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.

Friday, August 24, 2012

A Strange Look

A few months ago I noticed some friends driving through the neighborhood with a strangely-out-of-place look on their face. We've all seen it before. The look was of one who had found that coveted wide-open space to live on, that bigger house, that perfect neighborhood with the ideal school. In our culture we call it upward mobility, but they had the look while driving through my neighborhood—the ghetto!

I knew something very unusual must be happening, so I made a strong mental note to call my friends about what was up. I knew they were trying to find a new home, but I had long ago stopped prodding them to consider living in Mills. They're the missional types, which makes them so easy to appreciate. Still for folks like them living in Mills is a big sacrifice.

Lo and behold, two months later they have a house in Mills. They made sure not to tell some of the folks who would be concerned before they bought. They could predict the response. "Please get an alarm!" "Nice fixer upper!" These are responses I understand and can empathize with.

But the look my friends wore didn't resemble these thoughts. Their eyes alone were a brilliant smile. What were they thinking in that moment months ago when I saw them on East Main and Darrow? What the heck was an all-the-wide-open-space-I-could-ever-want look doing in Mills?

When I finally spoke with them my suspicions were confirmed. It was the look of a couple not searching for the perfect life, but a pure life given to God and neighbors. On my friends' face I saw them beholding Jesus among those he spent nearly his entire life with and those he said we must not forget to give our energy loving.

In his book From Brokenness to Community, Jean Vanier writes "Those with whom Jesus identifies himself are regarded by society as misfits. And yet Jesus is that man who is hungry; Jesus is that woman who is confused and naked. Wouldn't it be extraordinary if we all discovered that? The face of the world would be changed."

Saturday, August 18, 2012

In Defense of the Southern Poverty Law Center

When I was in Junior High, I attended a private Christian school where my youth pastor used to show us videos of Christians in public schools being arrested for praying at the flagpole, as well as future Christians being executed because of “liberals who want to take away our right to worship.” So I get it. When a guy walks up to a conservative Christian organization’s headquarters and starts shooting, it confirms what many people already believe: Evangelical Christians in America are a persecuted minority; and the people behind the persecution are groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, a group that labels anyone who “takes a stand for Biblical righteousness” a hate group. The storyline would sound reasonable if it weren’t for one small problem: It’s completely ridiculous.

To my friends in the evangelical community, what happened at the headquarters of the Family Research Council was a despicable act of violence that deserves to be condemned without reservation, but please don’t use what happened as a pretext to shore up prejudice against those in the LGBT community—who, by the way, have also condemned this act of violence—or as a pretext to exact vengeance against groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, a group that works to provide a service to society by raising the alarm against hate and extremism.

In a statement to the press, Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council, said,

“Corkins was given a license to shoot an unarmed man by organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center that have been reckless in labeling organizations as hate groups because they disagree with them on public policy.”

He went on to say,

“They have repeatedly and without cause demonized FRC, and have spent years stirring up anger in the homosexual community and directing that anger toward an organization whose only crime is to promote and defend the classic American values of faith, family and freedom.”

Putting aside the logical fallacy that criticism = giving someone a license to shoot, the fact is the Southern Poverty Law Center didn't label the Family Research Council as a hate group because “they disagree with them on policy” or because they “defend the classic American values of faith, family, and freedom.” If that were the case, they would have put Focus on the Family on the hate group list, or the National Organization for Marriage. Both of these groups teach that homosexuality is a sin and lobby against gay marriage.

The stated reason the Southern Poverty Law Center has put the Family Research Council on the hate group list since 2010 is, according to their website

“because it has knowingly spread false and denigrating propaganda about LGBT people — not, as some claim, because it opposes same-sex marriage……We criticize the FRC for claiming, in Perkins’ words, that pedophilia is ‘a homosexual problem’”

And because

"An FRC official has said he wanted to ‘export homosexuals from the United States.’ The same official advocated the criminalizing of homosexuality.”

It’s one thing to say the Bible says homosexuality is a sin and I oppose gay marriage. It’s another thing to say these people are out to get your children! It’s like when Kirk Cameron pegged homosexuals as “destructive to so many of the foundations of Western Civilization” , and then cried foul when the “liberal” media called him out on it. You can’t single out a group of people as a threat to civilization, and then cast yourself in the role of a victim when people suggest that your words are hate speech.

I believe that we in the American evangelical community are guilty of a persecution complex. Which is sad, because I’ve been to countries where New Testament believers are actually persecuted, like the videos my teachers used to show me in Junior High. The believers I've met in these countries often live quiet and peaceful lives, sharing their faith and loving the people that torture them and rat them out to the police. They’re the ones the Apostle Peter talked about, who “do good and suffer” and “take it patiently.” This, according to Peter “is commendable before God.”

New Testament believers living in places that actually persecute religious minorities often suffer for simply being who they are, and their suffering, when taken patiently for following in the footsteps of Christ, who “when reviled, did not revile in return” is commendable before God.

I’m not sure that “persecuted” Christians in America can say the same thing.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Avoiding the R-Word

When Mitt Romney stood before a group of supporters in Israel and declared that cultural superiority and divine providence are the reasons behind the economic disparity between Israelis and Palestinians, the corporate-sponsored “liberal” U.S. media called his remark ignorant, insensitive, and a “gaffe, but other than taking the indirect route of quoting Palestinian leaders, you’d be hard-pressed to find an American journalist with the moral fiber to call the remark what it actually was. When it comes to the R-word, the U.S. media bows to the sacred cow of silence. Nobody wants to say the word racist anymore.

True, the word racist is loaded. The word conjures up images of attack dogs, fire hoses, church bombings, guys in creepy robes riding horses in the dead of night torching homes, not to mention Hitler, neo-Nazis, skinheads, the Help. Given the historical baggage associated with the word racist, it’s understandable that in America today, when somebody throws the R-word out to denounce the words of another, the shame more often goes to the accuser, not the accused.

That’s exactly the problem.

Because the word racist is so often associated with its most obvious manifestations, it’s difficult to call into question the racial views of another, even when their words and actions reflect a worldview that says that God favors one group of people over another.

When it comes to Israelis and Palestinians there are, of course, other complicating factors. Jews for centuries have suffered horrific atrocities under the banner of racism. Academic circles endlessly debate whether Zionism is racism, or whether anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. The words Judaism, Israel, and the Jewish people are synonymous for many people, making it difficult to criticize one without criticizing the other. To make things even more complicated, the very concept of the Jewish people’s “chosen-ness” comes straight from the Torah, which both Jews and Christians revere as the Word of God.

As complicating as these factors are, at the end of the day we’re left with a socio-political-religious ideology that says that God favors one group of people over another, and when God’s favored people (Israel) happen to exhibit near total military and economic control over the other (Palestinians), it’s entirely appropriate to call into question the moral implications of such an ideology, and to raise the question of whether it might be considered racist.

While Romney was for sure attempting to rake in some cash and shore up the Jewish vote, it’s no secret that any comment that praises Israel and insults Palestinians might be considered a wink and a nod to the supposed “evangelical” base of the Republican Party. The dominant media narrative is that evangelical is synonymous with Christian Zionist. Christian Zionists believe that God obligates them to support the state of Israel—including the expansion of Jewish settlements—because any nation that refuses to do so will be cursed. Palestinians are an invented people that don’t exist in their view, so when their homes and orchards are demolished to pave the way for new settlements, it doesn’t matter because Palestinians (who don’t exist) are trespassers on land that God says belongs to the Jewish people. Christian Zionists oppose a two-state solution and they want Israel to permanently occupy the West Bank and Gaza strip.

This is the ideology that Romney was trying to appease by insulting Palestinians. And make no mistake about it. Romney’s remark was an insult. Romney says that his remarks were mischaracterized, but in what universe does telling an entire people that they’re culturally inferior to another people not an insult?

