A Halloween to Remember

31 10 2019

halloween.jpgHalloween—the dentists’ favorite holiday…

My American friends who take a walk through their neighborhoods today will be greeted by an assortment of scary decorations in front of their neighbors’ homes: carved pumpkins, skeletons, witches, ghosts, gravestones, giant spiders, black cats, even skulls placed on a stick. In American culture, decorating homes like this is a fun way to celebrate a holiday that is mostly focused on children dressing in costumes and getting free candy.

I sometimes wonder how a new immigrant to America might respond when he sees this. Imagine someone fleeing a war-ravaged nation where gravestones and skeletons are reminders of the horror they left behind. Suddenly they have to face the same images every day in their neighbor’s front yard.

I also wonder why Americans enjoy these macabre decorations. Is it because these are things we no longer fear? Perhaps generations past were haunted by such realities, but now we feel safe in our modernity?

If so, maybe these decorations serve a positive purpose—to declare our victory over the horrors and fears of our past. We can use Halloween to remember that we’ve been brought “from darkness into light” as the Bible says.

But I’d like to encourage us on this holiday to also remember those who are still traumatized by recent horrors, and offer a prayer for them.

Living in Indonesia, we’ve had to deal with 8-inch spiders invading our home, a ghost haunting our school, and real witchcraft destroying people’s lives. But even worse, the image of a skull on a stick reminds us of the horrific genocide that occurred the year our daughter was born.

A conflict between the indigenous Dayak people of the interior of our island, and the immigrant Madurese, turned into a vicious ethnic cleansing of the central province, sending tens of thousands of Madurese fleeing into our port city and then fleeing our island altogether. Roughly 100,000 people ran for their lives with what they could carry on their backs. We helped feed some of them at the harbor waiting for boats to take them off-island. It broke our hearts to hear that some of them were offering their children for sale for the price of a meal because they couldn’t stand to see their children starve.

But the worst memory for many people in our area was that the main road between our city and the central province was lined with spears, each spear holding a severed human head. This was not even 10 miles from our home.

Thank God, today the Madurese are slowly trickling back into the central part of our island and are at peace with the Dayaks. God’s healing power is stronger than man’s evil.

But let’s remember the suffering people of the world today—in Syria, Congo, the Rohingya of Myanmar—there are many for whom skeletons may represent their own loved ones.

As you bless the costumed children of your neighborhood with candy, please pray a prayer of blessing for a hurting world still trapped in the darkness, for those who long for a day when the horrors of the past are far behind them and they can experience true peace. Make this a Halloween to remember them.





World Religions Quiz

24 07 2019

WhatsApp Image 2018-11-09 at 5.18.27 PM(10)How much do you know about world religions?

A Pew Forum study of nearly 11,000 Americans done this year found that most of us can’t even correctly answer half of a basic world religions survey.

Think you can beat the average? Take the survey here.

I thought I should take the challenge since I teach a World Religions class to high school students. I was relieved to get a perfect score. 🙂

Besides teaching, I am also involved daily with Muslims in Indonesia, and occasionally take time to chat on issues of faith with an online interfaith discussion group. I’ve learned a lot from those interactions that I never learned in books.

Here are my 3 takeaways from the survey results—

  • Most of us don’t know much about the beliefs of those of other religions.

In fact, as a Christian I’m embarrassed to say that in general, Jews, atheists and agnostics know more about others’ faiths than we Christians do.

Why? Pew Forum found that it wasn’t related to Jews, atheists and agnostics having higher education (though they do). I suspect that it comes down to who we choose to interact with and whether we’re willing to ask honest questions.

  • The #1 greatest factor discovered by Pew Forum backs up my theory: personally knowing people from other faiths is the single most significant determining factor as to understanding the beliefs of other faiths. Out of 32 questions on the full survey, those who only knew members of 0-3 other religions scored an average of 8.6 right answers. But those who knew members of 7-9 other religions scored a whopping 19.0 questions right, far above the average.
  • How this connects to peacemaking is also interesting—Pew Forum added a “feeling thermometer” of how respondents felt about those of other faiths. Not surprisingly, the more we know about another’s faith, the more warmly we feel toward them; and the less we know about their faith, the more cool or even suspicious we might feel toward them.

