Chasing the Bishop: An Evening with a Syrian Christian

Last night my husband and I had a rare opportunity to hear from Bishop Elias Toumeh, a Syrian bishop. The following is an account Cliff wrote while it was still fresh in our hearts and minds. This piece is long form so I encourage you to sit down and not try to read through it to quickly. Thank you for reading – for the opportunity to share!

Chasing the Bishop: An Evening with a Syrian Christian by Cliff Gardner

Marilyn and I had the privilege of attending a talk on March 28th entitled “Christians in Syria at the Crossroads” at Hellenic College & Holy Cross Greek School of Theology in Brookline, MA. The speaker was Bishop Elias Toumeh, a Greek Orthodox Syrian Christian who resides in the area of Wadi al-Nasara (Valley of Christians) near the Syrian city of Homs.

We were anxious to hear his talk and to learn more from someone on the ground experiencing the current crisis in Syria. We were also a bit hesitant about what he would say about the Syrian Christian support for the Assad regime in Damascus, and possible vitriolic rhetoric about Muslims.

We arrived to the lobby of the Maliotis Center to find a sea of Arab-American Christians from Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, mingling with the students of Hellenic College and Holy Cross, including our youngest son, Jonathan. Like anyone who has lived in another culture our ears perked up when we heard the familiar cadence of Arabic being spoken. I quickly spotted “the Syrian bishop” by his black robe, long beard and icon chain pendant. He was speaking to some of the Arab-Americans. I wanted to introduce myself and was about to make verbal contact after a smiling nod, but he was ushered quickly through the closed door into the auditorium. I turned to Marilyn and whispered, “I almost got to the Bishop!” 

We continued to mingle with guests and greeted an old acquaintance and began to talk about the ongoing tragic situation in Syria and that it had not only effected Christians, but all Syrians.

In typical Middle Eastern/Mediterranean fashion our 7:00pm talk began around 7:30pm. We entered into the auditorium to find a large screen with a PowerPoint presentation with a large photo of the Syrian city of Ma’lula, where they still speak the ancient language of Aramaic. Bishop Elias was introduced by Fr. Luke Veronis, who stated that they had wanted to create an all-day consultation on Christians in Syria. They were going to arrange for some expert in the U.S. to speak when someone said, “Why don’t we invite a Syrian to speak?” How novel.

Bishop Elias stepped up to the podium and in a gentle but authoritative voice welcomed the audience in English and Arabic. We were all pleased. He proceeded to provide the backdrop of the current three-year long Syrian crisis. Here is a synopsis of some of his statements and stories (Note-as much as possible I have tried to use his words with mine in brackets):