Sorry Mr. Romney, you can’t blame the media on this one.

As for my evangelical friends that Romney was trying to please, if you’re not at war with the Muslim world, if you believe that following Jesus means challenging racial and religious prejudice, if you believe that loving your neighbor includes practicing nonviolence and combating Islamophobia, if you believe that Jesus calls you to work for the peace, safety, and well-being of all people, without distinction of their race, religion, or sexual orientation, then I invite you to register for the Evangelicals for Peace Summit coming up on September 14th in Washington D.C.

It’s time to reclaim our faith.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Triumph of Hypothetical Evil over Real Evil

There’s a famous maxim that says, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Though Wikipedia says otherwise, the statement is often attributed to Edmund Burke.

I doubt that Wikipedia will give me the credit for this 200 years from now, but I’d like to take a crack at a counter-point to Burke’s famous maxim anyway: Sometimes evil triumphs not when good people do nothing, but when good people fail to distinguish between hypothetical evil and real evil, and end up doing something about the former when they should be doing something about the latter.

Case in point: National Conservative Christian radio host Kerby Anderson’s attempt to rally his followers to thwart the Senate from ratifying the Arms Trade Treaty.

As I write these words, it’s easier to trade weapons around the world than it is to trade bananas and iPads. Whether we’re talking about armed militias that terrorize civilian populations (Joseph Kony) or dictators that slaughter their people (Bashar Al-Assad) or insurgents killing American soldiers (the Taliban), the world has yet to come together to negotiate a treaty that would make it difficult for human rights abusers to purchase the weapons to commit their atrocities. The Arms Trade Treaty that’s under discussion is about regulating the international transfer of weapons, not the domestic gun laws of individual nations.

According to Amnesty International, the U.S. State Department has explicitly said regarding the ATT treaty, “There will be no restrictions on civilian possession of trade or fire arms otherwise permitted by law or protected by the U.S. Constitution.”

One would think that an explicit, unambiguous statement like this from the State department would settle the issue, but that hasn’t stopped Kerby Anderson from sending out emails to God- only- knows-how- many- followers to urge them to oppose the ATT treaty based on the Obama-is-coming-for-your-guns boogeyman. In an e-mail sent out on July 12th, Anderson writes to his followers:

“The Obama administration, working through Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has been working to advance the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty. While some of the rhetoric may sound good on the surface, there is serious concern that this is an attempt at an end run around a Republican controlled congress to enact limitations on our second amendment rights.”

Based on what, Mr. Anderson?

The troubling part about the e-mail is that Mr. Anderson didn’t deem it necessary to provide evidence to back up his claim, which tells me that he took it as a given that his followers would make an a priori assumption that the claim is true regardless of what the State department has actually said.

Laying aside the question as to whether stricter gun laws here in the U.S. would actually constitute as an “evil”, even if Mr. Anderson’s position on domestic gun control were the correct one, that still doesn’t absolve him from the responsibility to provide credible evidence that the ATT provides an actual threat to the Second Amendment. Assuming that something is true doesn’t make it true.

After directing his followers to click on a link to sign a petition urging their Senators to “not vote for the ratification of this treaty”, the e-mail goes on to say:

“If the Senate, currently under control of the radical left -wing of the Democratic Party, ratifies this treaty it could be used to undermine our rights as American citizens.”

Could be, Mr. Anderson?

You’re opposing a not-yet-written treaty designed to make it more difficult for thugs, terrorists, and crackpot dictators to slaughter innocent people—something that’s actually happening—based on a could be?

Anderson closes out the email with,

“This is one of those times when all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

Or maybe sometimes it’s better for good people to make sure that the evil they seek to thwart is a real evil and not a hypothetical one. Millions of Christians in Africa are praying for the negotiation of a robust international Arms Trade Treaty. Unlike rich, white American radio hosts, they know what real evil looks like when unregulated weapons and ammo pour into their countries, ending up in the hands of militants that rape and slaughter their spouses and children.

Let’s hope that the prayers of millions of African Christians don’t go unanswered because of a few American Christians afraid that a Democratically-elected President wants to steal their guns so that a future dictator might have the power to haul them off to concentration camps.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Towards an Evangelical Peace Movement

Billy Sunday was the most famous evangelist in America during the first two decades of the 20th century. Without the aid of loudspeakers, TV or radio, Sunday preached to over 100 million people the classic evangelical gospel that remains familiar to many people today. Repent and believe in Jesus, who died on the cross for your sins, and be saved from eternal damnation. The simplicity of Sunday’s message prompted millions of early 20th century Americans to examine the state of their souls and consider their eternal fates. Yet when it came to conscientious objectors during World War I, Sunday spared no mercy:

The man who breaks all the rules but at last dies fighting in the trenches is better than you God-forsaken mutts who won’t enlist.

Throughout our nation’s history, it’s been an axiom that Presidents lead us into wars, while Christians provide the flags and the crosses. Barring a few notable exceptions—Anabaptists, Quakers, and early Pentecostals—evangelical fervor has often promoted an uncritical nationalism that baptizes American military adventures with religious legitimacy. It’s no coincidence that the setting of Mark Twain’s famous War Prayer —in which Twain delivers a devastating critique of the use of religion to justify imperialism—is a Protestant Christian church. Given the historical record, it may seem the deck is stacked against American evangelicals organizing into a comprehensive peace movement—yet that’s exactly what’s happening.

Enter: Evangelicals for Peace.

On September 14th, a group of Evangelical scholars, pastors, journalists, and activists are gathering together for a summit at Georgetown University to discuss how evangelicals can work together to reduce violence and prevent war. Titled Evangelicals for Peace: A Summit on Christian Moral Responsibility in the 21st Century, the stated goals of the summit are:

• To build and birth a network of evangelical scholars and activists committed to the pursuit of a Biblical, comprehensive, and proactive peace

• To reduce violence, work toward human flourishing, and prevent war

• To mobilize and educate a new generation of evangelicals committed to the pursuit of peace

• To convene a gathering of non-profit and pastoral leaders who are actively working for peace with justice throughout the world

• To give a special focus on peace as it relates to U.S. foreign policy

The vision for Evangelicals for Peace is to educate and mobilize American evangelicals into proactive and comprehensive peacemaking. However, Evangelicals for Peace is not a pacifist-only movement. There are evangelicals in the “just war” camp who agree with many of the stated goals of the summit and want to pursue peace within that paradigm. Rick Love, the co-founder of Peace-Catalyst International, the organization launching the network, who himself is a self-described Just-war theorist leaning towards pacifism, says, “For too long, evangelical theology in America has had the tendency to view peacemaking as a distraction from the ‘pure’ work of preaching the gospel, or as a slippery-slope towards secular humanism. We want to change this paradigm. We want the average evangelical in America to view peacemaking in the same way that they view feeding the hungry or serving the poor—as a demonstration of the good works of the Gospel of the Kingdom.”

It’s been a pleasure of mine to work with Rick Love, as well as the other partner organizations, in thinking through the dynamics of putting this summit together. When it comes to how evangelicals can best draw from the resources of our faith in order to work for peace, many questions naturally arise: questions about the Christian witness to the state, Muslim/Christian relations, the impact of Christian Zionism on U.S. foreign policy, the possibility of Just Peace theory as a middle ground between Pacifism and Just-War theory, the relationship between dispensationalism and peace theology, how the various theological traditions within evangelicalism can create a space for a peace-theology within their existing paradigms.

Very few of these questions lend themselves to easy answers; which is why we need your input. It will take a robust effort to construct an evangelical peace witness to the media, the political powers, and the culture at large, and we need your help to make it happen. We are calling evangelicals from all types of persuasions and agendas to find those areas of common ground where we can work for peace together.

