Monday, August 30, 2010

Strippers protest, pleading with a church in their community to behave more like Jesus

Why people are losing interest in the church – Case 1
Perhaps more Christians should be concerned about what’s going on in some churches today. The more I look, the more I understand why it’s getting hard to tell people about Jesus. We have churches making a mockery of what Jesus taught us. What are these churches thinking? I never read the author Anne Rice until she posted this on Facebook: “Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being ‘Christian’ or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.” I think I’m beginning to understand her point. In each part of this series, I want to look at what one local church is doing and then ask what Jesus might say to them. Your feedback and guest posts are most welcome.
Strippers-protest-church You’ll be surprised to hear why these strippers are protesting on Sunday mornings at New Beginnings Ministries Church. The dancers say they're fed up with Bible-brandishing churchgoers who picket the club where they work. Pastor Bill Dunfee believes that God has called his church to shut down the strip club, the Fox Hole. "As a Christian community, we cannot share territory with the devil," Dunfee said. "Light and darkness cannot exist together, so The Fox Hole has got to go." So for four-and-a-half years now, members of the church in Warsaw, Ohio have been travelling nine miles down the road to the strip club in New Castle each weekend around 11pm in order to demonstrate with picket signs and bullhorns at the Foxhole strip joint. These church members invite customers and employees to their church but they also block traffic and attempt to shame patrons, asking them what their wives or mothers would think. And when those tactics fail, they take photos of patrons’ license plates to post on a "shaming" site.

Is it working? Well, one stripper named “Lola,” a mother of four children, said she made $30 instead of a couple hundred dollars last Friday with the protesters outside. "I'm not the most beautiful woman in the world," she said. "I go out there and I try to make my money." About seven dancers are trying to make a living at the club. Some of the women feel this is the only way they can make money in the tiny village of 900 people. They’re tired of being called “whores” and “homewreckers” and losing income they really need.

After four-and-a-half years of these demonstrations by the church goers, the club owner and dancers decided it was time to protest at the church. They didn’t match the tactics of the church members—no bullhorns and no intimidation of church attenders—instead they arrived with lawn chairs and signs which mostly displayed verses of Scripture. A few verses I could make out include Matthew 7:12, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” Matthew 6:44, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” and a rather interesting interpretation of John 8:41-44, “I have been misrepresented by those who don't know me.” An Associated Press article described one scene at the church:

Laura Meske — known as Lola, stage age 36 but really 42 — hid behind a sign proclaiming, "Jesus loves the children of the world!" as the preacher extended his hand for a shake.

Two nights earlier, Dunfee and more than a dozen churchgoers stood outside the club, one of them calling out Meske's stripper name. Strippers-protest-Debi-Durr-Laura-Meske

"He who casts the first stone ... ," Meske said Sunday. 

The pastor cut her off and repeated, "Lola, Lord bless you."

"Everybody has sinned, and that doesn't mean I'm not gonna get into heaven," she said, the stud piercing in her chin shimmering in the sunlight. "I believe in Jesus. I don't believe what they preach. They preach hate."

Debi Durr, who attends the church, disagreed. "You don't stand up there for four years for hate. That's not hate. That's love," she said.

That’s the first case of what I think is a church causing people in their community to lose interest in the church and its message. (For an update on this story, see Religion Dispatches Magazine.) What do you think about what this church in rural Ohio is doing?

What would Jesus say to them? Perhaps the same thing he said to the self-righteous religious leaders of his day: “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you” (Matthew 21:31, TNIV).

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Are we sure that Islam is “a religion of peace”?

