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Ramadan Reflections #1 “Why I Participated in Ramadan”

Sunday night my wife, Rochelle, and I accepted an invitation from the Yaseen Foundation to attend Iftar – the sunset, fast-breaking – at a local mosque. As a member of the board for the Peninsula Clergy Network, the professional association for Bay area clergy, I was glad to accept the invitation from one of my fellow board members, the Imam of the mosque. Since 9/11, Americans, in general, have learned a great deal – though certainly not enough and not always correct – about Islam; the month of Ramadan being chief among these learnings.

As you know, during Ramadan, Muslims refrain from eating and drinking from dawn until sunset. The fast is intended to teach Muslims about patience, humility, and spirituality. In the past, friends of mine, for want of learning, fellowship and understanding have participated fully in Ramadan and found it to be a moving and productive time. Rochelle and I did not choose to join the fast, but we did want to learn, directly from practitioners, what Islam and Ramadan are about. Over the next little while, I’ll post some thoughts about our experience.

When people learn that we participated in Iftar, the first question is always, “Why?” Why would devoted Christ-followers, which Rochelle and I are, choose to participate in a ritual and prayer service from another religion? It’s a fair question, I think, so here’s our reasoning.

  1. What most Christians know of Islam is what they see and hear in the media. Unfortunately, both for Christians and Muslims alike, the focus of the media and Islam is on terrorism. That’s understandable given that the perpetrators of 9/11 and other terrorist acts have claimed Islam as their religion and justified their actions as both faithful to and in concert with the Qur’an and religious purity. Thinking Christians, however, know that White-Supremist and other bad actors in history have misrepresented the Christian faith in order to justify their own twisted perspectives. Is my church, and nearly every Christian I know, represented by the Ku Klux Klan, the Inquisition, the Crusades, the Christians who supported slavery and abortion clinic bombers? I think not. To understand what a religion truly is, people of good faith and intent must listen to it’s best practitioners and allow the religion to speak for itself. As the keynote speaker at our Iftar said, “In every religion there are people intent on distorting the religion.” Apparently, there is a darkness in the human heart so twisted that it seeps out in every worldview, religion, and perspective.
  2. I didn’t know any Muslim. It’s very easy to caricature people you don’t know. It’s even easier to fixate on the differences that live on the surface – dress, language, skin color, etc… – all those things that are highly visible but fairly superficial. Regardless of who it is, when humans sit at table with actual people, we discover that we share a great deal. We all have a desire to see our children prosper, a want to live in peace, to exercise our freedom of religion, and preserve the goodness of the Earth God has given us. As one who continues to believe in the supremacy of Christ, I enter these relationships always hopeful of Christian conversion, but even short of that, engaging with practitioners of another religion, profits me the opportunity to represent Christ to others who may have misconceptions about Christianity and Christ.
  3. To learn something. Oddly, there are pockets within our world that are firmly anti-intellectual. There are some people who are suspicious of people who read “too much,” study “too much” or have advanced education. Do we really believe that it’s better to know less rather than more? Ignorance leads to fear and “fear to the dark side.” As someone charged by God to teach, experience and information are not only the tools of my trade, but the way I “face” the world – to borrow and image from F. LeRon Shults. As our country becomes increasingly polarized, knowledge of one another and the ability to listen to and not speak past one another are keys to regaining civility and advancing our shared hopes and dreams.

I’m reminded at this moment that Jesus hung out with a lot of people that the good, church-going religious folks shunned. When I die, I want people to be able to say the same thing about me.

(to be continued)

Take the “How Well Do You Know Islam Quiz” here.

Why I Twitter (and you should too).

I’ve had a hard time convincing my wife and others like her why I Twitter. “Why do you use twitter? What’s the point? Isn’t Twitter just another in long line of mouthpieces for self-obsessed people with delusions of grandeur? Don’t people just post inane information about themselves in the vacant hope that someone will care?” These kinds of questions and taunts are routine and have recently been asked by my favorite sports talk show host, Jim Rome, who spent a good portion of his show last week mocking Twitter and those who tweet.mm_twitter

If you’re wondering whether or not some of the folks tweeting are self-obsessed and tweet only about their mundane lives, yes some are. I don’t follow those people! Those folks serve little purpose, and I’ve put the public on notice that those who tweet about what they’re having for lunch run the risk of being “unfollowed.” Still there are a great many people who use Twitter to great effectiveness for their mission, message and tribe. I think primarily of Michael Hyatt, Guy Kawasaki, Tim Sanders and others. And you can too.

