Watch Aaron in the film Holy Wars

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Jewish perspective on Jesus and the Middle East

Here's another response in the e-mail exchange that started last week. I've posted this with permission:

Sorry to be so long in responding. I've been absorbed with blogging on my recent experience at the Presbyterian General Assembly. My reflections on the GA ( parts 1 and 2) start with Ephesians 2:14 and end with MLK's letter from the Birmingham jail. Would love to get your reactions. By the way, I've been to your site and watched you talk to me about the victim, the religious guy, and the Samaritan. Loved it. Brian's idea of a blogroll is very good and I encourage everyone to take Michael Ly up on his offer to compile the list.

For most of you on Carl's list, I'm the Jewish friend he refers to. I've got a few things to say in response, Carl, and I'll try to keep it brief.

1. I am very supportive of your work and that of Rick, Jeff, Samir, Miroslav and others in reaching out to the Muslim community. As a preface to my comments to follow, I think the issue that Christians now face in how to relate to the Jewish community is different. The Christian world undertook a huge bridge-building effort to the Jews after WWII, and it was a faithful and courageous thing to do. But now there is a whole new context for Christian-Jewish relations -- that's the Israel-Palestine conflict, of course. As a result we are looking at the need for a radical reframing in how we look at Christian-Jewish relations. It's the topic of my book, Fatal Embrace: Christians, Jews, and the Search for Peace in the Holy Land.

2. You are calling to the church. So am I -- and the similarities in what we are each up to are interesting: different pictures in the same frame. As a Christian you are calling on Christians to reconnect with the core of their faith in order to be open to the whole of humanity. As a Jew I am calling on Christians to reconnect with the core of their faith in order to be open to the call for justice in the Holy Land today -- calling on my people to tear down the walls of fear we build, walls that putting us at severe risk mentally and spiritually (as well as physically, for that matter). I am saying to Christians that if you really want to love the Jewish people, then you must call us to account for what our national homeland project has brought us to. It's very a contextually-based, call actually -- but the powerful thing about this is that the current context sends us right back to the context of first century Palestine. We need Jesus more than ever today. He speaks directly to me in his ministry to the Palestinians of his time (the Jews) in calling for nonviolent resistance to the evil of empire -- and our collusion with it.

3. You are calling out how theology is being driven by politics and I agree. It is certainly true that Christian Zionism -- not the John Hagee variety but the Zionism hiding in plain sight in the Christian mainstream -- is driven by politics: interfaith politics. Protestants, beginning with the penitential, self-purification impulse of the German confessing church during and in the aftermath of WWII and with the RCC in the reforming work of Vatican II -- have made atoning for anti-Semitism the value that now trumps action for justice in Palestine. As such Christians missed the boat -- the wake-up call of the Nazi Holocaust should have driven a deep self-exploration about what had happened to Christianity. Instead a "cheap penitence" took over in the form of a guilt offering to the Jewish people - the "gift" of the land. And what has that meant? (1) de-spiritualizing (and de-universalizing) the land -- what a non-Christian thing to do! The earth is the Lord's, not the Christians' to give! and (2) a slippery slope to a theological legitimization of political Zionism -- a political ideology that has hijacked Judaism and put the Jewish people, well really all of humanity, in peril. Christianity is in peril as well, for colluding with us in this idolatry. What you've got in both forms of Christian Zionism is a form of Judeo-Christian triumphalism. The Palestinians don't count in this. And not Muslims -- heck anybody who is not Jewish or Christian.

So yeah, we gotta get this right.

You talk about our spiritual battle and the way of the cross. For Christians to love the Jewish people well and truly (read the Palestine Kairos document) is not easy, it means picking up the cross. 65 years of building interfaith bridges threaten to blow up your faces, because of the fear-based bullying tactics of the American Jewish organizations that scream anti-Semitism at responsible criticism of Israel's policies. These organizations and leaders claim to, but don't speak for all Jews -- but that doesn't make it easy for Christian clergy, institutions, or laity. But that's the reality now -- for Christians to remain faithful, they must take up that cross and suffer the pain of losing Jewish friends and being called anti-Semitic (And from some of the responses to your email, seems like losing Christian friends is is a big issue for those of you working on Christian-Muslim relations.) We are living in prophetic times, so there are costs. It hurts, of course. But look at what the Presbyterians are doing -- it's inspiring. And puts us right into the interfaith politics

This is bigger than Palestine, of course. But when we get Palestine right we get the whole thing right.

