Competence breeds confidence: Why I’m comfortable with my surgery today

Today, I go under the knife for a multi-hour surgery.

After several months of dragging an unwilling limb around, I’m having a hip replaced.  It’s really a new malady. In January, I visited the doctor because of a clicking in my hip. That was the beginning of a breakdown in the joint. Every week it has worsened; from a slight irritation to a limp to a now-constant pain. Apparently, I have lived with a certain dysplasia in my joint for all my life. The hip ball never quite fit right in the socket and thus degenerated earlier than normal.

It’s been of little comfort to talk to people who all relay stories of their grandmothers and grandfathers having the procedure done. I’m 52 and this unusable joint has made me feel prematurely old. But the stories of success have been encouraging nonetheless.

The whole situation has been made better because I have a surgeon that I trust. Dr. David Weiner has the seriousness of Marcus Welby and a self-assurance that translates into faith in him and the process.

You’re in good hands

Last week, after I signed paperwork that outlined all the risks, including death, he looked at me and said this, “You’re in good hands.” And I totally believed him because he shows that he knows what he is dong. I’ve never seen him in the surgical room, but the way he looked into my eyes, his explanation of my x-ray, and his probing questions made me a believer.

There’s something about people who know what they are doing. The mechanic who listens to a tick under the hood and knows just what to do; The plumber who expertly sticks a wand down the pipes and pulls out the blockage; The dentist who takes a whirling drill and expertly places it on the cavity; the secretary who knows exactly who I should talk to. Thank goodness for people who  take their work seriously. We all benefit from proficiency.

I’m thankful that I live in this age. Twenty years ago I would have been given a cane and some aspirin and a hearty, “good luck” from medical staff. Today, I’ll be the recipient of modern medical advances. They’ll enter the front of my leg and expertly remove my old hip, remove it (I don’t want to think about how it will be removed) and then insert a new ball and joint.

It will take three hours. I’m thankful that I’ll be under deep anesthesia, living in a world of obliviousness. I always grimace when I see old movies where the best anesthesia of the day was a bottle of whiskey and a stick to bite on.

It’s true that I’ll be placing a lot of trust in the doctors and nurses who are in charge of my care. Everyone must do their part for this to be successful. The instruments will have been sterilized to prevent infection. The anesthesiologist will  be watching my vitals. The attending nurse will be providing sponges and tools so the surgeon can concentrate. Even the custodian who cleaned the room has an important role

I have a son who works in a world-class emergency room. I have told him that if I ever need care, I hope he’s the one that is the one to receive me. He’s smart, passionate, and quick-thinking. He’s studied hard and risen to the upper echelons of his field – and he’s not even 30.

Through this process, I’ve learned that competence breeds confidence.

Excellence in what we do

I don’t save lives. I don’t keep the world running. But my job as a communications specialist and public information officer helps keep truth in the limelight. I help situations from running away from control. I help fix problems. I keep people out of trouble.

I want to be competent. I want to be worthy of my title and my pay. I want others to see me as an expert and knowledgeable. I don’t want to be a bureaucrat, someone just taking up a seat and passing everything off. Instead, I strive to be thorough, complete, and excellent in what I do.

Through this competence, I believe I give glory to my Lord, who asks nothing less of me, “in word or deed, do everything to the glory of God.”

It will take a few days for me to clear the fog of drugs and surgery, but I’m confident I’ll return to this space to give you a glowing report.

“My daughter’s a Muslim!” When children step away from the faith

Earlier this week, I published a post called, “When Children Disappoint.” It told the stories of Christian parents whose children take turns that hurt the parents. Substance abuse, trouble with the law, relationships and walking different paths from how they were raised. In just three days, it’s become the all-time most shared post. And the reason for that? It’s because this issue is so raw and real with so many Christian families.

Earlier this month, my fellow Denver neighbor Patricia Raybon and her daughter released a book, Undivided: A Muslim Daughter, Her Christian Mother, Their Path to Peace.

