Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year - New World

As we move into the new year i hope to hear a new anthem sounding among Christianity. May we move in our theology and practice toward a vision of a new world.

Jesus teaches us to pray that his kingdom would come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven. He teaches us to live toward a world which works to establish justice for the least and the weakest. He declares a kingdom, which he will establish, upon which he will rule, here on earth. His kingdom will be defined by peace.

The Scriptures say that Christ died for the sins of the world (for all that tore us and this world apart). That his plan will include a new creation, which will be a new earth and heavens (universe). All that is good and worthwhile of the old creation will be incorporated into the new, while all that is useless and destructive will be no more.

His desire is to restore all things. All humanity. All creation. To make one people of every tribe, tongue, and nation. To make one anthem resound throughout the world.

In this new year may we embrace Christ's new kingdom, putting off visions of some distant and ethereal paradise, and embracing His vision for a New Earth and a redeemed people. Instead of the voice of exclusion, may we embrace his radical inclusiveness, which seeks to redeem all people and all things. Rather than speaking in terms of "us and them" might we take hold of the biblical teaching that we were all made in the image of God and are all loved by God, from the least to the greatest, for with God they are all the same.

["Christians Wrong About Heaven" Time interview with Bishop NT Wright]

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Truly Living

Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.
–Mahatma Gandhi

Advent Week 4: Mary's Song

“My soul glorifies the Lord
 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
even as he said to our fathers.”
Luke 1:46-55

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Border Walls Keep Out Mary and Baby

by Maryada Vallet 12-18-2008

She walks the trails until her ankles swell and her back pulsates with pain. Her abdomen, swollen with eight months of pregnancy, slows her down, and with each step she cannot help but think, “Will I be left in the middle of nowhere to give birth among the dirt and desert pines? Does anyone out there care to take me in, give me shelter?

Similar questions were certainly asked by Mary, the brave young woman who carried Jesus across borders trying to please the mandates of the Roman Empire. Only this time, “Mary” does not have a partner or a donkey to help, and there definitely is no pleasing the empire.

After two days of searching and wandering, someone does hear her cry, but instead of giving her shelter, warmth, and hospitality, she is thrown into a cold detention center without medical attention, food, or water, and she is told, in no uncertain terms, “at the United States border, there is no room at the inn.”

This “Mary,” or Maria, pleads and cries as she is released back to the other side of a borderline, dumped into the violent and vulnerable streets of Northern Mexico. That’s where, as a No More Deaths humanitarian volunteer, our lives recently connected and my season of Advent came to life. Maria asks me how it is possible that there is no room on the other side, when in comparison to the desperate and poor conditions of Oaxaca, the land to the north is like a five-star hotel. Even more, she wonders, how it can be that there is no room when she has already spent years laboring in U.S. factories and chicken slaughterhouses? Indeed, the situation is even more complex as Maria thinks about her other children, two little boys — American citizens, waiting for her with anticipation and grief to return to their home in a Midwest city.

With every day that passes, Mary is closer to her due date, which could possibly be Christmas. It appears as though she has no other choice but to give birth on Christmas day in a humble stable, far from all family and friends. More than likely, poor shepherds and neighbors who have heard the news will visit her and the new baby. This stable sits juxtaposed to great power, wealth, and large walls.

As we sing carols, look at lights, and admire the miniature nativity scenes adorning our homes this holiday, let us not forget the most foundational elements of the Christmas story and how they come to life in our lives even today. All around us are strangers wandering the land looking for an open door and asking for compassion and justice — not detainment or criminal status. May we not miss our chance to welcome them, as they have much to bring and to teach. In fact, they are the hope for our future that comes to us humble and expectant. Not unlike the baby Jesus.

Maryada Vallet works with No More Deaths, a humanitarian initiative on the U.S.-Mexico border that promotes faith-based principles for immigration reform.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A New World Order

Just the mention of the phrase raises resistance in the heart of most Christians. When i wanted to put the World Flag in the chapel i was told that it is the Devil who wants to establish a new world order.

i realized soon enough that most of Evangelical Christianity does not want to wage peace. They prefer a world that is torn, because their interpretation of the Bible tells them that a world that is united is of the Devil.

"Don't pray for world peace" one Christian told me "That will be the beginning of then end."

Isaiah 9:6 boldly declares "For to us a child is born. He will be called 'Prince of Peace'". Yet we Christians cling to war and turmoil as though it were a security blanket. So long as everything in the world is all wrong, we know things are all right.

"Blessed are the peace makers, for they will be called 'children of God'." Mt 5

i don't know where this violent theology came from, but i'm guessing it's a misapplication of a misinterpretation based on the book of Revelation.

To work toward world peace is always in line with God's will. He himself will establish a one world kingdom that is characterized by peace. The devil at best works towards the illusion of peace, while Christ works toward the reality of peace. This is the difference.

Please, don't be afraid to wage peace!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Us and Them

CNN had a good article recently concerning how ordinary people find themselves taking part in such heinous acts as mass genocide. The key is to build an "Us vs. Them" mentality, and to make the "Them" into something less than human.

Most people also have an innate sense of justice. Therefore in order to commit great atrocities they must also come to believe that the "other" is receiving their due penalty. Their just reward, if you will.

i've been troubled by language i've heard used by Christians concerning this "war against terror". The mentality is that the people we are fighting are "evil" ("them"). We therefore are "good". Of course our humility runs too deep to blatantly say we are "good", so let's leave that as "implied".

Jesus' teaching on this is difficult. Can human beings be "evil"? In one instance Jesus says, "If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" Mt 7:11.

In another place Paul clearly says that "our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." Eph 6:12.

So if there are evil people then we ought to greet them as brothers and sisters, since we are all evil in some way, according to Jesus. But you know, consider the source.

At the very least, we've all been influenced by evil. Yet Paul says we do not wrestle against flesh and blood (a.k.a other humans), but against spiritual forces of evil. Spiritual forces in this instance being something other than human.

Therefore, to launch an attack against human beings with the justification that we are fighting evil may sound rather virtuous, but it is clearly not Christian.

If by "evil" Christians mean "sinners" then i agree. Yet i believe the New Covenant gives us a non-violent alternative to dealing with "sinners". In the words of Tori Amos, "Why do we crucify ourselves?" Surely Jesus never thought we'd be so unsatisfied with his atonement for the world's sin that we would start crucifying others for their sins against us. You can almost here Jesus say, "Is nothing I do good enough for you?"

A final word:
Be careful where you thrust your sword, lest you pierce the heart of Christ.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Modern Existentialism

Existentialism is my philosophy of choice, hence my child's name "Søren" after "Søren Kierkegaard" the "Father of Existentialism". My second philosophy of choice is the GPS unit. If you need direction in your life this divine little guide is sure to help. Karla and i will be getting a GPS unit this Christmas as our gift to one another. Knowing this, someone sent us this comic strip:

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Finding Community

Is community becoming more important again? The internet provides many opportunities to reconnect with community. In our personal lives we need community. The Church is properly defined as a community of those who believe in the resurrected Lord Jesus.

Community is essential to who we are as human beings. We were created to be in community. Yes, even us introverts. One of the best ways to find community is to plug into a community group. Churches have these smaller pods that are often called small, life, or cell groups. The purpose of these groups is to form a deeper reality of community.

