I’ve been overwhelmed by the positive responses I’ve received about yesterday’s piece on what I labeled (with tongue firmly in cheek) as “the Christian response to Osamagate.” I’ve heard wonderful things from folks from all over the country who felt it struck a chord with them, and for that I am grateful and humbled. Well at least, there was mostly positive feedback. I heard that a good friend of mine linked the story to an unofficial message board that some folks in my native denomination use to talk about church, culture and, um, other stuff for which I would have no category. I know a number of folks who have participated in some level of something akin to dialogue on this site over the years whom I love and honor respect, and consistently speak words that inspire and provoke the Church. So I don’t want to take away from that. That said, I have generally stayed away from the forum because I historically found the level of discourse to be devastatingly stupid—to the point to where I actually felt myself getting dumber when I would look at it. I am open, of course, to changing my opinion about such things. But I glanced over at a few of the responses last night and got a great chuckle, as the boys did not fail to disappoint.
In response to the entry, the responses included “Perhaps you guys should plan a memorial service and a day of remembrance for your fallen hero” and “You are right…we have misjudged Osama…he has done no wrong.” I was impressed by the nuanced, articulate responses which so incisively cut to the chase and engaged the blog piece, which clearly stated that “Osama is awesome and we should, like, totally not hate on him—peace and love!” That was PRECISELY what I said. It would be tempting to say that they didn’t read the piece, but that would be unfair…as such responses don’t show evidence of people who read at all. But this one response from my drive-by caught my eye: “if you’re going to advance theological positions like this you have a connected obligation to break them down into practical application, beginning to end. With respect I’d like to ask you to start with 9/11 and go from there with practical application of this theology and specific things the US should have done in response. I don’t intend to disagree or argue, I just want to see how it works because I can’t envision it.” Okay, that remark is not dumb at all. Practical application of this theology and specific things we can do? I’ll be your huckleberry. But only in context of the strategy of the Church—which is all I addressed to begin with.
As I grow deeper in my convictions regarding the vocation of the Church to be cross-shaped peacemakers, I do in fact find the most common objection to be: “this stuff is just not practical.” Especially given the number of people who are just counting down to Armageddon and waiting for the fireworks to begin, such work can even seem like an impediment to the return of Christ. (More on that tomorrow) But of course, “what do you really do with this” is a perfectly good question, an important question.
For starters? I don’t recall making any judgments or suggestions about what any governments of any nations should or should not have done about anything. I would be in over my head. I wrote to the Church about the Church’s posture towards the world. Yesterday’s post was about not allowing ourselves to get caught up in the spirit of the age, keeping the posture of our hearts in line with that of Jesus Himself to His own enemies. Since there is no atrocity in human history, from crusades to holocaust to 9/11, that were any worse than human beings killing God, and yet His response was “Father forgive them for they no not what they do,” I felt that Christians should be careful that we keep our hearts in check. There are many other potential Bin Ladens in the world, and we have to avoid a root of bitterness that would keep us from doing our job well. There can be no enemy in the world that we do not love.
As to how it is done? Well, my whole adult ministry has been lived under the influence of my spiritual grandmother, Sister Margaret Gaines, who showed me firsthand how one life lived faithfully in a Palestinian village can change the temperature of one small part of the world—how the gospel can be lived with grace and truth to Muslim neighbors. (The more people enlighten me, the more I regret all the time I’ve spent being shaped by her tears and stories—there are so many e-mail forwards I could be circulating, inflammatory news commentators I could be listening to, and message boards I could be posting on! I feel so naïve now.) There is enough I could share about her life as strategy that I could write a book about it.
Unlike Sister Gaines, I don’t feel called to become a full-time missionary to the Middle East, but at Renovatus we’ve adopted Beirut as our international mission. Coming off my second trip there in the last two years just two weeks ago today, I saw God do astonishing things there. As you may know, the US has upped the travel advisory and stated that no US citizen should travel there right now. With all the upheaval in the region and the growing presence of Hezbollah there, a lot of people discouraged us from going. But we went—and I’m so glad we did.
Last time I preached in Beirut, I preached in a large open-air celebration in downtown Beirut. The believers have such a good relationship with the Muslims in that area, they allowed us to preach in the center of the city right in front of the largest Mosque in Lebanon. It was remarkable—we saw so many come to Christ. This time, we were in a large indoor theater, where again saw many come to saving faith. I couldn’t believe the level of openness and receptivity to the Gospel. One of the most moving stories was when a Muslim woman came down to the invitation in tears, wearing a burqa. Given her family situation, she could not bring herself to invite Christ into her life that night. But she wept as she asked us to pray for her. She said while I was preaching, she felt something she had never felt—and she used words that were not in the sermon at all: “I feel like I need to be cleansed from the inside out!” That has haunted me for weeks.
