Calling Evil Out: One Man’s Stand

I never meant to be in a fight, let alone one played out across the world. But this one has crossed the ocean, jumped the divide, and struck a chord right in the heartland of America, the heartland of my very soul.

I wanted to spend the rest of my days writing about thoughtful pursuits, faith, and hope. I wanted to be a man of peace that would age gracefully, allowing the gray hair to take over my head one hair at a time. I wanted to fade away and not burn out.

But what has happened to me over the last two months cannot be overlooked. By providence, by divine selection, by forces way out of my control, I am now fully engaged in a world I never imagined.

2015-04-27 16.02.02
image-1978

I’ve read the headlines, just like you. I’ve turned my head when I’ve seen the men kneeling on the shores of Tripoli, declaring their faith even as the life was drained from their neck. I’ve hashtagged and prayed for the hundreds of innocent Nigerian girls snatched from their school, pretending they were in a good place, hiding in the forest. I’ve chalked the fighting up to civil war or politics gone astray.

Consumed with work, and summer vacation plans, and a car with an overdue oil change, I went about my life. After all, it wasn’t my fight.

But in these last two months, I’ve been ushered into  this modern-day stand for righteousness. I’ve been to Jordan and interviewed dozens of ordinary citizens, as well as senior government officials and underground church workers. I’ve stood with Ethiopians who are crying out for justice, for someone to care. I’ve befriended a woman whose daughter is a Muslim convert and they a working toward peace. I’ve met good, decent Muslims who abhor what’s happening. In the past few weeks I’ve met with Middle Easterners – both Muslim and Christian – who tremble.

IMG_20150413_130939066
image-1979
I’ve taken it all in – wondering, waiting on God. What does it all mean? Why now? Why me? I’ve finding that my presuppositions and presumptions have fallen. My mind is changing. And the words are coming.

This fight is against evil. And I’m now a soldier.

Here’s the truth. Don’t look away. ISIS-ISIL-Daesch is rolling through countries like Iraq and Syria, but also Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Tunisia. They find villages that are predominately Christian or Shia Muslim. They overrun the local populace and often behead the men. They take the women as sex prizes, and then capture the children – boys and girls – to be sold as slaves. This is not crazy-eyed fundamentalist talk. This is real.

Our government wants us to believe the battle of the day is against climate change, or police power, or those who make too much money. I cannot utter one more word about such things when the rest of the world is gripped by fear.

LaideyChurch (13)
image-1980
For the men who are reading, I want to appeal to you right now. Are we content to rely on politics, for the UN or some other power to make a change? Will we stand for the females who are suffering here? These are our women in the family of humanity and this is our call.  Is your passion college football, the latest smartphone, your workout routine? Really? Is that you are called to do?

My hat is off to the good women who are engaged in the fight, using the power of the pen and that should make us men sit up – even stand up! Ann Voskamp, who peered into the eyes of eight-year old Iraqi girls, just barely spared by from sex traffickers, and has rocked the world with her revelations. Jennifer Dukes Lee has rallied her women of courage. And now it’s time for us.

What about the Muslim question?

I think far too many of us are afraid to say something because of the Muslim question. In this society we don’t speak truth because we will be called intolerant or judgmental, so we mumble nonsense.

We don’t want to talk about this issue because the barbarians claim to be the true Islamics, hoping to restore purity to their faith by fear. It’s true — they claim to be Muslims, but do Muslims themselves embrace them?

Simply because they call on Allah doesn’t mean they represent an entire faith group. Wiping the earth with blood doesn’t splatter every person who worships under a crescent on the roof. Like many others before them, they are using their religion as a rallying cry.

I hate it when people think Christians are judgmental, or ignorant, or divisive because of the acts of a few. As a group, we turn away snake handlers, Fred Phelps and those who kill unbelievers.

I think there’s a middle road. 

IMG_20150411_205659012
image-1981

I’ve had conversations with more than 100 Muslims in the last month, and not one of them has agreed with this savagery. They don’t secretly cheer the traffickers, the rapists, the murderers. Sure, you can pull proof texts out of their Koran, even as we have our own texts from Scriptures that are terrible to read on their own. You can cite polls about those who believe in the extremes of Sharia Law or honor killings or any other radical element.  But by and large, Muslims are afraid of these people too. 

