Thinking Out Loud

February 17, 2011

Musings on Muslims

I found it interesting that the following items arrived within a few hours of each other.

First, a friend sent me this link to veteran Christian composer, musician and author John Fischer’s blog Catch, just after the link list was already out.  He’s a great writer, who I encourage you to read regularly, but knowing the click-ratio, I’m taking the liberty of posting this so it will get read:

This morning I had the opportunity of hearing Dave Robinson speak at a Women of Vision Orange County Partnership Breakfast. Dave is the Senior Advisor for Operations for World Vision International. He has also lived most of his life as a Christian amongst Muslim people, and this is what I have to say about that: Why don’t we let this man inform our thinking and our activity towards Muslim people in this country and around the world instead of listening to a man who has lived in suburban America all his life and whose only claim to understanding Muslims is the fact that he is a popular radio talk show host? Why were 75 people listening to what the qualified man said and hundreds of thousands listening to the other? Why is fear more popular than reason?

Among a number of stories Mr. Anderson imparted was this one. In the wake of initial U.S. successes in Iraq, a moderate Muslim man said to Dave, “America is great.” To which he responded, “No. God is great,” which is actually a very common Muslim phrase of worship not unlike our Christian, “Praise the Lord.”

“Are you Muslim?” asked the man excitedly when he heard that.

After some thought, Dave replied, “I am a student of Jesus Christ.”

Notice he didn’t say, “I am a Christian,” which would have put him at odds with the Muslim man. Actually, Muslims are students of Jesus Christ too.

“Initiate open ended conversations that will eventually lead to Jesus,” Anderson said over and over. “Seek common ground even though the core of the message is missing.”

How often do we do that?

Last September, we had as global crisis on our hands because a pastor in Florida wanted to burn a copy of the Koran in retaliation for the memory of 9/11/2001.  Anderson said that had he succeeded, it would have ended World Vision’s presence in any and all Muslim countries of the world.

Seek common ground. Initiate open-ended conversations that will eventually lead to Jesus. Not a bad way to operate with everyone. Cast aside fear and get smart.

John Fischer (italics added)

Then, I received this report from my son about the Campus Church meeting they had on Sunday night at his university:

…Campus Church and the Muslim Student Association are having a joint event called “The Life of Jesus (Peace Be Upon Him)” where representatives from Islam and Christianity are going to present their views of who Jesus Christ was and what he did on Earth 2000 years ago.

In preparation, Campus Church invited a Muslim cleric to come to a Christian worship service to speak about Islam.

After a time of singing, the imam …. was introduced.  He spoke for 20 minutes and took questions for 20 minutes.  [He] claimed to be an expert on Christianity among Muslims, but he said Mary (Jesus’ mother) was a member of the Trinity, and he thought Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christians.  He told us that the Bible is useless because it’s become corrupted by Hindu stories and theology.  He said that the words of Allah are meant to be obeyed and not studied, and that Bible studies amount to “pooling our ignorance.”

He left in a hurry after taking questions, during which he told us that Hell is a second test-life that, given indefinite time, we’re guaranteed to eventually pass and reach paradise.  Paradise consists of lots of good food and rivers of alcohol-free wine. (He didn’t say anything about 72 virgins.)

After [he] left, we held a debrief.  …[A] Campus Church member polled the audience and found that there was a mix of anger, resentment and compassion, because [the guest speaker] was disrespectful, but he sounded like he really did want to serve God, although he was seriously mislead as to how this should be done.

After this, [the guest] came back in and was re-introduced, but this time we learned his real name … he’s a Christian minister who goes around teaching Christians how to minister to Muslims.  He has spent years ministering to Muslims and Hindus and studying their arguments against Christianity (including their misconceptions about us).

…To communicate Christ to the Muslims in attendance, we need to be loving and compassionate towards them.  We also have been told to be quick on the Scripture quotes and know our stuff, but not to be argumentative.  The temptation to argue out of pride, just because we like to be right, is hostile to this event. [He] said that for every hour we spend studying the Qu’ran, we should spent four hours in God’s Word (which basically means nobody should try to read it through by Wednesday.)

BTW, here’s how the event went:

Tonight was the Muslim/Christian discussion about Jesus.  [The speaker from Sunday night] was our representative.  The representative for Islam …was introduced with an impressive resume of titles.  There was no violence, interruptions or raised voices…

…The details of Muslim judgment day make it difficult for them to understand the sacrifice of Jesus.  They believe that everyone has an angel dedicated to recording all their actions, words and intentions.  They don’t know until after judgment day whether or not they’re good enough to get into heaven.

The Muslims I spoke to were very respectful, and they were particularly respectful in that they anticipated us being equally respectful.