  • Christianity was born in Palestine and Syria. Christians were first called Christians in Syria (Antioch). St. Paul became a Christian in Syria (on the road to Damascus). Christianity was the faith of Syria before the introduction of Islam.
  • Syria is a country of great ethnic and religious diversity. There are 23 million Syrians. 10% of Syria is Christian, including a variety of Orthodox, Catholic and Protestants. There are also Muslims who are Sunni, Shi’a, and Alawite. There are also Jews. There are Arabs, Kurds, Jews, and Turkoman.
  • Syria has experienced three years of fighting and conflict that has affected all citizens. Here are photos of damaged churches. (He then proceeded to click through slides of damaged churches, Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Protestant Evangelical and Catholic. We all held our breath at the carnage we saw. And then he clicked on the next slide entitled: On the other hand: 1,400 mosques have been destroyed. We still couldn’t take that in.)
  • I live in a predominately Christian area of Syria but there are Sunni and Alawite villages around me. One day I heard of an angry crowd gathering in the town square of the Sunni village and I decided to go and try to make peace. I drove with three other Christian men who had warned me of the danger. We drove to the town square and were surrounded by the Sunni crowds. The Muslim shaykh came out and greeted us and took us into the building and we talked about the need for our communities to live in peaceful co-existence. At the end of our talk the shaykh asked his two children, aged ten and six to come and kiss my hand. He said, “Bishop Elias, you are not just a bishop for the Christians, but you are also the bishop of the Muslims.”
  • I have learned in this crisis that a bishop is not a person who sits on thrones or is taken to fancy restaurants, but is to be a shepherd to his people.
  • A few Christians have been martyred for their faith by Islamic extremists, but then the kidnappings started. In April 2013 two prominent Orthodox Bishops were entering into Syria through the town of Bab al-Hawa. Their driver was killed and they were kidnapped. Nobody knows their whereabouts. Thousands of people have been kidnapped; Christians and Muslims, and some have been used to trade for arms, food or other prisoners. (Bishop Elias told the story of a busload of men who had been kidnapped, including two Alawites, two Sunnis and four Christians. He was asked by the Christians to help mediate and also by the Alawites to mediate. They said that they only trusted the Bishop. So at midnight in a car by himself he drove alone followed by Alawite militia and he stopped when he encountered the Sunni militia and they traded prisoners.)
  • The Christians of Syria have suffered alongside their neighbors. 30% of Syrian Christians have immigrated (fled) to other countries, 30% have been displaced within Syria and about 30% remain in their homes.
  • When asked why so many Syrian Christians are still supporting the Assad regime he said, “As Orthodox Christians we believe that we are to honor and obey our government and that the army is obligated to protect us. When the government is dissolved and the army is no longer able to protect us then we will have to make other choices.”
  • When asked if Syrian Christians should arm themselves he replied, “No private Christian should take up arms. If you take up arms it means that you have an enemy. We do not have human enemies. There are Syrian Christians who have taken up arms but we do not condone that. We are willing to be martyrs for our faith, but we will never tolerate a genocide.”
  • The uprising in Syria began with public demonstrations that were suppressed by the government and the Free Syrian Army was formed. There are Christians in the government army and also in the FSA. But in recent times this war has included radical Muslim elements from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Turkey and funded by countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar. (Someone recently told me that Syrians refer to it as al-harb al-wakil “the war of special agents/interests.”)
  • As Christians we are called to be peacemakers. We are to welcome all people fleeing the violence and destruction of their homes and loss of jobs. We are to take them in and provide for them. The humanitarian crisis is most vital as we see the needs of those created in the image of God. (He shared of the work he does with children who have been greatly affected by this culture of war. Some of the children in his town were exchanging their normal toys with plastic and even real guns. The hearts of children can and must be changed.)
  • We should encourage all of our governments to put pressure so that the violence would stop and that a secular, democratic government should rule and that a New Syria could rise out of these ashes.

After Bishop Elias’ talk we had a Q&A session and he answered honestly and frankly to each inquiry. We were all still processing his talk and the photos we had seen when the meeting ended after a prayer.

Marilyn and I spoke to a few Syrians around us in the audience but we really wanted to speak to Bishop Elias in person. We weaved through the auditorium, trying to chase him down and were just about to greet  him when he turned toward the aisle and greeted those around him, mostly Arab-Americans. We trailed up the aisle, again on the chase, and he was accosted by a sobbing elderly Syrian woman lamenting the woes of the Christians there. He comforted her with words and then she turned to us and continued in Arabic that she wasn’t crazy but so saddened by the deaths of Arab Christians. Her grief felt raw and real, a reminder that this is real people in real conflict. We continued in our pursuit of the bishop and entered the lobby and finally I caught up with him near the front exit door. I greeted him and thanked him for his informative and compassionate talk. He smiled and thanked me for coming and asked that we continue to pray for him and for the people of Syria. He apologized and said that a car was waiting for him to drive to New York City.

It is so important to hear these voices and to not just listen to our own particular political or religious media sources of the current crisis. As Christians we are called to be peacemakers and to reach out and help alleviate the suffering in the world, whether they are people of our own faith tradition or of another.

Bishop Elias ToumehBishop Elias Toumeh is currently the Orthodox Bishop of Pyrgou-Syria. He studied engineering in Syria, theology at the University of Balamand in Lebanon, Arabic & Islamic Studies in the Vatican, Rome and doctoral studies in theology and Islam at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece.

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I Heard the Cow Bells on Christmas Day – A Guest Post

Cowbell.

In the almost three years since I began blogging I have wanted my mom to write a post for Communicating Across Boundaries. And today is the day. Today she’ll take you to a small city in Pakistan and a Christmas where the cow bell on the outer door rang all day long. It was indeed, for those who are Will Ferrell fans, ‘More Cowbell’. Those of you who lived in Pakistan will be familiar with Christmases that aren’t about family, but about community celebrating the birth of Christ.

