To recap the last couple years: After the Pulse Nightclub shooting in June of 2016, I read the Koran. I was attending a Christian Seminary, and enrolled in a Master’s of Divinity degree. After that shooting I needed to read for myself just what the heck that book said about violence.
Instead of merely seeing the passages which call for violence, I saw something worse. Lies. Lie after lie after lie. But all the lies centered upon one big lie: the lie that Jesus of Nazareth was not the resurrected Jesus the Christ–the very Son of God.
So I blogged about the experience. Several of you were reading along, and one of you even asked, “Well, how should I address these issues with my Muslim friends?” I offered suggestions. But I also admitted that I had yet to know any Muslims myself, so I didn’t have first-hand experience.
Fast forward two years now and I randomly (or not) ended up working at a job with a lot of African immigrants, many who are Muslim.
One man in particular has engaged me in discussion about such things, but the conversations were always brief. Then, one day as we sat down on break, he said, “So you believe in Jesus Christ?” I got ready to finally chat on topic for a few minutes, only to be disappointed when another co-worker appeared and killed that conversation. But I invited my co-worker over after work. He accepted and a few days later he came over.
A- is his name.
The following is a highlight reel. It is intended to show you one example of how conversations can go. Keep in mind that we are co-workers. Not that I would do it much different if we were strangers, but this situation added pressure, I felt, to ensure that I didn’t say anything that would make the next day weird. And the next and the next and the next.
Pete: Oh, man. Thank you so much for coming over. It’s after midnight, and you came. I wasn’t sure you’d make it. Thank you.
A-: I said I’d come. I just had to finish up a few things.
Pete: No worries. Come in, come in. Don’t worry about your shoes. Can I get you some ice cream? I had a dinner party recently and one woman brought the best desserts ever and left them with me, and I was thinking you could help me finish them.
A-: Sure. It would be my pleasure.
Pete: Actually, do you eat ice cream? I had lunch with E- and his wife recently (another Ethiopian couple from work–Christians) and they went with H- and me to ice cream after, but they didn’t really like it. I don’t know if that’s all Ethiopians or just those two.
A-: I would like ice cream. I will eat it.
Pete: Cool. Oh, by the way. Answer me this. Sorry, I’m just so curious. How many white people’s homes have you been in since living here?
A-: (Smiling) Why you ask this?
Pete: I just am curious. I feel like everyone comes to America and then never mingles. How many?
A-: You’re my third.
Pete: Wow. Three? Crazy. We’ve got to do this again. Only three, huh? That’s no good. We’re not all the white devil, you know?
(Skipping ahead to good stuff).
A-: (Pointing at my white board with Ugaritic cuneiform alphabet, Hebrew alef-bet, and Greek alphabet written on it) Why do you study all this stuff?
Pete: Because it’s important to know about the people who wrote the Bible and what kind of life they lived and such.
A-: Well, I want to tell you I really appreciate that you study all this. You know, one of the five pillars is to believe in Holy Bible.
Pete: Hmm. That’s confusing to me. How can you believe in “Holy Bible” if it says that Jesus is the Son of God? And that Yahweh is the name of God? I was under the impression that these were not things that Muhammad wrote.
A-: You know, that is big confusion. We don’t really believe in Muhammad. He is not that important to us.
Pete: (Raised eyebrows in shock)
A-: You know, allah–or god–is so big and mysterious that we cannot know much about him. (Picking up a crumb from the brownie) It’s like we are this teeny-tiny thing. (Dropping it on the kitchen table) And god is everything else. How could the tiny crumb possibly know about everything else?
Pete: That’s what the Bible is. That’s what revelation is. Yahweh, the LORD, has been revealing himself to us through those prophets in the Bible and eventually in Jesus himself. It’s not like we know everything there is to know, but we know enough to know his name.
(Skipping a bit)
A-: I was raised in Adventist missionary school in Ethiopia.
Pete: I remember. You told me.
A-: But I came back to Islam. Have you heard of (some name I can’t remember or pronounce)?
Pete: No. What does he do?
A-: I could show you YouTube video. He used to be Christian, but as he learned more and more he converted to Islam. Can I show you video?
