How Not To Kill A Muslim, Book Review

This review was originally posted to my blog in May. I think it is even more important today for the message of this book to be consumed. I am grateful for Josh and his work in building relationships.

You can order the book here.

“The relationship between American Muslims and Christians is arguably one of the most pressing issues of our time.”

With this statement, a “simple, local church pastor” begins an exploration of how Christians can follow the command and example of Jesus to love our neighbors. And even more than loving, or maybe before loving begins, Josh Graves reminds us we must see our neighbors.

In our post-9/11 society, with our seemingly never-ending need to have an enemy and a 24 hour news cycle that breeds on fear and distrust, the relationship between Muslims and Christians is often tenuous, at best. With misinformation, conjecture, and a sensationalistic media, many people who claim Christ treat those who are Muslim as the “other.”

Graves calls us to get past that.

The book begins by laying a foundation of understanding story. Additionally, Graves provides a brief overview of how immigration policies have changed over the past 100+ years and how that has led to a growth in the Muslim population in our country. He starts with 4 assumptions that explain how we (American Christians) arrived at a point of distrust. Essentially, it has a lot to do with relationship, or lack thereof.

Using the parable of the Good Samaritan as his backdrop, Graves leads to a call to become passionate and engaged. We need to see, know, and love our neighbors. All of them. He quotes N. T. Wright who said, “The church doesn’t need to provide nineteenth-century answers to sixteenth-century questions. The church should offer twenty-first century answers to first century questions.”

Graves is providing the groundwork for churches to have the necessary conversations regarding the way we treat our Muslim neighbors. He details the specific work his church went through. One of the greatest conclusions to come out of the class the church participated in was that although information is vital, relationship is even more important.

As far as information goes, Graves provides a lot, even in such a short book that is extremely accessible to all readers. His three appendices include an Islam for Dummies (Like Me) guide (jihad is NOT one of the five pillars of Islam), a blog post Graves wrote regarding a mosque being built near ground zero of the 9/11 attacks in NYC, and the results of a stereotype study. In other words, there is a great deal of information. It is vital for all Christians to read and deepen their understanding.

But beyond information, Graves writes from a deep place of love and concern for God’s children. It is apparent reading the book that he has built relationships with people whom he views as just that—people. He talks about the fire in his belly that compelled him to write this book. That fire is visible on every page. Although he calls himself a simple pastor, there is nothing simple about his love for God and God’s creation.

At the end of this book, I felt a great sense of hope. (Which is part of the subtitle of the book: A Manifesto of Hope for Christianity and Islam in North America.) As long as there are people like Josh, who are willing to practice the radical hospitality they write about, relationships can be built and restored.

I also felt a sense to study even deeper. I want to go back and review what I learned in my church history classes; to try and discern why Christian culture attacked Islam from the start with no attempt at building relationship, or even evangelizing. I want to study more about how the end of the Cold War affected our relationship with Muslims. It is as if our need to have an enemy worthy of a Tom Clancy novel or a James Bond movie necessitates that we demonize some group of people.

Those are two things Graves does not address in his book, but he did not need to. He provides us with a conversation starter. He provides us with his heart to love our neighbors. He provides us with an example of how to do that.

And he tells us to go and do.

This book is definitely written to a Christian audience, and I would encourage all who claim the name of Jesus to read this book. I would also hope that Muslims read and add their insight, as well. And for people who have no specific religious or spiritual identification, I would ask that you read it so that you can see one person’s story of what it means to love like Jesus.

How Not to Kill a Muslim, Book Review

“The relationship between American Muslims and Christians is arguably one of the most pressing issues of our time.”

With this statement, a “simple, local church pastor” begins an exploration of how Christians can follow the command and example of Jesus to love our neighbors. And even more than loving, or maybe before loving begins, Josh Graves reminds us we must see our neighbors.

In our post-9/11 society, with our seemingly never-ending need to have an enemy and a 24 hour news cycle that breeds on fear and distrust, the relationship between Muslims and Christians is often tenuous, at best. With misinformation, conjecture, and a sensationalistic media, many people who claim Christ treat those who are Muslim as the “other.”

Graves calls us to get past that.

The book begins by laying a foundation of understanding story. Additionally, Graves provides a brief overview of how immigration policies have changed over the past 100+ years and how that has led to a growth in the Muslim population in our country. He starts with 4 assumptions that explain how we (American Christians) arrived at a point of distrust. Essentially, it has a lot to do with relationship, or lack thereof.

