A COCKTAIL, A COMFY CHAIR AND A CROWN OF THORNS

The recent explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, albeit an avoidable accident, reminded me of the many times when that Mediterranean city has suffered the tragic consequences of explosions. Followed so shortly by the verdict of the Netherlands-based Special Tribunal for Lebanon finding a member of Hezbollah guilty of the 2005 assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri through a massive car bomb explosion has only further served to remind me of the paid of a nation whose recent experiences former London Times Journalist Robert Fisk wrote of in his book ‘Pity the Nation’.

I have friends who are today bearing the consequences of the recent port of Beirut accident. Their work, and that of many others in the Middle East has encouraged me to share an updated version of an older article.

**************************

A survivor who saw the driver of the truck said that he was smiling as he drove to his destruction. On October 23rd, 1983, a truck laden with explosives was crashed into the American marine compound in Beirut killing 241 American servicemen and several Lebanese. A similar incident at the same moment in the neighboring French compound killed 58. Two suicide bombers took more than 300 people with them into eternity. The Middle East and South Asia have been filled with these incidents over recent years; Lebanon, Israel, Gaza, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. The latter is presently the site of regular occurrences of this kind taking dozens, if not hundreds of lives.

In 1993, in his first western television interview Sheikh Hassan Nasrullah, the leader of the Hezbollah, attempted to explain the attitude of mind of a Muslim martyr. He spoke of one who drives a truck with a smile on his face, knowing he is entering into true life. He likened this to a person being in a sauna for a long time. “He is very thirsty and tired and hot and he is suffering from the effects of the high temperature. Then he is told that if he opens the door, he can go into a quiet, comfortable room, drink a nice cocktail, and hear classical music. Then he will open the door and go through without hesitation, knowing that what he leaves behind is not a high price to pay, and what awaits him is of much greater value”[i]

During the Iran/ Iraq war, teenage Iranians would fold Qu’ranic inscriptions inside black bandannas and bind them around their foreheads. They would then head off to the front. Some of them marched into minefields to clear them in their quest for eternity; others willingly sacrificed themselves in waves of no-man’s-land warfare. One young soldier stated: “..to be martyred while opposing God’s enemies brings us closer to God. There are two phases to martyrdom: we approach God and we also remove the obstacles that exist between God and the people. Those who create obstacles for God in this world are the enemies of God”[ii]  Another wrote, shortly before his death: “I’m not frightened of the day of resurrection…when the first drop of martyr’s blood is spilt, all his sins are cleansed”[iii]

According to a saying of Mohammed martyrdom equates to an atonement of blood sacrifice. Among six things the martyr receives from Allah, he is forgiven at the first shedding of his blood. [iv] In the Palestine of today there is little hope. The young man born in a refugee camp has no hope of returning to the land his ancestor’s farmed. His home may lie in ruins, victim of Israeli retribution. He has no hope of a worthwhile job and no hope of escape to another land where he can be treated as an equal and a citizen. The offer of the blessings of martyrdom is attractive by comparison.

The recent predations of Islamist communities such as the Islamic State and Boko Haram have wrought havoc in many places as a vicious and ruthless agenda which tolerates no opposition is imposed.

Meanwhile, for the frustrated son of Muslim immigrants to the cities of Western Europe, there is an attraction. Growing up in the French HLM, or the English inner-city, color and cultural divide cause him to fall victim to derogatory racial epithets. Subtle profiling may hinder his opportunity for education and employment. He was born into the so-called developed world, but his roots are in the under-developed world his parents left decades before. Radical Islam offers him a hope and an identity.

We do not know what exactly was in the minds of Mohammed Atta and his brethren in the days preceding September 11, 2001, nor in the mind of Abdel-Basset Odeh on the morning of March 27, 2002 before he walked into a Netanya hotel and detonated his bomb amidst a crowd of Israeli Jews celebrating Passover. They are among the most well-known of multitudes down the ages who have pursued a suicidal course on behalf of the Lord of Death. Whether attracted by a quiet release from pain, the memorial of a blaze of glory or the carnal pleasure of perpetual virgins, the attraction of suicide in the cause of Islam is selfish. Crowned with the words of Allah, burdened by personal pain and clinging to a vain promise of atonement, the martyr enters an empty eternity in search of a comfy chair and a long cool drink.

But we do know what was in the mind of another who went willingly to his death. The Word of God tells of him: Who being very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing…humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross![v] He who knew no wrongdoing, who was pure and spotless, willingly gave his life, not for personal gain, but for the salvation of his brothers. As he went to his death he struggled under the weight, not of a bomb, but of a wooden cross whose explosive consequence has shattered the darkness and restored the lives of a multitude of broken people. As he allowed himself to be nailed to that cross, surrendering himself, he allowed not a headscarf filled with Arab script, but a crown of thorns to be pressed down upon his brow. And there upon the brow of the King of Kings spout a thousand bloody pinpricks, each one offering a cleansing atonement to the life of a would-be martyr; each one proclaiming love for the sons of Ishmael.

On a dark day, long ago He stumbled under the weight of His cross. Another was recruited to carry it for him. Nothing justifies the violent actions of the Shahid, the Muslim martyr, but our challenge today is to lay aside our own lives, lift the burden of his cross and share for Him the power of His shed blood that can set all men free!

 

[i] Robert Fisk -The Great War for Civilization – 2005, Alfred A Knopf – p. 477

[ii] Ibid – p. 203

[iii] Ibid – p. 286

[iv] Al-Miqdam ibn madikarib Ma’dikarib MISHKAT AL-MASABIH “The martyr receives six good things from Allah: he is forgiven at the first shedding of his blood; he is shown his abode in Paradise; he is preserved from the punishment in the grave; he is kept safe from the greatest terror; he has placed on his head the crown of honour, a ruby of which is better than the world and what it contains; he is married to seventy-two wives of the maidens with large dark eyes; and is made intercessor for seventy of his relatives.” Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah transmitted it.

[v] Philippians 2:6 – 8

 

 

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CUTTING BACK – A COVID STORY

I was recently struck by the reaction of a Richmond barber to the decision of the mayor not to allow the city to begin to reopen, after he (the barber) had stepped out in preparation to reopen by setting appointments for customers that he then had to cancel.  So I wrote a short story – and then I saw the article about the “Haircut Police in Lansing, Michigan!”

John was feeling depressed. He had been in social isolation for more than two months, living alone and only connecting online with friends and family. His weekly trip to the grocery store had become the highlight of his social life. He had shocked himself by flirting with the girl on the checkout behind her plexiglas shield.

His phone pinged and he looked for the text. It was Brian again, with another one of his harebrained schemes for flaunting the rules.

