“Baton Packs a Punch”

12 11 2017

photo from standard.co.uk

I was greatly encouraged to read this recent review of my writing on Amazon. The reviewer, Carolyn Klaus, kindly permitted me to post it here on my blog as well. Enjoy!

I just finished A Way Out of Hell. Wow. It is a tightly woven thriller that has haunted me, day and night, since I began reading it aloud to my husband during a long car trip recently. He doesn’t do novels, but has been as engrossed as I. I cannot recommend this book too strongly.

The author captured my interest by the excerpt on the back cover: “The Intelligence agent leaned back in the chair with his hands pressed together, tapping his lips. ‘If ISIS is indeed here, I want you to find their terrorist cell and take it down. And I want you to do this…’ he paused, ‘…non-violently.'” Was such a thing possible? Yes, as a Christian, I had heard Jesus’ commands to “love your enemies” many times. It hadn’t seemed to me a very practical approach to combating terrorism. But then, the evening news wasn’t showing me very much success from other methods.

Both A Way Out of Hell and the first book in this series of three, Someone Has to Die, demonstrate the author’s intimate knowledge of the many cultures of Indonesia—and of human nature. Carefully chosen details paint the characters and their environments with convincing reality. More impressive to me was the deep sympathy with which the author depicts the inner life of each of the characters—from terrorist to prejudiced pastor. I found myself empathizing even with the bad guys.

But this was not just a highly entertaining read. Baton packs a punch. Peacemaking, realistically, is difficult, risky, and costly. It is not for the faint-hearted or for hirelings. But as the Muslim former jihadist hero says, “The only true and lasting change happens when men’s hearts, like my own, are changed. And men’s hearts are never changed by fear, intimidation, control, threats, or violence. All of these only succeed in reproducing themselves in those we want to change. Fear produces hatred, hatred produces threats; threats produce violence; violence produces anger; anger produces more hatred, then more violence, and the cycle never ends. The only way toward true peace is to stop that cycle and start a new one. There is another cycle we can choose…” Baton has shown how this could work in the real world today. I’ll be thinking about this for a long time. I hope a lot of others– Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and those without religion– read this and do the same.

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International Day of Peace — And a Special Offer

17 09 2017
The United Nations has declared this Thursday, September 21, as an International Day of Peace. The theme this year is “Together for Peace: Respect, Safety and Dignity for All.” Special attention will be directed toward displaced peoples.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres offers this exhortation: “In times of insecurity, communities that look different become convenient scapegoats. We must resist cynical efforts to divide communities and portray neighbours as ‘the other’. Discrimination diminishes us all. It prevents people — and societies — from achieving their full potential.” He added, “Together, let us stand up against bigotry and for human rights. Together, let us build bridges. Together, let us transform fear into hope.”
Check out this short video of Yusra, a Syrian refugee who competed in the most recent Olympics! She wouldn’t have made it without the help of others. Now more than other, the world is recognizing that Jesus’ directive to “love your neighbor” is our world’s only hope.
My friend Rebecca took a risk and loved her neighbors this week in Columbus, OH, where angry protesters threatened Muslims going to their Friday noon prayers at the mosque. Rebecca took her baby and rallied some friends to stand together on the sidewalk as a human barrier just to make sure her Muslim neighbors could navigate the protest safely.
The protesters, a group by the name of “Real Street Preachers,” used a bullhorn and the Bible to condemn the Muslims and graphically insult anyone who stood with the Muslims.

Rebecca writes about a man near her who shouted, “Muslims go to hell… So how many wives do you have, sir? The first one is for beating, the second one you use to cook, the third wife cleans and the fourth one is for sex. You don’t know the words of Jesus. John 14:9! Jesus said, ‘If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father!’ Jesus is God!” He cried out, with his arms in the air, “He’s gonna throw you into hell one day, sinner. He’s gonna throw you into hell one day, Muslim. He’s gonna throw you [looking at Rebecca] into hell one day, whore, lezbo. You don’t know the Bible!”

