Friday, March 29, 2013


Plymouth Creek’s vision remains- To become a beacon of Christian openness and service. It’s about shining our joy about God’s grace through acts of compassion and inclusive faith.

And one way we’ve put that in practice recently involves conversation with local Muslims. A little background: Nearly two years ago, the Northwest Islamic Community Center purchased a building nearby church. They wanted a dedicated space in which to pray, fellowship, serve and teach their children. We stood with them at the City Council as less open neighbors tried to block the acquisition. It seemed to us that God’s love as we meet in Jesus urges us toward hospitality, not judgment.

Ever since, I’ve had multiple occasions to spend time with some of their leaders. Most recently, NWICC began hosting whomever would come for interfaith conversation. Islam 101, they dubbed it, acknowledging that many don’t much about their faith tradition, so many untruths have been spread. A couple of us went to the first of these “classes” to learn and show support.

Last week, a second conversation was moderated by NWICC board member Tamim, a dear man. The topic was “Jesus in Islam”, in honor of our approaching Easter holiday. Perhaps you didn’t know this, but the Muslim holy book- the Qur’an- mentions Jesus over twenty times. It speaks of Christ’s birth, echoing the gospels claims that it was miraculous, a virgin birth. It tells some of Christ’s teachings on compassion and love, citing stories of his healing prowess. There’s even mention of the crucifixion, though in this respect, our faiths diverge strongly. The Qur’an contends that Jesus didn’t die; he only seemed to by people of the day. Instead, he was taken into heaven and lives still, awaiting a second coming. The Christian Bible, by contrast, makes Jesus’ death a central element, claiming that our path to salvation and trust in eternal grace require that resurrection happened, however mysteriously.

Tamim knows that, of course, but as a faithful Muslim, it’s important that he privilege the claims of his holy book above ours. As a (hopefully!) faithful Christian, I must do the opposite too, of course. So I was glad to talk about our differences, learning and sharing with respect. For I believe that cultivating such openness to people of different faith traditions honors Plymouth Creek’s vision. We can celebrate and trust the truth of God we discover through faith in Jesus, while accepting that God’s outreach to humanity is broad enough to encompass other faiths. Or as my Muslim friends might say, “Allahu Akbar” (God is greater!).

And I learned something about the history of Muslim understandings about Jesus that mirrors ours. You’ll recall that even the Bible doesn’t speak with one voice on the meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection. All four gospels have a unique spin. Paul’s writings present another. For centuries after, then, Christians struggled to clarify why that singular event mattered so. Was Jesus God? Did he just seem human? God and human? What would that mean?! I find this variety of opinion- admitting that, though people believe differently, God graciously accepts us, unites us still- one of Christianity’s most attractive convictions. We haven’t always put it into practice, but when it’s done well, it’s beautiful!

Perhaps similarly, Muslim scholars- Tamim tells me- have long debated Jesus’ role as revealed by the Qur’an. Was he a prophet on par with Muhammad? Subordinate? Greater, even?! Different folk claim different ideas, but they all still pray toward Mecca. And maybe that says as much about humanity as it does about God. We were created to think deeply, talk openly, question continually, seek God endlessly. In the meantime, though, God hopes we’ll work together, live and serve in peace.

If you can make an upcoming interfaith conversation, I hope you’ll join me. You needn’t be a Christian expert, just a faithful soul willing to learn. In fact, I find these conversations help me clarify my own beliefs as much as understand another’s. For a major one of those beliefs is that God is honored by openness to neighbors. People unlike us in important ways, but beloved children of God too.

Grace and Peace,
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Monday, March 25, 2013

Holy Ground…

We have no fire pit in my backyard, around which to roast marshmallows and tell tales. I have friends whose abode brags of this feature. I’m jealous. For there’s something magical about a campfire, an open stack of crackling wood, flames reaching into darkness, shedding light and warmth and comfort. Some nights, when I’m near one, I wish the blissful minutes would last longer. But all things fade, even firewood. It’s too much to wish we’d abide forever in a fleeting moment.

Perhaps that certainty of change is critical. Maybe we’d cherish it less if the wood blazed, but we knew it wouldn’t disappear. Or maybe we’d grow terrified! How can fire burn, but not destroy?! It would seem out-of-place, menacing, impossible, diabolical. But Exodus 3 tells a tale of exactly that kind, you’ll recall. During Moses’ shepherding days, he confronts a bush that burns, but doesn’t diminish. Fear grips his spirit. It would paralyze most people! A voice says, “Do not be afraid.” As if that helps! Now, there are strange sounds to go with otherworldly sights. Yet it continues, “Remove your sandals. You are standing on Holy Ground.”

A fire that burns, but doesn’t destroy. Passion that consumes, yet won’t ruin. An apt metaphor, I believe, for experiencing of The Holy. Fear does seem appropriate; can’t blame Moses there. We don’t encounter such unadorned holiness most moments of our days. We’re accustomed to profound feelings that fade, intense desires that overwhelm, even harm people. It’s a rare wonder to discover power working alongside longevity and protection. Fright, many say, arrives when we perceive something unexpected. Unknown events scare us. Unfamiliarity seeds suspicion. This story, however, suggests that not all things unusual are made the same. Sometimes terror is appropriate. Other times- holy times- call for awe.

I’ve pondered this issue recently for two related reasons. The first is Easter. In Christian tradition, no other experience unveils God’s Holiness- God’s power and love tied together- as blatantly or blessedly. Death broken by Christ’s broken body rising again to new life. We proclaim that event as the ultimate revelation of sin defeated, fear chastened. As Paul declared, “Nothing can separate us from the love of God we find in Jesus,” our risen Lord. The unjust powers of his day attempted to burn him, extinguish his life. Didn’t work. They failed to see that he hung upon Holy Ground.

As well, our church’s regional camp in Newton, Iowa- the Christian Conference Center- has appealed in recent months for support to make improvements. I haven’t said much because, frankly, we’ve had our own capital campaign ongoing. Still, I’m aware how critical camp was to many Christians’ spiritual development. As a youth, I first learned the gentle force of holiness around campfires at church camp, singing songs, telling tales of Jesus, asking God’s presence to come closer. Since daily life is rarely so…concentrated as a week of summer camp, the passion would fade once I returned home, but it never smoldered out completely. That’s another characteristic of encountering The Holy- it makes an impression, stamps an imprint that lasts beyond the holy fire’s flames.

Plymouth Creek members have long sent youth and others to Conference Center camps. I can’t guarantee their experiences matched mine, though I wouldn’t be surprised. Because of that history, then, I wanted you to know this fundraising was happening. Will you pray about whether you can contribute to help ensure new generations can gather there? Call me or go to to learn about plans and donate. It’s quite the vision they’ve prepared- responsible, sustainable, bold.

And if you’ve never been, you should know that as you drive onto the grounds, a sign reads, “You are entering Holy Ground.” It’s true. For there, a powerful love encircles youth and families that’s safe, gentle and strong. But the ultimate truth is- my apologies to Moses and the Region- in light of Christ’s resurrection, we can all experience Holy Ground. Wherever we are. It takes eyes to see and hope to believe, but always and everywhere God is there. Burning with love for you that will not destroy. Offering, instead, abundant life eternal.

Grace and Peace,


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