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It was the doorbell.  The carolers left just before midnight for the first service of Christmas Day in the small church, and our whole family went with them.  A small Christian community lived in this very Muslim city 300 miles north of Karachi. Christmas was their Big Day and they began it with the men of the church going out on Christmas Eve to sing carols at each Christian home. The night was cold, so I served them steaming cups of chai and Christmas cookies after they sang in our living room. We came back from church at about one in the morning; Ralph to fill the kid’s stockings, and I to do the cleanup.  Our children, Stan and Tom, Marilyn and Dan were soon snug in their beds.

The next day would be busy, but I had no idea when my head hit the pillow that our cow bell on the outside door across the yard wouldn’t ring for the last time until eight that evening.

Our day began early. Even though the children weren’t small – two were teenagers – they were up early excited with their stockings.  Before we could have our breakfast, the bell rang.  A family, the only Christians in their village, had come in to spend this special day with Christians in town.  The Pastor who lived next door invited them to share their breakfast and I told them to come for tea with us after the Christmas service.  We ate our cinnamon rolls with scrambled eggs and tea, then hurried to be ready for church.

The door bell rang again.  Two young men came in asking for something they needed to finish decorating the church. After the longer than normal service we greeted everyone there, and were wished all the blessings of this Big Day.  I was about to leave for home when Elizabeth and her brother Shokat stopped me to ask a favor.  “Auntie, could we come to your house this afternoon and make a cake?  We want to take it to the chief surgeon at the Civil Hospital where our sister works.” The whole family shared the small house allotted to their sister, a midwife at the hospital.  When I hesitated momentarily thinking about a baking project in my small kitchen on Christmas Day, Elizabeth reassured me, “Don’t worry, Auntie.  Remember, you showed us girls how to make a cake last month.  We’ll bring all the things we need.  We just need your cake pans and the oven.” I assured them it would be fine if they came at one or two o’clock.

As soon as we got into the house, people started to come.  The local Catholic nuns came, the family from the village, a few Muslim friends, nurses from the hospital.  So many people who had become part of our lives in the community in the nearly four years we had lived here. I kept on making fresh pots of tea and refilling plates with Christmas goodies from our kitchen as well as sweets and savory snacks from the bazaar. Marilyn and the boys were right there helping.  I calculated that we washed every tea-cup in the house three times. Elizabeth and Shokat baked their cake at some point with only minimal help from me.  During the late afternoon I managed to put our Christmas dinner together – no turkeys in our market.  Our choice was chicken or goose and this year it was roast chickens, prepared for roasting the day before.

But before we could sit down to our family dinner, the doorbell rang again.

“Oh no” was my silent thought. I didn’t think I had any energy left to serve even one more cup of tea. But we couldn’t ignore that cow bell.  One of the boys went to answer the door and returned with a woman from the local sweeper colony. I knew her as the mother of two teenage girls I was teaching to read. She came to thank me for how I was helping her daughters. And she had carried a large basket of fruit from the bazaar as a gift for me. I was overwhelmed to think that I hadn’t even wanted to open the door.

Late in the evening, as we sat around singing carols as a family and opening the gifts we had wrapped for each other, I looked around at our children and I thought about this Christmas Day when those bells had rung the whole day. What a day we had all had, our children right along side us, serving all those cups of tea to our friends with not a single complaint.  We were living here in Pakistan trying to represent Jesus, the One we celebrated on this special day. This had to be one of our best Christmases ever.

Pauline BrownMore about the author: Pauline Brown is the author of Jars of Clay: Ordinary Christians on an Extraordinary Mission in Southern Pakistan  and the co-author of Sindhi: An Introductory Course for English Speakers. Pauline spent over 30 years in the country of Pakistan, learning daily to communicate across the boundaries that daily life presented. She is an Amazing Woman who loves God and her family of five children and their spouses, 17 grandchildren (and some of their spouses) and six of the cutest great grandchildren the world has possibly ever seen.

Give Her a Break!