You write: "Politicians aren't thinking that way, because the church is not thinking that way!" Your are dead on here. I am pushing on the Jewish-Christian interfaith issue because the church has the power to drive the politics on Israel-Palestine, and the current Christian-Jewish "interfaith" frame is a barrier to church faithfulness and effectiveness here. It's not an interfaith issue, it's a church issue, an issue of faithfulness. Actually, it's a faith issue, period, and so the fact of being Christian, Muslim or Jewish is not important. It's whether you are for ripping off the poor or for ending poverty, for destroying the planet or preserving it. The world is called to understand love (see again Kairos Palestine, a manifesto of "resistance framed in the logic of love"). Palestinians have been involved in nonviolence for almost going on a century now, and it's growing stronger and has at last become a global movement. We've looking at a stunning opportunity to change the political wind, and the church is the place for this to happen. And again -- it's not just Palestine. It is, as you put it , a spiritual battle, the Kingdom message. Humanity will destroy itself in pursuing the myth of redemptive violence and in greedily ripping off the planet, or it will be redeemed through nonviolent resistance in its many forms.

I talk about Jesus and people wonder if I'm a Christian, and really, I don't care what you call me - we need Jesus now, he speaks directly to our situation. If we can get beyond "interfaith dialogue," if we can get that it's not about the faiths "getting along," but about realizing our brotherhood and sisterhood and the urgency of our common calling and to a communion of humanity, then we achieve incredible momentum. Jesus stood before the Temple and said -- this is coming down. And the writer of John (2:21) explains -- just in case anyone is not clear on the theology -- "he was speaking of the Temple of his body." Body of Christ -- all of humanity united in spiritual communion, to undertake and continue the work of transforming this world into the Kingdom of God.

You ask, can Muslims follow Jesus and stay Muslim. I know Muslims (actually most of the Muslims that I know) who are clear that following Jesus is being true to Islam. The same for me as a Jew -- it's no stretch at all. Jesus was a Jew, fully in the line of the prophets, and he was taking Judaism where it was supposed to go, and, in that historical context, where it urgently needed to go to be true to itself. History got in the way and we ended up with a separate religion. So much for religions -- they divide rather than join. That's our challenge today -- to come together to bring the Kingdom, and for that not to be a "Christian" thing but a universal message. Heck, that was the Christian idea from the beginning, to take what was tribal and sectarian and make it universal.

I haven't done a good job making this brief, so I'll cut if off here. Thanks for getting this going, brother.


Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Muslim makes the case for Christ--from the Koran!

Over the past few days, I've been privy to a private e-mail exchange with some very influential people (including best selling authors and high level politicians) about how followers of Jesus should engage the Muslim world. For accountability purposes, the conversation thread was cc'd to a few influential Muslims. Here is a response from a devout Muslim on the question of whether a Muslim can follow Jesus and still be a Muslim. I'm not endorsing everything he says here, but I do think that Christians in the West, especially American Christians need to be better educated as to what the Koran actually says about Jesus. It's so easy to stereotype Muslims as anti-Jesus, as if every Muslim thinks about Jesus the way that Bin -Laden thinks about Jesus. That's never been true, and it's not true today. Christians and Muslims indeed have some theological differences, perhaps even irreconcilable differences, but the differences are far less than what we might think, especially when we allow the texts to speak for themselves.

I've posted his words with permission:

I agree that Evangelist Churches in America are subject these days to kind of panic and their bosses sometimes act without showing great sense of responsibility. By the way, we have often seen such extreme behaviors and Manichean philosophy (world I only between very good and very bad and nothing in the middle) in this over passionate environment.

However, the fact is that their fears and worries are not out of scope and in my view it would be a mistake to rush blaming them and even more dangerous, to confront them. They will simply never accept it.