To be honest, I believe much of the world has ignored this issue because Christians have often been the targets. When a cartoonist was killed, the world was aghast that free speech would be stymied. But when thousands of Christian women are passed around as sex objects, we collectively yawn.

So let’s for a second set aside the religion of the attackers and the attacked and start to talk honestly.

Calling evil by its name

If you are a atheist or an unbeliever, you shouldn’t clap because Christians are “getting their due” (someone sent me an e-mail with this gem) Yes, we had our Crusades a millennium ago. Yes, we have used the cross inappropriately at times. But can you set that aside, and can I speak to your heart? These are crimes against humans. We need you to stand.

If you are a Muslim, you are welcome to this battle, shoulder to shoulder with all us, without fear of retribution or being called a sell-out. This is no time to review a thousands years of division. We need your voice.

If you are a Christian, you shouldn’t broad-brush an entire religion for the sins of a few (We hate that, don’t we, when fools blow up abortion clinics or protest funerals or say stupid things in the name of Jesus.) Yes, you are offended and threatened by the cries of this army. But we need you to take a stand, even it’s  side by side with a Muslim if that’s what it takes.

Once we get past the rhetoric , then perhaps we will have the will and wisdom to do the right thing. But it begins with all of us to call this thing evil.

So here is my stand and if I have to stand alone, then so be it..

MacabaChurch (9)
image-1982

The day I died in the Dead Sea

For three glorious days last month I was on the shores of the Dead Sea. At more than 1,400 below sea level, it’s the lowest spot on earth. I wrote on Facebook, “Today, I’m at the lowest point of my life,” stealing a line from  Benjamin Corley in our group. I couldn’t believe how quickly the interventions came in on my while and then I realized that I had forgotten to post a very important photo that would give a little context.

Dead Sea Elevation
image-1967
Thank you all for caring!

Ben and I took some of the mud collected from the shores and smeared it on ourselves. The $200 mud treatments charged by spas around world can be had with a scoop of the hand here. It seemed silly to do this – and definitely challenged my predetermined sense of manliness. I let it bake on while facing the burning sun, and I could feel the salt lifting the oils from my skin. When I washed it off, I almost felt radiant. (What have I become!  Save me Tim Tebow!) Don’t count on any future updates from me on facial mud masks.

MudMan
image-1968

 

But the real experience was to float in the waters of the Dead Sea. With a 34 percent salinity, it’s one of the world’s saltiest bodies. It’s 9 times saltier than the ocean. Nothing lives in these waters – no fish, no plant life. Not even bacteria (Except here)

I entered the waters with my muddy body and before I could even begin to ease into the water, my feet began to rise. Similar to a gravity effect, my body began to float. I tried a few strokes from my side or on my back, the traditional trajectory and movements of my body were thwarted by the water which actually pushed harder against my efforts.DeadSeaFloat

I tried turning to my front, but the water flipped me over like a bathtub toy. The ballast must be in my front side (too much falafel, hummus and pita!) I was a human cork, bobbing, floating. I yelled to my pal across the water, “Help me, I can’t drown.”

And it was true. It is impossible to die of drowning in these waters.

I tried different strokes taught to me by Mrs. Jacobs when I was nine. Side stroke. Frog push. Forward stroke. Nothing worked. It was useless.

The only enjoyment I had was when I laid back in the water and let go. I released my efforts and lay prone on my back – and let go. I had to trust the water that I had grown to fear all my life. 

I could look off one shoulder and see the Golan Heights of Israel. On the other I could see the Jordanian resorts. Straight up I could see the sky. I closed my eyes to the quiet and bobbed with the gentle waves, not a care in the world.

****

The Dead Sea is a unique spot. One of the lowest spots in the world, the Jordan River dumps fresh, vibrant water into its depths. And there, everything living thing is choked out by the salt. The sea has one inlet, and no outlets. There are relationships like this, and homes, and churches. There are people who take, and never give.  There is no lower place a human can sink…no lower place on earth for them to reside.

One of the strange anomalies of the man who preached on these shores 2,000 years ago is that he spoke in upside language. The poor will be rich. The weak will become strong. The first will be last. Like reading a book while standing on your head looking through a mirror, everything is upside down, or is it backward – and yet the meaning is simple and true.

