Archive for August, 2007
Dateline: Somewhere in the Deep South.
I am writing this dispatch from a dark room within a seedy hotel just off of Shrimp Boat Lane in the low country town of Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. Through the grimy windows I can see the booms of the shrimp boats swaying above the saw grass and palmettos as they wind their way down Shem’s Creek towards the open sea.
Actually the room ain’t that bad. I am taking a little vacation down South so I don’t expect to be posting much over the next week. I’ll be looking for blues, barbecue and beer (with a shrimp or two tossed on in for good measure.)
One thing of interest; I am extremely impressed with today’s new automotive technology. My wife’s van must have some sort of virtual voice hardware that I didn’t know about. It persistently communicates important information to the driver, including warnings, using what sounds like a woman’s voice. The voice is so realistic that you’d swear that the person speaking was right in the car with you.
Occasionally I would here things like; “Chris, you are going 80 miles per hour” or “Chris, you are drifting into the next lane” or “The current speed limit is 65” or “You’re following that car too closely“. Utterly amazing.
There was a design flaw, however, that results in the driver (at least this particular one) paying little or no attention to the warnings. The robotic voice they chose sounds an awful lot like my wife’s! They’ll have to get that fixed.
(I wonder how the car knew my name?)
There was a training course offered today at work called “Nonviolent Crisis Intervention“. It was designed to assist the school’s staff on ways to avert a crisis and then de-escalate the situation.
It was an excellent class presented by an excellent teacher. He taught that in order to successfully modify someone’s aggressive behavior it is important to remember that our first goal is to win them over to our way thinking. I found this interesting in that much of what he taught was similar to what I had learned over years in business. A couple of things in particular stood out;
When it comes to managing people (family, students, customers, employees, church members etc) we will rarely be successful in trying to exert our will over the other person. We need to understand where that person is coming from, how they see things differently than we do and even if they comprehend the immediate situation. “There is no reality for us other than that of the customer’s perception” is something we used to say in the restaurant business.
Once we understand their state of mind we need to convey our empathy. They need to see something of themselves in us and to do this we need to see something of ourselves in them. To try and change their perception by imposing our authority is likely to end up with us driving them farther away. Before our authority can hold any validity (outside of inciting fear, which is not a lasting means of behavior management) they must be able to relate to us in some fashion. There needs be a point of recognition that they can identify with. This is difficult to do if we continue to take the high ground and insist upon certain behaviors merely because our given ‘authority’ can justify it. The great number of violent political revolutions would support this.
Often, in response to given direction someone will ask a question that can easily be mistaken as being irrational and provocative. Our teacher today gave an example:
Suppose we see a child (in this case a student) drop a potato chip on the floor and do nothing about it. We ask the child to pick up the chip and his or her response is; “Why should I?” Most of us would probably see this as being disrespectful and designed to provoke a negative response on our part. But there is a very good chance that this is an honest question. What if the child has been reared in a home in which no one is expected to pick up food when they drop it? What if the examples that they have been given have created this learned response on their part? (I have worked with new cooks who were flabbergasted when I would request they clean behind themselves. That had always been someone else’s responsibility.) So the tenor of our response is very important here.
It is important that the child (or anyone else), rather than having to face the typical imperiousness of adults, be made to understand that we will take their questions and concerns on face value and address them openly and honestly. This begins to lay the groundwork for mutual trust, a groundwork that is sturdy enough to last the distance and hopefully avert future problems.
There is a good lesson here, particularly in how we ‘evangelize’ (‘evangel’ [eu-angel] from the Greek to mean ‘good messenger’ ). It’s not surprising that we are less than successful when we tell people that our words are ‘right’ because they come from the Bible. Or that a particular way of living is desirable because of how God ‘wants’ it. Few seem to be afraid of the hell fire and damnation that some of the converted find so convincing. The religious stick of punishment seems to hold little allure for someone with such different world views than our own. In fact, because it is often lacking in empathy and respect, there is a good chance that it will turn them in the other direction. Their questions and comments, so often seen as inlfammatory and disrespectuf to us and of God, are likely to be legitimate and rational. To angrily respond to them from a position of alien authority is irrational on our part.
But what of God’s sovereignty? Compared to what God wants to say, does it matter very much what we want to hear? Well, perhaps not. But the Bible seems to suggest that we will be more comfortable with the message when we are comfortable with the messenger. It is no accident that Jesus is the most perfect persuader for God.
