Tag Archives: Islam

My Iraqi seat mate and the Golden Rule

The travel day began with the Zambians sending our new South African friend’s bag to Philadelphia and sending our beloved Bethany’s bag to some undetermined place. It ended with waiting in line for about an hour while the skeleton crew at customs processed us and a Hunger-Games-esque video from Homeland Security repeatedly welcomed us. In between, I watched movies on the plane and tried to sleep in between the baby screams. I watched most of Qatar Airline’s catalogue, I think. I even watched Deadpool, which I had been avoiding (even though no one else did — it has earned $761 million worldwide) – I admit it was clever and funny, even when vile. I think we were in the air for 22 hours, so there was even room for vile.

Burial place of Imam Ali in Najaf, Iraq

Near the end of the last leg of the journey, I finally met my row mate. I found out he was an Iraqi returning home to his job at a Red Lobster in Kentucky after attending his mother’s funeral in Najaf, home of Imam Ali’s shrine. When he arrived in Najaf he learned his visit would start with the funeral of his cousin, who had just been killed in an army battle. Eventually we talked about religion, since I also told him why I had been travelling. Part of that conversation is what I want to talk to you about, mainly.

The universal rule

After we both recounted our horror at the bombing campaigns that devastated Iraq at the beginnings of both wars (he evacuated just before the first), he brought up how people should treat each other like they would like to be treated, like it says in the Qur’an – and in the writings of all the other major religions. His version is that Allah is the one God, the same as the Jews and Christians, so we will all be judged by him for how we follow the rule. We had been talking about how refugees, especially in Palestine, never get the justice they want by repossessing their homes, even though everyone knows that they would hate to lose their homes, their friends, their feelings of belonging, and hate to have to work long hours at Red Lobster to buy a ticket to attend your mother’s funeral 6500 miles away.

It seemed, as usual, very tidy of him to sum up all the religions with one rule – the one thing they all seem to agree upon. And, in the case of Islam, to tidy things up with one Ruler who will judge people according to their capacity to fulfill the rule:

“Allah knows best how long they stayed. With Him is (the knowledge of) the unseen of the heavens and the earth. How clearly He sees, and hears (everything)! They have no Wali (Helper, Disposer of affairs, Protector, etc.) other than Him, and He makes NONE to share in His Decision and His Rule” (Surah 18:2). 

In the end, the Moslem is judged according to their full submission to the way of Islam, and their deeds. Like many Christians do with Jesus, Muslims reduce the requirements of belief to following the rules and avoiding judgment — especially following the “golden rule,” since everyone thinks that makes sense.

Poorly working rule

The problem is, people are very bad at following the golden rule. Israelis are not giving people back the land they know the dispossessed want and Palestinians are not forgiving them for taking it. The people of the United States do not rise up in revolt because the government dropped 265,000 bombs on Iraq in 1991 and did not stop for twenty years, even though they would not like someone to do that to them. We keep learning the lesson, but never seem to get the application right. We don’t treat our children the way we wish we had been treated as a child. We don’t even treat ourselves the way we wish someone would treat us. Even when we think God is treating us well, we don’t love as we are loved. The whole thin plot of Deadpool was about his quest to get his mutated face restored so his girlfriend would not judge him ugly and reject him. He was sure she would not treat him well unless he was unjudgable; he is a realistic superhero.

Jesus repeats the common sense of the golden rule. Unlike in Islam or Buddhism, he is not giving people a maxim to sum up justice or balance, he is commanding the self-giving love he will demonstrate on the cross. Regardless, when he says it, it serves to point out just how badly we need a Savior. We all love the golden rule and long for it to be applied, but it never gets applied, even by those who are devoted to it. My Iraqi friend looked at me after he talked about Daesh squeezing into a crack in the system so they could get the power and money that the greedy rulers all want, and he said, “I just don’t see a way for this to change.”  I have been thinking of him saying that ever since.

