07 December 2015

To My Friends Who Are NOT "Christian" - Please Read

o My Friends Who are Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, Secular, Agnostic, and anything else besides Christian!

I feel really stupid! REALLY stupid! There, I said it. I feel a bit better!
          I wish I could sit with each of you one-on-one over a good cup of coffee and offer my sincere apology for people of the "Christian persuasion" who have acted and re-acted to event so poorly in recent days and weeks.
         Rather than wasting your time recounting what they said or did (because I am quite sure you know ALL about it), I would like to share with you how I hope we can build friendships and be community in the face of rising fear in our culture.
         Most important, I so value your perspective and input regarding these situations. I have a certain vantage point as I try to follow Jesus. And you have a vantage point from your context and I want to understand it and will seek to respect it. We may not agree in some areas, but that must not stop us from seeking to understand one another and to respect one another.
        I also hope we can bring the very best from our belief systems and worldviews to the real-life situations of terrorism and street violence in our world. If you know me at all you know that Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (found in Matthew 5-7) has blown my heart and mind in the very best way possible. I desire to align myself with the ethic he lays out in these words. I believe that every one of us brings ideas and practices to the table that should be considered as we move forward together.
         Last, I hope we will all resist painting each other's belief systems with a broad brush. All Muslims do not believe the same thing, all Jews do not believe the same thing. And I dare say that all Christians do not hold the same beliefs or practices. I am asking that we extend grace to one another and not typecast based on "a few bad apples."
          Thank you for your friendship. I so appreciate you for who you are and how you enrich my life. Peace be upon you.

02 December 2015

The Presence of Greatness at the Prayer Breakfast

I attended the European Prayer Breakfast in Brussels for the past two days. It was poignant that the event took place only 3 weeks after the Paris terrorist attacks.
       Clearly we were in the presence of greatness at the breakfast - a member of the Belgian monarchy led a prayer, the former President of the European Commission spoke. There were others with significant titles and they are godly, wonderful people.
       But two people stood out to me as truly "great" in an upside down sort of way. While many people at the breakfast were well dressed in suits and dresses, these two were a bit different. One wore a suit but it was wrinkled and his tie was not straight. The other was not so well dressed.
          The first man is a member of the Ukrainian Parliament and he spoke at the dinner the night before the breakfast. He shared about being part of the political opposition in Ukraine for many years and how his life was threatened during the revolution. He was not your typical politician - he was more "gritty" and perhaps war weary.
          You could tell that the man has great resolve and focus for his country while possessing a deep humility. I could tell he is a servant-leader, in that order.
          The second man is Syrian and he is a refugee living in Brussels. He was part of an 8-person panel in which he was the 7th person to speak (fourth from left in the picture).
          He spoke in Arabic and was translated by someone. He talked about how his village was completely destroyed and how he fled for his life. Then he recounted how his father was killed in a bombing and that this man risked his life to go back to his hometown to give his father a proper burial.
The Syrian refugee is fourth from left.
        The man sat beside a former U.S. Ambassador. The refugee seemed unfazed by the Ambassador, although he was respectful toward him. Power, in the traditional sense of the word, did not equate with this man's inner strength.

          Both men - The Ukrainian Parliament Member and the Syrian refugee - demonstrated three qualities:
          First, they were unafraid. Both of their lives had been threatened and they have been spared. I am sure previously they feared. But their lives have transcended fear for their security, fear of the unknown, and fear of "powerful bad guys." Earlier during the Prayer Breakfast, a former Danish Parliament member reminded everyone that there are 300+ instances in the Bible where we are admonished to "fear not." These two men demonstrate that.
          Second, their influence comes from powerlessness rather than control. In an odd sort of way, I had the sense that both of these men were exercising much influence on the 350+ people at the prayer breakfast. But it came from their humility, their calm rather than using persuasive words or promises.
          Third, God is in their midst. The Syrian man is Muslim and the Ukrainian man is Christian. It appeared to me that for both of these men God is near. Of course this is a core tenant of Christianity (Immanuel - God with us), but it surely is not for the Muslim. In Islam, Allah is transcendent and "other." Nonetheless, both men expressed how God is connected to their circumstances, and how He has been intimately involved in their lives.
          At the close of the panel discussion, attendees came up to panelists to greet them. Many came to shake the hand of the refugee man, many more stood in line waiting to have a longer conversation with the U.S. Ambassador. I just wanted to go up and hug the Syrian man and spent the rest of the day with him.


