Islam and Shalom

I posted a bit of a conversation that I had this weekend with one of our employees as I discussed his observation of Eid. I know the basics of the holiday but I was asking about some of the particulars, like if there are specific foods or traditions. He was telling me that some people fast the day before, some several days, and some a week. There’s not really a particular food that’s eaten, but it’s just a big party. You go to the mosque to pray in the morning and then you just follow the crowd and have a good time. Here’s the basics of what he said: “I fast because I need help. Everybody needs help. God is very big & religion is about prayer & worship. You don’t need to worry about all the other stuff. Just worship God.”

This weekend was a confluence of holidays or events in the 3 Abrahamic faiths: Eid for Islam, Yom Kippur for Judaism, World Communion Sunday for Christians. I read a beautiful piece on the similarities between Eid and Yom Kippur over at the Velveteen Rabbi, and got a lot of this from her. If you don’t read her, I highly recommend that you do.

Eid al-Adha is a celebration that commemorates the near-sacrifice of Abraham’s son. Islamic scholars are mixed on whether or not it’s Ishmael or Isaac, as the Qur’an doesn’t actually say. Either way, it’s seen as an example of the gracious submission to God’s will. In fact, the Arabic word for this peaceful submission is islam, which is where the faith got its name. The word connotes peace and wholeness, which is very similar in meaning to the Hebrew word shalom. In other words, peace and wholeness are found when we submit to God.

World Communion Sunday is always the first Sunday of October, but this year I almost forgot about it. I loved WCS at Mission Bay because, while we rarely had any dearly held traditions, the one we did have was Hawaiian bread for communion. On this Sunday when we had breads from various cultures we always got several, “Ummm..this is cool and everything, but where’s the Hawaiian bread?” People are funny.

The observance of communion varies between communities and denominations, but the root meaning is the same: Jesus’ model of submission to God is a model for how we ought to live – graciously submitting to God’s will, even though it seems to really suck in the moment. Submitting to God is the only way to peace and wholeness.

God is very big, and religion is about prayer and worship. You don’t need to worry about all the other stuff. Just worship God.

I Love to Tell the Story

Today I went to the memorial service for a man I’ve never met. He was the friend of a very close friend from San Francisco and I went to support my friend, if that makes sense. The man who passed away, or transitioned from death to life as I like to say, is gone too soon, too young, and under difficult circumstances. He was imperfect, which is to say, he was human. As are we all.

The overarching theme of everything  that was said throughout the service and by everyone who knew him was about how much he loved Jesus and knew how much Jesus loved him. It was a beautifully well done service that respected his wishes and the wishes of his family and still communicated the essence of this man’s life to those like me who may not have known him well.

I held it together for the most part, until we got to the end of the service when the closing hymn was “I Love To Tell The Story”. I grew up on hymns and I didn’t need any word sheets for any of the songs, but I paid attention to this one because it seemed new to me today. It was the most beautiful wrap-up to a service honoring the life of an imperfect person who loved Jesus and did his best to follow Him. That’s when the tears came. It was a mix of overwhelming sadness for this loss and  joy for the legacy this man left for his friends, family and daughter.

I love to tell the story of unseen things above
Of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love
I love to tell the story, because I know it’s true;
It satisfies my longings as nothing else would do.

I love to tell the story, how pleasant to repeat
what seems, each time I tell it, more wonderfully sweet!
I love to tell the story, for some have never heart
the message of salvation from God’s own holy word

I love to tell the story, for those who know it best
seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest.
And when, in scenes of glory, I sing the new, new song,
I’ll sing the old, old story that I have loved so long.

I love to tell the story, ’twill be my theme in glory
to tell the old, old, story of Jesus and his love.

This hymn was written by  Katherine Hankey, the daughter of a wealthy British banker. She was a passionate bible study teacher and gave every dime from the proceeds of her publishing to international missions. She wrote this and other hymn texts during an illness during which she was bed-ridden for almost a year. The man whose memorial I attended battled various illnesses and yet was able to communicate the love of Christ for the world in everything he did.

The verse that really stood out to me today was the third. Often we think of this hymn as encouraging us to tell the story to those who’ve never heard it. But the third verse reminds us that those of us who know it best still hunger and thirst to hear it again. We can hear it again in the lives of people like this man who brought it with him everywhere.

I thought a lot about my life and what my legacy will be when I transition. If it’s even a fraction as positive as this man’s story, I will be perfectly happy. I’ve already informed my family that this song will be played at my memorial. It’s how I want to be remembered as I hope my life tells the old, old story.

Take Nothing on Your Journey

Mark 6:6-13

“Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village.  Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.

These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.”

