What if… a Muslim spoke at Jacob’s Well the week bin Laden was killed?

May 2011 worship series - Jacob's Well | Minneapolis

This is a little too amazing to believe, but a Muslim is scheduled to speak at Jacob’s Well the week after bin Laden died and this opportunity has great potential for healing.

Jacob’s Well began a new worship series on May 1 that we call “What if…?” We think “What if…?” is the way God looks at the world and our lives. We have a God of possibilities and creativity, and likewise God has made us to be “What if…?” people. During these five weeks we are trying out some big what if’s, including, “What if religion united us instead of divided us?” And to do it we brought in a local Muslim leader, Abdisalam Adam, who spoke to the gathering at our Longfellow location last Sunday (May 1) and will be doing the same at our Field location this Sunday (May 8).

The purpose is to get a deeper understanding of another faith tradition and let that help us respect and learn from each other. Osama bin Laden’s death, and all the controversy surrounding that (see my last two blog postings, “Ought I rejoice…” & “Moral High Ground: Doing the right thing…), has opened a window for learning. What is Islam? Who are the people who follow it? Did bin Laden represent them? Even though Muslims no longer live half way around the world, but right in our own backyards, we see them as strangers rather than neighbors. What if we actually saw them as neighbors?

Here’s  a chance to make a little progress in that direction. Join us at Jacob’s Well Field this Sunday, 10:30, or watch for the audio or video of the service later through our website, www.jacobs-well.net.

[By the way, if you come to our Longfellow location you will hear Carla Barnhill, ABC-News runner up for their national advice guru, an amazing South Minneapolis citizen and thinker, co-present on “What if… love really did win?”]

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Moral High Ground: Doing the right thing because it is the right thing after bin Laden’s death

Only one thing struck me more powerfully on September 9, 2001 than my numbness and sadness over the event, and that was the wave of sympathy and support the world had for the United States. Sure, we were still the global bad boys (you can’t be the biggest kid on the block and avoid constant criticism), but others with nothing but hatred had struck a low blow and the world didn’t like it. A window had opened. We had the moral high ground and a chance to move forward; pursuing justice, certainly, but also pursuing all of what makes our nation great. The world was suddenly and strangely moldable. Had we as a nation confessionallyadmitted that we had done things to fuel anger and resentment in some people and nations, and proclaimedthat this was now over, we could have used our considerable influence, creativity, wealth and new found receptivity to help shape a new world known for justice and equality, peace and cooperation. We could have starved the flames of terrorism. Instead we fed and fanned them.

We have another window of possibility now. It is not nearly as wide as the one ten years ago, nor will it stay open long, but it is open. Our expenditure of enormous resources and attention on pursuing Osama bin Laden has removed him as the figurehead of terrorism. While everyone knows that terrorism is far from over because of this one man’s death, the question is, “What will theU.S.do now?” Was bin Laden just one big block to knock over and we will continue to knock over more blocks until none remain? Or will we start something new in the world?

We have removed the leader of this movement of destructiveness and now we can replace it with a leadership of hope. We can turn to the places in this world where people feel that they have no choice but to lash out at the world, and we can create opportunity. We can go to the places where justice has no voice so that lawlessness is a necessity, and we can bring accountability.

I am not a political scientist; I am a person of faith who trusts in the power of what God is doing in this world. I am sure that my proposal is naïve and unpersuasive to those who are looking at the facts of the matter, but dealing with the facts of the matter has made our world less safe and more factionalized. It is the job of every person, community and nation to do what is right. Not only because it is good for oneself, but because it is the right thing to do. This is what it means to live in hope.

And we will discover that doing what is right for the whole world (and this doesn’t just include political powers, or even people, but creation in its fullest and most inclusive sense) will be in our national interest, creating the best world for us to live in as well.

Ought I rejoice over Osama Bin Laden’s death?

The news stations are all reporting that Osama Bin Laden has been killed and Barack Obama is expected to speak momentarily about it. The news reporter from whom I first heard the story stated that he thought he’d never be able to report this, and was (I’m not quite sure of his exact words) was very happy to be able to do so now.

I feel a little premature in saying too much since we know so little about what happened, but all the circumstances and the reckoning of the justice of such an act aside, the basic fact remains: a human being has died.

The Haggadah of the Jewish Passover Seder comes to mind as I hear this news. One portion of the Haggadah reflects on the Egyptian army that was drowned in the Red Sea as they pursued the people of Israel after their escape from slavery in  Egypt.  Their defeat is a basic and essential part of the history of the people of Israel. One would be tempted to rejoice at this point of the narrative because of the Israelites’ victory, yet lest this happen, Rabbi Hillel added some commentary to the Haggadah that is often remembered. He wrote that upon the drowning of the Egyptians the company of heaven began to celebrate, but God commanded them to stop saying, “Would you rejoice? Can you not see that some of my creatures are perishing?”

I do not mean to compare Egyptians to Muslims or Bin Laden, nor to make the cause of the Americans ‘holy’ like that of the biblical story. Neither do I intend to underestimate the pain and suffering of those who died in 9/11 or in the ‘war on terrorism’ since, nor their families who lost loved ones. I do not mean to say that Bin Laden should not have been killed, it seems that he was one for whom Jesus’ words were true, “all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” [Matthew 26.52] Nonetheless, it seems that the God I have learned to know, and love, is saddened at the death of God’s child, Osama Bin Laden. Just as God was saddened at the death of the person who died on the 84th story of the World Trade Center, and the firefighter, and the man who commandeered one of the planes that crashed into it. And every other person who suffers on this planet.