“Hey John, how long is your hair?”

“Eh, what?” John responded.

The phone rang. He answered and listened as Brian told him to meet him at eleven that evening on the corner of South Main and Sixth. “There’s a place I know”, he said, secretively.

John pondered a moment. So far he had declined Brian’s invitations to afterhours adventures, but boredom and depression were provoking a desire to let his hair down, so to speak.

He drove downtown and parked in a mostly empty lot. He walked across Main and greeted Brian, who quickly steered him down Sixth Street. He looked in surprise at Brian’s normally well-groomed appearance. He had never before seen him with a beard and now it was hard to tell where the uncut locks above ended and the downy facial growth began.

“Boy! Do I look as if I’m having as bad a hair-day as you do?” asked Brian. John pondered the question and then caught a glimpse of himself in a store-front reflection.

“And I have just the place for us tonight!” continued Brian, slapping his friend across the shoulders.

This section of Sixth Street was normally known for its restaurants and bars. They had been shuttered for the duration and the street was beginning to look a little faded. That seemed not to deter Brian as he again grabbed John by the elbow and steered him between two closed establishments and down some steps to an unassuming subterranean entrance. A couple of sharp taps and the door swung open for the two friends to be greeted by a suited and well-groomed doorman, sporting a remarkably sharp razor cut.

The light was low, but John could see enough to observe a shimmering plastic-sheeted wall some fifteen feet in front of him, a few tables and chairs in the foreground, and, over to the right-hand side, what looked like a bar with rows of bottles ranked behind it.

“Good evening Sirs. What can I get you?” inquired a man in a white dress shirt with a black bowtie at his neck. John was surprised to see how neat the barman’s dark hair was, brushed back and neatly trimmed. He hadn’t been in a bar for nearly three months and felt the urge to ask facetiously if they stocked Corona. Instead he asked for a single malt with a little ice.

“I’m sorry sir, but we are not that kind of establishment”, he responded as he folded a white towel and lay it on the counter in front of him. “If you’ve come for a drink try Charlie’s down on Seventh”.

John looked helplessly at Brian who stepped up and stated, “We’ve come for a .. ahem .. cut!” He dropped his voice to a whisper at the end of the statement.

“In that case I can offer you a crew or a quiff. I doubt a mohawk would look so good on you, but maybe an Ivy League to give you that professional look”, responded the host.

“What is this place?” John nudged Brian.

Their host responded. “We call it a SnipEasy. A hundred years ago we had the Spanish flu followed by the era of the Speak-easy as we dealt with prohibition. Today we have this Covid thing, so it stands to reason that in another era of proscription we should have a few places where honest guys and girls can get their hair cut.

“So, how does it work?” asked Brian.

“Well we’ve set up our chairs back there, each one shrouded in plastic, six feet wall to wall, and then the next little booth. We’ve got stylists from all over town setting up shop here. Maybe you know Julia from Julia Styles down on Riverside. Rapunzel was in here last week and Julia gave her a Pixie Cut. Locks of Love were overwhelmed. Julia’s even thinking of changing the name of her salon to “The Whole Nine Yards”, when she opens up again”.

“So I guess we’ve come to the right place to get a trim and a shave then”, declared Brian. “But’s what’s with all the bottles on the wall?”

“Oh, they’re real alright. A little bourbon, a little gin and so on. Flip them round though and we have a little argan oil, a tea tree, and a jojoba conditioner. See, all of them disguised, but all genuine. We’ve even got a little restorative tonic aged over thirty years”. He chuckled a moment and went on. “We need to keep up the appearance. We would not want the wrong people to get the right idea about this place. After all we are not here to encourage bar-hopping, just a little barber-shopping.

Just at that moment the doorman snapped his fingers. “Feds are coming!”

“Quick” the host said, pointing to a card table and a couple of chairs. “Grab a glass and take your seats. We’ll show them that we’re nothing more than a few friends enjoying a socially distanced night-cap”.

As they sat down, the door burst open and in rushed four men wearing government gray suits. All of them were completely bald. They quickly glanced around, eyes settling first on the man at the bar, and then roaming past the table to the shimmering plastic curtain.

“What’s going on here then?” demanded the lead man, whose naked dome seemed larger and balder than those of the other men. “We heard the buzz of an electric razor going round the neighborhood!”

“There’s nothing to concern yourselves with here gentlemen”, responded the barman, now fully in role, “Just some friends having a quiet drink and a game”.

“And what’s back there?” he impatiently indicated the curtain.

“Take a look”, came an invitation.

He pulled back the curtain to reveal a dark and silent hallway.

“Just some restyling we’re doing during the lockdown!”

“Well make sure it stays that way, or we’ll be back to trim your business further”.

With that the four men turned somewhat disappointedly and left the establishment.

“So, who were they?” Brian asked.

“Oh they’re just the local enforcers. They call the big guy Allott Less. I understand he had a childhood accident with a wax”.

“And the others?”

“They call them ‘The Uncuttables!”

The curtain shimmered again, and with a plastic rustle a small man came through from the rear. Rubbing his chin and speaking to no one in particular, he headed out into the night, with the words: “Well, that was a close shave!”

Andrew Fuller – May 20, 2020

I was recently struck by the reaction of a Richmond barber to the decision of the mayor not to allow the city to begin to reopen, after he (the barber) had stepped out in preparation to reopen by setting appointments for customers that he then had to cancel.  So I wrote a short story – and then I saw the article about the “Haircut Police in Lansing, Michigan!” What are we coming to!
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THE RESULTS ARE IN; AND FURY IS THE WINNER

The Nevada caucuses took place yesterday. For those not following the American news, these gatherings of voters across the state of Nevada are the latest stage of the process of choosing candidates for the Presidential Election in November. It seems a foregone conclusion that President Trump will be the Republican candidate running for another four years in office. However, on the Democrat side a candidate is far from clear.

A field that once numbered at least 24 has been whittled down to less than a dozen, among whom there is no obvious front-runner. Mrs. Clinton was the clear party favorite back in 2016, but had to fend off a strong challenge from Mr. Sanders, an independent who has represented the state of Vermont in the US Senate since 2007.

Mr. Sanders is running again and if by chance he should win the nomination and be elected in the fall, he will, at age 79 become the oldest president in US history. He’s an independent who joins the Democrat party at times when it is convenient; namely to run for presidential office on the Democrat ticket. He describes himself as a Democratic Socialist, and his radical policies probably place him to the left of all his Senate colleagues. For this reason he touts his independence.

Mrs. Clinton was the winner in Nevada in 2016; Mr. Sanders won the most support yesterday. Nevada is only the third state to vote in a selection process that will last until a winning candidate is nominated for the Presidency by a convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in July.

