Monday, September 13, 2010

A Real Life Illustration of Loving One's Enemies

Julio Diaz 
Last week I wrote about how Christ-Followers should not treat their suposed enemies using the real life example of Pastore Terry Jones who had planned on burning Korans on September 11 (thankfully he cancelled his plans).  Today I came across a story of someone who actually illustrates a different way of treating one's enemies.
The story, A Victim Treats His Mugger Right,  is of Julio Diaz who when being mugged in a New York subway offered his coat as well and then ended up treating his attacker to dinner.  Following the ways of Jesus doesn't always work out but this is a great picture of what it looks like when it does.  Check out the story and leave your thoughts.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Muslims, Americans and Jesus Kind of Love

When I was still on staff at the Vineyard Church of Kenner I would speak at the weekend services about once every 6-8 weeks.  On one occasion when it came time for me to speak I was given the text Matthew 5:38-48 as my part of a series on the Gospel of Matthew which we were in at the time.  While I had read these words of Jesus on loving enemies, turning the other cheek, blessing when insulted and so on many times, I quickly realized that I had never, in all my years as a Christian, heard a message on these words of Christ.  I had heard numerous messages on how we should pray against our enemies, on how we need to boycott certain products, or shows, or theme parks, and how we as Christians always need to side with Israel against Muslims when there is any kind of conflict.  I had heard these messages time and time again and never really questioned if there might be a better way, but studying these simple words of Jesus were like a splash of cold water on my soul.  No doubt the reason I had never heard a message on loving your enemies before was because… well… who really wants to do that?  But this is exactly what Jesus did.  He didn’t simply teach about loving enemies but he lived a love for everyone including… his enemies.
Pastor Terry Jones of Dove World Outreach Center

I find myself saddened by reports this week that Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida is planning a “Burn the Koran Day” this Saturday.  I am having difficulty understanding how folks who claim to follow Christ can think that burning sacred books of another religion would be an acceptable way to act.  Book burning has never been a very effective strategy for quelling the opposition, but burning a sacred book from another religion, which by the way has an awful lot of good things to say about Jesus, seems to fly in the face of the very teachings and example of Jesus Christ himself. 
Let’s remember that in the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry the dominant religion in the Roman Empire was a form of paganism that combined worshipping ancestors, idols, and temple prostitution with a civil religion that viewed the Emperor as the very son of God.  If there was ever a religion at odds with the teachings of Jesus it was Rome and yet Jesus did not once pick a fight with Roman religion.  Jesus was simply about his father’s business, bringing the kingdom of God to bear in this world through healing the sick, setting the oppressed free, loving the outcast, and preaching the good news. 

Hegel, the German Philosopher once wrote, “What experience and history teach is this — that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it.”  Unfortunately the same can be said of the church.  From the days of Constantine Christians have been picking up their swords to fight and kill those of other religions and many times other Christians with differing views.  The truth is much of the tension we see today between Islam and Christianity no doubt goes back to the crusades when Christians, ignoring the teachings and example of Jesus, willingly participated in the killing of untold numbers of Muslims and Jews.  I can’t help but wonder how differently history might have played out if the majority of Christians would have actually endeavored to live these teachings of Jesus concerning loving enemies. 

There is no more scandalously beautiful picture of God in the Bible than when Jesus, dying on the cross, prayed “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”  In the moment when Jesus was facing the wrath of fundamentalist Judaism and the brutality of the Roman Empire he didn’t hate in return or retaliate.  The sacrifice of Jesus in that moment seemed like absolute weakness to the rest of the world but it was the very power of God destroying once and for all the curse of sin and death.  Jesus kind of life and love doesn’t ignore evil but it does not perpetuate evil either.  If this pastor Terry Jones from Dove World Outreach Ministries goes ahead with his International Burn a Koran Day he will only be adding fuel to the fire which will result in perpetuating evil.   What's worse is that he is failing to recognize our true enemy, the one who loves to see Christians eaten up with contempt, arrogance, and hatred for others. 