I hope to see you there.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Chased with a Vow

By Dan Sidey

About the same time we began forming an intentional community our third son was born with some hard of hearing issues. At the cost of $1500 each we got him hearing aids and worked to diligently keep them on him. Funny thing is it’s really REALLY hard to keep hearing aids on a baby. There are plenty of reasons for this, but the main one is that he likes to tear them out of his ears, suck on them for a while, pull them to pieces, and then throw them over his shoulder.

Despite all the glorious but difficult life choices we are making these days, few of these rival losing his very expensive hearing aids. For example, we are playing at the school park and a hearing aid goes missing. We search and search and search. The sun is setting. I can barely see now. I’m devastated and angry. Some children are helping me search. As I’m ready to give up a boy says, “Have you looked near the slide?” I think it’s an odd question, but I’m desperate and verging on despair so I stop what I’m doing and go look there. I bend down ,push some wood chip aside, and there is the hearing aid. I go home, tell Atarah the disturbing and miraculous tale, and thank God for his provision and help.

It isn't long before it happens again. We are in Bend, Oregon with family about ready to head back to KFalls and a hearing aid goes missing. We tear apart my parents emaculate house. Everyone checks their clothes closely. No hearing aid. The children are growing very tired and it's time to go home. We have little choice but to leave without the aid. To say we are pissed is an immense understatement. We feel shame, frustration and helpless in the face of what feels like an impossibly unfair situation.

The next morning just before I call the doc to get a new aid, my dad calls from Portland to say that in the dark this morning he kicked something on the garage floor, bent down to see what it was, and found a hearing aid. Again we are perplexed at the impossibility of the hearing aid being found in Portland, but very thankful and amazed.

One afternoon we also lost a hearing aid in the middle of a huge parking lot. The next morning cursing myself under my breath I hopelessly go to look for it. It was really just a mechanical act. I knew I'd regret not looking, but I thoroughly believed it was lost or smashed to pieces under someone's tire. It was totally my fault this time so I was feeling such shame and loneliness. Under the load of all these trials I saw myself as a hopeless cause.

As I drive to look, in the midst of my self-flagellation, I hear God say "Don't worry, my son. I have everything under control...and I'm smiling." In the midst of my pain I feel his peace cover me. I get there and begin walking toward the spot we had parked the car yesterday. As I'm getting closer I see something in the middle of the road that could possibly be an aid, but, seriously, I shrug it off because it is too much to believe. I get closer and I'm doing double and triple takes, squinting my eyes to see better, shaking my head to make sure I'm not just dreaming that I'm seeing an intact hearing aid. I pick it up and test it. It survived rush hour the middle of the parking lot.

I can't shake this feeling that God is trying to speak profoundly. "Don't worry. I see you. In all your difficulty and pain I'm present. And I'm going to prove it to you again and again. I'm smiling."

The next time we lost a hearing aid I was willing to trust and I wasn't disappointed. The sun was setting as I'm searching another park. I give up again in frustration yet I really suspect God will surprise us. On the way home I find the most expensive part of the aid! The next morning we are about to jump in the car to go get the cheaper part and Chris, my eldest son, says "Hey Dad, here's the rest of the hearing aid on the ground."

The message is clear. "Trust me in this radical thing you're doing. You long to see God's Family form, keep believing it will. Love with all your heart. Hold hope tightly. Let your faith soar with the birds. I am here...smiling!"

I'm thankful that God spoke so deeply, because just after this was when we experienced the greatest blow from this experiment that we have had yet. When it came we were crushed and angry. We felt hurt and betrayed. We questioned how it was possible to go forward.

We had created a culture of hospitality in our house that couldn't just end. We genuinely care for the children and people of our neighborhood, but we pulled back to enable us to rest a bit. We circled the wagons and asked questions about what next. Interestingly, we stopped losing the hearing aids. Agonizingly, we began questioning if our search for God's Family might be leading us other places.

About three months later, I have some children in the house and it's a bit wilder than I like, but I know it will end soon enough. After I send everyone home I notice that one of Stephen's hearing aids is missing. No big deal. It had to be in the living room. We searched and searched tearing the place apart. No aid. It seemed impossible that we could lose it in our living room when we had found it in parks, a supermarket parking lot, and somewhere between KFalls and Portland! No big deal. We always find the aids. It's part of the promise. It wasn't long before four weeks had lapsed and it was still missing.

Secretly, I thought it was a sign. "Son, you don’t have to do this anymore. You wanted to be part of God's Family in KFalls, but it didn't work. It's time to let go.” I had come to trust the message of God through these aids so thoroughly I really felt this. After all, finding these aids was causing me to dream of absurd grace for our family and Mills, the kind we are only fleetingly willing to believe in. It is one thing to read God promising faithfulness in the Bible (even to read it again and again and again), but it's totally different when you hold a promise in your hand. Those aids were the pledge of God that I wasn't a fool, dragging my family and our neighbors into the lost cause of deeper hope and love.

Two weeks later, on the day I’m scheduled to pick up the new aid we realize we want something out of a box in the living room. It's full of newspapers we don’t pay much attention to, but that day for some reason we wanted something from it. So just moments before I go to get the new aid I search the box...and inside I find the lost hearing aid.

Today, we are working to practice our faith in very small and unnoticeable ways. We have no buildings, but our house. No banners, just little garden plots. There aren’t many of us, but we do have friends all across the neighborhood, in our city, and other surprising places who we care for and who we can sense care for us.

This is a hard neighborhood to live in. When people can afford another place to live they usually move on. Children frequently ask me, with a look that pleads for stability, "Are you gonna stay?"

As I hold these hearing aids in my hand, the same hearing aids that I've lost and found all over this state(!), I think deeply about what it means to receive a promise from God.

In Christine Pohl's Living into Community she writes that families are created through promises. In our culture this promising often culminates with two people coming together with a new hope that lasting love is possible. "Until death do us part.”

Yet in the New Testament, God as usual is amping it up by forming a new family that we see only shadows of in the nuclear family. God's Family begins with a vow, a promise, from God himself. "I will never leave you and you will see me most clearly in every brother, sister and neighbor who is hungry, thirsty, sick, imprisoned or lost." It is the banqueting feast where all are welcome as they are and at the head of the table is the Server himself, God our Father. It is the community that holds the pain of its brothers, sisters and neighbors and at its center is the Son bearing and sharing that pain, showing what it means to suffer for love's sake. It is the one place where at the greatest point of our irreconcilable brokenness and failure the absurdity of resurrection breaks forth and draws us towards an impossible joy, a peace that passes all understanding and a hope that never departs.

Lately, I've been feeling so tired and beat. Yet I can't shake this feeling that there is this great and beautiful sunrise that is about to break forth. I look around at my imperfect life and I see sun rays peeking over the roof tops in Mills. God is chasing us all with a vow! ...And He’s smiling!

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Apostle Paul was not a misogynist homophobe!

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “To be great is to be misunderstood.” If Emerson was right, then the Apostle Paul might be one of the greatest men to ever live. Few religious leaders have been as grossly misunderstood as Paul. Unlike Jesus, who most people regard as a great moral teacher, Paul is routinely accused of the most egregious sins according to modern sensibilities: misogyny, classism, homophobia, anti-Semitism. The idea that Paul invented Christianity is so fashionable nowadays that many people take it as a given, as if it’s obviously true. The irony in all this unexamined Paul-bashing is that fewer people today are taking the time to ponder the crux of his moral message: “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life”—a message that both society and the Church need to hear.

