Living in the Tension

It was just about 11 days ago that I was standing on the deck of our ship leaving Croatia with a gentleman named Charles having a friendly conversation. He worked on the ship as a bartender and was able to cut out of work for a few minutes to come see the beautiful Islands we were in the process of sailing by. Jan took off to get ready for dinner and I turned and asked him if he had ever been to this part of the world before. He looked back at me with a huge grin and said that he hadn’t and mentioned that his home was in India. I was immediately intrigued, as I know very little about the country, other than any media bias I have picked up from the news. I asked him a bunch of questions ranging from his family life in India to the working conditions he was living under on the ship. He shared with me that his mother worked in Iraq as a maid to support his family while he was growing up. She only was able to come home every 2 years, so he was forced to raise himself and take care of his alcoholic father. I was touched by his story, while being fascinated that all throughout his retelling he had a very joyful expression, full of peace and gratitude. It was as though he was able to experience moments like these sailing through the islands of Croatia with a perspective that was far richer than most because of what he had seen in his life.

Further along in our conversation, he asked me what I did for a job. I told him that I am pastor and he immediately told me that he was also a Christian. Because of my limited knowledge of India and its culture, I was surprised to hear this. He went on to explain that there are a lot of Christians in his country as a result of Portuguese missionaries that populated their land long ago. This led to further conversation about India’s history and led all the way up to the powerful, non-violent influence of Ghandi and his legacy there. That was nearly the only name and story that I recognized in our discussion. I was humbled and even a bit embarrassed by the limited international history that I had to offer. Even though he knew the detailed history of India, a substantial amount about English, Russian and American history, he was gracious with my ignorance. I asked him how he knew so much about so many countries and he simply said he was taught most of it in school and his country held international history as a core value.

I’m not here to slam our American educational system, but I do question our(my) willingness to objectively hear the detailed story of the counties that co-inhabit the earth. We live in a culture that breeds the “us VS them” mentality and it creates a toxic disconnect with people that God has called each of us to love.

In my travels these past few months, I have been surrounded and blessed by conversations much like that of the one I had with my Indian friend Charles off the coast of Croatia. I am so grateful for these friends that have humbly and willingly taught me a perspective that is much more rich and whole than I previously held. I hope that I have also been used in some way to help shape the perspective of those I have come in contact with.

To say the least, this has been a fertile learning experience saturated with the presence of God in all these places and people. That being said, I now step back into “reality” at home and am faced with the task of re-entering a culture and context that can tend to be one sided and blind to the issues of the world. I am having a hard time. I hope to be a critical, yet hopeful voice, without being a cynical one. This is the beautiful tension in which I(we) must live. I am FAR from having all the answers and these “revelations” aren’t new to me as I feel that I have been wrestling with them for years, but I now feel more passionate about bringing them to light and into reality today.

Conversation VS Debate

Jan and I went for the Titanic shot…We had a good laugh…

This is a journal that I wrote of an thought provoking experience I had while sailing across the Atlantic a few weeks ago. Thought it fit with the last story about “Speaker’s Corner.”

Ironic that my title is one of debate, when I am prepared to make a point against it. Just a reason for further conversation I suppose.

As I sit trying to work on my book proposal that I need to finish sooner than later, I am consumed by a conversation that is transpiring right behind me.

My wife is constantly catching me tuning into the conversations of those around us when we are at a meal or sitting in a public setting. There is some inherited curiosity that I simply can’t resist from time to time. I don’t like to think of myself as a nosy person who has to be part of everyone’s “business,” but I guess I figure if one is to talk loud enough in a public setting that I can hear them they are giving me the go ahead to listen in. Anyway, not an attribute that I am proud of…

I am sitting in a lounge of a cruise looking at one of the most breath taking views I could ask for. I am in a chair that looks right over the bow of the ship and all I can see if a vast expanse of dark blue water, a multi colored late afternoon sky and lightly dusted clouds. Incredible.

There are two older folks sitting behind me with the apparent intention of playing some from of bridge or cribbage. One is about a 55 year old male and the other a 70ish female. It is evident through their conversation that they are not in a relationship, but recent acquaintances.

There conversation begins to take an interesting turn when I hear the guy describe his role of being a teacher of Christian Apologetics. In fact, I can honestly say, until I heard those words I wasn’t listening to a thing they were saying. From this point on in their conversation, it becomes very one sided.