I will close with some lyrics from U2 that I ran on a recent post that seem particularly poignant at this moment:

“They say that what you mock
Will surely overtake you
And you become a monster
So the monster will not break you
…Jesus can you take the time
throw a drowning man a line
peace on earth”  From Peace on Earth by U2
I ask that you would join me in praying for the following:
  1. The church in America, that we could return to our first love and be that love to the world around us.
  2. For the situations of contention between Muslims and Christians in this country whether the proposed building of the Islamic Community Center near ground zero or this National Burn the Koran Day.  Pray for the people on all sides of this conflict.  Pray that God would reveal himself and that the true enemy, the god of this age who blinds the hearts of men, would not prevail.   
  3. Finally let’s pray for our own hearts to be filled with the love of God and empowered by the Spirit of God that we could truly exemplify the Jesus kind of life and love to the world around us today.  

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Best Questions Come From My Daughter

It was around 9:30 in the evening when I heard Dina’s voice calling from the other room, “Crispin, can you come here?  Tevia has some questions”
 “Okay, coming…” I said nonchalantly, having no idea the heady questions I was about to be asked by my, then 6-year-old, daughter.  When I sat down on her bed she proceeded to ask the fundamental question that philosophers have wrestled with since the days of Plato and Aristotle, “Daddy, why are we here?” 
The question was eerily similar to a question posed on the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond by Raymond’s own daughter.  My answer was maybe slightly more nuanced and hopefully a bit more helpful than Raymond’s but boy was I caught off guard by that one.  I guess I had expected that Tevia would ponder these kind of existential questions once she was in high school or college but not at age 6… come on that’s just not fair!  It’s one thing to banter about philosophical ideas with fellow college students or friends but quite another when you are trying to discuss abstract concepts about purpose and meaning with a child.  So that evening I stumbled through my answer for probably longer than I should have before telling her good night and heading to bed but I knew from that point on that I was in for serious challenges in the coming years with my daughter’s search for truth and meaning.  Though I certainly prefer my son’s easier questions concerning Luke Skywalker, superheroes and bodily noises, I really appreciate my daughter’s willingness to think deeply about life and to be honest with her questions.

Not long ago Dina called me to my daughter’s room for another series of questions.  This time her questions were more theological in nature.  She started with questions about the virgin birth and then moved to the doctrine of the Trinity and then to questions involving evolution and the story of Genesis.  These were great questions—questions that I have wrestled with for many years myself.   We probably talked for about 30 minutes as I tried to answer her questions the best I could without shutting down her quest for the truth with pat religious answers.  In the end I shared how I still struggle with some of the same questions particularly on the harmony between science and the scriptures but that ultimately I don’t think God is scared of our questions.  Actually I think questions are a serious component of vibrant faith.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m a good parent when it comes to spiritual things because I don’t have so many concrete answers for my kids.  I wasn’t always this way.  If my kids had the version of their dad that existed in my early years as a Christian I would likely have more solid answers for every question they could ask.  As a new Christian the world was much more black and white.  I knew all of the answers and could spout them off chapter and verse.  But as my faith has been tried and tested in numerous ways from intellect to emotions, from relationships to spirituality, I have come to see that everything is not so black and white as it once seemed.  I realize that I don’t have all of the answers anymore.  Truth be told, at this stage in my spiritual journey I have more questions than ever.  I am realizing that God cannot fit into the small religious thinking—the tidy pat answers that I used to offer folks on a moments notice.  I guess I have come to believe that how you think is just as important as what you think.  Over the years I have seen kids who grew up being taught what to think only and who were never encouraged to ask questions who eventually grew up to be extreme fundamentalists or rebels (or oftentimes fundamentalists atheists… the worst kind of rebel).  I don’t think that our world needs more fundamentalist extremists or rebels but sincere Jesus followers who love others even when they are enemies, who consider the needs of others whether poverty, sickness, or alienation, who are marked not by ideology but by humility, love and grace. 