Using the parable of the Good Samaritan as his backdrop, Graves leads to a call to become passionate and engaged. We need to see, know, and love our neighbors. All of them. He quotes N. T. Wright who said, “The church doesn’t need to provide nineteenth-century answers to sixteenth-century questions. The church should offer twenty-first century answers to first century questions.”

Graves is providing the groundwork for churches to have the necessary conversations regarding the way we treat our Muslim neighbors. He details the specific work his church went through. One of the greatest conclusions to come out of the class the church participated in was that although information is vital, relationship is even more important.

As far as information goes, Graves provides a lot, even in such a short book that is extremely accessible to all readers. His three appendices include an Islam for Dummies (Like Me) guide (jihad is NOT one of the five pillars of Islam), a blog post Graves wrote regarding a mosque being built near ground zero of the 9/11 attacks in NYC, and the results of a stereotype study. In other words, there is a great deal of information. It is vital for all Christians to read and deepen their understanding.

But beyond information, Graves writes from a deep place of love and concern for God’s children. It is apparent reading the book that he has built relationships with people whom he views as just that—people. He talks about the fire in his belly that compelled him to write this book. That fire is visible on every page. Although he calls himself a simple pastor, there is nothing simple about his love for God and God’s creation.

At the end of this book, I felt a great sense of hope. (Which is part of the subtitle of the book: A Manifesto of Hope for Christianity and Islam in North America.) As long as there are people like Josh, who are willing to practice the radical hospitality they write about, relationships can be built and restored.

I also felt a sense to study even deeper. I want to go back and review what I learned in my church history classes; to try and discern why Christian culture attacked Islam from the start with no attempt at building relationship, or even evangelizing. I want to study more about how the end of the Cold War affected our relationship with Muslims. It is as if our need to have an enemy worthy of a Tom Clancy novel or a James Bond movie necessitates that we demonize some group of people.

Those are two things Graves does not address in his book, but he did not need to. He provides us with a conversation starter. He provides us with his heart to love our neighbors. He provides us with an example of how to do that.

And he tells us to go and do.

This book is definitely written to a Christian audience, and I would encourage all who claim the name of Jesus to read this book. I would also hope that Muslims read and add their insight, as well. And for people who have no specific religious or spiritual identification, I would ask that you read it so that you can see one person’s story of what it means to love like Jesus.

Book Review: Why Did Jesus, Moses, Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?

http://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Moses-Buddha-Mohammed-Cross/dp/1455513954

Have you ever wondered what might happen if Jesus, Moses, Buddha, and Mohammed all met while walking along the road? What would that conversation look like? Specifically for Christians (since that is the majority of my audience), what do you think Jesus’ response would be?

Brian McClaren considers this in his book, Why Did Jesus, Moses, The Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road. In this book, McClaren acknowledges two things Christians do well: have a strong Christian identity that responds negatively to other religions; and being accepting to the point of never proselytizing.

McClaren suggests we should do something different: a Christian identity that is both kind and strong. Our Christian identity should be so strong that our love for Christ should move us into relationship with others. We can affirm what we believe without attacking those who disagree. This book is a search to answer the question: “How do we, as Christians, faithfully affirm the uniqueness and universality of Christ without turning that belief into an insult or a weapon?”

McClaren speaks about CRIS: Conflicted Religious Identity Syndrome. This conflict stems from the fact that Christianity has spent too much time building walls and barriers at the expense of pursuing peace. How can we as Christians pursue more fully a relationship with Jesus without alienating others? How can we love and welcome others without compromising our faith in Christ?

In four parts, McClaren digs into finding answers to these questions. Many will consider this book bothersome or troublesome. I think that is good. I also think that is partly McClaren’s intent. In part 1, he studies some of the historical issues that have brought us to where we are in our current religious identity crisis. He concludes the section by saying, “Until we face this deep-running current of imperial hostility in our Christian history, we will not be able to forge a robustly benevolent Christian identity. Doing so will be painful. Many will shrink back from it.”

This book is a call to consider creative ways to “rediscover our compelling Christian mission.” It is an important read for all who claim the name of Christ. Unfortunately, there is a lot of negative publicity given to relationships between Christians and Muslims. When President Obama correctly mentioned the history of atrocities performed in the name of Christianity, his opponents unfathomably bristled. We need to learn how to acknowledge the truths of our history and heritage and seek ways to change.

In parts 2, 3, and 4, McClaren talks about our doctrine, our liturgy, and our mission. Throughout each part, McClaren does not suggest that we jettison what churches have done for centuries. He does not recommend changing our message or the foundational truths of Christianity. He does suggest, however, that we look for the mutations that have formed and address them. In other words, how has our application moved from what Jesus actually intended? These are difficult questions to ask, but they are necessary.

