Can a Christian vote for Barack Obama?

I voted for Barack Obama in the 2008 election instead of voting for the ticket of McCain and Palin. 

At the time, I did not understand the division and caustic nature of the upcoming 2012 election. My guess is that neither did you. The economic disaster that was 2007-2008 had not yet been thoroughly investigated and the nation had not seen the gridlock of partisan politics to the degree that the early 2010 deficit talks and subsequent supercommittee debacle produced. I was also particularly unprepared for the rather pointed, sometimes hateful, rhetoric that would flow from the more conservative ranks about the President of the United States. Let’s, though, move closer to home.

I have had relatives, Christian co-workers, and social conservatives question my faith, question whether I believe the Bible to be relevant, and question my intellect for the past few years.

Ramadan: Deny Yourself

Years ago I worked with a woman who fasted for one month out of the year. I didn't understand then, why, when our lunch break would come, she would drink a juice or water while I stuffed my face with that days craving. Now I know she was a practicing Muslim keeping Ramadan, the annual month long fast.

Ramadan is August 1 - August 30th. Thirty days of prayer for the Muslim World is a Christian international web based organization that encourages Christians around the world to pray specifically for Muslims to come to know Christ during the 30 day fast. 

Click here to see the 30-days of prayer August 1st prayer guide. 

Nataka is a Muslim woman who I spent a few hours with at her mosque in Cambridge, MA. I stumbled into the Mosque, unannounced and hoping to ask someone there what objections the Muslim faith has to Christianity. At the time, I was taking a class on Islam that helped prepare me for what answers I might hear. I didn't plan for this to happen, but as I was arriving so were a lot of taxis. Taxi drivers got out of their cars and began to greet one another and laugh together as they entered the mosque. I looked at the time and duh; it was time for the noon prayer that day. A little unsure of how I would be treated upon walking up to the main door unannounced and with my frizzy hair flowing down and exposed. It was the Imam who first welcomed me inside. After slipping my shoes off, he directed me to a staircase where a young woman, Nataka, was waiting to greet me.

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Athletes? Christians?

What makes an athlete?

It’s a common question, with bowlers normally excluded and football players (both kinds) always counted in.

It’s a question we can raise again today as Forbes has announced its top 10 most influential athletes for 2011.

At the top: Jimmie Johnson, a NASCAR driver.

I’ll give Johnson the sweat part that comes with most athletes. But that comes with most farm workers, factory laborers, and gardeners too.

I’ll give Johnson the concentration part that is required of humans driving vehicles at fatality-encouraging speeds for hours on end. But concentration comes with data entry operators and death defiance with airline pilots.

Should Christians Practice Yoga?

Recently, my wife, Laurie, started taking yoga classes and has gotten a lot out of it. (you can see some of her comments here).

Years ago, I heard Christians murmur against yoga as an “eastern” or “spiritual” practice that ran against fundamental Christian teaching. I never concerned myself with it since I didn’t really care much about yoga.

But now, my wife is a fledgling yoga darling and I am increasingly seeing my need for it. All of this got me remembering the good ol’ days of warnings against yoga and got me reflecting again.

Mohler’s argument is essentially that yoga is a New Age practice and you can’t really divide the exercise from the spiritual purpose. He cites postmodern spiritual confusion for the reason many Christians (like my wife!) ignorantly practice it resulting in a form of syncretism meaning the mixing of religions.

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Why Christians shouldn’t burn the Quran or the NIV Bible

News is rippling around the Internet regarding the Quran burning plans of Rev. Terry Jones and his Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida. Reverend Jones (who will henceforth be referred to as TCMUO for The Completely Messed Up One) has announced that they plan to symbolically burn the Quran on September 11, in order to demonstrate their displeasure with our accommodating foreign policies and to confirm their conviction that Islam is of the Devil. The plan has generated such a response that their church website has crashed. Unfortunately, it appears that their plans have not.

Now burning books out of protest is nothing new. In fact, the Nazis did it regularly during the Gestapo. So for anyone interested in burning books, the Nazis can serve as a good role model for you.

In fact, Christians have typically burned more of their own books than those of other religions. Check out this one church, aptly named Amazing Grace! They burn the NIV and other “satanic” versions of the Bible.

Ninety-nine percent of Christians with a heart beat and a half functioning mind know that this is completely ridiculous stuff. (Although, I must admit I am attracted to the idea of using the KJV version more often as I’ve really been looking for a new way to say ass more often in church.) Nevertheless, the impact of a few, including TCMUO, can have an enormous effect on others.

