Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Build the Mosque, Build Good Will

by Dr. Tony Cartledge

The proposed construction of a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero has reached "scorching" on the hot-button scale of controversy. Political conservatives almost uniformly oppose the mosque, arguing that it encroaches too closely onto the sacred soil where thousands of Americans were killed by Muslim extremists. More moderate and liberal folk, including President Obama, say the issue is a matter of religious freedom and point out that it was fanatical members of Al Qaida, not Muslims in general, who carried out the attacks.

Opponents of the planned mosque, people who often like to fly the flag of patriotism, are hurting their cause and their country with their ill-conceived opposition. I suggest several things to consider:

1. Violent extremist groups such as Al Qaida recruit true believers by convincing them that Americans hate Muslims. The rabid opposition some have shown to the mosque's construction plays into their hands and works to the extremists' favor.

2. Any number of violent, senseless, and terroristic acts have been undertaken in the name of Christianity. Untold thousands of Muslims (and people thought to look like Muslims) were killed during the Crusades, including women and children. The Ku Klux Klan, which brought a reign of terror to blacks in the American South, claimed to be Christian. Even domestic terrorists like Timothy McVeigh, who carried out the Oklahoma City bombing, were strongly influenced by supposedly Christian beliefs. Arguing that a mosque near Ground Zero is an offense to the "hallowed ground" where the attacks took place, if followed to its logical conclusion, suggests that churches located near places where Christian-related acts of violence were committed should be torn down. That would include all the majestic churches built by the Crusaders to symbolize Christianity conquering the Muslim world.

3. Have you been to the neighborhood near Ground Zero lately? If anything, a new mosque would be an improvement over the bars, strip clubs, and porn shops that now populate the area. Do those honor the dead?

4. America is indeed built on a foundation of religious freedom. If the people who want to build the mosque own the land and meet the local zoning requirements and building codes, they have the right to build a mosque, or a temple, or a synagogue, or a church -- and denying that right is just wrong.

Tony Cartledge is the contributing editor for Baptists Today, and also teaches Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School. This post originally appeared on his blog at http://www.tonycartledge.com/.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Live Simply That Others May Simply Live!

by Dr. Dennis Herman

It’s tomato season again. This year I have again fought drought and deer to have a few tomatoes to harvest. My tomato plants are, again this year, in my front yard. It’s the only sunny spot in my yard and I am convinced that it is more important that I grow some food, no matter what the neighbor’s say about “Dr. Herman’s front yard, overgrown veggie patch.”

Why fill the yard with vegetables rather than petunias? For one, I want to remember where my food comes from. And I want all the kids on my street to see that food actually grows on plants and just doesn’t “appear” in the produce department. I am hopeful that the kids on my street (unlike the young clerk at the supermarket where I shop) will someday know the difference between a tomato and a turnip.

I am defying my professional yard “fertilizers” and going to a natural lawn care service. I am attempting to eat less meat because the way our meats are raised and processed tend to, well, turn my stomach. I don’t like the fact that poultry cannot breathe or even walk where they are raised, or that beef is injected with any number of hormones and antibiotics, or pork is...well, you get the picture.

No, I’m not a rabid animal “rights” person, or a tree-hugging environmentalist, or a fanatic about every health fad that comes along. But I am seriously trying to understand “Christian stewardship” as being about more than giving to the Church. It’s about how we treat our earth, our animals, our humans, and our food and water sources.

I believe some resources of our earth are limited and others, while limited, are replenishable. I believe there may just be enough food and resources for all of us if some of us don’t mess it up or use it up! And I believe that good stewardship calls me to live simply that others may live.

This is a counter-cultural idea and you may not agree. But if you can’t get any tomatoes or basil, come by my house. I don’t mind sharing.

Dennis Herman is the senior Pastor of Greystone Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC. He will be retiring next week. This article originally appeared in the church newsletter, Greystone Today.

Monday, August 16, 2010

God Is Present

by Dr. Marion Aldridge

On Thursday, June 17, 2010, I was in a bad wreck. The people at the scene of the accident could not believe that I survived my car taking a direct hit from a logging truck. But, thankfully, I did. A week after the wreck, I have only one small scratch remaining. People told me how “lucky” I was. They mentioned that I had been protected by my guardian angel. “God is not finished with you yet,” was a frequent phrase. I don’t intend to argue with any of those sentiments.

My primary thought and emotion has been one of gratitude. As a pastor, I know how many dumb things people say after a tragedy. They may be well-meaning, but there is a lot of bad theology that surrounds heartbreaking disasters. Be careful with your words in times of crisis.

The two sentences that made the most sense to me are these:

• I say my Alleluias softly, and
• God is present.

I am happy to be alive. I am grateful that on July 3, 2010, I was able to walk my baby girl down the aisle and present her to the man who is now her husband and my son-in-law. All four of Julie’s grandparents are dead and my best friend, her second dad, passed away this past year. I am grateful that I was there for Julie and Tom, and not in a hospital room or in a grave! I am glad that I am still here to cuddle with Sally at night. I am thankful I can still take my other daughter and her husband and my grandson to a baseball game. More than ever, I appreciate peach cobblers, roses, jazz, waterfalls, and good books. I love my friends. I am grateful to be alive.

But I do say my Alleluias softly, because everyone who has been in a wreck did not survive and/or thrive. Many sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, mothers, dads and best friends have been seriously injured or even died in tragic accidents. I don’t think God loves me more or that my prayer life is better. Anything that credits my survival to my good works is probably bad theology.

