Posts Tagged ‘revelation

01
Nov
22

Part II: The Question I Wanted to Ask the Imam

In yesterday’s installment (which you can read here if you so desire), I talked about a Q&A session I had with a Turkish imam on a recent tour.

Imam Ramadan of Guzelyurt, Turkey

If you read that post, you will also remember that I talked about the (at least) three hurdles of translation that must be surmounted in any conversation between two people who speak different languages. 

Sometimes we clear those hurdles. Sometimes we don’t. 

In my case, I felt I didn’t.

But there was another question I really wanted to ask Imam Ramadan. However, since there were 26 of us trying to quiz him, I held my tongue and let others have a chance.

I really wish now I had been a little more selfish.

The other question I wanted to ask the Imam had to do with his understanding of the nature of God’s revelation. As you probably know, one established pillar of the Islamic faith is that the words of the Quran are a direct, spoken revelation from God to the prophet Muhammed. They were revealed incrementally to the prophet over a period of 23 years, beginning in the month of Ramadan, concluding in the year 632, the year of the prophet’s death.

According to Wikipedia: The Quran is thought by Muslims to be not simply divinely inspired, but the literal word of God. Muhammad did not write it as he did not know how to write. According to tradition, several of Muhammad’s companions served as scribes, recording the revelations. Shortly after the prophet’s death, the Quran was compiled by the companions, who had written down or memorized parts of it.

So… the question I really, really wanted to ask the imam was: Do you believe God is still revealing elements of God’s identity and God’s will to humans? Or do you believe that all divine revelation began and ended with those 23 years God spent talking to the prophet Muhammed?

As I sat and tried to formulate this question in my mind, I wanted to be sure I didn’t ask it in a way that sounded as if it were a test. As in, “You know, imam, there is a right answer here and a wrong answer, so I hope you are sharp enough to answer correctly.”

Of course, I have my own thoughts on the subject. My feet are firmly planted in the “God is CONTINUOUSLY revealing new facets of God’s reality and will for the world” school of thought. 

From where I stand, God’s revelation never stops. Sure, the attention span of flawed, limited humans doesfade away, causing our eyes and hearts to glaze over and our minds to wander. But that’s on us. Not on God. 

I am right there with the apostle Paul when he said, “Ever since the creation of the world God’s eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been seen and understood through the things God has made.” (Romans 1:20, NRSVU).

I do believe, however, there is a way for a devout Muslim to say, “Yes, I believe in God’s unique revelation to the prophet Muhammed, but I also believe God speaks to each of us in every moment of every day.” But I would have loved to hear an Islamic religious leader voice that position. 

The trouble, of course, comes when we try to figure out WHO can communicate what they heard through God’s revelation. 

Can only SOME people do that? Or do ALL people possess that authority? 

And if we say this ability only belongs only to CERTAIN people, which people are those? And who decides?

As we know all too clearly, some of the greatest atrocities in history have followed closely behind the phrase, “God told me to ____________.”

From where I stand – here in my limited, skewed corner of the world – it comes down to what we consider to be God’s essential nature. I mean, if God’s essential nature is in fact LOVE… unconditional, justice-and-mercy-seeking, sacrificial, and all-empowering LOVE… then God would be absolutely RELENTLESS and CREATIVE in trying to connect with you and me. 

This God would never quit peeking out from around corners, popping up out of kitchen cabinets, or closet doors… not to mention the more obvious places like sunsets and mountain streams… saying, “Hey, Russell (or insert your name here)! Here I am! I love you and I want you to find me and connect with me and have a vivacious, living relationship with me!” 

The God my brain best relates to is not a God who stands off in the distance… aloof and mysterious… waiting for the right people with the right credentials to make their cowed, humble approach. 

But alas… I never did get to ask Imam Ramadan this question.

I bet if I had though, he and I would probably be a lot closer in our views than either of us might imagine.

