Memories, Hate, Forgiveness and 9/11

So many thoughts run through my head as I think about the 10th anniversary of the attacks on America on September 11, 2001. A few nights ago, I watched the Smithsonian documentary about the attacks, and it was painful and nearly unbearable to watch the images flash across the screen. It took me back to being a scared 21 year old college student who immediately began to reach out for anything steady and sure in a time in which the whole world seemed to turn upside down. Looking back, many decisions I made in the couple of years following were directly caused by the feelings of unsteadiness and doubt that began that day.

I didn’t know much about the Middle East, and I knew even less about the Islamic faith, and ignorance breeds fear and hate. I listened to television preachers talk about God using “the heathen” to judge America for our sin. I heard racist jokes about “towel heads” and watched people suddenly become wary of every dark skinned person they met. I remember my brother was particularly tan from working an outside job that summer and was pulled from boarding line at an airport to be searched simply because of his dark appearance. Apparently his blue eyes weren’t as convincing as his dark skin.

I couldn’t really blame those who responded in ignorant fear; I didn’t have any knowledge to counter their fears.

But one thing that I worked hard to never allow within myself was a close-minded, racist hate of those of Middle Eastern descent. If there is one thing I hate about the stereotype of Southerners is that we ignorantly stereotype others. Arab Muslims didn’t attack America; but a group of people who were Arab Muslims did. Just like many Caucasian Christians have done through the years as well.

In the years since, God has given me a soft heart for those of the Islamic faith. Instead of closing my heart to them, he sent me to Afghanistan to minister to the women of that country. He gave me a passion for learning about them and their culture, and he allowed me to come back to America and begin shedding light on fear and ignorance by teaching those who are willing to learn about those who follow the man Muhammad.

I am praying this weekend that Christians will memorialize those who were lost in a tragic display of hate and deception without further stigmatizing and reflecting the same hate toward all Muslims.

To hate and fear a group of people is to deny the Word, which states, 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Ephesians 6

Hating and attacking humanity that perform acts of terrorism (large or small scale, political or personal) is to hate and attack those who are held captive by a spiritual enemy. Would an army ever attack POWs? No, they attack the enemy holding the POWs captive. It’s time to quit attacking the POWs and start fighting the real enemy.

To hate all Muslims for the terrorist acts of a few gives permission to people of other faiths to identify all Christians with those who bomb abortion clinics or protest at soldiers’ funerals or stand on street corners and scream racist and homophobic “sermons” of fire and brimstone. I don’t want to be associated with Westboro Baptist or the Branch Davidian cult, so I choose to not associate all Muslims with extremist terrorists. I do choose, however, to see them as sinners who need a Savior as much as I do.

But being a follower of Jesus is to be a disciple of a radical extremist, per his own words:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5

So this 9/11, I will mourn those who were lost in an unprecedented attack on innocent lives, on our country and the ideals in which we believe. I will mourn the loss of my own idealism. But I will also mourn for those deceived into believing they were completing a righteous act of God. I mourn for those souls lost for eternity, and I will make it my goal to be more intentional in following the teaching of Jude, the brother of Jesus who encouraged us to “save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.”

And I will celebrate the spirit of renewal and restoration that has been shown in the lives of those impacted by 9/11 in the last decade. We have risen from the ashes of destruction, and the human spirit of survival and forgiveness has shown in ways rarely seen before.

Hate the deceiver, love the deceived. It is, afterall, the kindness of God that leads us to repentance. Romans 2:4

How I Go to Church Without Getting Mad

I have never read Blue Like Jazz. But I understand from my friend Dave that there is a chapter in the book entitled, “Church: How I Go Without Getting Mad.” That short thought got me thinking. So called holy wars are rife within the historical path of mankind. We’ve been getting mad at church since church was invented; just check the Scriptures if you don’t believe me. The office of deacon was created because the Greek Christians were mad that their widows were being overlooked in the distribution of food. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth to reprimand them because they were so mad they were filing lawsuits against one another. Before their was a Christian church, there were “religious” people. Jesus’ disciples fought over who was the greatest among them. Cain killed Abel because he was mad that God preferred Abel’s sacrifice. As long as there have been people, those people have been mad.