We are familiar with the Old Testament stories of people primarily seeing God as fearful, adjudicating, wrathful and punishing. We have the analogies of God as a parent, having to hurt us in order to help us. There is God as the benevolent dictator, requiring righteous behavior and punishing the unrighteous because anything else would be unfair, unbalanced and unjust. The history of the Bible consistently presents this fearful, authoritarian image of God. It also reaveals that, as a persuasive tactic, it has been terribly unsuccessful. With all the intimidating language, the chosen people usually chose something other than God’s way.
This tactic was so unsuccessful that a totally different course of action was employed. The message of God, his Word, took on flesh as Jesus, a mortal man that we could relate to – as opposed to a God we never really could. The means by which Jesus conveyed this message was done in a way that allowed us to figure it out for ourselves, discovering it in our own individual ways. We have been invited to come closer, learning the lesson in terms we can understand, worked out through our relationship with Jesus. He shows us how to ‘love’ the lesson, not only because he is the lesson but because he allows us to find the unique way it works for us. He permits us to see some of ourselves in him and then, hopefully, others will see some of him in us.
Jesus does not try forcing us to obey him by invoking his authority, an authority that God has certainly given him. Through weakness and brokeness he attracts those who do not respond to well to threats and intimidation. Which happens to be just about all of us.
Some of you may remember the story about Sherri, one of God’s itinerant workers and how we met one day in Western Maryland. She’s the lady that has devoted her life to spreading the Gospel across this country on the back of a bike. TheOoze has decided to publish this story and it comes out today; “The Apostle Sherri: Bicycle Disciple”. Please check it out on: http://www.theooze.com/articles/article.cfm?id=1818
If you’ve never visited that web site I think you’ll be pleased with what you find there.
I was listening to Woodrow Kroll on the radio today and something he said made me think. He was giving a little sermon on how we need to step out of our comfort zones when we evangelize. He talked of a day in the life of Jesus, in this case a day as related to us by Mark in his first chapter, verses 14-45. In this 24 hour period Jesus recruited Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John, taught at the synogogue in Capernaum, exorcised an evil spirit there, visited Simon Peter’s home and healed his mother in law, then went out and healed many people from the town. The next morning he got up before dawn and prayed in solitude. Afterwards he travelled through out the Galilee region, healing the sick and exorcising many demons, eventually healing one particular man of leprosy.
Kroll’s point here (and I think it is a good one) is that even Jesus, in order to do his work, needed to spend some time alone with God the Father. How else could he, as a man, have made it through such a grueling schedule? And if we are sure to ‘recharge’ our spiritual batteries with some one-on-one time with God, then we too can accomplish much more than we could ever imagine.
But is it realistic to believe that Jesus accomplished all of these things in one day? I think it is likely that what we have here is an example of poetic license. Each gospel version must be a condensed account of what actually happened, winnowing down the events of Jesus’ ministry into vignettes that are easy to digest and share with others. In this example from Mark. almost all the major points of Jesus’ ministry are covered in one particular “day”.
Of course it could’ve happened precisely as written, but what of all the other days contained within the one to three years of Jesus ministry? Was every day filled to the brim with miracles and preaching, a whirlwind of activity? Or were there brief periods of intensity seperated by long interludes? We do not know because the gospel accounts leave a lot of Jesus’ time unaccounted for.
My point is this; we do not need to accept the telling of the Gospels as 100% accurate in their descriptions to understand and accept the teachings of Jesus. This is why we can have such apparent discrepencies between the four Gospels and still see each of them as true and believable.
No one can seem to agree about Sodom and Gomorrah. They were only two of the 5 cities making up the Pentapolis (along with Zoar, Adama and Seboim) and all were destroyed in the accounting given in Genesis 19. Whether or not this destruction actually occurred (which is really irrelevant to the story) there is much disagreement over how nasty these people were and what nasty things that they were doing.
Sexual misconduct is the most popular suggestion, and at first glance the Bible would seem to back this up. A mob of men from Sodom came to Lot’s home, demanding that he turn his angelic guests over to them so they could get to ‘know’ them, ancient code for a gang rape. Some Bible versions translate the word ‘know’ as ‘meet’ but it is apparent from the later use of this word that these men are talking about violent sexual congress. This would support the suggestion that the major sin here was not homosexual behavior but rape, because forced sex of any kind is wrong.
