Cruciform Stories

17 02 2009

As a follower of Jesus, I love the cross. Not the pieces of wood Jesus died on. Not the cross as a symbol of religio-military violence, or jewelry on the neck of someone who may know nothing of Jesus. What I mean is, I love the indescribable love of Jesus, love that accepts death so others can stay alive, love that makes me want to love as nothing else can.

Yet sometimes when I picture the crucifixion scene in my mind it doesn’t impact me as much as I’d like. It can seem foreign and ancient, and (to my dismay) my heart can remain unmoved. But my callous heart tends to melt when I see the spirit of the cross, the laying down of one’s life for friends, replicated in a contemporary context. Jesus’ propitiatory self-sacrifice comes to life in new ways. I’ve begun collecting such true accounts and calling them “cruciform stories.”

One cruciform story comes from the Japanese prison camps of World War II in the early 1940s. Sixty-thousand Allied prisoners of war and 270,000 Asian workers were forced to build the “Railway of Death” for their captors. It was 415 kilometers long and cut through impossible terrain. About 393 workers died for every mile of track. As time passed the prisoners descended into anarchy, survival of the fittest. The weak and sick were trampled on, stolen from, taken advantage of. But then something happened. In the darkness and death, life began to shine. True stories of sacrificial love between prisoners began circulating in the camps. Here is one of those accounts, related by Ernest Gordon in his book To End All Wars:

The day’s work had ended; the tools were being counted, as usual. As the party was about to be dismissed, the Japanese guard shouted that a shovel was missing. He insisted that someone had stolen it to sell to the Thais. Striding up and down before the men, he ranted and denounced them for their wickedness, and most unforgivable of all their ingratitude to the Emperor. As he raved, he worked himself up into a paranoid fury. Screaming in broken English, he demanded that the guilty one step forward to take his punishment. No one moved; the guard’s rage reached new heights of violence.

“All die! All die!” he shrieked.

To show that he meant what he said, he cocked his rifle, put it to his shoulder and looked down the sights, ready to fire at the first man at the end of them. At that moment the Argyll [a Scottish soldier] stepped forward, stood stiffly to attention, and said calmly, “I did it.”

The guard unleashed all his whipped-up hate; he kicked the helpless prisoner and beat him with his fists. Still the Argyll stood rigidly to attention, with the blood streaming down his face. His silence goaded the guard to an excess of rage. Seizing his rifle by the barrel, he lifted it high over his head and, with a final howl, brought it down on the skull of the Argyll, who sank limply to the ground and did not move. Although it was perfectly clear that he was dead, the guard continued to beat him and stopped only when exhausted.

The men of the work detail picked up their comrade’s body, shouldered their tools and marched back to camp. When the tools were counted again at the guard-house no shovel was missing.

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (Jesus, from John 15:13).


Don’t Throw Shoes, Make Shoes

7 02 2009

Iraq Bush

You know the story, in mid-December, Muntadar al-Zaidi, an Egypt-based journalist interrupted a press conference with former U.S. President George W. Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, by chucking his shoe at Bush’s head.

The news spread quickly. Within a day, the shoe-throwing incident became the main subject of most newspapers and news channels across the world. Through the news coverage, we learned that throwing shoes is one of the most insulting actions one can do in the Middle East.

We also learned that many people throughout the world resonated with the pain and disappointment that prompted the shoe-throwing incident. People in the Middle-East resonated with the shoe-throwing journalist so much, that the company that made his shoe is experiencing incredible sales numbers.

Over night, this journalist became famous. But, there is something else happening in Iraq. It involves shoes and is a response to the deep brokenness in that war torn country, but is very different than the aforementioned incident. The Preemptive Love Coalition, part movement, part NGO, started a program called Buy Shoes. Save Lives. In essence, the program buys a unique type of Iraqi shoe called “Klash”, and sells them in the U.S. This program is making great strides towards the restoration of Iraq. This program alone helps stimulate the local economy and helps Iraqi shoemakers put food on the table by connecting them to Western markets. Then the Preemptive Love Coalition takes all of the proceeds from the shoes and uses them to fund life-saving heart surgeries. If that isn’t enough, the Buy Shoes. Save Lives. program has helped humanize Iraqi people in the eyes of Americans by giving them a beautiful piece of Iraqi culture.

