An Interview with NieuwWij an online platform for diversity and dialogue in the Netherlands

 

This article is originally written in Dutch by Theo Brand. Theo Brand is a Christian journalist writing for NieuwWij. If you prefer to read it in dutch please visit www.nieuwwij.nl or click here...

 

I am grateful to God that I was not born in a Christian environment. Then maybe I would be caught up in dogmas and doctrines. ”

Samuel Lee (49) is the theologian of the year in the Netherlands.  He finds it essential to be able to hold up a mirror to Christians in the Netherlands. "The world is so much bigger and richer." Lee is a pastor of a migrant church in Amsterdam and a Ph.D. in Theology. He receives me at his office: "Welcome, welcome," he says kindly and pours coffee. The conversation can begin.

 

In Trouw (Dutch Newspaper), I read that your election as a theologian of the year exceeded your wildest dreams. How so?

“Haha. In any case, I never thought that I would become the theologian of the year. I knew this role exists because of Dr. Janneke Stegeman, whom I know well. She was previously theologian of the year in 2017. She did a great job then.  She has had active debates and has done her best. But that is actually not for me, I always thought. I am not a debater, and I am a migrant. Who looks at me as a migrant to become the theologian of year? That is why I was surprised that I was selected. In that sense, that exceeded my wildest dreams. "

 

How do you give substance to the role of the theologian of the year?

“I see it as a great opportunity. It gives me a platform to spread the ideas that I have had for a long time. In the United States, for example, after the publication of my book A new kind of Pentecostalism. This found a lot of responses, also among young theologians. The well-known theologian Brian McLaren called me "a new voice" in the Pentecostal movement. At the same time, many others found it less pleasant what I had to say. " Now, I also have a platform in the Netherlands to share my insights.  

 

“There are many young people who are searching, often Christians, who come to me. They do not dare to speak freely with the pastor. I listen to their stories, and I too share mine. They are often about to renounce their faith. But in the conversation, they notice that things can be different. That they can also believe with doubts, critical questions, or a different vision than the pastor. They often go home relieved. " "It is also significant that I can show that there are many migrant Christians in the Netherlands. People often forget that. In the Netherlands today, there are about as many or perhaps more Christians than Muslims with a migrant background. Because of my role as the theologian of the year, that aspect also becomes more visible. "

 

How do you actually relate to the concept of "fatherland"?

"I have mixed feelings about the concept of" fatherland. "  (In the Dutch language my title is literary means "The Theologian of the Fatherland")

I have been calling myself a feminist for a long time. This may require some explanation. It is also a bit in my family. My grandfather, my mother's father, was also a feminist, you could say. " Lee points to the photo frame on his desk, which contains a black and white photo with the portrait of a venerable gentleman. “My grandfather, a man from the Middle East, dared to stick his neck out and stood up for women's rights. He was concerned about women's abuse and violence against women. He also advocated the position of homeless people. My mother often says that I continue his ideals. "

 

“Men have been dominating the world for thousands of years and have actually made a mess of it. I know that I now speak in a very generalizing way, but I still want to express myself like that. According to statistics, women and children are also the most abused worldwide, usually in a patriarchal system. While as human beings, we all come from the body of a woman. "

 

“For me, the womb is the first church,  the holy temple, that's where life begins. If you cannot grasp and respect that, then you cannot understand the essence of the church, which is also feminine. The church is a woman, but her sons don't recognize that. And by that, I mean they don't respect her, they don't give her the place she deserves. After two thousand years of Christianity, we still have discussions about the role of women in the church. How strange can it be? "

 

Why did you initially reject faith?

“I am born in a country in the Middle East. In that country, there is a theocracy, in this case of an Islamic rule, that interferes with the most essential things in one’s personal life. Who can you love? Who can you marry? It sounds ridiculous, but also, for example, with which foot you must first enter the toilet. As a child, I was open to religion, but gradually I discovered that it was not right. I saw people hanging dead in trees, put to death, with people cheering and praising God. Religion as a power tool. The image of God that emerged from it is frightening. I was angry with God and with religion. "

"After I moved to the Netherlands with my family, I started writing poems. I sometimes, I did that during a boring math class at school. I was about sixteen years old, a rebel, and quite depressed too. My poems were charges against God."  Lee gets up and walks to his bookcase. He brings out a simply copied bundle entitled "The Painting," containing a number of his poems. "My idea was: We are the victims of an old painter, God, who keeps us trapped as victims in a wooden square, the frame. We can't get out of it! "

"The anger came from what I had experienced as a child. I had a strong sense of justice. I printed my little poem book and sold them and gave the money to Unicef. 

