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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Muslims, Christians, and Jesus

Muslims, Christians, and Jesus by Carl Medearis(Bethany House, 2008) is a thoughtful book on how to give Jesus to Muslim people groups.  But it is more than that too.  It exemplifies an approach to evangelism that has at its heart humility.  Carl Medearis approaches the problem of reaching the nations from the standpoint of sharing relationships with people.  His method is evangelism at its best, when it seeks to give Jesus and not to encourage adherence to a set of ideas about Jesus.

Through the book Medearis advocates giving people, not the cultural, religious expression of Jesus' followers, but Jesus Himself.  He states repeatedly that to argue the superiority of Christianity, or the Christian perspective of Muhammad and the Quran as false will prove fruitless.  In one notable passage he states "that the overwhelming majority of Muslims who came to faith in Jesus Christ... did so because of personal spiritual revelation and through miracles.  Very few embraced Jesus due to the use of apologetics or through doctrinal debate." (p. 39)  Quite frankly, none of our intellectual big guns are good enough to debunk the ideologies of Islam or those of any other manmade philosophical construct.  Theology is in and of itself more of the same because it comes of the same raw material, man's ability to conceptualize God's work in the world.  Sure Christian theology has the advantage of studying the fullest revelation of God to the world, which brings me to my point:  the only thing different between christians and the rest of the world is Jesus.  It's paradoxical to think we can elevate Him by circumventing Him.

I was personally challenged by what Medearis said; so often I have felt the need to stand firm and give no ground, which resulted in an insensitive rebuke when someone expressed a belief contrary to my own.  Instead of presenting a genuine relationship with Jesus as my hope for them and their ideas about life, I was offering an oppressive law.  I didn't appear to be moonstruck with Jesus but to be displeased with and guarded(fearful) towards the rest of the world.  Am I confident in the risen Christ or am I insecure because I'm guilty of intellectual posturing?  Now, if I'm saying I'm modeling God, how does this make God look?  Jesus always showed the better way, but instead of doing that I try to attack all the wrong ways.  It's an offense/defense paradigm and I fear I'm on the wrong side.  Behavioral restrictions are only meant to demonstrate our inability to live up to God's standards.  From there we must always take the extra step to say, "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."

It is this humble way that I saw modeled in Medearis' book.  I yearn to be transformed by God into someone who sees Him so clearly that I always take the lowest spot, that I assume the superiority of others, their wisdom and gifts, that I would have no fear for the miscellany of misplaced human concepts.  Isn't God so much bigger?  Isn't He to be trusted with every soul on Earth?  I was not saved to be the inquisition.  I am meant to preach Christ crucified, risen, glorified.

"May God's grace be upon all who love our Lord Jesus Christ."

Can someone who calls themself a Muslim be in Christ Jesus?  This was one of the most difficult questions raised by Medearis' book for me.  Notwithstanding the semantic difficulty of phrasing the question?  Being a follower of Jesus, having a personal relationship with Jesus are other terms which can be used, but in the end it amounts to "can a Muslim be a Christian?"  It calls into question the validity of our terminology for things of the spirit.  We are not looking at someone who pretends to be a muslim but is secretly a christian or someone who is a muslim but acts in a way consistent with God's law without any conscious acknowledgement of Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  The question is can someone genuinely believe in Jesus with the same spirit filled vibrancy that the apostles had and yet identify themselves as muslims?  The question challenged me because I realised my attachment to certain terms and ideas.  Ifound myself believing that the visible preceded the invisible.  In truth, it is not necessary for someone to label themself christian to be such.  This was hard for me to swallow, because I had accepted, with the rest of American Christianity, the canonicity of our terminology.  But if someone walks Jesus, talks Jesus and owns the name of Islam(submission to God.) who am I to argue.  I would rather simply praise Jesus with them as Saviour and Lord and let Him be that, for them and me.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Food for our New Baby

On March 1st, 2013 our son Asher Endymion Caspian Knutsen was born by Caearean.  It was not our preferred method of delivery, but of course we are happy and blessed to have him with us nonetheless.  Once we got home from the hospital, our community began sending meals to us.  I have been incredibly touched by the work and care that people have put into these meals. From all their different situations of life, people we are close to and people who we don't yet know very well, have been amazingly creative and industrious in sending us meals, medicines, probiotics and everything else necessary for living healthy.  It has really reinforced many of God's Manifest characteristics for me.

