While Cindy and I were visiting Orthodox Churches in Russia, we started noticing the images of the four Gospel writers above the pillars supporting the central domes in churches. The evangelists were often depicted holding a Gospel text in Russian Cyrillic script. It looked like the structures were designed to show the church built upon the written word of God.
While walking around Moscow near the Red Square, we saw a statue of two brothers who gave the Russian people their writing: Cyril and Methodius. They were scholars and monks who developed an alphabet closely based on the Greek language and invented a dozen additional letters to represent Slavic sounds uncommon to Greek. They used their writing to translate scripture into the heart language of the northern people. The Cyrillic writing is named after Cyril, the younger monk.
Seven of the Orthodox Churches that we visited were inside the Kremlin Walls. Although the word kremlin refers to a walled fortress and most people think of the Kremlin as the residence of the Russian leader and the seat of the Russian or Soviet governments, it is also a fortress filled with gorgeous Orthodox Churches. The Soviet Communist regime persecuted those practicing their faith, while the churches all around them stood as bold witnesses to the centrality of God’s Word. This message was deemphasized under Soviet power, as some churches were demolished and many of the grand cathedrals were repurposed as museums. In recent years some of the churches have been re-commissioned as places of worship.
I’ve been seeking to help us have a better understanding of our Muslim neighbors after a couple terrorists who were living a few doors down from Cindy and me, went on a shooting spree killing 14 and seriously injuring 22. The killers seem to have done their evil deeds as an expression of their devotion to Allah.
We had no idea they were building an arsenal in their home, and turning their garage into a bomb factory. But it has become apparent that some people must have known, yet said nothing to protect innocent lives.
I am hearing many distressing questions emerge around our traumatized community: Can I trust my Muslim neighbors? What other evil intentions are brewing? How are Muslims in our town confronting incendiary views that lead to this kind of violence? And on a broader level: What do Muslims believe? How widespread is Islamic terrorist sympathies and intentions? Is Islam compatible with Western culture and values? And more specifically: Is there any commonality or compatibility between Islam and Christianity?
We are a terrorized community asking these questions in our grief. Many people are angry or scared. Our feelings are raw and our responses to our trauma can be quite visceral.
When we are at a place when we are able to invest in thoughtful reflections that might help take us to constructive conversations with our Muslim neighbors, I would suggest that we consider the thinking of the Christian scholar, Miroslav Volf. He has the intellectual prowess and spiritual devotion of a C.S. Lewis or John Stott. He has written a helpful book titled: Allah: A Christian Response.
The video below is a lecture on Islam that Miroslav Volf shared at Wheaton College. He does not directly answer some of the visceral questions emerging from our trauma, but I think he provides a helpful philosophical foundation for thoughtful discussions, that may help us think and talk more clearly as we seek to live as faithful Christians in a diverse and democratic society. I feel that the questions and answers at the conclusion of the lecture are especially enlightening.
A woman captured my attention at Rotary Club. “I’m a mutant,” she said. “Most people have three color receptors in their eyes. I have four. I see 99 million more colors than the average person.”
I goggled Concetta Antico. Her story seems legitimate. Concetta said, “I consider my mutation a gift.” Her vision acuity is called tetrachromatic. She uses her ability in her profession as an artist. “But sometimes my vision gift can become a challenge,” she acknowledged. “The riot of colors in a supermarket aisle, can be a bit overwhelming.” I wonder how Concetta does with Christmas tree lights.
Tetrachromatic vision has its benefits, but super-human vision is not needed to see the beauty of the earth and the glory of the skies. Much more important than an additional receptor in the eye, is the focus of the mind. Consider Vincent Van Gogh. He covered his canvas with brilliant colors, and some scholars now believe he was missing a color receptor. They suggest that he was colorblind.
Whether we have two, three or four color receptors, we humans have the ability to choose how we focus our mind’s eye. Will we decide to look beyond the horrid sights that sometimes fill our screens when we flip a channel or click the mouse? Will we envision an alternative picture of hope?
The Christian scripture teaches that while mad kings were doing their dastardly things in days of old, God was bathing a little town of Bethlehem in light. God still imparts to human hearts the blessings of heaven. I have found that when my head gets to the heart of this message I have better potential to become a receptor and reflector of God’s beauty.