Additionally, the local believers in Beirut—who have really had to struggle with the whole media spectacle over the US pastor burning a Quran (which has greatly hindered their relations with Muslims there)—worked it out for us to visit some key political leaders. We met with the ambassador of Saudi Arabia to Lebanon (as you probably know, Saudi Arabia is still closed to the Gospel). We told him that the actions of that pastor does not reflect the heart that American Christians have for the Muslim world and that we loved their people. Remarkably, we were able to embrace him and pray for him in the name of Jesus Christ. (this pic is from that visit)
We ended up sharing the same sentiments with the head of the Lebanese military court and praying with him. Totally unexpected, we were invited to the Presidential Palace to meet with the President of Lebanon himself, where we were also able to share our love for their people as representatives of the body of Christ in America. We were able to pray over Him as well. All the major Arab news outlets picked up the story and footage was broadcast all over the Middle East. (Pic is our team from Renovatus and our Lebanese friends with the President in the Presidential Palace)
Nothing we did was remotely noble or heroic—it was a 10-day trip just to support an amazing work God is doing on the ground there with or without any of us. The heroes are the ones who are navigating these tensions on a daily basis and living faithful lives in front of their Muslim neighbors. But as a practical strategy, I can propose these ideas from my time in places like Beirut and Aboud:
1. Get to know a Muslim and love and serve them really, really well.
2. If and when you do get such an opportunity, don’t say insulting or condemning things about their religion. Listen a lot, serve with humility and without agenda, and when the Holy Spirit gives you the opportunity—share how the love of Jesus has transformed your life.
3. If you have the means, travel to the Middle East where you can get connected with local believers there and learn about what they are doing firsthand. If you can’t do that, find a work you can support with both prayer and finances.
“You mean that is all?” I know, it doesn’t seem impressive as a strategy, does it? Alas, I feel like I’m giving antiquated and outdated ideas at best. Sure, the courage of a handful of faithful people seemed to turn the world upside down (in the phrase of Luke in Acts) in the first century, but that’s when the world was safe for Christians. They didn’t have to deal with enemies of the cross or people who wanted to harm them, and are thus an inadequate model for us. Going to people you do not know armed with nothing but the power of the gospel and the love of Jesus Christ had pretty mixed results at best. I mean really, what did the stuff this Paul person did in Rome ever really accomplish? And that whole thing of Philip going to the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8—it was just one Christian living out his calling in relationship to one guy! People act like one redemptive relationship could turn around a whole continent or something.
Today’s complicated world calls for new strategies. Instead of being careful to make sure the tone, tenor and content of our message to the world is full of love, compassion and blessing even and especially to those who would harm us, we should embrace the kingdom tools of fear, suspicion, anger and inflammatory rhetoric. Given the clear failure of the early Church of wearing down their enemies with relentless love, we’ve got to get into the 21st century. After all, we’ve got Armageddon to rehearse for! No more talk of this idealistic cross business. This is a time for pragmatism, not fairy tales.
But wait a second…the question addressed how a nation should have responded after 9/11. How would this theology have played out there? How should I know? I never said anything about how nations should deal with other nations, I wrote about how the Church should be the Church—how we have to be careful not to harden our hearts in rejoicing over the death of our enemies so we will keep a spirit of love and sacrifice towards them; how we must be obsessed with loving them instead of beating them. That is the only thing I’ve got a strategy for, and somehow I think the stakes are significantly higher in this discussion than any nationalistic strategy. It seems to me the most important thing the Church can do for the world is to be really good at being the Church. And if that doesn’t work out…sorry, I’ve got nothing.
But perhaps it seemed I neglected the post 9/11 side of the question… That’s because nothing that happened on 9/11 changed anything about the Church’s strategy. We’ve only had one strategy since (depending on whose calendar you are using, give or take a year) around the year 33, and we cannot alter it no matter what beautiful or terrible things happen to the world around us. Practical strategy post 9/11? I do have one thing. We have to take off our shoes when we go through airport security now, so post 9/11, I might recommend you leave for the airport a little earlier than you did pre 9/11 when you are on your way to go see what the Spirit of God is up to in the Middle East.
(PS–the pics from our team below are some other images that represent our ideas about the Church’s strategy in the Middle East, post 9/11)