Yes, there are passages in Paul’s letters that would seem to paint him as pro-slavery, anti-women, and homophobic. But just as Muslim scholars insist that the passages of the Qur’an that seem out of step with modern ethical norms be read in light of their historical context, the same is true with Paul’s letters. Paul’s advice to slaves (obey your masters) and their masters (treat your slaves well) may seem off-kilter today, but given the historical situation, his advice can hardly be described as unreasonable. It should also be noted that Paul insisted that slaves who could attain their freedom should do so—and that he condemned slave traders.

As far as women are concerned, for all of the passages that seem to consign women to second- class status in the home and the Church—and there are plenty of scholars who insist that those passages teach the exact opposite of that—all of them pail in comparison to Paul’s notion that in Christ, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female.” Whether we’re talking about women or slaves, Paul can rightly be considered a progressive in light of the customs, attitudes, and social norms of his day.

Which leaves us with the homophobia charge…

The definition of homophobia according to the Encarta World English dictionary is “an irrational hatred, disapproval, or fear of homosexuality, gay and lesbian people, and their culture.” Given that in all of Paul’s letters, there’s only one unmistakable reference to same-sex relations (The words translated as homosexual in I Corinthians 6:9 and I Timothy 1:10 are highly ambiguous words in the Greek), Paul can hardly be said to have had “an irrational hatred, disapproval, or fear of homosexuality”, especially when you take into account that in the one clear reference to same sex relations in Paul’s letters (Romans 1:23-17), the relations that Paul is describing are the highly lustful relations that accompanied pagan temple worship in his day.

While it’s not my intention to settle the debate as to whether Paul disapproved of all same-sex relations, even if the traditional view is correct, which is that Paul viewed same sex relations as inherently sinful, whether in the context of monogamous relationships or not, an obsessive inquiry into how Paul felt about same-sex sex misses the forest through the trees. In Paul’s theology, Christian morality isn’t about following a set of ironclad, inflexible rules and regulations. It’s about Spirit-filled followers of Jesus dying to the letter of the Law and rising to a new life in the Spirit (Romans 7:6), a life where the Spirit-indwelt conscience is the new moral compass (Romans 14:22-23, 2 Corinthians 3:6), and the rule of thumb that satisfies all of God’s laws is to love your neighbor as yourself (Romans 13:8-10, Galatians 5:14).

“The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life,” says Paul.

In Paul’s theology, the death and resurrection of Jesus was the historical game-changer that shifted the focus away from the rules and regulations of the Law and towards the Spirit-indwelt conscience as the arbiter for moral decisions in the life of the believer.

Paul insists, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”

Yes, freedom.

Paul was the Apostle of human freedom.

How tragic it is that society maligns him.

And the Church misrepresents him.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Are Christian Zionism and social justice compatible?

By John Harris

Sami Awad, Palestinian, street activist, and born-again Christian began to wrap up his presentation to a packed room of Pentecostal and charismatic believers: “I know many of you here are Christian Zionists. I don’t ask that you give any of that up, not for one moment. But I also know that you are Spirit-filled believers, and that the Holy Spirit has increased the size of your heart. I know that the Israelis are in your heart. I hope you can find room for the Palestinians as well.” A standing ovation erupted. It was a job well done.

These comments were made recently at Converge21, a conference held at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia, home of televangelist Pat Robertson. Present were heads of America’s Pentecostal denominations, universities, seminaries, and churches.

It was not the usual combination, but that’s what you get when you merge conventions.

The Society for Pentecostal Studies (SPS) had long scheduled their 2012 conference for Virginia Beach. This group of intellectuals and scholars gather once a year to develop and promote academia within the Pentecostal-charismatic movement. The theme for this year was Pentecostalism, Peacemaking, and Social Justice/Righteousness.

Then along came Empowered21, an organization focusing on the future of the Pentecostal-charismatic movement. Born out of Oral Roberts University, Empowered21 seeks not only to reach the world for Jesus Christ, but also to introduce other movements within Christianity to the power of the Holy Spirit.

When Empowered21 looked for a place to hold their gathering, they turned to Regent University. Finding that SPS was already having their gathering at Regent on the same week, Empowered21 sought to have their convention both alongside and with SPS.

Empowered21 leadership discovered that Sami was to be a keynote speaker with SPS. They were okay with Sami speaking at a joint session, but then the emails and phone calls started coming in. CBN and TBN pulled their live television coverage of the entire conference. Concessions were made; the title of the evening was changed to reflect a broader topic, and Wayne Hilsden, pastor of a Pentecostal church within Israel, was added to the bill.

Sami began his lecture by tracing his family’s Christian heritage. They are Palestinian Christians. He told in detail about his decision to follow Jesus Christ and his subsequent receiving of the gift of tongues.

Telling the story of the 1948 war in which the nation of Israel was created, Sami recalled the death of his grandfather. The war had begun, and the Jewish soldiers came to his family’s village, a neighborhood where Jews, Christians, and Muslims were all living together. “My father went outside our home to place a white flag on our house, showing that we were in support of neither side. He was killed by a sniper’s bullet.”

Sami continued to tell the story of his life from the viewpoint of someone who was on the other side of the founding of Israel. He spoke of the 1967 war when the remainder of what once was called Palestine was taken over and occupied by the nation of Israel. His family had become refugees in their own land.

He continued on with accounts of fighting, oppression, and land confiscation, all executed on the Palestinians by the Israelis. “I knew that Jesus calls me to love my enemies. Who are my enemies? The Israeli Defense Force and the Jewish settlers.”

Of course, this is not the most common lecture to be heard at a conference of this sort. Present in the crowd were leaders of a theology known as Christian Zionism, the belief that God had caused the rebirth of Israel as a nation in 1948, and, as the Bible says in Genesis 12:3, “I will bless those who bless you (Israel) and curse those who treat you with contempt.”

Sami then described his work as a Palestinian street activist. His cause? The independence of a free and secure Palestine as a nation alongside a free and secure nation of Israel. His method? Nonviolent social change. He shared that he had come to a place where he promotes only nonviolence as a method for social change, this in contrast with his beliefs earlier in life that independence may come through a variety of methods, including both nonviolence and armed struggle. He called Jesus the “Prince of Peace.”

The conference continued for several more days. It is feasible that SPS, like Empowered21, is dominated by those who would aspire to the theology of Christian Zionism. Pentecostalism and “Last Days” theology almost always walk hand-in-hand. Among the presentations included topics of Israel, the last days, and Messianic Judaism.

One scholar from England was there to present his dissertation on world Pentecostalism, the last days, and the rebirth of Israel. He systematically proved that Pentecostals from around the globe believe that God’s hand is with Israel, and that they believe this whether or not they have been influenced by North American Pentecostalism. His figures were solid.

Toward the end of his presentation, fully embracing all the major beliefs of Christian Zionism, he began to talk about gross injustices occurring within the Palestinian Territories. He talked about a number of views within Christian Zionism on the issue of land, specifically the trading of land in exchange for peace. He noted that different Christian Zionist scholars have a variety of beliefs concerning the amount of land that is to constitute Israel in order to usher in the Last Days. Some have relatively no parameters, while the extremes believe Israel will take over massive amounts of land currently belonging to nearby Arab nations.

He then went on to discuss the movement within Christianity, including Pentecostalism, toward social justice. (He even used the words “social justice.”) Reflecting the lectures given through Empowered21, he stated that Pentecostalism must change in order to be relevant to the younger generation. And the younger generation won’t buy a faith that says, “Israel wrong or right;” rather, the renaissance in the social justice movement will demand that any faith, to be relevant, cannot promote inhumane conditions of occupied people groups.

The suggestion was then made that Christian Zionism and social justice are compatible. If those Christian faithful that promote Israel are willing to accept an Israel that is smaller than the one in existence today, it will satisfy the concerns of those young people, including young Pentecostals, that justice for the poor is done.