27 August 2015

The Transformative Power of Generosity

Earlier this month I was a guest at a conference of Christian Associates, who we served with for many years. During the conference the leadership of CA gave the first annual Generosity Award to a couple who has been wildly generous to the organization. I won't mention the people by name because they do not like the spotlight.
        When the award was given, 4 or 5 people stood up and gave brief testimonies about how this couple and their generous hearts had transformed people's lives. At the end of the testimonies all 150 people gave the couple a long, standing ovation. I had chills then and I have them now as I write this.
          As I have been processing about this Generosity Award, I have been challenged in new ways around this transformative power of giving. Here are four take aways for me.
          More than anything else, this is always a matter of the heart first with outward manifestations (resources given). Most of us gawk at the dollar amounts given by someone, but watching this couple's lives and knowing a bit of their story I am convinced that their hearts are in the right place to be able to give freely.
          Second, I hope that Susy and I continue to cultivate giving attitudes and disciplines that far exceed our expectations. I have found generosity to be one of the keys to relating to God and dealing with my own tendency to covet, hoard, and acquire things.
          Third, I want to be a promoter and to highlight great causes for people to give to, whether to something I am personally involved in or not. Many of the people I know are doing great work and people's lives are being transformed! I want to be part of that transformation and I also want to help others be part of it. Here are just a handful of great work that people I know personally are doing:
     * Tom started Motorcycle Relief Project recently to come alongside military veterans who are dealing with PTSD;
     * Suzann runs a group called Beirut and Beyond to provide relief to Palestinian refugees in the Middle East;
     * Brandon started My Quiet Cave to help fill the gap between the Church and mental illness;
     * My friend Lizzy and I are working with a group called Dorcas Aid International and their Adopt a Granny sponsorship program in the United States;
     * Jamie and Steve race Formula 1 cars and their club sponsors a race each year that raises money for the Morgan Adams Foundation, in order to fight childhood cancer.
          I could go on and go and talk about Christian Associates, Crescent Project, Peace Catalyst, Leadership Connextions, and others. I love the work that all of these groups are doing and I want to promote their efforts every way I can.
          Fourth, and last, I am reminded of Rick Warren's statement, "You can't out-give God." Rick is a master of pithy statements that stick with you. This is one of them. And it gets at the heart of the matter - many of us (myself included) have a scarcity mentality rather than an abundance mentality. We think there is a "generosity pie" that gets sliced up and it is limited in nature. So we only talk about our non-profits, our efforts so that people give to us.
          This mentality comes from a place of fear rather than of faith. I am susceptible to it as much as anyone else who raises funds for causes. For me, trusting God and Jesus comes down to these very moments when I fear that we will not have enough.
          I am writing this as the summer is drawing to a close and organizations gear up for their Fall fundraising campaigns. Almost 40% of all charitable giving in the United States takes place in December each year! I'm not sure that is a great stat, but it is a reality.
          The challenge for all of us is for our hearts to be transformed a bit more this year so that we become more generous people - with time, talents, and treasure. What is the next step for you in generous giving?

PS - A great organization to check out is Generous Giving.  

26 August 2015

24 August 2015

Boom! Coming tomorrow!

Tomorrow I will publish one of the most personal close-to-my-heart articles I have ever written. It also crystalizes my thinking around three audience I speak to regularly - the Jewish community, Christians who are pro-Israel, and others who oppose Israel.
      This is likely to be controversial and I hope it will challenge many people's thinking about the Middle East, about Jewish people, and about other religious folks.