But what about the other side? Muslims must make the effort and Christians and Jews must ask their Muslim friends, sometimes without indulgence, to produce this effort.

Take as an example your question 2 which in my view should be changed into: “Can a Muslim be a true Muslim if not a Follower of Jesus?” The answer is: “No” and to explain this, I’d like to propose from a strictly Koranic perspective, kind of an overview…. Again, strictly Koranic… Not New Testament, not Old Testament… only Koran… In advance I want to apologize for the length of my message.

On behalf of Allah, Muhammad recited once a verse:

“Yes, We have given Moses The Book and after him, we have followed with the Envoys and We have given The Credentials to Jesus and We endowed Him with the Holy Spirit”… (S2, V87)

Audience asked questions to Muhammad about these words in particular about the exact meaning of the obviously distinguished rank granted by Allah to Jesus among all Envoys and also about who these Envoys are and whether he too, Muhammad, was an Envoy (Messenger) of Allah. And later the answers came from Allah:

“Yes you too truly are one of the Messengers”… (S2, V252)

“These Envoys, We have favored some over the others and some had spoken to Allah and We have over-ranked some of them and We have given The Credentials to Jesus, Son of Mary and We have endowed him with the Holy Spirit”… (S2, V253)”…

Each of Allah’s Envoys belongs to a certain rank. An Envoy can be only Envoy or Envoy and Prophet (Nabi) or Envoy and Prophet and Nazir, or Envoy and Prophet and Nazir and Messenger (carrying a message, Rasul) but among all Allah’s Envoys there is only one who is altogether Envoy, Prophet, Nazir, Messenger and Christ (Messiah) and this one is Jesus, son of Mary and this is because He alone, was endowed with the Holy Spirit. In the entire Koran there is not even one single Envoy and of course not one single human whom Allah endowed with the Holy Spirit as He endowed Jesus.

Muhammad recited a verse about how Allah comforted Jesus who was feeling sad because people were disputing his Status:

“Allah said: “Jesus, I shall now put an end to your life in this world, and I shall elevate You to Me and keep You away from those who have not believed in You and until the Day of Resurrection, I shall rank your Followers above those who do not believe in You and I am the One Who Judge and among all of you I shall account those who disputed Him (Jesus) and as for those who have not believed Him, I shall punish them a harsh Punishment and for them there will be no help”… (S3, V55-56)

This clearly confirms that Jesus is above all the Envoys and that from the days of Jesus life in this world and until the Day of Resurrection, people shall be judged by Allah according to whether they were Followers of Jesus or were not. Again, this divine judgment does not only count for those who lived during the days of Jesus-Christ but for all human beings who lived since these days until the Day of Resurrection…

And why is it that all creatures shall be judged at Judgment Day according to whether they were Followers of Jesus or were not? This is because Allah’s Mercy is infinite and because of such infinite mercy all sins are eligible to Allah’s Pardon except one sin that shall never been pardoned: “the sin against the Holy Spirit” (as Christians must know this also was, according to the Gospels, the exact answer Jesus made to some who asked Him which sins shall never been pardoned).

And what does “sinning against the Holy Spirit” means according to Allah? Allah gives the answer:

“There is Jesus, son of Mary, Word of Justice (Logos) about Whom they argue”…(S19, 34)

Sinning against the Holy Spirit means disputing Jesus because Jesus alone was endowed with the Holy Spirit…

Now the Big Question came: why Jesus alone was endowed with the Holy Spirit? And here came Allah’s answers which altogether form the Center and the Perimeter (Alfa and Omega) of Mystery of Faith because they cover several mysteries: Mystery of Creation of all Creatures whether Human or not Human, Mystery of Resurrection Day, Mystery of Judgment Day, All Mysteries of which Jesus is the Center. Let us read what Muhammad recited as being Allah’s answers to these questions:

On behalf of Allah, Muhammad recited:

“It is for Allah about Jesus as it was about Adam who He created from soil and said to him:”Be” and there He was” (S3, V59)

This means that mankind that has started with Adam started again with Jesus Christ.Muhammad also recited (the first Koran verse Mohammad has recited. This was around January 17, 611CE in Makka, Western Arabia):

“Recite… Recite in the name of your Lord, Who created human from a spermatozoon” (S96, V1-2).