The return of a Canadian from a Libyan jail last weekend raises this question in my mind

Twin-Towers-night-lights-memorial Have you noticed one missing fact from all the debate and discussion going on about the building of a mosque at Ground Zero in New York City? No one seems to mention the fact that it is to very difficult to build a Christian church in most Islamic countries and probably impossible to ever build a church near the site of some national tragedy or any site of national significance. I’m not arguing for “fair play,” just perspective. We believe in religious pluralism and multiculturalism, so, of course, mosques can be built in the U.S. and Canada. Historically, Christians have argued not for the freedom to practice Christianity, but for the freedom of all religions. This, in fact, lies behind the multiculturalism we see in the U.S. and Canada. But don’t we go wrong when we start to believe that all religions or cultures are equal though they are different? Are we really so sure that some are not better than others? And, yes, I mean morally better. President Bush told us that “Islam is a religion of peace,” but can this really be substantiated? I’d like to ask Don Symes about this common way of thinking about our world. Symes just returned home to Nova Scotia this weekend after spending 56 days in a Libyan jail accused of a crime he did not commit.
(And so far as this author, Ken Symes, knows, Don Symes is not a relative.)

tripoli-jailWhen I heard Don Symes’s description in the CBC News interview (click here to see it) of what he endured over those eight weeks, well he never said it, but it sounds to me like he was tortured under conditions most of us cannot really fathom. Hungry and sick, he lost 24 lbs; he was crammed into confined spaces with large numbers of prisoners, many of whom smoked excessively and he witnessed repeated acts of cruelty and assault toward other prisoners. Don Symes says he feared for his life constantly and I believe him. In the video, Don describes the horrible experience of being transported in the “smokehouse,” the vehicle used to transport prisoners from the El Jadida jail to the court once every week.

Sunni Islam is the state religion of Libya and shapes law and order in the country. No form of Christian witness to Libyan citizens is permitted, indeed given the work of the secret police, it is considered dangerous. Even the churches of expatriates in the country are strictly monitored. Only about 2% of the indigenous population is Christian, definitely a persecuted minority—for example, even importing Arabic Bibles is illegal. (For more information on Libya, see the Operation World profile and click on the jail pic above.) We fail to realize how different some countries in the world are compared to our own. It is quite likely that when the Pakistani worker accused Symes and two other men of assaulting him, his word was taken over that of Don Symes and his co-accused since they were non-Muslim, even though their alibi was solid. According to sharia law, the testimony of a Muslim far outweighs anything said by a kafir.

KCA-Deutag-T202-oil-rig-LibyaWhat should surprise us is not what happened to Don Symes in Libya but that it is not happening more often to Canadians working abroad in Islamic countries. Perhaps it is. Curiously, the story of Symes’ return to Canada from the Libyan jail has not received much media coverage at all—nothing beyond the Halifax newspaper and two Nova Scotian TV stations. I think it is a story we need to hear. [The day after posting this I discovered that CBC News Network ran a more in depth interview, so I upgraded the above video.] Canadians arrested abroad may not be treated with the same standards of justice we adhere to and they cannot count on the Canadian Embassy to help them even when being tortured or held without just cause in a foreign prison.

I don’t know why it’s so hard for us to figure this out, but cultural relativism is wrong—not all cultures, and certainly not all religions, are equal. C.S. Lewis explained, “If no set of moral ideas were truer or better than any other, there would be no sense in preferring... Christian morality to Nazi morality.” I wouldn’t for a moment suggest that we give up on love, tolerance and respect for adherents of other world religions, but the idea that all religions and their resultant moralities are equally true and beneficial is misguided. To be clear, personally I respect Muslims and support their freedom to practice their religion. I do not advocate hatred or intolerance of Muslims. I believe that the campaign of resistance to the so-called Ground Zero mosque is fueled by misinformation, intolerance and, perhaps, hatred (see The great “Ground Zero mosque” hoax in The Washington Post). In a land which guarantees religious freedom, why can’t they build a mosque two blocks away from Ground Zero? At the same time, respect for Muslims does not mean that I have to agree with everything their religion teaches. Specifically, I do question if George Bush was misguided when he proclaimed that Islam is a "religion of peace."

