September 28, 2008

Obsession with Obsession - radical islam and controversial film

A few weeks ago, the Charlotte Observer, along with the New York Times and other newspapers around the country, included a free DVD in its Sunday edition. The DVD was an abridged version of the film "Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West."

The film has generated controversy because it is said to unfairly portray Islam as a violent religion, use fear-mongoring and appeals to emotion in comparing Islamic extremists with Nazis in 1930s Germany, and incite hatred toward all Muslims.

I watched the film and can see why some Muslims would be upset at it. However, I think that the film itself goes out of its way to differentiate between (and even endorse) the majority of Muslims in the world who oppose terrorism and violence from the minority who support and condone it.

But I must say that I can understand Muslims feeling negative towards it in general in the same way that I find myself critiquing documentaries on things like the Crusades, the Salem Witch trials, abortion clinic bombings and religious imperialism done in the name of the Church. These documentaries often feature speakers who are otherwise hostile or critical of Christianity in general (even though they don't appear so in the particular piece in question), thus I get frustrated because people then see them as an "expert" on Christianity. Likewise, these documentaries often don't feature promiently enough actual believing Christians who speak openly and honestly about why these atrocities go against the very nature of the Christian faith and are, therefore, to be seen as aberrations rather than examples of "radical Christianity." In addition, these type of documentaries usually mistranslate or take out of context passages of Scripture which leaves the impression that Christianity in some way does allow for these type of interpretations. Thus I end up not recommending such films or critiquing them for all the negative results they may have in not leading people toward the true message of the Christian faith.

This is precisely why I can understand the criticisms of "Obsession" by many moderate Muslims and Islamic groups. The film does not attempt to be pro-Islamic (though it tries not to be "anti-Islamic"). Some speakers in the film are openly critical of Islam in general elsewhere in their writings or interviews, yet are not indicated as such in "Obsession", leading one to believe they are "objective" in general toward Islam. This would be more acceptable to many Muslims, I believe, if the speaker's views toward Islam in general were made clear or noted somehow in the film for qualification purposes. Finally, the film translates many things on the screen which appear in Arabic, though the translations are apparently not accurate translations of what is actually on the screen.

These are valid criticisms against the film and deserve to be heard by non-Muslims who view it.

The charges of fear-mongoring, "hate speech", and racism that have been levelled against the film, however, are simply disingenuous in my opinion. They are on par with similar critiques levelled against "The Passion of the Christ" when it was released. The film depicts many Muslims in favorable light and even shows the violence committed by terrorists against fellow Muslims who do not agree with them. There is a clear and unambiguous disclaimer right at the beginning that specifically states that the film is about those on the fringe who use Islam to promote violence rather than the majority of Muslims who condemn violent Jihad.

So all in all, I have to say that I recommend people watch the film (which you can do for free on Google video or at the film's website It is extremely eye-opening (and heart-breaking), particularly regarding the indoctrination of violence and terrorist tactics to young children by radicals.


I also recommend watching the film with a critical mindset and listening to the concerns raised by non-radical Muslims about the film and the depiction of Islam in general (which can be found in a helpful format at As in every attempt at objectivity, "Obsession" does not achieve it, despite its intentions.

Any discussion of religion mixed with politics and violence will always be controversial--particularly among adherents of the religion in question. This should be kept in mind and weighed accordingly. However, in the case of "Obsession", I believe there is enough truth in it to outweigh the shortcomings and I believe it is worth watching if for no other reason that to generate critical thinking and discussion of these issues.

As usual, your comments are welcome. I'm curious to hear how others who received the DVD and have watched it feel about it.


September 25, 2008

Passage is underway!

For those of you who don't know, we've started our semester of classes here at GSUMC's school of theology, Passage. Passage classes are divided into four areas of study: Biblical Studies, Spiritual Growth, Practical Ministry and Christian Thought.

I'm currently teaching two Biblical Studies courses:

BS 101 - "Bible for the Rest of Us" - our foundational introductory Bible class that's unlike anything else out there! We learn about translation issues, text criticism, the canon, overviews of the Bible's main theme and look at over a dozen well known passages that have been mistranslated or misinterpreted and why. It's always a fun class and I encourage everyone (even if you don't go to GS!) to take it next time around!

BS 201 - "The Hebrew Bible" - Building on what we learned about the OT in BS 101, this course takes us deeper in our understanding of the Bible of Jesus...without which we can't really understand the Jesus of the Bible!