Few months later, Muhammad recited again:

“Human must consider from what he was created… He was created from an expelled liquid”…(S86, V6-7)

I shall not quote all verses restating the same evidence (it needs a book) and shall conclude by saying that Muhammad recited several verses in which Allah has indisputably drawn the following theological understanding about the Great Mystery of Faith:

1. All humans are creatures. A human creature is a combination of a Soul and a Body so as for the entire life of the creature in this world, the Soul lives in the Body. The Body is mortal and corruptible because it is resulting from a biological process that starts with a mate between a Female and a Male and which ends up after the Female has carried the creature to finally deliver it after a certain period of time (6 to 9 months). The Soul is immortal because it comes as a single unit part of a Universal Soul that is the source of Immortality.

2. This framework is valid for all human creatures including Envoys except Jesus-Christ because Jesus Christ is the only one whose Body hasn’t resulted from a mate between his mother and father. That is exactly what the Koran says because according to the Koran Jesus is born not from a human father but from the Holy Spirit. Now since the first verse of the Koran says that all humans are created from a spermatozoon and the same Koran also says that Jesus’ Body, though delivered to life by His mother, wasn’t created from a spermatozoon but as a Holy spirit, should we not conclude that according to the Koran, Jesus is not exactly a Human? And if He is not exactly a Human, so what is He? Especially that the same Koran adds that Jesus has the power to create life, overcome death, heal sicknesses and accomplish miracles which all are divine and not human attributes?

3. When the body dies, it get corrupted while the Soul goes back to the Universal Soul until the Resurrection Day. At Resurrection Day, Soul and Body are reunified again and the Creature, Soul + Body, present before Allah for the Judgment and Allah decides whether a Creature shall be pardoned and rewarded or punished and damned. And this divine decision depends on whether during the life on earth, the Creature has been a follower of Jesus-Christ because all sins can be pardoned except the sin of disputing about Jesus Status as a Holy Spirit. This body corruption occurs for all human beings including Allah’s Envoys except for Jesus and John The Baptist who resurrected alive from death (Koran S19, V15 for John and Koran S19, V33 for Jesus noticing that in the Koran Allah testifies for John while Jesus testifies for Himself). Jesus and John’s bodies were never corrupted because they resurrected ALIVE. According to the Koran (S3, V39), John was granted by Allah that extreme privilege because he was a prophet assigned to announce the uprising of the Logos of Allah. This is the confirmation of Jesus words: ”Among all men born from the flesh, John was the greatest”…

Carl all these words come from the Koran and they are Allah’s words and it is Muhammad who recited these words. Christians do not know that Koran says what is here and more dramatic, Muslims do not know, do not understand and many of them do not accept these words though they come from the Koran…

Is it not here that our focus must be put? Is it not more than time to tell the truth about Muhammad’s life and Islam, especially to Muslims? To overcome legends and fables that Muslim Scholars from the early caliphates times have invented about Muhammad and later transformed into sacred stories? Don’t we believe that peace between nations with different believes and more specifically between Muslims and non-Muslims is a global issue and that nothing serious could come out from a so-called “inter-faith dialogue” unless this dialogue is based on the truth which is that Jesus is at the center of the entire prophecy cycle and not only one step among others in this chain?

To simply tell the truth: A Muslim does not need to convert to Christianity provided he/(s) understands that not being a Follower of Jesus takes out from any chance of salvation?

Are we not sure that once this truth shall be accepted by Muslims, Evangelists will have no more issues with Muslims?

Muslims do not need to “convert” to Christianity… They need to understand that according to Koran as recited by Muhammad, Islam is impossible for those who are not Followers of Jesus and that Salvation is through Jesus-Christ and only through Jesus-Christ.

Again, pardon me for having been so long….

Your brother,

Sometimes I think that Christians need to be reminded that we don't own Jesus. Thank you Riad for reminding us that Jesus is bigger than the religion we know of as Christianity. May the Spirit of Jesus the Messiah, the Logos of God, continue to illuminate our hearts with His light and love.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Can Muslims follow Jesus and still call themselves Muslim?

