Thinking Out Loud

June 7, 2018

A Ramadan Lesson for Christians

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:00 am

img 060718Guest post by Lorne Anderson

There are two weeks left in the month in which Muslims have a religious obligation to fast during daylight hours. Most of those reading this probably haven’t given that much thought.

When Ramadan falls in December the fast is relatively easy. Not so at this time of year, where there is 15 hours between sunrise and sunset where I live. It’s a total fast – no water allowed either.

It is a spiritual discipline that puts most Christians to shame. Mind you, it comes more from fear than grace. Many Muslims fast more due to social pressures than out of any religious conviction.

What conversations are you having with your Muslim neighbors this month? Have you talked about their fast, or about Christian traditions of fasting, and the differences? Have you shared the love and freedom that Jesus brings? Has your church done anything to reach out to the Muslim community?

I ask this because I was at a fast-breaking event on the first Saturday of Ramadan. It was a community event, families coming together to share a meal. More than that, it was an outreach event But it wasn’t put on by Christians — this was a Muslim outreach..

Members of this particular Muslim community had been told they should invite their non-Muslim friends to share the meal. Looking around the room it seemed to me that most had either not bothered or been unsuccessful. There were obviously very few of us who were not part of the tribe. In that way it reminded me of some church outreach events I have attended – we too aren’t always good at inviting our friends to our events.

Language was an issue, as this is an immigrant community. The woman who invited me is a language school classmate. After four months we have enough German for extremely simple conversations, but have not yet reached the point where we can touch on faith matters. And neither of us speaks the other’s mother tongue.

The organizers though recognized that could be an issue. There was a German-born Muslim who made sure to stop by any table with visitors. He is the one who talked about their community and Ramadan and how they wanted to share with those around them. At least I think that is what he was saying. Certainly he was there to put people at ease, to be the smiling face of Islam. After all, anyone there was probably likely to be somewhat open-minded –  they came because of a relationship they already had with a Muslim. If it wasn’t a positive one, they wouldn’t have come to the meal.

Which got me to thinking. Two things really.

The first is, how well do we do at outreach to those not of our tribe? We have events at Christmas, Easter and other times of the year, but how many personal invitations do we make to non-Christian friends? Few, judging from the events I have attended. I know I probably haven’t done enough. We can’t ever do enough. And how easy is it for someone not of our tribe to just walk through the door?

The second thing is, what are we doing from Ramadan? No, I am not suggesting adopting the fast or emulating Islamic legalism. But Ramadan is more than just fasting, it is a daily cycle of deprivation and celebration, with a huge party at the end of the month.

It is probably too late to organize an end-of-Ramadan outreach event, for this year anyway. But there is nothing to stop you from inviting your Muslim neighbors to join your family for a fast-breaking meal in your home sometime in the next week or so. Yes, that means a late night, you won’t be eating until after nine. And don’t forget the dietary restrictions, so you don’t embarrass yourself and your guests. It is a perfect tie to show Christian hospitality.

Many Muslims are immigrants. They have often been met with fear and suspicion in their new countries. They come from countries where family and community are extremely important – and they may never have been invited into to a family home in their new country. They see this new country as being Christian – and being deficient in hospitality. You can change that perception.

This month is Ramadan. How are you observing it?

Lorne Anderson blogs daily at Random Thoughts from Lorne

July 28, 2017

Jewish Synagogue Not Interested in New Recruits

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:30 am

Paul’s Perspective:

“Judaism is not a missionary religion.”

That was the reply from a fellow-visitor to the Jewish Synagogue district in Prague, Czech Republic who seconds later, I learned was also Jewish. He was responding to a comment I made to the effect that whatever the goals were of this particular tourist attraction, proselytizing was not one of them. They weren’t really trying to make new friends.

On entry — just 30 feet from where we paid our admission — we were told that the rather pricey admission fee we had paid did not include the audio headphones with tour guide. Furthermore there were no signs anywhere explaining what we were seeing or its significance.

The admission actually includes five different sites, and there is an optional extra of a sixth one. The first consists mostly of three rooms with walls which list the names of Jews who were exterminated during the Nazi regime. It’s sobering, to say the least.

The Jewish cemetery followed. Eavesdropping on the guides from some of the bus tours passing through provided some additional background, given our lack of the personal audio tour. There were two other sites which had been set up as museums and then our last visit was to the Spanish synagogue which is still used as a house of worship…

…I think we went out of respect and because Judaism is the root out of which the Christian faith was birthed. But like so many church sites in Europe, it was all rooted in the past. If this was an opportunity to introduce the faith to a broader number of people, it was an opportunity missed. Furthermore, while it wasn’t seeker friendly — as I noted in my comment above — it would have helped if it had been just plain friendly.

Instead, the attraction seemed like a cash grab. I realize my comments here are superficial and don’t get at the actual content of the place, which is in part to narrate the history of Judaism in the former Czechoslovakia and also the impact of the Nazi occupation. But they’re also representing a faith family and I felt the superficial elements overshadowed the larger story. It doesn’t take much imagination to visualize this working so much better with interpreters answering tourists’ questions about their religion.

The final straw was when, in a country where one pays to use public toilets, a British man was one coin short and was shown no grace; no mercy; earning this review, “Thank you for kindness — not!”  

Ruth’s Perspective

Setting aside the commerce and the ticket scanning and stamping (and the troll squatting outside the washroom barring entry), the way I’ll remember this experience is the reverse of the way we were actually directed through.

My mind goes first to the living active synagogue filled with life and colour and artistry, then down the street to the exhibition showing and explaining items used in the life passages of observant Jews – birth, bris, bar and bat mitzvah, weddings and burials – then down the stairs to the museum of historical furnishings of worship like Torah covers and synagogue curtains and offering urns.

Then through the gate to the centuries old cemetery holding and remembering generations of those who lived the life.

Only then do my thoughts step through the door into the quiet, bright rooms filled with the names of people (the youngest age I saw was 10, the oldest 88) ripped from their homes and lives, never having the chance to walk so much of their faith’s journey or to end up in cherished earth. The rooms that will break your heart.

November 16, 2014

Bruxy Cavey | The Meeting House | The Rise of ISIS | Part Two

We continue our weekend with The Meeting House Church in Greater Toronto. In part two, teaching pastor Bruxy Cavey spends time interviewing a spokesperson for a Toronto-area mosque.

Depending on the timing of its release on Monday, we might be able to put all three episodes back-to-back here. So subscribers should expect that Monday’s post might be late.

December 4, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Awkward Moments Children's Bible

This week, many links that will be of interest to pastors and church leaders, along with the usual dash of quirkiness. The list is posted each week at Out of Ur, a blog of Leadership Today, a division of Christianity Today. Click here to read.

Looking for more substance, why not click over to Christianity 201.

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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