Blessed are the Peacemakers: Messages of Goodwill on 9-11

Today marks the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 2001, and I’m beginning to suspect that it’s the most significant September 11 since the towers fell on that horrible day. 

It is significant because this year the national dialog has turned to the question of how we should respond to our Muslim neighbors in light of those attacks, and I believe that the ways in which we answer that question will determine whether we allow September 11 to turn us into people of hate or people of peace. 

I’ve already expressed my conviction that those of us who follow Jesus are compelled to love our Muslim neighbors unconditionally. (That post was the most read—and most shared—post in this blog’s three-year history, by the way; an encouraging fact!) And today my friend Sarah Cunningham has asked that her fellow bloggers join her in issuing a message of goodwill on behalf of the Church. 

Sarah spent two weeks at Ground Zero right after the attacks of September 11 and describes the experience in her book, Picking Dandelions: Discovering Eden Among Life’s Weeds.  (Zondervan is giving away the full electronic version of the book next week.)

That Sarah has called for forgiveness and reconciliation in spite of what she saw in New York really speaks to the transformative power of the cross.  I know that the message of enemy-love strikes those who are suffering as complete foolishness, but to those who have forgiven, it is a gift of liberation and life. 

I want to share some of those messages today, inviting you to add your own in the comment section. 

From Sarah Cunningham:

Regardless of our personal political beliefs or the outcome of this scenario, Jesus did not come as a political revolutionary but as one bearing a message of transcendent spiritual truth. Part of his example, although unconventional and unpopular in the wider pop-culture, was a mandate to “love our neighbors,” to “love our enemies,” and to “pray for those who persecute us.” No matter how you view these Muslims, I am certain that at least one of these apply. The Christian faith maintains that God loves and wants relationship with every person on every side of this argument.

From Janet Oberholtzer:

Songs, books, presidents, clergy and more have all promised to  never forget. And I agree, we should never forget. The lives loss. The lives affected. The injured. The terror. But in the process of never forgetting, do we need to be unkind? Or unloving? Or do things that incite others? I don’t see exception clauses in Jesus’ words about loving our enemies and loving our neighbors as ourselves. 
As I think about never forgetting, I think back on my own journey of learning to love my neighbors, which meant first loving myself. And I realize how much more I have to learn about loving others, whether they be friends or enemies. Jesus also said that the world will know his followers by their love. So spreading love could honor the lives loss while fulfilling his words and bringing a whole new meaning to never forget. 

From Travis Mamone:

I still believe that the Church should follow Jesus' example, and respond to violence and hatred with peace and love. When our Muslim neighbors see the Church do such horrible things, they don't see us extending an open hand to come to our churches--they see a middle finger instead. We must see our Muslim neighbors the way Jesus sees them: not as "the enemy" or "the other," but as human beings. In the Kingdom of God there is no "us" and "them;" there is only "us."

From Jason Boyett:  

Love your neighbor. Love your enemy. Pray for your persecutors.
All of those options are about love, grace and healing. I'm enough of a realist to know that such lofty concepts aren't always possible among humans -- especially humans operating within a complex world of hatred and distrust -- but that doesn't mean they can't be something we strive for.
And that doesn't mean they can't be attitudes I try to adopt today, in remembrance, as a Christian. As a father. As an example to the little girl with the coloring book and the impossibly blond hair, for whom I grieved on September 11, 2001, as I took note of the world she'd be growing up in.

From me:

There is a tragic disconnect from the way of Jesus when Christians join the chorus of those saying, “We will respect your faith when you respect ours” or “You can build a mosque in New York when we can build a church at Mecca.”  Jesus did not teach us to be good to those who are good to us and tolerant of those who are tolerant of us. As he pointed out, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?”

What makes us different is that we love when we’re not supposed to. We love unconditionally.

From you?

comments

http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/peacemakers-9-11

Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are constantly negative or a general ass, troll, or hater, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us.