It’s a story of how a daughter was raised in a stable home by faithful, serving Christian parents. It’s a story of how that daughter later converted to the Islam faith. It’s a story of deep divides, sorrow, misunderstanding and pain. It’s ultimately a story of reconciliation and love.

It took 10 years for them to get to this point. And now they can talk about it. I read the book and gained a whole new perspective on the Muslim faith. I also learned some valuable lessons on how to gain peace in my own community, church, and home.

And given our world situation, I believe this book should be required reading for every world leader – and I’m serious.

Patricia Raybon and her daughter have appeared on PBS, the Today Show and other radio and TV shows.

They have been featured at  Today’s Christian Woman, The Denver Post, the Sunday Tennessean, Guideposts Magazine, Christianity Today, Today’s Christian Woman, The Washington Post, On Faith and Culture, and many others.

I am honored to share this exclusive interview with Patricia Raybon:

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David Rupert: When you decided to write the book with your daughter, how would you characterize your relationship?

Patricia Raybon: Politely awkward. We worked so hard not to talk about her faith choice (Islam), that every other aspect of our relationship had become strained. Many people in families, I believe, come to such awkwardness in relationships. They’re avoiding the obvious, by not talking about a problem, but hurting their interaction overall. That’s not a good way to relate to people you want to love.

David: After the book was completed, what was the biggest thing you learned? What did your daughter learn?

Patricia: The most valuable thing I learned is, during conflict, not to react, but to ask. I was primed to rush to react to any statement or situation that felt threatening. When Alana called in college to say she’d converted to Islam I should’ve taken a deep breath and said: tell me more.  Then to ask questions. Why? What does that mean? What drew you from Jesus? Indeed, speaking of Jesus, he famously asked significant questions as part of healing. Who touched me? What do you want me to do for you? Wilt though be made whole? Asking is divine and powerful. Knowing that, and taking the time now to ask, changes everything.

As for Alana, she’d have to answer this question for herself, but I think she’d say she and I both learned that making peace is a journey. Not a destination. And we walk the peace road day by day. Making peace is a choice, and some days you mess up. You goof up. Say the wrong thing. Act immature. Forget to forgive. But the journey allows you to try again the next day. In that way, walking a peace path takes the drama out of relationships. Oops, I goofed. Tomorrow I’ll do better. 

David: How would you characterize your relationship today?

Patricia Courageous! I am grateful to God that, now, we’re not afraid of making mistakes in our relationship. We can talk without holding our breath. We try to tell the truth. If she asks what’s wrong, I feel free to truly answer. I believe she feels the same. Yes, a faith conflict provoked our decision to work for peace, but beyond faith, we’ve learned to talk about all sorts of things. Even more, I find myself relating better to others. A bonus!

David: Using your personal reconciliation as a model, what can white and black Americans learn about finding harmony?

Patricia: First, come clean. Admit there’s a problem. We’re seeing that in the South where people are finally talking about the hurtful symbolism of the Confederate flag. For too long, many whites insisted the flag was a symbol of Southern pride. About “heritage.” That was a lie. It was a racist symbol–and always was. Sadly, it took the murder of 9 innocent Black church members by an avowed white racist who waved the flag for people to finally say this flag is a problem. 

When people can admit they’re at an impasse, even if they don’t know yet how to fix it, then they’re ready to start the enduring work of healing.

David: What do you wish the Western world knew about Muslims?

Patricia: We need to know there are 1.5 billion Muslims in the world and most aren’t extremists. From there, if we’re followers of Christ, we need to love the Muslims we encounter as we would love ourselves. Jesus said it like this: Love thy neighbor as yourself. From there, if someone is led to learn more about Muslims, order some books. Talk to people in the know. 

David: In the face of ISIS and new threats, how should Christians react?

Patricia: Not with fear. The psalmist, in Psalm 27, said this:

“The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?

The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
    of whom shall I be afraid?”  (Psalm 27:1 NIV)

Remembering this, and being anxious for nothing, we can pray. For demented hearts to be changed. For ISIS followers to see the light of Christ. Think of the Apostle Paul who once persecuted Christians as a profession! (Sound familiar?) But on the road to Damascus, in the heart of the Middle East, he was blinded by the light of Christ and was changed. Praying for this kind if transformation in the hearts and minds of ISIS activists, or in anybody, is divine work. So, yes, let’s pray.

