Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Waving

Something about a wave makes one seem friendly, often sparking a reciprocating wave. Some people are good wavers, lifting their hand to any passing car or pedestrian. Others merely wave in response to others. In some parts of the U.S., waving dissipates quite a bit. As a Midwesterner, I am tempted to just claim those Northeasterners I visited just are not as friendly as the people I grew up around! Sometimes I like to slow down when passing someone I know and give them my best "Miss America" wave (and I am good at it, albeit with slightly larger wrists).

Although I do not always start a waving moment with other people, I consistently wave back - usually with a smile. A wave seems to say I am noticed, and perhaps even appreciated for being there. A simple form of nonverbal communication, waving can send an important message. Having recently moved, I find a wave often serves as the first introduction to a new neighbor - even if words do not follow for days. If not for waves, we might seem completely isolated even in the midst of a neighborhood!

Waving is often the first message between new neighbors.

Several months ago, my wife and I suddenly found ourselves greeted with a wave from nearly every person driving by us as we walked through our neighborhood. As I waved back, I looked carefully to see if we knew the person. When I recognize someone, my wave increases in intensity. However, I rarely knew these wavers but noticed they usually also flashed a big smile at us.

The sudden increase in waving - along with chuckles - sparked conversations as we wondered what had changed. I even looked down at my clothes thinking I must have a bad mess on my shirt or an embarrassing hole in my pants! Why is it that too much friendly attention makes me think people are laughing at me instead of merely being nice? The new wave of waving continued for a couple of weeks as we felt like we had entered into a mix of The Twilight Zone and Pleasantville.

One day I saw a flash of movement just as a car arrived with its passengers smiling and waving. My son - not even two at the time - lifted up his little hand and waved it as he saw the car approaching. We watched and he did it again as another car appeared. Something about seeing this little kid smile and wave created a natural, knee-jerk reaction of laughter and waving. He is much cuter than me and therefore more likely to garner a wave and smiles! As nice as my wave may seem, his wave is not only cuter but also more enthusiastic. Kids - and dogs - are much better at greeting people and making them feel truly welcome.

When not waving, my son enjoys "walking" our dog.

My son teaches me a lot - as he wears me out! One of those lessons continues to be the appropriateness of Jesus’s metaphor of childlike faith. Children are good neighbors, until we teach them to be suspicious of others. They greet strangers with simple, unjudging smiles and waves. They do not allow artificial lines like property boundaries to keep them from visiting, unless you put up a big fence to confine their adventures.

Sure, we keep them safe with our fences and rules about not talking to strangers. I feel those natural urges as I seek to protect my son and teach him how to act "appropriately" (such as the importance at not staring at interesting people – or uninteresting ones, for that matter). But as I help him mature, he helps me relearn how to live with a childlike attitude (although my wife might instead claim I never completely matured).

Does waving over a fence count as being neighborly?

Being a good neighbor - the second great commandment - means much more than waving. However, that simple gesture seems like a good, simple start - and beats crossing the road to walk by on the other side! Perhaps a wave and smile will be just what someone needs today. I wonder how many people on their way home from a bad day at work found their mood lightened by my cute son excited to see their car approach. Perhaps he even saved a marriage by putting someone in a better mood (probably not, but he is seriously cute enough to do that).

So, if I see you on the street, I may or may not wave first. But if you wave, I probably will smile and wave back. I am not as cute or as neighborly as my son, but I am trying (on both counts).

Monday, July 21, 2014

From Jerusalem to Gaza

More than 500 people have been killed in war in Gaza over the past week. Most of them - about three-quarters, the United Nations estimates - are innocent civilians. About one-quarter of the dead are children. In war, children too often pay a heavy price. Like those playing on the beach and deliberately targeted as journalists watched, attempted to help, and then wrote powerful reports about the attack. More than 3,000 Palestinians have been wounded. Reports today indicate that Israeli tanks shelled a hospital, with other hospitals already hit during the conflict. Over 100,000 people have fled their homes. Each rising of the sun brings fresh reports of death and destruction.

"Go south to the road - the desert road - that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza."

Even as international leaders like Desmond Tutu condemn the Israeli invasion as an unjust war, the disproportionate attack continues. While more than 20 Israelis have died in recent violence, most are soldiers killed in the ground assault. Hamas immorally and illegally shoots rockets into Israel. Such attacks, however, fail to justify the massive and indiscriminate attacks Israel is currently hailing onto the people of Gaza. Both sides must stop fighting, but Israel is currently killing at a rate of more than 200-1 when compared to Hamas and are killing a far greater percentage of civilians. This is not a war. It is a one-sided slaughter as Goliath demolishes a David-less people. Some Israelis gawk at the strikes on Gaza, treating the war as entertainment. Some Christians in the U.S. similarly cheer from afar as hellfire erupts in Gaza.