Abundant blessings;

03
Oct
20

A Tangled History

Yesterday I wrote about the way politics and faith seem to live on polar opposite ends of the known universe. (a post which you can read in its entirety here.)

As we check the historical record, however, it seems they have not always been such oppositional bedfellows.

In the earliest pages of Hebrew literature, we see that guidance about how to live life was actually a pretty simple process; God spoke. People listened… or didn’t. Consequences followed. God spoke again, and the process repeated itself.

Among ancient civilizations, Israel was not alone in claiming some kind of divine authority as a guidestar. However, Israel was unique in clinging to the notion that Yahweh sought an on-going relationship with all the world’s inhabitants… beginning with them.

In the early stages of that relationship, there was no intermediary. God spoke directly to Adam and Eve… directly to Noah… directly to Abraham… and to Isaac and others. 

As the people became more numerous, we came the time of the Judges. These were not judges in the sense of today’s legal system. They were actually the first intermediaries God used to communicate God’s eternal words of guidance. (One of the earliest, and most respected judges of that time was a woman named Deborah. You can find her story in the Bible in the book of Judges, chapters 4 and 5). But the basic idea was the same… God spoke to the judges… the judges passed God’s words along to the people… the people either complied or didn’t. Consequences followed, and the cycle repeated itself.

But it wasn’t until the early Israelites stopped and looked around them that the real trouble started. When they looked to the north, south, and east, they saw the nations on every side were ruled by mighty kings from splendid palaces. They sat down on the floor – very much in the manner of a stubborn child – and said, “If they can have kings, so can WE!”

God tried to talk them out of it, warning of the lurking dangers, to no avail. Israel held its breath until it turned blue and passed out. And so, God threw up God’s hands in frustration, relented and said, “Fine. Suit yourself. Have all the kings you want. You’ll be sorry!” Or words to that effect. (1 Samuel 8:19-22, NRSV). 

And thus began history’s long, painful saga of the numerous attempts to answer the question, “Who will lead this nation?”

Some of those attempts have leaned on the leadership skillsets of extraordinarily talented people… and then on their somewhat less-talented offspring. Others have attempted to re-establish the idea that God is really in charge, working through a humanly engineered theocracy (from the Greek theokratia meaning “rule of God”). Most of the time we saw that those were theocracies in name only. People were still calling all the shots, merely invoking God’s imprimatur as they did.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Age of Enlightenment ushered in the consensus that it was a dangerous, unseemly thing to mingle the realms of the ethereal and the ephemeral. And as that consensus grew and took root, great thinkers of the day (such as Sir Francis Bacon), believed they had finally severed any of the dodgy connections that remained between faith and politics. 

But just like the south’s legendary kudzu plant, those connections simply would not die. We see remnants of them today in evangelical Christian groups like the Religious Right, Liberty University, and organizations such as Ed McAteer’s Religious Roundtable, Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition, Tim LaHaye’s Council for National Policy, and many others.

Those connections also thrive at the other end of the ideological spectrum. The so-called progressive Christians have been known to mix a strong dose of political agenda in with their theology as well. As a result, some of their churches tend to look more like social service agencies than places of worship. 

The examples of excess we see on both the right and left leave us all wondering: is there even such a thing as a BALANCED, or MODERATE mixture of faith and politics? Or are these two things that should simply be forever separated… 

… like matches and gasoline?

Hmmm… where might we look for an answer to that question?

Hey! What are the chances that maybe the Bible has something to say on the topic?

Tune in next time.

Abundant blessings;

16
Jul
20

The Sound of Roadblocks

Road-Closed-Ahead-SignMost of the time, we (maybe I should say “I”) misread roadblocks.

It’s like the time my grandmother bought us a piano. I think I was eight or nine years old. Grandma thought that was the perfect age for me to begin my journey into a lifetime of joy-filled music-making.

