07 December 2015

To My Friends Who Are NOT "Christian" - Please Read

o My Friends Who are Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, Secular, Agnostic, and anything else besides Christian!

I feel really stupid! REALLY stupid! There, I said it. I feel a bit better!
          I wish I could sit with each of you one-on-one over a good cup of coffee and offer my sincere apology for people of the "Christian persuasion" who have acted and re-acted to event so poorly in recent days and weeks.
         Rather than wasting your time recounting what they said or did (because I am quite sure you know ALL about it), I would like to share with you how I hope we can build friendships and be community in the face of rising fear in our culture.
         Most important, I so value your perspective and input regarding these situations. I have a certain vantage point as I try to follow Jesus. And you have a vantage point from your context and I want to understand it and will seek to respect it. We may not agree in some areas, but that must not stop us from seeking to understand one another and to respect one another.
        I also hope we can bring the very best from our belief systems and worldviews to the real-life situations of terrorism and street violence in our world. If you know me at all you know that Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (found in Matthew 5-7) has blown my heart and mind in the very best way possible. I desire to align myself with the ethic he lays out in these words. I believe that every one of us brings ideas and practices to the table that should be considered as we move forward together.
         Last, I hope we will all resist painting each other's belief systems with a broad brush. All Muslims do not believe the same thing, all Jews do not believe the same thing. And I dare say that all Christians do not hold the same beliefs or practices. I am asking that we extend grace to one another and not typecast based on "a few bad apples."
          Thank you for your friendship. I so appreciate you for who you are and how you enrich my life. Peace be upon you.

02 December 2015

The Presence of Greatness at the Prayer Breakfast

I attended the European Prayer Breakfast in Brussels for the past two days. It was poignant that the event took place only 3 weeks after the Paris terrorist attacks.
       Clearly we were in the presence of greatness at the breakfast - a member of the Belgian monarchy led a prayer, the former President of the European Commission spoke. There were others with significant titles and they are godly, wonderful people.
       But two people stood out to me as truly "great" in an upside down sort of way. While many people at the breakfast were well dressed in suits and dresses, these two were a bit different. One wore a suit but it was wrinkled and his tie was not straight. The other was not so well dressed.
          The first man is a member of the Ukrainian Parliament and he spoke at the dinner the night before the breakfast. He shared about being part of the political opposition in Ukraine for many years and how his life was threatened during the revolution. He was not your typical politician - he was more "gritty" and perhaps war weary.
          You could tell that the man has great resolve and focus for his country while possessing a deep humility. I could tell he is a servant-leader, in that order.
          The second man is Syrian and he is a refugee living in Brussels. He was part of an 8-person panel in which he was the 7th person to speak (fourth from left in the picture).
          He spoke in Arabic and was translated by someone. He talked about how his village was completely destroyed and how he fled for his life. Then he recounted how his father was killed in a bombing and that this man risked his life to go back to his hometown to give his father a proper burial.
The Syrian refugee is fourth from left.
        The man sat beside a former U.S. Ambassador. The refugee seemed unfazed by the Ambassador, although he was respectful toward him. Power, in the traditional sense of the word, did not equate with this man's inner strength.

          Both men - The Ukrainian Parliament Member and the Syrian refugee - demonstrated three qualities:
          First, they were unafraid. Both of their lives had been threatened and they have been spared. I am sure previously they feared. But their lives have transcended fear for their security, fear of the unknown, and fear of "powerful bad guys." Earlier during the Prayer Breakfast, a former Danish Parliament member reminded everyone that there are 300+ instances in the Bible where we are admonished to "fear not." These two men demonstrate that.
          Second, their influence comes from powerlessness rather than control. In an odd sort of way, I had the sense that both of these men were exercising much influence on the 350+ people at the prayer breakfast. But it came from their humility, their calm rather than using persuasive words or promises.
          Third, God is in their midst. The Syrian man is Muslim and the Ukrainian man is Christian. It appeared to me that for both of these men God is near. Of course this is a core tenant of Christianity (Immanuel - God with us), but it surely is not for the Muslim. In Islam, Allah is transcendent and "other." Nonetheless, both men expressed how God is connected to their circumstances, and how He has been intimately involved in their lives.
          At the close of the panel discussion, attendees came up to panelists to greet them. Many came to shake the hand of the refugee man, many more stood in line waiting to have a longer conversation with the U.S. Ambassador. I just wanted to go up and hug the Syrian man and spent the rest of the day with him.