Archive for October, 2008

Religious Freedom and Islam

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

Thomas F. Farr is associate professor of religion and international affairs at Georgetown University.  An excerpt from his new book, World of Faith and Freedom, appeared in this months issue of the journal, First Things. It is a thoughtful, constructive analysis of a way forward to defuse Islamic radicalism.  Highlights include:

The threats [of Islamic radicalism] are unlikely to be defeated by U.S. military power alone, even when that power is combined with good intelligence, efficient law enforcement, and creative diplomacy.  What American foreign policy needs, as well, is a new religious realism….

Evidence suggests that democracies mature when they possess a “bundled commodity” of core rights, such as freedom of speech and assembly, equality under the law, and religious freedom.  The absence of religious liberty can yield democracy-killing religious conflict, religious persecution, and religious extremism.  The presence of religious freedom is highly correlated with political, social and economic good.  As Brian Grim [Pew Forum] puts it:  “Most advanced statistical tests suggest there is indeed a critical independent contribution that religious freedom is making.”

Among other things, such findings tell us that if we want democracy to grow in Muslim lands – especially as a means of draining the swamps of the pathologies that nurture extremism – we must figure out how to advance religious freedom.  We must encourage nascent liberal Islamic political and social movements to put religious freedom at the core of their political theologies.  This is a tall order.  So daunting, in fact, that few outsiders would even consider it.”

If we are to defeat Islamic radicals, we must supplement sound military strategy, good intelligence, vigorous law enforcement, and state-to-state diplomacy with what has, until now, been the missing link.  Ordered liberty demands realism about human nature.  If democracies are to succeed in highly religious societies, they must be grounded in religious freedom.

I think Farr’s thesis is astute and his argument persuasive.  Only, I don’t think he goes far enough.

For religious freedom to have the leavening affect on an Islamic society as he proposes, there has to be more powerful forces at work than statecraft and foreign policy to produce the tolerance of such diversity.  And the very nature of Islam—theologically and politically—makes it difficult.

Rather, I would argue that history proves that the presence of vibrant, authentic Christian faith can be the most effective catalyst to provoke such change. That stimulus can be generated from outside the respective cultures or it can emerge from within.  When both sources work synergistically (effective sodalic efforts from without and vibrant local, modalic efforts from within), then we may actually have a chance to see the type of transformational change that Farr advocates.

I believe both can be accomplished.  It is going to require committed, skilled men and women willing to cross geographical, cultural, and language barriers, give their lives to live incarnationally within Islamic cultures,  and be—in word and in deed—the presence of Jesus.  It also means that they work hand-in-glove with those whom God has already set aside as his people within such settings.

It’s possible.  Is is happening.  It isn’t fast.  And it isn’t glamorous.  It won’t attract those with the money and resources who want quick fixes and triumphalistic results.

But in the long run, if we want to see genuine transformation in what is the greatest challenge to the Western world in the 21st century, such a missiological commitment is an absolute necessity.

The Ideal Pick

Friday, October 17th, 2008

I just came across the following comment from Russell Riley of the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia  about the ideal combination of qualities necessary for one to be President of the United States.  The perfect temperament should include:

“Gerald Ford’s fundamental decency.  Jimmy Carter’s discipline.  Ronald Reagan’s sunny optimism.  George H. W. Bush’s diplomatic instincts.  Bill Clinton’s intellectual curiosity.  And George W. Bush’s dogged determination.”

Rather tall order.  The delimma for the voters is to find someone who fits it.

Bewildered in Europe

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

Bodies of Water is the indie-rock band that David, our son, and his wife, Meredith (above) lead.  This month, they are on tour in Europe.

We just received the following email update:

“Hey mom …we’re in London playing at The Forum tonight.  We just drove here from Cologne, Germany, today. Things have been going well, but it’s pretty rough;  long trips in between each city.Paris was a really good show, but Cologne was strange.  We opened for a bigger band that is more normal than us, so there were a thousand middle-aged Germans looking at us with bewilderment while we played.”