There are different levels of community. There is the larger gathering, which is a form of community, but not intimately connected. This could be a concert, movie theater, convention, or church service. Then there are clubs or committees. These are smaller groups that are centered around some central purpose. The purpose is the focus. These groups are more interactive, and can include boards and committees, community groups, play groups, and even book clubs, etc. These are more personal than the larger format, but not necessarily interpersonal.

Deeper relationships are found at the small group and personal friendship level. These are the groups where personal matters are more freely discussed. These are the people who know you and know what's going on in your life. These are the people who aren't afraid to call or stand by you in difficult times.

Sometimes we find ourselves frustrated by our community groups. When trouble hits, no one is there. No one even knows, or perhaps they know something but don't call to find out more. We feel that our support has failed us. Most often what has happened is that we've mistaken our context. We are expecting life participation at the interpersonal level when we've only committed to the more superficial forms of gathering.

We cannot blame those around us, or the groups we belong to, for failure to respond at a level we've never obtained with them. If we desire true community, then we must seek out true community and place ourselves within the context of true community. We cannot protect our utter independence and be surprised when we find ourselves alone.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A New Politic

"Victory attained by violence is tantamount to a defeat, for it is momentary."

Taken on the whole, I would believe that Gandhi's views were the most enlightened of all the political men in our time.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Take Action on Abortion

We've been through this before. We considered Native Americans as savages, and annihilated them, taking their land to make a more "civilized" world. Blacks were considered 2/3 human, so we packed them on boats and sailed them across the ocean to the "land of freedom". There we enslaved those that survived the journey. We considered Jews to be less than dogs, and slaughtered them by the millions.

Today, in the name of civil rights (Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy.), we are calling another people group "not human" and snatching the life straight from the womb. How is this any different from the atrocities of times past, that we all scoff at now? This may be a "civil rights" issue for women, but it is also a "human rights" issue for the voiceless.

i held a little girl in my arms. She was 1lb, 1oz. She was not "viable". She could not live outside the womb without the help of an incubator and an oxygen tube. i held her in my arms and looked deep into her eyes. There was life there. There was a spirit. There was what looked like a well of deep wisdom and understanding. Her name is Adeline. i long to see her face again, and i believe i will. She is a living being.

i am excited that President-elect Obama has fulfilled the dream that Martin Luther King spoke of. i have never been prouder of this country. Now i only hope that he will give that same chance to millions of others that are now being called "less than human".

Inconvenience is not a good enough reason to deny someone else the right of life. My own personal prosperity is not a good enough reason to deny someone else the chance to experience living and the opportunities that come with it.

i am torn by the difficult choice that many have had to make concerning the termination of a pregnancy. i have no hate or anger toward them. i am sad for my failure and the failure of the church to help them choose another option. If we desire to see women bring their babies to full term, we must also be willing to help them get there. We need to provide the means to care for the child, from birth through life.

They say that Evangelicals are those who believe life begins at conception and ends at birth. This is where we have failed. We need to fight for a child's right to live both to birth and through childhood. Passing laws is not enough.

i am truly grateful to have President Obama as our leader. i will try to help him be a great leader. Will you try too?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Take Up Your Sword and Follow Me

Jesus turned toward the disciples and said, "Take up your cross and follow me".

And they did.

Constantine said, "In this sign, Conquer".

And since they could not carry both the cross and the sword, they set down the cross and marched forward.

In hoc signo vinces

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The Cross & The Sword

Jesus told the disciples there would come a time when people would kill them, thinking they were doing God a favor (John 16:2). This is the story of the early Church.

i wonder if Jesus ever imagined that one day Christians would be killing people, thinking they were doing God a favor.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

I Can Contain It No Longer!

(Jesus & the Canaanite Woman)

Is it inappropriate that i want to hug every black person i see? i am so happy. As one CNN spokesperson put it, "No matter what party you were voting for, only the most ungracious of people wouldn't recognize the wonderful significance of this moment for America."

There is something that God cares about very deeply, and that's healing, restoration, and reconciliation. The "Land of the Free" has a dark history when it comes to practicing freedom. Millions of Native & African Americans know this all too well. This election was a balm of healing for many of our country's overwhelming sins.

It does not mean that racism, elitism, or inequality have ceased to exist, but it does mean something radically significant...that we are on our way. True healing has begun. It was not legislated, but chosen freely, and this makes all the difference.

Only the most ungracious of people would fail to take joy, or see the significance of this moment. We stand as witnesses to one of the greatest events in American history.

It is only too sad that those who have failed to find any joy in this moment are by and far white Evangelical Christians (i celebrated election night alone). Many are seized with fear about what might happen, rebelling against the command of the one in whom they declared their faith. The One who tells them, "Do not fear" and "Do not worry for tomorrow, for today has enough trouble of its own".

We may not agree with all of Obama's moral stances, or any politician's, but we ought to be able to agree that something of great significance has happened in this race torn country. We ought to be able to recite with joy the saying of Paul, "In Christ there is no Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free".

Christians, continue to pray for your country's leaders, just as you did when Bush was president. Continue to be active, holding President-elect Obama to his promises of valuing life, seeking peace, caring for our God entrusted creation, and seeking justice for the poor and oppressed. If you only see yourself as a Republican, then you'll have no influence and find yourself just waiting around for the next four years to role by. But if you see yourself as a Christian, you will take action and begin shaping this new administration's direction.

For the Christian, there is no Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free, Republican or Democrat. There are only those for whom Christ died. Love all and influence all for the sake of Christ.

(Just a note: i am sitting in a coffee shop and overhearing a conversation between two Christians who are talking about how China owns us and will likely be the two hundred million man army that conquers in the final battle, and how the Arabs own us too, and that Obama is not pro-Israel, and how these are signs that it is obviously nearing the end. ...The End of what though? That's the real question. Isn't it interesting how American Christians judge biblical prophecy based on what happens to American prosperity?)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

There is a Balm in Gilead

"There is a Balm in Gilead".

This sums up my thoughts tonight. It is a reference from the Hebrew Scriptures to spiritual healing. It is also an old African-American spiritual:

Chorus (in bold):

There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin-sick soul.
Some times I feel discouraged,
And think my work’s in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit
Revives my soul again.


If you can’t preach like Peter,
If you can’t pray like Paul,
Just tell the love of Jesus,
And say He died for all.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Misunderstanding our Christian "Freedom"

Eight-year-old shoots self with Uzi, dies

Why is it that evangelical Christians by far are against gun control? First, we serve a Lord who opposes the use of violence and hostile retaliation. Second, we are by-and-far pro-life. So if you determine that the first argument fails because we believe in using guns recreationally rather than for violence (protection?) then we still need to deal with the second argument. This is a pro-life issue.

"Since 1970, more Americans have been killed by privately owned firearms than the combined number of deaths in all the wars in U.S. history." (Campolo, Red Letter Christians, 101. Also see Time Magazine)

This doesn't mean we have to outlaw privately owned guns altogether. Yet in many states gun laws are virtually non-existent. There are no regulations on who may own these weapons or what type of weapons can be purchased. Half the weapons sold at gun shows are sold without any background checks and without any waiting periods.

As Campolo notes, many quote the second amendment (the right to bear arms) without knowing its context. Here is what it says:

"A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

This law was made in a time when the country depended upon minute men and local volunteer militia's for its defense. Now we have the most powerful military in the world, the national guard, state police, local police, and even security guards. There is no good reason for such free regulation to occur knowing that Homicide is the second leading cause of death among people between the ages of 15 to 24, and most homicides involve guns (ibid).

So is fighting for the right to bear arms and limited regulation on gun control a Christian virtue? If not, why such strong support by the Christian right?