 

Meantime, God didn’t give us a spirit of fear, but of power and a sound mind. So we should be discerning and wise, but ask the Lord to rebuke our fear. Then, in every situation, “by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7 NIV). To that, let’s all say amen!

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Watch Alana and Patricia in an interview with Guideposts Magazine below:

When children disappoint

“How could this child have come from us?”

I read the words of Arlene Holmes and my heart stopped. Her son is the young man who went on a rampage in the Aurora movie theater, killing 12 and wounding 70.

“Grief and alienation” is how the Denver Post describes the feelings of the parents of James Holmes. There is no disputing the fact that their son killed people without regard. The only thing left for the jury to decide is if he was crazy or a cold-blooded killer. Either of those are terrible conclusions for a parent.

Dylan Roof, who killed nine in a Charleston church forever impacted the families of the victims, also leaving his own family in disbelief.  All they could do is extend their symathy and make a statement, “Words cannot express our shock, grief, and disbelief as to what happened that night. We are devastated and saddened by what occurred.”

The theater shooting happened in my city, which was also the home of the Columbine school shooting. The parents of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were equally horrified.

“It was impossible to believe that someone I had raised could cause so much suffering,” said Susan Klebod.

The New York Times interviewed the Klebolds and the interviewer, Andrew Solomon concluded this:

I began convinced that if I dug deeply enough into their character, I would understand why Columbine happened — that I would recognize damage in their household that spilled over into catastrophe. Instead, I came to view the Klebolds not only as inculpable, but as admirable, moral, intelligent and kind people whom I would gladly have had as parents myself.

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We must not blame the parents

We always look for answers and ask the question “Why” when it comes to tragedy. As I reasoned before, this is the one question that cannot be answered. Eventually, every criminal’s family is dragged into the spotlight. The grieving mother, the shamed father, the heartbroken grandmother all wring their hands and wonder, “what could we have done differently.”

When I watch the news of those who have gone astray I think of the mothers who are weeping, the fathers who hold their faces in their hands. Every teen pregnancy, every child who has entered a cult, every person who has turned on the faith of his father, brings anguish.

I have a pastor friend whose son is addicted to heroin. I have a friend whose daughter renounced her Christian faith and began a relationship with lesbian lover. You know the stories all too well – and maybe they are in your family.

It’s likely you haven’t raised a mass murderer or one has committed a terrible public crime. Still, you are disappointed. You can tick off the ways they have let you down, going against your beliefs, your customs, your family.

I don’t want to connect the Klebold family to your family situation — some leaps are simply too great. But we have all wondered at times, “where did I go wrong?”

Sins of the father, sins of the son

You are not alone! The number of perfect children in this world are far and few between. Job’s children rebelled. Gideon’s son killed dozens of his own siblings. Samuel’s sons didn’t walk with God. Neither did Eli’s. Some of David’s children were terrible. One was a king.

We seem to forget that we are not guilty for either the sins of the father nor the sins of the son. Ezekiel 18:20 reads, “The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself.”

Parents are responsible for what we teach our children, not what the children do with what they were taught.

I never killed anyone or committed a crime. But still, I disappointed my parents. I didn’t always make them proud. I wrecked their car once. I got into a fight. I lost a job.

And my siblings disappointed my parents. I have a brother who turned his back on them and let them go to their graves in heartbroken sadness.

And my children have disappointed me. While my chest puffs in pride, I still think they have made choices and suffered consequences that could have been avoided. As adults, I sometimes wish they would do things differently. But I try to give them the space they need to wrestle with life – and God – on their terms. My beliefs cannot be theirs. My values cannot be theirs. My faith cannot be theirs. It must come from their own depth and conviction.

My friend Patricia Raybon ** wrote a marvelous book, Undivided,  about her relationship with her daughter who converted to Islam. Yes, she was disappointed, but she never quit loving her child. They have found a way to communicate, to learn, and to embrace their differences.