Ought I to rejoice? I rejoice that the hand of terrorism may have been weakened. I do not rejoice that a person has died, even if it was just, deserved or necessary. And I am more than a little troubled about the soul of our nation who seeks to draw the sword to bring about the kingdom we seek for ourselves.

Christ is Risen! So what?

So Easter happened. Many people say that means Jesus is alive and God has defeated the powers of darkness. But what’s different? It isn’t a different world than it was on Saturday… Every year we celebrate Easter, and every year the same problems abound and then we celebrate it again. So Christ is risen? What’s changed?

This is a huge challenge that needs to be taken seriously and as I wrestle with it here’s what I come up with… This isn’t a question that we should fling at God. Like, “Come on God,  make the world more like your kingdom now!” Rather, it is the question that God persistently and hopefully and powerfully puts to us. Like, “I have empowered life and love and forgiveness – now I need you to trust them and go and start making the world more like our kingdom!”

What if… that was how we understood Easter and therefore what we did as followers of Jesus? What if… making that happen was why people got together to be a church?

That is a vision of the church that I can get excited about!

When you’re not the one

As a pastor I feel a strong responsibility to ‘be there’ for people. That’s not a bad instinct, but sometimes I can’t. It is easy to feel as though I should do whatever it takes for the people God has called me to serve. Strong theological themes like ‘sacrifice,’ ‘servanthood’ and ‘self-expenditure’ come to mind. But then there are other messages like self-care so I am there for the rest of the flock, not just the one that is lost. I also believe that the ministry I’m called to give myself away for is more than my role as pastor of a church. My larger ministry includes first of all my family. If I give everything to someone in my congregation who is hurting, who calls out to me, what about myself and my family? Dilemmas of limits and boundaries versus trusting God in all things challenge me.

Paul is oft quoted for saying he had become “all things to all people” (1 Cor 9.22) and maybe he did… few people gave as much as consistently as Paul, but are we all called to be Paul? And didn’t he lose his temper with some congregations and groups? Didn’t he refuse to stay and care for nascent congregations in order to fulfill his larger role in ministry as an apostle, leaving others to stay, care and nurture?

Jesus wasn’t the person for everyone either. He healed and ministered to many, but not everyone. He taught, he healed, he moved on. I suppose he didn’t give up on the Jewish authorities, but he sure didn’t lose any sleep over their inability to figure out who he was. I note that Jesus didn’t chase Nicodemus down, just messed with his mind (spirit) when Nicodemus kept coming back for more. Jesus even walked away from Nazareth concluding that a prophet just isn’t going to ‘be the one’ for  his hometown (Mt 13.54ff).

It’s complicated, but I don’t think I can or should be everything any one person needs at all costs.

I still struggle with the tension between giving of myself without measure and drawing the line  saying I can’t do it, but I am also growing in my appreciation that it is a mark of spiritual/personal maturity to discern the difference and act accordingly. It also drives me forward on intentionally crafting a community made in which people will, all in all, be there for each other. I don’t assume responsibility to be the one for everyone or anyone else, rather I  assume responsibility that the culture, systems and support are there so that we can be the sort of community where the right person will be there to be the one.

Do Plaid

Plaid adds spice

Plaids are interesting. They allow you to put together colors that would normally never be found in clothes. And strangely, plaids need those surprising contrasting colors to save the base colors from being boring and unnoticeable. They don’t belong there, yet seem to at the same time.

As a person chosen by God to be God’s holy people (1 Peter 2.9) you are the contrast colors to the world. You don’t quite fit in, you aren’t part of the usual script, yet somehow you look good there and belong there. You are not only valuable, you bring hope, breathe life and redeem the fabric of humanity from itself. You do it because the color you bring is the color God gave you.

Wear plaid. Do plaid. Remember.

When church happens

Feeding the hungryShane Claiborne said some things about Acts chapter 2 that opened this up for me when we were talking about poverty as part of our JustStart> at Jacob’s Well.  The relevant verses are Acts 2.44-45

All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.

Now one can throw up all sorts of complications  around this passage, like how they pooled and distributed their wealth, and the difference between needs and wants. Such controversies miss the point, however, which is that when the church began, they happily and mutually filled the holes in each others lives.

Elimination of poverty isn’t a requirement or a duty of the church, it is simply what happens when church happens. In other words it isn’t giving your congregation a name,  a constitution or erecting a building that makes you a church, it’s God working among and through you to make a tangible difference in people’s lives. When people are church, they start living differently – others see that and like it. They want to be part of it. And when they do, they too are part of the church and their needs are met. The contagious, ever expanding, life-giving movement that introduces the kingdom of God is happening.

What is a sign that a church just got born? Needs are met. Poverty – all types – ends.

  • If you are thinking of starting a church, don’t miss this.
  • If you are wondering what to do with your church, don’t get distracted from this.
  • If you are looking for a church, look for this as a sign of a living one.