Christians believe that there is "freedom" in Christ. Christ has come to set us "free". It is apparent that we sometimes confuse Christian freedom with American "freedoms". We often fight to defend "freedom" because we think "freedom" in and of itself is some kind of Christian virtue. Yet the freedom and liberty we find in Christ is not synonymous with the liberty and freedom held as an American ideal. It can be confusing because the terms are the same.

Can you spot the differences?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

American Democracy or Hypocracy?

Now don't go misquoting me here. i'm more conservative than than Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson put together. The difference is, i'm biblically conservative which is very different from being politically conservative. Therefore, i believe that heterosexual marriage is the God intended practice for humanity. At the same time, i also believe that Christians are never to force their relgious values on those who do not profess belief in the Christian faith. Jesus said, "Whosoever will, let them come". In the Greek this means that those who freely choose to follow his way are welcome to do so, but he will not force anyone to follow him.

i think this is what it means in English too.

So, back to America. As far as i've been told, America was founded on the principle of religious freedom. i'm pretty sure that means that people are free to practice whatever relgion, or even lack thereof, which they choose.

It also seems to me that the only reason we Christians oppose homosexual unions is because of our "religious" convictions. If the Bible did not say that same sex relations were inappropriate and contrary to God's design, then we would not have any reason to oppose such relationships. Again, this is a religious issue and conviction. One which i share with the Evangelical Church.

Here's my hangup...

America was founded on the principle of religious freedom. Why are we forcing our religous convictions upon people who do not share those convictions and do not even claim to be Christian, Muslim, or Jewish? Are we attempting to maintain a theocracy rather than a democracy? Wouldn't that = hypocracy?

i hold firmly to the principle that Christian clergy and churches should not sanction homosexual marriage. But what does civil union have to do with the Church? Give unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and unto God that which is God's.

Now don't misquote me. i am a radical biblical conservative. i make Jerry Fallwell and Pat Robertson look like liberals when it comes to the Bible. i don't support homosexual relationships, but i also don't believe we should confuse the role of the church and the role of state.

Jesus is looking for people who will freely follow him. It's not as though he differentiates much between homosexual practice and civil union. It's not like he's o.k. with the situation so long as there are no tax breaks involved.

What are we doing?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Overturning Roe vs. Wade

Many Christians feel that their stance on abortion gives them only one option for voting: Republican. The idea is that the Republican party will overturn Roe vs. Wade and abortion will be illegal once again. There are a couple of things to think about here:

First, when the Republican party had both the presidency and the house, they failed to overturn Roe vs. Wade. There was no point in history when there was more opportunity to overturn this verdict than under the Bush administration. It didn't happen. Which also means, it is highly unlikely that it will ever happen.

Secondly, overturning Roe vs. Wade will not make abortion illegal. It will simply return the law making power concerning this issue back over to individual states. With the majority of American's being pro-choice, most states will continue to keep abortion legal. For those states that make it illegal, one just need to head on over to a neighboring state in order to perform the operation.

Overturning Roe vs. Wade will not make abortion illegal.

Both parties need to work together in order to accomplish something that is achievable and that both sides can agree on: reducing abortion rates. There are many ways to do this. It has been estimated that we could reduce abortions by 200,000 a year if we just make birth control (the pill) available under medicaid.

Sounds like a pro-life initiative to me.

Don't trust politicians. They want to get elected. If they can get elected simply by stating they are "pro-life" then why would they want to resolve the issue? The fact that abortion is legal helps their campaign. If it were actually made illegal then they would lose their leverage with many Christians who are single issue voters. Is it possible that they would rather cut the umbilical cord than cut off their own foot? i think this should be considered.

Rather than be bamboozled, i believe Christians ought to put pressure on both parties to demonstrate their capability to be the party that most effectively reduces abortion rates. It's not pro-life to ignore reduction solutions in favor of unattainable dreams. It's not enough to want to do something about the problem, we must actually do what is within our means.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Great Melting Pot

(the 3 little white kids are all mine)

While i believe America, especially in its conception, has committed many hurtful practices against non-whites, the great melting pot distinctive of this country is something to be proud of. In fact, it is one of the closest examples of the society of the Kingdom of God based on mixed ethnicity and cultures that you will find on planet earth today.

This summer, as my kids were playing in Millennium Park in Chicago, i watched with deep gratitude as they were running and splashing by the tower falls with kids of all different races. There they were, all splashing alongside one another, weaving in and out of each others tracks. It was a great eye opening experience and i was proud to be part of the great melting pot called America.

My hope is that we Americans will grow in our global identity. The idea that we are a part of humanity at large. Obviously the recent racism against Arabs reveals that we still have a lot of room for growth. Yet the possibility of the election of a black man is one giant leap for mankind...or at least America.

i hope no matter what side of the party lines Americans fall on, that if Obama wins this election, all will be able see beyond partisan politics and be able to celebrate one of the most amazing moments in American history.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Guest Post:: Joe the Pastor

by Jim Wallis 10-24-2008

A new figure has entered the 2008 election campaign. His name is “Joe the plumber,” and his concerns about his future have now entered the message of this political year. He’s the guy Barack Obama met while walking a neighborhood near Toledo, Ohio. Joe asked the candidate whether his taxes might be raised under Obama’s plan — if Joe were to ever succeed in buying his own plumbing business. John McCain heard about Joe the plumber, raised his name in last week’s presidential debate, and has turned him into one of his campaign’s central themes. Joe is now famous.

The whole incident and the media coverage surrounding America’s newest political celebrity has made me think of another figure who may also influence this presidential election: “Joe the pastor.” The views of Joe the plumber and Joe the pastor provide a sharp contrast in moral and political philosophies that may be in conflict this – or any – election year. While most pastors I know have not followed the bad advice of some groups to endorse candidates this year, they have been talking to their congregations about the kind of values that should motivate the voting behavior of their parishioners. And while most are careful not to take partisan sides and divide their congregations — which are made up of Republicans and Democrats — they are preaching about the concerns that people of faith ought to bring into the voting booth.

Liberals often get very angry at working-class voters like Joe the plumber who sometimes vote against their own self-interest because they hope to get rich some day. And conservatives often try to focus those same working-class voters on “wedge issues” that might trump their economic interests. But Joe the pastor is more likely to try to focus the congregation on the values that could trump both self-interest and narrowly conceived “moral issues.” While Joe the plumber seems mostly concerned about what might happen to him, Joe the pastor tries to focus the community of believers on what is going to happen to other people.

It’s called the “common good,” and it finds expression in pulpit preaching across the theological and political spectrum. Many pastors are asking their members to consider how their vote will affect the poor in our country and around the world, the victims of human trafficking, those suffering genocide in places like Darfur, and the threats to God’s creation like climate change. They ask us to focus not just on our problems but on the plight of the most vulnerable, from unborn children to the 30,000 children who die daily around the globe from hunger and disease. Many pastors are now asking their church members to remember the increasing number of people whose homes, jobs, and security is being threatened by the growing economic crisis, or those without health care — some sitting beside them in the pews. Many congregations have families with members in Iraq and Afghanistan, but have profound questions about the wisdom of our strategy in the war against terrorism. Many pastors care about moral issues such as torture and the moral standing of our nation in the world, not merely our political power.