And that is your calling.

Love your daughter.

Love your son.

Love your God and let Him work.

** (Watch for an interview with Patricia in this space later this week)

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Parents
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I don’t hate you. I just disagree with your position.

For once in my life, I actually decided to think before I spoke.

I’ve let the whole thing slow down to a dull roar before jumping in. The emotions surrounding the gay marriage decision by the Supreme Court in May were running high – and still are in many quarters. Rainbow flags are flying, hashtags are tweeting and the rhetoric is thick. Some are smiling. Some are disheartened. A few don’t care.

Observers who call this a “historic decision,” are accurate. With at least 10,000 years in the books, traditional marriage has been the norm. And this new definition opens our society to a brave, new world of unknown consequences. I won’t add to the debate, but let me address one particular repugnant and pervasive response I’ve seen the last few days.

“The haters have lost. #LoveWins.”

Hater?

It snuck up on me, but now it seems that any opposition to an idea or principle, regardless of the argument is deemed “hateful.” This modern use of the word “hate” is ruinous – and shouldn’t be used with such disregard. It’s Orwellian. It’s oppressive. It’s dangerous.

You might use this term as a label for others today, but what happens when the day comes and it’s used against you?

May I have the freedom, the respect to disagree with the decision? May I have the ability to disagree with an action? May I have the liberty to disagree with conclusions? May I stand with an opinion without being called a “hater?”

Afraid to speak up

I have been surrounded by a number of people throughout my life that do not regard homosexual behavior as the normative. But this isn’t a single issue. To them, it’s not the worst thing in life. It’s not the most vile. It’s not the great evil. We have plenty of human behavior in our own ranks to fix. I have never heard or seen a peer, family, or friend “hate the gay.”  I don’t speak for everyone, but it’s not a rampant emotion.

Fred Phelps and his family are not Christians — they do not speak for us.

To the contrary, I’ve seen a great deal love. My church – a fairly large and substantial Evangelical church – had a message from the pulpit that invited every gay man or woman to attend, to stay and to be in fellowship. I’ve had good friends, who happened to be gay, that never felt this supposed hate from me, even though they knew my stand.

So many of us are afraid to speak, to have an opinion or a discussion for fear of being labeled a hater.

Is it possible to disagree with you without hating you?  Is it possible to use logic and reason and discussion without being throw into the hate-pile to be burned?

Both sides of the aisle use this language. Christians who feel slighted are using the “Don’t hate me bro” defense. I’ve heard people accuse others of hating Hobby Lobby – or Chik Fil A, because they oppose their stands on issues.

Can we stop the hate talk?

Taking a position on policy, or lifestyle, or decisions doesn’t mean that I am coming after your character. It’s quite probable that I can disagree with you and still like you  — even love you. Reasonable humans can do this.

If I think that a country should be able to define and enforce its border, it doesn’t mean I hate immigrants. If I think God defines marriage and not a court, I don’t hate same sex couples. If I think schools shouldn’t be afraid to talk about the concept of God in history, doesn’t mean I hate atheists. Candidates don’t hate children, old people, or women.

When the Bible tells me to love, it’s a matter of the heart and the soul.  It doesn’t mean that I need to make excuses for behavior or overlook a fallen nature. I love their person, their being regardless of how they act. We love because by doing so it might help them into a right relationship with God.

You see, it’s the world that has the concept of love and hate all messed up, not the church.

When the woman was ready to be stoned, Jesus by his persuasive logic of love caused the accusers to melt away. Out of compassion, out of love, he saved her life. But then he said, “Go and sin no more.”  He didn’t hate her, but he still told her change her ways. His love changed the conversation, and so can ours.

You want tolerance. You want acceptance. Start with me. Start with my friends. Respect that we will disagree on certain things without calling us names, without labeling us as hateful.

I know there are some — and you may be quick to point them out — that have blurred the lines between disagreement and hate. Yup. They are there. But they are not me. They are not my Lord.

