29 September 2012

A First Reflection on Peace Talks

Sometimes I scratch my head and wonder how I got to this point in my life and ministry.
       Last night we hosted our first ever "Peace Talks" - a conversation between an Arab (Fouad), and Afghan (Mariya), and a Jew (me). Mariya's expression in the photo at left captured something of my emotion around this gathering.
       Could it be that an Arab, a Persian, and a Jew can learn to relate, to understand each other, to work and minister together? Well that's what the three of us are seeking to do.
       I realized last night that we do not embrace diversity for diversity sake. We embrace diversity because it is a reflection of the Kingdom of God, a reflection of God's design for His creation.
       It also dawned on me that perhaps the greatest testimony we have to Muslims and Jews is a diverse community of Christ followers who are committed to loving each other and learning to relate to God through each other's experiences and culture.


28 September 2012

Tonight is Peace Talks!

Tonight we host the first "Peace Talks" as part of Shalom Village and our regular Friday gatherings in Denver.
       We will have a dialog between a Jew (me), an Arab (Fouad), and an Afghan/Persian (Mariya). It is an unscripted conversation about faith, culture, and our growing friendship - all under the umbrella of following Jesus as Lord and being part of His Kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven.
       I am both expectant and anxious. Part of me only wants a few people to show up (and people that I know well). Another part of me wants there to be a larger group with a lot of diversity of opinion. But no mud slinging, please.
       Once again I am sensitive to the fact that most of us stay in our cultural and religious bubbles - Jews with jews, Arabs with Arabs, Muslims with Muslims, etc. It is rare indeed for a Jew, an Arab, and an Afghan to share an evening together and to learn to listen to each other's stories and to understand a bit more of their worldviews.
       I will let you know how Peace Talks goes tonight. Check the blog over the weekend.

27 September 2012

A Day in My Life

This was my day yesterday:
     * In the morning I attended a Yom Kippur service for a couple of hours. About 1,500 other Jewish people and me in a conservative synagogue in south Denver.
     * In the afternoon I spent time on the phone with my Lebanese Arab colleague and writing a funding proposal for an online outreach effort to reach Muslims;
     * In the late afternoon I umpired a youth baseball game. I worked behind the plate calling balls and strikes;
     * In the evening Susy and I went to the University of Denver to hear a panel discussion on, "Can We Avert War with Iran?" Fascinating!
Life is full and rich for me at the moment.

25 September 2012

My Sadness at Yom Kippur

Facebook Post from a Jewish Acquaintance Today:
Generic Yom Kippur status update asking general forgiveness from everyone who I may have wronged. Ok? We good now? Perfect! Shana Tova!
       Most years since I became a follower of Jesus Christ I feel deeply sad on the eve of Yom Kippur. The evening before is called "Kol Nidre," meaning "all vows."
       Kol Nidre is an ancient prayer (in Aramaic originally) in which all vows, oaths, and prohibitions are repudiated by the people of Israel. The scene is a courtroom where there is a judge, a prosecutor, a defendant. The defendant is guilty and pleads for mercy. Courtrooms are depressing to me.
       The next day is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is the one day of the year that Jews believe God opens the Book of Life and decides whose names will be written in it for the next year.
       How does he decide? In the mind of a Jew there is a vague notion that God weighs our good deeds and bad deeds and make a judgement. Yom Kippur gives us the opportunity to repent, to "throw away" all of our sins of the last year and to start with a clean slate.
       I love the Jewish people (MY people), but I am so heavy-hearted at Yom Kippur. This holiday (more than any other Jewish holiday) is a dead-end street in many ways today; it's a dramatic picture of how religious ritual alone ultimately falls short. What is most frustrating to me is that Yom Kippur so powerfully foreshadows the Messiah - the Lamb who was slain! And yet the Jewish people miss it.
       Tomorrow morning I hope to go to a Yom Kippur service. Possibly a messianic one, possibly a traditional one. I will wear my yarmulke and tallis, I will recite the prayers. And I will carry a sadness for my people, and will pray that they seek and find their Messiah.

22 September 2012

$50,000 per plate?

