It has been a week since we returned from New Zealand. Getting back into our normal time zone has been challenging. I find myself wide awake until 3 in the morning! When you have to get up at 6 for work, that isn’t a good thing! But, gradually, I’ve been able to find that other part of me that seems to be hovering in the corner ala out of body experience style and like Peter Pan and his shadow, I’m finally getting the two of us back together. I discovered I do have at least one broken rib from my fall and my elbow is so painful I am sure there is a tear of my triceps tendon which is not a good thing!
I am slowly and painfully withdrawing from my daily dose of flat whites, that most remarkable coffee confection that is not found in the states. I miss my daily cup of flat white and my chicken and cheese pie. Thursday at physical therapy, I decided to get on the treadmill since my broken rib had finally become tolerable. Normally, I can only walk about 3 MPH because of my back. But, I found myself loping along at 4 MPH. All that walking in New Zealand uphill, both ways seemed to have paid off. I also lost 10 pounds while there. As I mentioned in my earlier posts, I saw nary an obese native New Zelander during my visit.
It has also taken me a week to sift through my over 2500 photographs and I have yet to sort through all the videos. The photos help keep all of the stops and sites straight in my head. When I pause and reflect on our trip, we covered the entire country of New Zealand and saw probably 80% of the sites in less than three weeks! It’s no wonder I keep getting Queenstown and Wellington confused! That’s like confusing San Diego and Panama City!
I am also trying to wrap my brain around the best way to tell my friends and family what it was like in New Zealand. Their questions are legion. And, to try and summarize our experience in a short period of time is impossible. Yesterday, I spent a few hours with my friend Raymond who is building the website for www.steelchronicles.com and our upcoming depression rewrite www.conqueringdepression.com. He is the pastor of a mission church and I shared with him my experience with my Christian brothers and sisters in Christ in New Zealand. I told him it was uncanny how easily we dwelt in each other’s company as if we had known each other for years! Even though our language was different (WE have an accent, can you believe it?) in some of its conventions, we could easily communicate not only on a superficial level but also on a spiritual level.
In my posts I have commented on what New Zealand still has that we as a nation have lost. I am still proud to be an American. But, I am not always proud of how our country has changed in the past century. The growing hostility toward Christianity, and for that matter, any public display of religious conviction is alarming. You do not see this in New Zealand. I see in our culture an intolerance to spiritual matters and a growing movement that says only science can give us real, true answers to our problems. The new series Cosmos even took a swing at Christianity in its opening show once again pouring gasoline (that is petrol for my Kiwi friends) on the battle between faith and science.
I think it is time to pour water on this fiery debate. As a Christian, I can no longer look at my atheistic or agnostic scientific colleagues and truly say they are without moral conviction or a humane way of life. Also, it is time for my colleagues to back off and allow those of us who have religious convictions to keep them and to RESPECT our choices! The key here is respect.
1 Peter 3:16 says that Christians should “always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that is within us but to do so with gentleness and respect”. The vast majority of Christians have no intellectual or academic foundation for why the Christian worldview reflects ultimate truth. We have only a thimble full of knowledge and it is time for us to truly become “prepared” to give a reason for what we believe. But, more importantly, it is time for us to act with gentleness and respect towards those we disagree with. This is called tolerance and it was a concept invented by the early church to reflect this very verse in scripture.
One thing I found in abundance in New Zealand was gentleness and respect. As troubled as America is and as contentious as our reputation can be throughout the world, I NEVER felt criticized or looked down upon by my Kiwi friends. They were always gentle and respectful. A lesson we can learn on both sides of the issue of faith versus science. So, let us put our gauntlets away and let us instead shake hands over this issue and agree to disagree with cordial respect. If you are a Christian, I plead with you to take 1 Peter 3:16 literally. Delve into the foundation of truth that underlies our faith. Learn some “apologetics” that is defense of the Christian faith. There are thousands of websites. Just look under my “Apologetics” tab to find some good resources.
But, most importantly, take the lesson I have learned from my Kiwi friends, and yes, now family to heart. Treat everyone with gentleness and respect.
Don’t forget to check out my book sales for all three Jonathan Steel books at www.steelchronicles.com and get the current edition of “Conquering Depression” at www.conqueringdepression.com before it goes out of print. I’ll share with you in the coming months of a new book about depression I and Mark Sutton have written that will be available in the fall.
Next week, it’s back on the airplane to Orlando. Mark Sutton and I will be tweaking our website for our new book release in the fall. So, come back in the near future to hear about “Hope Again: A 30 Day Plan for Conquering Depression”!