This quote by Rick Warren just about sums it up:

 “Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”

 

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Looking at race — Through their eyes

Unsettled.

There it is again.

This has been happening plenty lately as I’ve gone to the Middle East, marched with Ethiopians and now this.

It’s just three days after the horrific shooting in a church in Charleston. Nine people, open bibles, heads bowed, seeking God. They should have been safe. They shouldn’t have to worry about murder and death.  Mothers. Fathers. Sisters. And a pastor…gone, snuffed out by a man bent on starting a war between the races What he didn’t know is that he actually might have ignited a campaign of love. 

What he intended for evil, God will use for good.

We sat outside the Denver Shorter African Methodist Episcopal Church. Not a single part of the long name resonated with my being or background, except “Church”.

“What are we doing here?” Yet God told me to do this…

I was first moved after I heard the love and forgiveness given by the family of those who were killed on Friday. Did you see that? I forgive you, my family forgives you,” said Anthony Thompson. “We would like you to take this opportunity to repent. … Do that and you’ll be better off than you are right now.” What manner of love is this?

The families aren’t demanding riots or protests or violence. They are calling for repentance for Dylan. They are calling for repentance for a nation. Are we listening?

And then I heard Glenn Beck who went to Charleston just to pray and show love. He said this “Something has begun and it has nothing to do with politics. It has everything to do with LOVE.” An MSNBC anchor heard those prayers and the songs and got choked up, and even said “amen” on the air. Two sides, completely opposite, moved by something greater.

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Going there

So what is a middle-aged white guy in Denver supposed to do? I can’t fix the bigger problems in society. But I’ve been prompted by friend and editor Deidra Riggs to “go there” when it comes to race and building relationships. And Iranian Christian ‎Helen Abdali Soosan Fagan has been encouraging me to go outside of myself.  I had to go there. Maybe not Charleston, but to the AME church in Denver, whose pastor was personal friends with the slain Charleston pastor.

Admittedly, we wondered how we would be received. After all, it was a white man who sat in the middle of  prayer service that killed the Charleston nine. We bowed and prayed before we went in — not knowing if we would be intruding. There were politicians there … and media. “Please God, not a sideshow, please.” But from the moment we walked in, we were loved. We were welcomed and received with warmth. It was great to sit near my new friend, Patricia Rayon. But even if she wasn’t there, we would have felt at home.

The sermon was out of Job, and the passage focused on the words, “the Lord restores.” Job lost everything, and yet God restored Job with all that…and more.

“We might endure for a night, but job comes in the morning. God will restore. God will make a way. God will show up.”

Pastor Timothy Tyler preached with passion. He was forceful. He was emotional. And he had every right to be. He lost his friend for no reason, except to evil. “I was mad a God. I couldn’t pray. I couldn’t talk to Him. But people who are mad at God have great faith, because you can’t be mad at someone you don’t believe in.”

He also spoke out against the rush to forgive. “First, we must grieve.”

And grieve they did …and we cried with them.

AME Church
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I’m pretty sheltered. I’ve never suffered like so many others. I’ve always been employed. I’ve never been unjustly arrested. I’ve never been at the end of a racist joke or been pulled over just for looking a certain way.

But my lack of experience in your world doesn’t disqualify me from caring.

Friends, you are not alone.

Reflections on Charleston: The one question without an answer

It used to be the two safest places in our society were our schools and our churches.But those havens of rest are now targets for those who wish to destroy.

A prayer meeting at a black church in Charleston was the scene of a shooter’s rage earlier this week.

Within minutes, people were looking for motives. We always want to know “Why?” It’s our first reaction when we hear about a child dying, or a couple divorcing, or a neighborhood flooded. “Why?” is the soul looking of reason in an unreasonable world, searching for order in disorder, seeking hope in despair.

I don’t know why and neither do you.

Sure he was white and the worshipers were black. And he’s from the south. And he probably drove a pickup. “Conclusive proof” some will say.He could have been an anarchist. Or an atheist. Or mentally disturbed. He might have been a conservative or a liberal.

Even if you fill in any of those holes with labels, you really won’t be able to answer the question, “Why?”

