Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Ancient-Modern Slavery

God heard the cry of his people as they labored long hours under their Egyptian slave masters. They were building a profitable empire for and filling the wine glasses of their oppressors, while themselves drinking from the dregs of civilization.

Their hands were bruised from breaking rocks all day.*

Why did God consider their situation slavery? After all, they had homes (shanties) to live in, families to remain with, food on the table, and all the "necessities" of life. We know this because while they were traveling through the wilderness to the Promised Land they reminisced about the meat they used to eat back in Egypt.

In no uncertain terms, they were slaves. They were provided with food and shelter, but it was not adequate compensation, and when someone is being desperately under compensated for their arduous labor, within a system that strategically eliminates any viable alternatives, we call it slavery.

While slavery within our borders has been legally abolished, citizens of our country unwittingly partake in slavery all over the world by their exploitation of poverty stricken lands and their citizens. Human beings are forced into hard labor for a mere fraction of what their toil is worth. They slave long hours to bring home a meager pay, that hardly allows them to put food on their tables, let alone upgrade from their shanties and mud huts.

We might even discover ourselves to be slave drivers, unleashing the whip of our affordable consumerism upon the backs of the exploited. We may not know their names, nor have we ever seen their faces, yet we reinforce their predicament through our global empire and unfair trade practices. i find it difficult to type, having not completely relinquished the whip from my own hand. i am now willing to admit that the only reason unfair international trade practices continue to exist is because i support them through my personal consumer habits.

Thank you to Jodi for introducing me to "the better world shopping guide". A guide for loosening our grip on the whip of exploitative consumerism.

True freedom only comes when we free ourselves from the socially acceptable customs that serve only to advance our own personal empires. Though God's people suffered the tyranny of exploitative consumerism themselves, they would later be guilty of partaking in the same practices.

"Moses may have freed their bodies, but Pharaoh still colonized their conscience." -Shane Claiborne in "Jesus for President"

*Alice in Chains, "No Excuses"

Friday, March 20, 2009

Ain't No Reason

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Good Samaritan

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life's roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

MLK in "Beyond Vietnam"

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Great Abandonement

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also."

This saying of Christ removes the Church from the sphere of politics and law. The Church is not to be a national community like the old Israel, but a community of believers without political or national ties. The old Israel had been both--the chosen people of God and a national community, and it was therefore his will that they should meet force with force. But with the Church it is different: it has abandoned political and national status, and therefore it must patiently endure aggression. Otherwise evil will be heaped upon evil. Only thus can fellowship be established and maintained.

At this point it becomes evident that when a Christian meets with injustice, he no longer clings to his rights and defends them at all costs. He is absolutely free from possessions and bound to Christ alone. Again, his witness to this exclusive adherence to Jesus creates the only workable basis for fellowship, and leaves the aggressor for him to deal with.

...Retaliation merely creates further evil and adds fuel to the flames. But when evil meets no opposition and encounters no obstacle but only patient endurance, its sting is drawn, and at last it meets an opponent which is more than its match. Of course this can only happen when the last ounce of resistance is abandoned, and the renunciation of revenge is complete. Then evil cannot find its mark, it can breed no further evil, and is left barren.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer
, The Cost of Discipleship

Monday, March 16, 2009


"What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love."


(The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. ed. by Clayborne Carson, p.324-325)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Military Spending

"A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."

MLK in "Beyond Vietnam" 1967

Saturday, March 14, 2009

"In God We Trust"

All American currency carries the slogan "In God We Trust". Israel, the only nation that was specifically "chosen" by God for a certain time and purpose, was called to be utterly dependent upon God. The Scriptures clearly told Israel to trust in God, not horses and chariots Ps 20.7.

Today, we consider prosperity and military might as signs of God's blessing and special relationship with our nation. The US spent 711 billion dollars in military expenses in 2008, accounting for 48% of the worlds military expenditures. The next largest spender is China, who spent 122 billion in 2008, accounting for 8.28% of world military expenditures. After these countries spending begins dropping to 70, 50, 30 billion and less. The US dwarfs all countries in military spending.

"In God We Trust"???

Christians vehemently oppose removing this slogan from our currency. Yet this is the same currency used to support such massive expenditures for the greatest war machine the world has ever known. Seems a bit ironic. Are Christians more concerned with nostalgic thoughts concerning the foundation of the country than the actual truth of what we place our trust in? Is fighting to retain the slogan in some way defending a lie?

Every nations believes God is on their side. In fact, it has been said that the only reason we believe in "God & Country" is because so many people are unwilling to sacrifice for their country alone. When you involve religion, you add a whole new dynamic that people are not only willing to die for, but to kill for as well. Most wars throughout history have been "religiously" motivated. Yet there is a difference in being religiously motivated and the actual underlining reasons for war, which typically have to do with personal prosperity.

Surely there is something to say for "defending" the oppressed. Yet even in this we must be extremely careful. It becomes very easy to justify atrocity and selfish motives when you can rationalize it away as somehow serving a greater purpose or good. When you look at the the conflicts we choose to enter and those we ignore, it becomes questionable as to what is truly motivating us.

What if we cut down our military spending to 244 billion a year. We would still be spending 100% more than China, yet we would have nearly 500 billion to spend elsewhere. How might we use 500 billion dollars to wage peace worldwide in a more efficient and effective way than military force?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Working It Out: Thoughts on Nationalism

For the next few weeks i will be working out some thoughts concerning the Church & Nationalism. These thoughts will primarily be launched by interacting with Shane Claiborn's Jesus for President. i am increasingly disturbed by the whole idea of "God & Country" and see it at odds with consistent Christianity (Kingdom of God theology). Though i do believe Christians are to be upstanding citizens of any country they are in, always striving to make it a better and just society. Sometimes this looks like resistance to the empire, as in the example of MLK and nonviolent resistance. Nonviolent resistance is also a primary interest of mine, and so i am developing thoughts on this issue as well, reading various works including early Christian documents, MLK, Ghandi and others .

