Dispatches From the Global VillageTweet
Posted 5/8/13 at 3:24 PM | Brian Stiller |
As I travel from country to country, meeting leaders, pastors, people from all walks of life, I’m intrigued by the health and energy of the witness of the Gospel.
I’ve heard much about Thailand from missionaries over the years. However in a recent visit one question kept surfacing. Speaking with pastors, educators, mission leaders and on-the-ground spiritual inventors I heard it time after time. I tried to understand the question in context in a land of lush landscape, neighborhoods so remarkably clean and people incredibly respectful and kind. The question is this: after all the people, money and years, why is the Christian mission here so small?
Thailand, one of the South East Asian “Tigers” while looking somewhat like Malaysia and Myanmar (Burma) is as different as Canada is to the USA or Sweden to Germany. Never colonized, in the 19th century it negotiated land for freedom to keep out of the clutches of France and Great Britain, unlike Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia. Today its national personality is to avoid conflict, all the while moving about, keeping face and not losing position.
National pride is palatable. Pictures of the king -- currently the longest living king -- and queen dot the landscape. Politicians are vilified but dare to offer criticisms of its royalty and the gentle Thai will rise in defense. Royalty is linked to nationalism. It didn’t take but a few minutes in a major museum to hear their unqualified patriotism describing the greatness of their nation, its leaders, history and people. While Christian leaders tend to be modest, when it comes to pride in their nation, the marketing machine whirrs. FULL POST
Posted 2/21/13 at 10:59 AM | Brian Stiller |
Dispatch from Lebanon
Cedars are valuable for their lasting quality. Building material, dock lumber all attest to their ability to resist wood rot. Biblical references to the “cedars of Lebanon” filled building materials required by Nehemiah in rebuilding the walls. Solomon eyed the magnificent and resilient cedars for the Temple in Jerusalem.
Today be it rot from the inside or attack from the out, the Lebanese having survived wars and its many rumours, speak in quiet tones, wondering if listening ears from Syria or its minions — Hezbollah in the south — are plotting nefarious schemes.
Prized as the pearl of the Mediterranean, the choice site for money from oil billions of the Gulf, Beirut until the civil wars of the late 20th Century, was choice for life style, opportunity and political freedom.
Centuries before Christ, as pioneers in coastal trading, their marine culture stimulated trade, bringing it riches and envy. Conquered by Persia (Iran) then Rome, in the first century AD became central to the spread of the Gospel. 7th century Muslim Arabs took over, while a minority Maronites (under the Rome church) hung on. Smack dab in the path of the Crusaders, in time the connection with France shaped her European influence. FULL POST
Posted 2/13/13 at 3:08 PM | Brian Stiller |
I stepped up into the Pope’s train from the Vatican train station, en route to Assisi. It was a crisp October (2011) morning in Rome. Joining some 300 others, I had been invited to join Pope Benedict XVI on a pilgrimage to Assisi, commemorating the 25th anniversary of the one first led by John Paul II.
Gathered in the Basilica of Assisi, mixing with leaders from Christian communions, imams, rabbis, priests, Buddhist monks and priests of many religions, it was obvious only the pope could pull off getting religious leaders of all faiths together.
Then and today, Christians of all stripes wonder if now is the time for all Christians to reunite, and lay aside unanswered questions of the Reformation (16th Century)? Why not? Surely it would save costs, reduce confusion, simplify much of what Christians do, and more importantly, show the world that we are all one in Christ.
The stepping down of a pope is an extraordinary moment. While the election of a pope gets worldwide notice, it normally follows a pope dying. This one fooled us all. He announced his own leaving. Known for his remarkable scholarship, with a prodigious listing of scholarly works, his previous job was as the former pope’s enforcer of rules and articles of faith. Now he gives up his role and prestige, leaving for the next pope, along with running a global institution, troubling unresolved files of sexual abuse, Vatican bank scandals and Vatileaks. FULL POST
Posted 2/5/13 at 4:23 PM | Brian Stiller |
Dispatch from the West Bank
I’ve been to Israel a number of times, most often leading tour groups. Each time, leaving Bethlehem I would insist our Israeli driver stop by Bethlehem Bible College so I could visit its president, Bishara Awad. I tried to keep myself abreast of the goings on within Israel and the occupied areas of the West Bank and Gaza, the strip on the Mediterranean. But never had I taken time to actually stay with my Palestinian friends. They would periodically visit Tyndale and students loved to hear their story. But I admit, too frequently Yasser Arafat and his cronies angered me by their seeming endless whining and refusal to admit Israel had legitimacy as a state with the right to defend itself. I assumed the Palestinians had had sufficient opportunity to find a deal with Israel, especially when Arafat turned down the Camp David offer.
So, as my friends know, I have and do support the establishing of the State of Israel. Finding a place for Jews in the 20th Century was the right thing to do. As well, God’s covenant with the Jews stands and their place in the eschaton (the days of Christ’s return) is assured. There is no equivocation in my mind of their critical place in the economy and agenda of the Lord. FULL POST
Posted 1/22/13 at 10:26 AM | Brian Stiller
Our attitudes accumulate, fester and harden. I understand that too well in observing the Idle No More movement. Fed up with a double standard of aboriginal leaders who want more funds yet seem incompetent and irresponsible in their own management, many simply shut down listening.
However, could it be that at the core of the national, historical and disruptive issue of aboriginal claims, including the dysfunctional reservation system, and the suicidal tendencies of too many, there is a wounded heart? How might we deal with a dismissive reaction all too instinctive to many watching this situation unfold?