What are you served for your meal at a $50,000 per plate dinner? Presidential political campaigns (both Republican and Democrat) do these fundraisers quite a bit.
       Are people served a whole chicken with a 14 carat gold nugget in the cavity? Are the wine glasses gold-plated and can you take one home?
       It simply boggles my mind that someone would pay $50,000 to go to a dinner.
       Estimates are that the presidential campaigns will spend more than $1 billion (that's BIllion with a B) to get either Romney or Obama elected. I find this amount as disgusting as the $16 trillion debt owed by our country.
       Imagine the good $1 billion could do in the hands of servant leaders of non-profits who help the poor, work with people in job re-training, assist people with mental health challenges, reach out to the marginalized and under-represented, help an entrepreneur start an innovative new business. Wow, ONE BILLION BUCKS!
       I have never given money to a political campaign and long before the current political season I chose that my wallet would stay in my pocket. To those of you who are glancing at this blog, I would strongly urge you to redirect those dollars from politics to other worthy causes. Let's choke off the money supply to all political campaigns and get on with the much more important things of life.

21 September 2012

Pastrami on Rye ... extra mustard

My colleague Paul and I went to Shapiro's Deli in Indianapolis yesterday. I had pastrami on rye, extra mustard. He had a Reuben.
       I walked into the deli and expected people working there to be Jewish, and to have strong New York accents. They were neither Jewish nor did they have accents. And... nobody was rude!
       Paul and I walked up to the counter and a nice young woman asked if we were ready to order. I said that we were not yet and she said, "That's OK, take your time."
       I knew right away, "we are not in New Yawk anymore!" This brief encounter made me suspicious about the quality of the pastrami. Somehow pastrami and corned beef tastes more authentic if you are insulted first by your server.
       But my fears were calmed moments later when I saw a sign on the counter that said, "Beef Tongue, $22.95 per lb." Ah yes, made me feel at home with my people!

20 September 2012

The Passing of a Quiet Saint

I encountered Jan Cowles only three times. Oh how I wish it had been more.
       Jan went to be with the Lord earlier this week after battling cancer. I had heard of him from numerous good friends who were very close with Jan.
       The first time I met Jan was at a little coffee shop where he was playing guitar along with our mutual friend Jim. I do not remember speaking with Jan that night, but I do remember no less than 5 people at the cafe mentioning what a gem of a guys he is, how gracious and gentle of spirit.
       The next time I saw Jan was at a conference on the Bible and the Holocaust. I had gotten hot under the collar about some of the comments from attendees, and I spoke up loud and clear. Jan was sitting in the row behind me (which I did not know). During a coffee break I felt a hand on my shoulder and a soft whisper from behind, "Can I sit down with you, Brian?" It was Jan. I melted into the seat. 
       We spoke for a few minutes, he asked a lot of questions, peered deeply into my eyes. It felt like I was meeting Jesus. Really.
       The last time I met up with Jan was less than a year ago at my office. He came to find out about Shalom Village and my work with Muslims and Jews. I seem to remember that I did most of the talking, he listened intently, and we prayed together. As he walked out he wished me well. My life was full of shalom at that moment, in large part because of this encounter with Jan.
       One important measure of a life is what a person leaves behind. In a word, LEGACY. I spent this evening reading tributes to Jan on his Facebook page. Here is a man who has finished oh so well - intimate with God and Jesus, intimate with family and friends, having deeply impacted many people's lives for the good, a humble and kind servant.
       I will miss Jan, even though I hardly knew him. For those closest to him I pray for God's grace to carry you in these days of grief.

19 September 2012

10 Days of Awe

It is the High Holidays in the Jewish faith right now. Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish new year) started last Sunday and Yom Kippur is next week. These days are known as the "10 Days of Awe."
I love that phrase: "10 Days of Awe." I have an affinity to it. And I have a sadness about it. For the vast majority of the 13.5 million Jews in the world there is a lack of awe when it comes to what the High Holidays lead to on a deeper meaning.
       Many Jews rightfully see these days as a time of repentance, when God judges His people and decides if He will write their names in the Book of Life. God will weigh our good deeds and our sins and decide if we are in the Book or not.
       Many years ago, in a somewhat drunkard stupor, I realized that my feeble good deeds will NEVER be enough to outweigh my sin and sins. I understood that I needed a Saviour who was sinless and completely good to be the substitute (lamb) for me. He's Jesus.
       In the ensuing years I have been on a journey to re-capture the very best of these "10 Days of Awe." It starts with Rosh Hashanah - the "head" of the year. We eat apples with honey (quite delicious) and remember the goodness, sweetness, and blessing of God on His people. It then leads into days of repentance, of mourning, of lament as we reflect on our own brokenness, sin, and the tragedies of our world.
       And it culminates with Kol Nidre and the next morning Yom Kippur - the Day of Atonement. I can only understand the climax of these 10 days through the lens of Jesus/Y'shua the Messiah. Yom Kippur does not make sense to me unless and until Jesus is THE atonement, he is the scapegoat for the sins of the world.
       Then I can CELEBRATE, then I have a renewed taste of grace and mercy and the breath-taking person of Christ.