This summer our church is in a sermon series about traveling. I’m not totally sure if it has a title, but today’s sermon was called Traveling Light and the passage from Mark 6 was one of the scriptures. (Just checked the website – It’s called “On the Road Again.”) It’s certainly an appropriate series during the summer as most people in their right minds get out of Phoenix for as many times and as long as they can.

As I was reading through this passage the phrase “take nothing on your journey” jumped out at me. I love to travel and when I do I’m an over-packer. I need options. I bring things I think I need, know I need, and might possibly need. There are also some things I’m willing to do without. But none of those things are food, bags or money. The argument could be made that Jesus was sending out the disciples on a short-term assignment and they didn’t live like this all the time. Yeah, that’s true. They had stuff most of the time, but Jesus spoke a lot about simplifying things so while this exercise was challenging, it may not have been a shock.

I’m on a journey of my own at the moment (this is my blog so I’m going to make it a little about me), and it’s one of learning to be in a place where God is working but I don’t know how or in what direction. I realize that basically all of life is like that, but sometimes we’re more aware of it than others and this is one of those times. Often in these times, I try to force some sort of outcome just so I know what’s going on and can feel some semblance of control. I’m adorable. However, this time, I’m making a conscious decision to live in this uncertainty, but joyfully, not grudgingly. I’m finding myself actually almost thankful for it. I guess the reason this resonates with me is that I am embarking on a journey and I am taking nothing. So far, I’m finding it more freeing than scary.

Don’t take:

Bread  – The most basic of food staples, every culture in the world has a “bread” equivalent. Even when the Israelites were fleeing slavery in Egypt they were allowed to bring unleavened bread. This is going a step further, saying don’t even take that. To me this is saying throw out even the most basic of provisions. This assignment is a test of the hospitality of the towns where you’re going. Will they have compassion and feed someone who has nothing? Will they take care of those who have less? That’s going to tell you who they are. Being willing to travel without that will tell you who you are.

Bag – not only is the bag where you might put stuff you take along, it’s also a place where you might put stuff you pick up along the way. Don’t take anything along, but don’t pick up anything either. You have nowhere to put it. Don’t acquire anything that you have to carry, that might weigh you down – stuff, issues, anger, unhealthy relationships, anything that can take focus from your mission.

Money – Even if you don’t take anything else, if you have money you can buy what you need, or think you need. Being asked to not bring money renders you completely powerless. You have no bargaining or purchasing power. You are entirely at the mercy of the kindness of strangers. As mentioned this is a test of your host community’s hospitality but also a test of who you are.

When you bring your own stuff into a new context it can prevent you from fully experiencing the new community and culture. Taking nothing on your journey frees you to fully experience a different way of life.

I have told this story before, but bear with me. When I was transitioning out of seminary I was in a place where I needed to figure out what was next and a lot of things were up in the air. I was praying one morning and asking God for some answers and God told me not to pack a lunch that day. Really. For real. It was odd. I was all, fine, whatever, no lunch. I went to work at my job at the seminary library and was doing my library thing. Lunchtime approached and I was getting hungry and began to second guess that direction. Really? For real? That’s dumb. I was just making that up. I was about to call the whole thing off and go get something and a student approached my desk and said, “I’ve got some fruit & yogurt that I’m not going to eat. Would you like it?” Really. For real. Ok, so God meant that and God’s got lunch covered.

I’ve always focused on what Jesus told them not to take on this trip, because it seems so counter-intuitive, but there are some things he told them they were supposed to take.

Do Take:

A Staff – Unfortunately, this wasn’t like Moses where they could do some cool magic snake tricks with their staffs to impress the locals and prove their credentials. When I read this I immediately thought of Psalm 23: 4 “Your rod and your staff comfort me.” This the spot where the Psalm moves from an I-God conversation to an I-You conversation, which indicates a confidence in God’s presence in time of danger. The staff is something that has a symbol of pastoral comfort and presence, so Jesus is telling those who are going that they are to be pastoral comfort to the communities they are visiting. They aren’t just wandering into towns and begging food. They have a job. The staff can also be used to support them over treacherous trails. Don’t embark on a ministry call (short or long term) without something to support you when things are rough. You need to have support in order to give support.

A companion – Jesus sent the disciples out in groups of two, not alone. This was practical, as lone travelers were particularly susceptible to attacks on the road. The pastor who preached on Sunday spoke about the origin of the word “companion” and that it means “someone with whom you break bread.” Ironic, since they couldn’t bring any of that. But I’m sure they would have done if they had some. Don’t do any kind of ministry alone. Have some bread-breaking people with you. Even if you don’t have any bread.