27 February 2012

This Ministry Demands that We BE the Ministry

My time in Grasse, France ends today as we head to England for a leadership gathering. Those of us who have gathered here will be writing a declaration ... manifesto ... about our commitments to live and serve among "the other."
       I am struck by two thoughts as this ad hoc multi-ethnic, multi-cultural group leaves from this place:
       First, this type of ministry demands that we BE the ministry. What I mean is that it's all well and good to theorize and talk about massively divergent people being in community together. It is quite another thing to live it personally.
       Second, living and serving amongst the "other" complicates our lives, enriches our lives, and challenges us to "lose our lives" for the sake of others. I feel drained and empty after only 4 or 5 days with this diverse community here in Grasse. What would it be like if I lived in this context all the time?
       Increasingly I spend time, work with, and build community with people very different from myself - Arabs, a Persian, Europeans, people much wealthier, people poorer. They enrich my life, give me strength, and wipe me out!
       I also retreat to Denver, to my family, and to a fire pit in my backyard where "da boys" catch up with each other. We're not that diverse really, and that's OK too.

25 February 2012

Distinctly Kingdom of God

I am getting a glimpse of why Jesus spoke in so many parables about "the Kingdom of God is like...." I think he did so because the Kingdom of God is so wildly beyond our finite imaginations that he used very ordinary images (e.g. a mustard seed) to depict an entirely extra-ordinary reality.
       Theologian George Ladd argued that with Jesus' first coming the "Kingdom of God is now, and not yet." Jesus inaugurated the coming Kingdom but has not yet completed it. We live in the in-between time.
With my new Iranian friend Mohsen.
       Last night during our time in Grasse (France), I sat around the fire with Mohsen, an Iranian who came to faith in Christ in Glasgow some time ago. What a Jew and an Iranian are doing sitting around a fire in the south of France is something only Jesus can orchestrate!
       Mohsen is a soft-spoken, humble man who has lived an unlikely life, having been secretly transported by truck across Europe to the UK where he has sought and been given assylum. In the meantime we  discovered a community called Mosaic in Glasgow and has become a follower of Jesus there.
       I used to quietly think that the Kingdom of God (and what I thought of heaven) would be comprised of people like myself, or at least people with whom I am naturally comfortable and at ease (ethnically, skin color, even socio-economic status). I am being challenged by this as I sit next to Mohsen my new Iranian friend. All that we have in common is Jesus, and following him. And that's all we need together.

24 February 2012

Big Day Today

It is 8am here in Grasse (France). Church bells are ringing, it's crisp sunny morning. This morning begins a three-day gathering of 12 people to focus on "mission to the other," to the outsider.
       We are a diverse bunch - Tunisian, Iranian, French, Scottish, English, Dutch, Kenyan (sort of), American. Each of us has a unique history and perspective, different joys and sorrows of being an insider or an outsider.
       This is a rich and fulfilling time for me. It is a snapshot of the Kingdom of God in action, an otherwise scattered group who are following Christ and desiring to be a part of Jesus changing the world.
       I will try to blog on our time together in the next few days.

23 February 2012

The Jewish man Next to me

The guy across the row on my flight.
The man next to me on the sleepy flight from Newark to London was a study in contradictions. He was clearly devout, religious. Stern and serious. And uninterested in having any conversation with me. I asked him what he was reading and he said to me, "None of your business."
       Ah yes, that's my people!!
       He read from a homemade Bible of sorts – a variety of pages in English and Hebrew which appeared to be his favorite passages of the Torah and the Talmud. I found myself envious.
       He was served his food first, because he had ordered the kosher variety. It looked bland.
       I sensed a certain disdain for the rest of us on the plane, as if we are the unclean or pagan. I wanted to tell him, “Hey, I’m Jewish too. I’m one of you.” But I just did not sense that would impress him much!

22 February 2012

Headline at The Times of London

I arrived at London Heathrow this morning and went to an airline lounge while waiting for my flight to Nice. I picked up a copy of the Times of London and the front page headline asserted:
Syria slays its children
The sub-title quoted a Syrian saying, "We've been abandoned. Only God can save us."
       Last night on the flight from Newark I sat across from an ultra-orthodox Israeli who read Scripture and Talmud all night, and refused to have a conversation with me (more about that in a post tomorrow). In a relatively short overnight flight I am struck anew by the names "Isaac" and "Ishmael." Lord have mercy.

15 February 2012

I Cringe at Endorsements

When we launched the Isaac Ishmael website at the beginning of the year someone asked if there would be an "endorsements" page. I cringed and mumbled something like, "over my dead body."
       I have been in turmoil internally about getting endorsements for a project or a cause or whatever. It feels self-serving, like I have a sign on my back that says, "Look how great this is!"
       Then I traveled to North Africa and the Middle East recently and people wanted to know about this odd thing called The Isaac Ishmael Initiative. And they wanted to know who is endorsing this. NO, don't ask that question!!!
       So I got thinking about it and people want to figure out the legitimacy of organizations and movements and people. In the ever-volatile discussion around Christians, Muslims, and Jews there is added cause for concern and skepticism. So I have come around to be OK with having endorsements for this initiative.
       Initially I thought I needed some "big name" people to endorse Isaac Ishmael. Maybe I could call Billy Graham and see if he could throw a sentence my way! But then I got thinking about that and realized we want no name people in a sense, people who are regular folks from diverse backgrounds and who have a Kingdom vision!
       Diversity is the key - a Muslim cleric, a Protestant mission leader, a Catholic, a person who ministers to a Jewish community, a business person. French and Lebanese and North Africa and America and Dutch! Wow, it's beginning to feel like the Kingdom of God invading our lives! YES!
P.S. - There will be an endorsements page on the Isaac Ishmael website soon. Check back regularly.