In the end my answer to my daughter’s questions went something like this:
I believe the whole point of the first 2 chapters of Genesis is simply that God created everything, and that it all started good… really good and that God made man woman in his own image with a purpose and a plan.  That is the main point!  The author of Genesis wasn’t trying to answer the scientific questions of our modern rationalistic world.  So whether the earth is ten thousand or ten billion years old, I believe God is the one behind it.  As for science, I am a big fan and I don’t see my spirituality to be at odds with science, in fact the very complexities of science are to me the very handy-work of our creator.  In the end I encouraged my daughter to not waist time arguing with people over these kinds of issues but rather to keep a heart open to God. 

A few weeks after our “deep” theological discussion Tevia began to open up with Dina and I about a hard time she was having with someone at her school.  Over the next hour or so of we were able to talk about the very words of Jesus concerning loving enemies, forgiveness, and peace in the midst of struggle.  These topics were not abstract at all.  They were the stuff of everyday life—the simple struggles we face each day that over time can end up defining us.  We talked about how hard it is to walk in the truth of Jesus but how it is the path to freedom and love.  We closed by praying for this person she was having trouble with and praying for God to give Tevia the grace to love and not hate, to forgive instead of getting bitter.  When we finally put her to bed that evening I walked away thankful for the gift of her questions, particularly the questions of that evening.  I realized that though I may not have sufficient answers to all of the theological, philosophical, and scientific issues of our day, she is being lead in the path of Jesus in her everyday life.  I am betting that this is ultimately what matters most.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Who Reads Newspapers Anymore Anyway? A Partial Review of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains

I have been reading a really fascinating book called The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr.  Building upon the insights of media and communications guru Marshall McLuhan who most famously proclaimed, “The media is the message”, Carr makes the very compelling case that information technologies are not neutral in the way they convey information but actually rewire our brains through their continued use.  Carr writes a fascinating history of information and communication from the first written words on clay tablets in ancient Samaria to some of the first written alphabetical languages such as Greek to the invention of paper, books and the printing press.  With each technological jump in media there has also been changes in the way that humans think.  Carr writes of how we are in a major revolution between linear thought, largely a byproduct of reading books and printed media, to nonlinear thought brought about by the internet with its much more concise bits of information hyperlinked and connected to worlds of other information.  He makes the case that for all of the benefits of being able to efficiently sift through information through the web we are losing our ability for deep reading and reflection.  As I read this book I can’t help but think of an illustration of this phenomenon in Sarah Palin’s now infamous interview with Catie Couric in the 2008 presidential campaign.
In September 2008 Catie Couric questioned Palin on what newspapers she regularly reads.  Her now famous answer “most of them,” “all of them” and “any of them” quickly became fodder for blogs and political pundits, particularly those on the left, who saw this as a major strike against her ability to lead the country.  But I found myself wondering why this was such a big deal.  Sure I found it odd how she got so uncomfortable trying to answer that question and to come up with some kind of answer as to where she gets her news, but I seriously wondered if reading print newspapers has anything to do with leadership ability.  The question seemed to me to be very outdated, very behind the times.  I remember thinking to myself, “who actually reads newspapers these days anyway when you have the internet?”  That question seemed about as relevant as asking Palin what top 5 CDs might have in her CD changer.

As a musician and recording artist I am a big fan of full albums and rarely buy single songs through iTunes yet I know I am in the minority.  As much as I may mourn the loss of full albums on the iPods of most Americans, I certainly would not judge a person on their lack of CDs or full albums.  Perhaps Palin would have done better to answer the question with “Who reads newspapers anymore anyway?  I get my news from the internet and TV the way most other red-blooded Americans do!”  While that kind of answer might have been spun to ridiculous lengths by her opponents, it would have certainly expressed solidarity with the majority of the voting public (statistics bear this out).