To help make Grandma’s dream a reality, my mother found a willing teacher through our church – Mrs. Nelson – and got me started. I went over to Mrs. Nelson’s house at 4:00 every Tuesday afternoon after school for my 30-minute lesson.

I maybe completed four total lessons before I tearfully begged my mom to let me quit. Piano was BORING! It was HARD. The piano teacher smelled funny. I missed playing baseball with my friends after school. I told my mother I HATED piano lessons and considered them to be a form of child abuse.

Mom finally gave in to my whining and that was that. Fortunately, she played the piano, so the instrument did not just sit in our dining room gathering dust.

I read the monotony of basic piano lessons as a roadblock that said, “Avoid this road! Find another way!”

The difficulty of learning to play the piano was an early example of a roadblock I have encountered, but it was hardly the last.

Almost every new skill I have ever learned – whether it was playing the guitar, hitting a baseball, learning the Spanish language, becoming a homeowner, or properly exegeting a passage of scripture – seemed to begin as a roadblock.

Some of those roadblocks I interpreted as saying, “Avoid this road! Find another way!” Others I read as, “Dig a little deeper! Try a little harder!”

How do you decide which message your roadblocks are sending?

Most of the time, I believe it is better to lean in the direction of the “try harder” interpretation. Personally, since my default mode is “lazy,” I would find it too easy to be dissuaded from exerting a lot of effort in pursuit of a goal.

Sometimes, though, we really need to detour and find another road. I mean, heck, if I hadn’t broken it off with Marsha Westbrook in the sixth grade, I would never have met the lovely woman I am married to today!

The current pandemic has certainly provided more than its share of roadblocks, hasn’t it?

  • It has crossed its arms and stood defiantly in the way of my efforts to volunteer with the local hospice and our church’s praise band.
  • It has obfuscated our attempts to make friends in our new town.
  • It has befuddled our plans to travel to visit family.

I recently realized that I have a choice about these roadblocks. I can choose to fuss and fume and complainabout them. Or I can pause a moment and listen to them.

And when I choose to listen to them, I find out something very interesting about roadblocks… I find that they have the power to reveal something profound about God and the nature of the universe God made.

Roadblocks have the power to remind me – actually ALL of us – that God is the God of Unlimited Options. Whereas I might see TWO, or on a good day, THREE options ahead of me, God can see BEAUCOUP! (which is French for “a ton.”)

My task then, is to, as the psalmist reminds us, “Be still and know that I am God…” (Psalm 46:10) and listen for the other options God is revealing.

Shhhh. Do you hear that?

It is the sound of your roadblocks speaking.

28
Aug
18

Fish Nibble Love

I had to look it up.

The name of the fish is Garra Rufa. They are sometimes referred to as “doctor fish” and they have apparently become the hottest thing in spa treatments. That’s because if you put your feet into a tub full of them, they nibble off all of the dead skin.

But nowhere in the literature did it tell me that the tiny Garra Rufa fish could also serve as an instrument of religious revelation.

In November 2014 I was fortunate to lead a group of people from my church on a 10-day pilgrimage to Israel. This is an experience I cannot recommend highly enough for those who aspire to follow Christ. The experience of walking in the exact same places where Jesus walked, seeing some of the exact same things he saw, breathing the same air he breathed is soul-changing.

Yardenit baptismal siteOn Thursday of that first week, the itinerary called for us to stop at Yardenit (meaning “little Jordan”). Yardenit is a place on the banks of the Jordan River that has been set up to allow pilgrims to stop and either re-enact their baptisms or be baptized for the first time… in the JORDAN RIVER!

I was not going to miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I paid my money to rent the obligatory white robe, went to the locker room and put it on over my swimming suit, and got into line.

When my turn came I was dipped under the murky, brown water of the Jordan by two people and had the Trinity invoked in my name, and was anointed with oil… an EXTREMELY powerful moment for me.

