This Ash Wednesday I find it difficult to get these three young people off my mind. On February 10, Deah Barakat, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, and her sister Razan Abu Salha, three Muslim students living near the University of North Carolina (where my son attends), were brutally shot and killed in their apartment by a neighbor. They were beautiful young people: Deah and Yusor newly married, and Deah about to head to Syria to provide free dental service to children there (see video by Deah).
These murders come at a time when persecution against Muslims in America continues to increase (see “Letting Our Suffering Speak and Be Public” by Omid Safi, Duke professor and director of the Islamic Studies Center). According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, active anti-Muslim groups are on the rise.
Yet my shame is greater when it comes to the U.S. church. According to a new poll, nearly half of 1,000 senior Protestant pastors surveyed say the Islamic State, also known as ISIL or ISIS, “gives a true indication of what an Islamic society looks like.”
Personally, I confess that I cannot name a single close friend who is a Muslim. I regret I did not do more as director of the Duke Divinity School Center for Reconciliation.
In this season of Lent, Christians are drawn to take a deep look inside ourselves, walking with Jesus who on the journey to crucifixion went out of his way to encounter the stranger. In his 2015 Ash Wednesday message, Pope Francis decried what he called “the globalization of indifference.” Tragically and increasingly, Christians are suffering at the margins of certain Islamic societies. It is time for Christians in the U.S., as the majority group with immense power on home ground, to confess our indifference to the Christian-Muslim challenge. It is time to seek out Muslims of goodwill in face-to-face encounters. In concrete acts of eating together and in sharing our stories of pain and hope with one another, we can begin to interrupt the indifference.
P.S. Beginning three years ago, one small thing we did do at the Center for Reconciliation was to create a seminar at the annual Summer Institute for Reconciliation to engage the Christian-Muslim challenge, including bringing in Muslim faculty for the first time. The seminar happens again in June 2015, led by Rick Love and Najeeba Syeed-Miller, and scholarships are available.
Regarding my recent post on passing of Sam Moffett this week: My siblings reminded me we Rices may not have ended up as a Presbyterian missionary family in Korea in 1966 if not for the Moffetts. The Moffetts spoke about Korea at a U.S. church my parents were attending, planting a vision for Korea. No Moffetts, no Rices in Korea, no Rices now with MCC in Chuncheon. The mysteries of life.
The great 99-year old pioneer Korea missionary Sam Moffett passed into heaven yesterday. I remember “Uncle Sam” (what we called him growing up) as a gentle, kind, and tender gentleman (and excellent tennis player). The world knew him for his masterful two-volume history of Christianity in Asia, written while teaching at Princeton Seminary. Moffett’s parents were among the earliest Protestant missionaries to Korea. In Seoul in 2011 I visited a museum at Presbyterian University and Theological Seminary dedicated to Moffett’s father. He and his wife served in Pyongyang for 46 years and were present during the great 1906 Pyongyang revival (around the same time as the renowned Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles).
Along with recent passing of Syngman Rhee, we see fragile giants of faith walking into the sunset, calling we who remain to deeper faithfulness. We must take in our hearts and future vision their fidelity to the ground of Pyongyang–where Syngman was born and returned as an apostle of peace, and where Sam Moffett grew up and began missionary service.
I am delighted that my dear friends Renie and Bill McCutchen have worked with Duke Divinity School to endow a new professorship to be held by the new director of the Center for Reconciliation. This promises to ground the Center more deeply in the fabric of Duke University and give its ministry resilience in years ahead. What an incredible gift!
Renie served so faithfully on the Center advisory board. She and Bill became part of a beautiful “new we” as the Center transformed so many of us into a new understanding of who “my people” are, expanded by God’s greater vision of beloved community across divides.
It was my great joy to join with Emmanuel Katongole as “beginners” of the Center, and to see fresh gifts offered to Duke divinity students, the U.S. via a book series and the Summer Institute for Reconciliation, Africa via the Great Lakes Initiative, and the emerging Northeast Asia Reconciliation Initiative which Duke and MCC are partnering on along with regional colleagues.
Let us pray for Duke’s choosing of the right candidate to help lead the ministry into a fresh chapter of vitality.
My Duke Divinity School Doctor of Ministry thesis is now available: “Toward a Framework for a Practical Theology of Institutions for Faith-Based Organizations.” You can order a PDF here (also information on free access at certain libraries). Here is a link to a 15-page preview (table of contents, abstract, introduction, and part of chapter one).
With Christian non-profits exploding in number and size, the challenge of keeping the “faith” in “faith-based organizations” is enormous. I hope this thesis will add to the conversation.
Praising God for the life of beloved Spencer Perkins on the 17th anniversary of his passing into the cloud of witnesses. A good time to revisit his final message, “Playing the Grace Card.” There was silence in the hall at Belhaven College in 1998 when he spoke these words. As Flannery O’Connor once wrote: “All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful.” Yet Spencer somehow held together both the pain and beauty of what is so amazing about grace.
What were yours? My top 3:
#1 The Transcendent Self, by Catholic priest and professor Adrian Van Kaam. Maybe it’s just fussy me, but after 40 years of being a Christian, I find fresh ideas hard to find. This little-known book recommended by a retreat director literally changed my life. Best “second half of life” book I’ve read, about embracing life’s turning points as a painful stripping-away, a welcoming of the unknown, and the eventual resurrection of new joy.
#2 Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Skeptical and fearing the graphic violence, I avoided this bestseller. Glad I gave it a chance. A gripping, page-turner crime mystery of the dark side of a seemingly-perfect Swedish “Ikea” society. I love straightforward fiction like this, focused on story. And the violence was surprisingly understated.
#3 Habitat for Humanity: Building Private Homes, Building Public Religion, by sociologist Jerome Baggett. In-depth account of how the arguably best-known non-profit slowly traded Christian identity for a bigness which has created a divide between permanent “helpers” and “permanent recipients” in place of the original vision of partnership. Critical reading for Christian mission today.
The Missionary Movement in Christian History by historian Andrew Walls. Two chapters changed the whole direction of my doctoral thesis: “The American Dimension of the Missionary Movement,” and “Missionary Societies and the Fortunate Subversion of the Church.” Indispensable reading about a two-fold tragedy: how American pragmatism expanded world missions while detaching from theological moorings, and how mission societies boldly went to frontiers the complacent church refused to go.
The Enigma of China, by Qiu Xiaolong. This gem is from a crime series featuring protagonist Inspector Chen, a jaded Communist Party member whose hunting of both white and blue collar crime introduce the dark side of China’s politics of corruption, modernization, and greed. Great stories, great insights into complexities of today’s China.