Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Through Their Eyes: A People's View of the Global Church

Pr. and Mrs. Lueking
 Readers of The Christian Century know that this past week's "Living by the Word" column was written by "retired" Lutheran clergyman F. Dean Lueking, who served for so many years as senior pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in River Forest, Illinois. Pastor Lueking, who has a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and has written much in his long ministry, recently published the excellent and engaging book Through Their Eyes (Trya Books, 2010; 472 pages) which provides, as the subtitle indicates, a "people's view of the global church." He and his wife, Beverly, have traveled the world over in the name of Christ and have met with many a Christian and non-Christian alike. The focal points in this latest book are primarily Lutheran, as one would expect. The book's foreword, written by its author's close friend, Martin Marty, correctly notes that parts of the book read like an updated version of Luke's Acts of the Apostles, "locating believers who replicate the world of the early Christians." He also points out that if the Luekings had chosen to report on a wider swath of the Christian world, the end result would be a mere collection of "almanac-level entries, terse but not memorable." We do remember the people reported upon here by this Lutheran missionary-team because they go "deep" into the lives of those about whom they write. Some bear in their bodies the scars of harrassment and persecution. All have important stories to tell.

Along the way one encounters 250 people--nurses, chaplains, pastors, teachers, laity, other ministers--from 32 countries on five continents. So the reader travels from Palestine to Papua New Guinea, through Africa, eastern and western Europe, Central and South America, India, and Australia. Each of the nine parts of the book begins with a introductory chapter on that part of the world. Included in each of these introductory sections is a very helpful, simple map of the particular region that is uncovered.

Last fall I referred to the book's narrative on Japan. Today I'd like to highlight another story, one that centers on Bethlehem in Palestine. I was reminded of this story because Pr. Lueking's CC reflections on the lectionary for Sunday, January 23, also refer to this troubled turf.

In the first chapter of the book we meet Hala and Adel Khader, faithful members of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, whose pastor, Mitri Raheb, is fairly well-known among Lutherans in this country. (Pr. Raheb has written much about his own struggles in the region due to the ongoing political crisis.) From the Khaders we receive an on-the-ground account of their frustrations and challenges in the face of the Israeli occupation. Adel, we are told, almost died because of the stubborn actions of an Israeli soldier at a checkpoint who refused the family to travel onward to Jordan for medical treatment, all because their driver had a slight problem with his official papers. The soldier casually and callously remarked that if Adel was going to die--he was having a heart attack--then he should be taken to die "over there, by the side of the road... You are not getting through." Adel: "When we pray 'Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us' we look out the window to see what that means."

Dr. Lueking comments on their plight: "[Adel] and his family have learned to live from Sunday to Sunday as doers of the Word that feeds their souls and motivates them to return evil with good. Christ's death and resurrection has broken down the worst of all walls, Adel said, the one that separates them from God. They see examples of grace at work in the lives of others at Christmas Lutheran Church whom they know and admire, helping them to stave off the inertia of self-pity that only makes bad situations worst. It is from his spiritual roots in the Gospel, well nourished in his congregation, that he has found what it takes to rebuild his life and livelihood after losing everything as a refugee a quarter century earlier. That same source makes him an example to his children to whom he has passed on the faith and vision of overcoming evil with good as a way of life in Bethlehem" (p. 4).

Through Pr. Lueking's description of this non-violent Palestinian family, we gain insight into the larger context that includes the five Lutheran congregations (3,000 Lutheran Christians) and the 150,000 other Christians within the 2.2 million Palestinian population within the West Bank. Despite the deep frustration that Pr. Raheb, the Khaders, and other Bethlehemites experience, they continue to act with faith, hope, and love. They have built a cultural center, a medical clinic, schools, a college (the first Christian institution of higher ed started in the Middle East in decades), and have instituted programs aimed at educating and cultivating individuals who might otherwise succumb to the blight of helplessness and hopelessness.

For similar reflections on Bethlehem's Christians, see Dr. Lueking's CC reflections in the Jan 11 issue of the Christian Century, p. 21.

I know that Pastor Lueking would like to connect young Christian people in the United States with Christian counterparts elsewhere in the world. If you are interested in participating in that kind of "e-exchange," contact Pastor Lueking through http://www.deanlueking.com/ or his Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/pages/F-Dean-Lueking/122888817731170

To order your copy of Through Their Eyes, visit http://www.tyrabookschicago.com/ or the above web addresses of Pr. Lueking.

In coming weeks I hope to highlight other chapters from this eye-opening book. I'm also thinking that I will use it in my introductory course on Lutheranism Past and Present.

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