29 January 2012

A Beautiful and Lonely Path to Silence

Dieter Zander was one of the earliest visionaries in the Church for reaching out to Generation X (more than 30 years ago). He was a very gifted speaker and worship leader, later serving on the staff of Willowcreek Community Church.
       Some years later he moved to the San Francisco bay area and continued his public ministry, launching a new non-profit and serving on the staff of a church. Then in the middle of the night Dieter Zander had a massive stroke which almost killed him and left him unable to speak.
       His life was shattered.
       Today Dieter Zander continues to learn anew how to live and even thrive through his suffering.
       Here is a short video he produced about his journey. It is called "Stroke of Silence." It is simply breath-taking.

28 January 2012

A Jew Amongst Palestinians

In a Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut, Jan 2012.
The red, green, and black Palestinian flags told us that we were leaving Beirut city and entering another world, even though that other world is smack in the midst of the city.
       I felt the tension rise inside me as our driver wound her way to a dilapidated parking garage where we left the car. We walked a brief way and entered the wildly narrow alleys of a miniature city - 20,000 people living in 1 square kilometer. Welcome to Palestine!
       The refugee camp has been there since 1948, when Israel became a nation. It is a series of rundown buildings divided by alleyways with power lines draped everywhere about 6 feet off the ground.
       As we wandered through the camp escorted by two Lebanese women who work there, I wondered how many Jews have actually been inside such a camp. And how many of us Jews would change our perspectives about the "Palestinian problem" if we spent much time there.
Power lines in the refugee camps - not very safe.
       The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is far too complex to discuss here. However, what is definitely needed and what the Isaac-Ishmael Initiative is about in part is a deeper understanding of "the other." That is to say, each of us must cross the "dividing walls of hostility" (Ephesians 2) to begin to know those who are very different than us.
       And so I count it a privilege that I was able to visit a refugee camp while in Beirut. It was not easy or comfortable. On the contrary, it was confronting - as it should have been.

27 January 2012

Gabrielle Giffords and Courageous Leadership

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords says good-bye to an officer worker.
I love this picture (at right) of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords saying good-bye to one of her office workers this week. Of all the images the past days of Rep. Giffords bidding farewell to the House of Representatives this one captured me the most.
       Giffords has fought a courageous battle for her life after being the victim of a bullet wound to the head a year ago.
       It is one thing to fight this battle yourself, along with your husband. It is another thing to lead people in such a way that embodies HOPE and FAITH, in a greater good bend partisan politics.
       Few of us Americans tune into C-Span to watch Congress deliberate, even in the best of times. I don't know a soul who has the stomach for anything about Congress these days.
       Except for a few shining moments this week when Rep. Gabrielle Giffords entered the chamber to announce her resignation from Congress. For those few moments CIVILITY REIGNED.
       Well done, Gabby. You have brought light to a dark place.

26 January 2012

The New Gilded Age

This past week I spent time in what is one of the poorest places on earth - a Palestinian refugee camp - and in one of the wealthiest places on earth - the newly rebuilt downtown Beirut with its stellar skyscrapers.
       I also read an article in The New York Times about a new "gilded age" in the world, where a tiny portion of people hold the vast majority of the world's wealth. Estimates say that  the divide between the richest 1% of the world and the 20% of the poorest is growing faster today than ever in history.
       So when Barack Obama spoke in his State of the Union address this week about "class warfare" and proposed that people earning more than $1 million pay 30% income tax I reckoned it would strike a chord (for good or bad) with many people. And it has.
       And so we have the phenomena of both The Tea Party in the U.S. (fiercely capitalist, no new taxes, let the poor fend for themselves) and the Occupy Wall Street people (curb capitalism, raise taxes on the wealthy, get rid of corruption on Wall Street). The divide is reflected in a U.S. Congress which is paralyzed by this new Gilded Age (of which congressmen are among the richest 1%!); it is reflected in religious institutions which align themselves on one side or the other; and it is seen in local governments which have needed to adjustment to new economic realities (e.g. a growing lower class needing social services).
       I am not a proponent of a new Gilded Age, with its robber barons and extremely wealthy industrialists as was the case in the 19th century. What is needed is for people of faith (most especially followers of Jesus) to LEAD BY EXAMPLE, to voluntarily redistribute our wealth to those less fortunate. I am not advocating for a welfare state run by the government; I am strongly pleading with the Church to more and more be the "safety net" for those who are less able to care for themselves.

