January 25, 2010

Play the Clothing Game

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:08 pm by Editorial Team

Here’s a fun party game next time you have dinner guests over:

Take turns looking at each label on the clothing everyone is wearing.  As you read each label, read the country of origin.  See how many different countries your clothing comes from.  Have someone keep a tally of all of the countries.  Then add up your score, and check it against the World Oppression Scale:

20+ = World Overlord
15-19 = Super Oppressor
10-14 = Mild Oppressor
5-9 = Weak Oppressor
0-4 = You live in a developing country

January 21, 2010

Exploitation and Buying Secondhand

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:39 am by Editorial Team

4Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. 5You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.[a] 6You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.                   – James 5

As American Christians, we always cross this sin off the list, because we claim we work in a free market, which leads to a fair wage.  We do not personally abuse those around us, and so we become blind to the abuses we do commit.  Rapid globalization has put our “field workers” halfway across the world — out of sight, and out of mind.  When we purchase goods, we rarely thing about the supply chain full of people which brought that product to our doorstep.  We blindly shop at our low-priced stores, enjoying the cheap goods we buy, while pocketing the rest as entertainment or wealth.  And we justify this system, because we do not see exploitation.

We try to ignore it, but we are guilty, as a society, of mass exploitation, both at home and abroad.  We hide behind capitalism and our middle class lifestyles, so we rarely see the abuses of our purchasing power at work.  We purchase from corporations who are squeezing every penny out of the world to maximize profits and reduce our costs.  So we support a company that runs a factory with incredibly poor working conditions.  But of course those workers have a “choice” of whether or not to work there — so we tell ourselves.  When the company is finally forced to begin providing acceptable wages and working conditions, the costs become too great, and they move next door to the next “banana republic.”

As Western Christians, we often feel that we are poor when looking through the lens of our own society — yet, we must see that in the context of globalization, we are the rich young ruler, the rich exploitative landlord who is paying the workers unfair wages.  We do this when we buy from corporations who support these practices.  We collude with these corporations to exploit the people of the world, while growing rich from their blood and labor.

So beyond advocacy for systemic change to these practices, we must find everyday, practical ways of changing these abuses.  The first is to accept that we often must pay more for these things — which means less discretionary money, and less savings.  Some of this could be by purchasing from the right companies, who are open about these practices.

But more realistically, we must redevelop the local economy — one in which we interact with the suppliers of our goods.  One in which we are aware of where and how our products are made.  Beyond the numerous negative effects of our food chain (including our own health), growing our own food and supporting local farmers/ranchers is imperative.  Clothing, the industry most notorious for worker abuses, can be bought secondhand (as well as other household goods).  By taking these actions, we effectively reduce the demand for these products, and hopefully, the abusive practices they create.

In our house/community, we strongly challenge one another to buy things secondhand/used.  This is because we know that when we purchase new items, we are almost invariably supporting some type of abusive labor practices or environmental degradation.  So while we are often powerless to change this system, though we must attempt, we also seek to live more simply and accept and reuse the items that society has thrown away and rejected.

We must realize that we are the rich oppressors James warned against.  We’ve done a good job blinding ourselves to these problems.  However, we’ve discovered that at the judgment scene, ignorance will not be an acceptable plea.  Jesus told us in Matthew 25, that claiming ignorance to the suffering of those around us will still result in conviction.  If we are to live the call of the gospel, we must accept that it involves letting go of our money, and especially our convenience and free time.

January 10, 2010

How to Run the Most Effective, but Insensitive Aid Campaign

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:21 pm by Editorial Team

As someone who reads up a lot on international aid and development, I’m constantly aware of the ways our Western culture markets these projects to whet our guilty conscience and trivialize the issues.  Cause-marketing is all around us, and much of it is done in a way that turns the aid victim into a one-dimensional character while providing us a with a fool-proof and simple solution to satisfy our messiah-complex.

So with that, I present to you the checklist for running a successful cause-marketing plan, as developed by a blog called Wronging Rights.  It’s hilarious, but sadly it is true.

http://wrongingrights.blogspot.com/2010/01/happy-blogiversary-heres-some-vitriol.html

January 5, 2010

Have We Missed Jesus’ Return?

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:41 pm by Editorial Team

We Christians are pretty prideful about having the eschaton completely figured out.  We believe that Christ is going to come riding on the clouds out of heaven one day to bring about the judgment, or purification of the world.  But what if we’re wrong?