Anyone in Europe who wants to catch a show, the schedule is on the the Bodies of Water web site.

We just received another email from friends who saw them perform in East London.  Deanna Hayes wrote:

“We had a FANTASTIC evening in Shoreditch hearing the amazing talents of Bodies of Water.  WOW! David is one talented guy!  I couldn’t help remembering him as a young boy and then seeing him on stage as a musician with people asking him for his autograph.  It was a bit surreal.  It was an amazing performance.  John has played their CD’s non-stop since we returned home.  We are both very impressed with their music.”

Independently wealthy …?

Monday, October 13th, 2008

While I’m at it about the absurdity of “retirement,” I have some energy on another related topic.  Might as well spit it all out.

Frequently I encounter people (particularly those who are successful in business, or younger men and women who want to be successful) who are contemplating what God would have them do with the latter half of their lives, and the line I hear runs something like this:

“I would love to serve God with more of my time and talent in the coming years.  But I want to have made enough money to be independently wealthy.  I really don’t think it is right to ask other people to support me when I could pay my own way.   So I want to wait until my nest egg is secure and then Jesus can have all my time and attention.”

I have rarely seen it work out this way, where independent wealth becomes an essential stepping stone for future ministry.  Rather, it can become a curse for several reasons:

1.  Behind such a desire can be an unwillingness to live a life of dependency, either dependency on God or other people.  The need for financial security trumps one’s ability to step out and trust God for the most basic of economic necessities.

2.  There is a subtle, unhealthy independence that such wealth can engender.  I’ve seen it several times when we’ve accepted folks to minister with CRM who didn’t need to raise money.  They had it all.  Inevitably, when times got tough in the crucible of ministry, or there was conflict, or things didn’t go their way, they could pack it up and leave.  Having one’s own resources makes it a lot easier to cut and run.

3.  When I’m independently wealthy, it can put me at odds with those in the apostolic community or team with whom I minister.  I have options they do not have.  I have resources they do not have.  No wonder historically in the missionary orders of the Catholic and Orthodox tradition, one would divest themselves of such material attachments so that all would be laboring together on level ground.

4.  Unfortunately, needing to make my fortune can become an excuse for never responding to what may be God’s clear calling on my life.  It’s a smoke screen.  It’s a way to rationalize away the voice of God.  Movement toward that calling can be inhibited because the nest egg is never considered by the individual to be sufficient enough.

Let me be clear.  I’m not dissing anyone who is doing well financially and particularly those who have learned the grace of giving and sacrificial stewardship and are called to the marketplace.  Rather, I am calling into question when the drive to attain such financial “freedom” is used as the justification for delayed obedience to God’s leading.

When I look for people who are grappling with the calling of God toward ministry that is apostolic in nature, one of the true tests of that calling is that money and financial security are the last and least issues to be considered.  What’s healthy is when these issues are the stubby little tail and not the dog.  When it is the other way around, it’s a portent for trouble.

Retirement and the Financial Crash

Friday, October 10th, 2008

I was listening to NPR today and the commentator was interviewing people regarding their responses to the recent Wall Street crash.  What adjustments would they have to make in their lives and expectations as a result?

The primary theme in their responses went something like this:  “The life of leisure I am anticipating in retirement may be delayed or may not happen.  My ability to quit my job, play golf, travel, lay on the beach and finally enjoy life is in jeopardy.”

I couldn’t help but think to myself, “What’s wrong with this picture?”  Plenty:

  1. Where do we get this idea of “retiring?”  While it is deeply ingrained in the culture, I can’t find any biblical rational for such a concept.

  2. Play golf, travel, and enjoy life?   What a prescription for self-absorbed misery!  Rather than giving oneself to significance in the latter half of life, such responses reflect a selfish sense of entitlement that pervades our society.

  3. It is a sad commentary on work that so many people simply can’t wait to quit.  Rather than investing a lifetime of wisdom, time and talent in ways uniquely suited to one’s gifts and calling, way too many people endure jobs that suck the very life out of them.  They only stick it out in an 8-5 for the sake of a paycheck.  Tragic.

