29 September 2011

A Couple of First Thoughts from North Africa

I was in North Africa for a week for a three-day dialog with imams from the country. The "American Delegation" as we were called was made up of 7 people, most of whom have been doing this for six years now.
       There were 16 imams in attendance - they are mostly from Algiers.
       The last evening of the dialog we had a feast together. That's the photo to the right. It was a wonderful evening. I sat next to a young imam, Youcef, and we shared deeply about our lives.
       A few initial reflections come specifically from this meal together:
* First, this gathering was probably the most important of all the meetings we had. It was also the least formal. When we were in the formal dialog and there were other people observing, it felt like a chess match. Over dinner it felt like friendships.
* Second, there are striking similarities and agreement between Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. AND there are equally great, great differences which divide us. There is little middle ground here.
* Third, most of us in the West have images and impressions of Muslims and Islamic clerics which are only partially true. Or at the very least it is unfair to make sweeping generalizations about "all imams" or "all Muslims." I think we do that sometimes to justify our prejudice against a group of people.
       I have a lot more to process, and as I am able I will do so on this blog. I cannot process everything because some things are confidential. But many things in the dialogs were very public in Algeria and so can be public elsewhere.

28 September 2011

Where I Was the past week

I spent the past week in part of the western Sahara, near Tindouf in Algeria. I did not even know it existed a month ago.
I was in a series of refugee camps...
with some others who were speaking with a group of Muslim clerics.
I'm not kidding.
And this picture is NOT photoshopped.

24 September 2011

Love and Fear

"I would prefer a thousand mistakes
in extravagance of love
to any paralysis
in wariness of fear."
~ Gerald May

23 September 2011

Inside the Box, Outside the Kingdom

It has struck me the past couple of days that the more I live "in the box" of my culture and particular worldview the more likely I am to be living outside the Kingdom of God.
       I spent several hours in a major airport yesterday in which I was one of only a few non-Muslims. I felt distinctly "other," as an outsider looking into a unique context and culture.
       My cultural "box" was being torn apart at the moment and I desperately wanted to be among people just like me. I wanted "sameness" and homogeneity, I wanted to be with people who believe like I do.
       Isn't this EXACTLY what we do every day? We cocoon, we create our own "ghettos" so that we can feel safe in a community. Religious people - Jews, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus - all do this. Most religious people have justification for cocooning with people like themselves. Christian have no justification, because the Kingdom of God is for the "other." The Kingdom of God is ALL about diversity; people from all people groups coming to God through Jesus.
       More and more I am convinced that followers of Jesus are called to be minorities, to live in the midst of diversity rather than dispelling it. Growth comes in the stretching of our boxes, or perhaps asking God to redraw the box.

21 September 2011

The Passport

This is my somewhat water-logged passport which showed up at my house 24 hours before I needed it to head out of the country. It had gotten lost in a Fedex facility in Maryland due to the recent hurricane there.
       I was told on Monday morning by a sweet Fedex rep that the package has "vanished" and that it would not be recovered. It just disappeared.
       For about 2 hours I did emotional gymnastics to come to term with not going on a trip which I felt was really important, and that God had led me to. I griped at God, denied, resisted, and then came to some level of acceptance.
       Then a guy at the Fedex warehouse in Maryland called me and said he had found an envelope with my passport in it. It had water damage but was useable. The guy was a janitor who had just started his shift.
       I asked him to bring the package to his supervisor which he was in the process of doing. 15 minutes later I got a call from Fedex customer support saying that the passport would be delivered to my house within 24 hours, which it was. It arrived at 10am yesterday - a full 26 hours before I had to get on a plane.
       So now I AM going on this much anticipated trip after all. Quite the rollercoaster trip it has been. Yes I am going, not I'm not. Yes, I am going. Whew, talk about an adrenaline rush!
       I am probably offline for the next week, so no blog entries. I'll give an update as I can when I am back.

14 September 2011

Should churches show video of the twin towers?