Can Muslims follow Jesus and still call themselves Muslims? My friend Carl Medearis has some insights on this that I think deserves a hearing.

Read it here!

Let me know what you think.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Another martyr for Christ in Pakistan

I received this e-mail this morning from a contact in Pakistan. It dawned on me that I had been in correspondence with Rashid Emmanuel for the past two years. We even gave to his ministry a few times. Rashid will be greatly missed.

My Dear Brother Aaron,
We are sorry to inform you that:
Today July 19, 2010. Muslim extremists shot dead Rahid Emmanuel and Sajjid Emmanuel in broad daylight in front of hundreds of people in district courts compound in Faisalabad today.

There were rumors and reports on July 18, 2010, that both of Christian brothers are free to go home from Civil Lines Police Station Faisalabad where they were detained on July 4, 2010, under blasphemy charges on complaint of one Muslim businessman of Railway Bazar because police told friends of Rashid and Sajjid that there is no proof found against them which may extend their detention.

Today, investigation officer Mohammad Hussian produced Rashid Emmanuel and Sajjid Emmanuel before Judge in District Courts where he testified that police have investigated allegations leveled against them but found no proof that they may be charged under blasphemy.

Police investigating officer Mohammad Hussian told court that complainant Mohammad Khuram Shehzad lodged FIR alleging Rashid Emmanuel and Sajjid Emmanuel producing a handwritten leaflet which he stressed is defiling Prophet Mohammad but police have report of Handwriting expert that pamphlet handwriting presented by Mohammad Khuram not match with handwriting of accused Christian brothers. Police further submitted that they have nothing to investigate against them and find no proof to remand them in custody.

The court ordered to send Rashid Emmanuel and Sajjid Emmanuel to Judicial custody till next date to issue further orders.

As there were rumors that Rashid Emmanuel and Sajjid Emmanuel are found innocent and will be released, the extremists Muslims reached in District Courts Faisalabad and were waiting for them to come out of court house.

As Rashid Emmanuel and Sajjid Emmanuel were walking towards district courts custody cell with police, the unidentified gunmen opened fire and Rashid Emmanuel felt on ground.

Sajjid Emmanuel stepped to safe his brother but gunmen shot him down too. When police tried to fire back on gunmen, they also came under attack and Inspector Mohammad Hussain felt down on ground.

In minutes, masked gunmen fled from scene, till medical aid reach, Rashid Emmanuel died on spot while Sajjid Emmanuel and police officer were rushed to hospital, where they were pronounced dead till our posting this sad incident.

The leaders of Christian Lawyers Foundation, Rao Naveed Zafar Bhatti Advocate reported that adequate security was not in district court which made easy for killers to fled from scene.

Pastor Rashid Emmanuel was 32 years of age and running a Ministry while his brother Sajjid Emmanuel was helping him in Lords word.

.According to government reports, a blasphemy case was registered on 1st July, 2010, under section 295- C PPC, against Rashid Emanuel and Sajid Emanuel of 30 years of age who were residents of Street No.5 Daud Nagar, Faisalabad, Pakistan and arrested by police on July 4, 2010.

Muhammad Khuram Shezad merchant of Railway Bazar, Faisalabad, had complained that his servant told him that both Christian accused were distributing pamphlets in open bazar which is desecrating Prophet Mohammad and their numbers are under the writing of the Pamphlet. He went to PS and told fabricated story to police to charge 2 Christian young men under blasphemy.

The Muslims took out a procession on July 10, 2010, when they burnt tires and pelted stones on Catholic Church Warispura Faisalabad. The mob threatened that if these brothers are not executed according to Muslim law, the mob will exact revenge not only on them, but the entire Christian community.

