Today I met and read the Bible with three Cambodian friends who have an honest desire to know who Jesus is and why Jesus is so important. Even though this is a Buddhist country and they all come from Buddhist backgrounds, they are not turned off by Jesus or the Bible. They’re aware that much of the world has been profoundly impacted by the life and teaching of Jesus, and they don’t want to miss the point. But they also have another thing in common when it comes to Jesus. The one message they all seem to have gotten from Christians is to believe in Jesus or go to hell.
This message scares them. But they have a religion already, so as scary as the threat of hell is to them, it’s not a compelling reason for faith. Instead, the fear of hell motivates them to look for a safe way out. Should they go to church? Pray a prayer? Get baptized? They are wondering what is the minimum they can do to appease the God of Christians?
It’s not hard to imagine how this works out. Many people getting this message will reject it offhand, and others will respond with a surface level change of religions. Not many will actually encounter the Jesus who offended religious people, never indicated he planned to start a religion, and spoke of freedom from the law and life by the Spirit.
To borrow a phrase from Bono, rock star/activist/theologian, Jesus sets people free from the law of karma to live in a new relationship of grace. His gospel is about freedom and love, not fear.
Today I told my friends that I’m not concerned with changing their religion. That will be up to them. We looked at the Bible (John 1) and talked about how it presents God. This God, in essence, came to be born as a poor village child, and people who know and trust this God become like sons and daughters of God. That sounds like good news. And surprising. They couldn’t imagine the king giving up his high position to go and live among the poor, or sending his son to do it. It was good to hear them say, at the end, that they don’t fear this God they but want to learn more about him. Me, too.
To go fast, walk alone.
To go far, walk together.
My first option for getting things done has often been to go alone and go fast–and then to endure and keep going. I like working with people. I really do. But it’s messy. When things are complicated and I want results, it’s easier to depend on myself. Like-minded groups of people do the same thing by keeping the power and control to themselves. Been there, too. People who work with the poor and dispossessed do this all the time. I’ve gone for speed over distance many times, individually and as part of groups seeking change, and in diverse cultures, and so I understand the truth in these words. When I’ve moved quickly on my own, or in small groups excluding others, I’ve seldom gone far toward the kinds of change and lasting results I’ve longed to see.
The quote is specifically about peace. Not just a suspending conflict but embodying real peace in this world. It’s about transformation of people and communities, a long journey toward a peace that heals and lasts. It’s about peace that is local and hard won, concrete, not a concept or ideal of “world peace” somewhere out there. In short, it’s about going farther than I can go alone, and going slower than I want to go.
If you want to check out the book this is from, I recommend it. It’s called Reconciling All Things by Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice. There’s a link in the margin of this page.
Feel free to add comments here or on Facebook. If you go to Facebook, I’d appreciate your help sharing the poster and widening the conversation that way.
Okay, here we go!
The video project I’ve been working on for the past year is online and available for free download here. The title is “Why Not A Family?” and the purpose is to raise awareness about better alternatives for the care of orphaned and vulnerable children. This video challenges the idea that orphanages are really a good long term option and suggests a better way.
Eighty percent of children in orphanages worldwide have at least one living parent. Nearly all have other living relatives who could care for them. The major problem is poverty and a lack of support for raising vulnerable children within their own families and communities.
Would you like to learn more? Go to unitingforchildren.org . I hope you’ll connect with the ongoing conversation using one of the social media links there, and then tell your friends.
I had a chance to shoot at Sovanna Phum recently, a great place to see Apsara and other traditional arts in Phnom Penh every Friday night at 7:30. Most of the performers are studying at the Royal University of Fine Arts. I always appreciate the energy and color, and since I have a good relationship with them (having helped out in various ways over the years), I’m allowed backstage and don’t have to pay. My favorite performances blend art forms — Apsara, shadow puppets, and circus elements — with hints of modern style. I was pleased to hear some contemporary sounds coming from the traditional orchestra this time as well. It’s great to preserve traditions, and even better if you can keep them alive in the process. I got some nice that I’ll add to my Sovanna Phum Arts portfolio (above). Since the portfolio images are all in color, here are a few that begged to be seen in black and white.
Worlds collide and mingle in Phnom Penh’s Russian Market (Psar Tuol Tom Pong). It’s a local market that swells daily with local Khmer shoppers buying everything from vegetables and fresh fish to auto parts and paint. The other half the market runs a thriving trade with tourists who come for a wonderful variety of handmade crafts, gifts, and cheap knock-offs ranging from shoes and apparel to North Face packs. At lunch time both groups meet in the middle for a delicious selection of local food at prices most anyone can afford. Sure there are rats and cockroaches scurrying about and hygiene is what it is, but I’ve never had a meal in the Russian Market that treated me wrong–not yet–and I can’t say the same for other more expensive restaurants in Phnom Penh. The market dates back to 1979, when Cambodians first returned to Phnom Penh after the defeat of the Khmer rouge. A few sellers clustered together, and the market was born. I’ve met several vendors who date back to those days. There is nothing “Russian” about the Russian Market; it just happened that quite a few Russians lived in the vicinity decades ago. Go to the Russian Market to catch a glimpse of the Cambodia’s multiple dimensions side-by-side, and enjoy it while it lasts. I hope these pictures do some justice to the place and the people.
The renewed Central Market with office buildings rising in the background
Intersection and construction near the Stung Meanchey bridge