Again, these are just thoughts that i am working out. While i may speak strongly for a certain position, these positions are subject to change as i look at the issues from various angles. Even Bishop Tutu recently called for military action (UN peacekeepers) to be deployed in Zimbabwe to enforce the outcome of the recent democratic elections. Bishop Tutu is known to have been a strong proponent of nonviolent resistance in South Africa during the struggle to overcome apartheid. The call for military intervention was very surprising coming from him. i still wrestle with such thoughts myself, being a member of Amnesty International, an organization that sometimes calls for military intervention. i definitely see the benefit of peacekeeping units, though i am still searching for other nonviolent solutions.

Again, i am primarily dealing with the Christian response and position within national and governmental involvement, especially as it relates to the use of military force. Yet also as it relates to the use of governmental power for various forms of legislation, especially the imposing of Christian personal values on the masses, even of those who do not embrace the personal ideals of the Christian faith.

Today i'll simply begin with a quote from Tony Campolo:

"Mixing the church and state is like mixing ice cream with cow manure. It may not do much to the manure, but it sure messes up the ice cream."

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

An Alternative

From Sojourners

It's just days away. Next Tuesday marks six years of the Iraq war. And, while not as often discussed, battle has been waged in Afghanistan for more than seven years.

Sojourners has continually challenged the idea that military solutions will solve the root causes of extremism and global economic disparity. We will continue to proclaim the truth to our leaders and the church -- national security threats cannot be resolved simply with bombs, guns, and Humvees. Peace cannot be achieved through war.

Our nation's misguided attempts to combat extremism have left two nations in desperate need of internal restructuring. Dollars squandered on military action could have instead helped alleviate the economic disparity that drives desperate populations to terrorism.

Because of you, we've been able to communicate and demand change on the military instincts of our country. Continuing to focus politicians, the church, and the nation on peace is our mission.

Since before the war in Iraq began, we have faithfully worked to advocate against it:

  • In 2002, we organized a statement signed by dozens of U.S. and U.K. religious leaders opposing the march toward war.
  • In 2003, we organized 3,500 people in a prayer service at the Washington National Cathedral and a procession to the White House opposing war; we also sent a delegation of U.S. religious leaders to meet with Tony Blair to try to prevent war.
  • In 2004 and 2005, we remembered the anniversaries of the war and prayed for peace by promoting and organizing hundreds of vigils around the country.
  • In 2007, we were a leader in the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq, which filled the National Cathedral and ended with a civil disobedience witness at the White House.
  • In 2008, we called on the American church to lament and repent of the war in Iraq, reflecting on our own complicity in U.S. war-making, with ads in Christian publications and a petition signed by more than 20,000 American Christians.
  • In 2009, we are calling on our nation and our leaders to recognize that the voice of peacemakers is finally beinWe cannot rest -- our voice is needed at this critical time more than ever. We have never had a better opportunity to find solutions that can lead to peace. Clearly, our leaders now understand the need to get out of Iraq.

Although we are concerned about the military expansion in Afghanistan, we are heartened by the president's request to Congress to increase non-military assistance to Afghanistan and Pakistan, providing additional funding for governance, reconstruction, and other development activities that will help counter extremists.

Development, not military force, should be our strongest weapon in fighting extremism.

The prophet Micah described a vision of national security: When people can "sit under their own vine and fig trees," then "they shall beat their swords into plowshares." Only when the fear and desperation that lead inevitably to violence are removed will there be true peace and security.

We spent years working for peace in Iraq and must continue for Afghanistan. Next week, we'll invite you to unite your voice with ours and urge Congress to support funding for diplomacy and economic development in Afghanistan.

Please support Sojourners' work to inform this nation and our political leaders that the solution to threats and violence lies not in the military, but in helping other countries with economic development.

Monday, March 02, 2009

The Good Ol' Days

i've been hearing a lot a talk lately about "the good ol' days". Many are distressed at what this country has become. While it is certainly far from perfect, i must admit that i'm a bit perplexed by this notion that yesterday was better than today.

To what time should we return? To the days when we were warring with the Natives, massacring and driving families off their land, as though there were no difference between human beings and buffalo? How about the period when we were selling human beings off auction blocks and branding them with hot irons? Or to the days when we were killing each other due to our different ethnic backgrounds and creating ghettos to separate the Irish from the Chinese? Do we really want to see a return of 15 hour workdays where women, children, and minorities were exploited in sweat shops and considered second class citizens? Shall we go back just 50 years to a time when even churches still practiced legal segregation and men were arrested for sitting at the wrong (white) counter in a restaurant?

Each period of history has it's own problems, but some are more degrading than others. While i am not satisfied with where society finds itself today, i certainly wouldn't want to return to the "good ol' days" because it seems to me you have to be of a certain orient to look fondly on those times.

Personal morality certainly leaves something to be desired, but i can always turn off my television. As far as being a "civil society", i believe we've come a long way. Again, i'm not satisfied with where we are, but i certainly wouldn't want to 'return' to some former time in our national history. i do think it is worthwhile to remind ourselves that "those who forget their history are condemned to repeat it".

Public Lynching, 1930