Please remember our christians in your prayers.
God bless you all,

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Update on Christian's eyes, and why I believe there's a God

It's been a crazy week. On Wednesday my wife and I took our son Christian to Albuquerque to see an eye doctor for children. Our son is six months old now and we noticed a few weeks after he was born that he had a lazy eye. At first we didn't think too much of it, but then the other eye started to get lazy. Sometimes he would go cross eyed. Long story short, the doctor said that we can try glasses for six weeks but if the crossing of the eyes isn't corrected by then, he'll need surgery, otherwise he could lose his vision.

The office didn't take our insurance, so we ended up running all over the place to find a place that would take our insurance to pay for the lenses. The doctor's office was hardly any help. They should have been better prepared on that front.

Isaac's doing well. He's taking a nap right now. One of the ways that I know there's a God is because He created toddlers with a need for naps.

Coincidence or divine mercy?

I choose to believe the latter.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Recommended reading

I've read a TON of books this year. I thought I'd make a few recommendations. I'd like to be able to provide the links, but I can't figure out how to double click on my I-Book G4, and Firefox doesn't have a copy and paste feature on blogger. If someone wants to educate this technically inept dodo (that would be me) feel free.

1. Tea with Hezbollah by Ted Dekker and Carl Medearis. If you're looking for an introduction to issues regarding the Middle East and to how America's perceived enemies perceive us, this is a great place to start.

2. Son of Hamas by Mosab Hassan Yousef. This is a gripping account of the son of one of Hamas's founders and how he converted to Christianity and ended up as a spy for the Israelis. The weakness is that it's a bit one-sided and may tickle some Christian's ears that are already looking for reasons to be prejudiced towards Muslims in general. Still, it's well worth the read, and the behind the scenes look at Hamas is fascinating.

3. Jesus, Muslims, and Christians by Carl Medearis. This book has the potential to be a life-changer, especially if you're involved with ministry to Muslims. It rocked my world! (side note: I'm going to meeting with Carl at the end of the month)

4. A Deadly Misunderstanding by Mark Siljander. Mark Siljander is a former Republican congressman that now travels the world promoting peace between Jews and Muslims. He has done a lot to clear up misunderstandings about the Koran and to show how the two faiths have misinterpreted each other. I personally think he goes a little too far in this book in trying to reconcile Islam and Christianity, but still, his perspective is a must read! His insights on friendship diplomacy are second to none!

I think this is a good place to start.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Is it about independence or explosions?

I received this e-mail today from Iraq Veterans Against the War. While I enjoy celebrating the 4th of July with fireworks, it made me think about those who have experienced real violence, either as the invader or the invaded.

Thoughts and Analysis on July 4th at 1:16 AM

by Ryan Harvey, Civilian Soldier Alliance

I sat on the stone wall that lines Druid Lake tonight and watched Baltimore destroyed by bombs. I watched tracers light up the sky, followed by the deep pulse of distant explosions.

I watched huge clouds of smoke rise from downtown, escaping from the flaming buildings. I saw explosions as far as Dundalk, Curtis Bay, and Morgan State. I saw light emerging from deep in the West Side, illuminating the trees that line the park.

I saw the Belvedere Hotel hit by a series of missiles, a huge flame bursting out the East wall. I remembered when the bartender there took me and a friend on the roof to see the best 360 degree view I'd ever seen of the city. I wondered if he would survive the attack.

Then a huge bomb fell into the apartment building at Howard and 28th, sending a large cloud of smoke into the air. I could only imagine the horrors inside as elderly residents tried to escape the flames. I watched cars crossing the 29th St. bridge fired on by helicopters that then continued on their way into Remington. I watched mortar fire land in the houses of Reservoir Hill that face the park, and heard the sounds of gunfire from the streets behind them.

It was a total nightmare, something I never wanted to experience. Thankfully, it was mostly in my head. It was the Fourth of July, and celebratory explosions were popping off all over the city.

But I wasn't celebrating, I was mourning. The fireworks reminded me not of 1776 or 1812, but of 2003, when I watched an almost identical scene on the TV news. I thought not of British Redcoats, but of U.S. Soldiers and Marines. I was watching a re-run of Shock And Awe, the massive bombing campaign the U.S. unleashed on Baghdad on March 19th, 2003.