In Clinton’s leadership emergence theory, the end of life should be characterized by one’s “ultimate contribution.”  This is lived out in “convergence” and ultimately what he describes as “after-glow.”  Neither remotely resembles the culture’s concept of retirement.

Contrary to retirement—which is a stifling, dehumanizing and killing concept—I want to go out with my boots on and with my foot on the accelerator.  I think that’s the way God designed us as beings made in the imago dei rather than sliding into irrelevance with a life that does not finish well.

Christian Spirituality

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

Christian spirituality has been coming into its own in the Protestant world in the last several decades.   Historically, the richness of this focus has been cultivated more ardently in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions.  While Protestants have been cautious to drink at this well (and for good reasons), it behooves us to remember that before the 1500s, we can make legitimate claims on this tradition as ours also.

A new, comprehensive volume has just come out that helps paint the big picture regarding spirituality.  It is a treatment of the topic that is palatable across some of the historical divides and reclaims some of the ground for the Protestant tradition that has been lost.

Perhaps I am excited about Christian Spirituality by Evan Howard because I know the author and am grateful for his long contribution to CRM, particularly his influence and affection for InnerCHANGE, our order among the poor.

He has also given us more than his prayer and counsel over the years.  His daughter, Claire, serves with InnerCHANGE on the streets of San Francisco.

This is a book for everyone’s library.

A Marie Antoinette Moment

Wednesday, October 8th, 2008

The economy is in a tailspin, unemployment is skyrocketing, and homes are in foreclosure.

How appropriate for an appeal to be made at the recent USC-Oregon football game at the LA Colosseum for folks to contribute further to the 2 million dollar endowment for Traveler, the white horse that is the mascot for the USC Trojans.  Let’s insure, the announcer said, that Traveler can get to all the games and do so in style.

Hey, nothing but the best for that horse!   Such a “let them eat cake” comment would have made Marie Antoinette smile.

Applying the “Informal Theorem”

Saturday, October 4th, 2008

Much of the leadership development theory that emanates out of J. Robert Clinton is a confirmation of the obvious if we reflect long enough to recognize it.  His “Informal Theorem” is a good example of such an intuitive truth:

“The more informal the training medium the more potential for in-depth impact in the life of the trainee.”

One of the most powerful venues I have for such in-depth impact in the lives of younger leaders is an annual week-long boat trip on Lake Powell in the Arizona desert.  It’s an unparalleled opportunity for guys to play hard, share deeply, and relate profoundly.

The group this year – 18 CRM staff or potential staff – will be scattered to the nations in the coming months:  Latin America, Asia, Europe and Africa.  But what has transpired in their lives, and the relationships they have built during this one week in September 08, will stay with them the rest of their lives.  Deo Gratias!

Airline Stories, continued …

Friday, October 3rd, 2008

It was back in the days right after the demise of communism and the advent of the “new” Russia, and I was schedule for a flight from Moscow to St. Petersburg.

In those days throughout the Eastern Bloc, domestic flights were from different airports than international air traffic, and the Moscow domestic airport was reminiscent of a Greyhound bus station in an American inner-city …grimy, dirty, horrible sanitation, with all sorts of sleazy characters hanging out.  And nothing was computerized.  Flight manifests, passenger lists, and reservations were all done manually.

As we were checking in for the flight – which meant having our names crossed off of a list – I had a large bag that needed to be checked through.  As the porter was taking the bag away from the counter, I noticed to my horror the bright red tag that had been attached to it read: “CALCUTTA.”

I dove for the bag, saying “Nyet, Nyet, Nyet!  Sankt Petersburg!”  Nyet, Calcutta!”

He shrugged his shoulders, and responded in broken English, “Sorry, sir.  All we have today.” When I arrived in St. Petersburg, the bag was there.  Go figure.

That tag still sits in my desk drawer, a visual reminder that no matter how crummy it gets on most of the airlines in the present day, not much can compare with the residue of Karl Marx’s influence on aviation.