Another clear winner in Nevada yesterday was Tyson Fury. The Gypsy King from Manchester, England, who first shocked the boxing world in 2015 by beating long-time Heavyweight World Champion, Vladimir Klitschko. He later surrendered his titles and retired unbeaten from boxing. Two years later he made a comeback and drew a challenge match against American world champion Deontay Wilder in 2018. Fifteen months later Fury was back in the ring for a rematch in Las Vegas against Wilder. He won, while presenting what the media have described as: the most destructive performance of his boxing life.[i]

Fury may have won in the ring; I want to suggest that fury is winning in American politics. The election of Donald Trump in 2016 unleashed streams of vitriolic attacks from both the Democrats and segments of the media. Mr. Trump has not helped his cause with his mastery of Twittering ineptitude. The Mueller Inquiry, the Kavanaugh hearings, and the recent impeachment process have all given the spirit of anger an opportunity to expose itself.

I watched the Democrat candidates debate on stage in Nevada last week. Six of them qualified for the debate including billionaire Michael Bloomberg who is self-funding his campaign, rising in the polls, and has yet to participate in any of the state voting. I was immediately struck by the lack of civility as candidates appeared not to pay attention to the moderator’s rules, spoke over one another and were often harshly critical of their fellow participants. But more than that I regret that I saw little real statesmanship at work. A tired former Vice President, an angry progressive socialist, a strident college professor who wants to levy a wealth tax to provide massive injections of government spending, and a former mayor of a small mid-Western city are among those who join Mr. Bloomberg among the choices. Speaking of former Republican Mr. Bloomberg, and independent Mr. Sanders, noting that neither are long-time democrats, former South Bend, mayor, Mr. Buttigieg observed: Most Americans don’t see where they fit if they’ve got to choose between a socialist who thinks that capitalism is the root of all evil and a billionaire who thinks money ought to be the root of all power. He went on to say: Let’s put forward somebody who’s actually a Democrat. We shouldn’t have to choose between one candidate who wants to burn this party down and another candidate who wants to buy this party out. We can do better. [ii] But that comment was one of the rare moments of civility, albeit highly critical, in an evening filled with what might be regarded as hate-speech if it came from the mouths of others.

I realized that four of the six on stage last Wednesday evening are over 70 years old, and wonder what the chances are they will all still be alive come inauguration day in January next year. Prolonged anger and the associated stress are rarely attributes for longevity.

I also wonder how the headlines will read if Mr. Bloomberg does gain the nomination to challenge Mr. Trump in November’s election. His Wikipedia entry states: Throughout his business career, Bloomberg has made numerous statements which have been considered insulting, derogatory, sexist or misogynistic.[iii] It would be sad if the only person the Democrats could agree upon to challenge an incumbent billionaire New York businessman who has been accused of racism and misogyny was an even wealthier billionaire New York businessman who has been accused of racism and misogyny.

Following the last presidential election, an article entitled The Culture of Nastiness appeared in the New York Times. Teddy Wayne wrote: Despite efforts to curb hate speech, eradicate bullying and extend tolerance, a culture of nastiness has metastasized in which meanness is routinely rewarded, and common decency and civility are brushed aside.[iv] Donald Trump’s reference to That Nasty Woman, and Hilary Clinton’s statement that half of Mr. Trump’s supporters could be placed in a basket of deplorables only emphasize the thesis of the article. Many of the comments last Wednesday evidence a further decline in civility and a departure from true statesmanship.

Last night in Nevada, Fury was the winner. I pray that fury, with all its accompanying anger and rudeness is not the winner in November.

[i] https://www.bbc.com/sport/boxing/51602615 (accessed 2/23/2020)

[ii] https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2020/02/19 (accessed 2/23/2020)

[iii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Bloomberg (accessed 2/23/2020)

[iv] The Culture of Nastiness – Teddy Wayne in the New York Times – February 18,2017

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I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH CHRISTMAS

Christmas has appeared on the Henrico County (Virginia) Calendar. Henrico (Virginia) County School Board recently announced calendar changes for the next school year. They will preserve the two-week Winter Holiday but will rearrange teacher workdays so that they can give school holidays for Hanukkah, Eid and Diwali. According to an email sent to all parents of Henrico students on December 13th, the calendar gives “more opportunities to observe religious holidays in an increasingly diversifying community”. On the 2018-19 and 2019-20 calendars the period of vacation that spans Christmas and New Year is described as “Winter Break” [i] [ii], yet the newly published 2020-21 calendar in addition to referencing the festivals of other religions refers to the same break as “Winter Break (includes Christmas….)” [iii]

Prior to recognizing these other festivals, Christmas was not recognized on the calendar. Now, while other festivals are recognized, Christmas becomes parenthetical. I was one who registered my disapproval of the new calendar stating that if the calendar previously did not recognize a religious holiday there was no reason why suddenly it now should. But we live in an increasingly multi-cultural society, so apparently we should therefore respect the religious sensibilities of others.

As the years go by our public media culture moves farther and farther away from referencing Christmas. More and more so-called Christmas music bears no reference to the real meaning of Christmas and public symbols are marginalized.

I was recently in the United Kingdom. Driving on December 1st listening to the radio a presenter reminded me that it was the first Sunday of Advent. Although the programing was in no way religious, I looked forward to how he would explain the reason for Advent. He proceeded to invite people to call in and share their special experiences of opening a window of an Advent Calendar. I listened as a small child called in to talk of the candy he found in a box behind the door, while an elderly lady spoke of the love letters that her husband had hidden for each day of December. Nowhere was there even a hint of reference to the Advent of a coming King.

During the same visit I stayed in a hotel outside Heathrow airport on my final evening. Walking through the foyer my eyes were caught by the glitter and tinsel of a little star covered model barn. Momentarily I thought I was seeing a traditional nativity scene until I realized that St. Nick was standing outside the barn with a few of his reindeer.

In a world that increasingly wants to write the Christ out of Christmas, I guess I am just going to ignore CHRISTMAS and enjoy celebrating the birth of the King who is transforming the world.

[i] https://henricoschools.us/pdf/Calendar2018-19.pdf

[ii] https://henricoschools.us/wp-content/uploads/2019-2020-FINAL.pdf

[iii] https://henricoschools.us/2020-2021-calendar/

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THE TRIUMPH OF THE CROSS OF CHRIST

A Reflection for Easter of 2019

The West African nation of Niger is a somewhat out-of-the-way place. It is one of the poorest of nations, and, sandwiched between the African powerhouse of Nigeria, and the sparsely populated Sahara desert, it is easily ignored. Yet it is still home to a variety of different tribal peoples, all struggling to make a living in an under-resourced place.

