Monday, April 25, 2011

K'naan's "Take A Minute" (An Easter Reflection)

K'naan is a Somali-Canadian from a Muslim family who moved to North America when he was thirteen years of age, thus removing him from the conditions of civil war. In Canada, before becoming a hip hop artist, K'Naan apparently spent time in prison and lost friends to murder, suicide, and deportation. This is the extent of my knowledge of him, other than the fact that he's written a song or two that my family enjoys. The song I want to share, however, is 'Take a Minute'. I find it remarkable.

How did Gandhi ever withstand the hunger-strikes at all?
Didn't do it to gain power or money if I recall.
It's the gift, I guess I'll pass it on,
mother thinks it'll lift the stress of Babylon.
Mother knows, my mother she suffered blows
I don't know how we survived such violent episodes
I was so worried, it hurt to see you bleed,
but as soon as you came out the hospital you gave me sweets.
Yea, they tried to take you from me,
but you still only gave 'em some prayers and sympathy
Dear Mama, you helped me write this
by showing me to give is priceless.

Yesterday on the way to Church on a sunny Resurrection Sunday we walked, as we always do, past a Mosque. I wondered what they think of Easter. Then I recalled K'naan and wondered what I think of this song.

This probably pressed on my mind because of a question a friend put to me last week: What should Christians think of the fact that in the world right now there are Muslims standing in solidarity with suffering and raising up for good causes? How should Christians engage with such Christ-like activities (where they happen) and self-giving impulses which are taking place outside its walls? I'm not getting into global politics in this post, but raising the general question. I think it relates pretty strongly to resurrection.

This Easter season held some firsts for me, as I thought back on the year past. This year I attended a Ramadan feast at the Mosque on the corner. I was invited and welcomed warmly. I have never invited, let alone welcomed, a Muslim into my home or my church. It is not that I wouldn't want to, it is just that I wouldn't know where to start.

This year my son's best friend in his class was a Muslim. He is a very well-behaved and smiley seven year old boy. A good influence. I love seeing them chum around. My son told me one day that his friend believes that if he lies or cheats he will go to hell. Asked what I thought, on the spot I said that we believed that Jesus had gone to hell to set us free from our sins by grace. I encouraged him to ask his friend what he thinks of the prophet Isa....

On the walk to church we also go past King's College chapel. Being Easter there was a large purple-robed choir waiting outside in the sunshine while we went by. It was a joyful scene. It occurred to me that it is easy to believe in Jesus' Resurrection on a beautiful day like this, and in company such as this. Surely that's partly what church is for - the edification and encouragement of believers and the communal acts of worship and Word-hearing.

But how different is Easter morning on a dark and cloudy day? How easy is it to believe in war-torn Afghanistan or in strife-riddled countries of Africa and the Middle-East? At home or abroad, how does one interpret the resurrection of Christ amidst the squalor of the poor and the oppressed?

I think one has to think also of the ascension. And Pentecost. Shortly after raising from the dead Jesus left it to us. To be honest, that sounds oppressively daunting. However, we believe He also left the Holy Spirit; the power of His resurrection; the promise of hope; the prompter and enabler for speaking truth in love. This is the Spirit who Jesus said was on him and anointed him and sent him
to proclaim good news to the poor.
to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Perhaps what it means to celebrate Resurrection Sunday, no matter what the weather, is to take that to heart and live as if Jesus is alive in the world to reconcile it to God. This would mean recognizing that it was for the joy set before him that he endured the cross. It would also mean recognizing that it is for the joy set within and before us that we too find a willingness to endure crosses in this world for the sake of kingdom come. Heaven knows there are many corners of the world (not to mention our own hearts and minds and churches) which await the resurrection's revelation.

Which brings me back to K'naan's song and my friend's question. How does a Christian make sense of such self-giving mercy outside of Christian circles? We might presume such a thing is to be the monopoly of Christ followers, but what happens when the culture at large offers the church reminders of what it ought to be doing? How do we make sense of this?

Some go back to natural theology and say there is a moral law in human nature which, despite our fall into sin, shines through on occasion in human beings no matter where they are or what they know of Christ.

Another answer is that the Spirit is at work in the world, guiding people to truth. The Spirit is concerned to build the Church and is 'at home' among the worshipers and disciples of Christ, but is not constricted by our statements of faith and membership charters. The Spirit is active in the world. Jesus is alive. We who obey his command to go into all the world can not go anywhere or accomplish anything where His Spirit has not already beat us to the punch and stirred things up already.

I find this answer rather biblically resonant and missiologically stimulating. It tells me that our commission is not to go as the superiors with something to offer, but as confessors of Christ looking to take part in what the Spirit is doing and to witness to the risen Lord as the Spirit raises the opportunities. Sometimes this could mean hearing a rebuke or a call to action that comes from outside our walls, resonates with the Word of God that is sharper than a double-edged sword, and shows us our blindspots. But if we hear this Word we will engage. Undoubtedly we believe that as Christ-followers we have something to offer, but it will be as servants and not as lords.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
Hebrews 12:1-4


scott said...

Thank for this, Jon. Obviously I'm with you on thinking the second way of answering the interpretive question -- foregrounding the ubiquity of the Spirit of Christ, rather than than the lingering of a 'natural law'. I don't know of a better way to get at this complex of questions, though obviously there's a ton of work to be done here. E.g. -- if our task is such 'discernment' of where the Spirit is blazing the trail, what does it mean to join up? In other words, what comes 'after discernment', and if the point of our own Christian formation/liturgy/sensitivity to the Spirit is what comes 'after', what implications does that have for missiology and conversion? (I think dire ones, but I'm not sure that's all such a bad thing.)

Thanks again.

Pastor Brandon said...

Jon, this was a great approach to what I was experiencing yesterday. Through the weekend I prayed for God to let me journey with him to the cross and to resurrection. Then Monday came. I felt weird and thought, "Now What?" My response was that of Peter's and the other apostles, Let's live in the power of His resurrection. Of course the question of "How?" is easier said than done. A visionary can get us excited for living this way but how do we move forward?

I believe your experience answers more of this. Let's not be afraid of being pushed by the world, remembering the words of John when we told us that God loves first. Maybe we could even take these as glimpses of his kingdom coming.

Lastly, I want to share this verse, in hopes we read the entire passage: "For Christ love compels us . . ." I am not sure what exactly comes 'after discernment' but I know what it looks look. Christ's love compelling us. In such times I have hope in Christ and His resurrection power, knowing that He IS at work in the world, even though his bride may have the flu.

jonkramer said...

"Undoubtedly we believe that as Christ-followers we have something to offer, but it will be as servants and not as lords."
Amen Amen.
Trying to live that out personally - and finding that my yoke is easier and my burden is lighter when I approach life in that way.

Jon Coutts said...

Scott, you are no doubt right. Discernment is one thing and joining up in the movement being compelled (to use Brandon's word) is another. At the same time, they are one and the same. No sense discerning a course of action in order to remain content with mere assent to such ideals. I am challenged to pursue this, thanks.