Like the time he said.He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.”

I never quite understood these words fully, until this day. The day I could do nothing but float, and trust. The day I died in the Dead Sea.

****

I spent the evening, deep in thought. The sun set across the mysterious waters. My skin, refreshingly vibrant. My soul, ready for the next act of surrender.

Dead Sea
image-1969

The Dead Sea, photo by David Rupert

 

Unsettled: Face to face with families of the martyred

I was a white face in a sea of dark faces, many with tears streaming. They were crying for the slain, for the raped, for the pillaged, for the imprisoned. They weren’t distant peace-nics or sympathetic Africans. They weren’t there out of some guilt. They were living this tragedy. It seemed everyone there knew someone affected. I met a cousin, and an uncle, and a friend — all who have had a loved one impacted.

2015-04-27 16.34.49
image-1955

Ethiopia. I can’t even find it on a map. I can’t tell you a single thing about the country except they had a terrible drought two decades ago. Or was it three? What am I doing here? All I know is that an Invisible Hand nudged me to the Colorado Capitol where hundreds gathered — representing a local Ethiopian community of 30,000 — to cry, to ask for support, to offer prayers.

I am with you. 

2015-04-27 16.48.26
image-1956
The World is Silent

It didn’t take long to hear the plight of the speakers. In France, a vile cartoonist was gunned down by ISIS and hashtags sprang up, advocates for free speech sounded the alarm,  and the world rightly was aghast. But 30 poor Ethiopians, looking for work, are taken hostage — and either gunned down or beheaded. 80 more are currently imprisoned. And the world is silent.

Not now. Not here. Not me. 

The Ethiopian martyrs were given the opportunity to renounce their faith. They did not and they paid the ultimate price. A Muslim man, Jamaal Raham who was a friend to one of the Ethiopian Christians, stood with his friend in solidarity — and lost his life too. Jamal offers a beautiful glimpse into what the world should do. 

There is a growing problem across the globe with Christians who are being persecuted for their faith. Many of the details are shocking and I’ll save many of those for another post. But what we need to do now is to pray for the church and stand with them in whatever way possible.

I had one man tell me online that “Christians deserve this … that they brought it on themselves because of the way they are so hateful.” I was shocked. Regardless of the cross that hangs around their neck; Regardless of the color of their skin; Regardless of the continent they live, these are humans who are being brutalized. And as fellow citizens of this world — black, white, Atheist, Jew — we should be outraged.

Can we get past “jihad”  and talk about humans?

I believe that many are afraid to speak up for the martyrs because they are being killed by those who are doing so under the guise of a faith in Allah. And we are afraid to be called “Muslim haters” or “racists” or intolerant. I understand. Language can spell the end of a reputation and we are all so guarded.

2015-04-27 17.36.31
image-1957
While it is true that ISIS crawls under the protection of a faith to perpetrate their hate, we cannot succumb to the temptation of condemning an entire people for the sin of a few. We bristle when others paint our faith because of a few crazies. And the fact remains that I have met so many Muslims over the last two weeks and not one of them is in agreement with what is happening. I do not believe for a moment that this is mainstream Islamic faith. So let’s just set aside the religion question and simply stand with our fellow brothers and sisters. 

“We must do what Jesus asked us to do — and that is love our enemies, regardless of what some are doing to us.”

2015-04-27 16.18.33

“We must love our enemies”

“It’s beyond Christianity. It’s an attack on humanity.” I interviewed a man named Jehesal at the rally who spoke with great passion. “We must do what Jesus asked us to do — and that is love our enemies, regardless of what some are doing to us.”

I asked, “Are you here out of revenge?”

“Absolutely not,” said Jehesel. “We are not here for revenge. If we seek revenge, we are against Jesus message.”

One woman I spoke to simply told me that her only response is to pray for her enemies. “I pray every day, because that’s what God wants me to do.”

So, here I am. My neck red from years of misunderstanding. But now I’m ready to stand up for my brothers and sisters, to extend love to the enemy, and to pray for peace. I’ll do it alone, or you can can you stand with me. It does not matter.