Ekibala conference 2019Some friends of mine have supervised a project over more than a decade that supports Nigeri pastor-evangelists, to establish mission points for the church in remote villages where the name of Jesus Christ is often unheard. The Ekibala project team recently hosted a pastors’ conference in Niamey the capital city. 45 pastors who are supported and mentored through the project came together for several days of worship, prayer and teaching. By now they will have returned to their villages to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, that pivotal event in human history which makes the good news of Jesus make sense. In some of the villages the church has provided the only well, the only source of clean water for the community. In others they have provided opportunities for literacy, and in others food assistance during hard times.

An initiative in Niger is testimony to the importance of investing, prayerfully and then practically into the ministry of preaching good news through word and deed to men and women everywhere. It serves to advance the Kingdom of God in one of the world’s remoter places; it serves as testimony to the enduring message of the Cross of Christ.

Over a century ago French missionaries were the foremost missionary presence in Niger, an area that was part of the French Empire in West Africa. But the church in France has gone through a transition over the last century. Many faithful and elderly saints in that nation will have wondered why there has been such a decline in attendance at the Catholic Mass; why so many now identify as Catholic atheists. At the same time there has been renewal in some traditional church communities, and the evangelical presence in France has grown.

Some of the same discouraged may well have been deeply saddened to see the Cathedral of Notre Dame burning last Monday night. Yet, somewhat spontaneously, hymns were being sung in the streets of the capital. Across the nation, the hearts of people who never normally gave a thought to religion, were turned at the thought of losing a symbol of French history, a building that has stood witness to momentous events from the hundred years war through the World Wars of the twentieth century until the recent street protests by the gilets jaunes. Some, I am sure were reminded of the enduring presence of the church, with all its mysteries, in the heart of the French nation. On Tuesday morning, interviewed on American television, Archbishop Timothy Dolan said: I am already praying for revival in France!

And then, emerging from the aftermath of the fire, images of the nave toward the high altar of the church. There for all to see, the cross of Christ, central to everything, enduring and lacking little of its golden lustre despite the smoke blackened and fallen timbers all around.

notre-dame-fire-2019-04-16Throughout two millenia of human history, the Cross of Christ has been a dominant feature of our horizons. Christ continues to gently intrude into the life of a world that wants to ignore and reject him. May all who know and love Him continue to pray for the birth of the church in places where it is not yet physically present. Let us pray that the cross be held up high, and the resurrection power of Jesus, the conqueror of sin and death, be known among all peoples…. until He comes!

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SPEAKING OF HOMOPHOBIA: WHEN TO SPEAK AND WHEN NOT TO SPEAK

Social media is getting people into trouble. More than ever before, more people can say more things to a wider audience using Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And they are sometimes saying them without thinking of the consequences.

The freedom to express oneself declaring opinion and belief are a fundamental element of western democracy. The attitude: I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to

the death your right to say it, ascribed to Voltaire by his biographer Evelyn Hall[i], has for more than two centuries expressed the sentiments of the liberal enlightenment toward freedom of thought and speech.

However, we seem to be experiencing a change in the twenty-first century. Last week, the Australian rugby player Israel Folau shared some statements on Twitter and Instagram. With reference to the decision of the Tasmanian legislature to permit gender optional birth certificates he tweeted the caution: the devil has blindsided so many people in this world, repent and turn away from your evil ways. He followed up on Instagram with the post of an image that proclaimed hell awaits drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters. He stated: those that are living in Sin will end up in Hell unless you repent and concluded: Jesus Christ loves you and is giving you time to turn away from your sin and come to him.[ii]

Folau has been stepped down from responsibilities with the Australian national rugby team. They stated their intention to sack him: “‘in the absence of compelling mitigating factors’, having previously warned the 30-year-old player against sharing material that ‘condemns, vilifies or discriminates against people on the basis of their sexuality’”.[iii]

Folau may have made his comments in an insensitive way, however the heart of what he said comes straight from scripture. Speaking to the Corinthian church and condemning the behavior of the wider community Paul says: Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  And that is what some of you were.[iv] In addition to expressing scripture Folau underlined his belief in the redemptive love of Christ.

Folau’s words, along with those of many others who have spoken out against homosexuality and the homosexual agenda, have been described as homophobic. Now I always understood a phobia to be a fear of something, whether rational or not. The word comes from the Greek φοβια denoting an irrational anxiety inspiring dread or terror and inspiring flight. The word homophobia was coined by the psychologist George Weinberg who believed the hatred of homosexuals in 1960s America stemmed from that literal fear.[v] Unfortunately, regardless of the accuracy of Weinburg’s thesis, the word became associated with that hatred. Thus, fear becomes inextricably aligned with hatred among some.

I do not hate homosexuals, nor do I personally know any Christians who express hatred of homosexuals. I am however, deeply concerned about the homosexual agenda. Similarly, where the word Islamophobia is concerned, I do not hate Muslims, but I am concerned about the agenda of Islamism and radical Islamic movements toward non-Muslims. I am also not fearful of either of these categories of people. I therefore do not believe that if I speak out regarding these concerns, I should be accused either of homophobia or Islamophobia.

The Israel Folau story does not end with his remarks and censure. English national team rugby player Billy Vunipola liked Folau’s post. He was then asked by several of his friends to unlike the post. He responded on Instagram saying:

So, this morning I got 3 phone calls from people telling me to ‘unlike’ the @izzyfolau post. This is my position on it. I don’t HATE anyone neither do I think I’m perfect. There just comes a point when you insult what I grew up believing in that you just say enough is enough, what he’s saying isn’t that he doesn’t like or love those people. He’s saying how we live our lives needs to be closer to how God intended them to be.

Man was made for woman to procreate that was the goal, no? I’m not perfect I’m at least everything on that list at least at one point in my life. It hurts to know that. But that’s why I believe there’s a God. To guide and protect us and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

According to the Guardian, Vunipola now faces potential disciplinary action, though any action to be taken on the part of the English Rugby Football Union has been further confused by several other squad members liking the post and even posting replies in support of Vunipola’s right to express his opinion.[vi] [It’s also worth noting that the England team are one of the favorites to win this year’s Rugby World Cup]

As I read the remarks of both these men, I admire their courage in graciously speaking up about what they believe. We seem to be living in an age when objective truth, even when spoken in love, is regarded as intolerant. It is sad that some who regard it so often themselves complain of not being tolerated.