Pete: A-, here’s the thing. Ask any of my friends and they’ll tell you I hate watching YouTube videos. They send them to me all the time. “Pete- watch this.” I refuse. Ha. But if you want me to watch something, I will. But I’ll tell you this. I’ll make this prediction. I’ll try my hand at being a prophet here. The guy in the video is going to set up a straw-man and knock him down, but he is not going to talk about what the Bible says. Your man, these men, will not touch the Gospel. He is going to destroy the straw man, and then say Islam is the truth. It’s his only play. But he will not be destroying what the Bible says. He will not be talking about how Jesus got up on the third day. He will not be talking about how the war is over, how sin is defeated. He will not say anything about Jesus being the son of god.
A-: Holy Bible doesn’t say Jesus is the son of god.
Pete: (Eyebrows raised even higher this time) ((And here, reader, I ask you, what would you say? Keep in mind, I’ve never seen a conversion in my entire life. Never ever. Not once. But I believe I’m prepared to preach the Gospel and to finally get in the game.)) Tell me, what happens next if I go get a Bible and show you that it does?
A-: (Looking at his watch) Ah. It’s getting late. I should be going.
Pete: It’s okay. You don’t have to go. No worries. We’re just talking.
(Some half-hour later)
A-: Well, what about Mary?
Pete: (Simple confused look that grows to frustration) The Bible- Ahhhh, see I’m telling you. You have to read the Bible. You cannot go off of Christians. It doesn’t work like that. The Bible never says to worship Mary or that she is worthy of worship. That’s just a traditional thing that has no biblical foundation. Of course she is special because there is only one mother of Jesus and she was it, but she is not a god. Okay. It’s late. I’m kicking you out. A-, it’s almost two in the morning! Jeez. I have to get some sleep.
A-: Please let me help you clean up. When I am guest I help clean the dishes.
Pete: You really don’t have to. I have a dishwasher here. I can do it.
A-: Please, let me do this.
Pete: Okay, man. If you must. I won’t stop you.
Alright. There you have it. Biggest takeaways for me were:
- He’s been here for years. And only three white people (presumably “regular joe Americans”, whether Christian or not) have invited him into their homes? How’s the Word going to get into his ears if no one talks to him? Where’s the love?
- How many times do you think he’s told someone that “the Bible doesn’t say Jesus is the son of god” and that person has subsequently called him on his baloney? Will you be bold enough when the time comes? Did you notice how I did it without being arrogant? And did you notice that he didn’t get weird. At no time did it get weird or awkward. I was me. He was him. It’s called a conversation. You don’t like fake people. Muslims don’t either. Our job is not to be fake, it is to get the Holy Spirit in the game via the Word.
- Mary?! Mary?! MARY?! Shame on you, Catholics. Shame, shame, shame. Read your Bible. You are feeding evil.
- Did you notice that he used a defense of god that Christians teach each other, that Christians use to answer their children’s questions? I’ve never seen the “crumb defense” but I have heard it as, “Well, we’re 2D and God is 3D…” Did you notice that? Stop it. The Bible says no such thing. At best, you’re wasting time. At worst, you’re participating in evil. Instead of making foolish analogies that ultimately help no one, Preach. The. Word. Speak the Bible into people’s ears. They do not need an argument, they need the Word of God.
The difference between two and seventeen is either fifteen, if counting items, or two and three-quarters, if counting hours. And because it is now seventeen, I am even angrier at you than before.
I’m angry because today, I, like many of you, am asking the LORD why he isn’t granting his mercy to our children while they are in school. Nearly every day I pray, “LORD have mercy on us and protect our children while they’re at school.” Once again, the LORD has not responded in kind. About this, I’ll have a talk with him later.
But there’s more. I’m angry at you, fellow parents, because you are obviously not teaching your children forgiveness. What is your problem? Why don’t you teach this to the little ones? Do you not know about forgiveness? Do you not believe in it? Do you think forgiveness is some kind of joke? Do you think forgiveness is intuitive, natural, or some logical deduction? Well, you are wrong. The price of forgiveness is blood. It cost the LORD his only son’s blood, it is costing us our children’s blood.
So help me God, if your negligence in teaching your child forgiveness ends up costing me my child in some future shooting, I will be more than angry. But I go too far. Do you see? To receive forgiveness from our heavenly father, we must–that means it’s not optional–forgive each other. I’m calmer now. Contemplating forgiveness will do that. And the old rugged cross carries incomprehensible peace, too.