The group "Christians United for Israel" put its
gold stamp of approval on the current Israeli attack on Gaza
(photo from their Facebook page)

Nearly two thousand years ago, the early church deacon Philip received a message from God to travel the desert road from Jerusalem to Gaza. Today that dusty road leads to death and ruins. Even in the time of Philip - in the midst of the Roman occupation - this could be a dangerous place. Gaza often experienced violence in biblical times. From the conquest of the Promised Land to fights between ancient Israel and the Philistines (who lived in Gaza) to destruction by Egypt foretold by Jeremiah and other prophets. Yet, Philip started traveling south on that desert road.

Watching the news from afar, I feel powerless. Perhaps I am. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not care what I think. He seemed primed for war and quickly used a tragic kidnapping and murder case to launch one. Why launch a war on a whole people because a couple of people committed a crime? Why not instead find those guilty and prosecute them? Netanyahu claimed last week he had "no choice" but to increase Israel's attacks. However, only mindless robots lack choice. He sadly seems unwilling to choose peace and reconciliation. Not only does Netanyahu not care what I think, my own country's leaders seem more willing to play politics than serve as honest peace brokers. What can I do other than mourn the news? Turning it off seems too easy and wrong.

Ignorance may be bliss, but it could also be a sign of not caring.

As Philip walked south along the desert road from Jerusalem to Gaza, he met an Ethiopian official. Reading through the book of Isaiah - but not understanding it - the official asked Philip for an explanation. Philip explained "the good news about Jesus," about life coming amid death. The Ethiopian then spotted some water along the road and asked Philip to baptize him. He found new life on the desert road between Jerusalem and Gaza.

I cannot stop the violence. All I can do is work to step into midst of death and try to bring hope and new life. I cannot literally walk the road from Jerusalem to Gaza right now, but I can join those who do. I can listen to my Christian brothers and sisters in the region to hear their firsthand perspective instead of allowing overly-politicized American voices cloud my reasoning. So I seek out voices from Nazareth, Bethlehem, and other parts of the Middle East like Beirut. My new friend Azar Ajaj in Nazareth penned a good Ethics Daily piece today titled "Because Here It's Not Far From Hell."

Azar Ajaj

"This warfare, this carnage, is it anything but madness and evil?" Ajaj, an Arab Baptist in Israel, writes as he condemns the violence. "The question before Christians is how to respond to all of this violence and hatred. This question must not be ignored."

Ajaj goes on in the piece to urge Christians to pray for three things: pray that leaders on both sides will pursue peace, pray for families who lost loved ones and homes, and "pray for wisdom for the Christian leaders that they might be instruments of peace and reconciliation in this difficult situation." He made a similar plea for Christians to be peacemakers in a video I shot of him earlier this month during the Annual Gathering of the Baptist World Alliance in Izmir, Turkey. In his piece today, he ends by urging, "Having prayed for these things, let us then be ready to act as peacemakers as the Lord enables us."


Azar Ajaj Emphasizes the Church's Role in Promoting Peace in Israel from EthicsDaily on Vimeo.

As Philip talked theology on the desert road between Jerusalem and Gaza, the Ethiopian official suddenly understood and wanted action. While we should pray - and consider praying as Ajaj recommends - we must also be ready to act. Watching the news and praying should help us better understand where to engage. We can give to relief organizations already on the ground who are helping with basic needs of those suffering in Gaza, such as the Mennonite Central Committee. We can also challenge the pro-war voices in our own congregations and faith communities. And we can contact our legislators and leaders in hopes they will listen.

Rather than hoping this will just be whisked away, we must instead mourn, pray, and act. We must find ways to love those in Jerusalem, Gaza, and in the desert in between them. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Weekly Roundup

Here are a couple stories from this week that deserve notice:

* In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling this year that sadly allowed prayers at local legislative government meetings, an atheist gave the "prayer" this week at the town council from where the case emerged. This should lead Christians who praised the ruling to pause. Since all faiths must be treated equally, the ruling has created a system where non-Christian prayers can become part of the official governmental meetings. Does that really honor God to merely include Christian prayers on a rotating schedule? Seems like another reason to keep prayers out of the governmental meetings and instead work on truly living out our faith.