Rebecca adds, “At one point, I was able to have some reasonable conversation with one protesting man, about 40 years old. As I looked into his calm blue eyes, I thought, ‘He looks so normal.’

“Later, describing it to a friend I said, ‘If I met him in Starbucks, I’d not know he was any different than me.’ He spoke with me, vacillating between a level tone and yelling at passersby, ‘I’ve been doing this since 2010. I know you guys don’t see it this way, but we are loving them… Muslims go to hell! …It’s tough love… You’re all going to hell!’

Just like Jesus, Rebecca chose to express her love by standing against the Pharisees throwing stones and standing with the condemned woman; by choosing self-sacrifice that others might be free. I just hope the Muslims affected by this event go home knowing the true Jesus through Rebecca’s love rather than the crass, condemning Jesus of the “Real Street Preachers.”
SPECIAL OFFER — All my e-books are half price this week for International Day of Peace!
If you’ve read one of my books but haven’t picked up the other two yet, this week only all 3 e-books are on sale half price! That means Someone Has to Die (Peace Trilogy Book 1) is only 99 cents, while A Way Out of Hell (Peace Trilogy Book 2) and A Violent Light (Peace Trilogy Book 3) are only $1.99 each!
Let’s all celebrate this International Day of Peace by loving someone different from us, and coming TOGETHER.




The Circle of Compassion

2 09 2017

circle of hearts“Johnny’s” obvious skin disease meant the other kids usually kept their distance. The fact that he was mentally a bit slow, and had dropped out of school to scavenge trash he could resell to support his family, didn’t help him in making friends either. But neither of these disadvantages could keep this teenager from falling in love.

Our house was Johnny’s safe place, where everyone was included in the circle of love. He dropped by, knowing he’d get a hug from my wife—probably the only one he knew who would touch him with affection—for some dating advice.

“I really like her, but she won’t even talk to me,” Johnny shared. “How do I make her like me?”

My wife responded, “You can’t make someone do what they don’t want to do.”

“Oh, is that sin?” Johnny heard a lot of sermons in his Muslim community about sin, but never seemed to have a clear understanding of what sin was.

“Not because it’s sin, but because you care about her,” my wife explained. “What if I asked you to steal something for me, would you do it?”

“Stealing is sin,” Johnny shook his head.

“I mean, think about how you’d feel if I asked you to steal…”

“I wouldn’t feel good in my heart,” the boy replied.

“Right. Because I care about you, I don’t want to ask you to do something that makes you feel bad in your heart. I only want to ask you do things you feel good about. Make sense?”

Johnny nodded. But it was still a leap to get back to the girlfriend issue.

“So you care about this girl, right? If you ask her to like you, and she doesn’t feel good about that, you shouldn’t force her to like you. Only ask her to do things she feels good about.”

Johnny picked at his peeling skin. The defeat in his eyes indicated he understood. My wife offered to pray with him.

Later when she told me the story, I was struck by how winning someone’s romantic affections often fails when we start with what we want, but will occasionally succeed when we step into that person’s life to find out what they want.

I also saw a parallel picture of how we Christians, even motivated by “love,” often make the wrong choice in how we share the Good News of Christ. We want our friends to know Jesus so badly, we’ll encourage them to make a decision to follow Christ before they’re ready, or to go against their family, even to sneak around behind their family’s back to read the Bible or attend a Bible study. Inside, they may not “feel good” about this, but will do it to please us because we “pressure” them into it, even using Bible verses to back us up. Surely there is a more loving way.

Gregory Boyle, in his amazing book, Tattoos on the Heart, calls us to this deeper and wider type of love:

Soon we imagine, with God, this circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside of that circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased. We stand there with those whose dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away….Kinship is what God presses us on to, always hopeful that its time has come.

One reason that Johnny and hundreds of other Muslims visit our home is that we’ve cultivated a habit of caring about what they care about. They share their dreams of getting married, going to college, seeing their parent get off drugs, the end of abuse in their home, or just knowing that tomorrow they’ll wake up with food in the house. “We’ll stand with you in prayer for that,” we say. And we pray together.

