Watch Aaron in the film Holy Wars

Monday, April 25, 2011

I know that Jesus is the answer, but what does that mean?

Is the gospel about Jesus rescuing us from hell and transporting us to heaven… or is it about Jesus creating a community to work with him in the renewal of creation? Here in America, questions like this can determine whether you think of yourself as emergent (or not), whether you like Sojourners (or not) or whether you prefer Fox News or CNN. It’s a question that Christians can discuss with their friends over a cappuccino at Starbucks. We know that Jesus is the answer, but what does that actually mean? Let me tell you about a group of people where the answer to this question can spell the difference between hope and misery: Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

A couple of weeks ago I traveled to Lebanon and Jordan as part of a delegation of authors, professors, and businessmen. Originally we were supposed to meet with a major world leader, but that didn’t pan out, so we ended up spending our time meeting with political leaders, democracy activists, Christian workers, and Insider Muslims (which are Muslims that follow Jesus within the context of Islam—another story for another day). One day we spent a morning at a Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut. It wasn’t at all like I expected.

Like many people, when the words “Palestinian refugee camp” came to mind, I pictured makeshift tents strewn on an open field somewhere, probably in the middle of a valley or a desert. The Palestinian camp in Beirut is more like a city within a city, a series of autonomous heavily guarded neighborhood blocks in which the Lebanese police are not allowed to enter. The partially bombed-out buildings betray evidence of previous wars and invasions, the streets are narrow and filthy, and walking on the narrow and filthy streets between the partially bombed-out buildings you can look up and see tangles of wires connecting here, there, and everywhere; evidence of people doing the best they can with what they have to work with.

Most Palestinians refugees in Lebanon live and die in the camps, and it’s been that way for over 60 years. Unlike Jordan, where the Palestinian refugees were granted citizenship and integrated into the fabric of society, Palestinians in Lebanon are permanent non-citizens; living in a land that’s not their own while longing to return to a land that most of them have never been. What this means in practical day to day reality is that Palestinian refugees in Lebanon face a number of prohibitions against working, owning land, or building homes outside the camps. The ones that are able to find work outside the camps often have to do so under the table. The U.N. agency tasked with overseeing the refugee population (UNRWA) fulfills a much- needed role, but can only employ a fraction of the refugee population. The situation is so grave that a group of British researchers tested the mental development of a group of children by lining them up and throwing soccer balls at them. To their shock and horror, instead of the children picking up the balls and throwing them back, they let the balls fall to the ground without picking them back up, showing not only a lack of mental development, but a perpetual state of hopelessness. To them, the camp is a prison which they have little hope of escaping.

Which brings me back to my original question: I know that Jesus is the answer, but what exactly does that mean?

The wannabee Anabaptist side of me says that the solution to all of the world’s problems lies not in politics but in the Kingdom of God, and the Kingdom of God isn’t necessarily about solving the world’s problems, but creating an alternative community that eschews earthly power structures in preference for servant hood and simple living. Given the tendency of Jesus to lampoon the Herods and the Caesars of his day, coupled with his ability to transcend political ideologies by inviting tax collectors and zealots to serve on his apostolic team, and let’s not forget the Apostle Paul telling the slaves “If you can be free, great! But if you can’t, don’t worry too much about it” (my paraphrase of I Corinthians 7:21), I find a lot of justification for this position.

It’s surprisingly similar to what the Pentecostal side of me would say, “No matter how crappy life is on earth, hell is worse and heaven is better, so let’s focus on the issues that really matter….eternal issues, not temporary issues which are passing away.” Back in the days of slavery in America, the message of patiently submitting to suffering in hope of an eternal reward helped many African Americans get through their miserable days, knowing that there’s a sweet by and by in the sky gave them a peace and a hope that transcended their circumstances. All good and wonderful, except when you factor in the infamous Uncle Tom and Martin Luther King’s soul-stirring appeal in Letter from a Birmingham Jail, it kind of makes you wonder if Christianity’s critics, the ones who claim that Christianity is a ploy of the ruling classes to keep the lower classes in servitude and submission….may have a point after all.

Here’s the problem. How can I credibly say that “Jesus is the answer” if “Jesus is the answer” means that I no longer advocate for political solutions to problems that can only be solved….by a political solution? For the plight of Palestinian refugees to change for the better, one of three things has to happen. Either Lebanon grants them citizenship, the Palestinians get a state of their own, or Israel grants them the right of return. The sectarian system in Lebanese politics makes option one very difficult, and the prospect of Israel making peace with Palestinians seems like a pipe dream. Still, anything less than one of these three options and the plight of Palestinians in Lebanon remains miserable and hopeless no matter how much individual charity is directed their way.

So why am I asking this question? I may not come up with any definitive answers, but here’s what I’m hoping will happen. I hope that some will read this article and take the time to visit, make friends, pray for and advocate for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. If more people learn about the plight of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, and decide to do something about it, however big or small, then maybe the question is worth asking after all.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Do Muslims Who Follow Jesus Have to Stop Being Muslims?

My friend Pastor Tim O'Brien sent this to me today. I think it's worth reading:

For a long while I have wrestled with the question of whether a Muslim can be a worshipper of Jesus and remain culturally a Muslim. The question is also being considered by Christian leaders and missionaries the world over. Let me explain why.

When a Muslim man in a predominantly Muslim society decides to serve Jesus as Lord, he is typically ostracized from his family and community. Often these converts are collected by missionaries into Christian communities made up of other converts from
Islam. The only problem is that they can no longer bear fruit within their original sphere of influence.

To be a follower of Jesus and remain culturally a Muslim seems to be a viable option. After all, Islam is not just a religion,
but a culture with many redeeming values. For instance, Muslims mostly abstain from alcohol and pornography, abhor abortion, and are family oriented.

One Muslim man from Thailand decided to follow Jesus. He renounced his Muslim roots and left his family. Later, however,
according to him, the Holy Spirit convicted him and he went back and apologized to his family.

Now he worships Jesus as a Muslim. While he ministers to his Muslim friends he shares that the prophet Mohammad encouraged the reading of the Gospels. This is his open door to conduct Bible studies with interested Muslims.

The continuing story of this man is that thousands of Muslims have accepted Jesus this way. This is a movement that we will possibly be hearing about in the news in the days to come. From this movement and other efforts across the world, I believe some clear answers for the Muslim world will come to light.

One of the issues, of course, is how does one reconcile some of the things the Qur’an has to say with worshipping Jesus as God. At some points the Qur’an is helpful, standing by the virgin birth and sinless life of Jesus, calling Jesus savior, Word, and Spirit. At other points it can confuse the issues and even be all out contradictory to the Bible.

Some of those contradictions, however, are not the kind that would impact the
salvation message. We have to discern what’s really important. For instance, when I share with Muslims, I don’t make it a point to tell them that I don’t believe Mohammed was a prophet. What’s the point?

Lastly, the title Christian is at issue. Is it OK to worship Jesus and not call yourself a Christian? For some this is a point of contention, but consider some things. The earliest disciples of Jesus did not call themselves Christians. They were called Christians by others. In fact, the word “Christian” only appears in the Bible 3 times. “Christian” was a derogatory term meaning “little messiahs” or “little

Peter says, “If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” In this context, a proper stance for
a Muslim believer might be, “I call myself a Muslim who worships Jesus, but if you call me a Christian, I will not be ashamed.” Some may disagree, but remember that we are not trying to get people to join our religion, we are inviting every
nation, tribe and tongue to make Jesus Lord.

By Tim O'Brien
Rock of Ages Church
Prepared for Daily Guide 19 May 06 edition

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Why are Palestinian Christians leaving the West Bank?

A friend of mine pointed this out on his Face Book page today.

45.9% of Americans blame Muslims for the Christian immigration out of the Holy Land, while only 7.4% of Americans cite Israeli restrictions as contributing to Arab Christian immigration. However, when Palestinian Christians from Bethlehem were asked about the primary cause for Christian immigration out of the area, 78% cited Israeli restrictions as their reason for leaving.

The statistic is from an article entitled Challenging the Evangelical Bias Against Palestinians.

Why is there such a disconnect between why Americans, and be extension American Christians, think that Palestinian Christians are leaving the West Bank and the actual reasons cited by the Palestinian Christians themselves?

Simple: The real reason why Palestinian Christians are leaving is Israeli restrictions (like home demolitions, land seizures, road blocks, checkpoints, walls that cut through private property and isolate people from their families.....) and any time the word "Israel" is mentioned as inflicting any kind of pain on Christians, it challenges a cherished belief system that goes something like this:

Jews and Christians = good, pure, innocent, God's people

Muslims = evil, unclean, guilty, persecutors of God's people

Because this narrative is so ingrained in us, the "us" vs. "them" mentality with "us" always being the embodiment of pure good and "them" always being the embodiment of pure evil, it's hard for us to see it any other way. Further complicating the problem is the fact that for many Christians in America, the only information they have about the Muslim world is what they read in the Voice of the Martyrs magazine. No wonder it's hard to see Muslims as anything else but the evil persecutor of Christians! You'll never read about Christian militias that have massacred Muslims in places like Nigeria, Lebanon, the Philippines, and Indonesia in a magazine dedicated to highlighting the suffering of persecuted Christians.

I'm not saying that a ministry like Voice of the Martyrs is wrong for highlighting the suffering of persecuted Christians. I've been doing that for years on my blog. What I am saying is that if all the average Christian knows about the Muslim world is what they read about in the magazine or newsletter of their favorite ministry highlighting the suffering of persecuted Christians, , it leads to a distorted, unbalanced picture. We forget that Christian fundamentalism, and, yes, Jewish fundamentalism can be just as oppressive as Islamic fundamentalism.

Jesus had it right when he said, "First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."

We ignore his teachings at our peril.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Doing well...

I'm racking my brain trying to figure out what to write. I'd like to post a little more often than I have been, but frankly, I'm too tired to come up with anything deep right now. My son Christian still wakes up about 2-4 times a night, and despite all the advice we get (mostly from people that have read the book Babywise) I'm convinced there's not a lot we can do about it. His doctor told us that if he's not sleeping through the night by now (around 15 months) he probably won't sleep through the night till he's 3 or 4. . So we've got about another year and a half to two years to go. Hurray! Christian also has food sensory issues, which makes eating really difficult for him. He's in therapy every week for that.

Isaac's also doing well. Still a hand full, but he's at that age where every new word or phrase he learns delights us. His favorite words are "Thank you" "You're welcome" "eat" and "yucky" Rhiannon and I also heard him say "he's sleeping" today when Christian was asleep in his car seat. Isaac's new favorite hobby is blowing spit in my face with his tongue...and laughing hysterically. It's really annoying, but also kind of cute. Been watching a video series called Circle of Security. It's about being attentive to your children. It's made me want to pay attention to my kids as much as possible. Probably not a bad idea.

Well, that's all for now.

Off to the Middle East this week....

Some time after I get back, I want to write a review of Miroslav Volf's Allah: A Christian Response and Mark Braverman's Fatal Embrace. Two very important books in the field of Muslim/Christian/Jewish relations, definitely worth your time and mine.