I was as amazed to hear this. As a human rights worker, I have seen firsthand the persecution experienced daily by Palestinians in the West Bank. Although my particular Pentecostal church back at home is silent on issues of Israel, I know that I belong to a movement that, in my estimation, gives its blessing to the continued confiscation of Palestinian land to make room for Jewish settlements. We also turn a blind eye to the daily home invasions, beatings, and detentions in the West Bank.

I long for the day when this war is over, when all are living in relative peace and justice, and when Palestine is its own nation. No more shootings, no more suicide bombs, no more missile attacks. Just people going about their lives, going to work, feeding their families. Both Israeli and Palestinian.

And the blessings continued. Two Christian women, representing a Jewish/Christian Zionist organization, told me that, for the first time, Sami Awad was someone that they could work with. A Jewish attendee from the same organization mentioned that he had been on the phone that morning with Pastor John Hagee, founder of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), trying to explain to John Hagee that Sami’s lecture was not something to be alarmed about. Sami Awad and Wayne Hilsden got to know each other on a more personal basis, and both spoke the next week at the Christ at the Checkpoint conference in Bethlehem.

More notable was a multi-hour conversation between Sami Awad and Steve Strang, owner of Charisma Magazine, the largest Christian magazine in America. In their time together, Sami told Steve about a recurring dream he is having which he calls “Five Minutes with John Hagee.” The dream is about what he would say if he had five minutes to say anything to John Hagee. Steve, delighted by the story, picked up his cell phone and said, Let’s call him.” Sami wasn’t quite ready for that. I haven’t heard where that has gone, but I am praying.

Outside a recent gathering of CUFI, activist Medea Benjamin asked John Hagee if he loves Palestinians. John gave a respectful answer and continued on into the conference. There they were, the most outspoken Christian Zionist leader and one of America’s most prominent social justice advocates, unable to create a table for open dialogue.

Upon viewing this conversation recently on the web, I was drawn back to the lecture incorporating Christian Zionism with social justice. It brought me such joy.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” What is significant here is the word “maker” found here. We must recognize that peace is not something that just happens, it must be made. Ask anyone who is married. It has been said many times that peace is not the absence of violence; it is the presence of justice. I know that God is so big that he can use a Medea Benjamin and a John Hagee to bring about peace. He can use a Sami Awad and a Jewish Zionist to help bring justice.

Let us continue to pray for peace in the Middle East. Let us continue to make peace.

John Harris lives in Altadena, California, where he attends Eagle Rock Christian Assembly, a Foursquare church. He has spent parts of the last five summers working with Christian Peacemaker Teams in the city of Hebron, Palestinian Territories. He leads delegations through Palestine and Israel with the group Pentecostals and Charismatics for Peace and Justice.

Monday, April 30, 2012

My journey as the "Rich" Young Ruler

By Dan Sidey

From my first days as a Bible-reading Christian I have been both haunted and inspired by the encounter of Jesus and the rich young ruler. Reading the story set in motion a great desire within me to make the decision the rich young ruler couldn't. I can't honestly say how much success I've had. Much of the journey has led to failure, but in it I discovered things about myself and God. Other times it has led to some degree of success, I suspect. Still every time I read it I'm haunted by it, but also inspired.

There are a variety of interpretations of the rich young ruler encounter that have spread throughout the church in the US. These interpretations often have the effect of absolving the one communicating (and the ones listening to) it of responsibility for following Jesus' command to sell your possessions, give them to the poor and come follow him.

I have tried to be faithful in allowing the text to speak to me. I have no doubt I am that rich young man. I feel how dependent I am on my things. About a week ago my iPod got wet and I was crawling in my skin waiting to see if I'd have to drop another $200 on my technology dependency. I like my comfortable bed, my refrigerator full of food, my two cars and my house that I "own". I'm deeply affected by consumerism. It runs in my blood.

Now you may think you are not the rich person in the story or you may have a suspicion you are and want to absolve yourself. You may say you follow a gospel of grace not of works or that this and that person in the New Testament was called by Jesus to remain rich and experience eternal life. It's ok. I'm not going to whip out a mirror and talk about you. Nobody pulled a mirror on me and I don't think it would have helped. Somehow I've always felt I was that rich man. No human showed it to me. I've just known it.

As hard as it may sound to have carried this knowledge, I'm thankful for it. It's set me on a path of great discovery and surprising intimacy. In fact, I want to better know how I'm that rich man. I want to come to Jesus again and again if I have to, even if I have to walk away more sad every time. As morbid as this may sound it simply is not to me, because I'm captured by a greater vision of a more radical possibility.

The disciples were staggered. "Then who has any chance at all?" Jesus looked hard at them and said, "No chance at all if you think you can pull it off yourself. Every chance in the world if you trust God to do it."(The Message)

That is my highest and best aspiration in a nutshell. I desperately long to trust God to do something miraculous and I believe there is "every chance in the world" he will do something right here, right now. Like in Zacchaeus' moment, the Son of God and his lowly followers may dine at my family table and I will have a gift for those who happen to have less, not out of my plenty, but instead a gift that asks "Jesus, May I suffer with you just a little?"

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Law is for the Lawless, Not for You!

By Mark Drake

1 Tim 1:8-9- “But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless…”

If you have received God’s free gift of righteousness by Christ coming to live inside of you, then you are the “righteous”, not the “lawless”. Therefore, the Law is not made for you. You have something far better than the letter of the Law. You have the Lawgiver, Himself, living inside of you!

Why the New Covenant is Better than Law

The miracle of the New Covenant is “Christ in you, the hope of glory”. (Col. 1:26-27) The New Covenant enables us to live the “Inside Out” life rather than the vastly inferior life of “Outside In”. When the Lawgiver is living in us, we are empowered by Him from the inside out.

We Must Always Start at the Right Starting Point

We must always start with the reality that we have already been made righteous by putting our faith in the work Christ did for us on the cross. Then, as we learn to allow Him to live His life in and through us, His righteousness nature begins to live through us, affecting our actions. Our goal now becomes to cooperate with Him for inner transformation; not to become “right with God” because we are already “right with God”.

Though we will not learn to cooperate with Him perfectly in this life, we are on a progressing journey into righteous behavior which culminates in our physical death, when we will be completely changed and fully transformed into His perfect image. (Rom. 8:29) The journey does not make us “right with God”. We are already right with God because of what Christ has done, once and for all! But traveling on this life journey is dramatically “easier and lighter” (Matt. 11:28) when we understand the true New Covenant.

When the Lawgiver is living inside of you, you do not have to live struggling to outwardly obey a list of laws, by your own power and by making more sincere promises to God. Instead, He will empower and guide you from within. This is what makes the New Covenant…New! Living in the true New Covenant is intended to give us the successful life of Inside Out, instead of the failure of Outside In.

Example of Lawlessness – Traffic Laws

In civil society we must have traffic laws, because our lawless human nature is motivated by selfishness and the fear of punishment. If I drive through your neighborhood thinking only about myself and how fast I want to get to my destination, then my lawlessness (not being motivated by love) makes me a danger to others.

But if I am being motivated inwardly by agape love, I will be more careful than the traffic signs demand because my concern will be the safety of others rather my selfish desires. I won’t need the threat of punishment or the outward restriction of law because I am being controlled by a higher inner law. I will be even more careful than the law requires because I am being controlled by God’s love for the well-being of others.

True grace empowers us to live beyond the letter of the Law. True grace produces a better life than Law ever could. This is why Paul could confidently say “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Rom 13:10)

This is the power of true biblical grace; Christ’s life inside you, controlling you from within, as a free gift from a loving Father. And this is THE Good News!