If we apply this principle to social issues such as the anti-Semitic graffiti in Santa Monica this week, or the 26 times mosques have been targeted in liberal, multi-cultural California in the last decade–with everything from arson to death threats to bomb threats to actually stabbing a worshiper–my guess is that whoever is behind such horrendous deeds has never tried to make a Jewish or Muslim friend.

While taking a World Religions class can be helpful, the most meaningful thing we can do toward building a world of understanding and peace is to make a friendship with someone who believes differently than we do.

Watch for opportunities this week—if your heart is open, you might be surprised at the situations God will bring across your path to meet someone different than you. Or if you’re really adventurous, go on a John 4:4 adventure, and intentionally go where people are different than you. Then write and tell me what happened!

[The complete summary of the Pew Forum survey can be found here.]





“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.





Unifying America

9 01 2017
from HGTV website

Chip Gaines on HGTV’s “Fixer Upper”

Generally, those who have reviewed my novels on terrorism and peacemaking have been encouraging if not enthusiastic. However, I was recently blessed by a brutally honest reviewer who objected to some aspects of my newest book, A VIOLENT LIGHT.

This reviewer drew conclusions that because some characters in the book acted the way they did, that I must be anti-law enforcement, anti-veterans, anti-gun owners, anti-self-defense, and anti-sharing your faith. This person decided that because of how some characters tried to build bridges across the religious divide, that I must be a universalist. All of these assumptions were incorrect.

I felt the parallels right away when I read about HGTV stars Chip and Joanna Gaines from the show “Fixer Upper” getting blasted as LGBT haters because they attend a church that preaches that Biblical marriage is between a man and a woman.

I love Chip’s response: “We want to help initiate conversations between people that don’t think alike. Listen to me, we do not all have to agree with each other. Disagreement is not the same thing as hate, don’t believe that lie.”

Those who attacked Chip and Joanna are similar to the reviewer who struggled with my novel—they perceive issues through dichotomous, black-and-white thinking: “If it’s not this, it must be that.”

  • If you don’t support the war, you must be disrespecting our veterans
  • If you don’t support gay marriage, you must hate those of LGBT identities
  • If you don’t try to convince people of other religions that your religion is superior to theirs, you must be a universalist

We heard plenty of this narrow thinking during the recent presidential campaign. One friend basically told me, “If you are critical of anything Trump has said or done, you must be supporting Hilary,” while another implied, “If you agree with any one thing Trump has said or done, you must be endorsing racism, sexism, xenophobia and a host of other evils.” Neither of these people took the time to actually understand what I thought about either candidate or the issues, having instantly pigeon-holed me with “not this, so that” thinking.

I know some of my Christian friends question why I work for peace alongside Muslims when, according to their thinking, I should be convincing Muslims to agree with my religious views first before working with them. Once again, here’s Chip’s brilliant perspective: “If your position only extends love to the people who agree with you, we want to respectfully challenge that position. We propose operating with a love so real and true that you are willing to roll up your sleeves and work alongside the very people that are most unlike you.

“Fear dissolves in close proximity. Our stereotypes and vain imaginations fall away when we labor side by side. This is how a house gets unified.”

What a good word for America, and for our world! Disagreement should never limit our capacity to love and serve others. Can we post this on the wall of the Senate and House chambers? How about at city-wide pastors’ meetings? Or at any community event?

The truth is that most issues are complex, most people are complex, and anyone who tries to get a group of people to agree on every single thing is probably a cult leader. Assuming that someone who disagrees with us must be on the opposite end of the spectrum from us, must be intolerant or a hater, does not extend to them the grace that we wish would be extended to us in all of our complexity.

Where I live and pursue peace in Indonesia, our current president Joko Widodo models well what Chip is saying. While the extremists were issuing fatwas forbidding Muslims from even wishing Christians a “Merry Christmas,” our Muslim president ignored them and joined the Christians in their Christmas celebrations. Yasser Arafat did the same every Christmas between 1995-2000 attending Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox and Armenian church celebrations with the Christian minorities in Bethlehem.

Both cases opened the door to accusations from the black-and-white thinkers. Christians speculated that the president must have become a Christian. Muslim extremists concluded that the president must have left the true faith. Both sides were guilty of dichotomous fallacies; the truth was that though Joko Widodo and Yasser Arafat disagreed with the minority Christians in matters of religion, it didn’t stop them from showing honor, support, and perhaps even love. Nelson Mandela, a Christian, experienced the same treatment when joining prayers at a mosque of minority Muslims in South Africa. But these men rose above such narrow thinking because “this is how a house gets unified.”