And some are blaming the gun. “If only we had gun control, this wouldn’t have happened.” We have laws outlawing drugs, and yet we still have the scourge. There are laws against child pornography, and yet every day a child is violated. There are thousands of laws on the books, but they do not stop the law breaker.

Take away the gun but you still will be left with the hanging question, “Why?”

whyEvil doesn’t always have a root cause. It just is. We’ll pour through his social media, his video rentals, the books on his shelf, and his television favorites, looking for clues.  The world is spinning on its own, with chaos and disorder pushing at the boundaries of good and righteous. And we push back, kicking at the darkness till it bleeds daylight.

We stand arm in arm with those who are hurt, losing loved ones and friends. And we stand with those who weren’t directly impacted, but feel targeted because of their race or their religion.

Don’t be afraid. Every time fear and doubt creep into my life; I shake it out like a dirty rug. I stand firm, “because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.” 1 Tim 1. 12. 

He is really the only answer to the question.

Pick your person: Can you really self-identify a different reality?

As an adolescent boy I remember watching the Olympics for the first time on our small television with the rabbit ears that had to be pointed in-just-the-right-direction. Winning medal after medal,  my hero was a man’s man.

Now, he says he no longer wants to identify with his physical makeup. He “self-identifies” as a woman.

And yesterday I read of a woman who is “self identifying” as a different race in order to obtain jobs and standing as a minority.

These two are personifying a greater trend. We are living in a time when fantasy is the new reality.  We are allowing people to deny science, fact, and  truth and simply accept and identify with whatever they’ve created.

My own reality

I’m sorry, but there are some things we cannot self-identify. You are what you are. I am what I am.

I cannot self identify to be a 12 year-old boy, just so I can get a discount at the movie theater. I cannot self-identify to be handicapped so I get a close-in parking spot. I cannot self identify as Royalty and live in the Queen’s palace.

I have to deal with my reality.

There are some things about my physical appearance I wish I could change. I dislike the 20 pounds I seem to have carried my whole life. My chin is sharp and my eyes are narrow. I cannot self identify as a Tom Cruise.

I am also a cheater, a liar, a self-promoter, and a manipulator, having taken on those roles and sins at one point or another in my life. For extended periods of my life, I’ve been a bad friend, husband, father, brother, and son. I cannot self-identify as a spotless man.

Here’s a way out

But there’s a way I can slip out of this reality and take on another identity:
Colossians 1. 21-22 says this:

“And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.”

I’m not stuck with all the labels that others have draped over my head. I’m a realist, but I have found tremendous freedom in this Christ-identity.

I feel sorry for these people and every other person who loathes themselves so much that they feel the need to create an alternate personhood. But there are deeper things going on, things that have need a Savior’s hand.

I want to tell them there is an out, a way to change who they they think they are.

Let it go.

That’s it.

Let it go.

Take on Jesus and let him create a new you.  Holy. Blameless. Perfect.

Is it possible that persecution will actually save the church?

We read the reports and hear the news. The church’s influence is waning. The tide of culture is crashing, sweeping our morals, our structure,  and our ability to have impact in the world. No longer dominant, no longer in control, Christians are shrinking to minority positions.

And in that vacuum, the opposition is coming in. We see it in our culture, with laws and regulations that run counter to our beliefs. We see the state take the minds of the children away from their “fundamentalist” children and school them in the proper secularist society.

And true persecution marches on through many places in our world with beheadings, rapes, and enslavement of Christians for their faith.

Despite the bad news, I think these days may one day be viewed with reverence. This could be the dawn of a great awakening. It happened once in the town of Kerak Jordan…

Every Christian family was removed

We drove through this town with cement homes and broad smiling faces. Occupied since the 9th century B.C,  Kerak  is a town known for its towering Crusader castle, one of the largest still standing. It stands as an ominous sign of the back-and-forth struggle between Muslims and Christians going back generations.

Our group of writers were invited to interview the local Catholic priest. “But only for 20 minutes, because I have a wedding to perform.”