Mirrored with permission from

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Why I Wore a Hoodie for Jesus

By Dan Sidey

In light of Trayvon Martin's death and the fact that his killer remained free I, for a time, wore a hoodie as many in the black community have.

Why was I wearing a hoodie? I’m doing my best as a white man to practice Christian racial reconciliation. I believe that the only way the Gospel can be fully lived out is if whites, blacks, Latinos, Asians, Native-Americans and people in the Body of Christ are willing to share life together, empathize with one another and love one another. When injustice arises loving my brothers and sisters of color also means standing in solidarity with them against injustice. I wore a hoodie as a reminder to all who saw me that justice was failing Trayvon and his family. For me it isn't some liberal agenda with a Christian twist, but the very Gospel of Christ. My life has been deeply enriched by my friends from other cultures and races. When I say "enriched" I'm not referring to trying new ethnic foods or learning a little Spanish. I'm talking about my entire life being changed and my view of the world transformed. I look at US history with much greater desire to see God's kingdom come instead of the American dream. I see who the true heroes of our country are. The Christianity I practice is so much more grounded because I can see how God stands with the oppressed and marginalized. Jesus, our Lord and God, is misunderstood, oppressed and marginalized with them.

Sadly, the most racially segregated day and time every week in the US is Sunday mornings, but the calling of God for all white people is to experience understanding, empathy, friendship, and ultimately what Martin Luther King Jr. called the "Beloved Community." I don't believe this kind of understanding and intimacy between our races was just MLK Jr.'s idea but Christ's dream for us from the beginning of time. I've seen the Beloved Community with my own eyes, touched it with my hands and listened to its utterly holy music. I wouldn't return to my old way of living even if you pulled a billy-stick on me. I'm gripped with fascination and I'm hoping I've said something to pique your interest, to help you risk understanding what I believe Christians of a different race experience. I want you to know Christ better and your true identity as a white person.

Below are the steps I'm humbly offering as a way toward God's dream of Beloved Community. The first step is the way in the door and each following it requires more taking up of the cross, but results in more resurrection as you discover more of yourself in Christ. I haven't found this road to be linear. I constantly find myself returning to each of the steps and with each pass through them I'm more fascinated and changed.

Here is the road I suggest and a few stories to illustrate what I mean:

1. Read books about Christian racial reconciliation. Here are two great places to start. Being White: Finding Our Place in a Multiethnic World by Paula Harris and Doug Schaupp and Free to Be Bound: Church Beyond the Color Line by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. Reading is an excellent way to help you wrestle with the stories of people of color and the falsehood of the dominant white narrative. The books I’ve suggested are written by white people who have learned to see the world with Jesus’ eyes. This exploration gets much deeper as you read books by people of color about race. John Perkins’ honest memoir Let Justice Roll Down is an excellent entry point.

2. Attend gatherings where people of color are encouraged to speak freely about race. Try to believe what you hear, even if you find it unbelievable and painful. People of color experience many insults, acts of violence and injustices that we will very rarely (if ever )experience as whites.

One example of a place where you can hear these perspectives was the Justice Conference in Portland, Oregon that happened in February 2012. There are Christian conferences and gatherings like this happening frequently. This could include attending an African-American or Asian-American church regularly.

Note: Statistical evidence has shown that both black and white folks are interested in racial reconciliation. White folks prefer to practice this in an informal format, but interestingly black folks, at a much higher rate, prefer to experience interracial dialogue in a formal setting or have white folks attend formal gatherings that address racial issues before they meet informally to talk about race. In light of this don't underestimate the value of the first two steps.

3. Make meaningful friendships with people of color. Eric Law in The Wolf Shall Dwell with the Lamb: A Spirituality for Leadership in a Multicultural Community suggests that white folks learn to embrace the cross in their relationships with people of color. Our relationship with them must include searching out honest ways to serve them, to lift them up instead of ourselves. A meaningful friendship also includes allowing people of color serve us.

Some years ago I made friends with Raj, who is an Indian-American. While I was teaching on race at the university I asked him to come and share about his experience in the US as an Indian-American. As we listened I was amazed and shocked at the tragic and optimistic story of Raj embracing an identity that is marginalized. I could only see him as a hero and a trailblazer after he shared with us. He also appreciated the chance to articulate his journey. Our relationship only grew after this experience.

4. Work to listen deeply to your friends of a different race.

By listening deeply I mean that we must learn to not just hear the ideas that people of color are sharing, but work our hardest to imagine ourselves in their shoes. Listening so it affects us in such a way that we let it demand change and action of us.

Years ago I had a Palestinian friend named Fatima. She is a fiery beautiful Muslim whose faith is both zealous and humble. At the time one of my classes in seminary discussed how the Israeli/Palestinian conflict was oppressing her people. The next time I met with her I asked her to tell me about the suppression of her people. She told me about the poverty, harassment, terrorism and marginalization that the Palestinian people feel down in their very being, because of the massive power and oppressive methods of the Israeli army. At first I couldn't believe it was true. Luckily she was willing to tell me again and again and soon it took hold of me how oppressed the Palestinian people feel. Later in class I was asked to share about "Why are Muslims angry at the US?" I shared her story as well as the story of a Palestinian Christian at our seminary who told me that if he had lost his family by the Israeli army's oppressive methods he would seriously consider giving his life for the cause of Palestinian freedom. I never could have understood the magnitude of these stories if I wouldn't have learned to listen deeply.

I offer these four steps to you. My longing to know Christ deeper is drawing me down this road. I really hope you choose to take this journey with me in loving people of all colors. It’s time white folks wake up to our need to humbly and empathetically cross the racial lines. Jesus is waiting there for us.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Was Jesus a fundamentalist?

By Aaron D. Taylor

When I was in my early 20’s, a Bible teacher by the name of Dianne Kannady posed a rhetorical question that continues to haunt me to this day: “If Jesus was your only source of information about what Christianity should look like, how would you live your life?”

That question has gotten me into a lot of trouble over the years.

Consider the three things that instantly come to mind.

1. Jesus preached nonviolence.

2. Jesus was a faith healer

3. Jesus challenged the religious fundamentalists of his day

Take any of these three statements, declare that followers of Jesus should do the same thing today, and somebody’s going to get pissed.

Preaching nonviolence may win you accolades in certain circles, but there are an equal number of people that will hate you for it. And who in their right mind would want to attempt a ministry that revolves around the miraculous today? With the exception of people that watch TBN, everybody despises faith-healers—at least here in America.

It’s rare enough to find a person that embodies the values of 1 (preaching nonviolence) and 2 (faith-healing) simultaneously, but the real contradiction seems to be between 2 (faith-healing) and 3 (challenging religious fundamentalism), because the kind of certainty that it takes to say to a crippled man “rise up and walk” doesn’t lend itself to the kind of nuance that it takes to challenge religious fundamentalism.

Yet that’s exactly what Jesus did…

Take this story for example:

When Jesus was about to be received up (into heaven), he set out for Jerusalem, bound and determined to get there. So he sent some messengers before him, and the messengers entered a Samaritan village to make things ready for him. But the Samaritans did not receive Jesus, because Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. And when his disciples, James and John, saw what the Samaritans had done, they said to Jesus,

“Lord, would you like us to call down fire from heaven and consume them, like Elijah did?”

But Jesus turned to them and rebuked them, saying, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of. The Son of Man didn’t come to destroy people’s lives. He came to save them!” (Luke 9:51-56, rephrased from the King James Version)

Some background information is in order.

Jews and Samaritans despised each other in Jesus’ day. Jews said that the proper place to worship was in Jerusalem. Samaritans disagreed. Which is why they weren’t jumping for joy at the opportunity of hosting a Jewish rabbi on his way to Jerusalem. The Samaritans had a fundamentalism of their own, which said that if you don’t worship at the right holy place, you can’t be a true messenger of God.