Folau, speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald stated: In Ezekiel, chapter 33, verse 11, it says, that ‘God has no pleasure in the person that’s living in sin,’ He’s a loving God and he wants people to turn away from what they’re living in and he’ll give them life. That’s the message I’m trying to share, even though it comes across as harsh. I can’t change what the word of God says. … those that live for Christ will be persecuted for his name. I have love towards everyone that might be saying negative things. I choose to love them because God loves me. [vii]

All of us who claim Christ as our Lord and Savior, need to remember that we should interpret the world around us through the eternal word of God, and not become guilty of interpreting that word through the prevailing whims of our culture.

[i] Hall, Evelyn Beatrice – The Friends of Voltaire, New York Putnam’s Sons, 1907, p.199

[ii] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-04-10/israel-folau-referred-rugby-integrity-unit-over-instagram-post/10990920 (accessed April 14, 2019)

[iii] The Guardian, April 14,2019

[iv] I Corinthians 6:9-11

[v] Weinberg, George H.- Society and the Healthy Homosexual, New York, St. Martin’s Press, 1972, p.10

[vi] The Guardian online April 12, 2019 – http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2019/apr/12/rfu-will-speak-to-billy-vunipola-social-media-israel-folau-england-saracens (accessed April 14, 2019)

[vii] Sydney Morning Herald online April 14, 2019 – http://www.smh.com.au/sport/rugby-union/i-m-more-than-happy-to-do-what-he-wants-me-to-do-unrepentant-folau-20190414-p51dyw.html (accessed April 14, 2019)

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AND HE WILL BE CALLED … PRINCE OF PEACE

A Christmas Meditation

Most of us want to be left alone to live in peace. Peace, however, is elusive. What, after all, is it? Is it the calm after the storm? Is it that which is gained through a war-ending treaty? Is it simple stillness? Or is true peace, something which is far deeper, and far more life-sustaining?

At the end of worship this morning, Sunday 23rd December, 2018, the church choir, orchestra and any who chose to assemble with them from the congregation, sang the Hallelujah Chorus, from Handel’s Messiah. Passages of scripture, put together with incredible music, present a powerful reminder of the good news that we celebrate. Performances of this 18th century masterpiece have become synonymous with the great festivals of the Christian year. Part one of the libretto contains the words in which the prophet Isaiah assigns names to the savior who was to be born. His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

Oppressed Judaeans were looking for a political deliverance when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. They were looking for someone who would lead them out of the tyranny of Rome’s oppressive rule. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, it’s possible many expected him to establish a new rulership. And even after his death and resurrection, the disciples asked: Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel? (Acts 1:6)

As I have traveled this year I have been to several places where I have met people who are looking for a political deliverance. In Venezuela and Turkey autocracy has gripped the nation, oppressing opposition. The current regime in India is endeavoring to make that nation a Hindu community with the suppression of minorities, much as Muslim nations such as Iran and Saudi Arabia have long restricted those who do not embrace Islam. Meanwhile, the current leadership of China has frequently been in the news for its endeavors to control the expression of the Muslim communities of Xinjiang, the Buddhists of Tibet, and Christians in many of the places they gather.

The rule of the autocrat is often presented as a means to standardization. The subjugation of the individual to the collective is offered as a way to bring communities together in peace and unity. Yet there is no peace.

Even in our cosy, English-speaking world of the West, so long a beacon to the oppressed, we find ourselves challenged by societal division. Brexit threatens to tear Britain apart as fear is used to manipulate. In the United States the divisive rhetoric of the present administration feeds the partisan conflict of an already divided society. We all need a savior, our knight in shining armor who will ride in and make all things good again.

If that is the case, then we do well to remind ourselves that He already came. A baby in a manger; a teacher riding on a donkey; the Son of God, hanging on a cross. He doesn’t offer us an earthly peace. He offers us the power to become peace-makers in a world of conflict. He offers us a peace which passes all understanding; passing beyond politics into the realm of the deeply personal; passing beyond earthly kingdoms into the eternal.

Political change may be on our horizon. Political change may be part of our personal calling. However, political change will not bring the Prince of Peace into the lives of the people. As we enter 2019, may all of us who claim the name of Jesus, renew our commitment to live the life of the Prince of Peace, bringing unity in place of division, and calm in place of unrest.

 

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ONE HUNDRED – LEST WE SHOULD FORGET

100 is a number with powerful effect upon the imagination. It is the first occasion in ascending order where three numerical digits make sense. From Roman times the century as a description for this number has been applied conceptually in several areas of life. The name belonged to the military realm denoting the number of soldiers under a command, but it has become variously a standard measure of time, a sporting record, and a standard for naming, notably such things as the century egg, a cricketing score century, the Buick Century automobile, and Century City.

Numerically the origin of its significance lies with the decimal numbering system which over time has become the dominant counting system. Probably originating with the numeration of the ten digits shared between a pair of normal human hands, most of the world today counts in groups of ten.

One hundred years ago today Allied forces in Europe signed an armistice with representatives of the German government to end the Great War which became knows as World War I. The commemoration of the signing of the armistice has taken place every year since at the time when it took effect, the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918. It is remembered as Armistice Day, commemorated in the United States as Veterans Day, and throughout the British Commonwealth as Remembrance Day. As a boy I well remember the two minutes of silence observed at 11am, fifteen minutes after our worship service had begun on the Sunday closest to the 11th November. My mother could remember when road traffic halted for two minutes at that moment of commemoration.

The Great War was first remembered as the War to End all Wars, such were the horrors in collective memory. Its origins lay in residual animosity between France and Germany issuing from the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, and the ensuing emergence of the German State, mingled with statecraft since the 1880s between European powers competing for spheres of influence in Africa and elsewhere. It can also be viewed as a royal family feud, as heads of state, many descended from Britain’s Queen Victoria, allowed their petty differences to overflow in armed conflict.

Along with World War II, memories of wartime suffering were part of the collective memory of my family as I was growing up. So many relatives and neighbors had fought or lost loved ones to the fighting. My father, in his fifties when I was born, had grown up in London. He remembered hearing the massive explosion in 1917 when 50 tons of TNT exploded to destroy the Silvertown munitions factory at the cost of 73 lives. He also recalled being taken to visit his half-brother, twenty-five years his senior, during a hospital stay subsequent to being invalided out of the Western Front.

In the early 1990s I visited the Canadian War Memorial at Vimy in France. This massive twin obelisk limestone monument stands on Vimy Ridge dominating the landscape and records the names of more than 11,000 members of the Canadian Expeditionary Forces who died during the war. As I ran my hand along the wall of inscribed names, much as others do with the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC, I paused. Without realizing where I had stopped I looked at the name under my hand. Walter John Heyburn was the name of my Uncle Jack’s father. Leaving his pregnant wife in England to follow him, he had emigrated to Canada in the Summer of 1914. With the war breaking out in August he had told his wife to stay put and joined the Expeditionary Forces to come back to Europe. He was killed long before the 1917 assault on Vimy Ridge by the Canadian Forces which dislodged the Germans from a rare piece of high ground in Northern France, but that location records his name for posterity.

