Thinking Out Loud

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.

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October 27, 2016

Why I Fear Islam

Filed under: Christianity, Religion — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:51 am

Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor and is also the regular mid-week contributor to Christianity 201. Recently I asked him to consider writing something for readers here at Thinking Out Loud…

img-102716Why I Fear Islam

by Clarke Dixon

I fear Islam because I am a Baptist.

Now before we go any further, I should point out that I don’t fear Muslims. I have yet to meet a Muslim in person that I felt the need to fear. I remember one Muslim gentleman lamenting to me how his children were not attending Mosque as he would like and were instead becoming too secularized. It sounded all too familiar, being the kind of thing I hear from Christian parents. As people, we share much in our humanity.

What I fear is the religion of Islam. I fear what it can do to a society. I fear what it can do to Muslims.

I fear Islam because I am a Baptist. I figure that if Christianity is true then the most original version is the best example. So as a Baptist, I stand in the Protestant tradition of protesting against the excesses of the Roman Catholic tradition and against conformity to the Church of England.

There is a lot of history leading up to the birth of the Baptist movement in 17th century England, but it can be basically summed up with: “Let us get back to the Bible and strip away all the traditions that have accumulated over the years. Let us do our best to model our faith and practice after Jesus and the earliest of Christians we learn of in the New Testament.” Obviously we don’t always do this very well, but at least we try.

As we do this, we discover an inherent separation of Church and State. Jesus never tried to take political control over a state. Instead he called individuals to follow him, even calling them to pick up a cross and follow. Pick up a cross and not a sword, as most revolutionaries would have called for instead. Die by Roman power, rather than fight against it. Jesus also warned his followers not to get caught up in the Jewish rebellion against Rome that was to happen soon (Mark 13:14). They were not to get caught up in a political rebellion. The earliest followers of Jesus were not about setting up political machinery. They were concerned with reaching every individual with the Good News that Jesus is Lord and Saviour. Yes, that meant sometimes not listening to the authorities and preaching up instead of quieting down. Yes, that included reaching and preaching to the political leaders themselves. Even Caesar should realize that Jesus is Lord, not he himself. But there was not a sense of political revolution in the air. This was a revolution of the heart and there was no compulsion. The Gospel was an offer to be preached, not a movement to be enforced. Christianity was not spread by military means but by preaching and teaching, even though military members were welcome, too.

So as a Baptist I want to get back to the original. To do that, I study the Bible, doing my best to understand the context in which each part was written, getting back to what the original readers would have understood.

My fear of Islam arises when I look to the original Islam. This past year, I spent some time reading an abridged chronologically arranged version of the Qur’an along with a biography about Muhammad.1 Islam started out as a religious and a political movement. It was not just about individuals coming to believe in the teachings of Islam but also about entire tribes coming into the political machinery of Islam. Muhammad himself was a political leader as well as a military leader and strategist. It seems he was personally responsible for many deaths. Proponents of the “Islam is peace” motif will point out how Muhammad rode peacefully into Mecca. That may tell us more about Meccans seeking peaceful political resolution than about happy conversions to religion. While there is debate on precisely what the original versions of Christianity and Islam looked like, there is little doubt that, historically speaking, Jesus bore a cross while Muhammad bore a sword.

I get the allure of wanting to relive the original, of seeing it as the best and normative version, so I get it when Muslims are “radicalized” and turn to violence. If it is true, then the original is the most true. I understand that sentiment as I seek to live it myself within the Christian path.

Some have called for a Reformation within Islam, patterned after the Reformation that altered the trajectory of Christian history. There is a call for the kinder and gentler versions of Islam to be known as true Islam, with the violent versions to be labeled as wrong, corrupt, and “Islam hijacked.” The trouble is that there has already been a kind of Reformation within Islam that is patterned after the Reformation within Christianity. There has been a movement, called Wahhabism, that seeks to get back to the original just as Protestants did in the Christian Reformation. Consider this quote from an interview with Karen Armstrong, who had this to say as part of an answer given to a question about “Wahhabism – the Saudi-based sect of Islam that informs ISIS fighters”:

Wahhabists encouraged people to read the Koran [sic] directly, and ignore the centuries of interpretation by learned scholars. Now that sounds great and liberating, but people were then licensed to come up with many wild interpretations. In the past, no one read the Koran [sic] on its own; it was enmeshed in a wide swath of complexity that actually held radical interpretations in check. Now that check’s been lifted, and all kinds of freelancers like Bin Laden, who is no more qualified to issue a Fatwa than I am, have free reign to come up with these extraordinary interpretations.2

As a Baptist pastor, I rejoice when people read the Bible directly. So it struck me as odd that encouraging Muslims to read the Qur’an directly should be a worrisome thing. With this “back to the basics” approach of the Wahhabists, you could make the case that Osama Bin Laden had been to Islam what Martin Luther was to Christianity. The Reformation did not get started with Luther, but Protestantism went big with Luther. My fear is that just as any Roman Catholic today can “get back to basics” and become a Baptist, a good peaceful Muslim can also “get back to the original.” For the sake of world harmony, I hope the kinder and gentler versions of Islam are ascendant. For the sake of every Muslim, I pray that each would come to know Jesus for who he really is.