Loving our Muslim neighbors unconditionally

Transient

Last November I had the pleasure of hearing Tony Campolo speak at a two-day event in Chattanooga hosted by the Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church. In one of his talks, Tony warned the audience that the next group of people to be persecuted in the United States would likely be Muslims and Arab Americans. “As Christians, we can’t let this happen,” he said. “These are our neighbors, created in the image of God. They deserve our love and respect.”

Tony’s statement stood out to me, as I had never really considered the plight of Muslim Americans before. Now his words seem almost prophetic, as news of protests and book burnings fill the airwaves each night.

It is of course frustrating to watch as some of the same folks who so passionately defend the second amendment seem ready to do away with the first when it applies to someone else’s freedom to worship. But far more troublesome to me is the fact that many Christians are passionately protesting the building of Islamic community centers in New York and Mufreesboro on the basis that such centers are “offensive” or that they “threaten the American way of life.”

Have these Christians forgotten that our first allegiance is not to our own interests or to the “American way of life,” but rather to the Kingdom of Heaven?

When God decided to wrap himself up in flesh and live among us, he placed himself in the context of perhaps the most oppressive and cruel empires in history. Those listening to him would have had clear memories of injustice, ridicule, heavy taxation, and even genocide at the hands of the tyrannical Roman government. And yet to those who had every right to fight back, every right to be biter and offended, Jesus said:

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.  Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.”

Jesus remained faithful to these teachings all the way to the cross and they were so diligently observed by the first Christians that they refused to fight back in the midst of terrible persecution. One wonders how we went from boldly declaring the gospel from dungeons and stoning pits to complaining to upper management when department stores don’t play Christian music at Christmastime.

There is a tragic disconnect from the way of Jesus when Christians join the chorus of those saying, “We will respect your faith when you respect ours” or “You can build a mosque in New York when we can build a church at Mecca.”  Jesus did not teach us to be good to those who are good to us and tolerant of those who are tolerant of us. As he pointed out, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?”

What makes us different is that we love when we’re not supposed to. We love unconditionally.

Of course, implying that all Muslims are violent extremists and therefore fit into the category of “enemy” is about the same as implying that all Catholics molest children or that all evangelicals sympathize with Westboro Baptist Church. So we must give our Muslim neighbors the benefit of the doubt before assuming motive. But even if the builders of these centers are doing so with anti-American sentiments or for the purpose of ridicule, how should Christians respond?

Sarah Cunningham said it well in a post on the Q blog, where she wrote:

Regardless of our personal political beliefs or the outcome of this scenario, Jesus did not come as a political revolutionary but as one bearing a message of transcendent spiritual truth. Part of his example, although unconventional and unpopular in the wider pop-culture, was a mandate to “love our neighbors,” to “love our enemies,” and to “pray for those who persecute us.” No matter how you view these Muslims, I am certain that at least one of these apply. The Christian faith maintains that God loves and wants relationship with every person on every side of this argument.

As the country becomes more ethnically and religiously diverse, there will be those who say the Church can only survive if we fight to the death to preserve our civic religion—keeping prayer in public schools, keeping the Ten Commandments in courthouses, and keeping mosques out of our neighborhoods. But I am convinced that the only way for the Church to survive in a post-Christian world is to do the exact opposite. We must preserve our identity as a distinct, set apart Kingdom that does things Jesus’ way—not the world’s way, not even America’s way. We must continue to grow and expand, not through a sense of entitlement or a fight for power, but through unconditional service and love.

The constitution dictates that Muslims should be able to worship when and where they please.

Compassion compels us to reach out to those who are still hurting from 9-11 and who are understandably struggling to forgive.

And the way of Jesus calls us to love whichever individuals in this story are hardest for us to love.

…Guess I should say a prayer for Glenn Beck. 

What is your perspective on the recent mosque debates? To which side do you find it hardest to extend grace and peace?

(Photo by FreeBirD)

comments

http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/mosque

Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are constantly negative or a general ass, troll, or hater, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us.