 

You were influenced in part by Karl Marx. Was he right about his idea of ​​"religion as an opium of the people"?

"I still believe that religion is the opium of the masses! Many people do not understand that because I am a Christian pastor. But if religion is not dosed correctly, it can have fatal consequences. Look at people who use drugs excessively, they hallucinate and do crazy things, even murders. Religion also has that side. It can enable you to hurt or kill someone else. But if you dose religion to the right degree, you will get people like Martin Luther King and Mother Theresa. They also do very extreme things, but it is different, it is filled with wisdom. "

 

During your honeymoon, you experienced that you were called by Jesus ...

“That was at night in a hotel room in Spain. I could not sleep. Then I heard the voice of Jesus. Overwhelming. I don't need to explain it. It is an experience that always goes with me. Sometimes I feel depressed or doubt strikes. My thoughts often go back to this moment. "

"I am grateful to God that I was not born in a Christian environment. Then I might be caught up in dogmas and doctrines. I am delighted that I can look at things from the outside. That enriches me and perhaps also gives me a chance to hold up a mirror to Christians in the Netherlands, to get out of their bubble. The world is bigger than your doctrines and tradition. The world is so much richer. "

"I respect and understand Christians and churches. But when I hear discussions about infant baptism or the sacred meal, I get so tired there. They are tiring discussions so that you alienate people from you instead of being able to bind and fascinate them. "

“I am so happy that I grew up with the Persian poets like Rumi, and also with texts by other great poets and thinkers from the Middle East. They inspire and enrich me. Recently a Christian woman was upset with me when I quoted Rumi. As a Christian, I couldn't do that. "You still have something Islamic in you," she snarled at me. But Rumi is not a criminal; he was a mystical poet. His thoughts enrich me, just as Christians in the Netherlands can enrich me. " 

 

Which Bible story particularly appeals to you?

“The Sermon on the Mount is the first thing that comes to my mind, this is the manifesto of Jesus. At this moment, I am working on John 15 verse 12: "At that time Jesus said to his disciples: This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you. No greater love can anyone have than this that he gives his life for his friends. "What does" give your life "mean? That is not only his death on the cross but everything that Jesus has done in his life. " "Jesus laid down all his certainties by questioning the laws and rules of his religious tradition, --- only for the sake of love. Consider the healing on the Sabbath. That went against the prevailing doctrine. He spoke as a Jew to a Samaritan woman and dealt with lepers and prostitutes. Jesus did not only give his life but has turned all rules and codes upside down. And what are many churches doing today? Sticking to rules and opinions while losing people as a result. For the sake of love, do you dare to set aside standards and doctrines? " 

 

As a celebrated pastor, you experienced a "second conversion." What was the occasion?

"I was deeply touched by the story of Nicodemus, who meets Jesus. In this meeting, two systems enter into conversation with each other, two world views. Dogmas and doctrines opposite the Love and the Kingdom of God. Nicodemus also longs for space and love, but he is imprisoned in his own religious system. How can I cross the border, how can I become free? "  “Jesus says that Nicodemus must be born again. But that "being born again" is impossible without Jesus' statement that for God loved the world that He gave his begotten son and so Nicodemus should love the world.  That is not a side issue, but the core: love the world! You should not continue to think exclusively but look and act inclusively. You must not only love your own club, your own group, and your own doctrines but love the whole world. "How can you do that? That is only possible if you have a "divine encounter." Jesus tells Nicodemus: come out of your system, break the walls, and love the world. Not only your own club, the Pharisees, but also the Samaritan. Love the Muslims, love the Palestinian, love the Jew, love the LGBT person! You don't have to agree with each other but love each other honestly. Break the walls! ”

 

"This insight came like a lightning strike to me. I was in a hotel in South Korea, and there I received this revelation while reading the Bible. Nationalism and faith cannot go together. God bless America? God bless the Netherlands? No, God loves the world! That was a fascinating insight for me. I said goodbye to religion as a system and embraced the message of Jesus. ""Jesus never intended to build a religious order. He wasn't even a Christian, he was Christ. God as a Christian, Muslim, or Buddhist? "Lee laughs. "No, God has no religion. Christianity, as an organized religion, is made by people. That insight has broadened my view. " 

 

What is the Christian church on earth for?

