Sunday, August 29, 2010

More from "Confessions"

How great was your love for us, good father, for you did not even spare your own son, but gave him up to save us sinners! How great was your love for us, when it was for us the Christ, who did not see, in the rank of Godhead, a prize to be coveted, accepted an obedience which brought him to death, death on the cross! He who alone was free among the dead for he was free to lay down his life and free to take it up again, was for us both Victor and Victim in your sight, and it was because he was the Victim that he was also the Victor. In your sight he was for us both Priest and Sacrifice, and it was because he was the Sacrifice that he was also the Priest. By being your Son, yet serving you, he freed us from servitude and made us your sons. Rightly do I place in him my firm hope that you will cure all my ills through him who sits at your right hand and pleads for us; other wise I should despair. For my ills are many and great, many and great indeed; but your medicine is greater still. We might have thought that your Word was far distant from union with man, and so we might have despaired of ourselves, if he had not been made flesh and come to dwell among us. Terrified by my sins and the dead weight of my misery, I had turned my problems over in my mind and was half determined to seek refuge in the desert. But you forbade me to do this and gave me strength by saying : Christ died for us all, so that being alive should no longer mean living with our own life, but with his life who died for us. Lord, I cast all my troubles on you and from now on I shall contemplate the wonders of your law. You know how weak I am and how inadequate is my knowledge: teach me and heal my frailty. Your only Son, in whom the whole treasury of wisdom and knowledge is stored up, has redeemed me with his blood. Save me from the scorn of my enemies, for the price of my redemption is always in my thoughts, I eat is and drink it and minister it to others; and as one of the poor I long to be filled with it, to be one of those who eat and have their fill. And those who look for the Lord will cry out in praise of him.

St Augustine Confessions Book X Chapter 43 (pp 251-251)
R.S. Pine-Coffin (1961) Middlesex, England; Penguin Classics.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Orpheus in the Underworld?

My father and step-mother are huge musical performance fans; symphony orchestra, music festivals, you get the idea. Every year they attend the opera. In fact my first encounter with a live operatic performance was when their usual friend could not attend…and I had a wonderful experience.

This year they again had tickets for the several performances during the summer where they meet their friends, have a picnic dinner, and then attend the opera.

About two weeks went by before we had a chance to enjoy a dinner together to catch up on what we’ve been doing. While chatting, my step-mother brought me up to speed on how they enjoyed the last several opera performances.

The first opera they had attended this season was Orpheus in the Underworld, by Offenbach; and she told me how great the performance was, that the orchestra was outstanding, the stage set was rich and beautifully designed, a gorgeous sight and very well done. Then she went on to tell me of the next week where the performance that evening was Madame Butterfly. “Oh” I asked (having seen it once before) “How was it?” “Well,” she said, “It was awful; they presented it as a ‘minimalist’ type of performance; the stage was bare, just a white curtain…it was just terrible…your father and I did not enjoy it at all!” “What a shame,” I said, “I so enjoyed the performance I saw when I went with you a couple of years ago.” My step-mother continued, “The producers must have overspent on the first performance, and had nothing left to spend on Madam Butterfly.”

Then she said “They spent all their money on hell, and had nothing left for anything else!”

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Compare and Contrast: Islam and Christianlty

I am posting a paper I turned in last week on some differences between Christianity and Islam... This topic is very complex and this short paper just cannot do it justice. So such as it is; here is my paper.

The question has been raised in current history of the differences in religious beliefs; that fundamentally they are all the same. So it is with the presentation of gender relations in Islam compared to the early Christian church are no better or worse than historical beliefs in any of the religions. So in the brief scope of this paper I will attempt to show the historical belief systems and their affect on gender relationships within both Christianity and Islam.

My first task then, is to present the core beliefs of Christianity; that is, what are the fundamental beliefs consistent with calling oneself a Christian. The central belief is first that Jesus the Messiah or Christ; is God’s incarnate son. He walked the earth to show God’s nature; and to save the fallen world, was crucified and died. He was raised from the dead and was seen alive, and in the presence of witnesses ascended to heaven. His words and actions were written down within 20 to 30 years of his ascension; and those words taught men and women to love and serve one another because of the grace given to them. That those who are leaders, according to Jesus’ own words, were those who would be servants to one another in Matthew 20: 25-28. This is the example that Jesus gave by his very life.

Early church records write of the martyrs; both women and men, suffering horribly at the hands of Roman and Jewish authorities in an effort to stamp out this religion. But in all this there are no records of any conquest by leadership of the early church for conversion. Belief was desired, and not forced; in fact the early converts faced almost certain death if found to be Christians. Men and woman were equally servants of God, and equally charged with spreading the “good news” and making disciples as written of Jesus’ words recorded in Matthew 28:19.