As I was sharing this perspective with two friends at our recent Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly, I discovered that one of them, my seminary buddy Don Garner, had indeed lost a son in a car wreck about a decade ago. God loves and loved Don and his wife and their son as much as God loves me. Don told me that their “lesson” during their awful grief is that God is always present. God is present when I survive my wreck, and God is there when Don’s son did not survive his wreck. God is present.

Those are lessons enough for me.

Marion Aldridge is the Executive Coordinator of CBF of South Carolina, and has written several books and hundreds of articles for South Carolina Wildlife magazine, Tennis magazine, Church Administration and others. This article originally appeared in CBF South Carolina's magazine, Fellowship.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

An Altar on the World - A Review

by Rev. Laura Barclay

An Altar on the World by Barbara Brown Taylor takes a meditative look at how we divide the sacred and the profane. Taylor encourages the reader to view the world as an altar, a place to encounter God, a temple without boundary. She encourages us to do so with frequent reminders of biblical passages – Jacob encountering the ladder out in the wilderness, Moses stopping on holy ground to speak to God in the form of a burning bush, and Jesus asking us to consider the lilies of the field. In a series of chapters about different practices or senses that should be awakened, the author hopes to show us that we have everything we need within us and around us for a fruitful spiritual journey with God.

Taylor’s spiritual practices might not be ones of which you’d readily think, but they show the depth of a person who has tried to find ways to dedicate her whole life to God. She cover practices like “Paying Attention”, “Getting Lost”, “Encountering Others”, “Living with Purpose”, and “Saying No.” Her chapter on encountering others is a prescription for people to overcome their differences by seeing God in each other. She quotes Jonathan Swift who said, “We have just enough religion to make us hate one another, but not enough to make use love one another” (99). As Christ’s followers, we must love both God and our neighbor, because we are all created in God’s image (105).

I resonated with her chapter on prayer, because she admits to feeling like a failure in this area. I have often felt like my way of praying is not how others pray—to stop and stare at the sky and marvel at creation, to become enraptured at watching a National Geographic special about another culture and be thankful for the diversity of God’s people, to be silent and still, or do some sort of action trying to live out the example of Jesus. I’m not a spontaneous pray-out-loud kind of person. To hear her feel like a misfit in this spiritual practice reaffirmed my calling, and reinforced to me that everyone has their own way to come before God. She states, “Prayer is more than my idea of prayer and…some of what I actually do in my life may constitute genuine prayer” (176). I love the idea of prayer being both contemplative and a way of life or actions we choose to take.

She ends the book with a chapter on blessings, encouraging everyone to take the time and opportunity to pronounce blessings on one another. Taylor encourages us to realize that everyone can do this, not just clergy or certain types of people. She points out that “pronouncing a blessing puts you as close to God as you can get,” because you “learn to look with compassion on everything that is” (206). Taylor encourages us to imagine a world where more people are eager to do this.

The strength of this book is the uniqueness of the spiritual practices she covers, which are readily accessible and encourages the reader to look for God in everything from gardens to dumpsters. This book is an inspiration to adopt a sense of mindfulness in the world and be ready to, as God told Moses, “Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (pg 66).

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Church as a Healthy Community

by Dr. Steve Bolton

The church, in spite of her ideals, has not always been a healthy environment. Too often personal politics, dysfunctional family and community dynamics, and failure to follow scriptural guidelines create dissension and division in the body of Christ. Parker Palmer wrote a book back in 1980 entitled, "Going Public," in which he outlined his vision of the ideal community and how it should function. It seems to me that when talking about any ideal community one has to consider the community of faith, the church, and her successful and not so successful efforts over the centuries to provide a people and a place where Christians from all walks of life can join and feel that they belong. Loren Mead (The Once and Future Church, The Alban Institute, p. 179ff) has suggested that Palmer's principle characteristics of an ideal community are relevant to any church, and in fact, may only be possible with the gifts which the Spirit of God has provided His people. See what you think. According to Palmer, in a healthy community:

1. Strangers meet on common ground. In a world where children are taught not to speak to strangers and people are suspicious of "new folk," Christians have a deeply seated tradition of practicing hospitality, welcoming new people, and making them feel wanted. Even more so, Christians are called to the kind of openness and friendliness that crosses social and cultural barriers to meet needs and engage people on behalf of the good news of Christ. Healthy congregations always resist their community paranoia and prejudices about others not "like us." They face up to their fears of the stranger and risk a relationship based on mutual faith in Christ and His Lordship.

2. Scarce resources are shared and abundance is generated. In a world where its every person for him or herself, where it seems the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, the healthy church is a generous and a giving fellowship. Everyone gives generously in proportion to their resources out of a heart of gratitude for what God has given and done for us in Jesus Christ. Giving and meeting needs for the common ministry and mission of Christ is a way of life for healthy churches. The generous church becomes a blessing to the world and such a church is blessed because of its members' open hands and open hearts.

3. Conflict occurs and is resolved. We all are aware that the public arena can be a seething cauldron of perpetual conflict. With different ideas, different ways, and different personalities conflict is inevitable whenever two or three are gathered together. Fighting seems to go on forever between persons, clans, races, and political opponents. Some fights are the knock down, drag out, and win-lose kind. Others become the seething, long-term grudge bearing types of broken relationships. The healthy congregation has learned, however to listen carefully and to treat each other with respect. They always try hard to communicate caring, and, with God's help, use their energies to seek and find forgiveness, working toward consensus and reconciliation rather than competition.

Steve Bolton is the pastor of Oxford Baptist Church in Oxford, NC. This article originally appeared in their church newsletter, "The Forecaster."