While in Indianapolis this week I had a conversation with a guy who said that last Sunday the pastor of his church showed a clip of the planes flying into the Twin Towers 10 years ago. It was an illustration about the depravity of man and how Jesus is the only hope for the world.
       This is not the first time I heard someone say that a video of the Sept. 11th tragedy was shown during a worship service this past weekend. At first I was just puzzled by this. But after hearing three different people voice strong emotions toward this I got thinking further, and wondered why this does not seem right.
       I am most distraught about this video being shown in churches because:
* The event was so traumatizing to so many people, and watching the video again and again only re-traumatizes;
* I suppose that a preacher can move from those scenes of destruction to the grace of God in a sermon, but it is a LONG way to travel;
* One person said they thought the preacher was trying to be "cutting edge" or "outside the box." Considering that a whole bunch of preachers did the same thing last Sunday I sort of doubt it was outside the box too far;
* I think you can verbalize about depravity and sin without showing the video and people will formulate images from their own memory. Basically the clips are not necessary.
       I am a preacher too. I have had good days and bad days preaching sermons. Sometimes I have thought sermons are way more important and spiritually forming than I believe they are (that's another blog post).
       I am sure of this: We can do better than showing planes flying into towers as illustrations of depravity. God is certainly better than that.

12 September 2011

Some Thoughts on Community on Sept. 11th

Last night we had 30 or 35 people over to our house for a BBQ/potluck along with a brief "Shalom Remembrance" in light of 9/11. For me it was a relaxed, comfortable evening with friends. Mostly we just hung out and visited, and ate some great food that people brought along.
       We held a short liturgy shaped after part of a Sabbath service in a synagogue.
* Lighting the candles (Susy did that)
* Reciting the Shema
* Responsive reading (Lizzy did that)
* Blessing the children
* The Mourner's Kaddish/Prayer
* Singing (Dan led that)
* Aaronic Blessing
       Pretty straightforward really. It was good to "shabbat" together  to rest. And to seek Shalom in Jesus. The evening provided some solace for me, it helped me live in the midst of great sadness and great hope that God gives. I find it a lot easier to live in this space in community rather than trying to do it on my own.
Postlude: A few of us "stragglers" had a bit of an after-party around the firepit. (see photo) The hardcore party-ers I call them!

11 September 2011

Where Were You?

I grew up hearing grown ups asking each other, "Where were you when JFK was shot?" Everyone knew exactly where they were.
       Today we ask each other, "Where were you when the planes flew into the Twin Towers?"
       I was standing in front of the Free University of Amsterdam in The Netherlands, putting money in a parking meter. A Dutch guy came up to and said, "Did you hear about the attack in New York City? Two planes hit the World Trade Center towers." That's where I was - on an unusually sunny day in Amsterdam.

10 September 2011

Leading from the Sandbox Website

Here is a great blog/website on leadership. It is written by Tim Addington. Click HERE. His book, "Leading from the Sandbox" is well worth the read.

09 September 2011

Honoring Some True Servants

Last week I was with a wonderful group of true servants. They work in places such as southern Sudan, Haiti, Madagascar, and Afghanistan.
       They work with the poorest of the poor in our world.
       They are idealistic and visionary and struggling to hold onto both.
       These are the folks from Medair, a relief and rehabilitation agency based in Switzerland and working in the developing world.
       I count it a privilege to have met these people, and to have had our lives intersect in a quaint location in Switzerland last week. My thoughts and prayers go with them as they return to their corners of the earth.

08 September 2011

A Great Vision for Muslims

Yesterday I was on a conference call with my friend Fouad Masri, CEO of The Crescent Project. We were reviewing the core statements and beliefs of the organization.
       Here is what Crescent sees as a future vision:
"We see a day when fear is replaced with love and millions of Christians are actively sharing the truth of Christ with millions of Muslims for the glory of God."
       Wow, I am captured by this vision - a day will come when people's FEAR of "the other" will be replaced by LOVE for the other, and this love compels Christians to share their faith in Christ with MILLIONS and MILLIONS of Muslims!
       What a God-sized Vision!