One day a new Muslim guy joined our weekly interfaith men’s prayer meeting. As we all shared our prayer requests, he confessed that he’d beaten his wife last night. “Of course, I was drunk…and she deserved it,” he explained. “But I guess I shouldn’t do that. You can pray for me.”

“All of us married men here know how hard it is to love our wives,” I sympathized. “We’ll stand with you in prayer for that.” He didn’t need a rebuke or a sermon. He already wanted to change! For several weeks we prayed with this brother for breakthroughs in his marriage (while my wife checked on his wife). And God answered him. He stopped beating his wife. And she was absolutely thrilled that he was attending our prayer meeting!

The day came when we shared our prayer requests and he had a completely new one—“I don’t feel God close to me, and that’s what I want more than anything.” You know our response: “We’ll stand with you in prayer for that.” Ah, the loving, wooing call of God was getting through, and this man was now ready to respond.

If we’d kept this drunken wife-beater out of our circle, we wouldn’t have had the privilege of witnessing this holy moment. But in the “circle of compassion” we found a kinship. We stood together with him in the mess. And we were still standing together when God’s love broke through.

Is there anyone you’ve been keeping outside your circle of compassion? Would it “feel good to your heart” to widen that circle just a little more?





Another Award for A Violent Light

15 08 2017

I’m happy to announce that A VIOLENT LIGHT has picked up its third award–the 2017 Global Ebooks Gold Medal for Best Religious Fiction. Though the issues I address in the book are not easy for many American Christians to hear, the recent heightened tensions in Charlottesville, Virginia, remind us that White Supremacy is alive and well in America.

One of the tragic aspects of what happened in Charlottesville included this posting reportedly found on a well-know Neo-Nazi website right after the event: “Trump comments were good…he said he loves us all. Also refused to answer a question about White Supremacists supporting him. No condemnation at all. When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him.”

(President Trump did condemn the KKK and Neo-Nazis by name two days later.)

This mixture of White Supremacy and “Christian” faith is very disturbing to me. Yet it is very real. Just as many radical Muslims quote their Scriptures to support their evil atrocities, Christian White Supremacists quote the Bible to support their racism and violence as well. Religion and violence have a troubled history. The absolute opposite of this would be Jesus, who never let his religion get in the way of his radical love.

If you want to explore these issues further, A VIOLENT LIGHT is the thriller you need to read!

 





Leaving One’s Culture for Jesus, or Bringing Jesus into One’s Culture?

23 07 2017

Going to hellDoes following Jesus mean someone should leave his culture behind, or should he instead bring Jesus into his culture? I pondered this question while reading this week the autobiography of Mahatma Gandhi.

Gandhi writes about an experience in his youth, when he had friends from various Hindu sects, Jains, Muslims, but not Christians: “I developed a sort of dislike for it [Christianity]. And for a reason. In those days Christian missionaries used to stand in a corner near the high school and hold forth, pouring abuse on Hindus and their gods. I could not endure this. I must have stood there to hear them once only, but that was enough to dissuade me from repeating the experiment. About the same time, I heard of a well-known Hindu having been converted to Christianity. It was the talk of the town that, when he was baptized, he had to eat beef and drink liquor, that he also had to change his clothes, and that thenceforth he began to go about in European costume including a hat. These things got on my nerves. Surely, thought I, a religion that compelled one to eat beef, drink liquor, and change one’s own clothes did not deserve the name. I also heard that the new convert had already begun abusing the religion of his ancestors, their customs and their country. All these things created in me a dislike for Christianity.” (p.31)

Living in a Muslim-majority nation, sometimes we see the exact same situation (substituting pork for beef) and the exact same reaction—a Muslim converts to Christianity and changes his diet, his dress, and begins denigrating his family’s religion and culture—which leads to his entire community disliking Christianity even more. Is this what Jesus meant by following him?

One of Gandhi’s most famous quotes is, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians.” Can you blame him? If Christians preached that following Christ meant beef, beer, hats and condemning everyone different from them, how is that “Good News” to a Hindu?

