30 August 2012

The Challenge of Inclusion

Last weekend I found myself sitting around the table with an Afghan and an Arab. What was a nice Jewish boy like me doing in a place like this?
       What's even more bizarre is that we had a true kinship, bond, connection, vision! How did that happen?
       As my friend Aram says in the title of his book, "The answer is always Jesus!" The three of us follow and love Jesus and have submitted ourselves to him. And so in a very real sense we can submit ourselves to one another.
       I have found that I have the opportunity to grow and mature the most when I am inclusive and with people who are very different from me. Some examples:
* Fouad is a Lebanese Arab who grew up during the civil war in Lebanon. He was there when the Israelis invaded his country a couple of times. He has some legit reasons to be angry with Jews. We work closely together in ministry;
* Roger is a card-carrying NRA member from Texas. A Republican, conservative. I am none of those things. We have built an incredibly strong friendship over our years in Denver. He won't show me his guns because he is concerned that I will UNfriend him! (but I won't)
* Mariya is an Afghan (Persian), about half my age, she has been a follower of Jesus only about 2 years. She has this tremendous evangelistic zeal to share her faith with everyone and anyone. We might as well have grown up on different planets!;
* Jim and his wife are my liberal buds. I don't mention her name only because her dad is way conservative and it might cause some tension in the family! I cannot hang out too much with Jim because we just think we are right all the time!
       This is my point: Living in diversity and being inclusive demands that we HAVE convictions, not that we abandon them. Living in diversity means that we be open to learn from others, to listen carefully, to be slow to judge and to not be judgmental. I need to be in community with people who are very different than me. It's humbling in the best sense of the word.
       I am more Christian (wanting to truly, fully follow Christ) now that I rub shoulders with more and more people who are not Christian - Jews and Muslims in particular. I want them to follow Christ also - but not because I am right and they are wrong. Rather I want them to be fully alive (in Christ), to learn to live in diversity and to become inclusive (Jews and Muslims generally are not good at the diversity piece), to experience a taste of heaven on earth. I love that the book of Revelation tells us that heaven will be made up of people from every culture, every language (ta ethne in Greek)!

27 August 2012

A Persian, a Jew, and an Arab Meet

This photo means so much to me. It's a microcosm of what I see in Scripture of the Kingdom of God.
     The caption I have put on it is, "A Persian, a Jew, and an Arab meet to dream about what God is doing among Muslims."
       In other words, "thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven." 

23 August 2012

Every Privilege Has a Purpose

This helps me find at least some context for living a privileged life. It also raises some important questions for me.

20 August 2012

Little Seen, Not Overlooked

Once upon a time (when I first moved to Denver) I found myself at a mega-church which had recently removed its wildly popular senior pastor. The church was in danger of going from "boom to bust." I was asked to do some consulting for the church.
       I spent most of a year hanging around the church, coming alongside the staff in some ways, helping where I could. There was a guy on that staff, Karl, who had come along as an interim teaching pastor (I think). He is a great communicator, loves Jesus, and probably could have stayed at that church for many years.
       But Karl (and others on staff) had a new vision for Church, and wanted to see if the dinosaur of a mega-church could change. In the end, the leadership of that mega-church would not take a chance on this new vision. They paid a lot of money to a head hunter who found a "high octane" pastor. The church has exploded with growth in the past 6 years. The rest is history, as they say.
       These years later I am reminded of Jesus' words, "the first shall be last and the last first" when considering this mega-church and Karl. You see, Karl now co-pastors a church of self-declared misfits and people who don't go nicely into a box. The church is small with few material resources. It's a real community, but not outwardly "successful" by some standards.
       The mega-church had income of more than $8 million last year and a staff of about 60 people, up from 25 when Karl and I were there 6 years ago. By many standards this church is successful, and certainly makes an impact in the community and around the world.
       I track with Karl via his blog and almost always find myself horribly confronted by his insights on what it means to have faith in Jesus. It strikes me that he has traded in success (after all, he could pastor a lot of big churches around here) for something else - weakness, humility, frailty. Hmmmmm... I'm not sure I am that courageous.
      Here's to you, Karl. You gained my respect years ago at that mega-church. My respect for you continues to grow.

19 August 2012

What Does $500 Million Buy?