Doubt, Family, and Friends: Part 2

How have your friends and family responded to your book?

I’ve been asked that question more than any other since the release of Evolving in Monkey Town, and it’s a question I often receive from readers like Dave who are struggling to share their doubts and ideas with the people they love.

First let me say that my immediate family—Mom, Dad, Amanda, and Dan—have been incredibly supportive throughout this whole process.  Even when they disagree with me on the details, they know that I love Jesus and want to follow him, and that’s good enough for them.  The same goes for my current pastor as well as my former pastor. I try not to take these blessings for granted.

Unfortunately, I haven’t fared as well among certain friends and religious groups in the community. I've been the subject of gossip. I’ve been added to prayer request lists. I’ve been called everything from a cotton-candy-Christian to a communist. I’ve lost very dear friends and gained new ones. I’ve struggled to accept the fact that some of the most important relationships in my life will never be the same.

Along the way, I’ve made some mistakes and I’ve made some resolutions. 

Mistake #1: I tried to make other people feel what I was feeling. 

When I first started struggling with doubt, I longed for companionship so much that I tried to force my friends to ask the same questions I was asking. As I write in the book, “I grew obstinate and incorrigible, ready to debate family and friends whose easy confidence baffled and frustrated me and gave me an excuse to be angry at someone besides God. It bothered me that other people weren’t bothered. I couldn’t understand why no one else was stressed out about the existence of hell or angered by all the suffering in the world. I feigned surprise when my friends got annoyed that I raised such topics at bridal showers and poker games. Wherever I sensed a calm sea, I sought to rock the boat; I wanted others to share in my storm” (p. 113-114).  

I’ve learned the hard way that if you aren’t careful, you can actually rock people out of the boat. At the time, I told myself that these were just fair-weather friends, that if they couldn’t accept the real me, then our relationships were superficial anyway. But now I miss these people. I want them back in my life and I’m sorry that I tried to make them understand something they have simply never experienced. 

Mistake #2:  I got defensive and judgmental

Like most people, I tend to get really defensive when I’m feeling insecure, and there’s nothing quite like a faith crisis to make you feel insecure.  As a result, I argued with people who were trying to help me.  I interpreted their concern as condescension and judgment, and (being a decent debater myself), did all in my power to shut them down.  Even when I “won” these arguments I lost, for I became a picture of the very judgment and hypocrisy I hated in the Church. 

When I feel like I have something worthwhile to say but am not given the time of day, I like to imagine all the reasons why these people won’t hear me—they are so satisfied with their own salvation, they don’t care about anyone else; they are afraid to look critically at their elaborate theological systems because they find so much security in them; they are stupid; they are prideful; they are coldhearted. Ascribing motive is a way of protecting myself from the painful reality that deep down, I want these people to like me and understand me. When I sense that they don’t, I come up with clever ways to make them smaller and less significant in my mind so that their rejection won’t hurt as much. 

Fortunately, these mistakes have led to some resolutions. 

Resolution #1: I will show discretion when sharing my doubts and ideas.

It has taken a long time for me to accept the fact that some people have questions about their faith and others don’t. Some people are willing to talk about these questions, while others see them as a frightening threat to everything they hold dear.  While I’m not ashamed of my ideas, I can show some discretion in how I share them and who I share them with.  I’ve got enough self-control to hold back when in certain company.

Of course, the blog and book have helped tremendously with this because they have provided opportunities for me to share my thoughts with people who are receptive to them.  And over time, I’ve actually developed some new relationships here in Dayton with people who are likeminded…(or who are different enough that being different gives us something in common). So I encourage others who are struggling with tough questions about Christianity to take advantage of online resources and books and also to seek out new friendships in their community without abandoning the old. 

Resolution #2:  I will love the people it is hardest for me to love

Loving my sponsored child is easy. Loving the people at The Mission is easy. Even loving my abstract notion of “enemies” (the Taliban, Osoma Bin Laden, etc.) is easy. Loving fundamentalists…not so much. 