What if Gandhi had been allowed to just meet the Christ of the Gospels and had chosen to follow Jesus within his culture—maintaining the same diet, dress and respect for those around him? In his process of following, would not Christ be able to transform any area that needed change? Shouldn’t Jesus be Good News to everyone, even Hindus?

Do we Christians unwittingly posture ourselves today the same way they did in Gandhi’s day? Do we expect Muslims to take off their head coverings to follow Jesus? Do we refuse to associate with groups at the office over what they consume (alcohol, tobacco, drugs, etc.)? Are we perceived as the most condemning people of other’s beliefs or culture, quick to explain why other people (besides us) are going to hell?

What would it look like to change our approach to only bring Good News and let Jesus take care of transforming whatever he thinks needs work? Could Jesus hold his own in a Hindu or Muslim community? Could he find a place in a Liberal media office, in a gun-rights group, at a homosexual wedding or in Hollywood? Could it be that people in general are pre-conditioned to fall in love with Jesus, “the desire of all nations” (Hag. 2:7), if we could just introduce him and get ourselves out of the way?

And if Gandhi and the world are right, that the most condemning people are Christians, how is this following Jesus when the Bible claims Jesus came not to condemn the world but to save it (John 3:17)?

Let’s face it—Christians do not have a superior dress, superior diet, or superior culture—and the way we act sometimes, we should in no way claim to have a superior religion! The Good News that we do have is Jesus. And he’s Good News for everybody.

What do you think?





The Atheist Muslim

8 07 2017

The Atheist Muslim book“The left is wrong on Islam. The right is wrong on Muslims.”

This tweet by Ali Rizvi, author of the new book The Atheist Muslim: A Journey from Religion to Reason, was followed up by an interview with Vox that was one of the most honest, objective, insightful discussions of modern Islam I’ve read in a long time. I’d love for you to read the whole interview!

Rizvi was born in Pakistan and raised in a “moderate to liberal Muslim family.” He now works as a doctor and author in Canada. He is a liberal who is critical of liberals; a Muslim who is critical of Islamic ideology; an honest intellectual that represents a large population of modern Muslims seldom heard.

In the interview, Rizvi discusses the difference between Islamic ideology and Muslim people living in an Islamic culture. He addresses Trump and the Travel Ban, ISIS and terrorism, the search for Muslim identity, and what a reformation within Islam might look like.

Now back to his tweet: “The left is wrong on Islam. The right is wrong on Muslims.” Rizvi explains—

“On the left, people were saying that if you have any criticism against Islam, then you were a bigot against all Muslims. On the right, it was like, there are a lot of problematic things in Islamic scripture, so everyone who is Muslim must be banned, or profiled, or demonized. Both sides weren’t making that distinction between challenging ideas, which has historically moved societies forward, and demonizing human beings, which only rips societies apart.”

Have you noticed this in your interactions about Islam or Muslims? I sure have. Actually, I’ve noticed it in conversations about Christians or homosexuals as well. Liberals tend to label any critical analysis of ideas as intolerant, while conservatives sterotyped or demonized people because of their association with such ideas. (Although when I talk with atheists about Christians, there’s somewhat of an ironic role reversal.)

Have you ever heard the term, “Islamophobo-phobia”? Rizvi continues—

“Several white Western liberals have confided to me that they agree with what I say, but won’t say it themselves because they’re afraid they’ll be labeled bigots or Islamophobes. I call that ‘Islamophobo-phobia,’ the fear of being called Islamophobic. It’s a great way to shut down the conversation and silence people with colonial or white guilt.”

One of the strengths of this interview, and no doubt the book, is that Rizvi enlightens us as to the ongoing conversation millions of Muslims around the world are having about these issues right now. They are wrestling with their own identity, culture, ideology, faith and the future of Islam. Rizvi concludes the interview like this—

“Today, this conversation and this movement is happening within the Muslim world. It doesn’t just include the hijab-wearing women and bearded men you see on your TV. It includes the beer-drinking Muslim colleague you work with; it includes the Muslim girl at college who had doubts about her religion’s views on women; it includes agnostics, atheists, and free thinkers like me who want the freedom to change our minds without literally having to lose our heads. There are many voices in this conversation, and you don’t have to choose. Just let it happen.”