It is obvious that they have different believes on science, history, evolution, etc…The gentleman begins about a 30 minute rant about his accurate “Christian” understandings of the world and the inaccurate belief systems of the rest of the world. His arguments are almost delivered in a sarcastic and condescending way. It was obvious that he had this “talk” prepared as he went from one point to the next. As can be imagined he was overpowering her with his canned intellect and left her with very little to say or argue back. It was as though her posture went from an interested participant to a defensive and discouraged opponent. As the conversation continued my heart began to break.

The gentleman’s arguments where very convincing and he even was using scripture from time to time to make a point. At one point he paraphrased the passage in I Peter 3, that says Christians should be prepared to have an answer for everything. It is very apparent that he has spent a lot of time doing his best have ALL the answers.

I am a proponent of sharing my faith with others through conversation. A mutual dialog that isn’t centered on intellect or convincing argument, but rather on the sharing of stories and experiences that form our view and/or relationship with Jesus. I’m not saying this is the ONLY way to share with others, but forcing data onto a confused or unwanting person doesn’t seem to be what Jesus meant when He told us told us to share the Good News.

What really discouraged me was finding out that this woman who was taking this “Apologetics data beating” was a women that my wife and I had had some great interactions with earlier in the week. In fact we were planning on sharing a meal together with her and her husband later in the week. Hearing this “conversation” she was having, I can’t help but imagine that she will be more closed off than ever from the transformational and highly relational message of Jesus.

Hopefully I am wrong, but can’t help but vent some frustration towards “my own” in our willingness to self righteously offer data rather than simply share a life lived with Jesus through healthy and very mutual conversation. Maybe we can learn from this and begin to love people towards the Kingdom in new and creative ways in a hopeful/inviting posture rather than one of intellectual defense.

Speaker’s Corner

So Jan and I are staying in London right now with some friends. We are a bit worn out from all the cold and rain, but it is a beautiful city and today actually got a little bit of sun. The sights and history are incredible, but there was one spot that really caught my attention.

There is a park in the middle of town that has one area designated as the “Speaker’s Corner.” When we first drove by it(in our huge and cheesy open air tourist bus…) I thought it was an area for politicians to come and give their sh peel on their proposed policy. After all, there is an election coming up here on May 1st. Anyway, after driving by I found out that it was a place where ANYONE was welcome to come, stand on a ladder or box of some kind and just let loose. They could talk about any topic to anyone who was willing to listen. This intrigued me…

We continued to tour the city, but intentionally came back to this Speaker’s Corner to hear what it was all about. There we hundreds of people all crowded around various speakers who were getting fired up on issues of war, religion and philosophy. It was quite interesting to note that the overwhelming majority of the discussions were that of Muslim VS Christianity. There would be a Muslim on one ladder going to town and a Christian a few yards away going to town. For the most part, there was plenty of space offered in the middle of the speeches for public dialog. Someone in the crowd would shout out a disagreement with the speaker and then they would begin to discuss their disagreement in front of the masses. Others would join in and the discussion continued…

Occasionally there would be a more heated dialog that would take place that was a bit out of control and led to strong words, but in general this was very rare. On one hand it was very saddening to realize how many areas we can figure out to disagree with each other and allow that to lead to relational disconnect. On the other it was really encouraging to see a group of people not only culturally “allowed” to speak in such raw ways, but willing to discuss and process in such a raw way. I would have to imagine when Jesus was a kid speaking in the “temple courts” it has to be with some kind of open dialog much like this. How far we have come from this healthy dialog in most of our cultures!

Anyway, as I stood intrigued by one of the speakers who was doing his best to disprove the existence of the Divine Trinity, a gentleman tapped me on the shoulder and asked me what I believed. I began to share with him of my love for Jesus and my resolve to do my best to live out His ways on a day to day basis. I also mentioned that I didn’t necessarily relate with many of the “Christians” who have chosen to preach a message far from what I see as Jesus teachings and have to some degree given us a really bad name. I asked him of his believes and he mentioned that he was a Muslim. He had a sweet beard, much more impressive than mine…