But now you have a Son-of-God-given mission: By all means, take a moment to teach your child forgiveness. Do this soon. I’m begging you.
Now, back to talking to the LORD.
Don’t worry. This one is approved for all audiences.
Over my winter break (yes, I’m thirty-six and still have such things–though I do work full-time during them) I have been renewing my Certified Flight Instructor license via online testing. Truth be told, I haven’t flown in six years, but as I watch H- get older I am pretty sure that she will be my next student. So I keep my license in the event that, as ol’ Leo noted, “For once you have tasted flight…there you will long to return.” Plus, what kind of schmuck would I be for not teaching my daughter how to fly? Anyhow, that’s not the point of this post. The point of this post is to demonstrate how to use a current and trending event as the launching point for spreading the Gospel.
Current Event: Oprah seems to have reached a tipping point in her life. Will she run for president of the United States of America?
Launching point: Critics of Oprah have already pointed out that she is just a greedy celebrity, categorically the same as President Trump. One piece of evidence the critics cite is her recommendation and belief in the tactics of the best-seller The Secret, those tactics being positive thinking–often in opposition to medical science and other fruits of western civilization. Positive thinking, of course, is to the gracious non-believer exactly and only all that Christianity ever could be.
Spread the Gospel: Explore this Christianity-is-just-positive-thinking-like-The-Secret-and-therefore-unbelievable-too notion with the non-believer using James’ words. Here’s an example discussion.
Christian: So you don’t think positive thinking is the end-all-be-all, then?
Non-believer: Of course it isn’t. Go to the doctor if you’re sick for crying out loud.
Christian: You do know that Christianity does not believe in merely positive thinking, right?
Non-believer: Well, I know that there isn’t a god–no offense–and so all your praying and hoping is just helping you stay positive in this sometimes depressing life.
Christian: None taken. Here’s where I would like to have a moment to clarify something. Can I clarify something?
Christian: I don’t know your thoughts. And neither does the Bible tell me that I do. And vice-versa. We can’t read minds-
Christian: -but we can hear what each other says.
(Here’s the key move)
Christian: So this discussion isn’t really about positive thinking, is it?
Non-believer: I guess not.
Christian: To further evidence this, it was you, not me, who actually mentioned prayer first.
Non-believer: Ya got me. So what?
Christian: The question, then, at least in your mind–I know what I believe–is whether or not prayer is real. I’m not suggesting that I believe you or anyone else lies awake at night wondering this or even actively thinks about it often at all, but, at this moment, what appeared to be a question of positive thinking was actually a question of talking, a question of our tongue’s power. Agree?
Non-believer: I’m a bit lost and am not sure how to feel about how Oprah’s speech took us here, but yes, this is where we are.
Christian: We don’t have to keep talking about this. It’s heady and a bit deep, and I know you’re busy. Do you want to switch subjects?
Non-believer: No, I’ll hear you out.
Christian: Okay. You know and I know, basically everyone knows that human history includes this notion of praying, of talking, to beings that are not necessarily immediately in our presence or even claimed to be visible at all.
Non-believer: Sure. People used to believe and do a lot of other silly things too.
Christian: Some still do–like me–though I wouldn’t call it silly.
Christian: What I want to ask is, “Why don’t you think the tongue is powerful?”
Non-believer: I never said the tongue isn’t powerful?
Christian: You didn’t?
Christian: It’s okay. We’re talking about powerful things right now.
Non-believer: I didn’t say the tongue isn’t powerful.
Christian: Two thousand years ago Jesus’ brother James’ audience–if we can use James’ words to evidence his audience’s struggle–James’ audience seemed to think that since the tongue is so small it surely couldn’t be powerful. Unlike those primitive people, two thousand years later folks like you and me commonly say, “Ant’s are able to lift many, many times their own body weight,” alongside many other claims which scientific study has validated over time. So to us, it’s not even a question if small things are powerful. But then to James–not his audience–it wasn’t either. His claim was that the tongue was powerful, not that small things were powerful. He had no more trouble persuading his audience that small things were powerful than we have today. He simply said, “Look at the rudder on a ship if you’re unconvinced.” (Sidebar: If you’re waiting for the connection to the opening flying talk, planes have rudders. 🙂 )
Christian: Maybe now you can see why Jesus doesn’t seem to have written anything down.