06 July 2015

Time Has Come ... for New Understanding

We are excited to announce that The Isaac Ishmael Initiative is hosting a new seminar aptly called, "A Jew, a Muslim, and a Racist walk into a church..."

       Confirmed dates for 2015 are:
  • Sept. 11th, Denver. Register here for the Denver evening.
  • Oct. 16th, Milwaukee
  • Nov. 15th, Peoria

24 June 2015

Measuring "Greatness"

One of the "bizarre" paradoxes in the world is how greatness is measured. We often measure it by whoever finishes first, whoever has the most money, or who is the most powerful. 
       "The first shall be last and the last first," said Jesus to his followers who were elbowing each other out of the way for positions of power. Now THAT is different!
       Today we measure success, influence, and "greatness" by new and unique measures:
   ~ Number of "followers" on Twitter;
   ~ Number of "friends" on Facebook;
   ~ Number of hits on your  website;
   ~ Number of readers of your blog;
   ~ Number of books sold;
   ~ Number of people who attend your seminar or training;
   ~ Number of people who regularly attend your church.
       This is about popularity, and exposure, getting known and staying known, and it is about economic survival because you need a following to raise money or sell tickets or books or seminars.
       And yet ... the truly GREAT ONES, the men and women whose lives and leadership are enduring and full of legacy are so fundamentally different than all of that.
       They are characterized by another set of qualities, far more subtle and nuanced than the list above:
     * Faith and Faithfulness: They do not simply BELIEVE in God and faith, they LIVE faith. And because of this, they are rock solid and dependable. When they say "yes" they always mean "yes," When they say "no" they always mean "no." With these great ones, what you see is what you get. There is no duplicity in them.
     * Service to Others: Life and work and service is not about THEM, but always about others. In a world of leaders who are self-centered and often narcissistic, the truly great ones do not call attention to themselves. Ever.
     * Shunning the Spotlight: The truly great ones "share all the credit and take all the blame." What matters to them is the MISSION and getting the job done. They do not need or even want the credit publicly. In fact, if the people pictured below were alive today they would each say something like this about this blog post: "Quit writing that nonsense and get on with life, Brian!"
     * Honoring their Commitments: The men below were married for 57, 59, and 66 years respectively. Each was married only once, each stayed with their wife "til death do us part." When they started something they finished it.
      * Generous Spirits. They are givers - regardless of how much material wealth they have. They give time, they give attention, they give their gifts and abilities for the good of others, and they give materially.
     * "It's Not About Me." In the 21st century we are a self-obsessed culture. We take "selfies," which is a word that did not even exist 10 years ago! The truly great ones NEVER want it to be about them. They deflect praise and shine light on other people and their accomplishments.
       Over an 8-month period beginning last September I said good-bye to three of these truly GREAT ONES - Frank Banner, my dad (Marty Newman), and Nate Lindsay. Yes, I am sad not to be able to relate to them any more. More than that, I am humbled and honored to have known them and walked this journey with each in different ways. When I grow up I want to be like them.

Marty Newman: 1925 - 2015

Nate Lindsay: 1936 - 2015
Frank Banner: 1927 - 2014

04 May 2015

The Season Called "Fallow Ground"