We began about a half hour conversation on the teachings of Jesus, the letters of Paul in the New Testement, the Mosaic Law, I even got to share a little bit on one of my favorite Hebrew words “Echad” in relation to the divine Oneness of Jesus and God…He was a very humble man, with many great things to say and during our discussion quite a few people came and went to listen in. Much of what he had to say had to deal with Pauline writing being inaccurate to the teachings of Jesus. He mentioned that if it weren’t for the books that Paul wrote, Christianity and Islam would be very similar. Much had to do with Paul’s interpretation of Grace apart from the Law. We shared back and forth and as we were talking I came to realize that we could learn alot from each other, but trying to convince each other was not going to get us anywhere. I explained to him that our conversation was great, but a debate was not what we needed. We shared what we believed and what we were most passionate about and respectfully listened. After acknowledging our mutual respect for each other we shook hands, thanked each other for the conversation and went on our ways. It was beautiful. A small piece of heaven on earth in my perspective. Maybe if we create more contexts like this, there would be more communication and understanding and less hatred and violence…

Picture: This is a picture Jan apparently took during our conversation

On the Road That Leads to the Next Country and To Fresh Perspective

In traveling with my wife Jan for the past 3 months, I have been able to read some insightful books, have some profound conversations (with people from all over the world) and experience some life altering events. I hope this can be a place where I am able to process a few things and have some conversation/dialog with others that may be willing to wrestle with some of the same realities that I find myself in. That being said, I am a bit of a skeptical “blogger” as I have seen many that seem to be nothing more than a cyber platform for self approval… please keep me accountable to avoid that.

This is the first time I have ever, not only been oversees, but been removed from work, school, buddies, family, etc…for an extended amount of time. It has been quite an adjustment, but very insightful at the same time. To wake up in the morning and know that all that is required of me is to love my wife and check out the world is an incredibly freeing feeling. A mindset that has been FAR from reality in our first few years of marriage. Although I must admit that I have been very unhealthy in my inability to embrace this mentality and it has taken much accountability from Jan to allow me to begin to release the anxiety, stress and speed of the life that I was living. Now, having been in that mindset for a few months, it is not hard to identify some of the toxic patterns and rhythms that I have been living in back at home. At the same time, I don’t intend on returning home (I can’t help but think of the good intentioned first year college student who comes home for the summer and is ready to change the world, but has no idea where to start) and turning everyone’s TV’s into flower boxes, while chanting “hand me a hammer, because I have all of life nailed!” Interesting tension to live in…one that knows change is needed, but also knows that change must come about out of a spirit of humility, a sensitivity to the well being of others and to that of the Spirit. In fact, it is a tension that reminds me of the prophet Jeremiah who was so aware of the changes that needed to be made by the people of Israel, but was forced to get exceedingly creative in how to articulate that message to the people. A book that I recently finished called Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggeman gives some great commentary on that tension…worth the time of another post at some point.

Over the past 3 months I have had extended conversations with a WIDE variety of folks. We lived next to a 54 year old Canadian gentleman for a month in Costa Rica and we would play cribbage most every morning and evening. We would share a good laugh, talk American politics(not an area I am too well versed), process the death of his wife just 3 years earlier and even got to teach him to surf. I connected with a guy on our cruise ship who was in his late 20’s and had just been kidnapped(and now released) in Brazil a few months ago while shooting a documentary. He was now traveling with his girlfriend with a whole new perspective on life, which led to some great conversation and shared experience. Jan and I shared a train cabin with an elderly Italian couple and two young Italian men. We heard their perspectives on “the U.S.” Presidential campaigns(which everyone follows closely in Europe because we tend to have a HUGE impact on global conflict), learned a few Italian words and Jan even gave the older woman a back and neck massage because she was in terrible pain…it was beautiful! That led to an extended conversation with a Colonel in the U.S. Army who is stationed in Stockholm, who offered a very objective look at the foreign perception of the U.S. and their military endeavors. And the list goes on and on and on…

I am really grateful for these people, experiences and conversations. I suppose it is now my responsibility to wade through so much of what I have taken in and begin to discern how that may affect so much of what I have viewed as “normal” back home. Again, my greatest challenge is to move forward out of a spirit of humility, love for those around me and a sensitivity to the leading of the Spirit…We will see how it goes!

Picture: My buddy Brian and me in Costa Rica and Jan and I at the Colosseum in Rome

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