The Great War took the lives of millions, armed and civilian. It had massive impact on the geopolitical map of Europe indirectly shaping the lives of future generations. It brought down Russian imperialism opening the way to another form of autocratic rule, that of the rise of communism and the suffering of millions of its subjects. The uneasy peace established at Versailles was a significant factor in the rise of Nazi Germany, the Second War and consequent holocaust.

All its surviving combatants are gone now. The last veteran died in 2011 aged 110. But there are still veterans of the Second War among us.

I’ve known Kal Skeirik for over twenty years. He’s a member of a men’s group at a local church where I have been a regular speaker since the 1990s. Six years ago I sat with him over supper before I spoke as he shared with me one of his memories. As he talked of the early morning sunrise over the river Meuse as he assisted the army chaplain with the baptism of several of his fellow soldiers I realized he was a lot older than I had thought. He was already eighty when I met him.

A few days ago, I was again speaking at this men’s fellowship. I sat with Kal and he told me more of his life story. With great humility and warmth, he spoke of his years working in Washington for the Small Business Administration, of his move to Richmond to be near a daughter and of his last fifteen years in a retirement community. Recently his wife of 68 years celebrated her 99th birthday and together they never imagined they would last a decade and a half in the retirement home. Committed to physical fitness he works out three times a week with a routine of walking, jogging, cycling and boxing for two to three hours. He’s published his war time memoir and is writing a memoir of his years in government service. At the age of 101 he is about to feature in a promotional video for his retirement community as the star of the gym.

Looking at him across the supper table it was hard to appreciate that I was looking at a man already alive when the armistice signatures were signed in a railway carriage in the Compiegne Forest of Eastern France. But he reminds me of the many who never came home from the fronts of both World Wars and subsequent conflicts, who laid down lives for the defense of societies that make us who we are today.

One hundred years on, the names, the images, the stories, serve as reminders that so many live on in our collective memory.

 

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SOCIALISTS AND CAPITALISTS – A STUDY IN CONTRASTS

In September I had the strange experience of traveling from a week in Venezuela to a Business as Mission Conference in Philadelphia. The contrast between a nation where an experiment in socialism has gone extremely wrong, and a gathering of joyful, and unashamed, Kingdom of God capitalists, was stark.

I was in Venezuela at the invitation of a Christian community that trains Venezuelans to be cross-cultural missionaries, both to the indigenous peoples of Venezuela and to communities in other parts of the world. I had visited several times before, most recently in March of 2017. On this occasion, however, the evidence of complete mismanagement of the economy was to be seen everywhere.

I was taken to a mall where numerous units were shuttered because the former occupants had gone out of business. I was taken to a supermarket where shelves had been rearranged to close off the empty part of the store, and where the main items for sale appeared to be bottles of soda, beer and other alcohol, dish detergent and ranks of tired looking fruits and vegetables. There was no meat, dairy or baked goods department functioning, dried goods were at a minimal supply, and this was in a middle-class neighborhood of the capital city.

The members of the mission community spend quite a bit of time chasing down food sources, giving testimony to the God who provides for them. On one occasion I was with one of the leaders as he drove to drop off a friend of the community. On the way we stopped in a side-street to collect a pack of twelve kilos of pasta from another friend. Going to the street market is always an adventure. Maybe there will be eggs; but probably not. Maybe there will be vegetables and fruit, if someone has decided to sell despite the restraints of government regulated prices. I ate a lot of corn pancakes (Venezuelan national dishes like arepas and cachapas) and rice and beans.

The Venezuelan currency is in crisis. With inflation running well into five figures, the government recently decided to drop the last five zeroes off every number and issue new Bolivar notes. Today there are 60 Bolivares to the US dollar. That’s 6,000,000 of the old Bolivar compared to an exchange rate of 4.6 old Bolivares to the dollar during my visit in the fall of 2012.

Walking the streets, I passed a bank with a row of ATMs. My companion told me that the average Venezuelan can withdraw just 10 Bolivares ($0.16) per day from the machine, and 50 Bolivares ($0.84) if they go into the bank. Yet a dozen eggs, if you can find them, costs 90 Bolivares. People are encouraged to use their bank cards for their transactions. However, a desire to be paid in cash that can be hidden means a discount of as much as 40% for those transactions.

In an endeavor to stamp out the black market a visitor or returnee can bring no more than $1,000 cash into the country. And they can’t legally change that without paying the proceeds into a bank account. Without dollars businesses can’t import what they need. Consequently, there are chronic shortages of medicines, spare parts, and basic supplies necessary for running the service industries.

Transport infrastructure is breaking down. As many as 90% of the nation’s buses are off the road because operators cannot afford spare parts and new tires. Buses through El Paraiso, where I was staying, used to run from the hillside barrios to the center of the city, providing transport for the working poor. Regulated, fixed-price fares, do not cover the cost of operations so operators have divided routes into sections. For the fixed price now, a commuter can travel a half or one third of his former journey, before having to change bus, pay another fare, and often, waste time waiting.

The lack of buses is moving people on to the metro. In July passengers were carried free of charge for several weeks because the operating authority ran out of paper for tickets. A preloaded electronic card system no longer works properly and so, since the reissue of paper tickets, long lines form as commuters endeavor to purchase no more than ten single tickets at a time.

Beef is rarely found on sale in Venezuela. The regulated price does not enable producers to cover costs. I heard of cattlemen who are herding their cows across the border into Brazil and Colombia. There they can get a far better price for their meat and get paid with the dollars that they need to buy the vaccinations and other imported assistance required to raise the next herd.

Gasoline has been heavily subsidized, and a low domestic price has historically helped sustain economic development. However, the government has now planned for gasoline prices to reach market levels. In July, before the currency change, a dollar, if exchanged in the black market could buy 875,000 gallons of gasoline (with the regulated gas price fixed at one bolivar per liter). Gasoline subsidies have cost the government $10 billion per year since 2012. Venezuela is also dependent on gasoline imports despite hosting the world’s largest oil reserves.[i]

Deregulating gasoline prices now means higher prices; still below international prices. To alleviate this added cost to the average consumer subsidies are available for holders of the ‘fatherland card’. This patriots card has been available to the poor as a means of obtaining subsidized food and medical care. However great concern is being expressed elsewhere that it will be used to control the population and subtly declare the support of subscribing opposition members for the regime. If someone requires the card to be linked to their bank account to receive their pension or their government salary, then how will someone who does not want to register receive any income.