I don’t know everything about Islam or all the other religions. I tend to feel generous about people seeking God from wherever they start. But I don’t think all the seeking merely leads to the need to follow the golden rule no one follows well. I think the seeking leads to Jesus whom God has made the final judge. Life is not about becoming good enough to love or not being bad enough to kill. The way Paul describes his experience with Jesus is that he has already received the mysteries of God and lives with a clear conscience. Not because he is perfectly knowledgeable or faithful, but because Jesus has poured out the love of God. That undeserved grace is holding back the end of time with its inherent judgment. We can live in the hope God gives us in the middle of our personal and corporate failures to follow what we all agree is the truth.

Christ in Deadpool

What I finally hear from pondering my conversation with this friendly Iraqi is that Jesus entrusts us with the golden rule, not condemns us with it. Like in the ending of Deadpool, Jesus removes the mask that hides our mutancy and kisses our scarred face, and the scarred soul that goes with it. Only that will undo whatever evil we have committed or will commit – like the impending sequel.

Will we concede Southern Africa to Islam?

Our last day in Zambia was full of constrasts — and Lusaka’s traffic jams! We shopped at the mall with the rest of the 1% and looked over an unpaved alley full of vendors. We had our last baked beans for breakfast, lunch on a posh balcony, and had a farewell dinner at The Retreat — a poolside eatery inside a walled suburban tract.

Levison Soko, Lusaka area overseer for the BIC

While sitting in traffic we had a lot of time to check out the sites. One of the surprises was to see three large mosques in the downtown area. During lunch, I asked our guest, the district overseer for the BIC in Lusaka, if he felt the impact of Muslims in Lusaka. He immediately became more animated. He told us that big spenders were coming in (reportedly from the Middle East and Indonesia, we heard) to put up big new meeting places. To go with them, they attach free schools and often free clinics. Poor people, mostly Christians at some level, are taking advantage of the free gifts, since they have nothing else. Soon their children are followers of Islam. This is the strategy: convert the children of Zambia, village by village.

We told him that some people in the U.S. doubt the evangelistic value of MCC, which supplies our compassionate mission, complete with schools and health care components. They think the ministry of the word is enough. He was flabbergasted. He could not understand how the spoken and enacted word could ever be separated, and reinforced that the BIC in Zambia consider MCC and the BIC to be one movement. Then he quoted the word to us as a final admonition: “If you have done it to the least of these you have done it to me” (Matthew 25). Works of compassion are the first steps of evangelism; isn’t that why the Lord’s teaching often follows an act of healing or dispossession?

I received his admonition. But as a church planter, I have to admit, my competitive juices also began to flow. Will we actually concede Southern Africa, where we have been supporting successful church planting for over 100 years, to the Muslims? Have we conformed to the world so completely that we would follow liberal irreligiousity or conservative protectionism instead of following Jesus, who is waiting for us to unite his resources in the cause of redemption? We have capable partners already in Zimbabwe and Zambia, I have learned. But they certainly don’t have our resources — or those of the local imam’s apparently!

The other Africa posts:

April 13
Circle of Hope travels to southern Africa.


April 18
First thoughts from Zimbabwe

April 19
Being poor is tough

April 20
Going around doing good

April 22
Coming up against the powers


April 25
The food chain

April 25
The work of the Lord

April 26
Showing God’s love in practical ways

April 27
Will the northern hemisphere ever grow peace clubs?

So, Mr. Perry, Are the Mormons Christians? — and does anyone care?

There is a puzzling theological and political debate going on in the Rick Perry presidential campaign. His advisors call Mitt Romney’s Mormonism a non-Christian cult, but Perry distances himself from the designation in public. It is not clear why they cast suspicion on President Obama’s rather orthodox Christian faith, which is even comes complete with a conversion experience and everything. Some evangelical power brokers close to Perry say that Romney’s views are more “biblical” than the president’s. Sigh.