Joe the plumber is mostly asking what could happen to him, but pastors have the obligation to ask their congregants to go deeper than that. In Faithful Citizenship, a helpful pamphlet published for the 2004 election, the United States Catholic Bishops wrote, “Politics in this election year and beyond should be about an old idea with new power — the common good. The central questions should not be, ‘Are you better off than you were four years ago?’ It should be, ‘How can “we” — all of us, especially the weak and vulnerable — be better off in the years ahead? How can we protect and promote human life and dignity? How can we pursue greater justice and peace?”

Asked what he is preaching about this election season to his Vineyard congregation in Columbus, Ohio, evangelical megachurch pastor Rich Nathan said something quite similar: “God is always on the side of the marginalized, the people who are the weakest and poorest. That includes the unborn and their mothers, but it also includes people who lack health insurance and folks who can’t find jobs in a global economy. It includes children and women who are being trafficked into sex slavery, and it includes the people of Darfur.”

Of course, every citizen has the right to ask how their vote will affect them, as Joe the plumber is doing. But we also have the moral obligation to ask how our vote will affect others, our moral responsibilities to our neighbor and our society, and our moral standing and leadership in the world. And for that, I’m glad we will have the influence in this election not only of Joe the plumber, but also Joe (and Joanna) the pastor.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Human Trafficking

Monday, October 20, 2008

A New Conversation on Abortion

by Jim Wallis 10-16-2008

In last evening’s presidential debate, the first steps were taken toward a new national conversation about abortion. For too many years, the old one hadn’t changed very much. It came up every four years during elections and seldom in between. The Republicans repeated that they think abortion should just be completely illegal; and the Democrats repeated their only mantra of a “woman’s right to choose.” And the number of abortions remained mostly unchanged.

“Pro-life” battled “pro-choice” when neither party was really either one. Those positions were more like postures, and they didn’t lead to solutions. What if “pro-life” really meant policies that would protect the precious gift of life wherever it is threatened and aim at dramatically reducing the number of abortions in America? And what if “pro-choice” meant extending the range of real choices available to women – not only to terminate a pregnancy, but also to make the decision to have a child with the necessary economic support, health care, and adoption services?

Last evening, both Barack Obama and John McCain took steps toward finding some possible common ground.

Both said that they would not use Roe v. Wade as a litmus test for appointing Supreme Court Justices in the future.

And both suggested some cultural commitments and policy directions that could be most effective in dramatically reducing abortion. Last night’s debate got that conversation started.

Barack Obama said:

I think that abortion is a very difficult issue, and it is a moral issue and one that I think good people on both sides can disagree on…. This is an issue that — look, it divides us. And in some ways, it may be difficult to — to reconcile the two views. But there surely is some common ground when both those who believe in choice and those who are opposed to abortion can come together and say, “We should try to prevent unintended pregnancies by providing appropriate education to our youth, communicating that sexuality is sacred and that they should not be engaged in cavalier activity, and providing options for adoption, and helping single mothers if they want to choose to keep the baby.” Those are all things that we put in the Democratic platform for the first time this year, and I think that’s where we can find some common ground, because nobody’s pro-abortion. I think it’s always a tragic situation. We should try to reduce these circumstances.

Then John McCain said:

We have to change the culture of America. Those of us who are proudly pro-life understand that. And it’s got to be courage and compassion that we show to a young woman who’s facing this terribly difficult decision. … But that does not mean that we will cease to protect the rights of the unborn. Of course, we have to come together. Of course, we have to work together, and, of course, it’s vital that we do so and help these young women who are facing such a difficult decision, with a compassion, that we’ll help them with the adoptive services, with the courage to bring that child into this world and we’ll help take care of it.

There are indeed profound moral issues involved in the decisions to have or not to have an abortion, and most Americans believe that. Most also believe the abortion rate in America is far too high but are hesitant to completely deny the difficult choice to have one.

Abortion reduction is the clear common ground that could unite the pro-choice and pro-life polarities and bring us together to find some real solutions and finally see some results. John McCain and Barack Obama last evening opened up the possibility of finding some new common ground in reducing abortions, reflecting the 2008 Democratic and Republican platforms. There is also now some movement in the Congress with pro-life and pro-choice members looking for common ground solutions for reducing the number of abortions that are proven to work. New and compelling studies make the clear connection between abortion and poverty, with fully three-fourths of the women who have abortions saying that they just couldn’t afford to have the child. It will be a great day when both poverty reduction and abortion reduction become non-partisan issues and bipartisan causes.

Life is precious. John McCain believes that, Barack Obama believes that, Sarah Palin believes that, and so does Joe Biden. In fact, I’m not sure I have ever met a person who believes otherwise.

Freedom is fundamental. John McCain believes that, Barack Obama believes that, Sarah Palin believes that, and so does Joe Biden. Again, I’m not sure I have ever met a person who believes otherwise.

Americans are for life. Americans are for choice. The challenge for our political leaders, our religious leaders, and every American is to hold freedom and life together even when they seem to collide. We should do all we can to make sure we have as much of both as possible. And we can start by having a better conversation about abortion in this election and beyond. Thankfully, the first steps toward that conversation were taken last evening.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Bright Side of Slavery

I stood dumbfounded as I had to second guess what I was hearing. Did I misunderstand? Did I mishear what was just spoken to me by someone I respect? Could this possibly be considered as justification of one of the most atrocious acts known to humanity?

We were talking politics and somehow we got on the topic of slavery, as often happens when I talk about the days when America was a “Christian Nation”. The gentleman I was talking to was a pastor and very intelligent man, seemingly well versed in his politics.

But what he said was utterly shocking. He talked about the bright side of slavery and how it may have actually worked out to be a great benefit to Africans. He spoke of a young slave girl named Phillis Wheatley (slave name) who was bought off the auction block in order to care for someone’s ailing mother (having been stolen from her own). Phillis was treated well as far as comparison goes. She was taught to read and write, and became a great poet, writing patriotic verse. She even got to meet with George Washington.

Here is an excerpt from one of her poems:

‘Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Savior too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
“Their colour is a diabolic die.”
Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.

The argument was that since blacks were introduced to Christianity, their predicament actually was for the better. If they were left in Africa, they would not have had such a great opportunity.

Lord have mercy,
Christ have mercy,
Lord have mercy.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Presidential CampCain and the Boston Massacre

The other day I was asked a trivia question by someone who happened upon it in a magazine: “How many people were killed in the Boston Massacre?” I knew there were ridiculously few, so I answered “eight”. “No, five” the person replied.

I didn’t think much of it at the time. It’s one of those interesting facts that most of us don’t know. Yet it is extremely relevant for today. Why? Well, let’s discuss a little American history.

British Parliament placed a tax on imported products such as glass, lead, paints, paper, and tea. Samuel Adams (the person not the beer) protested and called for a boycott against the new tax. The British government sent soldiers to Boston in order to collect the tax. A riot broke out and five colonists were killed. Yet Adams wanted the American’s to become enraged and retaliate. Since what happened was unremarkable in-and-of itself, he dubbed the conflict “The Boston Massacre” in order exaggerate the event and inflame anti-British sentiments.

…It worked.

Now back to the year 2008 and the presidential campaign. I am greatly disturbed by the white Evangelical response to the smear campaigning that is going on. Stories made up of half-truths are being spun in order to induce fear and by far it is the Christians who are consuming the lies in one swallow. Christians are telling me how they are afraid. They insist that Obama is an “admitted Muslim” who was planted in order to overthrow our country. Some have even told me they believe that if he wins then he must be the anti-Christ. This wasn’t a joke or exaggeration.