18 September 2012

The Flap Over Taxes

So Mitt Romney put his foot in his mouth at a fundraiser when he said 47% of Americans don't pay tax and won't vote for him because it does not matter that he is going to lower taxes.
       Here are some things I am dumbfounded about in America. Thanks to groups like the Tax Policy Center (which is fairly non-partisan), here is what we know about Americans paying taxes:
       1. 76 million Americans did not pay federal income tax last year. That seems like a lot of people to me;
       2. Of the 76 million Americans who did not pay taxes, 50% of them do not pay tax because their actual income is low. It seems to me that you should not have to pay tax if your real income is very low;
       3. About 5% of these 76 million Americans - something like 430,000 people - earn between $50,000 and $100,000 and pay NO federal income tax. This makes NO sense to me. And by the way, I am one of these 430,000 people;
       4. Of the 430,000 people, approximately 4,000 of them have more than $1 million in income and still pay NO income tax. This makes even less sense than point #3;
       5. A whole lot of the 76 million Americans do not have to pay taxes because of those wonderful things called "tax loopholes." Some biggies include: earned income tax credit (12 million people), tax credit for college expenses (I like that one!), mortgage interest deduction, charitable giving deduction, etc. etc.;
       So here is my thought: A while bunch more Americans need to be paying taxes and that money needs to reduce a MEGA debt that we have.
       Some of my simple conclusions:
   - People who earn a lot of money need to pay a bit more (like if you make over $250,000). But please, let's not be naive and think this will solve everything!
   - People who earn $50,000 to $250,000 also have to pay some more. So, Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama, PLEASE stop talking about middle class tax cuts. It may get you elected but it is just makes no sense.
       - And, we all need to suck it up and ditch many of these "sacred cow" tax loopholes. I'm the first to admit that it will be like pouring lemon juice on a paper cut for me, but it's part of the "shared sacrifice" value that seems to be blatantly absent in this political season.
       Thus is my political rant for today.

16 September 2012

Seeing in a Different Way

I love the film, "Dead Poets Society." It is one of my all-time favorites.
       One of the wonderful scenes is when Mr. Keating (Robin Williams) stands on a desk in his classroom.
       The dialog goes like this:
   [Keating stands on his desk
   John Keating: Why do I stand up here? Anybody? 
   Dalton: To feel taller! 
   John Keating: No! 
   [Dings a bell with his foot
   John Keating: Thank you for playing Mr. Dalton. I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way.

       Keating is talking about PERSPECTIVE. Gaining better and better perspective is a core part of maturity. We have to look at issues that really matter in life from different perspectives which might challenge even long-held views.
       Let me be the first to say that this freaks me out a bit. I like the comfort of living in my pre-conceived and long-established beliefs and prejudices. Thank you very much.
       It just seems to me that one of God's purposes in sending Jesus to earth was to shatter people's long-held views on things. The Jews were waiting for a Messiah who would be a military conqueror who would crush the Roman invasion of the Holy Land. Jesus was anything but a military conqueror. But conquer he did - by laying down his life, dying on a cross!
       I need to resist the "pack mentality" and keep working at perspective and charting a path that is different than the one traveled by others. I need to learn to stand on desks even when everyone else is sitting in seats.

13 September 2012

What WOULD Jesus Do?