So they rejected Jesus.

Then there’s James and John. Not only were the Samaritans of the wrong people (strike one), and the wrong religion (strike two), they had flat-out rejected Jesus (major strike three). James and John knew that rejecting Jesus is a big no-no, so they must have assumed that Jesus felt the same way about the Samaritans as they did, otherwise why would they imagine that Jesus might go along with their plan to call down fire from heaven and incinerate them?

And notice the way they asked the question, “Do you want us to call down fire from heaven….As Elijah did?”

In the Bible that they read—what Jews today call the Hebrew Scriptures, and what Christians call the Old Testament—Elijah really did call fire down from heaven to consume his enemies.They weren't making that up. The Bible really does say that! (For the curious, the story is found in 2 Kings Chapter 1). But the disciples took the story literally, meaning they believed that the story applied to them in their day in the same way that it applied to another people at another time and place.

And Jesus nailed them for it.

Jesus said, “You don’t know what kind of spirit you are of.”

We see many rejections in this story. The Samaritans rejected Jesus because he worshiped in the “wrong” holy place. The disciples rejected the Samaritans because they rejected Jesus. And Jesus rejected the way his disciples used the Bible to shore up their rejection of the Samaritans.

The disciples read the Bible accurately, but with the wrong spirit. As Jesus said, “The Son of man didn’t come to destroy people’s lives, but to save them.” Is it possible to read the Bible accurately, but with the wrong spirit?

How might people do that today?

Friday, April 13, 2012

A man finds peace

By PJ Meduri

I had just gotten out of our car after arriving in a village in Southern India. I had barely started walking when a man, about 30 years old came up to me and began speaking feverishly with words. I couldn’t understand. The Pastor/Interpreter relayed to me what this man was saying.

“He’s saying that his father has just died, his mother is ill, and he’s afraid of death.”

I asked the Pastor to encourage the man to have a seat in our meeting as I would be talking about that tonight. Later that evening in that village in India, I spoke to around 200 people regarding the Lord Jesus Christ. That as the Son of God who died in our place and rose from the dead, Jesus offers the forgiveness of our sins and eternal life to those who will trust in Him. That evening, this man indicated that he too wanted to trust and follow Jesus Christ.

Before leaving two days later for my flight back to America I was able to give this man a pocket-sized card with a picture on it. The picture was that of a man who had just died and was being embraced by Jesus as the man entered into eternity. A reality now awaiting this man from India.

In reflecting on this I’m reminded of what’s written in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes which says “..God has set eternity into the hearts of men.” (Eccl. 3:11) I’m sure that’s why it doesn’t matter where we live, or what our background is, somewhere in the quietness of every heart there’s a reminder that this world isn’t the final stop in our existence. It also brings to mind the words I once read of a famous skeptic who summarized his life by saying, “I don’t know where I came from. And I don’t know what I’m doing here. And worst of all, I don’t know what’s going to happen to me when I punch out of here.” I’m so thankful that the answer to each of those questions can be found by trusting totally in the Lord Jesus to give us eternal life. For Jesus has promised, “I give them eternal life and they shall never perish.” (John 10:28)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Kind atheists or hateful Christians? Which does God prefer?

Pastor Shawn Craig of Crosspoint Church, also a member of the famous Christian group Philips, Craig, and Dean wrote a thoughtful post the other day about whether God prefers kind atheists or hateful Christians. When I lived in Missouri, I attended Crosspoint, which at the time was called South County Christian Center. My parents remain faithful members, and for good reason. Pastor Shawn is a Bible teacher par excellence!

In this particular post, (see the link below) I found Pastor Shawn's take on the parable of the Good Samaritan to be worth reading, although it doesn't appear that he has grappled too much with the fact that Jesus made the heretic the hero of the story, and what that might mean in terms of how Christians today should view people of different faiths. The closest parallel to the way Jews thought of Samaritans in their day is the way Christians think of Muslims today.

How would the average Christian feel today if they heard a Sunday morning sermon about a guy getting beat up, left for dead, and while the worship leader and the youth pastor pass him by, the person that actually helps the man is a Muslim named Ahmed. This is how the Jews would have heard Jesus' story. The guy that was supposed to be the "bad guy" turned out to be the one who actually fulfilled the great commandment, which is to love your neighbor as yourself.

Contrary to what Pastor Shawn seems to be saying in this post,(and I do emphasize the word seems, since I very well could have misread the post) I do think that the parable of the Good Samaritan lends itself to the question of which is more important: orthodoxy (right believing) or orthopraxy (right living)? I don't agree that it's inappropriate to ask the question of who might God prefer: kind atheists (or Muslims, Jews, gays, insert the standard evangelical heretic here) or Christians who have their theological ducts in order--that is to say, they believe all the right things--but despise outsiders.

Having said that......

Pastor Shawn makes an excellent point when he says that God prefers people that believe in Jesus.

Can't argue with that.

And, of course, I agree that the Old Testament law, as well as many of the next-to-impossible demands that Jesus sets in the Sermon on the Mount, are meant to frustrate us to the point of acknowledging that it's only by grace that we can be saved, not by any works of righteousness or merit on our own part. I just don't think that's the point that Jesus is making in the parable of the Good Samaritan.

I could be wrong.

It wouldn't be the first time.

Read the article here.

What say you?

Monday, April 09, 2012

Removing Son of God from the Bible?

Yet another thought-provoking article from Carl Medearis--Aaron

By Carl Medearis

There’s an interesting debate going on within Christian missions circles these days. Wycliffe Bible Translators have taken out the term “Son of God” in the New Testament when referring to Jesus in their Arabic Bible translations. They’ve done this because (they say) it does not represent what the words originally meant to a Jewish audience when a modern Muslim is reading them in Arabic. As you might guess, there’s been a huge backlash from the Christian community.

And as is typical, there’s been little room for nuance. If our answers can’t fit on bumper stickers, most aren’t interested. So the simplified version of both sides are: It makes sense….and….Heresy.

(Although I’m not really writing about this point – my opinion would be to leave those words in since they are the words used, and footnote the phrase each time it’s used with an explanation at the bottom of the page).

But here’s the real issue – it’s communication. Language. Semantics. Here’s how the conversation often goes with a Muslim. They ask the Christian this “Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God? Because, we don’t.”

The Christian, thinking he’s answering honestly and with integrity say, “Of course. Jesus is called that in the Bible.” The Muslim shakes his head and cries out to God to protect him from this awful heresy of the Christians. The Christian is offended and gets even more defensive about Jesus being “the Son of God” and round and round it goes…

Here’s what the Muslim is thinking when he asks the question:

To continue reading this entry, click here

Monday, April 02, 2012

Welcoming the stranger

By Adam Maarschalk

“I’ve seen the bumper stickers in Dade County in Miami, even in church parking lots, where they say, ‘Will the last American to leave Miami please bring the flag?’ I’ve seen the propositions in California that want us to build a wall to keep the world out. But they haven’t read—obviously—Psalm 24 which says, ‘The earth is the Lord’s.’ This country is not ours. It is the Lord’s.”

These are the words of Ray Bakke, chancellor and professor of Global Urban Studies at Bakke Graduate University in Seattle, Washington. Ray shared these and many other thoughts in a 23-minute Moody Radio address given on November 24, 2011. Titled “Compassion: The Drama of Urban Evangelization, Part 2,” it’s a thought-provoking message very much worth listening to (audio available here).

Ray provides many fascinating statistics demonstrating what God is doing, particularly in US cities, to bring the nations of the world to our doorstep. Ray also brings a probing challenge to the body of Christ to respond accordingly. I’d like to summarize his address here.