Updated with clarifications: September 1, 2010 by Ken Symes

Friday, August 20, 2010

Finding faith

What's your story? How we came to putting our faith in Christ is the greatest story any of us can tell. If it's been a while since you've told the story of the difference Christ has made in your life, watch out, I might ask you to type up your story and post it here. That's what I did to my new friend, Margaret Evans. We only met a few weeks ago after she posted a comment at my Mere C.S. Lewis blog. I really liked what she had to say about her experience with C.S. Lewis and so I asked her if she would share her story of finding faith. And here it is, in her words...

Margaret-and-daughter I grew up in the south, where going to church was just what you did. Much like voting or joining the Rotary Club, it was part of being a “good citizen.” My parents raised us in the Methodist Church.  We were active members, and it was pleasant and comfortable. But here’s the thing: it didn’t take. I considered myself a Christian – wasn’t everybody? – but I never thought much about what that meant, and it wasn’t particularly important to me. So, like many “cultural Christians,” I went off to college and started reading widely and thinking deeply – and meeting smart atheists, some of whom were my professors – and what little faith I had was shaken. I was an English major at a small, prestigious college with strong ties to the Episcopal Church, but it was there that I began losing my religion. In graduate school, the bulldozing of my faith continued. Along with lit courses, I had comparative religion, philosophy, and critical theory (deconstructionism!), all of which combined to pull the rug out from under this small-town southern girl. Not that I minded. I fancied myself quite sophisticated in my new found “enlightenment,” which consisted, mainly, of a conviction that there’s no such thing as “truth,” that life is a random series of meaningless experiences, and that belief in God is for the ignorant. Looking back, I see that my atheism (which I preferred to call “secular humanism”) was as much a “cultural” thing as my Christianity had been. I was running with a different crowd now – academics, artists, journalists – and scoffing was just what you did. My default attitude in those days was amused scorn.

Fast-forward almost two decades. I’m now married with a five-year-old daughter. Western culture is 20 years more decadent. I begin to experience a nagging concern that won’t let go: I need to take Amelia to church.flemington-presbyterian-church-georgia Christianity is her heritage, and she knows nothing about it. She deserves to be exposed to it, if only for the sake of education. She won’t learn about it in school. It’s my responsibility.

These were my thoughts, three and a half years ago, as I took my child to a pretty little Presbyterian church one Sunday morning in December to hear the Christmas portion of Handel’s Messiah. We sat together on the front row, and I listened. And I remembered. (My parents had sung in the choir when I was a girl, and the Messiah was much loved in our home.) I sat there that morning in December, and something inexplicable – and completely unexpected – happened. Something cold and hard and cynical (my heart?) cracked open, and I wept like a baby on the front row of that church. “For, unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given… and the government shall be upon His shoulders…” I had heard those words a thousand times, and suddenly – for the first time – I knew they were true. And that everything – everything – was about to change.

I had no idea.

That morning in church was just the beginning. I often think that G.F. Handel opened my heart, but it took C.S. Lewis (and plenty of other writers) to bring my mind along for the ride. I’m a natural skeptic, so I needed lots of intellectual back-up after that initial moment of revelation.

Lewis gave me a whole new way of seeing; he addressed my natural skepticism and made it okay to believe in miracles...mere-christianity He spoke to my heart AND my mind and allowed me – no, freed me – to really "go there." Know what I mean? In my heart, it was where I already wanted to go, but I needed an intellectual shove. I guess you could say Lewis was my "closer." I remember reading 'Mere Christianity' on the treadmill at my gym, and just weeping openly with joy (and relief!) and wondering why nobody had ever said it to me like THIS before! It really changed my life. Next, I read 'The Screwtape Letters,' which I still think is possibly THE wisest, most insightful book I've ever read. But I'm no Lewis expert. I've read the 'Abolition of Man' and lots of essays (and, of course, the Narnia books) but haven't read the Space Trilogy or even The Great Divorce. (They're all on my list...)