We were uncomfortable with the imposition, but he insisted not only that we talk to him, but we also stay for the wedding. It was amazing. Full of joyous celebration and  women throwing ulalations,  I didn’t understand a word of the service, but I understood the meaning and implication. Two Christians — joining under God. Continuing their faith in marriage.

Kerak Wedding
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The town of Kerak has about 65,000 residents and many of them are Christians, one of the highest percentages in Jordan.  But the in the middle 1800’s the town had an interesting upheaval.

It was the days of the old Ottoman Empire and the tribe that comprised the Christian minority was in the middle of a struggle. Many lives were lost until the prevailing government authority stepped in and removed the 90 Christian families for their own safety. A few sympathetic Muslim families went with them.

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90 Christian Familes were forceably removed

They were given choices: Go to Syria. Or they could have boarded a boat and been relocated to South America. But they chose to stay in their own country and were moved to Madaba, an ancient Moabite town.  It was sacked by the Persians in 615, and the earthquake of 747 completed its ruin. It stood abandoned for more than 1000 years until these Christian families settled here. It was they, in the process of rebuilding, who began to find hundreds of rich mosaics buried under the rubble.

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A Mosaic in Madaba

The ancient Babylonians used the multi-colored rock quarries to produce mosaics and tiled art in nearly every corner of the city. The new Christian settlers were encouraged to discover – and preserve these mosaics.  People have been uncovering mosaics in the most unlikely of locations. Today, it’s nothing to refinish a floor in a home and during the excavation to find an ancient mosaic floor.  And it’s a heritage they are proud of and protect.Now known as the Mosiac City, the town has prospered in tourism, commerce, and peace.

There is an ancient map, dating from the 6th century, which maps out the entire known Middle East. With two million pieces of colored stone, it’s a tremendous finding.  I stood over it, amazed at the rich depth of a map that didn’t use satellite technology, rather the tales of travelers and carefully measured landmarks.

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The magnificent floor map in Madaba St. George church

Can we prosper despite persecution?

I’m sure that persecution in the middle 18th century was in no way soft or a little threatening. It came at the edge of an angry sword or a wild-eyed enemy. And for those that escaped death, their fate was forced relocation. To some, to be uprooted from your home and sent to a place that is not yours was a punishment more painful than the dagger.

But in a strange way, God was at work in the middle of this tumult. These families moved and yet they still prospered. And this new town of Madaba has some farm land and it had some rocks. ”We could make something here!” 150 years later, I was able to see a town that had made it. And I’ve met a number of people who claim a heritage to this town who are impacting the world.

All of this is because of a painful time and a literal uprooting.

What about the wandering Jew?

I think about the Jews – persecuted as no other religious group. In every culture, in every land they have been minimized, persecuted, and marginalized. But they stick to their ways, trust their God, and cling to their families. And they not only survive, but thrive.

And we love to cherry-pick promises about faith and love and children. But how about this one?

If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you… If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you… because they do not know Him who sent Me.”

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Pray for the persecuted church

I’m not sure if this is any comfort to those who are on the run from ISIS persecution in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Nigeria. I’m not sure the father who leads his family across the desert at night is thinking about influence 150 years away. But persecution has a way of making us prioritize what is important in our lives.

I know that “a shaking” is going on. This present terror in the Middle East will not stop there. It will come to our own land, and maybe your backyard.

How deep is your faith?  And what would you give up to keep it?

Video, “My Jordan Journey”

Last month took part in a writer’s tour of Jordan. I met some amazing people and experienced a trip that changed my life. Safe, interesting and expansive to the soul and the mind, it’s “The Other Holy Land” in my opinion.

While I was over there, a group of four of us were part of a short, four-minute video where we reflected on our pilgrimage.

This was shot in the middle of a Bedouin camp in the Wadi Rum desert. I wanted to spend the night in the tent…but the group had other plans.

Crazy, but there’s been more than 55,000 views of this in just a month. So, I guess it’s time to share.

In case you don’t know, I’m the guy with head wrap on the right!

Journey to Jordan from N. Connor Eberhart on Vimeo.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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..

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