Tour guides for faith

I am writing these words from the shores of the Dead Sea where I am closing out an amazing 10-day trek across Jordan with a dozen other faith writers. For some of us, we hoped to gain some inspiration. A few were here to see the sights. Others were looking for a pilgrimage, a way to connect with the roots of their faith.

It’s an amazing place to do it all. While Israel has places associated with Christ’s birth and final days, Jordan boasts so many biblical ties it’s called The Other Holy Land. In just a few days you can see Mt. Nebo, where Moses gazed into the promised land and was later buried, the hillside where Jesus cast the demons into the swine, the baptismal site of Jesus by John the Baptist, and the Herodian castle that later served as the place where the prophet’s head was served as a gift to Siloam’s mother.

And that doesn’t count the fabulous Wadi Rum desert, full of Bedouin charm, Petra, the necropolis city, and the Dead Sea.

Our visit could have been a typical tourist venture. You know the kind. The driver pulls up to the site and all the people pile out of the bus camera’s in hand. They point and shoot, ooh and awe, take a few selfies, and then pile back in.

Raed
image-1938
But Raed Haddad hasn’t let us get away with this kind of trek. “Now you’ll see some stones here, but before that was a magnificent city that Jesus entered. He was preaching, teaching, and healing. But most of all, he was moving the people’s hearts. It all started in the Old Testament…”

Raed has been a tour guide for 21 years and he’s a natural. He has a heart for his country and loves his people. “This is the birthplace of faith,” he reminds us. “The Holy Land wasn’t defined by nation’s boundaries as much as it was by tribes.”

But what comes out in every conversation is his heart for his faith.

“I cannot separate my faith from what I do,” he admits. “If God is true, He must be in and about everything. That includes my work.”

Paying the price

The country has both a spoken and unspoken tolerance and even acceptance of minority faith groups. Christians are guaranteed a certain number of Parliamentary positions and Christian heritage sites are particularly guarded with pride. It’s a completely safe place for the Christian tourist and resident.

But let’s be honest. Jordan is a predominately Muslim country. The government claims 3-5 percent of the population is Christian, although those on the ground claim a much lower figure. Regardless, those profess Jesus are a decided minority.

So being a Christian here isn’t easy. Speaking boldly about your faith is a great challenge. “Standing up for my faith has cost me friends,” said Raed. “Some of my friend will want me to lie or deceive on their behalf. I won’t do it. I’ve lost friends, but God has gained me respect in return.”

He has lost work too. Raed has been dropped by some tour companies because of his emphasis on faith. “How can you show people the land of the Bible and just talk about geography? They ask me to tone down my love for the Bible and for God and I won’t do it. I can’t.”

How does he get through it? “Don’t be distracted. Don’t be hurt,” he implores. “If you focus on your wound, it will never heal. Even when people shut the door in your face, he’ll open many others.”

We are all tour guides

As believers in this world, it’s our job to show others God’s wonders and truths. People drive right past the amazing things of God every day – missing out on the eternity for the sake of the temporal. Like lonely scenic overlooks, the freeways are full of people who don’t know where they are going, but are making great time.

Am I a tour guide for my faith?

One thing we can be sure of – if we do it right, we will be despised and detested for His name’s sake. That’s a promise. Many of our brothers and sisters across the globe are paying the ultimate sacrifice.

Raed[1]_1_0
image-1939
Share Your Story

This week I helping editors at the High Calling share stories about those who on the Firing Line for faith. Have you been challenged and oppressed for your faith? Or have you stopped just short, uncertain of the results. What holds you back?

If you have your own story to share, leave a note below. If you have a blog and write about it, jump on over to the High Calling and link up for others to see.

—-

Want to go to Jordan? Contact Ra’ed and he will guide you on what to do next. You will NOT be disappointed. It’s safe. It’s secure. It will change your life. 

Out of the Gray: Conflicts of Interest

“Merry Christmas!” Bernard winked with exaggeration as he slid the envelope with my name on it across the counter. I thanked him and then proceeded to help him mail his package. Signed. Sealed. Almost delivered. I stacked the card along with the others, to be opened later.