But the idea of being mad at church struck me, because church seems to be a pretty common place for otherwise calm Christians to lose their cool. People who would never say a cross thing to their boss at work seem to feel it appropriate to scream at their brothers and sisters in Christ during Wednesday night business meetings. People’s feelings get hurt because their house is not chosen for the next Sunday School class party. Women leave small groups if someone doesn’t check on them when they miss one Sunday and men move their families elsewhere if they are overlooked for a position on a committee. Seeing that I was raised in a pastor’s home, I have been eyewitness to enough selfish and unjust activity in the church that there was a time I wrote the church off completely. Falling into the postmodern idea that my religion was a matter between me and God and no one else, I left the church for a while to find my own way. 

That didn’t work, though, because we were not designed to operate alone. God established the family and the church because we were created to be in fellowship—with both Him and with our fellow believers. So if the church is full of fighting sinners, but I have to be a part of the church, I asked myself this morning, “How do I go to church without getting mad?” And this is my answer… 

I go to church without getting mad because I remember that some of the most respected evangelists and theologians on the planet conservatively estimate that 50%-75% of current members of evangelical churches are not, in fact, regenerate members of the body of Christ. When you work in the mindset that all of your church members are born again believers, it’s easy to get mad when you go to church. When you approach church with the assumption that the majority of people around you are actually lost, your attitude shifts from anger to pity.

The people sitting around you have placed their faith in the prayer they said at the alter, in the fact that they cried, that they were baptized, that everyone said “Amen!” when the pastor voted on their membership, that their mom and dad and grandparents were members of the same church. They have never experienced the godly sorrow that leads to repentance without regret, leading to salvation that Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 7:10. Instead, they have experienced “the sorrow of the world” that “produces death” (2 Cor. 7:10b). The ideas of counting the cost of their salvation, of dying to self, of becoming less so Christ can become more, of submitting to the Lordship of Christ in their life, they’ve never considered their sin and been completely shattered by it. They’ve relied on themselves for their salvation and they are so deceived.

When you look at the church in such a harshly realistic light, the in-fighting and anger make much more sense. The church is full of people who are still bound without choice to the destruction of their sins! They have no choice but to behave in a way that it is un-Christian. Like my mom always says, “You can’t expect lost people to act like they are saved.” This can be frustrating for the 25-50% of people in the church who are truly regenerate members of the body of Christ. But the next time you get frustrated with the people in church who make decisions and show themselves to only be interested in themselves, remember that Jesus once said, “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit(Mt. 12:33). If that person is not showing godly sorrow for sins committed against God, chances are that person really doesn’t care, and a lack of sorrow is indication for lack of relationship.

So how do keep from getting mad at church? I prepare myself in much prayer by asking the Lord to humble me—sometimes I’m mad because I’m wanting to get my own way, which makes me just as wrong as everyone else. I ask Him to search my heart, to show me my shortcomings and transgressions against Him. I ask Him to give me His eyes so that I can see the people around me as Christ sees them—as people made in the image of God, people that He loved so much He died for them. And I keep in mind the deep words for a rap CD. That’s right, rap. On Grits album Grammatical Revolution, there is a track entitled “A Reading from Count Bass D.” He offers some wise words for our walk towards maturity in Christ.

A servant of God must stand so much alone that he does not realize he is alone. In the early stages of Christian life, disappointments will come. People who used to be lights will flicker out, and those who used to stand with us turn away. We have to get so used to it that we will not even realize that we are standing alone. Paul said, “No one is still with me, for all forsook me. But the Lord is with me and strengthens me.” We must build our hope not on the fading light, but on the Light that never fades. When it is important, people go away. We are sad until we see that they are meant to go so that there is only one thing left to do, and that is to look in the face of God for ourselves.

If I consider myself more mature spiritually than the people around me causing the trouble, then it is my moral and biblical responsibility not to get mad at them, but instead to humbly come alongside them and show them the more excellent way. I try not to brood, to mope, to get down on those people. That would only make me just like them, and then we would all just stay right where we are—mad at church.