What can we do? Be a sympathetic listener to your Muslim friend as he or she processes their own faith journey. Ask sincere questions without making assumptions or generalizations. And share your own journey of questioning within your own religion.

For those of you whose curiosity is piqued to read the interview, I’d love to read your comments!





Anti-Muslim Protests Planned Across America

27 05 2017

On June 10, 2017, in 22 major cities in America (Yes, you, Houston! Seattle! St. Paul! Kansas City! Raleigh! Orlando! etc.) a group called ACT! for America is planning anti-Muslim “March Against Sharia” protests. This conservative group expresses their prejudice against Muslims with the typical fear-mongering outlandish claims about an Islamic conspiracy to take over America; that “tens of thousands of Islamic militants now reside in America operating in sleeper cells, attending our colleges and universities, even infiltrating our government” and asserting that radicalized Muslims “have infiltrated us at the CIA, at the FBI, at the Pentagon, at the State Department.”

The website for one Florida branch of ACT! for America even makes this highly offensive claim: “It is not ‘fanatical’, ‘radical’, or ‘extreme’ Islam that we are fighting, but normal, orthodox, canonical, typical, accepted, traditional Islam.” This is pure prejudicial hate-speech against all the upstanding Muslim-American citizens around us who ACT! wants to deny their freedom of religion.

This group’s solution is to ban ALL Muslims from entering America, and to pass Anti-Sharia laws in every state before it’s too late and America falls to Global Islamization.

[Interestingly, my award-winning book A VIOLENT LIGHT introduces a similar group with a similar name (“Act Now to Save America”) though I hadn’t known at the time that ACT! for America existed.]

What can we do to show our support for our Muslim neighbors? Here are some ideas from my contact at the group Shoulder to Shoulder:

  • Rather than planning counter-protests or vigils or anything like that (which could add fuel to ACT’s desire to gain media attention), it might be more fruitful to use the fact that it’s Ramadan to encourage interfaith Iftars [fast-breaking meals] on the nights of June 9 and 10 in particular, and we could help pitch these to local and national media as the “counter-protests”, in that they are ignoring the fearmongering that ACT is doing and instead, getting together with neighbors to celebrate a beautiful time for the Muslim religious calendar.  Of course, just encouraging interfaith partners to connect with their Muslim contacts in these cities to find out what they are doing/thinking is the first step.
  • Muslim Advocates is working on a letter that could be sent to mayors, police chiefs, etc., to alert them of the anti-Muslim marches and to make sure they understand that these are hate groups leading them.  We could encourage faith leaders at local levels to be part of the group that sends/delivers those letters, showing community leaders that a broad segment of their constituents (not just Muslims!) are concerned about this.
  • ReThink Media is willing to help us with drafting and pitching op-eds from local clergy in some select cities.  I will do some outreach to clergy on our rapid response list, but if you have people you’d like to recommend to me in any of the cities displayed on this map (where protests are planned), please let me know.  We’d want the op-eds to run the weekend of the protests, not before, so that we don’t give them extra publicity.

Is your city on the map? If so, and if you’re interested in doing something in your city, perhaps Shoulder to Shoulder or I can link you with others who are also committed to religious freedom and loving your neighbor.

Is your city not on the map? Then I recommend you begin now to make friends with the Muslims in your school, workplace, neighborhood, park, and city. Don’t let the nightly news convince you that all Muslims are out to kill you. They’re not. Get to know a Muslim and find out the truth for yourself.

If you are a Christian and with the goal of self-preservation want to close your nation, your city and your heart to Muslims, I suggest that your fear is too great and your God is too small. Ask God to enlarge the capacity of your heart to love–whether you consider Muslims your neighbors or your enemies–Jesus offers no second option for those who follow him.

And please pass this on to other groups or churches in your city. Letting our Muslim neighbors know they’re cared for as an important part of our multi-cultural America is the best way to keep them from being radicalized by angry, disenfranchised extremists.