Yesterday at breakfast Lowell was reading NPR journalist, Heather King’s spiritual memoir, Redeemed. I just finished reading it a few days ago too. In some ways it’s a sequel to her book, Parched. If Parched describes the depths to which she sunk in her alcoholism and various addictions, Redeemed, follows her journey out toward God. It’s a well-written document of her honest spiritual journey through the death of her father, breast cancer, community and divorce. The cover describes it best when it says, “A Spiritual Misfit Stumbles toward God, Marginal Sanity and the Peace that Passes all Understanding.”

Lowell, in between bites of cereal, made a comment about King’s battle with cancer. Bronwynn, ever listening, asked, “Is this the same person that was an alcoholic and a drug addict?” When we indicated that it was, she continued, “And now she has breast cancer?” Lowell swallowed and nodded yes. Bronwynn’s response was a quick and heartfelt prayer, “Geez God—Give her a break!”

I have prayed that same prayer for many of my friends over the years. There are times when it seems people are doled out too much. The suffering is too deep, too painful. And it keeps coming. No one has just one isolated sore-spot. Pain piles on pain. Divorce on top of cancer. Death next to another illness. Unemployed and then a suicide in the family. Robbed and shot.

Geez God, give them a break.

Lately I’ve been praying this prayer for my beloved Pakistan. Pakistan is the home of my childhood. I grew up there. I have “aunts” and “uncles” and friends and old neighbours yet there. My memories of the call to prayer, train rides through the Thal Desert, fresh kinoo oranges, playing with goats in the chuks (villages), picnics by the canals are vibrant and very much alive. When I played dress up it was with Gulshazia and Nadine in a secluded courtyard. We folded silky headscarves into burqas and we donned them with innocent modesty and giggles. When we played kitchen it was over a small brick fire pit. Sitting on our haunches we madly stirred our imaginary curry and kneaded the dough for pretend roti. Sometimes mom actually let us light a fire. Sometimes we had a real potato to cut into our pot. Sometimes we had real atta to mix with water to make our roti dough.

Pakistan, since its beginning in 1947, has been through the wringer. Political instability, caught in the crossroads of terror trafficking, rocked repeatedly by drought, earthquakes and floods it can’t seem to cut a break. And yet my heart cries out for that very thing, Geez God—give her a break!

In some ways I suppose I’m still trying to process the attack at All Saint’s Church in Peshawar that happened on September 22nd. Earlier in March, in Lahore, an angry mob burned two churches and blazed over a hundred homes of Christians. An earthquake hit on September 30 and another one rumbled through on October 6th. On October 16th, 2013, a suicide bomber attacked the law minister, Israr Gandapur, in his home as he celebrated Eid with friends and well-wishers. Eight were killed and another thirty were wounded. Wikipedia has thirty-eight pages dedicated to “Suicide bombings in Pakistan” –and all that just since 2007! Watching this place that I love suffer so much, so deeply, so repeatedly has been unbearable.  Others of us who claim Pakistan, either by birth or by adoption, also struggle to come to grips with it all. It’s become this unbelievable patchwork of griefs so deep and impossibly difficult to articulate perpetually shrouding my soul.

And yet so often it seems to me that Pakistan is so misunderstood. It’s been painted by the media to be the source of all terrorism, and all evil. I want the world to know that Pakistanis are not the enemy. Pakistanis should not be judged by the acts of evil or by the terror-sharers that come from the region.  Imagine if outsiders or foreigners heard of the shootings in Colorado, or the tragedy last winter in Newtown, Connecticut and they mistook all Americans as violent senseless evil-doers.  We would rise up in protest at such ignorant generalizations. And we must do that now too on behalf of Pakistanis.

Pakistanis are the victims. They have suffered repeatedly at the hands of evil-doers. They’ve experienced more terror and violence than we can ever imagine. War is constantly fought on her northern borders. Relations with India are fragile at best. To the west Afghanistan’s prolonged issues leak out into Pakistan. It’s too much. Terrorists maybe the enemy. But they are not just our enemies. They are Pakistan’s enemies too.  Pakistani Muslims and Christians are the prize. We need to fight for and win that precious prize.