Friends, there was a riot in Boston, but there was no massacre. Samuel Adams was a politician with an agenda. When the truth couldn’t evoke enough fear or anger, then suggestive word associations would fuel the flames of fear and anger.

Christians have an obligation to seek out the truth and to refrain from gossip and false accusations. While I don’t believe these brothers and sisters intend to “lie” they also don’t intend to be sure of the truth.

When CNN and the Huffington Post cited Palin as having cut funding to special needs kids I was upset as well. These were reputable sources, not financed by campaign money or fwd: by email. I slipped and mentioned it to someone before waiting a couple of days to check the facts. I was so embarrassed when I found out it wasn’t true. I wrote a letter of apology to the person even though they didn’t know I was wrong.

Christians, we ought to be embarrassed by our behavior. We are being bamboozled by a political campaign and used as pawns in a game we are sure to lose if we allow ourselves to be played like this.

How many times did they falsely accuse our Lord and spin half-truths before the crowd started yelling "crucify him"?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Guest Post: Acceptable Racism?

Editor's note: Campbell Brown anchors CNN's "Campbell Brown: Election Center" at 8 p.m. ET Mondays through Fridays. She delivered this commentary during the "Cutting through the Bull" segment of Monday night's broadcast.

NEW YORK (CNN) -- You may find it hard to believe that this remains an issue in this campaign, but it does.

Campbell Brown says it's on the record that Sen. Barack Obama is a Christian, but why should that matter?

Campbell Brown says it's on the record that Sen. Barack Obama is a Christian, but why should that matter?

The candidates, both candidates, are still getting questions about Barack Obama's ethnicity and religion. If you are even semi-informed, then by now you already know that of course, Barack Obama is an American.

Of course, Barack Obama is a Christian. Yet just a few days ago, there was a woman at a rally for John McCain incorrectly calling Obama an Arab:

Woman at rally: I don't trust Obama. I have read about him and he's an Arab.

Sen. John McCain: No ma'am, no ma'am. He's a decent family man, citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues. That's what this campaign is all about. He's not, thank you.

Now, I commend Sen. McCain for correcting that woman, for setting the record straight. But I do have one question -- so what if he was?

So what if Obama was Arab or Muslim? So what if John McCain was Arab or Muslim? Would it matter?

When did that become a disqualifier for higher office in our country? When did Arab and Muslim become dirty words? The equivalent of dishonorable or radical?

Whenever this gets raised, the implication is that there is something wrong with being an Arab-American or a Muslim. And the media is complicit here, too. Video Watch Campbell's commentary »

We've all been too quick to accept the idea that calling someone Muslim is a slur.

I feel like I am stating the obvious here, but apparently it needs to be said: There is a difference between radical Muslims who support jihad against America and Muslims who want to practice their religion freely and have normal lives like anyone else.

There are more than 1.2 million Arab-Americans and about 7 million Muslim-Americans, former Cabinet secretaries, members of Congress, successful business people, normal average Americans from all walks of life.

These are the people being maligned here, and we can only imagine how this conversation plays in the Muslim world. We can't tolerate this ignorance -- not in the media, not on the campaign trail.

Of course, he's not an Arab. Of course, he's not a Muslim. But honestly, it shouldn't matter.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Happy Columbus Day

i always think it's appropriate to give a salute to our heroes. So a standing O for Christopher Columbus who in 1492 sailed the ocean blue. He arrived in the new land which held the hope of liberty and freedom.

That is if you weren't an Indian. What is an Indian? That is what Chris called the Native American's when he thought he had landed in the Indies.

The first Indians Columbus encountered were the Arawaks. This is what he had to say about the first encounter as recorded in his journal:

"They...brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks' bells. They willingly traded everything they owned.... They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features... They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane.... They would make fine servants.... With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want."

And that's what they did. They enslaved this and other "Indian" tribes. Some they used as slaves on their own land and others they packed into boats and shipped back to the homeland.

"As soon as I arrived in the Indies, on the first Island which I found, I took some of the natives by force in order that they might learn and might give me information of whatever there is in these parts."

What information could Columbus have wanted? The location of gold. That's what he came to find. Gold and slaves.

Columbus reported to the Court in Madrid that the Indians "are so naive and so free with their possessions that no one who has not witnessed them would believe it. When you ask for something they have, they never say no. To the contrary, they offer to share with anyone..." He concluded his report by asking for a little help from their Majesties, and in return he would bring them from his next voyage "as much gold as they need...and as many slaves as they ask."

He was a devote Christian man full of praise to the Lord:
"Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold."

Salute: Christopher Columbus, an American Hero

(A People's History of the United States 1492 - Present by Howard Zinn)

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Political Correctness

i really respected McCain's recent responses to his supporters who are demonizing Obama. Though his campaign may be part of the reason for the demonizing. The statements in this video are all too familiar upon the lips of Evangelical Christians and i am glad that McCain is being reasonable and now helping us to act and think in a civil manner. Sometimes when we try so hard to fight what we think is the devil, we find ourselves being his pawns.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Give us this day our daily Bread

i must admit, Christianity is very diverse, and as frustrating as this is for the Christian, it must sound ridiculous to those who can't bring themselves to "believe". The question for many is not whether to believe or not believe, but "what to believe".

Election season of course brings out sharp contrasts in faith. For instance, i had to laugh when i looked across the table tonight at a church meeting to see an older woman wearing an Obama pin with "Victory" on it. Sitting on the side of her was a woman who's home i just visited today. She had a signed McCain/Palin picture taped to her outside door for all visitors to see on the way in. She believes Palin was hand picked by God and that a Republican win this election year is a Christian win. Both of these ladies are marvelous people. i had to laugh, but i remained silent about my observation.

Then, in our community preaching bible study we discussed the Lord's prayer. This time we focused on "Give us this day our daily bread". We talked about how it is not "my" daily bread but "our" daily bread. That when we have an abundance, we are responsible to redistribute to the part of "us" that does not have enough. We talked about how "daily bread" is simply what we need for "today" and not excess and prosperity. Those things may be nice, but they are not essential in God's eyes. Finally, i suggested that this verse does not guarantee us enough to eat, or shelter, or anything concerning this temporal world. Many who believe have starved, suffered at the hands of others, and died early deaths. Our needs run deeper than physical sustenance. Jesus himself said, "Man does not live on bread alone".

Finally, i quoted Gandhi in saying, "God has provided enough for everyone's need, but not enough for everyone's greed". It is the idea that when a child starves to death it is not because God failed to provide, but because humanity failed to properly distribute. There is suffering and death and much of it is due to our unwillingness to care for others. It is the unwillingness to accept that it is "our daily bread" and not "my daily bread".

Then i was challenged by someone with a different theological view. Sometimes i'm o.k with this. Other times i find it utterly frustrating. The view was that even people in 3rd world countries would be provided what they need if they had enough faith to believe God for it.

i truly like this person, but i was angry. i wanted to erupt. i was angry at all those who promulgate this message. i wanted to see God's wrath fall down upon "those false teachers" who trick such good people into believing such things. But instead i calmly replied that i didn't necessarily agree with that because the New Testament shows all the apostles and many believers suffering, even to the point of death. Paul himself declared that many times he'd gone hungry and been close to death, and other times he's had plenty, but learned to be content in both situations.

i tiptoed. i had to because i've got to respect other people's interpretations and beliefs. i've got to admit that maybe i'm not completely right and maybe i'm even wrong.
Yes, sometimes Christian belief is very frustrating indeed.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Guest Post: Where is our hope?