Ray begins his address by speaking of Onesimus, the Biblical slave of Philemon who became so dear to the apostle Paul that most of the book of Philemon is made up of Paul’s appeal for Onesimus’ freedom. Ray refers to Onesimus as “a refugee who became the Bishop of Ephesus,” as it is believed. He suggests that it was Onesimus who first gathered together the Pauline letters of the New Testament, a point that Eric Sammons of the Diocese of Venice in Florida also emphasizes. Later in his address, Ray reminds us that Jesus was born in Asia in a borrowed barn, before He and His family became refugees in Africa.

“The Lord is spreading the world out, and the frontier of world missions has shifted,” Ray adds at one point. “No longer is it across the ocean only.

God has a history of taking care of refugees and immigrants, and calling His people to love and show hospitality to the strangers He sovereignly brings to live among them. A reading of the Law given through Moses to ancient Israel will confirm this. How is God granting such opportunities to the body of Christ in America today? Ray shares these highlights:

A. There are more Jews living in New York City than in Israel, more in Miami than in Tel Aviv.

B. The United States is the second largest African nation, after Nigeria.

C. The US is the third largest Spanish-speaking country in the world.

D. Pittsburg has more than 50,000 Serbs.

E. There are more than 250,000 Arabs, Chaldeans, and Iraqis living in the Dearborn, Michigan area.

F. Representatives of 123 nations (i.e. 2/3 of the world) live in just one New York City zip code, in the Flushing neighborhood in North Central Queens, home of the World’s Fair in 1964-65.

G. Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, and other cities have become “catch basins of the world.”

Ray goes on to describe what God is doing in other parts of the West and elsewhere (Yes, despite strong rhetoric in certain Evangelical circles to the contrary, I do believe God is behind these things):

A. London: The east side of the city is largely Asian, the west side is largely Arab, and the south features a large number of black and Caribbean peoples. “There were 52 nations in the British empire. Now all 52 nations live in London,” but “the British church is not ready for this.”

B. France: “There are 46 countries in the world on 5 continents that speak French, and 26 of them are in west Africa… The French, for 150 years, were messing up those countries in many interesting ways. Now those people are coming back to France, and the people in France don’t like that one bit.” (Does the body of Christ there have a different stance?)

C. The Chinese people: “God has scattered about 80 million Chinese into all the major cities in the world,” Ray adds, and many of the believers among them are “linked up by fax machines and email and a common mailing list of the Chinese Coordinating Committee for World Evangelism in Hong Kong [this is the first I’ve heard about this]… Could God be scattering the Chinese through the cities of the world to prepare for an Asian Pentecost in the 21st century?” In Birmingham, Alabama, there were 6 Chinese restaurants in 1990. Six years later there were 66.

D. Rapid urbanization: In 1900, only 9% of the world’s population lived in cities. Now over 50% do. Presently there are some 400 cities with 1 million people or more, 100 cities with more than 2 million, and 23 cities with at least 10 million people.

Ray believes that there are at least five specializations in urban ministry:

1. Working with at-risk people who have come to our cities

2. Community organizing and church-based development (Ray says, “Christians can actually adopt the last, least, and lost in the worst neighborhoods in our cities, and move into those cities, and establish a beachhead of the gospel, and then rebuild those neighborhoods.”)

3. Multi-lingual (Ray cites 1st Baptist Church in Flushing, NY, with 63 nations in membership)

4. Laity (many are also called into professions to take personal faith into public places)

5. Pastors (they can learn how to enable congregations to worship beyond our own limited cultural experience)

On a sobering note, Ray adds that gated communities in the US are growing faster than ghettos at this time. “Middle-class Americans, including Christians, flee the cities, just when the Lord sent the world to the cities.” May it be that this trend does not hold true among God’s people, and that we engage with the lost, the hurting, and the needy instead of retreating from them. May God open our eyes to see the incredible open door He has given us to minister the gospel to growing numbers of unreached people just down the street, a few blocks away, or in the nearest city.

“Just when it was expensive to send missionaries over the ocean, they [the nations] are coming here at their own expense. It’s the great bargain in world missions. But will the church be there for them?”

This is a condensed form of an article that originally appeared here. Used with permission

Friday, March 30, 2012

Hope and despair in the Middle East

A year ago I traveled to the Middle East with four friends. Below is an account of the trip from my good friend Andrew Schill----Aaron

By Andrew Schill

Several weeks ago, I embarked on an unusual journey with four of my friends to Lebanon to meet with the deputy head of Hezbollah’s Executive Council. Though certainly not a typical day at the office, I suspect it was a much more tame experience than our initial plan, which fell through a week before our planned departure. Originally, my friend Carl had arranged a meeting with Iran’s polarizing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Apparent discord between these two men had escalated to such a degree that our Hezbollah contacts decided that such a meeting would not be beneficial to anyone.

After a scenic drive from Beirut to the southern Lebanese town of Tyre, we met our liaison and followed him to our undisclosed meeting place. After a quick check and the dispensing of our cell phones we were ushered into a room to await our meeting with Sheikh Nabil Qaouk, a man who appears to be soft-spoken, but unlike his secular counterparts, he wields both military and religious authority over Shiite Muslims of southern Lebanon. We drank tea while the Sheikh offered a short sermon, which but for the religious Shiite dress could have been given in most American churches. We would later discuss the origins and the perceived necessity for Hezbollah’s existence and their on-going armed resistance with their southern neighbor. At the end of our meeting we – Shiite and Sunni, Christian and Muslim, American and Palestinian, male and female – joined hands in prayer. I would find myself being given the most unenviable task of leading us in prayer and beyond the salutary greetings to God, most of what I prayed remains a fog except for a heartfelt plea for peace and justice.

Any notions I may have held about justice however were challenged by the stateless Palestinian refugees of Lebanon. While Jordan and Syria both have large Palestinian populations and refugee camps of their own, the Palestinians in Lebanon are denied participation in Lebanese political and social life. Those that are able to work outside the camp must stay off the radar, while most remain within the cramped and overcrowded confines of the camp. For the delicate sectarian system of Lebanon the inclusion of the Palestinians would upset the precarious balance that allows for any semblance of a functioning government. Our visit to the refugee camp in Beirut was an entrance to another world – buildings were stacked one on top of another to make room for families inevitable expansion after 63 years of house arrest. Within the camps various factions proclaimed their territory and their loyalty by covering buildings with flags and propaganda. One side of the street would display large pictorial tributes to Bashar-Al-Assad while across the street the yellow banners of Hezbollah would proudly bear the image of their leader Hassan Nasrallah. The most prolific and prominent poster would be of the late Yasser Arafat bearing the slogan, “You inspire us.” While I’ve witnessed worse physical poverty in Latin America, I’ve never encountered such hopelessness – a people without identity – longing for a land most have never known while being held hostage as pawns in a high-stake political game over which they have no control.

Sheikh Nabil likened the Palestinians to a drowning child that Hezbollah must reach out with its own arms to save, yet the camps bear little evidence of such salvation. So, while I believe it is important to engage our enemies (both real and perceived) in true dialog, it is my conviction that political leaders are not going to be at the forefront of lasting peace and reconciliation. True social change and accompanying revolutions must originate with the people in grassroots movements. This can take years and even decades when the goal of these movements is peaceful political and social change. So while our meeting with the Hezbollah was significant for me personally, it didn’t engender much hope for a peaceful resolution with Israel. The greatest encouragement and source of hope would occur a few days later in Amman, Jordan when we meet with one of the young educated leaders of the nascent Jordanian non-violent movement who was still bearing a baton inspired gash to his forehead from the now infamous March 24th uprising. For many of the youth we meet the movement spreading throughout the Middle East seemed almost like an intoxicating drug, while for some the apparent gap in political ideologies they encountered created only despair.