I texted a friend, a former National Guardsman who participated in the initial invasion of Iraq. I told him I was thinking of Baghdad, watching the city light up, and I asked how he was. He said he was "in hiding," not interested in being taken back to that place again, at least, not this year.

I thought how many friends of mine, Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who have joined the ranks of the anti-war movement, were in hiding too, taking pills to calm their shattered nerves, reasoning with their shame and anger at the roles they played in occupying these countries.

I thought of my childhood friend Austin Koth, who deployed to Baghdad in 2006 with an Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit. I imagined which exploding firework might best match the sound of the Improvised Explosive Device (IED) that took his life two weeks before he would have come home. Then I heard it.

I thought about the millions of Iraqi and Afghan citizens whose lives have been turned upside down by the "Global War on Terror". I felt so sad and sorry to the Iraqi people for the actions of my government, a government that wouldn't budge no matter how unpopular the invasion was or how many people voiced opposition to it.

I wondered how I could explain that to those who lost limbs when our bombs came crashing into their neighborhoods because one of their neighbors may or may not have posed a threat to U.S. forces. I thought about the brave people who picked up weapons to defend their communities from the invasion of my government.

I thought "what if Baltimore was really being bombed right now?" I wondered what I would actually feel like, what it means to watch your home, the home of so many friends and family, crumble under the bombs of a foreign government. I wondered what I would do and what my friends would do. Would I go out into the chaos to look for survivors? Would I stay far away hoping to save my own life? Would I fight? Would I organize others to fight with me?

These thoughts paralyzed me for an hour as I sat and stared out into the city. I was among families having cookouts, all the while a simulation of a major bombing campaign lit up my city's skyline.

All I could think of was Baghdad.

It is amazing that we celebrate our Independence Day in such a way. A total glorification of war. A sensory overload of violence. After all, our fireworks are meant to imitate the "bombs bursting in air" which helped win the Independence War against Britain.

I wonder how many take time on this day to consider the Independence movement that led to the creation of the United States. I wonder if they think about other Independence movements, from India to Algeria to Mozambique, that fought similar struggles against colonialism.

I wonder if any note the parallels between British policy in colonial America and U.S. policy in Iraq. After all, it was the British who set the stage for our presence when they invaded and occupied Iraq in 1921.

And the Iraqi resistance that arose after U.S. Administrator of Iraq Paul Bremer set drastic and far-reaching economic decrees in 2004 isn't that different from events in our own history. American Patriots fought back after similar changes were initiated by the British in the 1760s and 70s. They rioted against the Stamp Act and dumped Tea in the Boston Harbor to protest British economic policies.

Then they picked up guns.

But political history aside, a deeper question remains; why the glorification of war? Is it to remind ourselves of the glory of victory, to remember those who suffered and died to free the United States from Britain? Is it to turn war into a celebration, to be enjoyed from afar, knowing we will probably never see it?

I tend to believe the latter, that the fireworks celebration is not about Independence, it's about explosions. It's about war. It's a yearly mass-experience that reminds us that we live in a culture of violence and that we are safe enough from war that we can celebrate it from a detached position. But it's not a conspiracy by some branch of government or some multinational fireworks company, it's a cultural practice, an unwritten consensus.

If we took time to consider the real impacts that war and mass violence have across the world, I don't think we would be able to stomach all the hot dogs. I think we would start to feel the weight of so many lives that were taken early by the crippling shards of shrapnel bursting out of bombs and missiles dropped by our military around the world.

And if we all considered what we would do if we were on the receiving end of such an assault, if we saw the bombing of Baltimore the way i did tonight, maybe we would feel the common humanity that binds us to those in Iraq, Afghanistan, and countless other countries that live the results of our government's aggressive foreign policy.

Perhaps then we could start celebrating Independence Day in a way that honors, educates about, or supports those fighting similar battles today, even if they are against our own government's policies.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

A martyr's death puts things in perspective

Fatu was 25 years old when her father and his two sons burned her to death. Her crime was converting to Christianity in a Muslim land. When Fatu's father first discovered that his daughter had become a Christian, in order to save face, he married Fatu off to a local Imam. The Imam believed that Fatu had been bewitched by Christian "sorcery" and that he could "heal" her. His way of "healing" her was to torture her for two weeks, force her to recite the Koran, while blaspheming Jesus to her face. Her testimony remained firm as she continued to say to her husband, "Jesus is my Savior. In Him only I believe. He is the way and the truth."