Filed under: Public Issues — Scot McKnight @ 12:30 am

This was published in my monthly column on the Out of Ur blog.

Somewhere between 6pm and 8pm, Central Time, on November 4th, 2008, the eschatology of American evangelicals will become clear. If John McCain wins and the evangelical becomes delirious or confident that the Golden Days are about to arrive, that evangelical has an eschatology of politics. Or, alternatively, if Barack Obama wins and the evangelical becomes delirious or confident that the Golden Days are about to arrive, that evangelical too has an eschatology of politics. Or, we could turn each around, if a more Democrat oriented evangelical becomes depressed and hopeless because McCain wins, or if a Republican oriented evangelical becomes depressed or hopeless because Obama wins, those evangelicals are caught in an empire-shaped eschatology of politics.

Where is our hope? To be sure, I hope our country solves its international conflicts and I hope we resolve poverty and dissolve our educational problems and racism. But where does my hope turn when I think of war or poverty or education or racism? Does it focus on November 4? Does it gain its energy from thinking that if we get the right candidate elected our problems will be dissolved? If so, I submit that our eschatology has become empire-shaped, Constantinian, and political. And it doesn’t matter to me if it is a right-wing evangelical wringing her fingers in hope that a Republican wins, or a left-wing evangelical wringing her fingers in hope that a Democrat wins. Each has a misguided eschatology.

Now before I take another step, it must be emphasized that I participate in the election; and I think it makes a difference which candidate wins; and I think from my own limited perspective one candidate is better than the other.

But, participation in the federal election dare not be seen as the lever that turns the eschatological designs God has for this world. Where is our hope? November 4 may tell us. What I hope it reveals is that:

Our hope is in God. The great South African missiologist, David Bosch, in his book Transforming Mission impressed upon many of us that the church’s mission is not in fact the “church’s” mission but God’s mission. Our calling is to participate in the missio Dei, the mission of God in this world. So, at election time we can use the season to re-align our mission with the mission of God. Therein lies our hope.

Our hope is in the gospel of God. God’s mission is gospel-shaped. Some today want to reduce gospel to what we find in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, while others want to expand it to bigger proportions (and I’m one of the latter), we would do well at election time to re-align ourselves once again with the gospel as God’s good news for our world. Therein lies our hope.

Our hope is in the gospel of God that creates God’s people. God’s gospel-shaped mission creates a new people of God. In fact, the temptation of good Protestants to skip from Genesis 3 (the Fall) to Romans 3 (salvation) must be resisted consciously. We need to soak up how God’s gospel-shaped work always and forever creates a gospel people. The first thing God does with Abraham is to form a covenant people, Israel, and Jesus’ favorite word was “kingdom,” and Paul was a church-obsessed theologian-missionary. Herein lies the challenge at election time. We are tempted to divide the USA into the good and the bad and to forget that the gospel has folks on both sides of political lines. Even more: we are tempted to think that the winners of the election are those who are blessed by God when the blessing of God is on God’s people. God’s gospel-powered mission creates a new people, the church, where we are to see God’s mission at work. Therein lies our hope.

Our hope is in the gospel of God that creates a kind of people that extends God’s gospel to the world. Chris Wright’s big book, The Mission of God, reminds us that election is missional: God creates the people of God not so the people of God can compare themselves to those who are not God’s people, but so that God’s people will become a priesthood in this world to mediate the mission of God, so that all hear the good news that God’s grace is the way forward.

Our hope is in God’s mission in this world, and that mission transcends what happens November 4th.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Date with Death

Well, it's official. i will die on August 2, 2025. If i weren't so pessimistic i could add another 25 years to my life. But how boring those years would be!!!

Want to know when you're going to die? Check out the death clock.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Why i Stopped Killing People

i recognize that Muslim extremists are a real threat to democracy and freedom. i realize that "doing nothing" could lead to the end of the way of life as i know it (or want it). i know what seems to be reasonable and rational. Yet, as a Christian i feel i have no choice but to depart from the ideology of "kill or be killed".

When what seems to be reasonable or rational places me in contradiction to the teachings of Christ, i must make a choice. Yes, the Scriptures tell us to adhere to our government. Yet this is only in as much as what they require is lawful and not contradictory to what God requires of me. When the law of the land departs from the teaching of Christ, i must depart from the law of the land.

The Christian war cry rises up along side the average American citizen. There is no difference between the citizen of the Kingdom of God and the citizen of the kingdom of the world. We take up our arms and fight along side one another for "freedom", "liberty" and "democracy". We fight to maintain the kingdoms of this world and to preserve "our way". Yet the cry of Jesus from the cross is one that calls us to lay down our arms. It calls out forgiveness upon our enemy even as they plunge their sword into our side. It does not fight to maintain the ideals of this world, and refuses to use force, violence, or coercion to advance the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is the only Kingdom the Christian is called to take a stand for, and only through the use of the weapons the Lord has given us.

To love our enemy.
To bless those who curse us.
To do good to those who harm us.
To forgive even as we have been forgiven.

And so we pray as the Lord has taught us:

Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.

Forgive us our sins,
as we also forgive those who sin against us.

Lead us not into testing,
but deliver us from the evil one.

Could it be that the evil one tempts us to follow our own logic and reasoning? Would he dare test us by telling us to look for ourselves and determine what is good and pleasing to the eye (or mind).

When the government, or patriotic Christian brother comes a knocking and asks you to pay tribute to the emperor, what will you say? When he speaks to you of your duty and obligation for your country and the need to protect the kingdom, what will you do? When he tells you that it is a shame but you must choose the lesser of two evils and take up sword against your enemy, how will you respond? When he tries to convince you that your theology is unrealistic and idealistic, what will you think? When he reminds you that we are not Christ and therefore cannot respond as he did, nor should we, what will you believe?

Christian, you must come out of the world and stop fighting for its' causes, and instead take up the cause of Christ. If his kingdom were of this world then his angels would fight to protect it. Yet he has shown us another Kingdom, another way, another response to terror.

And though a friend might die for another friend, Christ died for us while we were yet his enemies. Be perfect (whole) therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and his rain to fall on the righteous and unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward do you deserve? Even Muslim terrorists do that. "But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven."

This is the Christian response to terrorism, hate, and persecution. Anyone who tells you different finds themselves teaching contradictory to Christ himself. The quote above is from Matthew's Gospel, written to Jewish Christians who were suffering persecution. It was a manual on how the Christian is to respond to those who hate, abuse, and kill them. You will find no other teaching under the New Covenant. Should we teach or even accept some other way?

Who might have the boldness of Joshua, who in the face of national pressure to conform to their reasoning and logic would say:

"Choose you this day whom you will serve. As for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord."

(This post was inspired by watching CNN's documentary "Obsession" which was given to me by a Christian very concerned about what we have to do to stop terrorists from infringing upon our freedom. Get your free copy by following the link above.)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Pastoral Politics

[CNN ran a news piece on 30 pastors who will be telling their congregations who to vote for on Sunday morning in open defiance of the law. See the news video below.]

In America we confuse our politics with our faith. Certainly their is some overlap, in that all people should vote according to their beliefs and convictions. Yet our political parties do not represent faith or any particular religion. They are secular. You may find that you share some common values, but it is impossible for a secular government to be "Christian". Therefore, it is impossible for a political party to be the "Christian" party. This is why Christians are divided amongst themselves along partisan lines.