Frances Schaeffer (1982) wrote that God's method of  communication “… is not exhaustive, because we are finite and we know nothing in an exhaustive way…but he tells us truly.” (p 79) God has given his guidelines in his word and the life and teaching of his son, recorded by secular history as well as the biblical record.

Islam is considered a fulfillment of all earlier religious teaching. Mohammad received the Qur’an from Allah from the angel Gabriel. The actual “mother of all books” which is the heavenly existing book of God; the Qur’an as dictated to Mohammad is a copy of that. The author Jaques Jomier (1959) writes of the Islamic believers idea of the Qur’an is this “To the Moslem, every sentence of the Koran [Qur’an] conveys a lesson which the believer must put into practice.” (p.77)

All of the messages received by the Prophet Mohammad were the actual words of Allah; and only certain Imams (or teacher) who knew the Prophet were allowed to teach or interpret the Qur’an. Winfried Corduan (2009) writes, “A great amount of the content of the Qur’an consists of demonstrating that Islam is better then any other religion, and the God, as portrayed in Islam, is greater than any other deity that human beings may have imagined.” (p.247) Allah is utterly transcendent and utterly sovereign; so different than us that he would never have a personal relationship with his servants (us). But Corduan points out that Allah created mankind better than the angles and evil spirits to rule over them. Man was given by Allah the reason and intellect to understand the rules as given by Allah and recited by the Prophet Mohammad; that it is man’s responsibility to follow, and he is responsible for his fate (paradise or hell).

So as I have read and understand from the Qur’an and Hadith is that all other religious text; the Torah of the Jews and the Gospel as taught by another “messenger” Jesus, is flawed by its transmission by man. The proclamation of Allah as given to the Prophet Mohammed, is the culmination of all other writings and supersedes all other teaching; for all other messages as given by the other “Prophets” ( Abraham, Noah and Jesus) were corrupted over time; the Qur’an is the perfect Word of Allah. According to Jomier, the Qur’an was finalized “less then two centuries after the death of the Prophet, everything had been fixed finally except some minor differences of reading which were collected carefully.” (p 4) And he goes on to explain that the Caliph Othman made an official “recension” (or examination of the textual reliability) less than 20 years after the death of Mohammad.

So, as an Islamic believer, there is now no other interpretation to do. Allah has given his word to his “Prophet” (alternately “Messenger” or lately translated “Apostle”) Mohammad, and the approved interpretations in the Hadith, and as Corduan writes,

"There is nothing left for us to do than to try our best to follow all of God’s commandments. There is no point in speculating on God’s will …Rather than search God’s purposes, we should accept whatever he sends our way…Our obligation is not to out-think Allah but to do his will.' (p. 267)

What does the Qur’an write? There are many Surah and Hadith concerning the fate of unbelievers and those who err against Allah. One example is this plea for forgiveness from a prayer book of Mohammad (n.d.):

Our Lord! Condemn us not if we forget of err. Our Lord! Lay not on us such a burden as Thou didst lay on those who have been before us: neither impose upon us, O our Lord, ought which we have not the strength to bear; but forgive us, absolve us, and have mercy upon us. Thou art our Protector, Therefore give us victory over the disbelieving folk. (p.59)

The constant prayer I have found is plea's to prove one’s favor with Allah by giving the plaintiff victory over a battle.

The idea of conquest seems to be the over-riding consideration of Islam. The teachings of the Qur’an and the Hadith teach that one is born a believer in Islam and later due to the will of Allah are corrupted into other faiths. 

From the text Forty Hadith (1976) from Hadith 8:

I have been ordered to fight against people until they testify that there is one god but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah and until they perform the prayers and pay the zakat,[protection monies] and if they do so they will have gained protection from me for their lives and property unless [they do acts that are punishable] in accordance with Islam, and their reckoning will be with Allah the Almighty.”(p. 46)

Of course at the bottom of the same page is a rather long footnote explaining that what the Holy Qur’an really means is that actually there is “no compulsion in religion” and you are to “reason with them in the better way” and that “waging of war is enjoined against certain categories of persons such as those who attack a Muslim country, those who prevent the preaching an spread of Islam by peaceful means and apostates.”

Yet in the actual writings of the Qur’an it states in Surah 60:1-3;
O ye who believe! Choose not My enemy and your enemy for friends. Do ye give them friendship when they disbelieve in that Truth which hath come unto you, driving out the messenger and you because ye believe in Allah, your Lord? If ye have come forth to strive in My way and seeking My good pleasure, (show them not friendship). Do ye show friendship unto them in secret, when I am best Aware of what ye hide and what ye proclaim?