Our divided nation cannot wait for us all to agree as a prerequisite to progress. It’s time we “roll up our sleeves and work alongside the very people most unlike us.” As we do, we’ll learn to understand each other, and undoubtedly change each other in the process.





The Battle for our Children

26 08 2016

021 (2)A lovely young woman (we’ll call her “Star”) wearing a head covering came into our office recently to apply for the position of Peace Generation Coordinator that we had advertised. She already had a master’s degree and seemed to be from a family of some wealth, so I was surprised to hear how she spent her free time.

Star is a member of a social-change-focused group called “the Gus Durians” after Indonesia’s former president Gus Dur. As a bit of background, Gus Dur once was probably the most famous Muslim cleric in the nation, and a constant voice for righteousness against a corrupt and abusive government, when an ugly dispute between various parties in the parliament resulted in his name being put forward as a “neutral” choice for president. He wasn’t really equipped to be a politician, and after calling the squabbling legislators “a bunch of kindergartners” he was impeached.

However, Gus Dur is not remembered for that brief political implosion, but for his years of championing human rights and especially minority rights. For example, every year he took flak from his Muslim colleagues for attending Christmas services at a Christian church, in solidarity with this religious minority.

The Gus Durians have carried on his legacy after his death. Star and her small group have actively sought out every minority group they could find in our city to ascertain their needs and offer help and support in whatever way they could. They approached Christians, Buddhists, Ahmadiyah (a Muslim fringe group often persecuted as a “cult”), Communists, LGBT (homosexual activity is illegal in Indonesia), street kids, etc.

It’s the street kids’ story that I want to write about. My wife works with street kids, elementary school dropouts, beggars, trash-pickers, and other poor kids. On the recent Idul Fitri holiday, she served lunch to 80 of them in our home! But there are others working with street kids too.

Star discovered a half-way house for street kids in the high-crime district of our city. She and her friend sat with the leader to ask about his ministry. Then he began asking about their group, and when she mentioned searching for the LGBT community, he edged forward intensely, pressing them about where the homosexuals gather. At first they were taken aback and evaded his questions. As they probed deeper, they uncovered that this leader of the street kids’ ministry was also a member of FPI, the “Islamic Defenders Front,” that had attacked churches, burned down Ahmadiyah mosques, forcibly closed night clubs, and wanted to destroy the LGBT community as well! They felt fortunate they hadn’t given out any more information and got out of there as fast as they could!

All this to say…the battle between peacemaking and terrorism begins with our children. Our Peace Generation curriculum has already taught thousands of kids the values of peace, but we’re not the only voice in our city. Others are teaching the values of prejudice, hate and violence.

It’s too late if we wait until they grow up and join ISIS, then put a bounty on their heads and kill them. We need to act NOW to raise the children of our world to know that God loves them, and that He wants us to love all the other children of the world too. We must do all we can to raise a young generation—Christian, Muslim and other—with a new set of values of peace.





The Jihad of Jesus

11 04 2016

The Jihad of Jesus book cover   I remember well the Q&A session in one of the many interfaith events we’ve organized over the years. An angry Christian stood up and declared, “As long as the word jihad exists, there will never be peace between our two religions!” The room was deathly silent, demanding the right response given in the right spirit.

From the platform, one of the speakers, the Orthodox Christian Bambang Noorsena, looked at his dear Muslim friend and presenter next to him, and said, “Let me answer this question.

“The term jihad is a perfectly wonderful term found not only in the Al Qur’an, but also in the Bible.” The audience was shocked. Bambang then quoted a verse from his Arabic New Testament about our “struggle” in the faith. I can’t recall which verse he quoted, since there are more than 10 mentions of jihad in the New Testament, but it might have been one of these:

“I’m passing this work on to you, my son Timothy. The prophetic word that was directed to you prepared us for this. All those prayers are coming together now so you will do this well, fearless in your struggle, keeping a firm grip on your faith and on yourself. After all, this is a fight [jihad] we’re in.” I Timothy 1:18, The Message

“This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish [jihad] against the Devil and all his angels.” Ephesians 6:12 The Message

“I have fought the good fight [jihad], I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 2 Timothy 4:7 NIV

There is a “holy struggle” we all engage in—not against people who are different than we are—but against worldly values, temptations to our flesh and the devil. In Indonesia, we’ve actually published a book called True Jihad which shows from the Al Qur’an that jihad today should only be fought against the world, the flesh and the devil! There are many Muslims who believe and practice this positive understanding of jihad.

