All That You Can’t Leave Behind

I’ve learned that it’s often hard to make a break with our past. This is because people don’t just keep history, they drag it along behind them. While some people have baggage that they can’t get over, others have baggage that people won’t let them get over.

When I was nine I announced to my parents that I’d never marry.  I didn’t see the need since my life revolved mostly around television, cereal, and breakfast sausage.  With the advent of the microwave oven, women no longer factored into the equation that it took to produce the results I was looking for.

My father, amused by my reasoning, asked for me to put this in writing.  My mother drafted the document.  I couldn’t sign my name to it fast enough.

Because they recognized my synchronized ignorance of thinking and stupidity of speaking, they held onto this magna carta of moronity to show my fiancée 12 years later.

Sometimes you say something so stupid that you recognize it immediately after you say it.  Mostly though, you just say something stupid and you don’t notice the people around you wince.

As a pastor, I’ve spent the majority of my adult life surrounded by Christians. This means I’ve also spent serious quantities of time wincing, not because Christians say a lot of stupid things, all humans do, but because Christians usually say stupid things with the conviction of someone who believes that they are speaking on God’s behalf…. and he’s got their back.

I’m not the only one wincing.

It used to be hard for non-Christians to eaves drop on Christian conversation, but then urban churches with building space found themselves without congregants.  The last 20 years of nondenominational, suburban, church startups have since appeared at middle schools, movie theaters, and pizza places.  With classes meeting during the week and theaters selling tickets during matinee hours, the members of these churches need places to meet regularly during weekday hours.

The solution to this problem is the ubiquitous strip mall coffee shop.  For the price of a small latte, small groups can rent space to talk about their marital/financial/sexual struggles in a public forum that feels more like a living room than a confessional.

While this is more awkward than bad (it’s unpleasant when the espresso machine suddenly stops hissing and the person shouting to be heard over it is confessing their most carnal meditations) it does mean that a person who’s just come in for a caramel macchiato is probably going to get it alongside a healthy dose of “christian opinion”.

A few weeks ago I was waiting for an appointment in a Starbucks when I overheard the statement, “Well if Israel had just wiped out all of the Arabs when God led them out of Egypt and into the Promised Land, they wouldn’t be in this mess today.”

I wasn’t the only person who winced.

The intended receiver acknowledged the speaker’s comment with a slow nod of agreement and a long sip.  In a moment of clarity I realized that American Christians agree that racism and prejudice are destructive… unless you are talking about Arabs.

The typical American has come of age in a world where Islam has supplanted communism as the mysterious and terrifying specter oppressing western culture and it’s interests.  From the hijackings and revolutions of the 1970’s through the present day War On Terror, both the American consumer and economist have deep misgivings about the threat that Muslims present to their lifestyles.

When an American of this era is raised by a “christian family”, or chooses to be “Born Again”, they also clearly begin to receive the message that “Christians have to be supportive of Israel, because they are God’s chosen people… and anyone who messes with God’s people is destroyed… like Hitler.” which was the next statement that came from the table near mine.

When you mix the misconception that most of the world’s Muslims are Arabs, with the misunderstanding that the battle between the Palestinian Authority and the Modern State of Israel is a religious one, you have the recipe needed for a people of Grace and Truth to not only tolerate prejudice, but to dispense it… in public.

The truth is that the land of Israel was not filled with Arabs during the conquest of Joshua.  Many Semitic people groups populated the land and the failure of the ancient Hebrews to possess it came as a result of their failure to maintain their covenant relationship with God.  The Arabs moved into the land later, during the many dispersions that followed.

While the majority of the worlds Arabs are Muslim by religion, the majority of the worlds Muslims are actually Asian by ethnicity.  In fact, Arabs account for only 15% of the world’s Islamic population.

Of course to know this American Christians would have to want to see Arabs as something other than “the price gouging troublers of the west.”  We’d have to see them as people that God has chosen too.  One of the best ways to do this is to do something that most American Christians want to do, but never get around to: visit the Modern State of Israel.

It’s a tragically beautiful country where hardship and faith stand hand in hand with poverty and injustice, neither party willing to let go of the other.

You’ll be surprised to find that the great majority of cities you’ll want to see; Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jericho are almost entirely populated by generous, thoughtful, and kind Arabs, the majority of whom are Christians.  You’d also be surprised that because of the conflict, these towns operate more like a Native American Reservation than a city.

You’ll wince when you see the conditions.

In 2001 I was standing on the steps of the temple mount in Jerusalem, four blocks from a bus stop where a Palestinian teenager detonated himself in the name of justice.  He killed a bus filled with innocent Jewish men, women, and children.  It was a sound louder than bombs.

I winced before I fell to the ground.

In 2005 I stood on a dried red stain that used to be a Palestinian policeman.  It was near the remains of a Jericho police station that had been crushed by an Israeli tank.  The man’s brothers showed us pictures of him and begged us to not forget that he was doing the job he was legally entrusted with when the soldiers came to take the prisoners he had arrested.

I’m still wincing.

It’s a feud that involves water and money, land and blood.  It’s about revenge and cruelty, grudges and payback; things that Jesus died to conquer.  We just choose sides in ignorance and racial prejudice.

As believers, our job is not to support anyone… it is to love everyone.  That means speaking the truth with grace when anyone is in the wrong.  Ask Jeremiah or Isaiah if loving Israel was pleasant and they’d tell you it was confrontive and hostile when it came to disciplining the people that God loved.

Truthfully both parties have legitimate complaints against one another, but it’s not an issue of which party is righteous and which is sinful. Scripture makes it clear that NONE of us are righteous, and through Jesus we ALL have the opportunity to become God’s chosen people.

The Jews are proud and wounded, wincing from years of racial prejudice and genocide.  God promised to make them a great nation, to give them land, and to restore them.

The Palestinian Arabs are proud and wounded, wincing from injustice and exploitation, yet they are also a people that God promised to make a great nation.  Theirs can be the same inheritance in Christ, if Christians can be moved beyond anger by love.

God desires for us all to be His; the question is whether or not we want to be His.  To become His people, His nation, populated by every ethnicity, we have to decide whether or not we are willing to repent, to leave behind the taking of sides in an unrighteous dispute about exacting a pound of flesh.

His nation, His Kingdom, is not one of birthright and geographic inheritance, but of an inherited righteousness that comes to His adopted children through the sacrifice of His only natural child. No land necessary means no war necessary. In Him we become heirs of a righteousness that meets injustice with grace.

If I’ve learned anything during my trips to the “Holy Land” it’s this: If you are going to stand in support of anything, stand for the love of Christ.

It’s the only way we’ll ever stop wincing.

“And love… is not the easy thing… The only baggage you can bring… Is all that you can’t… Leave… behind.”– Walk On, U2





5 Responses to “All That You Can’t Leave Behind”

  1. Brian May 24, 2011 at 11:03 am #

    Great post Jon and I love the song reference. When you stand for the love of Christ not only will you stop wincing but you will be FREE.

    • Jon May 24, 2011 at 11:17 am #

      Thanks Brian, looking forward to enjoying our eternal freedom together!

  2. Jordan May 24, 2011 at 7:59 pm #

    Is it a good or bad sign that I’m eavesdropping in on one of these conversations at a coffee shop while reading this post?

    Self-employment + Christian twenty-something = Coffee shop double whammy

  3. Jon May 25, 2011 at 7:36 am #

    So funny, so true!

  4. Chris Nye May 30, 2011 at 8:59 pm #

    This is the most helpful, respectful, and articulate argument I’ve heard for the Christian perspective on this mess. I am blessed by it and will most likely quote/cite it often.

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