All in all, McClaren is calling for welcome and reconciliation. A radical fellowship and with-ness. In the part on liturgy, he suggests we view the table as less than an altar of sacrifice and more as a table of reconciliation and fellowship. What a profound change.

Step back and read news headlines. Check social media feeds. Look at the ways many who profess to be Christian talk about people of other religions, especially Muslims. Ask yourself if that is how Jesus would respond. Ask yourself if that is how you would respond if you met someone face to face as you walked along the road. Imagine a conversation between the leaders of the four largest world religions. What would that be like? McClaren suggests there would be no fear. Instead, there would be humility, love, and peace. I agree with him. I challenge you to read this book and see if you agree or not.

Talking About Same-Sex Attraction (A Book Review)

On the second Thursday of each month, I would like to share my thoughts about some of the books I have read recently that have impacted my life in meaningful ways. This week’s book is actually two books!  Torn by Justin Lee and Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill are essential reading for every Christian who knows someone who experiences same-sex attraction. These books can also help non-Christians understand the different viewpoints Christians have. You can purchase them here:

http://www.amazon.com/Torn-Rescuing-Gospel-Gays-vs-Christians-Debate-ebook/dp/B0076DFG5S

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0310330033/ref=pd_lpo_sbs_dp_ss_3?pf_rd_p=1535523722&pf_rd_s=lpo-top-stripe-1&pf_rd_t=201&pf_rd_i=1455514306&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_r=1WRTX7H0HVYJW9ZRJJFJ

One of the most volatile issues facing the church today is same-sex attraction. When the topic comes up, walls go up almost as quickly. People who hold to the traditional understanding of the Bible and teaching of the church are adamant that homosexuality is a sin that must be purged from the church and from society. On the other side are people who think we should accept all people regardless of sexual preferences because the Bible is an outdated document and we know more now about biology than we did then.

People on either side often are intolerant; not only of people on the other side, but also of people who find themselves somewhere between these two extremes. However, the middle is where the majority of people reside (my opinion). And it is from this position of being in the middle that leads to so much doubt and confusion, especially for people in the church: how do we respond to people whose orientation is such that we have been taught they are sinful? How do maintain our scriptural integrity while still following the command to love others?

What’s more, this is a huge issue for straight people in the church. But what about for Christian men and women who experience same-sex attraction? How difficult is this journey for them? That is where these two books come. I highly recommend both Torn and Washed and Waiting. Both are personal memoirs the authors share; Torn is written more like a “traditional” book (beginning, middle, end) while Washed and Waiting is a little more choppy (though still put together in an excellent manner).

There are three lessons from each book that are vital for all Christians to acknowledge as we learn how to better interact with our brothers and sisters experiencing same-sex attraction:

  1. Orientation is not a choice.

This is huge. Orientation is NOT behavior. Both Lee and Hill share their journeys and pour out their hearts about nights spent in prayerful yearning for God to change what they felt, who they were attracted to, and how their lives were to be lived.

Hill describes it this way: “There was a time in my struggle with homosexuality when I felt that the world was caving in on me.” He goes on to say he sometimes felt as if his struggle was a “mindless, unobserved string of random disappointments.”

Lee says this: “It was, I thought, the worst secret in the world. It was the deepest, darkest secret I could ever imagine having, one that I could never tell anyone, not even my parents or best friends. It was the secret I would take to the grave…. I waited patiently to grow out of this phase.”

Both authors talk about sleepless nights, tears shed, prayers uttered, and a search for someone-anyone-they could share their struggle with. Reading both of their stories illustrates how their orientation is anything but a choice.

This is a difficult concept for many in the church to grasp. Orientation and behavior are not the same thing. The Bible says absolutely nothing about orientation, although it does address behavior.

Lee expresses in his book how he heard a lot about the church’s response to homosexuality, but he never actually knew anyone who was gay. I think that is indicative of the issue many Christians have today: we view same-attraction as an issue instead of viewing the people that are affected.

  1. Sharing one’s story is powerful.

The best part of both books is the vulnerability shared by both authors. I am a huge fan of sharing one’s story. I believe confession within community is sorely lacking in our churches. I believe that with too many issues we have dehumanized the topic and argued about who was right instead of making sure people were loved.

Lee writes, “I believe our goal should be truth, not ideology, and that we must have the humility to admit that we still don’t have all the answers.” Hill explains how he learned from his friends that sharing his story with them made them realized they were loved.

