Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Take It All In

What makes one day more special than another? What embues a moment with extra light, and more vivid color, than the one previous? What broadcasts an apparently casual statement onto a billboard in my mind? I'm not entirely sure, but I thrive on those moments. Normal life, normal schedule...then suddenly I feel the nudge and I see the spotlight.

Most of my living takes place between the magic - during the perfectly-fine days at work, and comfy-cozy evenings at home or with friends. It is vital to be my best during this time, to live fully even when I don't feel like it. Or when I don't feel like it makes a difference.

But then it happens. Maybe I meet someone new, or visit someplace new. And as I am walking through the unusual day, it is as if there is a small voice in my ear saying, "Remember this one. This is special."

One such moment happened about a year ago, when my sister and her family had traveled from their home in Boston to spend time with the rest of us here in Little Rock. It had been a great visit, but finally, the time for them to depart was looming on the horizon of my mind and I was spending one last afternoon with them. It just so happened that I got to spend the majority of the afternoon with my 3-year-old niece, C, by running errands and cooking supper and reading. When it was time for me to leave in the evening, I was saying my good-byes and barely holding back the tears. My family is so special to me, and saying good-bye is never easy, no matter how many times we do it. So I picked up C, and she gave me a big hug and smiled, and said, "Can I keep you for a really long time?"

Needless to say, this was an extremely bittersweet moment. I so wanted to say, "Yes." But I didn't. I handed her to her mama and I went to the restroom to compose myself. And I knew I would never, ever forget that day.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Somebody "Gets" It!

I just read this article, by Richard J. Mouw. I'm smiling from ear to ear. I am quoting below the section of the article that spoke to me the most. I think by now most evangelical Christians are conscious of some sort of disconnect between who we are, and who we appear to be, to those outside our group. Undoubtedly, we usually don't make things better. But there are a few prominent evangelical voices with whom I identify, and Richard Mouw is one of them. I'm going to stop writing now and just let you read the article.


"I spoke at Chautauqua this summer, as part of a week of lectures in the Abrahamic religions. There were two days of Jewish lectures, a couple of Muslim lectures, and then I was the last speaker. The president of Notre Dame spoke in the morning, and I was last in the afternoon. There was a lot of evangelical bashing that went on. I was told that the crowd was largely liberal mainline Protestants, with a smattering of people who just had an intellectual interest in religion, but weren't believers. And there were a lot of Jews, and quite a few Muslims. So I spoke to this audience of mainly liberal Protestants, Jews, and Muslims.

"I explained evangelicalism to them, as I understood it, and tried to say, "You shouldn't equate evangelicalism, as a movement that cares about the gospel, with the religious right." I did all that, and then concluded by saying, "You know I live with a number of tensions, and I want to describe one in my life," and this was my ending with them. I told them about the National Prayer Breakfast this year, where Bono spoke in the morning-he was wonderful. Then at the leadership luncheon, in Washington, the speaker was King Abdullah of Jordan. And he was great! He called Christians, Jews, and Muslims of good will to work together against extremism of all sorts. He condemned terrorism and expressed sympathy with the people of Israel who had experienced terrorist acts-horrible things. It was a very reconciling approach, and very intelligent. He quoted passages from the Koran that spoke about the need to be peacemakers, to be good neighbors, to love other people, to show mercy toward others that you disagree with. Then, after the luncheon, about 20 of us were invited to spend an hour and a half behind closed doors with His Majesty. Rick Warren was there, and a number of others, but also quite a few Muslims and Jews. It was mainly evangelicals, Muslims, and Jews. And King Abdullah was even better in private. People asked him questions, he made his case, and he was so sharp! So bold, so courageous; really great.

"At the end his bodyguards came in, ready to whisk him away, along with an older rabbi from New York City. But the rabbi said, "Your Majesty, you've got to stay one more minute. I've got to say something before you go. So tell your people to get their hands off you; I've got to say something." Then he said to King Abdullah: "I'm so impressed with you. We need you." He said, "I worry about your life. I worry about your safety. I worry about the safety of your family. Take care of yourself. Surround yourself with people who will protect you. We need you." And this rabbi said, "Before you go: This is presumptuous, I know, but all of us sitting around this table are the children of Abraham. And I'm going to do something on behalf of all of the children of Abraham. I want to give you a blessing. I promise you I'm going to pray for you, but right now, I want to give you a blessing." And then, the rabbi gave King Abdullah the Aaronic blessing: "The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you; the Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon you, and give you peace." I cried. It was a wonderful moment.

"I described this to the Chautauqua crowd, and I said, "You know, I've got to say this, as an evangelical Christian. I believe everything I've said prior to this in my talk today, in the God whom I worship as an evangelical. And I believe with all my heart that that God looked down there and saw that rabbi blessing that Muslim king, and God said, 'That's the way I want it to be. This is the kind of thing that I want to happen in the world.'" You know, there's that great passage in Genesis 17, where Abram goes before the Lord, and the Lord says, "I'm going to establish my covenant with you. I'm going to change your name, and I'm going to give you a son. You don't have him yet, but you're going to have a son. I'm going to make my covenant with him, and through him all the nations of the earth will be blessed." Abram says, "But I already have a son, Ishmael. What about him?" Then there's an amazing passage, where the Lord God says: "Nope. I'm going make my covenant with Isaac. But I heard you about Ishmael, and him, too, will I bless."

"There is a sense of mystery there: that as a son of Isaac gave a blessing to a son of Ishmael, something profound was happening. I don't understand it all. And I said this at Chautauqua: I don't know. I don't know how to explain it all in my theology, but I'm willing to live with that mystery. And I said to them, "I've got to tell you another thing about myself. Every NFL game, behind the goal posts, somebody gets a seat and holds up a John 3:16 sign. That's me. Behind all the goal posts at the championship games, behind the backboard, there's somebody with a John 3:16 sign. That's always going to be me. I'll live with the mystery. I'll acknowledge that, but at the same time, I've got to hold up the sign that says, 'For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.' I've got to tell you that."

"Well, they applauded, and that was the end. Then a wonderful thing happened. A Jewish woman stood up, and she said, "You've destroyed my image of evangelicals, and I want to thank you." She said, "I want to tell you something. I'm going to pray for you." She said, "I worry about your safety."

"Billy Graham comments: "I'm willing to live with the mystery. And yet, at the same time, every time I get a chance to say it to a Jew, or a Muslim, or a Hindu, or a Buddhist, I will say it: 'Jesus Christ is the only way. There's only one Savior.' I'll leave it up to God, as to how he gets through to people and what he's going to do, but I'm going to preach Jesus Christ, and him crucified."