Christian: Christianity is a big boys game. It couldn’t be any other way. Our tongues matter. You know this, I know this. What we say matters. So now, and you don’t have to answer me this instant, I want to ask you another question.
Non-believer: What’s that?
Christian: It’s the same question Jesus asked long ago. Before his crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus was teaching about the so-called “Son of Man” and his listeners were offering various names as to who the different and competing groups of the time suspected this person to be. As the answers came in, none of the answers were “Jesus” or “you.” Then Jesus narrows his question and says, ‘Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” To which Jesus answered, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” So I’m asking you, out loud, with my tongue, “Who do you say Jesus was?”
Non-believer: (Go. Find out for yourself what he or she says. Their answer may surprise you.)
Two uncorrelated thoughts.
First, for all of you who find yourselves speechless regarding Mr. Trump, know that that is how some of us feel every time the president speaks. The two of them stand on opposite sides of a continuum that capitalizes on the power of vocal inflection.
Second, I sold my television a few years ago. If you have been waiting for a reason to dispense of yours and also to reduce your monthly expenditures, allow Mr. Trump’s popularity to be the catalyst that prompted you to finally do so. If Kim Kardashian broke the internet, Donald Trump broke television. Use this moment to turn it off–for the last time.
My first thought when I visited www.wemadeamillionaire.com was to vomit. A social experiment where some anonymous person becomes a millionaire because a bunch of gullible suckers have nothing better to spend their money on than anonymous website builders? Right. A beggar is a beggar is a beggar. No, thank you–get a job like the rest of us.
More than that, just a few short months ago I’m pretty sure this entire world was sick of the 1%. Why would we want to create another one? And the idea that it would be interesting to see how this person would spend the money? Again, no, thank you.
But then I stumbled across something truly brilliant: www.wemadeacatmillionaire.com
Here’s something I can get behind, I thought. Poor Manther! Removed from his life in the urban wilds and placed into virtual solitary confinement. Tssk, tssk. And the pictures. Manther is one handsome feline and yet he can’t catch a break, it seems.
Someone, we may never know who, has taken up Manther’s cause. Someone, a clearly benevolent soul, has recognized injustice and was moved to action. Someone, a lion for the animal kingdom, has finally come to their senses. Because of that someone, we can all help Manther become a cat millionaire–perhaps the first cat millionaire.
Now I know what you’re thinking. I was thinking the same thing. Who even likes cats? And you’re right. I don’t like cats. But even I can’t deny the power of the photos. And the video! Oh emm gee. Manther just wants to do yoga.
Like the T-Rex from Jurassic Park, Manther doesn’t want to be fed, he wants to hunt.
Want to be a part of THE social experiment of 2015? Then visit WEMADEACATMILLIONAIRE. More than visit, DONATE! DONATE like I donated. I didn’t think I could scrape together the money, but there comes a time when each of us must silence our reason in order to hear our hearts. My heart said donate. Donate to Manther. Listen to your heart, people. Donate to Manther.
Yes. Three posts in one day. And it’s not even my day off. Crazy. Like a friend said, word volcano.
It’s probably odd that I’m only a few months into my current job and already writing about dreams for another job. No matter. I’m happy at my current job and don’t plan on leaving anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean I don’t dream of an even better job.
So what’s this better job? Right now I’m dreaming about becoming a preacher. Or maybe a priest. Or a monk. I don’t know the specifics, but I know that I want to be a “man of the cloth” as they say. I want to be a part of a profession of men whose goods are solace and listening. I want people to seek me out. I want people, everyday people from all walks of life to come to my door or invite me to come to theirs. And I want to hear what is going on with them and their life. I want people to share the state of their soul with me. I want that opportunity. I want to do it over food too. Breakfasts, coffees, lunches, dinners, desserts. That’s the ideal job to me. I want to hear from people who don’t necessarily understand the depth of their courage for sharing the most intimate aspects of their eternal struggle on this journey called life. But more than that (yes, there’s more. I dream big when I dream.) More than that, I want to be able to hug these people. Or maybe just hold their hand. And more than any physical comfort, I want to be able to look them in the eye and with the most sincerity and conviction I am able to muster, I want to tell them, “Everything is going to be okay.”