07 September 2011

Home, Sweet Home ...then on the Road

I LOVED coming home last night after being away for two weeks! My dogs, Angel and Bailey, greeted me with the appropriate canine hyper-activity. Bailey wiggles her whole body so much when she is happy that you would think she might break in half! (By the way, nobody else in my family wiggles out of sheer delight of seeing me again! - HA)
       I am home for 6 days and then head to Indianapolis to be with the good folks at Crescent Project for three days. We will be remembering the Sept 11th attacks with a group of friends at our place - meal together and then a brief "shabbat-shalom" remembrance, taking the best from what I remember of my Jewish roots at a Friday evening sabbath service. There will be about 30 people here.
       It's 3:30am and I am jetlagging. I am tempted to go wake Susy and see if she wants to chat for a while, since we've been apart for 2 weeks. Probably not a good idea, but I might do it anyway!

05 September 2011

The Walls We Build ... and the ones God takes down

One day at the Medair retreat we did a little exercise in which we built a dividing wall. See the photo for what the wall looked like.
       I had everyone do a powerful little exercise in which I had them divide based on a series of questions:
* Men on one side, women on the other
* Those who have voted in an election, those who have NOT;
* Those from cultures which were colonized, those from cultures who were imperial;
* Those from cultures who were victims of genocide, those from cultures who perpetrated them.
       And so it went, as we experienced first-hand the LACK of shalom we all experience because of the walls we build between peoples and cultures.
       Then we read these astonishing words from the apostle Paul regarding Jew and Gentile:
For [Christ] himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (Ephesians 2:14-18)

03 September 2011

Teachings on Shalom - Overview

This morning I finished the teachings/devotionals on "A Living Shalom" with Medair.
       Here are the titles of the four devotionals and the Scripture I spoke on:
#1: Jerusalem (the City of Peace) and Un-peace (Jeremiah 6:6-16)
#2: Peace and Jesus' Sword (Matthew 10:32-42)
#3: Peace and Breaking Down Our Walls (Ephesians 2:11-22)
#4: Peace at the End of a Gun (Matthew 5:9, James 3:18)

02 September 2011

The Center of the Gospel

The German theologian Jurgen Moltmann has said, "All Christian statements about God, about creation, about sin and death have their focal point in the crucified Christ." (from The Crucified God). I wholeheartedly agree.
       This morning at the Medair gathering I lead the second of four teachings/devotionals. Today was titled, "Peace and Jesus' Sword" and was based on Matthew 10:32-42. Jesus says that he came not to bring peace but a sword. He also says that families will be split up over this.
       The other places in the Gospel accounts where we see a sword is when Peter cuts off the ear of a person and when Jesus is pierced with a sword while hanging on the cross.
       Could it be that Jesus' reference in Matthew 10 to bringing a sword is a statement about his upcoming crucifixion? Could it be that Jesus is saying that there is NO shalom without the sword which pierces him on the cross?
       All of Christian belief, faith, and practice begins and ends at the cross of Christ. Shalom is found at the most violent pinnacle of human history - the cross where Jesus is crucified.

01 September 2011

Teachings on Shalom

This week I am teaching on the biblical notion of "shalom" to a group of Medair staff. They work in the following countries: Haiti, Congo, southern Sudan, Madagascar, and Uganda. Some of the most extreme cases of NON-shalom in the world! Quite the humbling process for me to be with them.
       I am encouraged by Dietrich Bonhoeffer's words in the following two quotes:
  • There is no way to peace along the way to safety. For peace must be dared. It is the great venture. (Address at Fano)
  • The followers of Christ have been called to peace. . . . And they must not only have peace but also make it. And to that end they renounce all violence and tumult. In the cause of Christ nothing is to be gained by such methods. . . . His disciples keep the peace by choosing to endure suffering themselves rather than inflict it on others. They maintain fellowship where others would break it off. They renounce hatred and wrong. In so doing they over-come evil with good, and establish the peace of God in the midst of a world of war and hate. (The Cost of Discipleship)