I have never worn those W.W.J.D. bracelets. I have feared that I would be doing something that Jesus would certainly NOT do and someone would see me do it! That's a total testimony killer!
       But I have wondered the past couple of days what Jesus WOULD do in the midst of a horrible film depicting Mohammed, the violence in Egypt, Libya, and now Yemen, and hateful rhetoric on all sides: Jewish, Muslim, and Christian.
       I imagine Jesus entering the situation as he did in Luke 19 when he was approaching Jerusalem. He looked over the City of David, also called the city of PEACE, and he wept over it. (Luke 19:41). Why did he weep? He tells us:
"If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace - but now it is hidden from your eyes."
       Jesus weeps at Jerusalem's defiance at receiving God's Kingdom, at receiving God's true SHALOM. He weeps at people building their own kingdoms and seeking their own "peace."
       I imagine that Jesus might show up on the wall of the American Embassy in Egypt and be in the midst of the people - Muslims as well as the Americans into the barricaded walls.
       I imagine that he might get incredibly angry - as he did when he entered the temple and overturned the tables of the money changers - because a small fragment of Jews have abused power and funded and created a terrible film which dehumanizes people.
       I imagine that he might confront the Muslim clerics who incited people to riot. I imagine that Jesus  would challenge them to seek His Kingdom before any other, and to live by the Sermon on the Mount.
       And I imagine that Jesus would weep with those who weep - the families of Christopher Stevens and the other people killed in the embassy, the mothers and fathers whose sons decided to riot and who hurt others or were hurt in the crowd.
      That's what I think Jesus might do today.
       Now how about you and me?

12 September 2012


My brother recently wrote an article entitled, "Keep It Complicated." You can read it HERE. It is well written and I agree with him.
     This has been so incredibly apparent to me as I delve into the Israel-Palestine issue. If there has ever been a wildly complex and complicated matter it is this one.
     I am currently reading "The Palestine-Israeli Conflict," written by an Israeli and a Palestinian. Whew, this is complicated! And our attempts to simplify and "dummy it down" actually make it worse. We stereotype. We generalize. We draw conclusions before examining the many facets of the issue.
     In simplifying complex matters we tend to put ourselves in a simple box: "I am pro-Israel, the Israelis should be in the land, others should get out." Or, "Israel should be destroyed, the Palestinians should have their own country," etc.
     The challenge of complexity is that we can become stuck in it, throw up our hands, feel paralyzed, and give up. That would be the worst thing to do.
     Jesus spoke of "foreign" and complex things all the time. The Sermon on the Mount blew people away. His teachings on the Kingdom of God left people scratching their heads. And most of all, his trial, execution, burial, and resurrection was anything but simple and straightforward! God calls us into the complexity, not to escape from it.
     Now I have to go back to reading about the Palestine-Israeli Conflict.! Woohoo!

11 September 2012

A New York Jew Reflects on 9/11

"Where were you on 9/11?" I remember exactly where I was - standing outside the Free University of Amsterdam putting money in a parking meter. It was about 3:30pm local time. A man came up to me and asked if I had heard that two planes had struck the World Trade Center towers in New York.
     I remember asking him, "TWO planes hit EACH tower?" He replied with a frantic, "Yes."
     I got home as soon as possible and watched on the BBC and CNN as events unfolded. I was horrified, almost sick to my stomach.
     I was also keenly aware that I was (and am) American, Jewish, and from New York. In the ensuing days I felt this intensely, as my kids and I were interviewed on Dutch TV and our church held something of a memorial service the following Sunday.
     I still process the events of 9/11 through a New York Jewish lens. The Towers were iconic symbols of New York. When they were destroyed something deep inside every New Yorker was pierced.
     The fact that the planes which struck the Towers were hijacked by Middle Easterners from Muslim backgrounds has heightened my sensitivity of being Jewish and processing 9/11.
     In some warped and bizarre way, 9/11 provided rationale for my suspicion of Arabs and people from Muslim backgrounds. The tragedy of 9/11 gave me "permission" to hate and to seek vengeance.
     The "problem" (which is not ultimately a problem at all) is that I follow a Jewish rabbi who teaches me that the only way to overcome hatred is with love. This rabbi - Jesus the Christ (Messiah) - tells me that His Kingdom is the very opposite of what 9/11 represents. His Kingdom is one in which those who have strayed the most from God are sought out to be saved from their sin and brokenness. His Kingdom is not so much for the righteous, but rather for the sinner.
     Somewhere in the midst of trying to find a place in my heart for the 9/11 tragedy I have been challenged to let go of hatred and seek Truth about Jesus and His Kingdom. It is a Kingdom for Jews and Gentiles and, yes, Muslims. It is a Kingdom for all peoples who follow this Jesus and are saved by grace through him.
     I still cannot separate out being a New York Jew from the events of 9/11. This tragedy has caused unique pain in many people, especially in New York Jews. It pierces our hearts in a very painful way. I just need to remember that someone else's heart was pierced far more dramatically and painfully, for the sins of the world. 9/11 reminds me of our great and desperate need of Jesus - Savior, Lord, King.

