Category Archives: Global Issues

Rendition

I recently saw the movie Rendition and was moved by some of its messages. While I am far from an expert on international law, terrorism, appropriate interrogation techniques, etc. I do believe that we need to be careful as a society in what we do and what we allow other countries to do in our name.

I believe America is the land of freedom and opportunity. At the same time, we can’t do things in the name of protecting America that violate basic moral decency or our Constitution. If we sacrifice our soul for safety, we will have lost what we are really trying to protect.

Governments need to take aggressive action to identify and stop terrorists. And I know this is a hard line to walk. Governments will make mistakes, but that is no excuse for policies or actions that produce more enemies than solid intelligence. National security is not an excess for torture or lack of due process for American citizens. If someone is suspected as a terrorist from another country, the local authorities there should follow their laws.

What do you think of the following movie clip?

http://www.witness.org/index.php?option=com_rightsalert&Itemid=178&task=view&alert_id=49

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Wow… cutting down trees is good for the environment:)

The latest issue of Wired magazine had a cover story that attempted to debunk some common myths about environmental issues. Here was the cover text…

“Attention Environmentalists: Keep your SUV. Forget organics. Go nuclear. Screw the spotted owl.”

Wow, the article called for some interesting ways to cut carbon emissions. This article gave a whole new meaning to an inconvenient truth. 

I especially like the section where the article made it clear that cutting down trees is not necessarily bad for the environment. That has always been one of my pet peeves. Some people think that cutting down a tree is the worst thing you can do. I think that trees are a great renewable resource. We should cut them down when necessary. That is a whole lot better than using wood alternatives, such as plastic or metal. Trees are the answer.

See more of the article at … http://www.wired.com/wired/

Or find out more about the environmental benefits of using trees at http://www.greenspirit.com/trees_answer.cfm

Missons for All the Wrong Reasons

A friend of mine recently said, “I am so tired of people going on a two week mission trip where they work for about two days and think that they have given up some big sacrifice to be a missionary.”

My friend and fellow Christian made a real good point. Many churches, including my own, make a huge deal of missions trips. There are promotional videos, testimonies, informational meetings, etc.  None of this is bad. But it can quickly go off course. I have especially seen this with younger people who do a mission trip because evidently that is what you are supposed to do if you want to be liked at church.

Please do not get me wrong. I am pro missions, even short-term trips can be a good thing. I don’t even mind missionary tourism where the trip is about seeing Biblical sites or learning foreign cultures. Those can serve a good purpose to widen the worldview of Christians in America. But I do think we need to be honest about our level of sacrifice. We need to realize that the Gospel is about Jesus not us or even other people.

Personally, I have only been on a few missions trips where I felt like I had to sacrifice much at all. Strangely, those have all been trips that took place less than eight hours from home. And those sacrifices were primarily my own mental sanity for a day or so.

Giving up a week’s vacation is nothing compared to what many others have done for the Gospel. Working hard in the hot sun for three days is not persecution. You are not a super Christian just because you went to a foreign country on a missions trip for two weeks and slept in less than posh surroundings. 

As a youth worker, I have seen students come back from mission trips with either bloated opinions of their accomplishments or a sense of disillusionment because it somehow did not live up to their expectations of Biblical proportions. My real concern is that sometimes these mission endeavors serve as an excuse not to share the Gospel instead of a catalyst for even more relational missions when we get home. It is like people get home and check evangelism off their to-do list for a year. 

I really believe what we do when we get home is the real test for how successful a missions endeavor was in impacting our life and worldview.

More than anything, I believe that people, especially teenagers, need to process through their experience and get a sense of perspective. While it is good that a student may come home and be thankful for what they have, that isn’t much of a spiritual outcome when you consider all the effort that goes into international missions. The main objective of missions trips is not to make people happy that they live in the USA.

I am concerned that trips without proper debriefing can lead to Christians who get the wrong ideas about missions. They can go on future trips with the wrong motives and not realize the dangers in doing “spiritual” things for selfish reasons. It can be so hard to detect our real motives because we can become very good at disguising them. Then, we don’t even know the truth of what is going on inside of us.

The objective of missions isn’t even other people. The real goal is to glorify God and to extend His Kingdom rule across the planet. This is not done by fear, violence, manipulation or intimidation. Instead, this is manifest by service and love as God receives the glory for the good things that His Church does in His name.

Missions is a must for the Church today. But it cannot be something that just happens on foreign trips or church outings. Being a witness for Christ is what all true Christians are called to be every day of our lives. We never check that off our list.

If we started going on mission trips for the right reasons, would we start living at home a bit differently? Maybe we would act more like Christ when we talk to our neighbor or come across a checker at the grocery store who is having a bad day.

