Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Who Needs You?

I was asked interesting questions today. Actually it was more of a comment than a question. It was the question that rose up in me that was more where the question part from. I have a friend. She is not religious. She is a good person. That is not to be read “she is not religious but a good person.” It is just what it says. She is a good person. She is not religious. Being a good person and being religious are no synonymous with each other. I know a lot of religious people that I don’t care to be around.

My friend was telling me about her friend; a friend who lost nearly everything in the Nashville flood of May 2010. Since then the friend’s disabled spouse has had a heart attack, had adult child with spouse and four small children move in with her and yesterday, the father of those small children was killed because he tried to check a tire on her car. The jack didn’t hold and the car crushed him. She blames herself. Four children are orphaned. How much more can this woman bear?

The street near this woman's house after the flooding in Nashville in May 2010.

As we talked I found out that a group of volunteers who were helping with flood recovery knew about her situation with her destroyed house. However, they sent no volunteers to her because – she wasn’t one of them. She wasn’t one of what? How do we decide those things? How do we decide someone is “one of us?”

Then I found out the woman went to church. So I asked the reasonable question. Didn’t her church help her with the flood recovery? I also learned that since the woman is the sole provider in this family they don’t have much financially. I found out that no, they hadn’t. No one had come to her assistance from her own church family. This woman is religious – does that mean maybe she is religious but not good? Or that she is religious but just doesn’t belong to the right group?

Brookings Flood September 2010

As we talked I relayed a situation I had heard about in Brookings, where I live now. Brookings got flooded last week. Many people lost their homes and transportation. Like the woman in Tennessee, these folk didn’t seem to be the ones with the money. They definitely didn’t have flood insurance. Their mobile homes and cars sat in water. My friend asked me why it is that those already at somewhat of a disadvantage always seem to be the ones that get the floods and disasters. That’s a really good question. I don’t know the answer to that one and wouldn’t even pretend to be so spiritual as to make one up.

Seems there are an Iraqi immigrant and his wife and small children who lived in the flooded waters of Brookings. The Iraqi immigrant translated for our military personnel before immigrating for fear of his life. Seems to me he’s a patriot. Now he’s lost what little he had in this flood. His youngest child is a few weeks old. Another friend, yes I have one or two in Brookings, said she was going to help them. I said count me in. Then my Brookings friend, can you imagine being an Iraqi Muslim around hostile Christians and then lose everything. Now she’s a good follower of Jesus Christ. She’s not necessarily religious. She is a good person.

So the question I am asking today is where is the church? Where are those of us who name the name of Jesus and say we follow Him? Is this Iraqi our neighbor? It sounds a lot like the story of the Good Samaritan to me. Then there is this good church going woman in Tennessee. Where is her church family? I told the congregation that I was preaching to on Sunday, caring for each other is very close to the heart of God? Who needs you?

Matthew 25:34 "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what's coming to you in this kingdom. It's been ready for you since the world's foundation. 35 And here's why: I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, 36 I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.' 37 "Then those 'sheep' are going to say, 'Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? 38 And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?' 39 40 Then the King will say, 'I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me - you did it to me.' 41 "Then he will turn to the 'goats,' the ones on his left, and say, 'Get out, worthless goats! You're good for nothing but the fires of hell. 42 And why? Because - I was hungry and you gave me no meal, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was homeless and you gave me no bed, I was shivering and you gave me no clothes, Sick and in prison, and you never visited.' 44 "Then those 'goats' are going to say, 'Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn't help?' 45 "He will answer them, 'I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me - you failed to do it to me.' 46 "Then those 'goats' will be herded to their eternal doom, but the 'sheep' to their eternal reward."

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Now I'm Burning.

I am fired up. I haven’t been this fired up about anything really important in a long time. While in some ways to have my passions stirred is a good time. I haven’t hidden the fact that I’ve been terribly depressed for a long time. But on several levels I am not sure I like being stirred up. 

First I wish this issue would go away. I wish Dr. Jones and now this Pastor in Springfield TN would just come to their senses, repent and not burn anything this weekend. Second, I fear that I will be misunderstood, lose friends which are valuable to me and maybe even vilified.  As I said yesterday, I am much more the Kumbaya, get along type person.

I feel a real sense of grief in my spirit. After I wrote my blog yesterday, I saw the post from a Pastor in Pakistan. I could feel the pain in his words. He was begging for us, his brothers and sisters in the west to do what we could to stop the burning of Qur’ans. He posted a picture of a burned house in Pakistan. I know religious militants are not right and need to be stopped, etc. But you know what? They exist. Christianity has produced quite a few of them as well. Look no further than Dr. Jones.

It is easy for us, sitting in freedom to say things like well, they don’t have churches in Saudi Arabia. That’s right they don’t. Thank God we live in America where we have the freedom to build churches, or temples, or synagogues or even mosques. We don’t want to be Saudia Arabia. We love to talk about the godly heritage of our country, our “Christian” roots. It is because of those foundations that we have freedom of religion.