10 September 2012

Planning 50

In a month I will turn 50 years old! Having seen a number of friends face milestone birthdays (50 and 60 most recently) I realize there is a few different responses you can have to it:
1. You can keep it quiet and try to ignore it as best as possible;
2. You can become bummed out at your mortality;
3. You can throw a big party and celebrate.
I am opting for number 3.

     My friend Jim (in the photo) and I turn 50 within 3 days of each other. So we are throwing a party together. It should be a blast!
     I learned this from my friend Faith, who turned 60 a few years ago and hosted a party at the Mount Vernon Country Club. Susy and I were invited. I was so moved by the CELEBRATION OF HER LIFE by her husband, children, and friends. I remember saying to myself, "when I turn 50 I want to celebrate like this!" So that's what I am doing.
     By the way, the day I turn 50 I am applying for my AARP discount card. It's a dream come true for a Jew!
     And to get you in the mood for celebrating 50, here is a little video clip of Sally O'Malley and Doty O'Donaghan (thanks to the inspiration for this from my wife Susy who showed a very funny clip of Sally at Susy's 50th last year)

07 September 2012

Go Where You Are Needed

I do not always agree with John Piper's style, and sometimes with his content. But he is challenging and mission-focused.
       This 3-minute excerpt from a sermon gives a good perspective about why I am focused on Jews and Muslims. I agree with Piper and appreciate his passion and compassion.

06 September 2012

Remembering Jhan Moskowitz

One of the leaders of the Messianic Movement in the United States died this week. Jhan Moskowitz was among the first staff members of Jews for Jesus. He died suddenly after a fall and resulting brain injury.
       I did not know Jhan personally, although I was influenced by him in the early 1990s when I was a student at Fuller Seminary and he visited Jews for Jesus staff at our apartment complex. I remember listening to Jhan's story and thinking, "this guy is a pretty down-to-earth person." He was humble, clear-minded, and had a huge heart for his people.
       Here is a 3-minute video of Jhan telling his story of coming to faith in Y'shua.

04 September 2012

The Beginning of the "Empty Nest"

Steven with roommate Carter
We brought Steven down the road to the University of Denver two days ago, thus putting our toes into a new chapter affectionately called, "the empty nest."
       So, how do I feel about this? Strangely RELIEVED. I'm excited for Steven as he steps into the world. I'm thankful for the past 7 years, when we came to America to help our kids launch into adulthood.
       I am reminded of William Bridges' comment in his book Transitions, "We come to beginnings only at the end."
       Well this is an end and a beginning for sure - both for Steven and for us.
So, Steven, go and make your good mark on this world! Soar like an eagle!

03 September 2012

We Jews Are Taking over the World!

Excuse the blurry photo, but I just snapped it quickly with my iPhone. It is a reminder to me of how influential we Jews are in the world.
       This week at the University of Denver there is a Resource Fair, with a variety of companies, students organizations, and faith-based groups present.
       There were three tables for faith-based groups, TWO of which were for Jewish groups! The third table was a mish-mash of "other" groups such as Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, and the campus chaplain. By the way, I did not see any Muslim groups represented.
       Hillel and Chabad (the two Jewish groups) had their own tables (White and yellow table clothes in photo). The Chabad table was staffed by a real rabbi, wearing tallis, yarmulke, and boasting a big busy beard.
       Chabad is having a Challah and Matzah Ball soup dinner this coming Friday evening for Shabbat. I don't think the Christians, Buddhists, or Hindus are doing anything like that. I kind of want to go - I'm sure the soup will be good!
       We stopped and spoke with the rabbi for a few minutes - a very personable guy. He offered us some classic Jewish wisdom, "Never go to a sabbath meal at a skinny rabbi's house." Needless to say, he was not skinny.