But the best book I’ve ever read on the topic is Dave Andrew’s The Jihad of Jesus. His book allows us to look in the mirror as both Christians and Muslims at how our “holy wars” have gotten away from God’s desire for us to struggle with faith, hope and love. Then he shares the struggle we should all be on.

>>For Muslims, it’s struggling to live out the Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim (“In the name of God, the most Merciful, Most Compassionate”). This declaration of who God is begins every chapter but one in the Al Qur’an, and is recited countless times a day by the faithful. One Muslim told Dave he strives to interpret every passage of the Al Qur’an “consistent with the grace and compassion of God.” What if in every relationship, Muslims reflected God’s character of mercy and love?

>>For Christians, it’s struggling to follow Jesus—to love God, neighbor and enemy as Jesus first loved us. What if Christians put all other religious activities second to that? Dave presents a beautiful quote from Khalid Muhammad Khalid’s work Ma’an ‘ala-l-Tariq: Muhammad wa–i-Masih (p.52): “Christ was himself the message. He was the supreme example he left. He was the love which knows no hatred, the peace which knows no restlessness, the salvation which knows no perishing. And when we (Christians and Muslims—together) realize all these things on this earth, we shall then comprehend the return of the Christ.”

My early candidate for Book of the Year—you can find it at Amazon or even hear Dave share his amazing stories of peacemaking at www.jihadofjesus.com,

Buy at Amazon: The Jihad of Jesus: The Sacred Nonviolent Struggle for Justice





What do Muslims Believe?

21 02 2014

An American friend recently told me that he had discovered there were some Muslim families in his apartment complex.  But he hesitated to approach them, not knowing how they would respond.  He assumed if he understood what Muslims believe first, it would help him to make friends.

My friend’s desire is understandable, but may not be helpful.  Although having general knowledge is generally a good thing, what Muslims actually believe may be so individualized it may be wiser to make friends first, then find out what your Muslim friend believes.  This will save you from assumptions that may not be true.

I would encourage the same approach for Muslims who want to make a Christian friend.  Many Muslims have been told that Christians believe in the Trinity—God the Father, God the Mother (Mary), and God the Son (Jesus).  I don’t believe that, and I’d rather someone ask me what I believe than assume something false, wouldn’t you?

What an individual Muslim believes may have everything to do with what his parents or teachers taught him more than what the Qur’an actually teaches.  Here in Indonesia, our adopted Muslim son was raised in a radical Islamic boarding school that taught him Allah approved of stealing from Christians, murdering Christians, and raping Christian girls.  Living with us challenged those beliefs, and thank God he doesn’t believe that any more.  Some Muslims we know believe that reading the Bible will cause the Christian “jinn” (genie) to jump on you and distort your thinking to the wrong path.  Some Muslims we know believe that God gave His power to the witchdoctors to heal people, or kill people with curses.  But many Muslims we know believe none of the above.

We also know Muslims who believe the Qur’an teaches they must also follow the Christians’ Holy Books.  We know Muslims who see Jesus’ uniqueness in the Qur’an and embrace him as their Messiah too.  In fact, we’ve never met a Muslim who says bad things about Jesus.  Some know nothing about him, others honor him as a prophet, healer, and teacher, or even as the living Word and Spirit of God.  When you make a new Muslim friend, don’t assume he or she is against Jesus—ask!  You might be surprised at what they believe.

Perhaps the best example of this “surprise factor” is the Muslim artist Mo Sabri—check out what he believes about Jesus here (on youtube, search for “Mo Sabri I believe in Jesus” or click this link): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4gDFFATGyh0  Amazing!!!

So whether you’re Christian or Muslim, I encourage you to make friends first—

IMG_5279along the way find out what your friend believes, and share what you believe in a respectful way.  Don’t make beliefs a condition for friendship.  Be a true friend.  Love sincerely.  The context of a loving relationship is the safest place for both you and your friend to take a fresh look at what you believe.