“I love the church and am part of it, but sometimes I think I don't understand the church well. Jesus is a door, but we build walls. For me personally, the church is not a building or institution, but the place where two or more people come together in the name of Jesus to set out. Not according to theologian sister or something, but the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount. ”

 

Who are inspiring examples for you?

“Besides Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa, about whom I have said many things before, I was inspired by the Japanese Kanzô Uchimura, who lived from 1861 to 1930. I found him because I studied Japanese cultural history. From childhood, I was fascinated by Japan. " "Uchimura was converted to Christianity at an early age by an American missionary. He slowly discovered that the Western missionaries not only brought faith in Jesus but wanted to impose their culture on the people and that churches were competing with self-interest. He denounced this and was declared crazy and excluded. "

"Uchimura loved Jesus, and he loved Japan. With the first, he made himself unloved with many Japanese and with the second with many Christians. He started a movement inspired by Jesus, but definitely outside the institutional frameworks. The movement was called Mūkyokai in Japanese. That means "non-church movement." The movement grew, but the missionaries never recognized it. He was thwarted and did not fit in with the ruling system. "

"I would like to announce Uchimura because he dared to go against the current inspired by Jesus, especially against American missionaries. He wanted to understand the gospel from Japanese culture, and he was opposed to it. Later, he also criticized the emperor and turned against the Japanese nationalism and the war. "

 

Do you think that all people should become followers of Jesus?

"That's an excellent question. My answer is: we must above all ensure that Christians and church people themselves understand what Jesus is about before we desire others to know Jesus Christ.  How can you tell the world about Jesus if you do not realize who Jesus is? I want to end this interview with a story of a dear Muslim friend of mine, Safi Kaskas. He is a Muslim friend of mine who loves Jesus. He calls himself a Muslim follower of Jesus, but he is just a professing Muslim. He searches for dialogue between Muslims and Christians. He is Lebanese and lives alternately in Saudi Arabia and the United States. "

 

He was recently in the Netherlands, and we had a nice talk. As we drank coffee, he told me an interesting story, an experience he had while ago. He was approached by a well-known Christian missionary organization operating in the Middle East. They had called him to speak about how they, as Christian missionaries, could best reach Muslims. He was upset and laughed about it. As a Muslim, did he have to help Christian missionaries convert Muslims to Christianity? " "He found it embarrassing. He prayed to God how he should deal with this. After that, he decided to go anyway. He was scheduled to speak during the second part of the conference. During the first part, Kaskas listened to the stories of the missionaries and their problems in the Middle East. Often it was about a shortage of money, often they were huge lamentations. Kaskas found that all very painful. ”

"Then, it was his turn. He said: "I have listened to your stories and your experiences, but actually I want to ask you to come forward, and I want you to give your life to Jesus again. Not the Muslim version, but just your own Jesus. "The director of the mission organization burst into tears, and many missionaries didn't keep it dry either. Someone from outside made a call and determined them by the essence of their faith. "

"Look, that's the point! I think those who think they have all the answers should go back to Jesus. As Christians, do we really know Jesus? I am a full-time pastor for 26 years. Do I know Jesus? I'm trying to know Him. Every time I learn something new. I always stay on the road with Jesus. If Safi Kaskas can call for faith in Jesus that transcends all boundaries, I then would also like to do the same.  Keep looking for what Jesus meant and continue to share my experiences with others. " 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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© 2010-2019 by Samuel C. Lee

 

Samuel Lee (Ph.D.) is university lecturer, at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam - Faculty of Religion and Theology (FRT-VU), and director for Center for Theology of Migration, the educational program of Samen Kerk in Nederland at the FRT-VU. 

He is the founder of Foundation Academy of Amsterdam, offering higher education in liberal arts and humanities for migrants, refugees and persecuted minorities.

 

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