Sure we support our views of a magnificent and powerful return to this earth — we can find the scripture to support it.  But didn’t the Jews make the exact same mistake?  They completely misinterpreted the prophetic call for the Messiah.  They believed he would be an earthly king and wield earthly power.  But he showed up as a baby to a poor teenager.  Hardly the grandiose picture from prophecy.  And yet, we now see the wisdom of God’s “foolishness”.

What makes us think that we’re going to get the second coming right?  Our picture of the return of God to this earth is surely grandiose by worldly standards.  But “what if Jesus comes back like  that,” to quote Collin Raye, as a baby of a poor inner-city teenager, or more likely as the child of an “untouchable in India.  Maybe we’ve already missed the second coming, because it happened right under our nose and we’re staring up towards heaven waiting for the trumpets and thunder.

God “fooled” us once with his presence on earth, perhaps he’ll do it again.  Maybe we should stop trying to find the power of God within our earthly system, because we will likely miss it.  If we’re truly looking for Jesus, we may need to look in the dark, seedy corners of our society.  If we want the kingdom to grow, maybe we should focus on making it smaller, and less grandiose of a concept — then maybe we’ll find it.

God is incredible at shaming our earthly wisdom.  Perhaps we should abandon the expectations of that wisdom, and if we’re lucky, we wont miss out on his return.

December 8, 2009

Advent Prayer

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:39 am by Editorial Team

Dear Lord,
As we look all around us
We see a world of pain
We see the untimely death of our friends and family
The pain and suffering caused by poor health
Poor decisions and random chance
Our reliance on our economic system
reminds us of the deep flaws of this world
When economies fail from our reckless pursuit of wealth
When we cannot control the circumstances around us
We see the suffering of our cities
The 18 year old mother
Her children living in the cold and dark despair of loneliness
We seek refuge in the morality of wealth and hard work
And we find that this too, is fleeting
That worldly systems always fail
Leaving us to our despair and hopelessness
In spite of the trust we put in them
And our insistence, our utter dependence on these systems
We confess that we have all to often trusted in ourselves
We see the despair that we have caused
And we realize that we are powerless to change it
We are trapped in the void of despair
To wallow in our misery and pain
Amid this despair, we cry out
Come, Lord Jesus.
Save us from this fallen world
Save us from our own desires
We yearn for your presence on this earth
For the reign of the kingdom of God
As your creation cried out in the wilderness
As they mourned the loss of your temple and your holy city
As they decried the brutal rejection of your son
They eagerly awaited hope and deliverance
And it is with this same yearning that we cry for rebirth
We seek a rebirth in your kingdom
A rebirth in a new way of life in a new political economy
We cry for this deliverance
We yearn for rebirth and a new creation
And it is with this yearning
That we put off our selfish desires
And reject our own power
Deliver us, O God of Advent
Come quickly to our rescue, Lord Jesus

October 25, 2009

Denying the Materialistic Impulse

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:30 am by Editorial Team

Something in our cultural mindset forces us to buy something the minute we determine a deficiency or “need” (or usually when something breaks). Blame advertising, but the question we as followers of Christ face is “how do we respond to the rampant materialism around us?”

Our house attempts to follow a discernment process when buying items larger than $100. This process isn’t intended to prevent each other from buying things, but to help us think past our impulses and decide whether the true value we should be placing on the item warrants purchasing it. We also encourage each other to buy used goods as much as possible. Sometimes the discernment process can be as simple as a sarcastic response, but it forces each of us to think it through a little more.

I bought a new mountain bike. I’ve been riding a lot and decided I was serious enough for a real (expensive) one. I went to a bike shop and tried a couple of models, and found the one I was most interested in. When I brought up the desire to purchase, it was suggested that I buy a used one, to which I had numerous reasons why I couldn’t. But I looked any way, and after a few weeks, I found a used bike in new condition that fit me.

We’ve had many other purchase discussions as a house. But personally, technology is the worst. We are so enslaved to it, that when it breaks, we waste no time in repairing or replacing it, often regardless of cost.

Our disposition towards materialism is not sinful in that we consume material goods, but that we respond on impulse towards these materials. Our ability to rapidly replace items and our desire to do so has become an idolized form of security. As people who follow Christ in a materially dispossessed Kingdom, we must proclaim independence from these things.

