As I read those words, even to me it sounds a little odd. So what is this all about?
One of the recommended disciplines of Ramadan is to read the Qur’an from cover to cover. It is a practice that I enjoyed the last couple of years and am enjoying even more this year. The Qur’an is a difficult book for a variety of reasons, but as I am becoming a little more familiar with its structure and style, I am tuning in to its beauty and wisdom. The core message that continues to speak to me is one of realizing love and awe through belief in one God, the practice of prayer, and the practice of charity. And not only does this message resonate so closely with my understanding of the Christian messages, but this similarity is brought to the fore because the stories are so similar: tales of Moses and Abraham, of Adam and Eve, of Lot and Noah and Jonah. But above all the Qur’an is full of stories of Jesus and Mary, of the virgin birth, and of Jesus as the only man other than Adam born of the breath of God.
So as I have been sitting with my hunger and my Qur’an, I have found my mind being drawn to something that a dear friend and wonderful man sent me several months ago: a link to BRAND.New, a series of talks by Andy Stanley, a man he declares might just be the best communicator on the planet.
I had started the first of five 30 minute maybe a couple of months ago but did not give myself the time and space to really absorb its message: I thought I could skim and get the core. But of course that doesn’t work. Ramadan has called me back to do this properly. And after having watched just the first two presentations, I already know that my friend may well be right: Andy Stanley might just be the best communicator on the planet.
While I want to summarize the lectures, I know that I have neither the eloquence nor command of the subject matter to do so; I know that I would completely fail to deliver the story that this erudite, eloquent, but simple man takes five lectures to build. But while I can’t summarize it, I can tell you that Stanley creates an utterly compelling story that at its core Christianity is not about sacred spaces or beliefs or rituals, but that it is entirely about living life in accordance with one verb: love. He challenges us “with every interaction, every conversation, every temptation, [to] ask this question: ‘So what does love require of me?'” and he asserts that if we truly do, this “will change your life and every life yours intersect with.”
If this is the essence of the teaching of Jesus – which I believe is what Stanley is arguing – then (as he asks) what would it look like to follow the teachings of this man, even if I don’t believe him to be the ultimate authority or the son of God? Well…I think it would look like modeling my life on all of those people in the world who I truly admire, people who are variously Muslims and Jews and Hindus and Buddhists and atheists and Sikhs and…and so on! It is the life that Karen Armstrong envisioned when she dreamed of the Compassionate Cities movement, and the life at the heart of Compassionate Atlanta.
I have immersed myself in Islam and Judaism and written extensively about those experiences (my blog, The Straight Eightfold Path, and Up The Mountain), but I have not yet returned to the religion of my childhood surroundings, the religion that most deeply affects my culture. I have traveled extensively with Christians in interfaith work, talked to them about Buddhism and taken them to mosques and temples, but for all I talk of the importance of going to the place where “the other” is at home, I have never truly gone with my whole heart to visit Christians in their place of spirit and soul. I had planned to change that this year – in fact it is for this very reason that my friend sent me the link to Andy Stanley. I had planned to start my Christian practice at the end of Jesus’ life with his crucifixion and ascension, but Lent began at the height of my business busy season and Easter arrived while it was still going strong and I never even took that first step. With renewed energy I feel the need to move into this space. Maybe I should try something different and begin at the beginning with Christmas: this will be altogether easier on my calendar, inshallah. And since it is a time when our nation rests, I should find it altogether more accessible.
But even before that, I need to begin by continuing the Andy Stanley lecture series, and maybe by taking some baby steps at North Point Community Church. While I know there is much more to Christianity than this – I think particularly of immersive, spiritual practices that are likely to engage me – I have already seen that the Christianity Andy Stanley offers in his introductory lectures is a great place to start.
That Ramadan should open up a door to Christianity truly is a wonderful and unexpected gift: Al-ḥamdu lillāh!