Fatu escaped from her "husband" only to be found later by her father and his two sons (in case you're wondering, the sons are from a different wife). They beat her, burned her veil on her, and though some tried to intervene, the father declared, "She's a dog. She's a Christian that has strayed from our religion." After Fatu's father and his sons left, her friend found her naked and the fire put out. He took her to the hospital where they did the best they could to save her, but to no avail. She died three weeks later. Because her father is a respected religious man, nobody has dared to accuse him of the murder. Even the central government is powerless to override local customs.

When I came across this story, it definitely put some things in perspective for me. For the past few years I've cautiously become more and more identified with the progressive faith community, often finding myself caught between the two worlds of "progressive" and "evangelical." The "progressive" side of me sees some serious flaws with the fundamentalist approach to Scripture, wants to promote peace and tolerance between Christians and Muslims, and is troubled by the militant nature of right wing Christianity, especially in America. The "evangelical" side of me clings ferociously to the truth that it's through Christ's crucifixion and resurrection that sinners are saved, and every believer is mandated to share this gospel through their life and witness.

If you'll humor me for a moment, I'll let you listen in on "evangelical" Aaron giving a lecture to "progressive" Aaron.

Progressive Aaron. I know that you don't want to perpetuate negative stereotypes against Muslims. I know how you've seen these stereotypes abused by right wing preachers that use stories like these to promote hatred and mindless war-mongering. But you out of all people should know that this isn't an isolated incident, rather it's the norm of what happens when Muslims go public with their faith in Christ.

I also know that you're struggling to formulate a more inclusive theology that doesn't divide the world between 'us' versus 'them' precisely because you've studied Church history and seen the nasty fruit of where that thinking leads. But please, please don't forget that there are people around the world that are suffering and dying for their faith, and the reason why they're willing to suffer is because they're seeking a homeland that's not of this world. While you may sit in your air-conditioned office and wonder if fundamentalists have misinterpreted 'I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Me', people are dying in horrific ways with this testimony on their lips. If you abandon them, you've abandoned a part of yourself.

Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Have mercy on me, a sinner!

Monday, July 05, 2010

The myth of the self- made man

Have you heard this one? That rich guy over there, he's a self- made man. People sometimes say it of others, but usually people say it of themselves if they feel their lives are particularly boast-worthy. The implication is that the person is where he or she is solely as the result of their own efforts. Rags to riches stories become "look what I did all by myself" stories. "I didn't rely on anyone to get where I am today, especially not the GOVERNMENT!!"

Laying the government question aside (does anyone really think that the infrastructure that our taxes pay for have nothing to do with why they've been allowed to succeed in this country?), the idea of a self- made individual is nonsense. I've been a parent for about seven months now. My wife and I have a 6 month old infant and an 18 month old toddler that we just adopted from Ethiopia. I've been feeding Isaac (our Ethiopian son) and changing his diapers every day. A few days ago it dawned on me that if I wasn't there to stuff oatmeal in his mouth in the mornings, Isaac wouldn't survive. There's no way he could help himself. The fact that he's alive today is due solely because a few dedicated women at an orphanage in Ethiopia fed him constantly for six months after he was discovered as an abandoned newborn.

And then another revelation dawned on me: the fact that any of us are alive today is because somebody took the time to feed us, clothe us, and change our diapers when we couldn't do these things for ourselves. Somebody did that for me. In my case, it was my parents. For others, it may be an orphanage, an aunt or a cousin, or a foster parent. Even those raised in abusive situations, if they survived the toddler phase, it's because someone saw to it that they survived, perhaps even the abusive parent!

So before you make the claim that you're a self- made man (or woman), think about this. At one point in your life, in order for you to survive, somebody had to feed you, clothe you, change you, and wipe your butt. And that "self- made" man or woman that you admire so much? Somebody had to wipe their butt too. Humbling isn't it?