Twenty years ago, I was a small-town postmaster serving an very rich community. At the time, it was the one of the most affluent zip codes in the United States. The people were generally kind and respectful of those who served them at the grocery store, gas station, and retail establishments. Christmastime was a season of bounty from the community, and I would bring home plates of cookies, fruit, and handfuls of cards.

That night, I opened the envelopes, reading and smiling at the kind words. A few of the cards had low-value coffee gift cards to fuel my caffeine level during long days. But the card from Bernard had a special insert—a $100 bill. As a public employee, I knew the rules. We were there to provide a service, and a gift like this could influence my professional dealings.

I knew he gave it with no ill intent; he was a man who could afford the gift. And in that economy, our young family could have used it. I showed the rare bill to my kids, and their eyes danced with possibility. But before they could mentally spend it, I told them my decision. I had to return it.

“Why, Dad?” my eldest son asked. “You work really hard.”

The other piped up, “If you don’t want to take it, I will!” His eyes pleaded with the deepest sincerity.

“I can’t … and you can’t.” I looked at them, still slightly amused. “It would be a conflict of interest.”

Read the rest of the story over at the High Calling

If you want to hear God in the desert, just quit talking

The hair was white, coarse and yet surprisingly soft. The saddle was a simple blanket with a horn to grip and stirrups to aid in mounting. I had never been on a camel. It definitely wasn’t like riding a bike.

As I sat on the lumbering beast, I thought about how much the animal has meant to the people of the Middle East. Camels have been companions on long treks and have been a status and wealth. I think in a strange way, their grinning demeanor has provided a source of comfort and amusement to people going back thousands of years.

People of the desert

I was in the Wadi Rum desert of the Kingdom of Jordan, a guest of the Bedouin. These people are an ancient tribe — almost Abraham-ic in their lifestyle. Their black tents dot the landscape. They are beautiful people, with lively eyes and broad grins. Without stereotyping, their main industry seems to be herding goats or sheep. Across the hills of Jordan I’ve seen many boy or man stalking them, occasionally clicking a tongue or prodding them with an end of stick into their hindquarters.  The women are often invisible, and when they are seen, they are modest, sometimes dressed head to toe in black. But I’m sure if could see their face, they would smiling.

I wonder if life must be difficult for these people. They carve out a simple existence in a modern world. The marketplace isn’t’ t conducive to trading in camel hair carpets or cured strips of lamb. But generation after generation continue to live the life. There is a modern world wide open to them, but most of them continue to choose family, tradition, and God.

A few Bedouin camps have opened their world to tourism. I was very cautious about invading or exploiting these people . But they seemed eager to show their life, proud of their goods and their ingenuity, and freely open up their private world to outsiders. It’s a necessity for them to continue their way of life, bringing in needed income. We are eager and curious and they are gracious and in need of economic support.

WadiRum (98)
image-1928
They took a group of us through the desert to what I called, “the camel corral” – only there was no fence. The animals don’t seem prone to wander. As a group, they knelt in humble unison, ready to serve their masters. I easily mounted the camel and he didn’t even seem to know that I was there. With a “click click” of the tongue of the young Bedouin, the camel grunted and showed his teeth, but then rose on command. Suddenly, I towered over the others.

Our camel train numbered six, as a group of us were led through the canyon. A few of the others were laughing and singing old songs from American pop culture and riding the camels like a Disney ride. But once the giddiness of the new experience wore off, I began to retreat, taking in the moment.

For just a few moments the laughter and conversation stopped and I was struck by the silence. A bird chirped a distant cliff. A rock tumbled down into a pile. The sand buffered the heavy hooves and the only sound was the swaying of the saddle. But for the most part it was completely serene. Is that you God?

While I was experiencing the desert, I didn’t hear what I was supposed to hear until I just quit talking.

Silence. Simplicity. Peace.

What is like for Abraham, who left with his family to a land he knew not where he was going? What was it like for Joseph and Mary to travel to Bethlehem? What was it like for David, as he led the sheep? How about John the Baptist who nearly lived in the desert, or Jesus who spend 40 days completely alone with God? And Elijah on the run from Jezebel? What was it like to the people of Israel to walk in these lands for 40 years?

wadi rum, deser
image-1929

The dark nights and hot days were stifling. Unforgiving and oppressive, the desert has killed many a man, but have given a passageway for inspiration and clarity as no other place. Death and life have sprung from it’s sands.