That being said, the pulpit is no place to back a political candidate as "God's choice". Whatever happens in our personal conversations is open for personal opinion, but what happens from the pulpit ought to represent the teachings of Christ for all people. When you back a politician from the pulpit you are now using it as a platform to endorse the message of a human being, who you don't even truly know beyond campaign adds and a partial voting history.

Instead the pulpit is to be used to bridge the 2000yr gap between text and culture, in order to clearly demonstrate the meaning of the ancient message for today. It is from that oration the individual or group is to meditate on how to live out the teaching as God directs and leads. When we start specifying who it is others ought to vote for based on select positions, we are overthrowing the role of the Word and Spirit and going beyond what the text allows.

Again, what you say in the context of any ordinary platform is open to personal opinion. But when you speak from the pulpit you are not speaking for yourself, and if ever you feel the need to, you must lay out that disclaimer clearly.

It is interesting that James Dobson declared he could not back McCain because it would conflict with his biblical values. Later he changed his mind and was determined to go for the lesser of two evils. Now the Evangelical Right is boldly proclaiming McCain as God's pick and pastor's are stepping up to the pulpit challenging the laws of separation of Church and State under the false presumption that they are speaking for God. So when they have their tax exempt status pulled from them they will praise God as though they were martyrs for the cause. The problem is, half the Church thinks they are hearing impaired.

Let's stop pretending to be prophets anointing the new King. This is really a desperate attempt to back a candidate they see as having a strong likelihood of losing an election and they just can't stand to see their team get beat. This mixture of fear and anger they mistakenly identify as the inner voice of God.

Let's stop doing God a disfavor by advocating our partisan politics from the pulpit, and thereby embarrassing ourselves and putting ourselves in contempt of the One True Throne.

If you want to state your political opinions, get a blog.

Monday, September 22, 2008

New American National Version (NANV)

(Sample Text)
Matthew 5: 38 You've heard that it was said, 'eye for eye and tooth for tooth', but I say to you, 'launch a preemptive strike upon your enemy and there will be no need for retaliation'.

Note: They say this translation is based on the earliest and most reliable Greek manuscripts, but they only cited secondary sources. Got to be careful these days.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Non-Violent Retaliation toward Transformation

We usually think of Exodus 21:24 an "eye for an eye" as a common justification for our mistreatment of others. Yet in the Ancient Near East, this was a very conservative retribution code. It was not a code to answer the question of what is permissible and excusable, but a code that didn't allow us to retaliate beyond what was called for, thereby continuing the vicious cycle of violence. We know that "getting even" usually means hurting the person who hurt us in a way that they'll regret what they did.

Still, Jesus tells us that this Law code is no longer in play (Matt 5:38-48). Instead we ought to use non-hostile forms of retaliation which do not attack, but instead expose the crime in such a way that it allows the offender to recognize the shame of the offense.

"If someone hits you on the right cheek, turn to him the other as well". In other words, if someone backhands you (a most grievous form of humiliation in the ANE) turn to them the other cheek which forces them to strike you as an equal.

"If someone takes your tunic (underclothes), give them your cloak (coat, outer clothes) as well". It was illegal to take someones cloak, because it would leave the poor person completely naked. Jesus tells them to hand it to the person as well so they can be disgraced by their actions of taking the "clothes off our backs". Expose the exploitation for what it is.

"If someone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles". Roman soldiers were allowed to force civilians to help them carry burdonsome supplies for up to a mile. This law was suppose to be to help the soldiers during difficult travel circumstances. Instead these soldiers exploited and humiliated the people by forcing them to carry even light loads that they didnt' need help with. Going the extra mile actually puts the soldier in danger of breaking the law. It also takes away the humiliation that was intended.

This is the way of Jesus, Ghandi, and Martin Luther King. Yet it is a difficult path to follow in a culture which clings to its personal rights and freedoms. Yet this type of response has the ability to transform the oppressor and exploiter. The question is, do we want retaliation or transformation?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Moving the Abortion Debate Beyond Partisan Purists (by Tony Campolo)

In books and speeches, I have often said that God is neither a Democrat nor a Republican. I have contended that to make either party "The God Party" is idolatry. This, however, does not mean that Christians should abandon political activism. It has been said that all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. Consequently, I have long called for Christians to be involved in both political parties, striving to be the "leaven" that permeates both parties with biblically-based judgments and values derived from Christian beliefs.

Taking my own advice, this year I played a part in framing the abortion plank of the Democratic Party's platform. I helped the party to take what some have called a "historic step" by having the party become committed to abortion reduction.

More than 60 percent of all abortions are economically driven. The reality is that without provisions for hospital coverage; pre- and post-natal care; maternity leave so that a woman giving birth will not lose her job; and nursing assistance to help single mothers transition into parenthood, millions of women who want to carry their pregnancies to term will not do so.

The good news is that, with help from Jim Wallis and others, the party platform now calls for these needs to be met. It also calls for educational programs to reduce unwanted pregnancies, with room for the teaching of abstinence, and asks for government agencies to make adoptions easier.

These achievements were lauded by Democrats for Life and by the Catholic Alliance for Life. While at the Democratic National Convention, religious leaders of other faith traditions personally thanked me for my efforts. Even leaders of some pro-choice organizations hailed this compromise, claiming that at last they could find some common ground with pro-life advocates.

Purists, on the other hand, have had hard words for me, claiming that I should not have been involved in any way with a political party that is pro-choice. While I understand their desire to settle for nothing less than the overturning of Roe vs. Wade, I nevertheless believe that my decision to work for abortion reduction was a good one.

Consider these questions: If 10 children are drowning in a swimming pool, and you can only save six of them, should you save the six? Or, should you wait until help arrives that can save them all, even if you know that the six you could save will be lost in the meantime?

To my Christian brothers and sisters who are part of the party that has a pro-life platform, I have to ask whether they are willing to hold the Republican Party to its pro-life commitments. For several years, the Republicans controlled the White House and both houses of Congress, and had a Supreme Court wherein seven of its nine judges were Republican appointees. Yet no effort was made to overturn Roe vs. Wade -- and very little pressure to do something about this was put on Republican leaders by Evangelicals who had given them 82 percent of their votes in 2004. And, are they willing to demand that provisions such as I worked for in the Democratic platform become policies of their party? To fail to do so would be to protect the unborn child and then abandon that child and the mother in the delivery room. And do not raise the matter of how much money these proposals will cost. We all know better than that.

For those who condemn any compromise on this divisive issue of abortion, may I suggest that they consider not paying their taxes since they are financing a government that supports a woman's right to have an abortion -- and in some instances even puts money into organizations that perform them.

There are legitimate concerns about my actions, but I decided that if some of the unborn could be saved, it would be wrong for me not to do what I could to save them.

Tony Campolo
Tony Campolo is founder of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education (EAPE) and professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University.

This post originated from the God's Politics blog.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

We Need to Find that Little Black Book

i've always been involved in social justice related work. i've worked in drug/alcohol rehabs and groups homes for the developmentally disabled. Currently i'm a pastor with a social justice emphasis, which is simply a part of advancing the Kingdom of God on earth. Yet i've always helped minister to the problem, not alleviate the problem. These are two different objectives.

As Martin Luther King once said, "It is a good thing to help the battered man who has been left for dead on the side of the road. But after you've pulled countless numbers of people out of the ditches, you start to think that maybe something needs to be done concerning the road itself." (This was my rendition. See here for a transcript.)