However, the subject of the government salary and the minimum wage raise further concerns. The minimum wage, and therefore government worker salary, was recently raised 3,500%, however the government has no money to pay those wages. They are gradually mortgaging the nation to China, opening the doors to their vast mineral resources. As Venezuelans go without beef, I was not surprised that one of the main topics of social media conversation during my visit concerned an image of President Maduro eating a steak prepared by one of Istanbul’s top chefs, during a stop-over on his way home from China.

With my experience in Venezuela behind me I arrived in Philadelphia for the annual North American Business as Mission Conference organized by BAM Global [ii]. Business as Mission is viable, sustainable and profitable businesses; with a Kingdom of God purpose, perspective, and impact; leading to the transformation of people and societies spiritually, economically, and socially— to the greater glory of God [iii].

It was a wonderful experience to listen to the testimonies of businessmen and women from around the world sharing how their businesses are being used to impact communities for the gospel. Some of the businesses I learned about have direct social engagement as their goal, for example, job opportunities for women coming out of the sex-trade, or for victims of human labor slavery. Others have employment in a Godly environment as their goal, creating opportunities for people to thrive spiritually, socially and economically.

One of the overseas businesses I learned of is providing employment to two hundred people in a previously under-developed community where the major natural resource is coconuts. A factory uses every part of the coconut to produce coconut cream, dessicated coconut, shell pellets as a biodegradable additive to plastics, and a fibrous matting that can be used for erosion protection. Kingdom ethics and the gospel now provide a foundation for human development in this community.

Here in the US a business that manufactures seats for utility vehicles developed a creative approach to its need for a larger labor force. Instead of relocating the business, the directors approached the major local source of the under-employed; a federal penitentiary. A subsidiary plant has been developed inside the prison and employs over a hundred, giving them skills and enabling them to earn a state mandated wage that contributes to family support, alimony and their own prison upkeep. Some inmates have become Christians; some have been released into society equipped to succeed; and the project reports a rate of recidivism less than 8% compared to national averages over 45%.

Business as Mission is creating opportunities for the gospel of Jesus Christ to impact communities in new ways. Business as Mission requires Kingdom-minded capitalists, those who will unashamedly and boldly put their capital, financial and entrepreneurial, to work for God’s purposes in the nations.

Irresponsible Socialism and irresponsible capitalism have both caused massive human suffering throughout their history. While Venezuela suffers socialist and economic disaster it’s a great encouragement to know of those who are responsibly putting their capitalism to work on behalf of the good news of Jesus Christ in community development.

 

[i] Since my visit a colleague informed me he now gets his gas tank filled for free. The gas station attendant cannot be bothered to collect the tiny payment!
[ii] https://bamglobal.org/
[iii] Mats Tunehag
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KOPI LEWAK AND THE ENTICING AROMA OF FRANKINCENSE

[In 2007 I wrote this article. A colleague recently sent me a National Geographic Article about Islam in Mexico. It prompted me to return to these words and update them to publish here]

“Come, all you who are thirsty … and your soul will delight in the richest of fare”. Isaiah 55:1&2
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled”. Matthew 5:6

There’s a restaurant in Australia’s New South Wales where you can drink coffee for $65 a cup. The world’s most expensive coffee, and possibly most expensive beverage, is named Kopi Lewak. Connoisseurs travel for miles to try a sample. London’s luxury department store, Harrods, sells it online for $340 for a quarter pound.

Over the last two decades Starbucks have done an incredible job of turning a common drink into an experience, and now, just as the London coffee houses first popularized the drink in eighteenth century Britain, today’s coffee houses are exploiting a worldwide addiction. Many, in search of their next caffeine fix are chasing after the new and trendy flavors on offer, getting their fill of fantasies before the next headache of withdrawal arrives.

But Kopi Lewak is not what one would otherwise choose to drink. In Indonesia and the Philippines coffee beans fall from the bushes and are feasted on by the civet, a small rodent. Unfortunately, the civet cannot consume them entirely and the half-digested beans, having been harvested from faeces, are ground up to make this most expensive of coffees[i]. Literally, something that should not pass examination by Health and Safety Inspectors, becomes, when passed by rats, acceptable!

There is a subtle spiritual agenda at work in the western world today. Secular communicators who make their living by sharing new ideas with a tired world are naively presenting Islam as the religious experience of the future. Whether writing about the order and discipline brought to troubled lives by the daily practice of the din (Ceremonial Duties) or communicating how Muslim refugees are making new lives for themselves in the West despite the suspicions surrounding them, they are presenting the face of Islam as acceptable. Describing the faith as the third of the great Abrahamic faiths, casually offers it as the latter and therefore, by inference, more complete form of monotheism.

It is this acceptable face of Islam that prompted the Muslim community in Swansea, South Wales to carefully communicate their plans to convert St. Andrew’s United Reform Church into a mosque during the first decade of the Millennium. In 2007 their web-page declared: Learn about the renovation of this 150-year-old landmark building, the protection of Swansea’s heritage, and how with your donations and prayers it can once again be utilized for the worship of God[ii].

Today, that same web-page has no reference to the past role of the building as a church and is filled with references to Islam that are unintelligible to the average reader.

The acceptable face of Islam was also presented in a 2013 episode of the CBS TV drama, NCIS Los Angeles. The agents of the Office of Special Projects team confront Islamic militants. An Afghan kills his own nephew to stop him from harming someone else. Sam Hanna, the character played by actor LL Cool J, who is portrayed as a practicing Muslim, is shown in the closing scene talking to the Afghan, whom he has known for several years. The Afghan says: The taking of one innocent life is like the taking of the life of all mankind. I made the decisions I believed to be right in my heart – Allah will forgive me![iii]

A colleague recently drew my attention to a November 2017 National Geographic article about Islam in Mexico where the Muslim population has grown over the last couple of decades (5,270 – up 40% since 2010[iv]). It stated: Converts are fueling the growth in Mexico City, while high birthrates and large families spur it on in rural regions. This is not new revelation; it is the experience of many communities, whether Islam is the majority or the minority.

The narrative follows an Italian photographer who lived with the Muslim community in Mexico City for a year and then visited a village of 400 in Chiapas State that has blended indigenous religious practices into their practice of Islam. What is pleasing about Islam is that it brings practical actions in daily life: You have to pray five times each day. You can’t eat pork and you can’t drink alcohol, stated the photographer, in a comment that would not be new information to educated readers.