First off, most obviously God is a God who provides.  I have seen this in  the God inspired desire everyone has shown to give us the things we need.  Especially poignant because Britta has been recovering from Major surgery and I am a dolt in the kitchen.  It seems to me that the struggle different families and individuals have gone through day after day to provide us with things is an evidence of the work of God's love in their hearts and our ours.  We see that our friends come from different churches with varying theologies and attitudes about life.  But all of them want to help us out and bless us

Secondly, God is a God of community.  In the trinity there is community, the three persons equal in a mutual partnership.  Britta and I have often wondered if we fit in, it is a secret place of doubt in our hearts.  Honestly, it stems from us having little faith in God's work in the hearts of others.  These meals show us that we really are a part of a large and loving community that seeks to glorify Him and show his goodness.

God is a God of love as we all know, but it is easy to doubt.  Not everybody is loving.  Not everybody would go out of there way to prepare a meal for another family just because of the routine event of birth.  I mean a baby is born every three seconds, right?  There are people who do wonderful things like this who do not have any overt relationship with Jesus.  I would not deny that, but in our community, the reason we do these things is because of the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.  May He continue to guide us into good works such as these in such a way that we wouldn't notice that he's doing it.

Finally, God is a God of celebration.  Everybody wants to come and see our baby and our happy faces.  They want to rejoice with us at the added joy with which God has blessed us in the person of Asher.  God rejoices over this act of His, and we are all unified in glorifying God in his act of creation.  He has made a child and we are celebrating.  Asher is evidence of God's goodness, his love for innocence, his creative flair, his tender care.  Asher shows God's plan in his dependence, his weakness, his need.  Just look at a baby and think: if a God created this, what kind of God must He be?

King and Queen

This piece was published at Camel Saloon on August 7th, 2011.

King and Queen

The King lingers over the Queen's heart
Only in thin lines on a page.
His dull button silently clicks her facsimile cards.
O! Living miracle divine,
Meaning in a sign.

Bake Up

This piece was published at Mad Swirl sometime in 2011.

Bake Up

She had imagined once that love was soft and squishy like carrot cake or banana bread. With Claude, it was at first, if not a little moister than she wanted. But as the initial passion wore off, she found it to be a little more light and flaky– croissants, cherry pinwheels; she found the portions bigger but less filling.

Three years of her life had been given to Claude, and she could no longer pretend that she even liked him. They had grown distant, torn by the pressures of life, and unable or unwilling to do the kneading needed to keep their affection growing.

Evelyn was considering leaving him. The relationship had become crunchy and dense like the crust of the pie she was baking. It was going to be a surprise for Claude when he got home. Yet, even though she wanted to show him how much she loved him, she couldn’t help feeling that they, as a couple, were already dead. The pie would not take away the hurtful things that had been built between them, layers of bitterness caked together into shells hard as bricks.

Evelyn watched the pie in the oven. It browned into a beautiful gold. It was the finest pie she had ever made. She waited, the shell grew darker. It cracked, and the peak began to burn. The pressure inside built, and the pie grew, mountainous, monstrous. When the crust was completely deformed and black, Evelyn removed it from the oven. Crying, she left.

Holy Words

This piece was published in the now defunct Fiction at Work in 2011.

Holy Words

I have read these words before.  A mythology posing as liturgy.  Some things seemed restrictive, others simply inexplicable, and He... He seemed to be the greatest rule monger of them all.  But there was that one image that stood above all others.  It haunted me.  I could see it stand starkly against the circle of the sun, forming a window into some unfathomable mystery.  I would describe it as the scarecrow of calvary, terrifying men into sanctimonious sanctity, or alternately I would make deification into a sin worthy of forgiveness.  Who better, though, to forgive that sin than He Himself.  And I read these words, and they seemed a bleak house, a terrible damnation built in the clouded eyes of bald-robed hermits who drank deserts like salted cacophony, their cauterized cognition vaulted by hollow-toned stone cathedrals with devil vermin falling like waves off the bells.  And I hated these words.  And I hated His message.  And I hated His followers. And I hated Him.  And I wished to humiliate Him, to overpower Him, to destroy Him.  But I loved Him, too.  And now I find that these words have humiliated me, overpowered me, and destroyed me, because He did so.  For they were no words to read until they attuned to the living word that comes dwelling in me, just broken shells devoid of glory.

The Shadow Back

This piece was published in the September 2011 issue of Eclectic Flash.

The Shadow Back

The editor lifted her hand to rub her eyes.  It was late, the stack of submissions before her was as tall as ever.  The light from her desk lamp threw her shadow into sharp relief.  When she said that she wanted her notions of what writing can do exploded, she didn’t mean she wanted high-powered grit and hip imagery redounding on the glitz of life, lust and love, dragging it into the exaggerated grime of romanticism posing as pessimistic realism.  The black letters were failing to stand out against the page, diffusing in washes of white.  She hated Arial.  If these pieces did not improve she would be without something to publish, every editor and every writer’s nightmare; all the good ideas have run out.