I tend to be judgmental of judgmental people. But if I want to be like Jesus, I have to learn to love the people it is hardest for me to love. Otherwise, all this talk of judging not and turning the other cheek and making peace and loving enemies is just lip service to a good idea rather than a way of life.  If I can’t approach hyper-Calvinists with the same love and grace with which I approach the poor, the homeless, and the oppressed, I’m nothing more than clanging cymbal. 

Resolution #3: I will become more like Jesus

It’s impossible to completely isolate ourselves from criticism, but when the fruit in our life grows more and more abundant—when we are filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self control—it’s harder for people to say that we’re sliding down a slippery slope simply because we voted a certain way or believe the earth is a certain age. Grace has a disarming effect, and if the questions we are asking and the ideas we are forming give us more of it, we will not only avert some criticism, but we will be more prepared to deal with it when it comes. 

The most important thing I can add to this conversation is this: Let your good works speak for themselves. If we really believe that God is in the reconciliation business, then we will become people of reconciliation. God’s love is not something we can prove in an argument; it’s something we’ve got to prove with our lives. I’ve got a lot to learn on this front, and I need people to keep me accountable, but I’m convinced that my best “apologetic” is not an argument or a defense or even a  published book, but a life transformed by the love and grace of Jesus Christ. 

***

What are some mistakes that you have made in sharing your questions and ideas about faith? What are some resolutions you have made?

comments

http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/doubt-family-friends-2

Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are constantly negative or a general ass, troll, or hater, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us.

Family, Friends, and Doubt: Part 1

Every week I hear from readers who have been touched in some way by Evolving in Monkey TownOne of the most common dilemmas these readers say they face is trying to navigate their doubts, questions, and new ideas in the context of their current faith communities.  Several of you suggested last week we address this on the blog, so I thought I’d introduce the topic by including an excerpt from an email I recently received from Dave. 

Writes Dave: 

…For the last three years my soul has felt like a sick and dying animal. God seemed gone, and suddenly all the perfectly logical systematic theology I had assembled my entire life to answer all the questions just felt apart. I prayed, I talked to all my pastors, I talk to my cell group at church, I talked to my wife, and I talked to God a lot. I didn’t know how God could demand that I be intellectually dishonest in order to follow him. He gave me my intellect. How could I tell myself a young earth made sense, or eternal hell for people who never heard of Christ made sense, or any of the other big issues made sense when I knew I was lying to myself? How could I feel gratitude and affection to a God who randomly chose me to spend eternity with Him and took delight in the rest burning for all time?
When I posed some of these questions to others they would try to answer them (with genuine grace and love), and ultimately tell me I wasn’t trusting God enough. When I read your book, I wanted to cry. I felt like I had written it, because every question and suspicion I have held was echoed in it. And from your book and blog and other resources…I’m finding that I’m not alone. I know that God is good again. Jesus loves me, and even more amazing, He loves everyone, and plans to reconcile ALL things to Himself. I read my Bible eagerly last night, which I’ve felt ill doing for a very long time. 
There is one big problem though, and I know you’ve had to face it. My pastors, and the people I go to church with love Jesus very much and love other people very much as well, but they don’t subscribe to this line of thinking. In fact, when they hear me talk about it, they will be deeply concerned…It is possible some will assume I have never understood the gospel at all, and that I “went out from them because I was never of them.” I love these people, and I want to continue to fellowship and discuss and pray with them, but I know many may feel they can’t do this any longer. How have you dealt with this in your own journey? 

I’ll respond tomorrow, but today I would like to open this question up for discussion.  Dave is certainly not alone, and I know we could all benefit from one another’s stories. How do you respond when friends, family, and people from your faith community are uncomfortable with the questions you pose or the ideas you share?

comments

http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/family-friends-doubt-1

Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are constantly negative or a general ass, troll, or hater, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us.