Friday, May 27, 2005

The Koran (Qur'an), Islam's holiest book. (See below article). Since CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) is offering free copies of the Koran to interested individuals, I suggest evangelicals and post-evangelicals avail themselves of the opportunity to understand their Muslim neighbors' faith through this set of writings.

The Idjit's Guide to Religion: Is It Christian to Disrespect Islam's Koran?

I have no first-hand knowledge whether or not our military really used and abused copies of the Koran, Islam's Holiest Book, in efforts to interrogate and intimidate Afghan prisoners. Newsweek said yes, then said, "oops." Then FBI memos turned up suggesting that prisoners said yes, indeed. But the prisoners are Al Quida, said others. Sigh. On it goes.

For my cynical two cents, in light of the tiny U. S. intellect shown in abuses in Abu Ghraib, it seems at least likely that some dim bulb somewhere decided that the quickest way to break a Muslim was to abuse their most precious possession by tossing it into a toilet. (Sure, the whole thing wouldn't likely fit down a western toilet; maybe it was a latrine, or a trash can, or????)

Let's leave the unverifiable / unfalsifiable for the moment. Flushing a Koran down a toilet, whether in whole or part, would be a major mistake even strategically (leaving out the moral dimension). Picture someone peeing on a Bible. How would that make a Christian feel? Like cooperating? Doh! Even Homer Simpson could figure that one out. A fervent Christian would resist as if his or her life depended upon it.

But forget pragmatic discussions. Pragmatism seems the coin of the realm these days anyway, and has little to do with Christianity.

Let's take this whole thing up a notch to a moral rather than machevellian sphere. I maintain that it is intrinsically anti-christian to abuse another faith's holy writings. That's right. I don't care if it is Islam, Ba'hai, Christianity, or Scientology. It is one thing to engage in debate over which set of writings (if either) comes from God. And it is quite another to take the writings another person considers precious -- part of their very personhood -- and destroy or mutiliate them as a gesture of power, or attempt at pychological manipulation.

I can strongly, even fiercely, disagree with my neighbor over what each of us believes. This can be done with grace, meekness, and even love. Done right, we each leave maybe frustrated that we couldn't get our neighbor to see things as we see them, but also glad to have a neighbor who cares so much about the "deep" things of God and faith and the unseen. Respect is a good doorway to becoming neighbors. Disrespect is a good doorway to hatred and chaos. If I am to model Jesus to my neighbor, first and foremost I'm to model love.

Look. The Koran contains many things I do not believe, along with some common sense and even poetic things I can agree with. I'll be blunt: I do not believe it is a communication direct from God.

But there are writings I do think are God-breathed. If I'm to love my neighbor (note: "neighbor" does not specify Christian or non-christian) as I love myself, I'm left little wiggle room; I wouldn't want anyone trashing my Bible. As a Christian, I believe it is a collection of God's love-letters to me.

I am confronted with my Muslim neighbor. He loves his Koran as passionately as I love my Bible. And here's a twist. Whereas my Bible is a translation, almost any good copy of the Koran is in Arabic. That is, it may well be an English translation on one side of the page, but it is almost certainly written in that gorgeous Arabic script on the other side or page. Why? Because Muslims believe that those words, down to the very Arabic letters themselves, came directly from God through the Prophet Muhammed. Imagine for a moment that you shared such a faith. Then ask yourself how you'd feel if someone threw a book like that into a receptacle for human waste, then flushed it away.

It gets worse. Now imagine that, as your Muslim neighbor rather than your Christian self, you hear the words' haunting mysteries being read aloud, in the original Arabic. Or, even more stunning (I've done this) listen to a quality CD of someone singing it aloud. How beautiful. If you'd grown up in an Islamic nation or culture, such things would be part of your world on such a deep level you often wouldn't even think consciously of them. Think of being soaked in that culture, where what you percieve as the words of God are literally penetrating your very consciousness day and night. And think if a hunger for God began with those words, wherever it might lead in the end. Then think of a "Christian" soldier from another country, a man or woman who has forcefully invaded your country, taking your words -- the fabric of your entire universe -- and wiping his butt with them.