23 January 2012

The Cross Overlooks a Muslim Land

Susy and I had the privilege of driving into the mountains of Lebanon with our friends Nabil and Sarah this week. It had just snowed and it was a stunning, spectacular experience. We drove from the sea into the mountains above 5,000 feet and looked over a landscape which has been fought for for many centuries.
       One of the ironic or providential things is that there were many churches (Maronite) in the villages through which we drove. They are hundreds of years old, perched on hillsides staring down the gorge at Beirut.
       In a land which is predominantly Muslim now there is a sense of gravitas with the presence of these churches and crosses, almost as if they remind us of a past and a future for this great land.
       Some people might say that Christianity is on the retreat in Lebanon. I am not so sure of that - there is a rich Christian heritage and vision as Christians and Muslims live together (although admittedly with a lot of tension). I am grateful for the beautiful images of churches we encountered high in the mountains of Lebanon.

21 January 2012

Tomorrow I Preach in Beirut

Susy and I have been in Beirut, Lebanon for the past 4 days. Tomorrow morning I preach at All Saints International Church here, pastored by our close friend Nabil who we have been with these days.
       The title of my message is, "The Heart's Deepest Desire" from Mark 2 and Jesus healing a paralytic. Every message I preach is done so through the lens of what I am dealing with at the moment. This week I have dealt with so much complexity, suffering in a Palestinian refugee camp, listening to people speak passionately and painfully with the conflict in the Middle East.
       Somehow I believe Jesus intersects this drama, these human tragedies. Indeed, if he does not intersect them I have nothing to preach.
       So, I feel quite small and weak as I approach speaking God's Word to a group of people here in Beirut.  And yet I feel more confident in God, hopefully experience more of Christ and who he is in the midst of this situation.

12 January 2012

Here's to the Crazy Givers

Here's to the crazy, generous givers of the world:

  • To the billionaires a la Warren Buffett who will give away his billions before he dies;
  • To those who give to "crazy ideas" when they know that humanly speaking it is impossible;
  • To the $20 per month single mom living in the projects of Chicago who gives for someone more poor than herself;
  • To the rich who give based on the net worth rather than their net income in a year;
  • To those who know the answer to the question, "how much did he leave behind?" which is, "he left EVERYTHING behind;"
  • To the pastors who reduce their salaries voluntarily so that more people can be blessed;
  • To the cultural misfit religious institutions that only keep 10% of donations and give away 90%;
  • To the coupon cutters who dropped the savings from the coupons in the Salvation Army container outside the store;
  • To those who give anonymously and without fanfare - you know who you are!

10 January 2012

Musalaha - Reconciliation

Dr. Salim Munayer is the Director of Musalaha in Israel/Palestine. This short video captures much of the essence of the Isaac-Ishmael Initiative.

If You or I were lowered through the roof

This image is an African depiction of Mark 2:1-12 where a paralytic is lowered through a roof by his four friends. I just love this image, in large part because it forces me out of my "Jesus is a white man" worldview.
       What is more fascinating to me is the scene of the man being lowered through the roof. We sometimes make light of this scene, as if it is a fantasy that we wish could happen but won't happen.
       Mark tells us it DID happen, and that Jesus in challenging the religious leaders of the day illustrated his coming Kingdom with this great act of mercy.
       Here is a few reflections I had this morning while re-reading the Mark 2 passage:
*  First, the paralytic and his four friends had faith (verse 5). I have wondered if the paralytic could have enlisted my help to lower through the roof. Would I have that much faith?
*  Second, when the paralytic stood up and took his bed it says, "all were amazed and praised God." (verse 12) Does "all" mean the scholars and religious people also? They had just been questioning who Jesus is and what he was doing. Now they praised God for this miracle?
*  Third, I wonder what it would be like to be lowered through a roof so that I could be in Jesus' presence and he could heal my deformities - physical, spiritual, emotional.
       My Jesus (the one I think of most of the time) is far too "safe" and secure and tame. He does not challenge the status quo, does not call me to dreams and vision far beyond my imagination.
       But that is not the Jesus of Mark chapter 2 - the Jesus who is accessible to the cripple, the Jesus who challenges the religious establishment, the Jesus who is gathering his talmidim (disciples) to change the world, the Jesus who is compassionate and direct, who has mercy and confronts. This is the Jesus I met in Mark chapter 2 this week.