The desert is undisturbed by distant highway noise or overhead jet traffic. It’s unspoiled by screeching brakes and horns. In it’s purest form, it’s the place where God speaks – Just read the Psalms or the prophets. That’s why so many of God most important moments happened in the desert.

The desert is waterless, and survival depends on finding the next watering hole – hope. Stripped away of encumbrance. It’s where we can hear God, if we will actually be quiet and listen. 

Me. A camel. And God. 

Here I am. 

The unlikely pilgrim: Day 3, “Of pigs and thistles”

(Fictionalized Account)

I hate these thistles. They choke everything out. I’ve seen goats eat them, but then they get sick. These weeds are worthless. Nothing grows around them, and my sandals don’t like them one bit. So I took my herd around to the other side of the hill when I saw them — and I was they scared me. 

I knew these two men. We all did. Screaming, clawing at the air, they were as bad as the lepers on the other outskirts of town. Their families had long since walked away from them. They had no friends. Scabs covered their bodies and they hadnt bathed since the last good rain – and that was a long time ago.

Umm-Quays (21)
image-1921

This was Gadarenes, one of the great cities of Rome. Our streets were paved and tall columns graced our pathways. Solid rock arches served as entryways to our theater. Chariots rumbled past and members of the legion marched on patrol. For the most part, we were happy and taken care of. But these two fools kept us on edge. Some called them crazy. Others – the Jews – said they were possessed.

My partner and I were pushing our herd away from the tombs – the Jews always nervous having them wander around their dead. Then I saw him. The Galilean. I had heard about him. Everywhere he went, wonderss, crowds – and trouble followed. The Romans were uncertain about his popularity. The Jewish leaders were threatened by him. I heard from a friend that last night he had actually walked on water, calming that massive storm that soaked everything in town.

 

Rumors or truth?

I heard about bread appearing out nowhere, dead men rising, and blind men seeing. We hear a lot of rumors – and I don’t know what to believe. But there he was, right in front of my eyes. And instead of heading into the theater or the synagogue where the crowds would quickly gather, he made a beeline for the graveyard, where these two fools were waving at imaginary birds in the air, swatting away the the circling swarm.

I yelled at the Galilean, telling him him to go back, but he never even looked at me. He moved forward with a resilient love. We were all so afraid of these men, but Jesus‘ face had none of that fear – just compassion. So I stopped – and for a moment, I understood what others were saying. There was something about him.

Umm-Quays (73)
image-1922

One of the men yelled at Jesus. “Are you coming to torment us? What business do you have here with us.” Jesus didn’t stop. The two men looked at each other in a moment of sanity and their faces spoke volumes. Was it fear or relief?

The other said, “Just cast us into these swine,” sweeping his hand toward the herd of pigs – my pigs — feeding on the hillside. I didnt see what transpired, but suddenly my herd was running in circles. Then they bolted – all together toward the cliff. I gave chase, hitting my stick on the ground and clapping my hands. In a moment, they were gone.

And the two men were leaning in against one of the tombs smiling and talking like normal men. Jesus put his on a shoulder and held the palm of the other man. In an instant, they were restored.

Have to say something

I ran back town and told everyone what had happened. They were skeptical, for I was just a pig herder. But out of curiosity a few of the people ventured to the edge of town and saw the two, who were now lucid, laughing and talking as if they had always been normal. The word spread like wildfire and it seemed as if everyone had come to see what happened.

Jesus was standing next to the men and a few brave people went and talked to them. But soon the questions were being hurled – “Who are you that demons obey you?” Rather than a miracle, some saw it as a divination. And before long, the insults got so bad that they took Jesus to the ouside of town.

Don’t ever come back,” said Jethrop. The others nodded in agreement. “Or we’ll make you pay.”

And that was that.

Changed life

That was 30 years ago when I lost my pigs. That was the day I lost my livelihood, but it was also the day that I started following Jesus. I went to visit that hillside a few days ago. And the thistles are growing even higher now.

While following Jesus around, I heard about the teaching he gave about how “good seed” was wasted if it wasn’t used in good soil. “That the thistles would choke out the seed.” I saw it in my home town. They could have accepted the miracle, and like me, accepted the miracle maker. But for the most part, the seed from from that encounter was rejected.