The Unique Way the Book of Mormon Is a Symbol of Jesus Christ's Resurrection - LDS Living
LDS Jesus

A “new-improved” Jesus

Mormons have always claimed to be Christians. They say they are “new improved” Christians with a latter-day revelation that occurred in upstate New York. They have never made a secret about what they believe. (Well, they scrub out the weirder parts when the missionaries come to your door, or at least they used to). One of my friends was at Hill Cumorah, in New York, where Joseph Smith said he found the tablets which he magically translated into King James English. The faithful put on a pageant there to tell the whole story. The Book of Mormon, on Broadway, has a song that sums things up nicely.

The Mormons claim to be Christians, but they have their own Jesus — a new-and-improved one discovered in 1823 by direction of an angel who lead Smith to golden plates engraved by Central American prophets in 400 A.D. using “reformed Egyptian” which Smith translated with the aid of a seer hat — or something like that. The story tells of lost tribes of Israel coming to America and Jesus appearing to them, and a lot more.

It is not unusual for Jesus to be “improved.” Islam includes Jesus, but a Jesus who was a prophet, not the incarnation of God, who did not die on the cross but was taken by God to heaven before he did. Hindus can easily and often do accept Jesus as an enlightened guru whose message of love is like Buddha’s; some say he grew up in India. Christian Scientists teach that Jesus is divine, but not God.

Do Christians even care who Jesus is, at this point?

The issue for Perry seems to be that Christians are very mixed up as to what they know about Jesus.

What’s more, isn’t it true people in general gave up on knowing anything for sure a long time ago? Postmoderns have a tough time with “this or that” – so much so that the Occupy movement is somewhat proud of refusing to have a positive statement of what they are about and is relatively content with being a deconstruction machine.

Many Christians are just as postmodern; so why not bring in the Mormons? They are nice and they call themselves Christians. Why not bring in all the “tantric” influences around? What’s really wrong with a guru Jesus as long as he believes in love?

Today, I think I will just bring up the issue rather than answering too much. What do you think? (Mr. Perry, you are welcome to chime in).

Moslems Are Just as Nominal

I had a very enlightening pilgrimage (as you expected). You will hear more (as you expected).

I am not recovered from my nine-hour direct flight from Istanbul to JFK, then my three-hour van ride home. So maybe I am not so coherent. But I want to offer one reflection for you to ponder. If you think the United States seems like it is descending into a religious wilderness (which it is), do not think it is alone among the nations. We often receive a lot of images on the screen and in other newsmedia of hundreds of moslems praying in the street. It looks like Islamic people are very religious. Some are, of course. But from my scant collection of evidence, I get they are just as irreligious as the rest of us, in general.

We were chatting with our boat captain about the call to prayer blaring over Bodrum. He said it was all pre-recorded and plays automatically. We asked him if he prayed five times a day and he said quickly and dismissively, “Nobody prays.” We were not sure we were always communicating with our Turkish-first friend, so we checked again. He said 98% of the people did not pray. Some of the women were devout.

OK. That was news.

In Istanbul, at the Blue Mosque, Gwen and I were “befriended” by Zeki, a handsome young, light-eyed Kurd.  He gave a great tour — both of us shoeless, Gwen in a scarf, me in a skirt to cover up my infidel legs. We asked Zeki how many people prayed when the muzzein called them to prayer. He said 45% — but then he “works for the mosque.” He also told us that women don’t usually go to the little space reserved for them in the mosque to pray, they really like to pray better at home.


I think most of the Christians I know don’t pray, either — certainly not five times a day (unless you count OMG as a prayer).  Christians and Moslems alike, at least in the big cities I experience, are all going to the mosque to sell carpets, so to speak, because their god is profit, or at least their god is keeping themselves as comfortable as possible.

I am so glad we are aspiring to something better. Right now we are perspiring, right along with Istanbul. But I hope we will not be breaking a sweat for profit, alone. Let’s pray five times today and see what is happening in the Kingdom of God. Something is happening in post-Christendom and post-Islamdom; we are right at the beginning of a new era of real Jesus-following. I’m excited about it.