News outlooks reported this week that more than $500 million has been spent on the U.S. Presidential election to date, and it is still more than two months until Election Day. It is estimated that more than $1 Billion will be spent on this presidential election.
     So I got to thinking: "What could $500 million do in the world today?" Here are some ideas:
* Feed 9.2 million malnourished children around the world for 50 days;
* Immunize 29 million children for life;
* Provide clean water for 500 million people in the developing world for 40 days;
* Buy 166 million anti-malatrial mosquito nets in Africa.
(source: NBC Nightly News)
     I have lived and worked in the Developing World (parts of Africa, southern Asia, and Latin America). I am not so naive that $500 million can simply be thrown around in these parts of the world and these problems eradicated. I know it's just not that straightforward.
     Nonetheless, it is shameful that my "home" culture is marked by such obscene spending on political campaigns. And even if 90% of the $500 million might be wasted or misused in the process of immunizing 29 million children, I would prefer to spend it that way. A $50 million investment in children's health in Africa is worth far, far better than $500 million spent on a presidential campaign.

13 August 2012

Halls of "Fame"

We strolled the halls of Silverado care facility with Nate this week. I took my time looking at the displays outside each person's room.
     Echoes of lives of purpose and vision and service.
     Nate waited patiently for me as I looked closely at photos, medals, certificates, pictures of family. Memories of days filled with joy and hope.
     It is twilight for the people represented in those displays. The light is dimming, they communicate less and in different ways, they have gone to "another country" for the time being. But that is only a sub-plot to the main story of their lives.
     This week I felt the importance and beauty of those lives as we strolled the halls with our friend Nate.
     We got to Nate's room and there was the display of his life. I love the 8x10 framed photo from his retirement from the Air Force. And the signed photo NASA astronauts who he helped succeed in their mission. Wow, was I proud to be standing next to Nate at that moment!
     Over the past years I have had the privilege of taking a lot of walks with Nate - once when we visited his family in Princeton, many times walking his neighborhood in Colorado, walking our dogs around the lake in Evergreen, and now the stroll through the "halls of fame" at Silverado.
     I am humbled to walk with greatness.

11 August 2012

Cultural Bubbles and Mission

I was preaching last week and pointed out that Western culture is obsessed with two things:
1. Personal safety and security
2. Living in homogenous cultural bubbles
The problem with this is that mission is impossible while having these two obsessions.
     If we want to be with people who are the same skin color, the same socio-economic status, with the same faith practices, the same political persuasions we will only perpetuate that sub-culture. "Like attracts like." This creates comfort - another thing that Westerners crave.
     The Kingdom of God that Jesus preached seems to me to be incredibly UNcomfortable in many ways - we welcome the stranger, we build relationships with people very different than ourselves, the most powerful will end up least powerful, if we really want to be safe and secure we will lay down our lives for another person.
     Every day I wake up with a dizzying "need" to be safe, secure, and to be with people like myself. Every person does this. The difference for the Christian is that Jesus does not call us to such safety, security, and "like attracts like" living. He calls us to Kingdom living with all its wonderful diversity.

10 August 2012

Overheard the Other Day

Sitting at lunch the other day at a home for people with dementia, I overheard  a couple who were having their meal together. I figured out that the couple had been married many years, that he is living in the home and she comes to visit him every day.
     Husband to wife: I want to make love to you right here, on the table!;
     Wife to husband: Yesterday you wanted to divorce me.
     If you are wondering if you can find humor in this, PLEASE DO!
     What I find beautiful about it is that most of us who are married and do not have dementia have days when we want to have a similar dialogue with our spouse. Perhaps it has taken this couple their entire married life to be so forthright and vulnerable with each other.
     "Each time of life has its own kind of love." ~ Leo Tolstoy

09 August 2012

Entering "Another Country"

I am re-reading portions of Mary Pipher's outstanding book, Another Country: Navigating the Emotional Terrain of Our Elders. It just so happens that we are also visiting our friend Nate in southern California at the moment. He has Alzheimer's and is in a care facility. We visited him for lunch yesterday for the first time.
     The combination of these two and the fact that I will turn 50 in two months has given me pause to consider aging.
     When I am around people who are toward the end of their lives (the "old-old" as Pipher calls them) I am deeply humbled by their will to live and the ability to live with discomfort, pain, and suffering.
     AND, to live in the moment (all we have suddenly) which creates something of a "holiness," a "sacred ground." Put another way:
"You have set the powers of the four quarters of the earth to cross each other. You have made me cross the good road and the road of difficulties, and where they cross, the place is holy." ~ Black Elk

08 August 2012

Bipartisanship ... at Last!

Most of the Colorado delegation to Congress has signed a bipartisan letter to the leaders of their political parties urging a deficit reduction package to be approved. Click HERE to read the letter. It is rare in these days to find Democrats and Republicans to agree on very much. Well done.