It is this later use of the word ‘know’ which causes some people concern. When confronted with this angry and violent mob how does Lot go about protecting his house guests? He offers his own daughters in their place, even advertising the fact that they are virgins, as no one has yet ‘known’ them. (Genesis 19: 1-8. A similar story takes place in Judges 19: 20-29 )
Later (Genesis 19:30-38) Lot’s two daughters (his wife is now dead), worried that they will be childless, connive to have sex with their old man, getting him drunk on wine so that he isn’t aware of what’s happening (I doubt if that story would go over well today). They become impregnated and their children are the ancestors of some of Israel’s tribal enemies.
Peter calls Lot a righteous man (2 Peter 2:7) and if only considering his faith in leaving Ur with Abraham, then he most certainly was. His behavior later was less than uplifting, even before the mob incident. Yet even after he showed his willingness to give his daughters up to violence and degradation God’s angels helped him to avoid the fate of the five cities.
We struggle to this day trying to determine what activities the Bible speak against. Often the focus seems to be on issues of sexuality. When narrowly looked at, these accounts in Genesis could be taken to mean that God was punishing those cities for their homosexual behavior (although Ezekiel says that a lack of charity and compassion was their true crime). But since the Bible does not seem to condemn Lot’s behavior does that mean that he is somehow excused? Perhaps it was because these people were very primitive, walking a line between barbarity and civility, that it was just not worth commenting on. Lot is another example of how God can and does use despicable people to accomplish his aims. (Which gives me great hope)
So, if we can assume that the primary sins of Sodom and the other 4 cities were sexual in nature, allowing us to coin terms like ‘Sodomite’ and ‘Sodomy’, may I suggest another word or two? Try this one on for size; ‘Lotite‘ for anyone who might sacrifice their own children because of cowardice. Or perhaps ‘Lotian‘ to describe incestuous behavior brought on by drunkenness.
I thought this was interesting: (from Radio Netherlands Worldwide)
Let’s call God Allah
by Mohammed Abdelrahman & Nicolien den Boer*
The Bishop of Breda, Tiny Muskens, wants people to start calling God Allah. He says the Netherlands should look to Indonesia, where the Christian churches already pray to Allah. It is also common in the Arab world: Christian and Muslim Arabs use the words God and Allah interchangeably.
Speaking on the Dutch TV programme Network on Monday evening, Bishop Muskens says it could take another 100 years but eventually the name Allah will be used by Dutch churches. And that will promote rapprochement between the two religions.
Muskens doesn’t expect his idea to be greeted with much enthusiasm. The 71-year-old bishop, who will soon be retiring due to ill health, says God doesn’t mind what he is called. God is above such “discussion and bickering”. Human beings invented this discussion themselves, he believes, in order to argue about it.
More than 30 years ago Bishop Muskens worked in Indonesia and, there, God was called Allah, even in Catholic churches. The Dutch should learn to get on spontaneously with different cultures, religions and behaviour patterns:
“Someone like me has prayed to Allah yang maha kuasa (Almighty God) for eight years in Indonesia and other priests for 20 or 30 years. In the heart of the Eucharist, God is called Allah over there, so why can’t we start doing that together?”
In the Arab world God is called Allah. The long history of Christianity in the Arab world led to the development of a rich Christian-Islamic theological vocabulary, which makes God a normal equivalent to Allah. Both Muslims and Christians use the word in the Middle East.
Apart from Allah, the term ar-Rabb (the Lord) is also widely used, although this appears far more often in the Arabic version of the Bible than in the Qur’an. In the Islamic context, references to ar-Rabb are normally found in the possessive form, such as Rabbi (My Lord). Interestingly, the word Allah was already in use by Christians in the pre-Islamic period.
Bishop Muskens proposal will undoubtedly receive a warm welcome from the Islamic community in the Netherlands. Particularly as it follows last week’s remarks by Geert Wilders about banning the Qur’an and, shortly before that, former Muslim Ehsan Jami’s comparison of Muhammad with Osama bin Laden.
Perhaps this is the reason Bishop Muskens’ remarks have received so much attention in the Dutch press. The bishop actually said exactly the same several years ago. He also suggested abolishing Whit Monday as a national holiday in favour of an Islamic religious day.
In the past, Bishop Muskens has offended many Muslims. In 2005 he said Islam was a religion without a future because it had too many violent aspects. The bishop is also responsible for a number of controversial remarks. He caused uproar in the Netherlands when he said the poor had a right to steal bread if they were hungry. And he put the Vatican’s back up with an appeal for the use of condoms in the fight against AIDS
Well? What do you think?