Because everything is going to be okay. Right?
I recently responded to a friend’s seemingly angry comment to my favorable views of Christianity by suggesting she calm down. She did. Then she asked that I watch a presentation (that you can find here) in which a speaker essentially claims that my asking this friend to calm down was an example of me unwittingly antagonizing the social change movement known as atheism. News to me.
The presentation, by a woman named Greta Christina, is very generalized and therefore incapable of doing much more than rabble rousing. However, I would like to address one topic that I find fascinating. Here’s her claim:
“I get angry when believers say that the entire unimaginable hugeness of the universe was made entirely for the human race, [whereas] atheists by contrast say that humanity is this infinitesimal eye-blink in the vastness of time and space. And then religious believers accuse atheists of being arrogant.”
As I see it, we’re all guessing. We’re all looking at the data and drawing conclusions. More than that there are two levels at play here that she doesn’t seem to recognize. One level is the idea. The other is the proponent of the idea. If I expound the believers’ idea, I can also humbly admit that it’s just my best guess. No different than an atheist can admit that they are not certain. However, when the atheist or believer declares that for certain they are right, there is naturally, in both cases, an additional off-putting arrogance. And I am no more a fan of religious zealots who prematurely end the dialogue with claims of certainty than I am of atheists who do so. But in my experience, including this woman, while believers can be annoying in their certitude, atheists rue the day when it comes to arrogance. It’s inherent to their argument, the argument that goes something like,
“There are objective, scientific facts to be known. I know them. As facts are synonymous with truth, I know the truth. Moreover if you disagree with me, you’re disagreeing with the truth and consequently you are wrong. (And stupid).”
Does anyone remember the end of The Matrix Revolutions? (That’s the name of number three). The machines are trying to once and for all defeat humanity. Their agent, Agent Smith, asks our agent, Neo, who won’t stop fighting, “Why? Why, why do you persist?” Neo’s answer: “Because I choose to.” Smith’s question embodies the same argument as the atheist’s, just more eloquently. And it is arrogant. As if life is a computation to be solved and afterwards things will be normal.
Is it an arrogant idea that the unimaginable universe was created for little ol’ me? I don’t know. It doesn’t feel like it. It’s just my freely chosen conclusion–as of today–after studying the historical record and living among you for thirty-three years. Is it an arrogant idea that an infinitesimal eye-blink or even a very numerous group of them have accurately and finally recognized a system of knowledge that answers, “Why?” or “What for?” in a way that demands unquestioning allegiance? Yes. Yes, I’m afraid it is.
One person presents/reads/speaks uninterrupted for up to twenty minutes on any topic of their choosing. Up to thirteen other people listen while they eat dinner. (We do spaghetti). Then those thirteen folks (even the women) each take a turn at responding–also uninterrupted–for up to ten minutes. Then we break for dessert. Then the speaker gets a ten minute follow-up window, after which the others get their own up-to-five minute responses. That’s the Mark Twain Listening Club.
With the enthusiasm of some friends, I began the Mark Twain Listening Club (MTLC) over two years ago. We meet twice a month (give or take) and while talking for twenty minutes or ten minutes seems daunting, it does not take much thought to realize that it isn’t about talking, but listening. You share for up to ten minutes and listen for one hundred thirty. Now, what, I wonder, do you suppose happens when people listen to each other? I’ll tell you. Empathy. Understanding. Fun. Friendship. And witty witticism’s.
Last dinner a friend wanted to talk about manifesting reality. She had recently watched What The Bleep Do We Know? She loved the ideas presented within that film but was a bit nervous that she would be ostracized for misunderstanding them or oversimplifying them. But when one of her conclusions or take-aways or bottoms lines was “Consequently, if I’m manifesting my reality, and for example trying to make a new friend, then I don’t have to focus on their negative qualities. Instead, I can choose to direct my attention towards the positive qualities,” you can’t help but want to be closer to someone with such heart. Even her husband, the scientist, couldn’t find fault with the argument.