* The St. Louis Post Dispatch rightly praised Missouri Governor Jay Nixon for vetoing a fake "reform" bill on predatory lending. I share their hopes that the death of this bill will help lead to true reform. The article included a graphic with a quotation one of their previous editorials about the bill that colorfully captures the problem. I am thankful for the witness of groups like Missouri Faith Voices that are working for real reform.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Returning Home

Flag of Turkey's founder in small town
(photo credit: Brian Kaylor)
On Sunday, I returned home from Turkey. It was a great week with the global Baptist family for the Annual Gathering of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA). The BWA sessions included important business and inspiring reports, and I had the opportunity to meet and dialogue with Baptists from around the world. I also enjoyed visiting Turkey, experiencing its culture, and visiting some ruins from the biblical and early church eras. Even though I really enjoyed the BWA Annual Gathering last year in Jamaica, the one in Turkey was even better. During my time in Turkey, I wrote six Ethics Daily articles and filmed footage for five Ethics Daily videos (and will later write some items for Churchnet and BWA). You can find the articles here and the videos here.

Silk demonstration
(photo credit: Brian Kaylor)
On Saturday, we visited a couple of local businesses in between visits to Ephesus and the Basilica of St. John. First, we visited a rug co-op where we saw how they get silk from larvae and weave rugs. They also treated us to a presentation of their various types of rugs, which were incredible works of art (beyond my price range). Then we visited one of the three main leather shops in Turkey, which produces designer jackets for several top European brands. At the shop we also were given a fashion show featuring new styles. The jackets were impressive and I enjoyed trying on some expensive ones (before retreating to the cheap rack and bought a jacket to replace my non-leather one that is literally falling apart). You can view photos from these visits here.

Global Baptists Speak Out on Religious Liberty, Justice, Migration

Paul Msiza
(photo credit: Brian Kaylor)
Ethics Daily ran my latest article today, which is titled "Global Baptists Speak Out on Religious Liberty, Justice, Migration." This piece offers a wrap-up to last week's Annual Gathering of the Baptist World Alliance in Izmir, Turkey. The article covers important resolutions passed at the gathering, the election of a new president-elect (Paul Msiza of South Africa), and visits from Turkish dignitaries. This is my sixth and final Ethics Daily article covering the gathering.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Baptist Standard Photo

Ilie Coada receiving award from BWA President John Upton
(photo credit: Brian Kaylor)
The Baptist Standard in Texas ran a short piece by the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) about the Moldovan Baptist who received the BWA's human right award last week during the BWA's Annual Gathering in Izmir, Turkey. In the article, the Baptist Standard ran a photo I took. To learn more about Moldovan pastor Ilie Coada and his courageous ministry, read my Ethics Daily article.

Ephesus is Alive

Ephesus ruins
(photo credit: Brian Kaylor)
"Ephesus is alive. It's a dead city, but it's alive."

With these words, our tour guide at the ruins of the biblical city of Ephesus explained how the city was slowly emerging from hundreds of years of neglect and mostly disappearing under mudslides. Only about 15 percent of the massive city has been excavated, and new work is happening each year as they uncover new buildings and work to restore ones already unearthed. Thus, our tour guide added that with the large amount of excavation work being done, we would no longer be able to say in a couple of years that we had been to Ephesus.

"If people ask you in a couple of years if you've been to Turkey," he explained, "you can say, 'I've been to Izmir' or 'I've been to Istanbul,' but you will no longer be able to say 'I've been Ephesus' for it will have changed too much."

Ruins of Ephesus library
(photo credit: Brian Kaylor)
I visited Ephesus on Saturday during my trip to nearby  Izmir, Turkey for the Annual Gathering of the Baptist World Alliance. Earlier in the week I visited a small area of ruins of biblical Smyrna (now known as Izmir) but most of that city from the book of Revelation remains lost under modern buildings. Ephesus, a much more important site in the time of the early church, was abandoned centuries ago and mostly covered up by dirt, which helped preserve it for us to experience and learn from today. The second largest city in the Roman Empire - only after Rome itself - Ephesus was the capital of the Asian world in the time of the early church. It had the 3rd largest library in the ancient world and attracted lots of wealthy and influential leaders to live in the city.

At ruins of amphitheater
(photo credit: some random tourist)
Given its importance, it should be no surprise that Ephesus attracted such attention by early church leaders. Paul spent three years there, wrote a biblical book to those in the city, and wrote other books while in the city. We know from Acts that Paul stood in the large 25,0000-seat amphitheater and preached. That amphitheater is unearthed and dominates the landscape of the ruins; even with the damage of time, the acoustics in it are still impressive. John also lived there (including his last years after exile on the island of Patmos), and other early church leaders visited and preached there. It was an amazing experience to visit on such holy ground, to walk the streets that John strolled, and to stand where Paul preached.  My understanding of Ephesus and the role it played in the early church's work is much better now. As I reread those old stories in Acts and other parts of the New Testament, I suspect I will now understand subtle nuances I completely missed before. To walk though the ruins of Ephesus is to step back into time and watch as the biblical stories come alive in a fresh way. You can view more photos from my visit to Ephesus here.

Murals in ruins of Ephesus
(photo credit: Brian Kaylor)