I plead for mercy for this, my war-wracked country. I petition for justice for a place where the seeds of corruption were planted generations ago and continue to push up like a noxious weed. I beseech The God of Ishmael and Isaac to show favour on those who seek Truth and Peace.  I pray the US has great wisdom in her dealings and interactions with this vulnerable country. Pakistan was never meant to be America’s diving board into the region.  The use of drone strikes is unjust and cruel. The innocent are killed. The grieving and the angry; the hurt and the confused rise up like a swarm of stirred up bees. Pakistan’s independence, sovereignty and attempts to rule her own country are thwarted with each new drone attack. A successful hit still doesn’t, in my mind, justify the hundreds of unarmed civilians killed in unsuccessful hits who’ve been killed. (Wikipedia estimates that anywhere from 286-890 innocent people have been killed –including over 160 children.)

Pakistan is a country rich in history and natural resources whose people are warm and dignified, whose culture is hospitable and generous. She has much to offer the globe. She understands the complexities of being a smaller younger sibling in a feuding clan as she stands together with her South Asian family: Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Pakistanis invite others into deep loyal friendships that are laced with a wonderful sense of humour. Pakistanis love children and respect the elderly; they hate to offend anyone; time is flexible and free flowing; they respect modesty. You’ll never eat more delicious food, or drink better chai. There is a deep kindness that cloaks the Pakistani culture. You know it as you enter it. Pakistanis are very gracious and welcoming.

But mostly, I cry from a heart perplexed by the complexities of so much sorrow, and with complete reverence: Geez God, give her a break!

“Different Styles, Perfect Pair” – Thoughts on a 29th Anniversary

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Even though we have different styles, we’re still a perfect pair…

Admittedly, cards for Anniversaries can be cheesy. But somehow I liked the one above. For today is our 29th Anniversary and a celebration over the weekend reminded us once again of what it means to continue on this journey called ‘marriage’.

Each year when July 15 rolls around I wonder: Should I do a blog post? Should I write about us? About our marriage?

And every year I have done so with a lump in my throat and a wonder if I should have.

But in an era where marriage is less and less a sacrament, and more and more about ‘love’ alone – I think it’s worth it. I think it’s worth taking a look at the For better and For worse pieces of this mysterious institution, designed by God and carried out by fragile, broken men and women.

29 years is a lot of life. A lot longer than we lived as single people. Sometimes 29 years feels like a whole lot of ‘young’; a lot of joy and laughter. Other times 29 years feels like a whole lot of ‘old’. a lot of tears and anger.

For there are times when you laugh until your stomach aches and you can’t imagine life without this person. And then there are times when you are so angry you wish evil thoughts on this person – the one to whom you pledged your troth.

For Better or For Worse has different meanings now than it did to a 24 and a 23 year old – and yes, I am older than He.

For better now means joy-filled weekends when we can get away, time with our kids discussing deep topics or laughing until it hurts; dreaming together; me still laughing at his jokes – even after all this time. For better means ocean walks and figuring out what it means to love God and love each other.

For worse now means a lot of pain and heartache; too many moves; not enough Grace.

For richer means a trip to St. Maarten for our 25th anniversary; dinners at the Emerson Inn with Oyster Bay Savignon Blanc in crystal goblets; buying me real gold earrings.

For poorer means learning how to pay off debt and say ‘no’; losing a home and paying for college.

In sickness now means melanoma checks and high cholesterol, colonoscopies and mammograms.

In health means walking for miles and energy to work hard in our fifties.

And through all this somehow Hope has been stronger than Despair; Laughter more powerful than tears; Joy infinitely more determined than sorrow.

I still have the red shoes and in winter He still has the tan boots.

We are opposite in some things and on the same page in others. We are indeed “different styles but a perfect pair” – a pair that could only have been thought up and orchestrated by God Himself.

And those are my thoughts on the 29th Anniversary of a Brave Marriage.

The Victory That is Easter – A Guest Post

He is Risen EggOn this day Christians across the world are using a greeting that began over two thousand years ago – greeting each other with the words “He is Risen” and responding in turn: “He is Risen Indeed!” They are words that I have heard since I was a child, and in my faith tradition they are words of Hope.

My oldest brother, Edward Brown, wrote an Easter blog post earlier in the week and it resonated deeply with my soul. He has allowed me to re-post so I am sending you over to his blog today. Enjoy and make sure to take a look around his blog.