14 February 2012

The Severity in Iran-Israel

The prospect of Israel and Iran going to war is a dramatic escalation of unrest in the Middle East. Before we may rush to the conclusion that Iran deserves to be attacked, it is important to understand the gravity of this:

     1. The Persian-Arab divide is far more volatile than most westerners understand. The Iranians are Persian and there is very deep hostility between them and Arab peoples (especially the Saudis);
     2. American foreign policy has largely been "hands off" when Persians and Arabs go to war against each other, e.g. the 8-year war between Iraq and Iran. In my opinion, this is incredibly short-sighted on the part of the U.S. and adds to the hatred of Persians and Arabs toward the west;
     3. The Shi'ite Muslim world of Iran, Hezbullah, and its alliance with Syria (although the rulers of Syria are Alowites) is certainly anti-Israel but they have different beliefs and worldview than the Sunni world (Saudi Arabia, Qatar). So, engaging in an escalation with the Shi'ite world is a whole lot more volatile than engaging with the Sunni world. More on this at another time.
     What is needed more than ever is a non-political peace plan - a Kingdom plan. The plan that Jesus brought to the Middle East when we road into Jerusalem (the city of PEACE) on a donkey. It will be nothing short of a miracle for there to be an outbreak of the Kingdom of God in Iran and Israel! Now THAT would be apocalyptic!

13 February 2012

A Reflection on Glen Campbell

Last night's performance by Glen Campbell at the Grammy's was such a poignant description of the horror of Alzheimer's Disease.
      Campbell beautifully sang his trademark song Rhinestone Cowboy, engaging the band and audience as he has done so many times over the years.
       As the song was over he graciously acknowledged the applause of the crowd and turned to leave the stage. Still holding the microphone to his mouth he says to the people around him, "Where do I go, or do I just shut up now?"
       And therein lies the tragedy, sadness, and horror of Alzheimer's. The world witnessed a person slipping away into the "long goodbye," as Nancy Reagan once said about Ronald Reagan.
       Linda Hogan in her short story states it this way, "I wake up in another country, there is no more north or south. Asleep we pass through one another like blowing snow, all of us, all." (Our Houses)
       In the world of Alzheimer's I have also found what Hogan has found: North is not north, south is not south.
   * Moments of brilliance interspersed with times of utter confusion;
   * The "eyes of engagement" transformed into the "eyes of vacancy;"
   * Times of calm switching to irritation, almost instantly.
     My friend Nate has Alzheimer's. He is in a home in California. We have visited him a couple of times since he moved there in October. I enjoy being with Nate in those moments, but "being" is so very different with him than with others. As Mary Sarton has said about old age in general and dementia in particular: "It's a foreign country with an unknown language to the young and even to the middle-aged."

06 February 2012

Oppressed, Oppressor, and a Wandering Jew

I was on a Skype call with my friend and colleague Nicky who lives with her family in southern France. We were discussing Miroslav Volf's book, Exclusion and Embrace and how profound it has been in both of our lives.
       Once again I was caught up and stunned by the reality that Jesus game for both the oppressed and the oppressor. I am not making a statement about a person's relationship in eternity with God, but only that God's grace extends to the oppressor as well as the oppressed.
This is what Volf says:

“Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy from the community of humans even as I exclude myself from the community of sinners. But no one can be in the presence of the God of the crucified Messiah for long without overcoming this double exclusion — without transposing the enemy from the sphere of the monstrous… into the sphere of shared humanity and herself from the sphere of proud innocence into the sphere of common sinfulness. When one knows [as the cross demonstrates] that the torturer will not eternally 
triumph over the victim, one is free to rediscover that person’s humanity and imitate God’s love for him. And when one knows [as the cross demonstrates] that God’s love is greater than all sin, one is free to see oneself in the light of God’s justice and so rediscover one’s own sinfulness.” 

       This is at the heart of the Isaac-Ishmael Initiative. Until I give up my "right" for vengeance I cannot participate in the "other's" humanity. I give dignity to relationship and reflect the values of Kingdom of God when I see both the oppressor and the oppressed through the lens of Jesus the crucified and risen Messiah.

05 February 2012

Super Bowl, the Giants, and my Armenian Friend

Today is Super Bowl Sunday and my beloved NY Giants are playing the dreaded New England Patriots. It's going to be a great day!
      It will be especially great because my friend Aram (an Armenian from Boston) is a die-hard Patriots fan and I (a Jew from New York) am a Giants fan! Now there's some history here that you should know about.
     Aram and I pastored together for 3 or 4 years, basically ministering together during a really crappy time in the church's history. I don't know that I would have kept even HALF sane without Aram those years. (that's another story)
       In the midst of pastoring together the Boston Red Sox WON THE WORLD SERIES (thus the picture to the left in which I am wearing - hold on now - a RED SOX hat and Aram is gloating). Well the score was evened when the NY Giants beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl 4 years ago. Aram and I were at a party at our friends Steve and Diane's place last time. I had major bragging rights and was inappropriately obnoxious as the Giants won.
       Well Aram and I are returning to Steve and Diane's again for the game tonight. It's deja vu all over again hopefully! I have told Aram that if the Giants win I'm giving him a big fat kiss! He has said he will be hiding under a Bill Belicheck-type hoody to stay away from me!
       Game On!