Naturally, the phenomenon known as The Secret, not to mention a certain more ancient book, was introduced during the pursuant discussion. While it is impossible to recreate the power of the moment, when one friend had his turn and asked, “What the bleep is the secret?”, I couldn’t help but think that there is no social setting that fosters such simple creativity than table dinners of this nature.
You know what the neatest thing about the Mark Twain Listening Club dinners is? I chose the goofy name to pay tribute to Mark Twain because I got the idea from his autobiography (and women attendees weren’t allowed to speak in his day). But about a year into it, someone pointed out the acronym could also be “More Tender Loving Care.”
Back to the good stuff, if I do say so myself.
I don’t take advice on life from my younger brother. Actually, I don’t take it from any immediate family members.
When we discuss life, we mostly just fight. All parties are to blame, of course, but when pitted against my younger brother I’m always ready to accept more blame because I’m older and should know better, the theory goes. Amidst our current unpleasantness I have been thinking about why I never listen to him. This naturally led to me contemplating how I decide to ever listen to anyone. In other words, which criteria do I use to seriously consider another person’s invariably well-meaning advice? As always, I’m curious to read how others would answer this question too.
For me, however, it boils down to loss. The more loss a person has experienced, the more I listen. If a person has experienced less loss than me, then I don’t listen. After all, what do they know?
So mom and dad, brother and sister, I hear you, but your life choices haven’t resulted in much loss according to my all-seeing eye. Sorry. If I’m missing something, please share. At this point, what do you have to lose?
Loss is important to me because it demonstrates risk. Taking risks demonstrates belief, which demonstrates passion, which, in turn, demonstrates that you are alive. At least this is how I see things. I’m not prescribing this to you. I just want you to know this is how I am. I don’t mean any disrespect. We’re just different. I live the inverse of: “You won’t fail if you don’t try.”
Actually, come to think of it, since I hold the “lost most” card, I do want to prescribe this way of life to the four of you. Live a little. All four of you play it too safe.
Now, I know at least mom is rolling her eyes and asking “Why should I listen to him again?” “What’s he lost?” I’ve lost half of H-‘s childhood. Half. How’d I lose it? By passionately rushing into a marriage that K- and I should’ve seen wasn’t ever going to work. And let me be clear: It is no good that neither K- nor I can ever get back the time lost because of our decision–no good at all. But the flip side to that coin is we each get half of H-‘s childhood. And we would’ve never got any of it if we would’ve played it safe. And without H-, well, we’d all be worse off. You know that’s a fact.
I just smiled after writing that. Because it’s true. I’m actually excited now. (I love writing.) So until you convince me that you’ve lost as much, I’m not taking your advice to play it safe. I’m not going to pad the walls by considering all the outcomes or what strangers or relatives will think. I’m just going to keep doing what I’m going to do–and do it better. Forever. So there.
I had no idea.
I haven’t had any ideas for this blog since learning this on Thursday or Friday night. That is, I can’t think of anything else to write except to share my slightly embarrassing astonishment at what I learned.
When I have H- I usually spend all the time she is asleep writing posts or writing books. But when I don’t have her, I am able to finally catch up on some reading. One book is (as I’ve mentioned before) N.T. Wright’s Jesus and The Victory of God. It is book two in a five book series on first century Jewish-then-Jewish/Christian history. From what I have been able to discern, it is tier one as far as historical critical scholarship goes. I say tier one to attempt to convince you that I am aware there are many good researchers who all come to different conclusions about such things, but to be honest, I’m kind of falling for the arguments Wright is making. Anyhow, I’m writing this now because I want to move on and write fun things again.
The information I was shocked to discover was that the temple Jesus of Nazareth displayed anger towards and overturned tables at etc. shortly before the crucifixion, this temple was not just the local baptist church in Jerusalem. It was the Temple. Capital T. The one that has been fought over for thousands of years. The one that has been destroyed and rebuilt and destroyed and now there is a Muslim structure on it blah, blah, blah. I had no idea. I feel pretty foolish. I grew up as a bible memorizing, save the world one non-believer at a time Southern Baptist and somehow totally missed this. I just thought that he picked one of the many mega churches that surely existed back then to make an example of. I think that’s some variation of projection and ethnocentrism. Oh well.
The real question is, of course, does any of this matter?