There are reasons that Islam is torn between peacefulness and violence around the world. We need to be quick to hear and respond to those reasons. When suicide bombers turn to violence, it is because they believe the original version of their religion is best. I get that. That is why I fear Islam.

 


1 The Islamic Trilogy, Vol 4 — An Abridged Koran: The Reconstructed Historical Koran, Bill Warner, ed.; CSPI Publishing, 2006; see also The First Muslim: The Story of Muhammad, Leslie Hazelton; Riverhead Books, 2003

2 link to Karen Armstrong’s quote

October 5, 2015

Eric Metaxas Gives the Women Equal Time

In a publishing environment where branding is prized, it was somewhat inevitable that at some point after the 2013 release of Seven Men and the Secret of their Greatness (which we reviewed here) there would be a sequel. The former book was diverse: A President, two politicians, two athletes, a Pope, and a scaled down version of the author’s epic-length biography of Bonhoeffer. With Seven Women… the geography is perhaps more diverse, but the women all are crusaders of one type or another.

Seven Women and the Secret of their Greatness - Eric MetaxasA book like this allows you the opportunity to read the sections in any order, but in the end, I proceeded in the order the chapters occur; partly because the first four stores — Joan of Arc, Susanna Wesley, Hannah More, and Maria Skobtsova — were less familiar to me. That left Corrie ten Boom, Rosa Parks and Mother Teresa, stories with which perhaps you also are more acquainted with.

Biographies by necessity entail a certain amount of biographical data. In this case, one encounters some of the dry stuff that Wikipedia pages are famous for, only to turn the page and discover Metaxas has linked some aspect of the woman’s life to things we experience in the 21st Century. So with Wesley,

Much of what she taught them [her children] was for the purpose of helping them see through — and therefore be able to resist — the secular doctrines of that time. So she may be regarded not only as the inventor of homeschooling, but also of what today is sometimes called “worldview teaching,” something modern Christian parents in the West have begun embracing as they raise their children in an increasingly post-Christian culture.

And if you’ve ever attended a church where the attendance dips noticeably on the Sundays the Associate Pastor (or Youth Pastor) is preaching, the paragraphs concerning her husband’s curate will certainly resonate. You might add to the above-mentioned accomplishments that she foreshadowed a time when those skipping church would stay home and listen to a podcast.

The story of Maria aka Saint Maria of Paris carries with it both Orthodox and Catholic history. (If you don’t know her, see the quotation we ran yesterday.) Of course, Mother Teresa’s story is overtly Roman Catholic, while Joan of Arc includes elements of Christian Mysticism. Her faith and prophetic gifts are rather amazing.

Hannah More is an inspiration to all the poets, playwrights, novelists and songwriters who wonder if they can make a difference through their art, but again, the story contains references to More’s ability to work the political system of the day.

Corrie ten Boom’s story is better known to Evangelicals, as Rosa Parks’ name is known to anyone remotely aware of U.S. history. You could make these into a movie. Oh, wait… And Mother Teresa’s life example never gets old.  Again, I found the people whose stories were new to me most beneficial, and plan to return to those first four chapters for a second round. 

Some have criticized Mother Teresa for being all about social justice with little attention to proclamation, even to the point of doubting her salvation. Metaxas gives us two insights on this however, one being “the fine line Mother Teresa had to walk as a Christian missionary in a Hindu country;” the other being quotations from a clear statement of the gospel given in her 1979 acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway.

What is the secret of the greatness of all these women? Often, Metaxas leaves it to the reader to infer or extrapolate such principles, though in the book’s context, their Christian faith is an obvious factor that goes without saying. He is content to wear a historian’s hat for this project, and to vary from that would probably result in a book double the size. As it is, the book gives each figure about 30 pages making this a practical resource for both adults and students.

Frankly, I hope the ‘brand’ continues. Seven More Women… or Seven More Men…? Based on the first two books, I’d place my pre-order today.


A copy of Seven Women was provided by Laura at HarperCollins Christian Publications in Canada. The Eric Metaxas Show airs Monday to Friday on the Salem Radio Network, or you can listen to past episodes at this link. Joan of Arc was, as it turned out, not Noah’s wife.

March 6, 2010

Those Who Don’t Learn The Lessons of History…

…are doomed to make fools of themselves.

Once and for all, the difference between Martin Luther, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

I’m always astounded how often this confusion appears, as though out of nowhere, in the middle of conversations. But it is especially lamentable when it takes place among Christian people. I mean the 16th Century reformer doesn’t really look a thing like the 20th Century civil rights activist.  Both were revolutionaries; you could get a high-school term paper out of some similarities, I suppose.

Things could be worse, however:  The last time this came up, later in the discussion, the person thought my reference to Jehovah’s Witnesses using the term “JW” was actually my way of saying “Jew.”

I’m thinking of starting a website as an alternative to TotallyLooksLike.com, that will be called TotallyDoesn’tEvenResemble.com (the domain is available…)

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