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It is the start of Holy Week. Christians of whatever label take time this week to remember and celebrate events that are at the heart of our faith: A coronation march into an ancient city. A sham trial. A barbaric execution. An unexpected finale with earthquakes, empty tombs, and wild rumors. And finally, a dead man come to life. Euphoria, despair, confusion, victory – all in one short week.

This up and down cycle of Holy Week is a pretty good metaphor for life. Whether it is our own small lives or the grand drama of human history through the ages, we experience the same wild swings from giddy joy to awful despair, with a lot of waiting time sprinkled throughout. This is a picture of how God works in our histories, small and large, to bring us to an end that he sees and has ordained from the beginning.

We know how it ends before we begin

That last phrase is where we have to begin: The end has been planned from the beginning. As Jesus went through the cycle from the exuberance of the Triumphal Entry (Palm Sunday) to the sorrow of the Last Supper to the humiliation of his trial and the agony of the cross, he knew that that he was participating in a drama whose end had already been written. There was pain. There was shame. But there was no uncertainty. He knew how it would end.

John makes this clear in his introduction to the events of the Last Supper:

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end… Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper… [John 13:1,3-4]

Jesus’ whole-hearted embrace of events that had been laid out for him from the beginning of time reminds me of Psalm 44:4 where we are told that God “decrees victories” for his people. What a great thought: We don’t have to earn our victories! God has decreed that we will win. If this was true of Jesus, and of the ancient people of Israel, it is also true of us in our day. Whatever today feels like, God has already decreed that there will be a victory. It almost feels like cheating – like starting your first game in the NCAA tournament knowing that strings have been pulled and you have been guaranteed the crown.

Not what we expect.

But the victory that God has decreed is not like winning a tournament. It may in fact be a ‘win’ that looks and feels like a defeat……Read more here!

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Ed Brown is the Executive Director of Care of Creation, an organization whose mission is “to pursue a God-centered response to the environmental challenges that brings glory to the Creator, advances the cause of Christ, and leads to the transformation of the people and the land that sustains them.” In this role he travels extensively both nationally and internationally, leading seminars and speaking on the topic of caring for God’s creation. He is the author of Our Father’s World, Mobilizing the Church to Care for Creation and a second book that was just released, When Heaven & Nature Sing:Exploring God’s Goals for People and His World published by Doorlight Publications.

A Thousand Little Conversions – A Good Friday Meditation

This week it struck me that faith is not a one-time  “come to Jesus” event. Or rather there’s not one point of belief. I don’t think there’s one moment of conversion.

We are called to a thousand little conversions. We are invited into constant transformation, continuous reformation.

The Light of the World (Manchester Art Gallery)

In 1854 William Holman Hunt painted a picture he entitled, The Light of the World. It depicts Jesus standing at an old overgrown door knocking. Upon deeper inspection you see that the door has no handle. Although some critics assumed Hunt had forgotten a door handle Hunt insisted the door handle was missed by deliberate design. Fifty years after he painted it he was still explaining the symbolism– the door could only be opened from the inside representing what he called our “obstinately stubborn mind(s)”.

I love the picture. It moves me to see Jesus still wearing his crucifixion crown of thorns standing there so gently. He’s waiting. Patiently.

I answered the door and let Jesus in years ago.

But I’ve discovered that Jesus is kind of like a nosy neighbor, he keeps knocking. And more recently he’s started ringing the doorbell too. He doesn’t call first, he just shows up. Now I find he’s been exploring my soul-house and he’s tapping on other doors too.

I find him rapping gently on my children’s doors. Will I trust him with my kids? Will I let him be in charge of the Parenting of their souls, the Writer of their stories? Will I? It’s a moment of decision. I have to make the choice to let him into those rooms.

He’s shown up at my closet door. Will I trust him with what I’ll wear? He’s been in the kitchen too. I wouldn’t be surprised if he knocks on the fridge door next. Will I believe that he’ll provide for the very basic things we need? Do I honestly think he’ll take care of our family?

In February he knocked on the cupboard door where I keep our photo albums. I thought that was ridiculous! What on earth was he doing wanting in there? I was pretty sure he had the wrong door, but I opened it for him and showed him the contents. He wants me to trust him with my memories, with my past, with the pain of being separated from my parents when I went to boarding school. Will I? Will I let him redeem even that space?