I tried to find an interesting or exciting photo of a field lying fallow, i.e. fallow ground as it is called.
       I could not find one. I guess that's the point really!
       Some people will struggle with the idea that there is a season for a person "to lie fallow," just as the soil does. I was meeting with someone recently who challenged me and said, "I think you are in a season of fallow ground, Brian."
       He went on to say that the sooner I embrace this season the better I can live in it. I did not like the guy much at that moment, but only because he was right!
       I am indeed in a season in my life of fallow ground, at least inwardly. Before you begin to feel sorry for me, or try to help me "snap out of it," please consider that fallow seasons are necessary and good for growth over the longer term.
       Our example comes from agriculture, about which I know virtually nothing. So I have needed to do some research and speak with people who know about land and cultivating crops.
       Here are some helpful and hopeful ideas for me about this fallow season:
  1. Land uses nutrients to help crops grow, and sometimes it takes A LOT of nutrients to get good crops. These seasons of plenty and abundance come with a cost to the soil.
  2. When you look at a field that is lying fallow it can appear as if nothing is happening. No crops are growing, no seedlings. Nothing. The field appears unproductive.
  3. What is happening on fallow ground is renewal of the soil. Rest. Shabbat. Silence, Quiet. Rebirth.
  4. Fallow ground is rarely beautiful or pretty. It's boring, blah, and ugly. Staring at fallow ground in Kansas is good for nothing - except if you have insomnia!
  5. Fallow ground still needs tending from the farmer. You have to make sure there are no infestations, no critters burrowing holes in the ground, no damage from severe weather. The farmer is not absent, he is mindful and watching the field;
  6. Fields do not lie fallow forever, or that is just a waste of the land. There is a SEASON for this, and the season eventually comes to an end and the land is restored and able to produce a bounty again.
So this is my season. I am sure you can draw the analogies to life from the image of the field. It has been strangely encouraging for me.

30 April 2015

Responding to Every Request for a Donation

I am both a giver and receiver of donations. This is as it should be, in my estimation.
       Some of us who raise funds for worthy causes believe that we need to look and sound "poor" or "needy," and being generous does not lend to that. The conventional wisdom is that if people see that we donate to other causes they will not give to ours.
       Well if that is the case I would prefer that people not donate to my causes and I can continue to give generously.
       The fact is that I actually LIKE asking people to give money to causes that I believe in, those that are seeking to make a positive impact in the world. I even like asking people to give for my personal support. Yes, I'm weird!
       We who are able also NEED to give generously, for many reasons. Among them is that we have the tendency to create idols out of possessions and pay checks and our stuff!
       Well, as someone who raises funds for a couple different causes, I have to deal with a lot of non-responses. I send out an email or letter and hear nothing from people. The silence is deafening!
       The only thing worse than silence is when someone says they will give and they don't. Then I send a reminder, and another one. Then I feel like I am stalking them. Ugh!
       So let me put on my "donor" hat again and seek to "be the change that I want to see happen!" (as Ghandi said) As much as possible, I try to respond to every personal request for a donation. Even if I have to say no to the person or organization, I want to encourage them in some way. I say things like this:
"Thank you for asking me to contribute to your cause. I won't be able to this time, but I think your work is important. Press on in doing good."
       I know that it can sound or feel patronizing to the person, but I would prefer that risk to simply saying nothing to them and leaving them in a fog.
       We in the West have an epidemic of fear and obsession with personal security. The way we deal with this fear and security "need" is to hold onto money, homes, comforts. They make us feel (falsely) more safe and secure. I do it, you do it. Most people do it.
       We need to become more obsessed with giving and generosity and less obsessed with security.
       It needs to start with me.
       It needs to start today.

27 April 2015

Eulogy: Words to Remember My Father

We had a beautiful memorial service for my dad at Beth Yeshua Congregation in Plainview, New York yesterday. These were the words I shared with everyone there:

My father was what I call the unlikely believer in God.
… the unlikely survivor – of a bad childhood
… the unlikely survivor of World War II
He was also the unlikely leader …
the unlikely person to help others…
And mostly, the unlikely follower of God.
For a Jewish kid from Brooklyn, that is quite the unlikely journey!
Mom and dad visited my family when we lived in Holland for a decade. They visited many times actually, often around Thanksgiving.
Frequently we invited dad to come along to activities with our community – a Christian church community. In the early years dad politely declined.
You see, dad wrestled with faith, and God,  and belief - as most of us do at times. He did not want to be a hypocrite, which I respected.
“I was born a Jew, I’m going to die a Jew,” dad would tell me, believing at the time that he would have to abandon being Jewish to believe in Jesus.
Two events in Holland when they visited began to show me a shift in dad’s heart and mind. The first was when our church needed to move locations, from one school to another. There was dad at 77 years old helping the sound techs and custodians schlep chairs, sound equipment, and children’s toys onto the moving truck! All of these 25-year-old strong Dutch guys marveled at dad’s energy!
The next day I was heading to church early in the morning and there was dad ready to go with me – a very new thing for him! I asked why and he said that the sound guys and custodians were his new-found friends. Dad walked into the new school where we had just moved as if he owned the place.
            The second event was when Susy and I had the privilege of baptizing mom at our church in Amsterdam. Here we were with 500 mostly young Dutch people watching as mom is baptized. Everyone cheers wildly as she comes out of the water. And there is dad right at the edge of the tub to help mom get out, hand her a towel, and carefully help her to walk back stage.
            Dad was unconvinced about faith at the time, but he was open and searching. And he leaned into seeking God.
            Dad had a lot to overcome to believe in a God who is good and gracious and forgives sins. It took him most of his 90 years.
            He was like the man who meets Jesus one day and exclaims, “I do belief! Help me in my unbelief!”
            Today we celebrate this unlikely follower of the Messiah, Y’shua.

15 April 2015

Why I Am Not "Sitting Shiva"

My father, Marty Newman, died three days ago on April 12, 2015. He was 90 years old when he breathed his final breath.
       I am not "sitting shiva" this week, even though our family is Jewish and we want to be respectful of our traditions and customs.
       Jews "observe shiva" for the 7 days after a loved one dies. The purpose is to grieve and mourn the loss of the person, and is marked by several acts:
the mourners do not work during the week, all mirrors in the house are covered, mourners sit on low chairs below visitors (to show their lowly position and grief), a candle is lit in memory of the person, a black cloth which is ripped is customarily worn, and there is a daily prayer service in which the Mourner's Kaddish is said.
       All in all, "sitting shiva" is a somber, sullen experience. I remember going to my aunt and uncle's co-op apartment when my grandfather died and we all sat around speaking softly and "looking a bit like death warmed over," as my dad put it at the time.
       I am not sitting shiva because I do not feel somber and sullen about my father's death. Please allow me to explain! I am sad that I will never be able to pick up the phone and call my dad. We won't be able to talk about cars anymore, and I won't laugh at his hysterical stories about life. But all of that is about ME and not about him. This is my grief and loss, and I hope I can lean into this mourning process in the coming weeks and months.
       There is also a big part of me that smiles at my dad being free of pain and suffering (no more shortness of breath, no more losing his dentures!). Even more than that, I want to shout for joy at my dad being in the very presence of God and the Messiah, Y'shua. If you are Jewish reading this post you might think, "Uh-oh, Brian is being delusional! He's lost his mind!"
       But I haven't. I know that we Jews have resisted and rejected the idea that the Messiah has already come, and we have generally rejected that Jesus (Y'shua) is that Messiah. If my dad could say anything to us right now it would be, Believe it! Believe it that Jesus really was and is the promised Messiah of Israel! My dad knows it first hand now.
       So there is no compelling reason to sit shiva for me. I do not need to be in a state of somber depression over my dad's death.
       There is one aspect of the mourning process that I simply love. That is, saying the Mourner's Kaddish. Shortly after my mom called us on Sunday morning to say that dad had passed, I found myself reciting the prayer in Hebrew under my breath. For all of my years going to synagogue on Long Island, I did not know what that prayer meant in English. Now I do. It is all about God's greatness and goodness, which my father knows now to the full!

Glorified and sanctified be God's great name throughout the world which He has created according to His will.
        May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and during your days, and within the life of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon;
and say, Amen.
       May His great name be blessed forever and to all eternity.
       Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored, adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that are ever spoken in the world; and say, Amen.
       May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.
He who creates peace in His celestial heights, may He create peace for us and for all Israel;
and say, Amen.