Here are just a few reasons why Christians should do everything they can to encourage, TCMUO and his wacko amigos to stop. And if they don’t stop, we need to use all means necessary to let everyone know that we are completely opposed to this stuff.

1)  Loving God and loving our neighbor sums up the commandments.

Because of these words, Christians are called to a higher standard than anyone else. Loving our neighbor means many things, but most poignantly it means we don’t trash his/her religious faith and burn his/her holy books. That’s sort of love your neighbor 101. But I kinda think TCMUO missed that class. (oops was that not loving?)

2)  Christ said to love our enemies.

Muslims are not our enemies. In fact, I think they are our neighbors. According to Jesus there really are no “enemies.” However, he invokes that terminology (Mt 5:44) because he knows there are some people who cannot eradicate it from their vocabulary. For those people I include this point. The end result is the same: Love is our calling which means (note the repetition) we should not seek to offend by burning holy books.

3)  The Golden Rule

The golden rule is do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It’s a practical way of articulating what it means to love others. So, if we don’t want anyone burning our holy books then maybe (just maybe) we shouldn’t do it to them.

Those are my top three reasons which are more theologically based reasons. Here are three more “practical” reasons why.

1)  It deepens the "us" versus "them" divide.

After 9-11 I remember a TV shot of some Muslims in Palestine dancing that the thousands of Americans had died. I remember it because our TV networks showed it over and over and over again. They did this, of course, because viewership (and advertizing rates) skyrocket around such controversial themes. However, at the end of the day, it was really just a few folks (side note: as a traveler to over 70 countries I have become completely convinced that idiocy is everywhere!).

At the time, I had many friends and colleagues living and working in predominantly Muslim countries. Ironically, every single one of them told me that their Muslim friends expressed sorrow and pain for them. I even talked to some tourists in Pakistan who said everywhere they went, people came up to them saying how sorry they were.

But it only takes a few of “them” to act like fools and for “us” to be fooled by our own media. The same thing is happening and will continue to happen in the other direction. Right now, Muslim Imams and others are justifying anger and hatred toward Americans and Christians because of TCMUO. That’s downright painful.

When you read Jesus he played to the “us” versus “them” scenario a lot. However, he always made “us” the bad guys and “them” the good guys. It was a powerful rhetorical tool that eventually got him killed. After all if he had talked about how bad the Romans were (like everyone wanted him to) then he probably would have achieved the “king” status others were expecting.

Interestingly, the parable of the Good Samaritan which symbolizes what it means to love one’s neighbor plays extensively on the “us” “them” categorization tendencies that we still have today.

2)  It confuses nationality and religious boundaries.

In what can only be considered unfortunate, there is a lot of confusion over who “us” and “them” really are. Us is sometimes Americans and other times Christians (side note: these are not the same things!). Them is sometimes Muslims and other times Arabs (side note: these are not the same things!).

As news of the Quran burnings spreads around the world like a wildfire (stupid pun intended), there is increased confusion over this. We, Americans, become a bunch of fundamentalist Quran burners in the minds of many. I’m not sure our non-Christian fellow citizens will like that either.

Apparently, a lot of the reason TCMUO is burning the Quran is to protest weak foreign policy (I suppose two wars totaling 16 years of combat is not enough?). That just starts the religious-political fusion and confusion.

Christians need to proclaim that we are not the same as Americans and vice versa.

3)  An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.

Apparently Ghandi said, “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” I know this because I’ve read it on some bumper stickers. Regardless of whether or not he said this it is a true statement and is consistent with the teachings of Jesus to turn the other cheek.

Frankly, the cycle of violence continues and gets faster because both sides feel completely justified in their actions. Watching the Quran get burned will justify acts of violence against Christians who had nothing to do with it. The cycle continues with Quran burnings justified because some wacky Muslims killed some innocent people. Round and round we go on a not so merry go round.

Before we move on, it should be noted that there is a biblical verse that speaks positively about burning books, namely Acts 19:19:

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Muslims are killing Christians in Nigeria. Will we respond like Christ or like humans?

Over the weekend I tweeted and updated my facebook status with the simple statement: Muslims killing Christians in Nigeria followed by a simple question: Will we respond like Christ or like humans? It’s always interesting what captures people’s imaginations and provokes response.

After a year of conversations on facebook, I was still amazed at the response the simple status update received. Feel free to check it out here:

Reflecting on responses, the following points are worth of mentioning:

1) There is no emotion like religious emotion.

Wars over the centuries have demonstrated that religions are frequently front and center in every war. Religious emotion is a product of two things as I see it. First, it is an indicator that people genuinely care. If they didn’t care, they wouldn’t get so upset.

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