I don’t think their notions of holiness, justice and sin fit together.

And so the dialog continues.

Right now North American Evangelical churches see the “current issue” as the “gay issue.”  But we need to somehow get past this and move the “Muslim issue” —  our knowledge and understanding of their faith and how they perceive us and how they regard Jesus — off the back burner and more front and center in our church life.

The topic for this blog post is inter-faith dialog.  Please keep comments limited to that subject.


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January 17, 2011

Realignment of Horoscope Signs Changes Everything For Followers

At risk of repeating myself, I don’t believe in astrology, but then again, us Geminis are naturally skeptical. [add rim shot here]

But for those who do, the signs they are a-changing.  And if you were born November 29th to December 17th, you’re now a Ophiuchus.  A what?  (Click the image at right for a look at the revised calendar)

I’ve written here before about how astrology is very much a religion, a faith system requiring as much faith as any other.  It’s also a unique faith group that gets free daily newspaper space in about every daily in the western world. But what do followers of that religion do when they wake up one morning and open their newspaper only to find out that their religion has undergone a transformation?

It would be like being a follower of The Worldwide Church of God only to wake up and find that the leader has recanted his beliefs.  Oh wait, that did happen when Joseph W. Tkach, Sr. began moving the group toward more evangelical beliefs.

It would be like being a devout Catholic who regularly prays the three sets of mysteries of the rosary only to wake up one morning and find that there are now four sets of mysteries.  Oh wait, that did happen when Pope John Paul introduced the Luminous Mysteries.

But before Evangelicals get too smug, it would also be like being told you can’t play sports on Sunday only to be told that it’s now permissible and in fact, there’s a volleyball game in the church gym coming up this Sunday afternoon.  Or grow up believing that women can’t preach or be church elders, only to find yourself in a church today where the majority of the church board right now is actually female, one of whom preached last week.

But I’m getting off topic.  And I don’t need to be reminded that Jesus Christ is the same; yesterday, today and forever. The fundamentals of Christianity are unchanged. (And I’d equally expect someone to comment that fundamentals of astrology are unchanged, too.)

The Minneapolis-St. Paul Star-Tribune (motto: Hyphens are our middle name) reports three types of reactions to the changes:

Defiance: “Dude, I’m a Leo and always will be a Leo, no matter where the sun is on August 5th. Besides, this very expensive tattoo on my right shoulder tells me so.”

Consternation: “Darn it, the whole time I thought I was an introvert, now to find out that I’m an extrovert. I’m going to need awhile to unravel my life.”

Delight: “Upgrade from Cancer to Gemini. Woo!”

The changes are based on an earlier article the newspaper published:

In the article, [Parke] Kunkle affirmed that since the Babylonian zodiac periods were established millennia ago, the moon’s gravitational pull has made the Earth “wobble” around its axis in a process called precession. That has created about a one-month bump in the stars’ alignment, meaning that “when [astrologers] say that the sun is in ­Pisces, it’s really not in Pisces,” said Kunkle, who teaches astronomy courses at Minneapolis Community and Technical College.

And then there’s that entirely new star sign.

By the reckoning of Kunkle and other astronomers, astrologers are not only a month off in their zodiac signs, but they are neglecting a 13th constellation, Ophiuchus (Ooh-FEE-yew-kus) the Serpent Bearer, for those born from Nov. 30 to Dec. 17.

According to myth, Ophiuchus became a healer when he killed a snake and another appeared with an herb in his mouth that revived the dead one.

“The sun has been going through Ophiuchus for thousands of years,” said Kunkle, who says that his sign is “vegetarian.”

Linda Zlotnick, an astrologer for 32 years in St. Paul, said she and fellow astrologers have long known of the issue raised by Kunkle, but that the most commonly used zodiac — tropical — isn’t affected by it

So is Kunkle simply starting a sect, splinter-group, or dare I say ‘cult’ among devotees of the daily horoscope?

Time to call in the experts for the last word on this:

A spokeswoman for the American Federation of Astrologers, Shelley Ackerman, said she’d been swamped with e-mails from worried clients. She advises them not to overreact.

“This doesn’t change your chart at all. I’m not about to use it,” she said. “Every few years, a story like this comes out and scares the living daylights out of everyone, but it’ll go away as quickly as it came.”

That should make one demographic happy — people with zodiac tattoos.

So has your “faith” ever been shaken by major announcements by leaders?  For my daily Christian readers, what are the dealbreakers for you?  Creation/evolution?  Women’s role?  Bible versions?  Rapture/end-times? Worship music styles?  Got a story to tell?

Read more at the Star-Tribune at this story from January 14th

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