Abdul: Reading. I love to read! My favorite literature is Steinbeck, Shakespere, the classics…
Dekker: What is your favorite movie?
Abdul: Movies? The Fall of the Roman Empire. My favorite actor is Richard Gere … and I love westerns.
Dekker: What about Britney Spears?
Abdul: Who? I've never heard of this name.
Perhaps there is hope for this world, after all.
The notion that we as people have more in common with our so-called "enemies" than the differences that divide us is at the heart of Tea with Hezbollah's message. Regardless of one's political or religious views, the unexpected—and sometimes funny—portraits of individuals living half a world away supply many delightful, insightful and heartwarming moments. The book's attempt to humanize those we call our "enemies" in the Middle East succeeds, despite itself.
Dekker devotees looking to ride shotgun with a beloved author through the heart of the Arab conflict will be happy to buckle up for the journey through Tea with Hezbollah. Fans of Dekker's fiction are not the only ones who will enjoy a sip on the trip. Dekker and Medearis' blend of witty perspectives, cultural interactions, and zesty interviews may just be your cup of tea.
**This review first published on February 18, 2010.