But you know what I remember most about that whole experience? I remember that as I stood there in line, waiting to be dunked, the little Garra Rufa fish were swimming around my feet. And then they began nibbling away at all the dead skin they could find. Yardenit 2I’m sure it was a delightful buffet for them.

At first, it startled me … and then it tickled… and then became very annoying. I mean, here I was, trying to be all spiritual and holy and there are these little fish, nibbling on my feet under the water. But as this was all happening, a really odd thought hit me. The thought that hit me was this: “I wonder if these same little fish nibbled at JESUS’ feet when HE was here being baptized?”

And the moment I asked that question, it was like WHAM! This whole, lofty, theological concept that we call INCARNATION suddenly became very, very real to me. We read John’s gospel where it says, “And the word became flesh and lived among us…”(John 1:14, NRSV), and we can be very analytical and thoughtful about what that means. But it wasn’t until I finally got this image of Jesus… standing right there in that water… having his feet nibbled on by these pesky little fish, that the whole thing became really real for me.

And then, I don’t mind telling you, it was a moment that jumped up there right alongside the moment of witnessing the birth of my first child, or standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon. It became a moment when the raw reality of God and God’s love for me came up and smacked me in the face like an open hand.

WHAAACK!!!

I started to weep on the spot and could not keep the words of John 3:16 from running through my mind. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NRSV).

Or, as I paraphrased it at that moment, “For God so loved the world that he allowed his feet to be nibbled on by little fish!”

That is real love, folks. Love that bends down and experiences the full range of humanity… from the sublime to the ridiculous… from the mountaintop to the outhouse… from the holy moment of baptism to the annoying little fish nibbles… THAT is the real deal.

And that is the real love God offers YOU today.

06
Jan
18

SHAZAM! Or Ahhhh….

aha momentAnother Mega-Millions Jackpot drawing… another day of not winning for me.

Of course, I am sure my odds of winning would go up dramatically if I actually bought a ticket.

And so, as I try to console myself about that gigantic disappointment, I realize there are quite a lot of other dramatic, life-changing bolts from the blue that did not happen to me today.

For example, I:

  • … was not given my own reality show on network TV.
  • … did not awaken to discover astonishing athletic skills heretofore unknown to me.
  • … did not become impervious to all manner of illness and physical infirmity.
  • … was not suddenly blessed with the singing voice of an angel.
  • … did not abruptly discover the cure for lymphoma, and finally,
  • … did not instantly become a “stable genius” overnight.

And the more I thought about it – here on the traditional day of the Epiphany – the better I find I can relate to the Wise Men.

Epiphany Day is recognized as the day when the Travelers from the East arrived at the manger in Bethlehem. It was the culmination of their two-year journey that began with a decision to follow a new, luminous star that had suddenly appeared in the sky.

It was a journey sparked by the conviction that they would meet – face-to-face – a new royal leader.

A Deliverer.

A Messiah.

Finally, the star stopped moving. It came to rest and illuminated the place where the new king could be found. And what did those very wise, very adventurous men find at the end of their “rainbow”?

They found a humble carpenter, his teenage bride, and their precious toddler son.

And as Matthew’s gospel tells us, they, “… knelt down and paid him homage.” (Matt. 2:11), followed by extravagant gift-giving.

They didn’t say, “Hold up a minute… this is A BARN and an ANIMAL TROUGH! And this “king” is just a BABY! We were expecting to see some kind of powerful RULER with jewels and robes and at least a scepter in his hand! What gives??!!”

But I guess that is why they call these wise men wise.

They were wise because they realized that a Deliverer did not have to conform to a set of accepted expectations in order to be a Deliverer.

They were called wise because they realized that a King didn’t necessarily have to wear a crown.

We call them wise because they realized that a Messiah can be just as powerful a messiah when he arrives in the shape of a baby.

Wisdom was ascribed to these wise men because they saw that answers to the riddles of life do not necessarily have to come in the form of a “bolt out of the blue” super jackpot responses.

May we all have just such an epiphany today.




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