We think we do not know people who are struggling with same-sex attraction. I suggest the issue is we have not been open to listening to people’s stories. Both of these authors are exhibiting bravery by talking about their same-sex attraction so openly and publicly.

  1. Not everyone agrees.

I suggest reading these two books together. Both are valuable stories. Both authors have websites that serve as great resources. Both authors talk plainly about how orientation is not a choice.

But there is one area which they fall on different sides: Justin Lee believes it is biblically acceptable for same-sex attracted people to enter into committed, monogamous relationships. Hill believes the Bible teaches same-sex behavior is always wrong; therefore individuals experiencing same-sex attraction must commit to a life of celibacy.

(Sarcasm alert.) How can two gay men disagree? Aren’t all people with same-sex attraction committed to some subversive agenda to make everyone accept their lifestyle?

In many churches, “homosexuals” have been lumped into one camp. And that camp is outside the walls of the church. What these two books illustrate is that there is no one “gay lifestyle.” Both men are intelligent. Both men are Godly. Both men are trying to live out their spiritual lives as God is leading them. Yet they disagree on this issue of same-sex behavior.

I encourage you to read both books and keep an open mind as you read each one. Neither comes across as trying to justify their position. Both have spent time in study and in community. Both have approached this prayerfully. They have set an example for how all Christians should approach this, or any, issue.

I cannot recommend these two books highly enough. I hope all of you will read them. If you have questions about this topic or these books, please reply to this post. Or email me privately. This is a conversation that we must have.

Justin Lee’s website: http://www.gaychristian.net/

Wesley Hill’s website: http://spiritualfriendship.org/

The Blessing of Paradox: Book Review of Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God

I have read and listened to material from Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. I have also paid attention to different things from people like Bill Maher. And I often come away with the same response:

They are just as close-minded and narrow in their views as the Christian talking heads they rail against.

Something that distresses me is when Jesus followers say things that seemingly go against all that the Bible actually teaches. It hurts me when prominent Christian leaders say hurricanes and school shootings are God’s retributive justice. It pains me when people manipulate the Scriptures to justify their bigotry. Too many prominent people in Christianity use their platform to exclude and divide, rather than to love and to serve.

Yet many of the New Atheists have the same attitude. They behave as if they are right and anyone who would dare disagree with them is mentally deficient.

This is why I really appreciate Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God: How To Give Love, Create Beauty, And Find Peace by Frank Schaeffer. Schaeffer is the son of Francis Shaeffer, the prominent evangelical theologian of the 70s and 80. Frank Schaeffer is also one of the founding members of the Religious Right.

And that is something he truly regrets.

Schaeffer shares his journey since leaving the fundamental, religious background in which he was raised. Throughout talking about that journey, he shares the blessing of paradox. Schaeffer is able to talk about how he both believes and does not believe in God. How he understands the Bible as myth yet finds meaning and comfort within its pages. How science has expanded our knowledge of life and the universe yet cannot explain the transecendant. His life is one of paradox; paradox that he is comfortable with not completely understanding.

The book starts with a story of a chance encounter on his way home from his mother’s funeral. At the same time, he believes it was a chance encounter and that it was something his recently deceased mother somehow arranged. Chance encounter and divine arrangement cannot both be true, yet both exist.

Early in the book, he writes:

With the acceptance of paradox came a new and blessed uncertainty that began to heal the mental illness called certainty, the kind of certainty that told me that my job was to be head of the home and to order around my wife and children because ‘the Bible says so.’ Embracing paradox helped me discover that religion is a neurological disorder for which faith is the only cure.

Paradox cures certainty. Additionally, asking a new question can cure certainty. Atheism, agnosticism, and theism are all answers to the question, “Does God exist?” Instead, we should ask what our relationship to God is.

Schaeffer’s journey is riveting because it is so honest. He does not presume to have any of the answers. He is not writing a treatise that all people must follow in order to live an enlightened life. His story is how someone who now does not necessary believe that God exists can still participate in the liturgy of a local church. It is the story of someone who has come to learn that we are more than any label.

It is a story that has learned that hope is found in love and not correct theology.

I do not agree with everything Schaeffer says. I believe he is inconsistent in part of his discussion about Scripture (Chapter XX). He is unwilling to embrace that paradox can exist there even though he enjoys the blessing of paradox in other areas of his life.

But his attitude is incredible. He is not close-minded. He comes across as the type of person who would be an awesome conversation partner, unlike Dawkins, Maher, Limbaugh, Robertson, and others who want only people to yell at. He makes me feel comfortable reflecting on my own journey. I think he will make you feel comfortable as you reflect on your own.

I recommend reading this book in the spirit it was written: one person’s narrative.