This shows clearly the intent of serving Allah and the intent of Islam.
Now with that rather long explanation; what is the teaching on gender in Islam? This was to show that at the heart of Islam are the disparities between believers and non-believers. A woman who does not submit to her husband will not reach “Paradise.” Yet an interesting explanation by a Muslim woman (Waud 1999) and teacher of Islamic studies wrote of the descriptions of Paradise:

The mechanisms of communication (the terms and images) employed by the Qur’an reflect that audience. They had to be convinced to change their way of thinking and their manner of living. Specifically, the Qur’an attempted: 1. To convince them of the authenticity of the message; 2. To demonstrate its relevance and significance: 3. To indicate the shortcomings and weaknesses of the existing status quo: and 4. To persuade or entice them through offers and threats that appealed to their nature, understanding and experience. (p. 54 italics from the original)

The author makes a point of showing how the verses of the Qur’an are used to “unreasonably” confine women to the house where she writes of Surah 33.33 “…has been use to make the general rule that women are restricted from going out of their houses altogether instead of stressing the limitations of the ‘going out’ for the purpose of wanton display. Here is the quote in its proper complete context from Surah 33:30-34;

O ye wives of the Prophet! Whosoever of you committeth manifest lew[d]ness, the punishment for her will be doubled, and that is easy for Allah. And whosoever of you is submissive unto Allah and His messenger and doth right, we shall give her reward twice over, and we have prepared for her a rich provision. O ye wives of the Prophet! Ye are not like any other women. If ye keep your duty (to Allah)… utter customary speech. And stay in your houses. Bedizen not yourselves with the bedizenment of the Time of Ignorance. Be regular in prayer, and pay the poor-due, and obey Allah and his messenger. Allah’s wish is but to remove uncleanness far from you, O folk of the household, and cleans you with a thorough cleansing…”

It is plain in my study of the Qur’an and Hadith, there is a bias favoring men and against women.

From this short exposition, I have found that there is no personal relationship with Allah in Islam; only the unique relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ within the Christian faith allows us an intimate, loving relationship; with its service and submission to one another regardless of gender. Grace is unique to Christianity. The mindset of Islam is summed up by Corduan when he states: “…a negative mindset is the most common result among human beings who believe that their eternal destiny is based on keeping rules.” (p. 269) When the only incentive in a religion is keeping rules, the demeaning of gender and “others” tends to result.

It is clear to me after spending time studying the Qur’an and the writing of the Hadith, the uniqueness of Christianity is the grace given to us. This still seems to be an anathema to so many around the world. That God would give salvation away freely, by the belief in his son, our Lord and Savior Jesus. This is the freedom we have in Christianity that is lacking in Islam. All religions are not the same despite the implications in the world today.

W. Corduan (2009). “A View From the Middle East” in J. Sire’s The Universe Next Door. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsty Press.

A. Farid (n.d.) Prayers of Muhammad. Karachi, Pakistan.

E. Ibrahim, D. Davies; translators (1976) Forty Hadith. Beirut, Lebanon: The Holy Koran Publishing House.

J. Jomier (1959). E. Arbez translator. The Bible and the Koran. New York, NY: Desclee Company

M. Pickthall. (1994) The Glorious Qur’an.10th ed. Des Plains, IL: Library of Islam

F. Schaeffer (1982) He is There and He is Not Silent. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publisher

A. Waud (1999) Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

"Something for Everyone"

Here in America, we do have it easy. We work from Monday to Friday, and most people have weekends off; unless putting in some overtime. We have air-conditioned houses, most people have at least one car, and we take our indoor plumbing and refrigeration for granted. You know, having cable television is nearly thought to be a right! And even with the heated debate over health care; with out question if you truly need a doctor, I guarantee you can find one in an emergency!

We are a blessed country; after all, we have a right to worship how we see fit…a multiplicity of denominations, “main-stream,” or “splinter groups,” and many with no affiliation at all. You can choose a traditional service, or contemporary, with musical instruments or without, rock-and-roll or a grand pipe organ. Services are led by special “worship teams” and there are multi-media displays to put the song lyrics on the screens for all to see, or just a person leading the songs on an old guitar.

We have available the Word of God in every conceivable translation for ease of understanding. Bibles are “rated” on a scale of conservative to liberal in their translation; “word for word” or “thought for thought.” And you can purchase lovely covers with lace for the girls or camo for the boys, or special leather bound editions complete with concordances inside. Children’s Bibles, youth Bibles, study Bibles…You get the idea.

Yes, in this great country of ours; Christianity has something for everyone. We have all the advantages…a veritable smorgasbord.

But I have just a few questions:

Were you in church this Sunday? Do you remember the sermon? Was the Bible preached? Did you go for the “warm fuzzies” or were you challenged? Have you prayed this week? Did you read your Bible? When was the last time you were “inconvenienced” for your faith? What are you willing to sacrifice for the sake of the Gospel? Have you ever shared the Gospel with anyone in your life, and do you know how? Do you understand Christianity; or is it merely a “mystery” and faith is just “knowing in your know-er.”

“If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” Luke 9:23-25

“Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.” 1 John 2: 15-16

“If one feels no friction with a fallen world, one will never find traction in the Kingdom of God” Doug Groothuis

So how’s your footing?