I wonder if 2,000 years from now the thistles will still be there?


Umm-Quays (101)
image-1923
NOTE:
This was inspired by my visit today at Gadarenes in the country of Jordan. It’s adjacent to the old Decapolis city of Gadara (modern-day Umm Qays), with its spectacular panoramic views overlooking the Sea of Galilee. The hillside was completely covered with thistles. And yes, those are cows. To subscribe to all my adventures and future thoughts on faith and life, please click here.

The Unlikely Pilgrim: Day 2, “No longer strangers”

I was an intruder.  I didn’t  belong. Someone will surely figure it out.
What was I thinking? 
I walked up to the simple concrete building with the illuminated cross on the roof. As I looked out across the skyline, I spotted two other buildings, adorned with crescent moons on their ridges. I heard calls to prayers echoing across the city. Like a children’s book, it didn’t take long to see what wasn’t the same.
I walked into the Melkite Greek Catholic church in downtown Amman, Jordan, graciously invited by others. The St. Peter and Paul church was small, with probably 150 people already gathered. We were late. The service was led by Father Nabil Haddad, a gracious man who is working at bridging the gap in the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian world as the leader of the Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Center.
Picture
I resisted the urge to find a way to make my way outside. I was so out of my element. This was a different culture, a different faith expression in a middle eastern tradition. And the service was in Arabic. To an outsider it was nonsense. Chants. Singing.  Repetition. Kneeling. There was no music except for the melodic, hypnotic voices of chants that seemed to bring in a mix of Gregorian, Semitic, and Arabic influence.  I irreverently imagined a Jew in a vestment singing from a minaret. It was disruptive and disquieting. But as the service continued, it was powerful.
Picture2

“Be Careful”

I’m not all that cross-cultural. I have a little bit of an attitude. And I can quickly wrap myself in plain coverings of a redneck. I’ve heard the warnings about the Middle East, and as a voracious reader of the news, understood the perception. I didn’t have to go. I heard from friends and family around the globe. They all told me to ‘be careful’ in the same way you tell a little boy who’s riding his bike to town and isn’t quite savvy enough to stay away from certain neighborhoods. I admit, I’m still that boy and it’s okay to give me warnings.

Yes, this is the Middle East. ISIS has brought the world to it’s knees, finding easy targets: embassy personnel,  US servicemen, contractors and — gulp — journalists. And if someone hates you, then you can probably expect them to find you at a place you love.  Christians go to church on Easter. The thought crossed my mind.

But let me tell you something. Jordan is amazingly different. even though the Christians number in the low single digits they enjoy a respect. Not because they downplay the religion;  not because they’ve given in to political correctness; not because they pretend to fit in. They are respected because they live out their faith and truth and honesty. they are given respect. I spoke to several people who commend King Abdullah, who goes out of his way to protect Christians both at home and abroad. It’s leadership.

Known for their love

In our country we are being told to shut up and sit down and that we don’t have a place the table. But across the MIddle East, the birthplace of Christianity, believers are becoming a smaller and smaller slice of the population, losing they baby war. And they are oppressed and tormented and killed in some places. Yet, they survive and even thrive because of their love for each other and for God.
So here I am, standing among Christians who have been in the area for more than a thousand years. I unworthy, ignorant, and just a little shocked. Who do I think I am? I have no idea what these people have to endure on a daily basis. and yet they embrace me and call me – brother.
As the service proceeded, I still felt a little silly with no clue or context. The liturgy, the songs, the tongue – what to make of it all?
Picture3
Then I looked at the cross on the stand, draped in a white ribbon. I saw an older woman, her head covered in a white lace, standing next to a pretty teenage girl. They were singing and then repeating the words from the Arabic book in front of them. I looked around. I was surrounded by men and women, young and old, and together, we had a bond of a common need and a Savior that met that need.
The salt I tasted trickled from my eyes.
We were one in the cross

The Unlikely Pilgrim: Day 1, “Lean back”

I couldn’t sleep. Maybe it was adrenaline. Maybe it was nerves. Maybe it was God, trying to get through my thick skull.

