Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, ‘Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything — God and our friends and ourselves included — as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Here are a few articles and books I’ve referenced this week in my efforts to understand and explain (some of) what is going on in Iraq with regard to the heightened sectarian rhetoric, the militant assaults on government institutions, and the much discussed re-drawing of borders.


Iraq blowback: Isis rise manufactured by insatiable oil addiction

Saddam Hussein: The Politics of Revenge, Saïd K. Aburish

The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future, Vali Nasr

All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, Stephen Kinzer

Republic of Fear: The Politics of Modern Iraq, Kanan Makiya

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Excerpted from The Return of the King, in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien:

But Sam lay back, and started with open mouth, and for a moment, between bewilderment and great joy, he could not answer. At last has gasped: ‘Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?’

‘A great shadow has departed,’ said Gandalf, and then he laughed and the sound was like music, or water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count. It fell upon his ears like the echo of all the joys he had ever known. But he himself burst into tears. Then as sweet rain will pass down a wind of spring and the sun will shine out the clearer, his tears ceased, and his laughter welled up, and laughing he sprang from his bed.

‘How do I feel?’ he cried. ‘Well I don’t know how to say it. I feel, I feel’ – he waved his arms in the air – ‘I feel like spring after winter, and sun on the leaves; and like trumpets and harps and all the songs I have ever heard!’

Does this resonate with you? Has it challenged, shaped, or carried you through in some way? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.


A few weeks ago, on a book tour stop in Bend, Oregon, I was surprised when my hostess handed me a guitar in front of a room full of people and asked me to play a few of my songs. I haven’t had much time to play or write since starting the Preemptive Love Coalition, so it was a little nerve wracking—and tons of fun—to put a few songs out there and lead the room in a big sing-along.

Here are the two songs I shared live that night, and a few others for fun. You can download with the arrow at the right of each song. They’re free for everyone who signs up to my mailing list below (I’ve set it so you can steal them without signing up, but you’ll feel bad about it). If you like them, tell your peeps.

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When a guy like Tim Høiland, who spends a lot of his time thinking critically about international aid and development work and writing cover stories for the likes of Relevant Magazine, picks up a copy of your book to read and review, you feel less confident in the old adage “any press is good press.”

But when thoughtful, reasonable people write a review of any kind, you find yourself learning from his/her perspectives and made better for their time spent reading, reflecting, and sharing.

Tim’s review was gracious and humbling. Here are a few of his thoughts that I especially appreciated:

On identifying the true hero of the story:

By rendering ordinary Iraqis […], as well as Turkish and Israeli surgeons, as the real heroes of the story, he avoids feeding into the “white savior complex.” Courtney describes the long, slow work of gaining credibility and trust in a culture that has every reason to distrust outsiders…

On humanizing versus objectifying:

[…] the book’s greatest contribution may well be its humanizing effect. Geopolitics, war, extreme poverty, and child mortality are scary, insidious realities, and Courtney touches on them all. But his focus remained unswervingly on specific people, like Mahdi, Khadeeja, [etc]. Iraq may be a foreign place for most of us, but Courtney’s weaving of whimsy and heartbreak on these pages truly humanizes the book’s subjects. That’s no small thing.

On the messiness of relationships and passing judgement from thousands of miles away:

While it is good to [do] due diligence in deciding which nonprofits to support […] a book like this should give the armchair quarterbacks among us pause when it comes to passing judgment on nonprofits. Until one has walked a mile in someone’s shoes—deciphering fatwas, negotiating among adversaries, balancing budgets, hiring staff, cutting through red tape, experiencing betrayal, rebuilding trust—one should be careful when passing judgments. I consider that a reminder to myself, as one who writes about justice and development issues from a place not called Baghdad or Goma or Mogadishu.

In conclusion, Høiland just wants you to read the book and I do too!

Read this book to challenge your stereotypes of Iraq, Islam, and the Middle East more broadly….Read it for the sheer pleasure of Courtney’s stunning prose. Read it to be inspired by the notion that preemptive love is possible. Read it to remember what matters. Whatever you do, just read it.

Full Review


I’ve been getting a lot of questions about the writing process, how this entire book came about, how I’m finding the circus that is self-promotion, etc. I’m going to dedicate a few blog posts to these topics in coming weeks. Stay tuned! In the meantime…

Pick up your copy today from your favorite bookseller: