Watch Aaron in the film Holy Wars

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

My interview on the Converging Zone

I thought I'd share with you an interview I did with Robert Ricciardelli from the Converging Zone. Robert's an interesting guy, and is doing a great work with his website. Check out the interview, and be sure to register to watch future programs!

Friday, October 26, 2012

An Adoptive Father Thinking about Moses

I was soooo looking forward to writing about Monday’s foreign policy debate. I had it all in my head: how intervention in Libya led to the radicalization of Mali, how the lack of debate on drones shows that both Republicans and Democrats think that they own the world, Mitt Romney’s “America doesn’t dictate to other nations” line –all of this was leading to what I thought was going to be a Pulitzer-prize winning essay on American exceptionalism. Then my son Isaac had a meltdown.

Screw the Pulitzer…Let me tell you about Isaac.

Isaac was abandoned by his biological mother in Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia. When the police found him, he was emaciated. It took the orphanage 6 months to nurse him back to health, during which time he almost died three times. The adoption agency had given us his picture shortly after he was found, so for months my wife and I were praying that he would survive. As soon as we signed the papers to accept Isaac, my wife got pregnant with our son Christian. Five months into the pregnancy, we found out that Christian had an AV Canal defect and was going to need open-heart surgery a few months after the delivery. Christian was born in January of 2010, his surgery was in April, and then in May my dad and I flew to Ethiopia to pick up Isaac. Isaac was 18 months old when he came to our home.

You know all those stories you hear about internationally adopted children instantly bonding with their new families? That wasn’t the case with us. It was instant shock and horror.

Although things are better now, the first year was around the clock screaming, hitting, biting, throwing things, slapping my wife and I across the face, beating the crap out of our son Christian, tantrums, meltdowns, anxiety attacks….If you were to eavesdrop on our home during one of the meltdowns, it sounds like something out of a Freddy Krueger film…it’s that excruciating. There’s no way to exaggerate it. The screaming is the peak of extreme.

I know a lot of people might think that the things I’m describing are normal toddler behavior, but trust me, anyone who has adopted a child with similar issues can tell you, it’s not normal. Within a week of receiving Isaac into our home, we called Early Intervention, and when EI took us as far as they could go, we found a child psychiatrist who diagnosed him with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and an unspecified attachment disorder (not RAD).

Now that Isaac is almost four, he no longer pummels Christian. He’s turning into a good big brother who not only loves his younger brother, but in many ways has become Christian’s protector. The tantrums/anxiety attacks/total meltdowns aren’t nearly as frequent as they were, but they’re still pretty extreme when they do occur. Before our two children, who for very different reasons have undergone speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and in Isaac’s case—social/emotional/attachment therapy—I thought that all this stuff about brain development in early childhood was a bunch of hocus- pocus. I now know that children that have been traumatized—even as infants—develop very differently than other children.

Which brings me to Moses....

After Isaac’s meltdown tonight, I started thinking about Moses. It occurred to me that Moses was an adopted child who also experienced separation from his biological mother, first as an infant and then as a small child. We know that Moses had anger issues because he killed an Egyptian who was in the middle of beating a Hebrew slave. And yet, by the end of his life, Moses was known as the meekest man alive, a man who interceded for a people that wanted to kill him, and a man who God himself testified that he shared a special relationship with, unique to Moses alone.

Yes, I know. I should probably talk about the slaying of the Canaanites, about whether God actually said all the things to Moses that are written in the Torah, or whether the Torah was written by Moses, whether Moses is a historical figure…..or….

None of that matters to me right now.

As an adoptive father, when I see my son’s love and laughter, when I see his compassion and affection, when I see his zeal for knowledge and his thirst for adventure—I know that my son is more than just a traumatized brain. My son is a human being endowed with the capacity for communing with the living God. That’s what the story of Moses is speaking to me tonight as I type this at 1:00 in the morning. Out of all the people that God could have chosen to rescue his people from slavery and to share a special relationship with, he chose Moses.

Isaac is sleeping….I think I’ll sneak a kiss.

Friday, October 12, 2012

A (possibly) Significant Development in Muslim-Christian Relations

A (possibly) significant development in Muslim-Christian-relations is being spear-headed by the Islamic Scholars of North America (ISNA). In July of 2012, ISNA Director of Community Outreach, Dr. Mohamed Elsanousi, convened a small multilateral forum of scholars in Mauritania to discuss challenges faced by religious minorities in Muslim-majority communities around the world.

Mauritania is an interesting choice, since it has no indigenous Christian population, and the CIA World Fact book lists the country as "(official) 100% Muslim."

So, officially, Mauritania is 100 percent Muslim, which begs the question: If the ISNA is reaching out to Islamic scholars in Mauritania on the issue of minority religious rights, and the (official) statistic is that Mauritania is 100 percent Muslim, is this a tacit recognition on ISNA's part that some of the 100 percent officially Muslim Mauritanians have secretly switched their religion -- and that international human rights standards should allow them to do so?

If that's the case, then this is a significant development in interfaith relations.

The key word being if....

Since Mauritania is officially 100 percent Muslim, the other possibility is that the religious minorities under discussion are expatriates. But expatriates already have the ability to convene worship services according to their respective faiths in Mauritania, as well as in virtually every Muslim country.

Interestingly, the other countries that the ISNA has reached out to on the issue of minority religious rights are Morocco, Tunisia, Qatar and Saudi Arabia -- all of these are countries with little to no recognizable religious minorities in their indigenous populations, and which forbid their indigenous populations from switching their religious affiliations to any other faith but Islam.

So the question remains: Is the ISNA reaching out to Muslim scholars and government officials in Muslim-majority nations in order to patch up the status quo, or is the ISNA working to persuade Islamic governments to adopt the same religious freedom standards that people of all faiths enjoy in the West?

Here's an excerpt from their website:

As part of its mission, ISNA seeks to help represent the voice of diverse Muslim communities within the United States, as well as to represent an American voice within Muslim communities around the world. Both goals require heightened attentiveness to issues of religious freedom and civil liberties, which we seek to address through positive interreligious partnerships both here in the U.S. and abroad. As a result, we have become increasingly concerned not only about the challenges faced by Muslim minorities within the United States, but also those faced by religious minorities in Muslim-majority communities around the world.

Over recent years, we have heard numerous reports about serious violations of the rights of religious minorities in Muslim-majority countries. These incidents stand in stark contrast to the values and traditions of Islam. Historically, when such circumstances arise which run counter to our Islamic theology, it has always been the role of Islamic scholars to intervene. As such, the Islamic Society of North America, is currently working together with Muslim leaders worldwide to promote a mechanism for developing Islamic standards and protocols on religious freedom and the role of religious minorities in the Muslim-majority communities. This effort is also in line with ISNA's domestic priorities, because poor treatment of religious minorities in Muslim-majority communities also has a substantial and negative effect on the manner in which Muslim minorities are regarded and treated in the West.

Notice the phrase "religious freedom and the role of religious minorities." At least from this particular wording, it seems that the ISNA is aware of the distinction that I'm raising in this article. If that's the case-again, the key word being if-then this is a truly significant development in Muslim-Christian relations, a development that Muslims and Christians alike should welcome and support.

A version of this article originally appeared on Middle East Experience.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Faith, She Leads Me

By Dan Sidey

Nearly every time I get together with my father-in-law we have talks about religion. We're both faithful believers trusting in the same God, the same Jesus and the same Bible, but the way we express our faith and where it has led us to rigorously stand our ground couldn't be more polarized at times.

One subject that we continually return to is women in the pulpit. What can I say? It's fun to talk about with him, because I know how right I am!

Truthfully, I don't know who I'd be today if it wasn't for my pastor. Her name alone speaks volumes about the great reservoir of courage, love and stability rooted within her. Her name is Faith and she is truly beautiful.

If you ever visit Bandon, Oregon you will immediately fall in love with the ocean. Just off the shore juts numerous gigantic rocks. To see them is truly mythic. They enchant me like a story about the great truths of my faith. As the tide crashes against these massive rocks the spray that fills the air is both angry and enchanting. In the evenings as the sun is setting it is as though heaven opens and the curtain veiling eternity is thrown wide. My eyes can scarcely believe how beautiful it is.

To see the ocean of Bandon is to see what I have beheld in the heart of my female pastor. I have known Faith for more than six years and during all six I have known she was deep and full of wisdom, but especially in the last two years as God has wretched my eyes open to my prejudices I have learned that without her I would be lost. Before I knew her I was lost. There are some things you can never understand about God until a courageous and loving woman communicates them.

Faith is that woman for me. She is like the Bandon rocks the ocean has violently thrown itself against. The world with seething poison has told her " shaken for you are not strong enough, nor smart enough and never beautiful." But Faith has not only withstood these vicious attacks, but turned and courageously spoke to the darkness "I may not have been strong, smart or beautiful, but my God has made me deeply courageous, abundantly thoughtful and forever lovely." I know very few men that have the courage to cling to God and speak against hell like this.

I also know of no one who listens or cares for Atarah and me as Faith does. She has steadfastly reminded us that after work must come rest, that with stability comes roots, with steadfast courage comes resurrection in the face of a crucifying world. In just the last week her parish has let her know that they have little idea how they will continue paying her as they have. Faith is a pastor. This is her gift, vocation and work. Despite the financial situation she desires stability right here among us even if that means greater financial hardship. If you knew Faith you'd know she isn't led by foolish optimism. She has counted the cost and is yet again living out of a peace that is passing all my understanding.

Like a Bandon sunset Faith is exquisit to behold. The other day I went to a coffee shop to chill with a friend. Faith was there also and she was glowing. When I looked her in the eyes, touched her, we smiled together and exchanged a few tender words it was as though God breathed life into me. I felt so at home and honored. Without a word she communicated far more than the most eloquent of preachers.

If something about women as pastors bothers you just take a look at who understood Jesus. It was a woman who understood and accepted God's plan by anointed Jesus for death. As for Peter's swashbuckling ambitious ways, Jesus said "Get behind me, Satan!" Who were those faithful enough to return to the tomb first, to see him raised, and to preach the very first Easter sermon? "He is risen!" Women. And they were not trusted. Shamefully, It is a parable for us today still.

Faith is like a beautiful and lovely rock on the shores of Bandon. All who have eyes to see and ears to listen are changed. She is my dear friend and pastor. She is a woman and she leads me.