Slavery, Transforming Grace and the New Testament

The apostle Paul made a call to grace in the epistle of Philemon. Paul wrote it while in prison and appealed to Philemon, a Christian in Colossus, to accept and forgive Onesimus, a run away slave who also happened to be a fellow Christian. Paul wrote about a specific situation, which identified key differences in how Christians should view the world compared to pagans. 

Under Roman law, a master could severely punish a runaway slave. This included beating the individual, breaking bones, confining to hard labor or even death. Huge numbers of people were slaves during the first century. The Roman economic system depended on slavery.

The apostle Paul did not directly condemn or call for the abolition of slavery. However, he clearly didn’t support it either. Paul made a case for transforming grace that would eventually topple the slave system due to new relationships in Christ. 

Paul appealed to Philemon’s reputation, their personal relationship, Paul’s involvement in Philemon’s conversion, the transformation that had taken place in Onesimus’ life, and the new relationships created in Christ as slave and master became brothers. Paul recognized that Onesimus had wronged Philemon, yet he called on Philemon to charge whatever debt was owed to his account. Then, Paul carefully reminded Philemon of his personal debt to him as well as Paul’s apostolic authority. 

In one sense, Paul sent Onesimus back to his master to keep from undermining existing law. Also it provided an opportunity for Christ-centered grace to be exemplified in a real life situation. This epistle shows us one example of how the early Church dealt with the challenging institution of slavery. We can learn from this example today as we seek to deal with social injustice in the world.

Paul challenged the evils associated with slavery while recognizing that the focus of the Gospel should not be confused with mere social reform. This could cause us to lose our heavenly mission for merely an earthly one. Instead of focus on slavery, Paul changed the dynamic to focus on brotherhood and mutual respect in Christ.  In a subtle way, Paul called for more than just forgiveness of a debt. It seems that Paul was urging Philemon to free Onesimus just as Christ had done for him.

In the first century, the Christian faith created a new paradigm where slaves and masters became brothers due to a change of heart that only comes through relationships. Paul’s instruction provides a deep justification for forgiveness and reconciliation.

“Holy” Law?

The Archbishop of Canterbury recently created a stir in Great Britain by suggesting that some elements of Sharia law should be recognized in the British legal system. I had never heard of Rowan Williams until today. The first thing that I noticed is that I liked his accent. Actually, I covet it. I wish that I sounded as smart as he does.

Williams made some interesting points. I agree with his major premise that some elements should be recognized. For example, marriage ceremonies by imams, private dispute resolutions according to Islamic traditions, etc. This would only be allowed in non-criminal matters. All parties would have to agree to it, and the decisions and practices could in no way violate existing laws. Thus, a Muslim couldn’t insist on Sharia principles without consent of the other party and in full alignment with existing British law.

Anything beyond that, I believe would be harmful for British society and would make tensions worse between the various ethnic groups in that country. If Muslims don’t like those apples, they can move to Iran, Egypt or Saudi Arabia. Of course, any accommodation to Sharia principles would have to be approved by parliament and upheld by the courts.

I can sure see how the thought of even a tiny bit of Sharia law would cause concern for the average Brit. Most people hear the term Sharia law and think of stoning, beheading and belittling women. The archbishop was not arguing for those things.  

Sharia law might even seem like an oxymoron for some Westerners. I know that I think of Taliban rule and many fundamentalist Islamic practices as barbaric. Yet, there are some moderate aspects of their tradition that could fit into Western legal systems. In places where harmonization can be reached, we should attempt to find solutions so that we can all live together.

Of course, I would draw a line that preserves the rights of non-Muslims. While Muslims can practice their religion, it should never infringe on the rights of others not to practice it. For example, I would not allow the call to prayer to be broadcast in public except over a radio station or other non-intrusive methods.

Article on the Controversy

http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2008/02/08/europe/EU-REL-Britain-Shariah-Law.php

Interview with BBC

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B0f_vvPUXAU

Random Thoughts from Morocco

Here is a hodgepodge of random observations from my trip last summer to Morocco.