My point is that “conversion” isn’t a one-time thing... an “event” with a beginning and an end.  It may have a catalyst (like Handel’s ‘Messiah’), but it’s an ongoing process of growth and discovery. Ever since that day in church, I’ve been reading and studying, praying and worshipping… trying to figure out what it means to follow Christ. My husband remains an agnostic, as do many of our friends. I’ve even lost a few friends over my conversion, and have suffered a fair amount of marital strife because my husband simply doesn’t understand. As a writer, I’ve struggled with the compulsion to make my faith the focus of my work, but I’m a columnist for an alternative newsweekly, so it’s not a great fit. In short, it’s been an extremely difficult, challenging time… and absolutely amazing. In spite of everything, I have no regrets. I look forward to each new bend in the road with faith, hope and love.

Thanks Margaret for posting your story. Margaret mentioned that she was a columnist (and she's actually the editor too) and I think you would enjoy reading more of her work, so please visit her newsweekly's website. You can also read Margaret's story at very interesting blog called On The Fence with Jesus which I highly recommend. And, of course, if you'd like to read C.S. Lewis which Margaret would highly recommend, as do I, then please visit the Mere C.S. Lewis site and check back everyday for a new reading.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Ezekiel Bulver, C.S. Lewis's pit bull

A short while ago, I wanted to find a picture of a politician who could represent Ezekiel Bulver — a fictional character whom C.S. Lewis once wrote about.pit-bull We could call him Lewis's pit bull; I'll explain in a moment. I was clipping this story of Ezekiel Bulver to post at Mere C.S. Lewis, a blog at which I offer daily readings from Lewis. I like to illustrate the readings with contemporary pictures, and, thus, I was searching for the perfect politician to represent Ezekiel Bulver.

Following Lewis' description, I needed to find a politician who never bothered to prove that their opponent was wrong, but instead would start by explaining why this opponent was wrong. Lewis gives a bit of a biography of Ezekiel Bulver, explaining that at age 5,

he heard his mother say to his father — who had been maintaining that two sides of a triangle were together greater than the third — ‘Oh you say that because you are a man.’ ‘At that moment’, E. Bulver assures us, ‘there flashed across my opening mind the great truth that refutation is no necessary part of argument.  Assume that your opponent is wrong, and then explain his error, and the world will be at your feet. (C.S. Lewis, "'Bulverism,'" God in the Dock, 273)

So, you can see, I needed a member of Parliament who was well known for standing up in Question Period to attack members of the Opposition and accuse them of fighting for causes without sufficient reasons, while he himself would claim that he and his government had solid reasons and not causes.

I chose John Baird to be a living representation of Ezekiel Bulver.  Unofficially, Baird is known as the Prime Minister's "pit bull."baird-fierce Officially, he was the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure —very visible in this last year as he played a key role in the implementation of Canada's economic stimulus plan. On Friday, the Prime Minister appointed John Baird to be the new House Leader —the member of the government who works with the opposition to try to ensure the passage of bills in the House. I cannot imagine any worse candidate for such a strategically important role. Obviously, the Prime Minister is looking for a fight. You send in the pit bull to attack not to negotiate. Ezekiel Bulver is not the man to sit down and reason with his opponents. He will either humiliate them and make them look stupid or, more likely, he will infuriate them and provoke them to act stupidly. In any case, I found it ironic that Stephen Harper would appoint the man I chose to represent Ezekiel Bulver to be the new House Leader, a role obviously not well-suited to Bulver or Baird, in my opinion.

Guess it's been a rather political post this time; maybe I'll get some Bulverish comments ;)  If you want to read more about Ezekiel Bulver from C.S. Lewis, check out the Ezekiel Bulver posts at Mere C.S. Lewis. And, in closing, one Scriptural principle for overcoming Bulverism is found in the Epistle of James:

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because our anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. (James 1:19-20, TNIV)

CS Lewis warned that "until Bulverism is crushed, reason can play no effective part in human affairs" (274). As Christians, Lewis urges us not to be like Bulver, not even to be like pit bulls with lipstick. There is a better way, a more reasonable approach.


Related Posts with Thumbnails