09 January 2012

Frequent Flyers Should Learn: The First Shall Be Last!

Message to all of us Frequent Flyers who have Gold, Platinum, and other exotic status on an airline: Remember that THE FIRST SHALL BE LAST, as Jesus said a long time before airplanes!
       I travel a lot these days, and it is rare that I am on a flight where the people in First Class are actually nice to the airline crew! I mean, common on people! You have great seats, free booze, a meal that's more than a sampling of peanuts!
       One of the most stressful moments of a flight is after the plane lands and has pulled up to the gate. Everyone jumps to their feet and has this painful WAIT to get off the plane. Talk about jittery people!
       I have a suggestion for all of us exotic frequent flyers: Let everyone else get off the plane before we do! Let's just sit in our Business Class seat and invite the people sitting in "cattle class" to deplane before us. Now THAT would be a miracle!

04 January 2012

Solitude: As Difficult as it is

Months ago when I was in the western Sahara Desert I experienced what I thought was "solitude." I suppose it was a form of solitude, but it had more to do with my physical surroundings and less to do with my inner life.
       As I enter this new year and begin to study Jesus anew I realize a startling fact once again: I stink at being still. I am allergic to solitude.
       I have been a driven activist for the better part of 30 years. Many times I get a pat on the back or an "atta boy" for my drivenness. That is Western Culture speaking to me. And yet I know that this pace of life and work actually pushes me away from God rather than toward Him.
       So this morning I am taking a couple of hours quietly with God. I'm staying in a beautiful home with wonderful people in Indianapolis. I have a 12-hour work day ahead of me, but it does not start until 9am so I am taking time to be apart.
       I am reminded again of Henri Nouwen's comment on solitude, which is profound:
“We enter into solitude first of all to meet our Lord and to be with Him and Him alone. Only in the context of grace can we face our sin; only in the place of healing do we dare to show our wounds; only with a single-minded attention to Christ can we give up our clinging fears and face our own true nature. Solitude is a place where Christ remodels us in his own image and frees us from the victimizing compulsions of the world.” ― Henri J.M. NouwenThe Way of the Heart: Desert Spirituality and Contemporary Ministry

02 January 2012

New Year 2012: Jesus

Having launched the Isaac Ishmael Initiative last year, I have found the profound need for a broader, deeper, and richer understanding of Jesus - the Christ. For me 2012 will be devoted to much more reflection, prayer, and reading on Jesus.
       I am starting with N.T. Wright's new book, Simply Jesus, which I realize is anything but "simple." I am reading Wright first for what is hopefully a straightforward reason - he studies both Jesus in the Gospel accounts as well as the Christ of the Pauline epistles. And he seeks to be integrative.
       In this first week of the year I am developing a plan for this study. Three books of the Bible will be my primary in my study - Isaiah, the gospel of Mark, and Paul's letter to the Ephesians. I have selected these books for specific reasons which I will explain in other blog posts.
       There are thousands of books written about Jesus, from many perspectives and angles. I hope to read 12 of them only - one per month. I have not selected the 12 yet; I am waiting until I finish Wright's book to decide on the rest (although I have a pretty good idea of most of the ones I will read).
       This study is enormously important to me because of my interest in relating to Jews and Muslims; for both groups Jesus is THE stumbling block and so the temptation is to avoid him. But we cannot and must not relegate Jesus to anything less than he is - Lord, Messiah, King of kings, having inaugurated His Kingdom.
       And so my quest begins!