  • Mint tea is really good. I wish it was America’s national drink and not Budweiser.
  • Morocco is a microcosm of what progressive Islam could look like in other countries. Part of the country is very traditional. Part of it is somewhat mystic. And part of it is very modern and urban. How these worldviews collide and interact will be interesting in the next ten years.
  • Just like there are many different demonimations of Christians, there are lots of different branches of Islam. Many of the Muslims we met were more secular than religious. Evidently, being a lukewarm believer is not just a problem for Christians.
  • Moroccan architecture focuses on open spaces for fellowship and entertaining. American architecture has become more about private entertainment and cocooning. was very neat. I liked the open spaces in the homes. This was achieved by having sofas that line the sides of the wall in the room, creating more spaces to sit and opening up the center of the room.
  • The smog in Casablanca was bad. The city was nothing like the movie. I actually said at one point, “Thank God for the EPA.” That’s hard to expect coming from a Republican who works in the forest products industry. 🙂
  • You haven’t lived until you have gone to a Suk out in the middle of nowhere. Think Wal*Mart meets neighborhood bazaar circa 1900.
  • Our team went into some remote areas of the country. We stopped at a little store that did not have water. But this little mountain hut had Coca-Cola. Evidently, it gets shipped in on the back of a mule.  
  • The Medina in Fez was huge. You could literally get lost in it and never find your way out. Be careful stopping too long at any one shop unless you want to buy something. I had one shop owner try to sell me his daughter when he found out that I was an American.
  • Cork comes from the bark of trees. And Morocco is one of the largest exporters of cork in the world.
  • I experienced the greatest generosity in my life from a Berber family in a small mountain town. They don’t have much, and they treated our team to a great big meal. I felt so unworthy of it all. I will never forget how they blessed us. We were able to take a love offering to repay them. But I don’t think I could ever really repay them if I emptied out my bank account. Their generosity put me to shame.
  • Our team worked at an orphanage based on a family model. It was the best model that I have seen so far. A husband and wife team agrees to come raise 8-12 kids from birth until they reach 18 years old. Most of the kids come in a two year window. That means the couple must make a 20 year commitment to raise 8-12 children that are not their own kids. Many of these couples come from all over the world. I met a man from California named Eddie who was getting ready to take the plunge with his wife. Eddie’s commitment and sense of call really touched me. I tend to think that giving a one year commitment to something can be a stretch. These people offer a huge chunk of their life and think nothing of it. I was humbled and convicted even more of my own selfishness.
  • God opened my heart to Muslims on my trip last summer. I used to dismiss them as all crazy extremists. But that is far from reality even though I happen to believe that their religion is based on lies and not the truth.
  • If you want hot, go to Fez in the middle of the summer. I almost melted away twice.

There Is No Problem Here

Religiosity is alive and well in Islam just like any other major world religion. I define religiosity as doing something in the name of god that any rational person would see as foolish, useless, inhumane, or possibly even evil.

While in Morocco, our team saw this by interacting with a ministry that seeks to help women that get pregnant outside of marriage. Islam strictly forbids sex outside of marriage although many young people do it. At the same time, most families discourage getting married until a man can support his family. This means that most couples do not get married into they are in their 20s or 30s. Just like in American culture, many Moroccan youths don’t wait for marriage. The young “lovers” take their chances, thinking that they will not get pregnant. Many times a young “man” will lie to the girl, promising to marry her if she will only sleep with him.

If the girl gets pregnant, in many cases the guy walks away claiming the child is not his. Unfortunately, that’s not odd behavior for many young people around the world. It’s just sinful human nature. The women gets left with the baby.  

In Morocco, it is illegal to have an abortion although many pregnant women have back alley procedures done to terminate unwanted pregnancies. I applaud the Moroccan government for protecting the life of the unborn. But unlike in the United States, a Moroccan woman that decides to go ahead with an unwanted pregnancy faces a much harder road to navigate.

Our team was told that most Moroccan families will not help the woman do to the public shame of having children outside of marriage. While it may not be a big deal in the United States, it is a huge scandal in most Muslim countries. We were told that many families would privately pressure the woman to have an abortion and would then welcome her back once the “problem” went away. All of this would happen in secret because abortion is illegal and in most cases forbidden by Islam.  

In many cases a Moroccan woman pregnant outside of marriage would be on her own to cover the cost of the birth, raise the child and provide for her family. There is limited legal recourse to seek for child support. She would be cut off from her family. She would find it nearly impossible to ever get married. Many women are somewhat limited in what they can do as far as occupation. It would be a fairly dead end situation for this woman. That is why an abortion is such an attractive thing.

The Moroccan government doesn’t want to really help due to the cost and the concern about encouraging sexual promiscuity. Instead, we were told that the government simply acts like it is not a big problem. Humanitarian workers on the ground in Morocco told us that the problem is much worse than the government reports.

While the Moroccan government has done the right thing by limiting abortions in the country, the society does not do the right thing when families refuse to support young women who make the mistake of getting pregnant outside of marriage. It seems the loving response would be to support them.

Please take a few minutes to pray for all the young women in Morocco that face the difficult scenario described above. Pray that young people will understand the risks and be smart. Pray that the Moroccan government will allow humanitarian and aide organizations to get the permits and support to help with this often ignored problem. Please lift up the families involved that they will see their responsibility to love and support their “wayward” teens and young women. Pray that Moroccan guys will realize that they have an obligation to woman if they sleep with them. Most importantly, please pray that thousands of Moroccan youth will come to know Jesus.