I have to admit that I have never been much of a newspaper reader, even before the internet.  The truth is that I have read a whole lot more articles that have appeared in newspapers via the web than I ever did before the Web.  I reckon that even my thoughts on this issue demonstrate how much this technological revolution has affected the way I think.  While I haven’t finished The Shallows yet (partly because I keep checking my email and Facebook status updates ;-), I am quite certain that Carr is on to something.  While I certainly have benefitted from the wealth of information at my fingertips, I am finding that it is getting increasingly harder to make room for reflection and contemplation in my life or to concentrate on anything for more than a few minutes at a time.  If Carr offers any solutions to this phenomenon, I haven’t read them yet but hopefully I won’t bee too distracted by the technologies in my life to read this book to the end. 

So here’s a couple of questions to wrestle with:
  • When the technology of our modern world is ever pushing us to distractions and fragmentation how might we be able to succeed in carving out more space for reflection and contemplation?
  • Is there anything that works for you in this regard?


Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The 20 Best U2 Lyrics

I haven’t posted on this blog in over a month.  Honestly I have just been trying to make sense of things and get my bearings again.  I have several posts that I have been working on that mark a return to wrestling but I thought I’d ease back in to the blog with a fun post.  No doubt one of my favorite rock bands is U2.  While I love their music, they quite often have some gems in their lyrics as well.  So in this post I have compiled what are, in my opinion, some of U2’s best lyrical moments.  This list is certainly not exhaustive so read on and let me know if you agree or wish to correct me on anything I left out.  By the way, these are in no particular order of lyrical goodness.

1.    You’re the real thing… even better than the real thing ( Even Better Than The Real Thing)

2.    And I must be an acrobat to talk like this and act like that (Acrobat)

3.    Sleep comes like a drug in God’s country, sad eyes and crooked crosses in God’s country (In God’s Country)

4.    When she walks on the street you can hear the strings, grace finds goodness in everything, (Grace)

5.    I don’t believe the devil
don’t believe his book
but the truth is not the same
without the lies he made up (God Part 2)

6.    With a mouth full of teeth
you ate all your friends
and you broke every heart
thinking every heart mends (Crumbs from Your Table)

7.    Here’s what we gotta be
love and community
laughter is eternal if joy is real (Get on Your Boots)

8.    I believe in the kingdom come
Then all the colors will bleed into one bleed into one
Yes I’m still running. (Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For)

9.    Love rescue me,
come forth and speak to me
raise me up and don’t let me fall
no man is my enemy,
my own hands imprison me,
love rescue me.
(Love Rescue Me)

10. Only love, only love can leave such a mark,
but only love, only love can heal such a scar (Magnificent)

11. Got the swing
Got the sway
Got my straw in lemonade
Still looking for the face I had before the world was made (Mofo)

12. Early morning April Fourth,
Shot rings out in the Memphis sky,
free at last they took your life
but they could not take your pride in the name of love,
What more in the name of love? (In the Name of Love)

13. Where I grew up
There were no trees
Where there were
We’d cut them down
And use them on our enemies

They say that what you mock
Will surely overtake you
And you become a monster
So the monster will not break you

…Jesus can you take the time
throw a drowning man a line
peace on earth
(Peace on Earth)

14. The heart is a bloom
it shoots up through the stony ground. (Beautiful Day)

15. Like coming home
and you don’t know where you’ve been
like black coffee, like nicotine
I need Your Love (Hawkmoon 269)

16. Sweet the sin
Bitter the taste in my mouth
I see seven towers
But I only see one way out
You gotta cry without weeping
Talk without speaking
Scream without raising your voice
You know I took the poison
From the poison stream
And floated outta here (Running to Stand Still)

17. Red lights, grey morning
You stumble out of a hole in the ground
A vampire or a victim
It depends on who’s around (Stay (Far Away, So Close)

18. I am still enchanted by the light you brought to me
I listen through your ears, and through your eyes I can see (Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of)

19. You’re packing a suitcase for a place that none of us has been
A place that has to be believed to be seen (Walk On)

20. I wanna run, I want to hide
I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside
I wan to reach out and touch the flame
Where the streets have no name (Where the Streets Have No Name)