The article represents another example of a media endeavor to present Islam as a benign religious presence. While relevant to any ethnographic study of the world, a community of 5,000 Muslims in a nation of 124,000,000 is barely worthy of comment. I felt disappointed that a magazine of the quality of National Geographic would invest space in such an article, so I did a few searches of their website. Entering the term Growing Muslim Community produced the Mexico article and another about Muslim minority communities thriving in the USA at the top of the search list. However, entering the term: Christian Minority Communities, revealed a 2013 article about the Boston Marathon bombings[v] while entering the term: Growth of Christianity, produced a list headed by an article entitled: How Early Islamic Science Advanced Medicine.[vi]

Regrettably, despite the acceptable face of Islam, and the peace-loving life-styles of the great majority of Muslims, there is a darker side to Islam that needs to be revealed. Christians are called to love their neighbors and their enemies. We love Muslims because we are commanded to do so, because they are our brothers and sisters and because we long for them to know the life in Christ that we experience. We want them to know true eternal life.

Graciousness and tolerance in the Western world are principles drawn from a strong Christian heritage. Our graciousness and tolerance should however never serve to obscure the truth. In 2013 I attended a conference at Georgetown University in Washington on the theme of Religious Pluralism & Freedom. Speaking to the issue of religious freedom in the majority Muslim world, Farid Esack, Head of the Dept of Religion at Johannesburg University and Professor of Islam, gave a rambling presentation. Regarding freedom of religious practice, he said: In the parts of the Muslim world which I am most familiar with, … We don’t affirm the value and centrality of religious freedom. …Notions of freedom do not come automatically to our religious language. And so, at the end of the day, … for the vast majority of people in the Muslim world, and Muslim authority figures, whether they are government or scholarly figures who interact with the non-Muslim world. … it is still very much the age-old principle that Islam is meant to dominate and Islam is not to be dominated.[vii]

It is the intolerant aspect of Islam that I find unacceptable. Unfortunately, it has become politically incorrect to present it. Our own western lens of tolerance seems not to allow us to accept that those of another religious or cultural heritage would not be equally tolerant in our increasingly globalized world. It is this intolerance that causes a nation like Turkey to so equate national identity with religious identity that the idea of a Turkish Christian becomes anathema. It is this intolerance that must factor into Arab views of Israel with an attitude among some that cannot accept the idea of land once Muslim being dominated by peoples of another religion[viii]. One scholar has described Muslim reaction to the loss of territory in Spain and the Balkans as Islamic lands, wrongfully taken from Islam and destined ultimately to be restored.[ix] In the words of Nobel Prize winner V.S.Naipaul: Islamic Fundamentalism has the basic cruelty of allowing only one people The Arabs, the original people of the Prophet, a past, and sacred places, pilgrimages and earth reverence[x].

A 2007 episode of PBS’ Globetrekker[xi] traveled to three states in the Arabian peninsular; Kuwait, UAE and Oman. In the latter, the viewer was taken to the Boswellia trees at a desert oasis in the Nejd. It is the slowly dripping gum-resin of these trees that produces Frankincense. The aroma produced by this resin permeates life in Oman. Government buildings are censed daily with it. Omani hospitality is delivered daily in an atmosphere perfumed by Frankincense. For millennia, this incomparable odor has carried the fame of Arabia around the world.

Drawing the program to a conclusion, Megan McCormick, the presenting journalist summed up her observations of the three nations. Though describing their differences, she ended with the words: Whatever the differences, these nations are held together by the common presence and practice of the Muslim religion. One cannot but be impressed by the beauty and power of Islam! Just as this mysterious fragrance has enticed and attracted millions down the ages, so Islam is being presented as a worthy attraction. Saddest perhaps of all is that the very scent that became synonymous with the gift of a wise man to the Christ child has subsequently become associated with a religious spirit of Anti-Christ!

The prophet Isaiah issues the invitation to: “Come, all you who are thirsty!” while Jesus tells us that those who hunger and thirst after righteousness are blessed and shall be filled. In a world where Western Christendom is in severe decline, the call to the church is to not only proclaim again the great truths of the Good News, but to live them to the fullest. In Christ is the only answer for the nations; in Christ is the only answer for the Muslim world.

In his letter, the apostle James tells us: “Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows”. (Jas 1:16-17) The coffee known as Kopi Lewak is from the ground, in more ways than one. The faith of Islam is from the dusts of the desert. The truth of God our heavenly father and his Son our Lord Jesus Christ, is from above and the invitation to “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 34:8) extends to all.

[i] Kopi luwak or civet coffee, is the world’s most expensive and low-production variety of coffee. It is made from the beans of coffee berries which have been eaten by the Asian Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) and other related civets, then passed through its digestive tract. A civet eats the berries for their fleshy pulp. In the digestive tract, the civets’ proteolytic enzymes seep into the beans, making shorter peptides and more free amino acids. Passing through a civet’s intestines the beans are then defecated, keeping their shape. After gathering, thorough washing, sun drying, light roasting and brewing, these beans yield an aromatic coffee with much less bitterness. https://www.coffeebeanshop.co.uk/kopi-luwak-p-481.html (Accessed May 29, 2018)
[ii] www.swanseamosque.org (Accessed February 14, 2007)
[iii] NCIS Los Angeles Season 4 Episode 16 – Columbia Broadcasting System, Studio City, Los Angeles
[iv] https://www.nationalgeographic.com/photography/proof/2017/10/muslims-mexico-indigenous-religion-islam/  & http://www3.inegi.org.mx/sistemas/TabuladosBasicos/Default.aspx?c=27302&s=est (Accessed May 29, 2018)
[v] https://www.nationalgeographic.com/search/?q=christian+minority+communities (Accessed May 29, 2018)
[vi] https://www.nationalgeographic.com/search/?q=growth+of+christianity (Accessed May 29, 2018)
[vii] The Boundaries of Religious Pluralism & Freedom: The Devil is in the Detail – Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Georgetown University – April 13, 2013 –  video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gHSZ7PbLO1o – accessed June 6th, 2018
[viii] See for example the Hamas Covenant 1988 Preamble: Israel will rise and will remain erect until Islam eliminates it as it has eliminated its predecessors. Hamas Covenant 1988 Article 11: The land of Palestine is an Islamic Holy Possession
consecrated for future Moslim generations until Judgment Day. No one can renounce it or any part, or  abandon  it  or  any  part  of  it. Hamas New Covenant 2017 Article 3: Palestine is an Arab and Islamic land, it is holy and blessed and it has a special place in the heart of all Arabs and Muslims
[ix] The Muslim Discovery of Europe – Bernard Lewis – New York: W. W. Norton, 1982 – p. 182
[x] Beyond Belief- Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples – V.S.Naipaul – Vintage 1999 – p.64
[xi] GlobeTrekker Season 9 Episode 1 – Pilot Film & TV Productions Ltd. London and Los Angeles
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