There were only two women in my medical school class of 100 students. Back in the late seventies, women doctors were few and far between. It was a time of women’s “liberation”. Frankly, I didn’t get why women were not treated “equally”. My mother and father had set an example for me. My mother was a working woman back in the 1950’s and 1960’s right up to her retirement as a school bus driver in the mid 1970’s. My father shared the job of cooking and cleaning. Every Saturday morning, he swept the entire house of all the dirt and dust of the prior week. I never heard him say anything about “women’s work”. Both of my sisters were career women even after they married and had children. I guess I was fortunate that my parents taught me that we are all equal in the eyes of God no matter what our gender, religion, race, or stature in life.
That particular belief did not come from a political point of view. It came from our devotion to the teachings of Christ. As I mentioned two posts ago, I want to look at the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth in this Christmas season and focus on those teachings without focusing on the religious claims about Jesus. I maintain that Jesus of Nazareth taught us powerful lessons that transcend culture and religion; lessons that even an atheist or agnostic can live with. In fact, Jesus taught us powerful lessons that everyone should apply to our lives.
Stop for a moment and consider the status of women in first century Palestine. Among the Roman culture, women were considered objects of sexual conquest and were often the center of many pagan religious practices. In the Jewish culture of Jesus of Nazareth, women were very low in status. They were little better than possessions. A man could divorce a women just be stating it was so. Women who had serious illnesses were considered “unclean” and “untouchable”. If a women was caught in the act of adultery, she could be stoned — forget about the man’s transgressions! The testimony of a woman was useless and never to be taken as truthful.
First, Jesus met a woman at a well. This woman had been married many times and was considered an adulterer. She came to the well in the heat of the day hoping no one would be there to make fun of her. She was also a Samaritan, considered lower than low; the most undesirable of the undesirables by any good Jew of the day. She met Jesus of Nazareth that day. He did the unthinkable and SPOKE to her! He told her all about herself. He told her that the water she drank from this well was temporary but that she should seek the water of spiritual fulfillment.
Here, Jesus illustrates one of the first of many very powerful lessons that all people are of equal value and of equal worth.
Second, Jesus was dining with a religious leader of the day. A woman appears suddenly at the door. She ignores the ridicule and chiding of the religious leaders and comes to Jesus. She produces a vial of expensive fragrance, pours it on Jesus’ feet and his head and washes his feet with her tears and her hair. While the rest of the men present ridicule the woman’s actions, Jesus accepts them as a gift and says that wherever and whenever his teachings are told down through the ages, this woman’s devotion will be remembered.
Third, is the most beautiful account of the woman caught in the act of adultery. We know from the account that this was a setup to trap Jesus; a trap set by the religious leaders of the day. Jesus literally disarmed the men ready to stone the woman with one of the most powerful statements in history, “Let he who is among you that is without sin cast the first stone.” Then, Jesus does not condemn the woman but tells her she is free and to “go and sin no more”; that is don’t allow yourself to get into the situation you were just in that almost led to your death. Learn from this and CHANGE your life for the better.
Fourth, it is very interesting that the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection tell us that the first people he appeared to were women! A woman’s testimony was worthless! If the story of the resurrection were false; that is, fabricated by men. they certainly would NOT have used women as the first line of testimony to the resurrection. Whether you believe this fact or not, the idea that Jesus would appear to women first is significant. His acknowledgement of women’s worth for its time was astonishing.
We see in these few examples (and there are many more) that Jesus of Nazareth disregarded a person’s race (Samaritan), gender(female), and ethnic background (again, Samaritan). In fact, Jesus had harsh words for the religious leaders of the day calling them hypocrites (More on this later!). Jesus seems to be teaching that we are all equal in his eyes. Amazing, isn’t it? Don’t believe me? Look at this statement from a letter Paul wrote to the church in Galatia:
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28).
Where did we go wrong? How did mankind continue to claim to be followers of Christ in western culture and still embrace the bigotry of race and slavery and the sexism against women? Because we are man; we are broken; we listen but we do not learn. Even our founding fathers ignored their own words from the Declaration of Independence when it came to slavery:
We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.
It has only been in the last forty years that we have finally given race and sex a fair deal. But, Jesus taught this fairness two thousand years ago!
What have I learned from the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth that I think all men and women should embrace:
Each person is unique and worthy.
No person is better than another.
No person is greater than another.
One should NEVER be looked down upon because of a difference in race, gender, religious beliefs, or stature in life.
We should look upon EVERYONE with respect as our equal.
Once again, Jesus of Nazareth has taught us to do the HARD thing because it is the RIGHT thing to do!