When we hate, when we respond with hatred, are we any different? Someone said they wanted fairness. They said they wanted the President and others to react just as strongly when Bibles are burned as they are to this Qur’an burning. I think it is to our credit that we don’t react. Not that I want to see a Bible burned. That’s a terrible thing as well. But we understand that when someone does that, our response should be to pray for them. It should be separate their actions and see it as their problem. The reason we can do that is we know freedom. Not only the freedom of knowing Christ but also because we live in a country of freedom.

I saw a clip of a pastor and an imam from Memphis who are respecting each other. The pastor said that he is told in his Bible to love his neighbor. These Muslims are now his neighbor. So he is doing what the scripture says. Is that in your Bible too? It is in mine.

These two reminded me of the powerful video I saw a few years ago, The Imam and the Pastor.  You can see a clip on youtube of part of it here. Two Nigerians, one a Pentecostal preacher, the other a Muslim Imam work for peace. Seems that would be a very godly thing to do, at least to me it does?

I don't think this fire is going to go away. I wish it would. I wish I didn't feel compelled to speak up, but I do. I can't ignore it.

Listen to the words of Jesus:
Matthew 5:38 "Here's another old saying that deserves a second look: 'Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.' 39 Is that going to get us anywhere? Here's what I propose: 'Don't hit back at all.' If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. 40 If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. 41 And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. 42 No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.43 "You're familiar with the old written law, 'Love your friend,' and its unwritten companion, 'Hate your enemy.' 44 I'm challenging that. I'm telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, 45 for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best - the sun to warm and the rain to nourish - to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. 46 If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. 47 If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. 48 "In a word, what I'm saying is, Grow up. You're kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.
We really don’t need Patraeus or the President to be telling us that this Qur’an burning is wrong. Our Master and Savior told us this a long time ago.  I am a Christ-follower. I want to behave like one. I also want our brothers and sisters around the world to be safe. I also believe in the scripture that says we are all one body and when one hurts, we all hurt.
1 Corinthians 12:25 The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don't, 26 the parts we see and the parts we don't. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance. 27 You are Christ's body - that's who you are! You must never forget this. Only as you accept your part of that body does your "part" mean anything.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Yelling Fire in a Crowded Theater

I am not sure I want to write this blog. I might lose some friends. I might be misunderstood. I like to get along with people. I really do. It isn't that I don't have a backbone, I just would rather sing Kumbaya and hold hands. Or maybe go back to the 70's and sing And They'll Know We Are Christians By Our Love. Those were the days. Flower children and Jesus Freaks, holding hands and giving out flowers. Now we want to burn things. What's happened to us?

I have a young friend that I met by chance (as if that's possible with me). I like her. I've already learned from her. She is an iconoclastic feminist Native Woman who loves Jesus. Yeah, that is possible. What I've learned from her in the short time I've known her, is sometimes you just have to say what needs to be said.

I learned something from an atheist friend yesterday too. Yes, I am friends with several atheists. I like them as people. The one I met before he was an atheist. I remember him as a bit judgmental and rigid at the time. Now he's at times a little too outspoke for my taste but over all a much nicer person. I am not saying that this is because he became an atheist nor am I advocating being an atheist, I am just saying that he became a nicer individual than I remember.

This friend and I were talking about the subject of this blog. We were talking about the hate spewing out of some people who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ. We were talking about hate speech, people bashing and particularly Dr. Terry Jones, the man who wants to burn Qur'ans. In our exchange, my friend said to me, "Preach it Joyce." Then he added, "time for ear tickling is over."

I've been told to preach before. One time, in a particularly powerful prayer time, an African American preacher got right in my face, had his finger in my face and said PREACH, PREACH, PREACH. Then he blessed my feet, because feet that bring good news are beautiful. (Isaiah 52:7)

So let me get to the point. I am really, really concerned about Dr. Jones and his plan to burn Qur'ans. I am not defending Islam or promoting it. But I understand some things about Muslims and how they feel about the Qur'an.

One of my brother-in-laws was here earlier this year. Since then, he has gone to Mecca to fast and pray. He's done this many times. He likes to go for the first week or two of the Muslim month of fasting Ramadan. He's not radical. He's not fundamentalist. He's overall a pretty nice guy. He has come to hear my preach and was moved to tears by it. He highly respects me as a woman of God.

While we were talking about some scripture - he loves to talk about the Bible with me - I pulled my Bible from my pocketbook which was on the floor, by my feet, in the car. He get all upset. Not angry, just upset - he said "that is a holy book! How can you have it by your feet? Where is your respect for the holy book?"

My husband chuckled and I ignored it. I knew from other discussions that it is difficult to explain that to me, the paper and binding isn't holy, it's the words when I read them, internalize them, preach and proclaim them that they become the Word of God.

Someone once explained to me that to compare the way a Muslim feels about the Qur'an to the way we regard the Bible is not a good comparison. A better comparison is to compare their regard for the Qur'an to the way we feel about Jesus. Even that might not be the best comparison since often we are a little casual about the King of Kings, Lord of Lords and Savior. Sometimes I think we need to remember what John saw in Revelation 1:12-15.