I feel helpless on helping find solutions and wonder how I as one, can make a difference? I have no choice but to rely on federal and provincial legislatures to do as their political masters dictate. Courts are beyond my influence and they will rule as they do. Corporations will keep serving the interest of their shareholders.
But, there is one thing I can do: I can think about how I think. I can ask myself what drives my attitudes and conclusions. I can search for the interior assumptions that frame my reaction and response. FULL POST
Posted 1/14/13 at 10:22 PM | Brian Stiller |
Rev Louie Giglio once invited to deliver the benediction at the upcoming US presidential inaugural has withdrawn. The ruckus was over what the minister said to his congregation fifteen years ago.
If you want to hear God’s voice, that is his voice to this issue of homosexuality. It is not ambiguous and unclear. It is very clear. If you look at the counsel of the word of God, Old Testament, New Testament, you come quickly to the conclusion that homosexuality is not an alternate lifestyle. . . . is not just a sexual preference, homosexuality is not gay, but homosexuality is sin. It is sin in the eyes of God, and it is sin according to the word of God.
The White House was pressed to reconsider, and in conversations with the pastor, the record shows he decided not to offer the prayer. The White House’s response to his decision was, “Choosing an affirming and fair-minded voice as his replacement would be in keeping with the tone the president wants to set for his inaugural.” FULL POST
Posted 1/7/13 at 1:48 PM | Brian Stiller |
“The Scream,” Edvard Munch’s painting of a a hairless person’s primeval scream standing on a bridge in a sunlit day came to mind as I witnessed unbelievable horror and tried to feel the unimagined suffering of parents as they raced to the elementary school in Newtown Connecticut to find their children.
Questions about “who” died quickly shifted to “whys.” Why this town? Why this school? Why my child? Syrians in a refugee camp asked me weeks ago what millions through millennia wondered, “Why does God allow evil?”
I know attempts to answer will not bring back a child, erase memories of a shooter blazing away at little children, extract justice for the community or ease the fright of a possible reoccurrence in another school. Even so, a framework for discussion (called theodicy – why God allows evil and suffering) matters for those in Newtown and us on the sidelines, as we grieve and wonder.
There are two paths down this road of a theodicy: first are questions of logic – how is that God who is sovereign and good doesn’t or can’t eliminate suffering? Secondly, we follow the biblical narrative – the Jewish-Christian scriptures leading us through generations, learning over time what God is doing about evil. The first is humans examining God, questioning him in the courtroom of human reason. The second is a story of human life in its genesis, often devolving, yet given a lifeline from its seeming inevitable slide into chaos. FULL POST
Posted 12/25/12 at 11:02 AM | Brian Stiller
Memories embedded with romantic pictures of Jesus’ birth are quite impossible to rewrite. Retold by Christmas pageants, reminded by carols and pictures replenish what we think happened at Jesus’ birth. I know it so well I hardly need a sermon, picture, movie or song to remind me of a pregnant Mary riding a donkey, about to deliver; a village with inns filled to capacity; a kindly innkeeper finding a stable for rest; shepherds arriving at a barn to welcome the Christ-child.
The overall narrative has it right, but the core assumption is so wrong as to miss an essential part of the story.
What is wrong with that picture? First, the ‘inn’ was not as we imagine – a place where you could rent a room for the night. Such hardly existed. Even more wrong is to assume that Joseph returning to the place of his ancestors would be treated thus by relatives, especially in a culture which prides itself for hospitality.
So what do we make of the popularized ‘inn’ ubiquitously spoken of Christmas after Christmas from Luke 2: “because there was no room for them in the inn.’? FULL POST
Posted 12/20/12 at 3:37 PM | Brian Stiller |
“Twenty children killed.” It is a similar refrain to the early life of Jesus. King Herod ordered children under two killed in the Judean village of Bethlehem when he heard from the Persian travellers that a “king of the Jews” was to be born. Historians estimate that in this tiny village some twenty were hacked to death by the mad man, subservient to Rome and insecure in his kingship.
The death of children, innocent and vulnerable, is cast in the very beginnings of the Gospel and Christmas story.
Here the unfolding of a Christian response begins: even as hundreds quickly gathered in Newtown churches for reflection, holding hands, hanging on to hope, soaking up consolation in grief over the tragic loss of a child or adult no longer alive to be loved, hugged and nurtured.
What is there to be said? Especially now during this season we read Isaiah’s prophecy of the coming king who “will stand and shepherd his flock.”
The Christian story and promise is not a shield protecting us from violence, suffering or pain. As it “rains on the just and unjust,” axiomatically it also hails on the just and unjust. Current Christian heresies that promote a pain-free life “if one will only follow Jesus” is biblically and patently false. FULL POST
Posted 12/10/12 at 11:57 AM | Brian Stiller
War and suffering takes on a different look when seen through the eyes of those fleeing mass killing.
I spent part of an afternoon in a tent (part of a camp of 40,000 Syrian refugees) with a Syrian family. Wanting to tell me of their hopes, we shared from a plate of dates and passed around a bottle of water. ‘Could I take your picture,’ I asked. Eagerly crowding around, they smiled.
The story of Syria is played out each night as al-Assad`s army tanks boom out their shells, jets scream in their swoop of destruction and soldiers go nose to nose in this all-out civil war. We see bloody bodies, torn flesh and listen to the wail of ambulances but what I had not had was a face-to-face conversation with those who escaped.
Relieved to be out of harm’s way, it was obvious they ached for family and friends left behind and the 40,000 who had died. Now safe with their children, they had a clean tent, boxes piled in the corner with rations, clothes and rudimentary tools of daily living. Dry and out of the wind, in a tent with no insulation, zero degrees Celsius is still zero degrees. FULL POST