10 March 2010

Oostburg, Islam, and the Woman at the Well

This is a hard post for me to write. I want to share some recent observations about my hometown, Oostburg, a place I still love and cherish. Much of my family lives there and so do many fond memories. The people of that town love one another fiercely.

Oostburg is a small town on the Western shore of Lake Michigan that was established by Dutch settlers in the 1840s. The community retains its Dutch identity and with that identity comes a strong Calvinistic base. Indeed, all of the churches within the village limits represent various branches of Calvinism. No Catholic churches. No Baptist. No Methodist. It has been this way as long as I remember.

From my perspective, the lack of diversity has often led to suspicion about outsiders. There seems to be a sense that people who do not fit the mold will ruin utopia. People different from the norm have felt marginalized and often judged. As a child growing up there, I was one of the few kids whose parents were divorced. After she divorced my dad, my mom was given the message in no uncertain terms, that she was no longer welcome in the church. She needed compassion... she got judgment. She needed Jesus...she got the Pharisees.

While I was completing my residency, Heather, Grace, and I moved to Oostburg. I was one of Oostburg's sons returning home and was welcomed with open arms. Heather, on the other hand, was an outsider. People looked at her with suspicion. Where did she come from? Who was she? With whom was she connected? Once the connection with me was made, she too was welcomed.

I share these back stories because I want to write about some recent developments in Oostburg. There have been discussions in the works to establish a mosque near Oostburg and the response has been unfortunate, if not predictable. In a story from the Sheboygan Press, they quoted a local pastor from his church's website:
  • "Does this group of Muslims denounce violence against Jews, Christians, and other non-Muslims? If so, how much of a paper trail in English and Arabic has the group already written about such matters as 9-11 or the treatment of Jews and Christians in Muslim-majority countries? How much is presently written about these issues on their website? Even more importantly, what kind of accountability will be in place? Will there be a non-Muslim county or village official (that fluently reads and speaks Arabic) who will certify annually that this group is not teaching fundamentalist /terrorist ideologies? If so, who will be paying for this service? Will they seek to have legal exemptions for or special treatment because of their Muslim faith?"
Then follows 28 pages of comments. People from Oostburg defending their way. Others criticizing Oostburg's status quo. Some writers were civil, others were vitriolic. As I read the article and the comments, I wanted to weep. Where was Jesus in these comments? Was all of this bickering what He died for? Was this an example of the great commission?

I think that the story of the woman at the well has much application here (John 4). Jesus was passing through Samaria and stopped at Jacob's well. A Samaritan woman approached and Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink." She was taken aback because Jews did not talk to Samaritans--it was simply not done. She was also a woman, which was another strike against her. It turns out she had been married 5 times and was now living with a man who was not her husband. Another strike. She said to Jesus, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?"

Then Jesus switched from asking to offering. He told her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." In the next paragraph, he revealed himself as the Messiah and offered her salvation. She ran off to tell her people about Christ, leaving behind her water jar in the process. Verse 39 reads, "Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony". Jesus broke tradition. He loved the marginalized.

When Jesus called us to go and make disciples of all nations, he didn't mean countries, he meant people groups. That includes Dutch settlers in Wisconsin and Islamic doctors working in the US. We all need Jesus. Do not refuse a drink to others because of fear. I John 4:18 says, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear."

If you get a chance, read these passages in their entirety:
John 4
I John 4

Take some time and watch this video as well.


Kat said...

Jason-I've seen your comments on my sister-in-law's fb and just saw a comment on the Press article. I appreciate hearing someone who looks beyond the cultural limits we have in this community and addresses the real issue. That is, I think, whether or not we are willing to take Jesus seriously 24/7, not just for an hour on Sunday. He never told His followers to lock the doors of the upper room, or to stay with people who had the same religious heritage they had. He did say "go to Samaria (paganized half-breeds) and to the ends of the earth (unapologetic pagans)". And it's a good thing the early church did it. Or you and I would still be worshiping our old germanic and celtic gods.
If we are willing to take Him seriously, we also have to take the risk that not everyone will believe Him as we do. But we have to love them anyway...because He does.
We do not have a corner on God's grace in this little corner of Wisconsin. If we trust Him, however, we have the responsibility to be a conduit of that grace to those around us. No matter who the are or what they think of either Him or us.

Jason Kanz said...

Thanks for your thoughts and for your writings as well. I am still processing much of this from afar. I guess I don't care if Muslims are the most violent, extreme people on the planet, our mandate is still to love.

Anonymous said...

Good thing Jesus didn't love conditionally. It is a challenge for us to conform to that love in our own dealing with others.

Kat said...

This is off-topic, but I have read some of your past posts and notice that you referred to IMonk. Do you still follow his blog? Did you realize that he has terminal cancer?

Jason Kanz said...

Yes, I did. In September of last year, I wrote Mr Spencer this email:
Mr Spencer,
I don't know if you read, respond, or otherwise dispose of your emails, but I wanted to write to personally thank you for your blog. Someone posted today that "you are the blogger I hate to love." I agree. I read your blog daily, sometimes several times daily, and it makes my head hurt--but I believe in good way.

Assuredly, I disagree with you on certain points and I expect I always will, but in reading you, I think more deeply about my own faith. I don't want to settle, I think God likes us to wrestle with Him, else He would have made the Bible easier.

I will likely continue to read, fully acknowledging that from time to time, I will become irritated with either what you have written, or the comments about what you have written, but I pray that through that, I will continue to understand God better.
His response was:
Thanks Jason. I appreciate that. Just remember to agree with me about everything and all your problems will go away :-)

He is a wonderful man and the loss of his writings are already noticed among the blog community. I pray for his family.