Let me give you some reasons why I think Twitter is a powerful resource.

  • Impact. Through tweeting you can get your message in front of a lot more people. Because your text is limited to 140 characters, you can’t blather on, but you can inform, encourage, and direct your audience. Plus, they don’t have to come to you like a blog post. You go to them. All you have to do is figure out a way for them to follow you. I used to blog in this space quite a bit. Quite frankly, it got to be a hassle. I was an early-comer to blogging, and the medium has changed significantly over the last five years. One thing that was always true though was that to have a high readership I had to post 4+ times per week. Many times I didn’t have that much to say! With Twitter now, I simply reference that a new post is up and hundreds of people can potentially see it within minutes. The same number of readers it took days to accumulate, now access the blog within the first hour it’s posted. This combined with retweets has exploded blog readership (though not comments to my discontent). My impact is now far wider, and because of it, I can post just once a week and my content is generally stronger. This is a win-win when your message is the Kingdom of God. I reach more people with my messages through the web (blog + podcast + Twitter + facebook) than I do on a Sunday morning. Maybe up to 4 times as many. That’s an impact for God’s Kingdom. Brought to you by twitter!
  • Knowledge. Twitter, more than anything else, gets knowledge and information to me fast. I learned of Michael Jackson’s death, the uprising in Iran and countless other news items through Twitter. Most of the time, someone on Twitter “breaks” the story before traditional news agencies. An easy criticism is that the folks on Twitter can post anything and we should be slow to trust what we read there. That is a possibility, however, my experience has been that Twitter-ers, like me, are incredibly concerned with their own credibility and treating their followers as friends. We are generally slow to throw a disprovable “fact” against the wall. Interestingly, it has been those in the news media, politics and public life who most often tweet first and think later. More than that, I follow the tweets of people in the same industry I’m in or want to be in or those who have something to teach me. They direct me to great information that I’m blessed to know. I’ve learned about writing, leadership, marketing, technology, missional living and ministry by following people who know more about those things than I do. I draw from the wisdom of Andy Stanley, Greg Daniel, Donald Miller, Rick Warren and others without paying a dime to hear them at a conference. I know what they’re reading, what they’re thinking, and how they are working with and leading organizations. For free.
  • Followers Become Friends. I have friends on Twitter that are not my friends in the conventional sense. I have spent little or no time with Dave Lemley, Greg Kendall-Ball, Travis Stanley, Darin Campbell and others, but we share both a common faith heritage and common perspective on U.S. and world events. I’m allowed to dialogue with them about those particular items and build relationships with them though I’ve never spent more than an hour with any one of them. In other cases I follow and am followed by people like David Christian whom I have never met, yet we’ve had many discussions. That’s just cool! It’s a glimpse of heaven where we will know and be fully known.

  • Thinking. Like all writing, tweeting makes you think about what you think. Do you really want to advocate that position? Is this something I should post without being able to enter a conversation or give some background? How can I be coherent in 140 characters (in 119 characters if I want to be retweeted)?

I encourage tweeting and am trying to discern ways that I can incorporate it in meaningful ways during church services, and classes and with our staff.

To get started on Twitter, check here, here and here.

Updates On Things Only I Think Are Important.

OK, enough is enough! Two weeks ago I enjoyed my favorite meal from Taco Bell — two double-decker tacos and a bean burrito. The next day people in the northeast were getting sick from eating at Taco Bell. Well, guess what. I ate at Olive Garden yesterday and now folks are getting sick from that. I hardly ever go out to eat, now when I do somebody dies.

Everyday brings the birth of our second daughter ever closer. Still no name decision in sight. It’s just that when we ask people for name ideas, the women just tell us to name her after them and the men give their wives or daughters name. Originality is dead!

Christmas is coming very quickly. I usually get a lot of reading done during that time. On my list to finish before the January 1: Barna’s “Revolution”, Rainer’s “Simple Church”, McManus’ “An Unstoppable Force”, Stanley et al’s “7 Practices of Effective Ministry”, and Batterson’s “In The Pit With A Lion On A Snowy Day”.