 Mile after mile of nothing but water and an inky sky out my window, with only the moonlight separating the two dark bodies.  The lights had been dimmed in the cabin with only a few glowing at floor level to guide the occasional person to the cramped bathroom. I looked around, heads by the hundreds were nodded off into deep sleep. One girl had a whole row to herself and she enthusiastically spread across the three seats.  Another leaned back, her nose pointed at the ceiling. The man across from her mumbled and I strained to catch what he was saying.
And then I turned my attention to blackness, and I strained to hear clarity from another source. “What are you doing God?”
 
A wild Flight path
image-1907
I’m on a pilgrimage to Jordan, the Other Holy Land. I’m calling it accidental because I really think someone made a mistake. As a guest of the Jordan Tourism Board, they want writers who can speak to a broad audience. They want clout, reach, and influence. Maybe they mixed up my last name. Maybe they mixed up my first name with another. There’s a lot of Davids out there. And at least a million writers. But at this point — when I add in all the amazing things that have happened since the selection — I’m believing there’s a bigger story at work. God  reminded Samuel, “man looks at outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.” So here I am, on an airplane headed to see sites some would call Holy, the Unlikely Pilgrim.

I’m listening.

I’ve looked at the videos of Petra, Jeresh, the Dead Sea, and Madaba. I’ve talked to others about this journey. I’ve googled and binged and dogpiled until my head began to swim. Like the ancient diviners who split numbers and cast lots and burned smoke to find the answers, nothing’s really clear without faith. So here I am, 30,000 feet high — trusting a pilot and a beautiful 787 Dreamliner — that I can fly. And I think nothing of it. I push the button and lean my seat back, trusting the pilot.
So why can’t I trust God for the story of this trip — and my life?

Lean Back

We are telling our young women to Lean In, to take charge. We’re telling our young men to be aggressive and smart. We’ve got schemes to reach our neighbors for conversion, plans to build our churches, training to get promoted at work. But I think I’m learning to lean back instead of leaning in. You see one requires trust, the other wrenches away command. And this is a story I don’t want to miss.
I’ll be writing in this space every day. Please subscribe here so you don’t miss a moment. I covet your prayers. And I ask you, where is God leading you? Are you willing to just … go?
Check this out, an interactive map of the sites I’ll be visting. Wish you were here!


#holyjordan

The Unlikely Pilgrim: And so it begins

And so it begins.

Today is the start of a very long day — to New York, then to Amman, Jordan. I start at 7 this morning and will land at 3 PM Friday. I have no idea how long the trip is. There are about 11 of us who part of the the Jordan Tourism Board-sponsored Journalist/Writer trip 

There are plenty of thoughts running through my head. The last two weeks have been a whirlwind as God has placed amazing people in my life  who have paved the way. I have connections that I would have never dreamed of having that have been dropped into my lap.

FIrst there’s Louis, who is lives just a few miles from my house who was introduced by a local writer friend. (Read his story here) He’s a Jordanian who loves Jesus and love his country. He introduced me to a gracious missionary couple who minister to Syrian refugees. I’m staying in their house and then celebrating Sunrise Easter Service on Mt. Nebo (the mountain where Moses saw the Promised Land.) with them. They are strangers, but “any friend of Louis’ is a friend of ours.

And then there’s a man who is a high-ranking government official, who is sympathetic to Christians and is eager to show his country’s progress. I’ve been promised that he’ll take me “to visit with “many important people.”

And then there’s you. Hundreds on Facebook and on these pages surrounding me with prayers and encouragement.

I’m overwhelmed. I’m blessed. I’m humbled. Why would these strangers would trust me with their story? Why would the country of Jordan have faith that I would represent their country well, so much faith that they would spend so much to bring me there?

There’s no other explanation,except that God has a story and for whatever reason, I’m supposed to tell it. I can argue with Him, tell Him that He’s crazy. I can give him a list of hundreds of others more qualified. I can deflect and deny and deflate this opportunity. Or I can just accept it for what it is.

I am thinking about Abraham, the first real Pilgrim, who “when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.”

And so go I.

Will I find life in the Dead Sea?

Here are few others who are also going. Please pray for all us — for safety, for vision, for obedience, and that we will see the story.

Will I find life in this dead sea?