These are moments of conversion for me. These are thousands of opportunities for him to change my mind about my kids, about the food I eat, the clothes I wear, the memories I hide. There are thousands of these little conversions every day.

In India we rarely used the word “conversion”. It had come to mean “forced conversion”. There were groups of Christians who would move into a village and promise seed to grow their crops for everyone that would “convert”. Naturally, thousands of people “converted” and earned their free seed. (I’ve certainly done much less to earn a free gift as a result of marketing ploys)! Months later groups of Hindus would then move into the same village and offer a free blanket for those who “convert” back to Hinduism. Of course thousands would “convert” back for their free blanket. Nothing happened in the heart for those poor manipulated villagers. The statistics the Christians were collecting were padded. The numbers of reclaimed were increased for the Hindus that came reconverting later. It was a manipulated mess. Consequently we tried to avoid the word, “convert”.

With the crucified Jesus there is no such thing as a “forced conversion”. He doesn’t force his way into any space. Jesus knocks patiently and gently. He asks permission. We can ignore the knocking. We can pretend no one is home initially and then later when he gets nosy and curious we can pretend there’s nothing of interest in the places where he knocks. He will never push his way in. He will never barge in. He is ever long-suffering. He’ll wait.

But when he enters a space, no matter how mundane or painfully significant, he brings freedom and rest. He redeems. He restores.

Like Hunt, I think Jesus still wears the crown of thorns. It reminds us that he endured a lot for the opportunity to be a part of our lives. The cross matters. It’s a matter of life or death for us. The cross was the way, as mysterious as it is, that God made for us to be able to relate to him at all.

Today, on Good Friday, I’m letting Jesus in. Deeper. I want to trust him with more. I want him to continue to convert me, transform me, change me. I want him to make himself at home.

This is my (Good) Friday prayer for a thousand little conversions.

Choose Your Outrage Carefully

There is much written about injustice in Haiti and Guatemala, Colombia and Brazil. There is much written about injustice in African countries from Nigeria to Namibia to Angola. Outrage erupts and pictures of starving children are posted on Facebook walls and blog posts. We decide what merits our outrage, and much of what is seen and written does merit outrage.

But rarely is anything written about injustice in Pakistan. Rarely does injustice in Pakistan merit anyone’s outrage. The only thing Pakistan merits is a biased screen production that gets awards. 

Because Pakistan is not sexy.

Pakistan breeds radical Muslim terrorists.

Pakistan is an enemy state.

Pakistan is not a ‘go to’ destination at any level.

Such is the thinking on Pakistan – and injustice doesn’t really matter when we don’t like something or someone.

So let me tell you about injustice in Pakistan today. 

On the evening of March 8th a mob of around 3,000 people attacked a Christian colony in Lahore. More than 175 houses were set on fire. The report goes that this attack was the result of a quarrel between a group of Christian and Muslim men. At the time the fight was not religious but later, one of the Christian men was accused of committing blasphemy of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

Here is a report from a group in Pakistan:

“Thank God that no loss of any life took place as people saved themselves by fleeing from their houses before the mob reached.   This incident has left all the inhabitant of this colony homeless as well as deprived of all their life savings. They have lost everything they had.  Though our Government has started to take action against the culprits yet people are still under fear.

Please keep all these people in your prayers that may God be with them in such a difficult time.”

The media has been curiously quiet – you have to search hard to find this on any of the major networks.  There is no outrage. Yet we see hundreds who have lost homes and everything they have.

Because they are minority Christians in a Muslim majority country and frankly, no one cares.

So where it the outrage? 

We in the west are funny about outrage aren’t we? The Susan G. Komen foundation decides to defund Planned Parenthood and we are outraged! Where is justice we cry!

Really?

Really?

Chick-fil-A president makes a personal statement about gay marriage and we are outraged!

Anne Hathaway smiles too big at the Oscars and we are outraged!

Someone criticizes another someone for writing a book and we are outraged!

And here I will drip with sarcasm and anger – our outrage about these things is just so very important isn’t it?!

Wake up people! Choose your outrage carefully.

And with that I wish you a Happy Monday.