Let’s look at the results. The shoe-throwing journalist threw a temper tantrum, venting his warranted anger over the brokenness in Iraq. This incident hasn’t provided any tangible solutions to the problems in Iraq. If anything, it perpetuated the brokenness, stirring up even more anger and polarization, not to mention the pain of the journalists’ family as they wait for him on the other side of the jail. After the shoe-throwing incident, terrorists felt emboldened for their cause and Western war supporters felt justified in their cause.

On the other hand, the Preemptive Love Coalition has produced tangible results in the form of food on the table and little children with functioning hearts. They’ve had even more impact if you take into consideration their other programs and the impact of Americans loving their neighbors in Iraq.

The obvious conclusion of this little rant is to point out the reality that Iraq needs more people to “make shoes” and less people to “throw shoes”. It needs a flood of bold and creative people, willing to use their gifts to bring about restoration, healing, and redemption in Iraq. It doesn’t need more people to throw a temper tantrum and chuck articles of clothing across the room.

I want to end this rant by turning the gun of love on you and I. What is your issue? What aspect of the injustice in the world fires you up? What do you believe needs to change?

No matter how you answered that question, you are faced with a choice. You can either be a “shoe maker” or a “ shoe thrower”. You can either apply your passion and gifts to the creation or cultivation of something tangible that brings redemption or you can choose the lazy route and just complain about it.

If you are burdened for un-born children, you can choose to volunteer at the Crisis Pregnancy Center rather than using your Facebook page to call Obama a socialist-baby killer. If you are burdened about the faltering economy, you can start a new, efficiently run, business that creates jobs. If you are burdened by the sexual-explicitness of movies, you can stop whining, get your nose out of the air, and go learn how to make a beautiful movie that honors women. If you are burdened by the situation in Darfur, stop whining about how the Bush administration never did anything, and move to Darfur, or at least write a beautiful song that makes people aware of the situation. If you are burdened by poverty, stop-sending emails to get your candidate elected and go make some sandwiches to give to the homeless.

Finally, if you are burdened by the current conflicts between the West and the Muslim world, stop forwarding slanderous emails about Muslims and open your home to Muslim international students. When they come, be sure to prepare your best meal and break out the fine china. Not only will you be dining with wonderful people made in the image of God, you will also be dining with the Prince of Peace.

Luther’s Life Outside of the Mighty Fortress

23 01 2009

images1Martin Luther was one of the most influential, intelligent, and interesting theologians that the church has ever seen. In a time when the gospel was being buried and burdened by religious leaders, Martin Luther emerged as laborer for the beautiful news that God has purchased a way to himself through the suffering of his son. Luther’s works have helped hoards of people, throughout history, discover the incredible dynamics of the gospel.

Yet, Luther himself didn’t fully understand the gospel. In the book of Galatians, Paul explains that the gospel compels us to act graciously and generously to those who are different than us (Gal 2:11-16).

Luther, the man who did some incredible theological work, even with the book of Galatians, missed the point of Galatians by his unacceptable and harsh views of Jewish people. Take a moment and read his 8 point plan about how he proposed to deal with the Jewish people of his day. I’m warning you, it’s harsh.

Luther’s 8 Point Plan

  1. “First to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. …”
  2. “Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed. …”
  3. “Third, I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them. …”
  4. “Fourth, I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb. …”
  5. “Fifth, I advise that safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews. …”
  6. “Sixth, I advise that usury be prohibited to them, and that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them. … Such money should now be used in … the following [way]… Whenever a Jew is sincerely converted, he should be handed [a certain amount]…”
  7. “Seventh, I commend putting a flail, an ax, a hoe, a spade, a distaff, or a spindle into the hands of young, strong Jews and Jewesses and letting them earn their bread in the sweat of their brow… For it is not fitting that they should let us accursed Goyim toil in the sweat of our faces while they, the holy people, idle away their time behind the stove, feasting and farting, and on top of all, boasting blasphemously of their lordship over the Christians by means of our sweat. No, one should toss out these lazy rogues by the seat of their pants.”
  8. “If we wish to wash our hands of the Jews’ blasphemy and not share in their guilt, we have to part company with them. They must be driven from our country” and “we must drive them out like mad dogs.”