Then ask yourself. Is this Christianity?

Right now, much of the Muslim world thinks that it is. And that is an unspeakable tragedy.

Whether or not U. S. forces desecrated the Koran overseas, I would hope Christians would forcefully speak out on issues of religious respect here at home as well as there. The hell of it is that we are currently involved in a war (or wars) which seem to have a highly religious tint to them. The idea of respect is thus tainted before one can properly even get started.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Homeless in Uptown: Will They Fade Away?

A homeless man walking under the Wilson Avenue underpass; barely visible as he is hidden from view and prepares to fade into a pristine white glare, he reminded me of the continuing effort in our neighborhood by some to force the poor and homeless either out of sight or out of the neighborhood altogether. Through Cornerstone Community Outreach (CCO) and it's various programs, we hope to see more and more of our homeless neighbors not fade away but
rather remain neighbors while finding homes.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Andrea Dworkin & Me

I didn't say much here when, in early April, Andrea Dworkin died. A feminist of the old school, her stance against pornography was viewed even by fellow feminists as harsh and extreme. But I personally encountered her writings at a time (around 1979 or 80) when I was largely unawakened to feminist issues; her influence upon me was lasting. Below are some reflections I offered back in April on another blog, Creep and Blink, regarding her. Doubtless I'm giving those who think I'm one of those folks Limbaugh would call "feminazis" more ammunition. Oh, well.

As a very unlikely contributor to this discussion (a white male evangelical Christian), I can only speak of my own encounter with Dworkin's work to explain how sad I was to hear she'd died. Twenty some years ago, writing a magazine article on pornography, I rather randomly picked up her book "Pornography: Men Possessing Women." It disturbed me, confused me, and broke my heart. I've never looked at maleness -- or my own body -- quite the same since reading her. No, I don't agree with some of the things she wrote. Many of them, in fact. But what a mind! And her writing itself is so sparse, clear, and riveting. Ultimately, I suppose, I have had a strange sadness for her as a person, one I felt again when just a fe months back I re-read "Pornography" and also some of her writings available online. Her personal life, she made clear, was off limits to the public. Her past is shrouded in controversy -- a self-confessed one time prostitute, a victim of male violence including rape, and only a few years ago, her puzzling claim that she was drugged and raped (a claim even her closest friends were ambivalent about)... none of it explains her. And of course it cannot. She was an enigma, filled with pain and sorrow and rage and fire, and gifted with the voice to spill all of it out onto paper and from a podium. Maybe someone is wondering what I think happened to her after death, since I am a Christian... well, I did vote for Kerry, so maybe I'm not a good one. I don't presume to know what God, who is Love, does with brilliant, wounded human beings such as Andrea Dworkin. (She called him, of course, "The God Who Is Not There," an act which I doubt hurt his feelings very much.) I always hope, believing that someone in such pain may be met with chances I don't know about. Sometimes, God is private, too. For Andrea Dworkin, I mourn. Her writings in my life personally were almost violent in their effect. They delivered truth, if not love. For that, I had to go elsewhere.
And one addition to the above... an article, actully a book review of Mysogyny: The Male Malady, does a nice job of illustrating just why Dworkin's vision was (is) more realistic than men or many women are comfortable admitting. If you get ticked off reading the link above, read it again. Then pray about it if you're a Christian. Especially if you're a Christian with a penis....

Saturday, May 21, 2005

"Project12" -- Discipleship Intensive!

Two dear friends are about to help launch a "Discipleship Intensive" with Jesus People USA Covenant Church. They've already roped me in as one of the speaker/teacher/whatever the heck we are supposed to be calleds. So here's their blurb on it, and I hope I'll get to meet a few of you soon as Project12 co-participants!
Glenn & Wendi Kaiser will anchor "Project 12", a ten-month JPUSA-based Christian Discipleship Intensive in Chicago. Project 12 is a response to the challenges of 21st century issues blending Bible courses, community/relationship training, interactive mentoring, and mission experience with an overall dollop of the arts crowning the entire year. Launch date: Sept. 15, '05. For more information email:

Friday, May 20, 2005

ABC 20/20's "Resurrection" Doesn't Rise to the Occasion

Cranky alert.