So my question is, how do we fix the road? How do we get organized enough to reclaim a government "of the people, by the people, for the people". How do we encourage the great majority to stop viewing themselves as a minority and reclaim their voices to shape our society for the common good?

i find the most difficult part about becoming a social activist is not simply knowing where to begin. This is the most difficult part of being a citizen as well. Every four years we vote, but after the vote, we feel powerless. We don't know the names, phone numbers, or avenues to advance our causes.

i believe the beginning of effective social justice at the grassroots level is simply connecting the common people to the issues and pathways of political pressure. Big Business has a little black book that we need to get ahold of.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

For Whom the Bell Tolls

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manner of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

John Donne (no man is an island)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Communicating Christ?

i do think we send some mixed messages. The traditional evangelism approach is to tell of Jesus' love while motivating conversion through the fear of him. No wonder people are confused.

i personally think we misunderstand both salvation and hell. We put it into physical rather than relational terms. Therefore, salvation = heaven while hell = fire/torture.

Actually, i think both are very wrong. In biblical terms salvation = relationship with God and one another, while the opposite = lack of relationship. Hell is always used metaphorically in the Scriptures and the only thing we know for sure about it is that it's where God is not. Therefore, hell is lack of relationship with God.

Now you'll ask, is there a place where God is not present?



Does that mean hell is eternal annihilation?

i don't know. i told you, anything we say beyond hell as a lack of relationship with God is purely speculative.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Guest Post: Kermit T. Frog

When Bad Things Happen to Good Frogs

Why do Bad Things Happen? What can we do once they happen to us?

I recently brought together several of our most brilliant and available minds, each with its own peculiar take on why bad things happen and what you can do about it.

Our participants in this roundtable included Dr. Bunsen Honeydew of Muppet Labs, representing the scientific opinion; Miss Piggy, representing the diva worldview; Floyd Pepper, representing the transcendentally adjusted perspective; and Pepe the King Prawn, representing himself. I served as moderator and also got stuck cleaning up afterward. The following is a transcript of the proceedings.

KERMIT: Thank you all for being here today.

PIGGY: Oh, Kermie, moi wouldn’t have missed it for the world!

PEPE: Si, she heard that food was being served, okay.

FLOYD: That’s one for the Prawn, zip for Miss Fatback.

PIGGY: Watch it, or bad things are going to be happening to you two.

KERMIT: Which brings us to the first topic of today’s discussion: Why do bad things happen to good people, frogs, prawns, and so on? Dr. Honeydew?

DR. HONEYDEW: Thank you, Mr. Frog. I’m so glad you asked. You see, Beaker and I have developed several theorems and a variety of formula related to negative occurrence and its impact on experientiality.

FLOYD: Sorry to hear that, Doc. That’s gotta itch like crazy. I got some organic extract of oleander ointment that’ll clear that up in two shakes.

DR. HONEYDEW: Oh, thank you, but I already had some this morning. What i‘m trying to say is that we discovered the two reasons why bad things happen.

PEPE: Bet you one of ‘em is a pig.

PIGGY: It’s gonna be, for you, shrimp. THWACK!


DR. HONEYDEW: The first reason that bad things happen is “by accident.”

KERMIT: So sometimes bad things just happen; they’re nobody’s fault?

DR. HONEYDEW: Precisely! Have you been peeking at our research?

KERMIT: No, I just have a knack for extrapolating the obvious. Well, I guess if some bad things are no one’s fault, then we don’t have to find someone to blame.

PIGGY: Speak for yourself, Frog. If it happens to moi, someone’s gonna pay.

KERMIT: And it’s usually me. Now, Dr. Honeydew, if I may be so bold—or at least so foolish—what is the second reason that bad things happen?

DR. HONEYDEW: On purpose.

DR. HONEYDEW: A malevolent force acting upon an undeserving object creates a distinctly unpleasant causal relationship.

FLOYD: You folks are gonna need something stronger than oleander to clear that up. Ever soak in oatmeal?

PIGGY: Ooh! All the time!

PEPE: Remind me to skip breakfast for the next few weeks, okay.

KERMIT: So, Dr. Honeydew, to put it more clearly, you could say that sometimes bad people do bad things to other people on purpose?

DR. HONEYDEW: We could put it that way, but then we’d never see another dime from the National Institute for Perplexing Jargon.

KERMIT: We wouldn’t want that. But perhaps you can answer the obvious follow-up question: Why do these bad people do bad things to other people?

DR. HONEYDEW: Not a clue. We’ll need more funding.

PEPE: Hey, where do I sign up to get on this gravy train, okay?

PIGGY: Oh, is there gravy? Pass it down!

PEPE: It was a figure of speech, okay.

PIGGY: Whatever. Pass the gravy!

FLOYD: Speaking of figures, Piggy, maybe you oughta pass on this gravy train.

PIGGY: I might be extremely offended if I had the foggiest idea what you were talking about. Fortunately for vous, I don’t speak your particular patois.

DR. HONEYDEW: Ooh, there’s patois!? Send it down! And pass the crackers!

KERMIT: If I may try to return to the topic. Now that we’ve sort of figured out why bad things happen, let’s move on to our second topic: What can we do about it? Anyone?

PEPE: I’m moving to another seat, away from you-know-who, okay.

KERMIT: Good idea, Pepe. In fact, by moving your seat, you’re actually demonstrating a strategy for dealing with difficult people.

PEPE: What do I win?

KERMIT: You don’t win anything. But you have illustrated a very effective way to deal with bad things: Get away from them.

DR. HONEYDEW: Mr. Frog is correct. It is completely legitimate to seek refuge away from the person causing the discomfort. This is known in the scientific and cowardly community as the Gedd-Oudaheer Imperative. And Miss Piggy and Pepe, you two did a fine job of demonstrating its effectiveness.

FLOYD: But other than runnin’ away scared, isn’t there something else we can do when bad things happen?

PIGGY: Oh, I know! You can sue them! Any diva worth her press clippings simply adores a good long legal battle. It can keep vous in the tabloids and on those TV entertainment shows for months!

KERMIT: Well, that’s not exactly what I had in mind.

FLOYD: Y’mean, our bus? Yeah, we’re looking’ for it too.

KERMIT: No, I mean that approach to dealing with bad things. You take something negative and turn it into something positive.

PIGGY: I still say they’d be better off suing.

KERMIT: I believe that we can all learn from our difficulties.

DR. HONEYDEW: I concur with Mr. Frog. Even the worst of situations an have a postivie outcome. Or a s Beaker always says: “Meep-meep-meep-meep.”

KERMIT: Could you translate? My meep-meep is a tad rusty these days.

DR. HONEYDEW: Of course. “if I ever get out of this, I’ll never do it again.”

KERMIT: And on that note, thank you all for coming here today.

PIGGY: What do we do now?

DR. HONEYDEW: I don’t know about you, but I’ve got dibs on the patois.

I hope the above conversation was helpful, although I strongly doubt it. But if nothing else, it demonstrates how different individuals react when bad things happen. Some, like Dr. Honeydew, are curious and eager to learn more. Some, like Pepe, are evasive, doing their best to be somewhere else as quickly as possible. Some, like Miss Piggy, are willing to fight back or to hire someone who charges by the hour to fight back for them. A lucky few, like Floyd Pepper, aren’t quite sure what happened and won’t remember it afterwards, so what difference does it make Anyway? But, for many like myself, the only way to deal with difficult times is to accept them and learn form the experience. And what have I learned? I’m so glad you asked, because I just happen to have here…