06 April 2015

Beware: Persian is Not Arab

It goes against my philosophical and theological framework to speak as I am about to regarding Iran, and the proposed nuclear agreement being brokered with Western powers.
       However, I have concerns (some serious) about the political agreement with Iran. My conservative friends may say that, at last, I am waking up to the "evil forces" at work in Iran. To be clear, I am not becoming hawkish about the U.S.'s involvement in the Middle East, and specifically with Iran. I AM hoping to point out three factors or dimensions to this issue that the Obama administration appears to be avoiding or ignoring.
  1. Persians are not Arabs. Arabs are localized and tribal, meaning that throughout history Arabs have turned on Arabs based on tribal and clan affiliation. Persians (Iranians) are far more monolithic and certainly the Iranian culture is the dominant force in the Persian world. They are unified which makes them more of a political (and military) force to be reckoned with in the Middle East.
  2. Understand the Power Structures. While I am not an expert on Iranian politics, I know enough that there are elected officials, who are chosen by the Iranian people, and there are the Ayatollahs who are not. Iran is a self-declared Islamic Republic, which means the Ayatollahs (the religious clerics) have more power than the popularly elected President and his appointed ministers. The Western governments have spent months and months negotiating with the elected officials of Iran, while the Ayatollahs have remained apart. This calls into question the legitimacy of the negotiations in the first place.
  3. Iran is Expansionist via Regional Influence. In the Iran-Iraq war of 1980 to 1988 (which the Reagan Administration and many other governments did not care very much about) Iraq attacked Iran, and Iran defended itself. Modern Iran since the overthrow of the Shah in 1979 has not proven to be expansionist in the sense of invading other countries. Unlike ISIS, It does not appear to want to conquer land. However, Iran has proven to be exceedingly meddling and destabilizing in the Middle East through fellow Shiite states and movements - Syria, Bahrain, Yemen, and Hizbullah. No one can deny the Iranians' covert operations and sectarian divide they have exploited with Sunni Muslim states.
My good friends on the side of "give peace a chance" will say that the United States meddles and destabilizes in the region as much as Iran. And you are correct in saying that. However, my father taught me that "two wrongs do not make a right!" We can speak out against Iran's meddling and also call the U.S. government to account for its meddling.

The deal with Iran is bad on its own merits, not because of any direct threat to Israel (or any other state in the region). It is bad because the West has not negotiated with the true power base in Iran, and because the agreement does not address consequences to Iran meddling in the affairs of other Middle Eastern states.

I applaud the Obama Administration for wanting a nuclear deal with Iran. Sanctions are crippling to the Iranian people, and only embitters the population to the rest of the world. However, we cannot "cut corners" just to get a deal done. It's time to go back to the drawing board.

07 March 2015

Passover Seder Tickets Available

We are hosting a unique Passover Seder this year. It will be at the former Temple Emmanuel in Denver, which is now home to one of the sites of Denver Community Church.
      As we do each year, there will be special surprises for the kids, we will have two giveaways of handcrafted pottery, and our "Bless Buckets" will be on the tables. This year all donations will go to help and bless Syrian refugees in Lebanon who are in need of their exodus and return.
       Buy tickets for the seder HERE.

04 March 2015

Tonight is Purim

Tonight is Purim, the remembrance of Esther in the history of the Jewish people. You can read the heroic story in the book of Esther in the Old Testament.
       A short article in Patheos recently asked the question, Who are the Esthers Today? It is an important question, but not only because of the rise of anti-semitism in Europe and elsewhere.
       It is important because women are often treated as second-class citizens in a variety of religious contexts - the Church, Judaism, and Islam to mention the three great monotheistic faiths.
       Lest we quickly jump on the bandwagon of how some strains of Islam abuse women (which certainly happens), we in the West would do well to do some serious self-reflection.
       We are quick to see women as objects of sexual desire and look away at a scantily clad Miley Cyrus, but are largely silent about this kind of abuse.
       There is an invisible glass ceiling for many, many women in the corporate world. And that ceiling is not even invisible in the Church world of Catholics and Protestants, where well-meaning men hold to theological positions that severely limit women's gifts, talents, and abilities.
      So I also want to ask, Who are the Esthers today? And I also want to ask how men such as myself are identifying, empowering, and sending those Esthers to change the world for good.