Are you appalled? Disgusted? You should be.

It’s been noted that these words would one day be used, by Nazi’s, to mobilize people for the Holocaust.

You may be asking yourself, “How could such an amazing theologian and lover of God be so sinfully harsh against Jewish people?”. I think that’s actually the wrong question. Here’s a better question:

In what ways am I out of step with the gospel by the way I view other people?
If Luther, one of the world’s greatest theologians, a man who spent hours each day pouring over scripture, had such a gaping hole in his life with God, then you and I are likely to have gaping holes as well.

It’s my belief that many westerners view Muslim people with the same un-Christlike, harsh, and unloving attitude that Luther had towards Jewish people. We will explore the reasons for that in future posts, but I just wanted to use the example of Luther to exhort us to examine our attitudes.

Jesus’ suffering is good news. It means that God loved Muslim people so much that he purchased a way for them to be with him. It also means that he’s paid for the sins of slanderers like us, giving us hope that we can be transformed into people who truly do love our neighbors, even our global neighbors.

About this blog…

12 01 2009

Since 9/11, there’s been growing tension between Muslims and the west.  As Christians in the west, we’ve found ourselves perplexed, confused by complex current events and unversed in the rich theological truths that can guide us through this complicated moment of history.

Unfortunately, many who claim to follow Jesus haven’t responded in the peacemaking, self-donating, cross-centered, truth-loving, and grace oriented way that reflects the Risen One

In many ways, we have sinned against our Muslim neighbors. We have  slandered them, supported military pragmatism over Jesus-centered peacemaking, mistreated them, and have generally been apathetic about their welfare.

However, we are on the dawn of a new day. The Spirit of God is leading us to repent of these sins, dive into the biblical themes of peace and justice,  and embrace a life of self-sacrifice for the welfare of our Muslim neighbors.

This blog exists to be a voice that contributes to this movement, commentary for the road to reconciliation.


1) Gospel-Centered

There are many, both secular and religious, who’ve written interesting and valuable books about peace, reconciliation, conflict, etc. These people will likely be quoted and promoted on this blog. However, this blog is taking everything through the grid of the cross and resurrection of Jesus. We not only find new life in the Gospel, but we also find our motivation, message, and means for peacebuilding.

2) Open to Correction

We are a  journey and don’t have it all figured out. We will  be saying some challenging, politically incorrect, and controversial things. It’s hard to navigate these intense and uncharted issues, so we need your help. Please send emails and post comments to help us grow; do so with wisdom, humility, and respect.

3) Written by Joe-the-Peacemaker

Most solid material on gospel-centered peacemaking is heavy academic material. This blog is written by normal people for normal people. We might get into some heavy stuff, but we primarily want to serve the average person.

4) More than Theory

This blog is written by people who’ve had significant experience with Muslims. This isn’t merely an attempt to interpret what we see on the news, but much of the content is drawn from the things we’ve seen with our own eyes.

It would be easy to make everyone feel bad for not laboring for peace. However, we don’t want to take that route. We want to be grace-oriented, hopeful that the Spirit is working in you.

We hope to fill the blog with dozens of ideas about how to engage Muslim people in the ministry of reconciliation.

5) Multiple Authors

Content for this blog will come from people with a variety of convictions and experiences. All authors deeply love God; all authors are deeply flawed.

6) To Christians, Among Muslims

This blog is primarily directed toward Christians–calling them to repentance, humility, and creativity. However, we deeply value the comments from Muslim readers. Please help us on this journey.