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Augustine’s “Two Cities” theology of politics and history seems apropos today. The churches, motivated by love of God and neighbor, are called to join with their neighbors in pursuit of the contingent but significant common goods of the earthly city.
We act as fellow human beings working for a modicum of peace, order and justice along with others. We do not invest ultimate hopes in earthly politics but we do care about the peace of the city in which we have been placed. We are neither utopian nor despairing about earthly politics.
Most political debates in a reasonably well-functioning democracy involve clashes in prioritizing what are all “goods.” Economic prosperity, access to health care, quality education, fiscal responsibility, growing social equality, security of person and property and a healthy and sustainable environment -- these are all goods, and most of us want all of them. Sometimes we clash over which of these goods should take precedence, who is responsible for securing them and how they are best pursued.
Just before the Babylonian exile in 587 BCE, God sends Jeremiah to sternly warn King Jehoiakim and the Israelites that their great city will be destroyed if they continue to forsake God’s ways.
The message is this (Jeremiah 22:13-16):
“Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness,
his upper rooms by injustice,
making his own people work for nothing,
not paying them for their labor.
He says, ‘I will build myself a great palace
with spacious upper rooms.’
So he makes large windows in it,
panels it with cedar
So how should followers of Jesus respond? Should we respond like the woman did to those two Somali women at the gas station? Should we ignore this opportunity to show the love of Jesus to our Somali neighbors? Should we fear Somalis as enemies of America and pray to God they leave our country?
On October 16, 2010, two Somali women were attacked by another woman at a gas station in Tukwila, a town just south of Seattle.
You can read the Seattle Times report here - http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2013220695_muslimwomen22....
Fast forward 6 years, and a familiar, disconcerting knot in my stomach recreates itself as I listen to a story being reported by Amber Lyon on CNN about the rampant sex trafficking of young girls on craigslist.
I received a jarring phone call back in the fall of 2004, one that opened my eyes to a social phenomenon that had been stealthily gaining popularity in New York City and around the world.
It was the familiar voice of a friend of mine telling me that “a friend of his” had been perusing craigslist - the well-known information-sharing website for people hunting jobs, roommates, apartments, music gigs and the like - and had seen me in an ad for a high-end “escort” service. I laughed heartily; obviously my friend was playing a joke on me, because he was quite familiar with my outspoken stance against the exploitation of female bodies and souls, and the casual denigration of human sexuality, propagated by the sex industry profit machine. And besides, how would an ad for what amounted to prostitution make it onto craigslist anyway?
Stop Demonizing the Other: How an Exhibition of Centuries-Old Sacred Texts Might Just Be the Wake-Up Call We Need
Do you get those weeks when the dots join up and you see the big picture?
Well, this week was one of those for me, and the picture I see challenges us to reach into Scripture and pull out the stories that help us to stop demonizing "the other" - in this case, people of different religions. And a thousand-year-old manuscript and an app for smartphones helped bring that image home in glorious HD 1080p.
In Jesus’s first act of ministry in Luke he reads from Isaiah, proclaiming that “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
I often go back to one of my earliest childhood memories – I was six or seven and my parents took me to visit our church.
I remember walking to the front of the church and seeing something that I hadn’t seen before, something that terrified me. Hanging in front of the church I saw this suffering dying person – a total image of failure. This image of death didn’t make much sense to me in a place where we came and celebrated every Sunday. As I was staring at the cross, my parents came up behind me. My mother said to me, “that’s Jesus Christ, the son of God.” My father continued, “And we are all the children of God.” I looked at that cross and I thought – if that’s what happens to the children of God – I want no part of it.
I want to encourage you to make a new friend today, a friend that also happens to be Muslim. Jesus says love your neighbor as yourself…and also your enemies! I realize that for many, Muslims in America are viewed as enemies, but the command is the same: Love.
As I speak with Evangelicals in the Pacific Northwest, I am amazed at how many “experts” and strong opinions there are on the topic of Islam and Muslims in America.
So when I ask the next question - “so, do you have any friends that are Muslims?” - I expect to hear about a long list of people that have helped them form their opinions. Unfortunately, most so-called “experts” do not have any Muslim friends, and upon digging deeper it becomes apparent that most American’s opinions about Muslims have been formed by media, especially television and internet. Reading Wikipedia, watching Youtube videos, listening to Fox radio, and watching CNN is not the road to an informed and educated opinion on Islam and Muslims in America. Most Americans do not have the time or money to take a class on Islam 101, or do not have the courage to walk into a mosque and sign up for a “Introduction to Islam” class, and public media sadly becomes the only source of information. What I find even more scandalous is the number of Evangelicals who are doing “Muslim ministry” and yet cannot name a single Muslim with whom they meet regularly to share life and talk about faith.
"My prayer is for respectful disagreement in the public sphere as we all seek the common good. My prayer is that righteousness will roll down like an ever-flowing stream."
I have been reflecting on the tone of national debates in the last several weeks.
As I listened to these debates over issues like Park 51, Immigration Reform, and the Palestinian/Israeli peace talks, I have been reminded of Samuel Huntington's book, "The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order." Huntington argues that future world conflicts will no longer be around nation-state lines, but cultural-ideological ones. He cites potential conflict between a growing Islamic fundamentalism and the spread of Christianity in certain parts of the world. Huntington does not promote such conflict, but he does assert that upheaval around civilizational fault lines may be inevitable. Moreover, Huntington has argued that recent immigration patterns threaten U.S. national identity with the Hispanization of the country and its eventual Balkanization. It seems to me that many people of faith also view these clashesas inevitable, but I believe there may be a different way to look at the future that does not prognosticate an inevitable clash, but instead encourages reconciliation.
It was the “least of these,” the poor, voiceless, parent-less children of an oppressed land, who had taught me to see the horrific chasm between Christianity and following Christ.
Last summer I worked on a documentary film called Generation 9/11, which followed two of my seminary colleagues, one of my actor/playwright peers and me on a journey through space and time - a.k.a cyberspace - to connect with young Muslims in the Middle East.
We met five Iraqi and Afghan men and women face to face via Skype, heard their stories, told our own, asked our questions, shared our hearts throughout a series of conversations, and a few months later hosted them in New York City. As I learned about their lives, I realized that nearly a decade after the terror attacks in downtown Manhattan, my friends and I had the luxury of going about our lives in the city without much concern for our safety, despite the rare thwarted scare or preemptive arrest of a potential plotter. In the busy-ness of graduate school, jobs, projects, artistic endeavors, church and social events, the healing passage of time meant we might go for long stretches without pointedly thinking about the still-gaping hole where the World Trade Centers used to be, even as we hurtled by on the subway.
" “It wasn’t just any kind of Christianity that would motivate a rescuer. Only a certain kind of Christianity would lead someone to risk their lives for us."
There was only one Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of God. But, sadly, there is not one “Christianity.” There are instead competing Christianities.
This conviction burned bright for me last week when trying to figure out our dear brother Terry Jones of Gainesville. His is a version of Christianity that seems essentially unrecognizable. And yet it has its own heritage, its own twisted internal logic, its own appeal to at least a very small number of people who believe that this is faithful Christianity.