Monday, November 16, 2009

Compassion Found in Hell?

The other morning I drove past an art gallery a block from my office and saw a huge black sign draped in front of the building proclaiming:

“Even in Hell there is compassion.”

What!! I thought as I did a double-take. Who would proclaim such a message; and, right here in the heart of the Bible-Belt, no less?

Surely, this must be some kind of prank. But, of course it isn’t. The sign was placed there to promote a new exhibit by the Compassion Project. It is the work of two artists who have placed this same message on billboards in several other Southern cities.

Even for those who are not particularly religious this is probably a message that seems quite odd, initially. After all, whether you believe in it or not, everyone knows that hell is a place of pain and suffering. So, on what do these artists base such a positive spin on hell? The teachings of Buddhism; Surprise!

The art exhibitor says they are sponsoring the work in order to promote understanding of a more expansive view of escaping damnation than that offered by the Christian Church. In other words, the message of the Christian Church regarding hell is wrong so one must look elsewhere to find the truth. They have found the Christian view too narrow and restrictive. It needs to be broader for them.

For these two artists, and perhaps their sponsors, the answer is best found in the teachings of Eastern religion. For, in the religions of the East, everyone ultimately makes it (though it may require numerous reincarnations to finally escape this existence).

The placement of such a message, in the heart of the so-called Bible-Belt, indicates a growing willingness for some to believe and promote anything as true; especially at the expense of the Christian faith. Perhaps most alarming, it reveals how our culture has steadily moved away from its Christian roots; so far, that there are those who deny this nation was founded on Christian teachings and principles, in the first place.

Events like these should be a wake up call for the Church to what is going on in our culture. This exhibit and campaign, is indicative of the interest people have in spiritual matters. And, while the culture is having this important dialogue regarding the place of faith and spirituality in one’s life, the Church is noticeably absent from the conversation.

While I strongly disagree with the message of the Compassion Project, they have every right to display it. Likewise, Christians have every right to talk about what we believe. If we truly, believe that Christ is the answer, we must not wait within the walls of the Church building in hopes that seekers will find us. Instead, it seems to me, we should get out in the marketplace and begin to participate in these spiritual discussions.

There is a choice to make. We can look at a sign like this and be critical of its sponsors; or, we can recognize that the fact such a sign is being prominently displayed indicates an opportunity for us to engage the culture on a meaningful discussion of spiritual matters. It is an invitation for dialogue and though that may not have been the artists’ true intent; they have opened the door for the conversation. Knock, Knock!

We'll be covering this in more detail in our next issue of CrossingCurrents. If you are not a subsciber, just click on the subscribe button in the right column. Want to know more about advertising rights regarding one's religious views? Watch our video below on Billboards and Religion.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Do What is Right, not What is Easy

Almost as soon as the tragic news broke of the events at Fort Hood last week the clamor began that it was an act of Islamic terrorism. Shortly after the killing spree, Muslims reported that some of their Mosques had received threatening telephone calls. Apparently, there was no time to take a wait-and-see approach – to get the facts – folks were already making up their minds on this one

Now the facts have come out and the killer was, in fact, Muslim and from the information being released, was acting based on his connection to a radical Islamic cleric. So, all those who first claimed it was an act of Islamic terrorism, can say a hearty, “I told you so.” However, does that justify some of the hostile reactions directed toward some of the Muslim people in our nation?

Without question, there have been tremendous atrocities carried out in the name of Islam; but do those who perpetrate such actions truly represent the Muslim religion? While the terrorist would say yes, most Muslims in the West would respond, they do not. In fact, many Mosques, including one in my own city, quickly issued statements of condemnation concerning the actions at Fort Hood. Muslims, from the Mosque where the killer worshipped, also attended the service held today in remembrance of those who had been killed.

Though I am convinced we need to take a much more cautious approach in responding to these type events, I am not so naïve as to think there is not an anti-American sentiment among Muslims in the Middle East. There is. Just as some Muslims in America have such sentiments.

However, when it comes to acts of terrorism carried out by Muslims, I think we would do well to consider that most of these actions take place in the Middle East and that more Muslims, than non-Muslims, are killed by these terrorists. If for no other reason than that, I can find it credible that a Muslim can truly find the actions of an Islamic terrorist, reprehensible.

It seems to me that at some point we must quit reacting on the basis of one’s culture, ethnicity, skin-color, and/or religion and lay aside our fears and personal prejudices. I believe this should be particularly true for those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus. Where possible, we need to develop relationships with our Muslim neighbors; and, even if we cannot come to agreement, to at least try to understand one another.

While there are certainly Muslim terrorists in this country, I do not believe that most Muslims have come here to overthrow this country or to do harm to its citizens. In my own experience, I have found that Muslims in my city share many of the same concerns as their non-Muslim neighbors. Like so many of us, they are concerned about their children’s welfare and education, job security, having a roof over their head, and staying ahead of the bill collector. They want to live in a nice home, drive a good car, and even if they may despise our policies, they want to enjoy the freedom this country affords them – to live the American dream.

It is easy to label every Muslim a terrorist and proclaim Islam a terrorist religion. However, as Christians, we have not been called to take the easy road; but to do what is right – to love even those who hate us. It is a hard calling, but it is the right thing to do. It is the example that Christ gave us.

Click here to read our article on Islam.