Pretty simple, really. Christians have always believed that Jesus rose from the dead. It wasn't a vision, wasn't a dream. It happened, or it didn't. And I'm talking it happened historically, at a real time and a real place and in a real body. Or else, as Paul said, "of all people we [Christians] are the most to be pitied."

The resurrection -- physical resurrection -- got wierdly short shrift tonight in yet another of those TV documentaries that ABC in particular enjoys trotting out. Things started well, William Lane Craig being among a number of historically rooted believers representing a solid biblical (and might I say logical?!) view. Then came the usual suspects, headed up by my favorite, John Shelby Spong. I never know whether to be mad or just start laughing. Spong's contention tonight, which unfortunately pretty much closed out the show, was the most beautifully strung together sentence or two of poetic nonsense masquerading as theology I think I've ever heard. I hear Rod McKuen and Spong are doing a rap album together. . . .

So why do I torture myself, when I know how it always ends? Well, maybe I thought the right wing evangelical nexus would lead some cynical TV exec to realize if someone did an examination of the Resurrection that actually took the biblical story at face value... well, isn't there a serious audience share out there? Or maybe they're counting on folks like me that, because we do believe in the Resurrection, can't help hearing others discuss it no matter what whacky stuff is said. At least the camera work was seriously beautiful, and the faces of those worshipping the Lord Who has indeed risen from the dead shone with His Life.

Maybe next time I'll just turn the sound off.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Three Bucks Worth of God

I would like to buy $3.00 worth of God, please. Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don’t want enough of Him to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant. I want ecstasy, not transformation; I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3.00 worth of God, please.

(Wilbur Rees, from When I Relax I Feel Guilty by Tim Hansel)

'Nuff said.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Who's Family? Palestinian Christians

At risk of sounding very politically incorrect, I get the feeling evangelicals in America are confused about their family. All humanity, of course, is part of the human family. Jesus said we're to love our neighbor, and our neighbor is the person next to us regardless of religion, sexual practices, color, language spoken, and so on.

Then there's the Christian family. And without neglecting love of our neighbor, Scripture does provide all sorts of directives about loving those in our own family. James talks about providing for widows and orphans in their distress; Paul offers instructions to young churches about how to parse out help effectively and compassionately.

I'm amazed how we so quickly forget the family we have in Palestine. Somehow, we treat our Israeli neighbor better than we do our own Palestinian family members! And that to me is a shameful thing. Without neglecting the people from whom our Savior's family came, we cannot and must not neglect the people who's faith in that Savior dates back to the first century. These are our sisters and brothers in Christ, oppressed by Israel and hard-pressed to remain faithful while among a larger majority of Muslim Palestinians. (A majority, I remind my fellow Christians, who is also our neighbor, and very few of whom are involved in any sort of violence!)

Evangelicals are not all blindly pro-Israel. And being pro-Israel, I would argue, is not at all the same thing as being pro-Jew. One can faithfully agree "Never again!" in reference to the holocaust without also agreeing to Israel's building of what Palestinians call an apartheid wall, the daily indiginities at checkpoints, the oppression of Palestinian villagers by Jewish settlers in Palestinian territories, and so on. To oppose these things is not to oppose Jews, but merely to oppose radical Zionists. Two different categories, those.

I do tend to bring this topic up over and over. Maybe it is because I believe what Jesus said so long ago, while walking on some of the same roads the checkpoints, armed soldiers, and apartheid walls exist on today. "Who is my neighbor," the clever lawyer asked Jesus, trying to defend himself against Jesus' convicting words. Jesus told him the story of the good Samaritan. If we can't even figure out who our family is -- Christian Palestinians being among the first yet least-remembered members -- how in God's name are we going to be able to love our neighbor the fervent Muslim, the pious Jew, the weary and sad agnostic?

I don't think we can.

Links for further illumination:
Holy Land Ecumenical Christian Foundation
Bethlehem Bible College
an article on Christianity among Arabs & Palestinians