There are so many reason why all this hate rhetoric about Muslims is un-Christian and un-American. But what troubles me the most today? What compels me to write today is this - What Dr. Jones proposes to do in Florida will inflame emotions around the world! I know that it is not right to judge every one by the actions of one man. It is fine to say, you shouldn't do that. But the reality is, that is exactly what will happen. People who love their holy book will hear about the actions of this so-called Christian. They will judge all of Christians. (hmmm, seems there is a lot of judging all Muslims by the action of a few but deadly terrorists who say they did that in the name of their religion too)...

The other reality is that it's not you or me or even Dr. Jones who are in the most dangers from retaliation. It is the indigenous Christians that live in Muslim countries that will be hurt the most. We all are horrified by stories of the persecuted church. We pray for them. We have a Sunday designated for awareness of persecution.

If you really care about the persecuted church, stop the hate speech. It's your brothers and sisters who don't have much freedom as it is who you are hurting the most. It's their churches that will be burned in retaliation. It is their woman who will be misused.

I know what some of you are saying. You are saying that the Muslim's should do that. You are right! They shouldn't. But let me ask you this. If you were in a crowded theater and yelled Fire when there was no fire, people were trampled and killed because of your actions. Would you be responsible for their deaths? Or would it be the people who trampled the others? I think you'd be responsible at least as much, if not more, than the stampeding people. So... we have a choice. Hate speech is a bit like yelling Fire in a crowded theater when there is no fire.

My fervent prayer today is that Dr. Jones repents and does not burn anything.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A Strange True Story

With all this talk about mosques and terror, as if the two are always synonymous, I want to tell you about my visit to a mosque. I am just going to tell you the story and you can draw your own conclusions. I also am not going to try to second guess any and every argument you might want to offer for what you see is “your” side of the issue. I’m just going to tell you a story. It’s my story. Actually it is just one story; I have a lot of them. I have been to a mosque quite a few times and only one time, was a visit to a mosque a bad experience.

We were living in Connecticut. There were several mosques within a half hour drive from us. My husband began to attend one in the largely Hispanic neighborhood near Park Street. The worshippers were a variety of people with a heavy emphasis on African Americans. But there were a little bit of everything, Hispanics, whites, Middle Easterners and South Central Asians. They were cramped. They had little space as they assembled on Friday for their weekly prayer service.

Friday prayer is most comparable to Sunday morning worship. Most people think Muslims are all the same. They are as varied as any group of people. Some are devout, some are not. Some never go to the mosque, some bow at home or in the mosque the required five times a day. Actually, I’ve met very few who actually can keep the prescribed rigors of Islam.

The Imam was an African American man who grew up in Brooklyn. I’d met him outside the mosque and found him very engaging. We’d talk on and on about Brooklyn. That happens when you get people from Brooklyn together. If you are from Brooklyn, you love Brooklyn and always will. You just can’t take the Brooklyn out of a Brooklynite.

As part of my job, I was involved in a Coalition on End-of-Life Care. A group of professionals, but interestingly no clergy, were meeting regularly to talk about the need for quality end-of-life care and what that meant. I offered to be the liaison to the clergy. I met with my own pastor, a Pentecostal, a Methodist and the Imam. They were easily available to me. The Imam said we need this for our people too. We need to be represented in the greater community. He suggested I go to Family Day. I did.

I stood in the back with the women as they prayed. I didn’t bow. It’s not my tradition or religion. Everyone greeted me warmly. Once the prayers were finished there were announcements and recognitions. This was my turn. I was called to the front of the mosque, headscarf in place, to tell them about a focus group. I stood behind their version of a pulpit. They received me warmly. They took my picture along with a star Basketball player from the UCONN Huskies, a politician or two and the Imam. It was going to be in some national publication. Sometimes I wonder how I get in these situations.

Time went on. I saw the Imam from time to time. It was almost time for our wedding anniversary. Somehow, probably from my husband, the Imam found out that I had always wanted to ride in a limousine. I know; it’s silly. But it’s true. This Imam arranged for a Limo to pick us up on a cold rainy evening in February, on our anniversary, to take us out to eat. Earlier that day, we had received flowers congratulating Brother and Sister Lighari on their anniversary.

Now I never would expect any church that I went to do such a thing for us – and none have. So I was totally blown away that this Imam would arrange to do this for us – especially since I was Christian. But here is the most shocking part of this story.

As they were throwing a going away party for my husband particularly, and our family in general, the Imam said this:
We want to thank our Sister Joyce for being here tonight. We want to especially honor her. We honor her because she is a Christian. We thank her for being her tonight and for sharing time with us. It is a great honor to have her with us.
At that, everyone turned to me, smiled, applauded and made me feel embarrassed but welcome and appreciated. No one has ever asked me to convert either. This is not a defense of Islam. This is nothing but a story of what happened to me in a real mosque in the state of Connecticut.