For Such a Time as This: The Need for Talking


There’s an interesting discussion going on at Christianity Today’s her·meneutics blog. It begins with a post by Patricia Raybon, co-author of the soon-to-be-released Undivided: A Muslim Daughter, Her Christian Mother, Their Path to Peace.

In “A Nation of ‘Suspect Thy Neighbor,'” Raybon writes about her husband’s suspicion upon seeing an unfamiliar car parked in front of their house. She writes that following 9/11, “We’ve become not just a nation of strangers, but strangers who suspect each other on principle.” And then she shares another family story.

Ten years ago, Raybon’s daughter, Alana, left the church and became a Muslim. Recently, while mother and daughter were together, a man saw Alana, with her head covered, and yelled to her, “Go home!”

That man wasn’t interested in a conversation, but Raybon is. In the comments following her post, several readers have responded. Some are supportive. Some are not.

Dagney Reardon writes, “I’m sorry—I’ve having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that I’m suppose to feel sorry for a Muslim-convert American woman for being subjected to a verbal insult . . .” He compares her situation to that of women in Islamic countries and then refers to the recent beheadings of Coptic Christians by the Islamic State in Lybia. “God has not even begun to give me the wisdom or insight to relate to a person who would deliberately choose to align themselves with a religion that condones such unspeakable horror.”

I don’t usually read comment sections on the internet. There’s just too much vitriol. But Christianity Today‘s policy of allowing only subscribers or registered users ups the level of  engagedness and civility. And what I appreciate the most is the willingness of CT authors to answer back. I’m not sure what I would have said in response to the above comment, but Raybon was obviously prepared. “Thank you, Dagney, for your comments,” she writes. “Your argument is interesting. You are right, in fact, about one key thing. No reasonable person would deliberately choose to align with a religion that condones unspeakable horror.” And she ends her response with this:

I’m reaching different conclusions than you. But at least you and I are talking. For such a time as this, talking is a seriously good place to start. Thank you, indeed, for sharing your thoughts. Measured conversations need to happen on these matters. Thank you for taking part in this one. Kind regards, Patricia.

As I’m writing this, Reardon and Raybon have responded again to each other. And to another commenter who disagrees with her, Raybon writes, “Thanks, meantime, for sharing your thoughts. Another view always stretches my thinking.”

I appreciate the “measured conversation” that Raybon has begun. I hope it continues, at her·meneutics and beyond.

(Patricia Raybon, “A Nation of ‘Suspect Thy Neighbor,'” her·meneutics, February 20, 2015)

[photo: “Brighton Beach,” by Mark Belokopytov, used under a Creative Commons license]


Fear of Heights: Pastors, Missionaries, and the Dangers of Pedestals

The statures of thirteen saints adorn the roof of Montreal’s Cathédrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde.

According to the 1917 Catholic Encyclopedia, Simeon Stylites was the first “pillar hermit,” spending much of his life perched atop a column (stylos is Greek for pillar). Simeon began this practice to escape the constant crowds of pilgrims who sought his prayers, disrupting his personal devotions. His original pedestal held him around nine feet off the ground, but over time it was replaced by ever-taller versions, until it was some 50 feet high. Simeon remained on his pillar for 36 years, until his death.

While Simeon seems to have thrived living above the masses, most church leaders today find life atop a pedestal difficult at best. But that doesn’t stop many Christians from elevating them to greater and greater heights, and sometimes those leaders get quite comfortable with the view from above.

This is one of the topics addressed in this month’s issue of Christianity Today. The headline on the front cover is “New Life after the Fall,” referring to the seven-year recovery of Colorado Springs’ New Life Church following the scandals and resignation of its founder and pastor, Ted Haggard.