I absolutely love teaching courses at Passage! It's easily my favorite part of the job as Pastor of Discipleship. I also love the fact that we have been raising up some fantastic teachers from among the GS body that are Passage teachers as well. They are fantastic and so many people are being sharpened through the classes they're teaching. If you see any of the people below on a Sunday or around GS anytime, be sure to thank them for their time, energy and passion over the past year and a half that Passage has been in existence (even when it was called "Fathom"!):

Dan & Jayne Lanier - BS 202 "The New Testament"

Doug Berryhill - SG 101 "Exploring Prayer"

Mark Blanco - BS 301 "The Book of Genesis"

Bill Caulfield - BS 202 and BS 348 "CSI: Galatia"

Donna Caulfield - SG 103 "Boundaries"

Chip & Kristine Lofton - SG 105 "DivorceCare"

Laura Lucas - SG 102 "Crown Financial"

...also, I can't forget my fellow GS Staff who've lent their teaching expertise to Passage as well: Rich Tuttle, Ron Dozier and our Senior Pastor, Talbot Davis (all of whom have great blogs you can check out if you look on my blog list on the right side of the screen!).

And beginning this semester, I've been fortunate to have the help of Guest Services as we've launched the semester, led by our fantastic Pastor of Connection & Communications, Rebecca Grayson!

If you've never taken a Passage class, be sure to sign up for one next semester. SG 100 - "First Step" (taught by Talbot) would be where to begin. From there, any of the 100 level classes are open to you. And after that, on to the 200s and then the 300s...almost like college or seminary...but a WHOLE 'lot cheaper!!

Walking together, training together...

September 23, 2008

Funny picture of the week

Those of you who know me (especially my friends on Facebook!) know that I love finding funny pictures online and sharing them with everyone to enjoy. Since things can get serious here in the Dojo, what with all the theological/biblical banter going back and forth, I decided that each week I will post a picture that's made me laugh and invite any of you out there to post captions or comments or just to let it make you smile in your cubicle!

September 16, 2008

A new direction for worship...

My friend Mark sent this to our Fusion listserve today and I just couldn't help but share it with the Dojo. I think this is definitely the new direction we should be headed in worship here at GS! [Note: heavy use of sarcasm]

Favorite lyric by far:

"He is like a Mountie,
He always gets His man,
and He will zap you
anyway He can."

Hahaha! Oh dear! All I can say is that it's a good thing that in the words of Samuel, "The LORD doesn't look at outer appearances, but rather looks at the heart"! :)

Be blessed and have a fun rest of the week!

September 4, 2008

Pathfinder has officially launched!

Last night at Good Shepherd we had our first ever Pathfinder Launch, and it went phenomenally! The atmosphere was fantastic (thanks Rebecca, Cherie, Dawn, Jennifer, Brad, Bob and the Trustees!!), the snacks were delicious, the music mix in the background was fantastic (thanks to me! heh heh!) and there was an excitment and buzz in the room that I've never seen in all my years of working with small group ministries!

Over the course of the 2 hour Launch, people got numerous opportunities to connect with one another, meet new people, deepen current acquaintences and find things in common with others they never knew they had! It was so much fun...especially when I saw how many people there were who I had not ever met before!

After some initial connecting time, people were allowed to choose their own group to participate in for the next 5 weeks. Each group had a trained Pathfinder Guide at their table (THANK YOU SO MUCH, GUIDES! YOU ARE KEY TO OUR SUCCESS!) and for the better part of the next hour, Rebecca led them all through some questions and discussion in order to get to know those at their table a little better, while I presented the vision, purpose and expectations that make up Pathfinder Launches and Groups.

When all was said and done, we ended up with the following (as compiled by my wonderful and dedicated Group Ministries Leader, Dawn Rierson! You're the best, Dawn!!):

* 13 Groups formed
* 18 Guides
* 120 committed to the six weeks
* Average of 9.2 people per group

I also want to thank our entire Pastoral and Program Staff for being there to help make this such a great event (a few of them even decided to be Guides themselves, which is phenomenal!) and for their servant leadership. Brad, Carrie, John, Chris, Rich, Ron, and Talbot--Rebecca and I could not have done it without you!

So what about all of you who were not able to make it to this Launch, but who are now so excited about getting involved that you can hardly contain yourselves...?? Relax! You have another opportunity coming up in just 7 short weeks! That's right! On


we will be having our


this Fall! You can even begin to pre-register for it shortly on the Pathfinder page of our website!
However, after last night, we realized that in order to make the experience as successful as possible, we may have to limit the number of people who can register based on the number of Guides we have for that Launch. So in other words, register soon if you want to be sure you make the cutoff!

Blessings to everyone here in the Dojo and especially to those of you who have set off on your first Pathfinder adventure! This is just the beginning!

Your fellow traveler on the Path (and excellent co-MC),


September 2, 2008

A great new resource for sharpening our swords!

I just found out today that Zondervan publishers has a blog where various Biblical scholars and theologians post regularly on a variety of topics. It's called Koinonia, which is the Greek word for fellowship/community.

There are some great articles on there, some more technical than others. Go check it out when you have a chance. There's a whole world of Biblical studies out there just waiting to be experienced by the church in general and let loose from the cloistered walls of academia!


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Bruce Lee quote of the day...