What was she looking for?  She could not remember.  The long night had worn down her once defined impression of her goal.  She would know, she kept telling herself.  It is always obvious when something is good.  There is a certain quality that we can identify when it’s before us, but cannot describe otherwise.  We can only expound by example, proving something by its shadow.  She had not even encountered the tip of the shadow, yet.  It projected behind her.

She wearily pulled the next submission into the light.  Her eyes fell on the page, lazily at first, but the story drew her in.  She furrowed her brow at one point, at another she pursed her lips, her eyes would widen periodically, and she released a soft, questioning noise at one point.  The story she was reading broke through her, redoubling the relief at her back.  The hair rose at the nape of her neck.  She was not where she saw what she saw; while pouring over the page she came to be otherwise staring at her own back as if from behind her shadow.  She tried to turn but found that too many twists and turns had taken place.  She could not move her gaze away from the sight before her.

As she stared at her back in the dim light, she began to see things.  She thought her eyes were playing tricks on her, but the more she saw the more she understood the truth.  All the cracks and flaws twined their way along like insects and reptiles.  Every defilement she hid became apparent.  She had been looking for something that showed her herself.  But this seemed a bit presumptuous.  The author was under her skin, where she wanted no one.  Her nature thrust against her very being, tugging her from her intricate about-face.  She thrust the page aside, and shrank from her shadow. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Praying with Clocks

This piece was published at Eunoia Review on May 22, 2011.

Praying with Clocks

The gauze, constricting, shrouds his hands. He would that they would meet, moving beyond the lifeless clasp which whitens the knuckles. No amount of false tears can melt his yearnings to his words, which fall in a litany of useless entreaties. He repeats phrases, runs down lists, enumerates names to eat time away, but the clock ticks baroquely on the inert invocations, as his eyebrow twitches to its every movement. Time progresses, with God but slowly. He sweats with anxiety and steels himself for death whilst his life is robbed. His precious moments simper on, but he is girt only for abasement.

Every day he comes calling. Ask and it shall be given to you, seek and you will find. But nothing poured its deluge and smothered the coals of his expectation. Hear my cry, he would call. Are you there? he would ask. He looked on silence as the face of things, and his brow was not crowned with humility and patience. Once he would lose himself in supplication, but now his staticity made devotions of the clock’s ticking. Because he could not move his heart beyond the seemly, its exertions became fixations. His prayers became fuel to enervate the minutes and hours, his anticipation and his hope, wrapped up in numerical values, ceased to function on the human. He was paralytic in his computing, subdividing chunks of time to make faster its passage; varying his perception of the movement and interpretation of segments to augment the impotence of the already unengaging hours.

Something changes, though; the second hand clicks and vibrates as it tries to move forward. He watches as it ticks off second by second without progression. He frowns at the dirty trick but cannot leave; his hour is not at end. With the counting frustrated, he scrabbles for words and praise to lay out in offering. With every hollow crust of a word, the clock fails to record a second. With every extra moment, his indifference turns to ire. The more he babbles in his mind, the faster time does not pass. He contemplates abandoning the whole failed myth of it all, but he knows if he does that now, he will not be able to go back on it later. What can he do? There is no negotiating with a malignant deity demanding devotion.

It is apparent, he reflects, that only an imposition on his will could bind him in such a way. The convergence of events, the intersection of moods and precedents, these show the artfulness that goes beyond natural life. There is an intervention at work on him. He can but tremble, for he knows not the why or the wherefore. Cut off from man, cut out from time, cut away from the world, he imagines this isolated eternity imposed on every second that he has ever lived. Every humiliation, every shameful act, every guilty moment, every wasted evening, every barren, sorrowful ounce of pain he has inflicted or suffered, each one stretching out, echoing through the canyons of reality, unchanging, deepening the scars in his trapped soul, and he, unable to escape, let go or be free, is shaded with regret, becoming its doppelganger and kin. He begs freedom from recurrence.

Earnestly, he cries. Don’t let my days blow through open windows, he says. Don’t let my crooked ways haunt me. Don’t let my unfruitful hours prey at my mind. Don’t let my goodness be squandered and stifled by evil. Don’t let me be a limb lopped off. Don’t burn my fat and consume me for glory. But above all, don’t let my slow heart impede you. I desire mercy, not sacrifice. Forgive me. Forgive me.

The second hand ticks once more and moves forward.