In a companion article, “Letting Pastors Be Real,” Mark Galli interviews Dale Pyne, president of Peacemakers Ministries, on how churches can help keep their leaders from falling. While Pyne’s advice is focused on pastors, I believe that it applies to missionaries, as well—not only concerning their pastoral role overseas, but also in their relationships with sending churches and supporters. Here is some of what he has to say:

  • Putting pastors up on pedestals, says Pyne, creates “minigods in our minds and hearts.”
  • We don’t hold pastors or missionaries accountable when we think we don’t know enough to address their adherence to “fundamental issues.” Pyne says he’s lost track of how many times he’s heard elders say, ‘I wanted to say something, but I thought, Who am I?'” If a pastor wants to “address or confess [a sin], his place on the pedestal sometimes facilitates pride and fear of man. So they die in silence and pain.”
  • When it comes to attendance, there is pressure on church leaders to “inflate or puff the numbers.” But Pyne says that “if we start managing shepherding by the numbers, we’re going to lose shepherding, and we’re going to focus on the numbers.”
  • “Jesus was perfect,” says Pyne, “pastors are not.” This is, of course, true for missionaries, as well. If either aren’t humble and honest, they “create distance and discourage connection.”
  • Pastors—and missionaries—need “a high-integrity accountability relationship with one or several spiritually mature individuals” to address personal issues. “And they must trust that the relationship is a confidential one.”

Pyne ends with a call for transparency. Here again, as in most of his responses in the article, pastor can be replaced with missionary. It’s a lesson that needs to be learned by everyone in Christian leadership and service:

If we’re too busy denying and protecting and putting on a church face, then the congregation perceives that the pastor has it all together. We say to ourselves, Wow, I am so far from that pastor. I am unworthy. Why isn’t God working in me the way God’s working in him? The people start to elevate them. It’s not all about the pastor, but that transparency releases the congregation. It helps the pastor be real. And releases the congregant to accept who they are and pursue hope in Christ.

(“St. Simeon Stylites the Elder,” Catholic Encyclopedia, 1917 edition, New Advent; Mark Galli, “Letting Pastors Be Real,” Christianity Today, December 2013)

[photo: “Don’t Jump!!” by Sue Richards, used under a Creative Commons license]

Serving Globally: The Tuggings on Our Souls

244870161_2a9468bb74_mI’d like to point you toward two recent thought-provoking articles from Christianity Today. Both appear under CT‘s “This Is Our City” banner.

The first is written by Rachel Pieh Jones, who blogs at Djibouti Jones. It’s titled “You Can’t Buy Your Way to Social Justice,” with the tag, “Why the activism of some fellow Americans scares me.”

At her blog Jones writes,

Today I have an article at Christianity Today and I’m kinda scared about it. [. . .] The article looks at the current trends of using intentional purchases (fair trade coffee, etc) to fight injustice worldwide, from the perspective of someone (me) who has spent more than a decade living overseas, working toward development and human dignity in the Horn of Africa. [. . .] I’m afraid people will be offended or get mad. [. . .] But . . . well . . . there it is. I have a lot to learn, which I hope comes across in the essay and I look forward to learning from you because overwhelmingly, you challenge me to think better, to not be complacent, and you handle my messy process with grace.

From the CT article: “I have a theory about what is partly contributing to the dearth of young Americans willing to spend their lives on behalf of others,” Jones writes. “They think they already are.”

The second article is “Choosing Marriage over the Mission Field,” about “How Tim Kietzman, a successful missionary eye doctor, chose quiet faithfulness despite enormous needs in Pakistan.”

After moving with his family overseas, Kietzman served 10 years as an ophthalmologist in the Pakistani valley of Gilgit. But according to the article, his “boldest act for God may have been coming home from Pakistan to repair his marriage of almost 30 years.”

How he came to make that choice involved re-understanding something Kietzman calls the “Isaac syndrome.” “Missionary kids are the sacrificial child for their parents doing what God wants them to do,” he said. “A lot of times they feel like they’re under the knife . . . like they’re second-class citizens.” Compounded by the sense of missing out on their home culture, the Isaac syndrome can leave missionary kids with spiritual baggage.

The Kietzmans returned to the States when “the Isaac role quietly fell on their marriage,” when it “eventually proved too much.”

Read these articles to have your thoughts challenged on making a difference globally—challenged by people who are not writing about theories, but who are writing about the push and pull and stretch and pressures on their own lives—lived “over there” and “over here.”

(Rachel Pieh Jones, “Why I’m Afraid of American Christians,” Djibouti Jones, May 15, 2013; Rachel Pieh Jones, “You Can’t Buy Your Way to Social Justice,” Christianity Today, May 14, 2013; Anna Broadway, “Choosing Marriage over the Mission Field,” Christianity Today, June 13, 2013)

[photo: “Tug of War,” by toffehoff, used under a Creative Commons license]