My point is not that we shun the material world altogether. Instead, we find ways of denying dependence on these items. One way is simply to halt our impulse to buy things. It is good to have a cooling off period before we buy or replace something, simply to remind us of life before we had that item. And the aspect of accountability to a community forces us to re-evaluate our logic and passions behind the act of purchasing an item. Maybe our desire is re-affirmed, or maybe we discover that the purchase does not need to be made after all.

Our society advertises every product as a necessity and creates a certain urge within us to act. We must constantly seek ways to deny the impulse, reminding ourselves the proper place of the material within Kingdom life.

October 21, 2009

A Prayer of Mercy

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:26 am by Editorial Team

Lord, give me new eyes
To see people as you see them
To glimpse the Creator within
The image of God in everyone
To value their humanity
and to see their beauty.

Lord, give me new ears
To hear a new voice
To listen to people as you would
Not to hear what I want to hear
But to seek to understand
and to respond to them, not me.

Lord, give me a new brain
To move beyond my own logic
And my own thoughts and desires
To see the logic of your kingdom
To learn godly wisdom
and to always seek your knowledge

Lord, give me a new heart
To seek your face
To embody your love to others.
Not to follow my own passions
But to quench my fire
and reignite the all-consuming fire.

Lord, give me a new soul
To live in your present kingdom
Not to seek my own awakening
Or attain something ethereal
But to live as you have willed
in the unity of heaven and earth.

October 12, 2009

Life is Not Fair

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , , , at 10:18 am by Editorial Team

Being the youngest in the family and growing up with two older brothers, I found myself on the short end of the stick many times. Of all of the phrases I heard growing up, “Life is not fair” was the mantra I heard the most. It seemed I always got the short end, the leftovers, the most beat up after a brawl. Looking up to older brothers who it seemed could always get away with more and have more responsibilities than I ever would.   And I remember the frequent refrain and it’s response… it’s not fair… Life is not fair.  And I would sometimes angrily shout back “Well, then make it fair.”

Looking back, I can honestly say that my life was not fair. I was a white, middle-class kid with two loving parents. I had amazing opportunities, and was never in need (often in want, but never need). I had more privilege than you could shake a stick at.

Life was good, but it wasn’t fair.  I see the people around me, and because of their lives, I realize how unfair my life was… how things far beyond my control gave me enormous opportunity and privilege which most of the people around me do not have.

For the child who’s primary notion of food is White Castle, who’s mother works multiple jobs and has little time with him, who has little knowledge of a father figure of his own race, who lives on the wrong side of town, who goes to a poorly performing school and has few support systems, and who will likely face a lifetime of racism, both institutionalized and direct.  My life is not fair, because this child’s is not fair.

And the rally cry reverberates:  Well, then make it fair.  Perhaps the mantra of “life is not fair” is intended to preserve the existing social order.  If it is, then we must challenge that foundation of power.  The kingdom of God ushers in a way of life which is fair.  The high, the privileged, the powerful are brought down, either voluntarily or eventually through Christ’s return.  The low, the powerless, are brought up.  The kingdom brings equality to all.  We who are powerful in the world’s eyes must yield, instead humbling ourselves in submission to those who are suffering and powerless.

As long as we accept the world’s standard of  power and social order, life is not fair.  But we live in a kingdom where life is fair, where equality rules.  Where is neither black nor white, rich nor poor, married nor single, male nor female.  The current social order is obliterated in the kingdom.  Yet, we do not fully live in the kingdom, but also under the prince of darkness.

Because we still live in darkness, we must take corrective action to reflect the notion of the true kingdom.  For the rich, the white, the powerful, it involves explicit action to yield power, status, and wealth.  For the poor, the powerless, those low on the social ladder, it means elevating people to these positions of status, wealth, and power.

The last shall be first, and the first shall be last.

Go sell all your possessions, and give them to the poor, and come follow me.

Son, remember in your lifetime, you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.

I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat…

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Life is not fair.  In Christ, it has been made fair.  However, this fairness is not effortless.  The kingdom calls us to action, to a lifestyle of humility and fairness.  If we fail in these actions, we fail the primary call of gospel and the kingdom.  We proclaim a new kingdom which was proclaimed to all of creation through the death and resurrection of Christ.  God is bringing justice to his creation.  If we do not labor for justice, then perhaps we are not truly part of the kingdom.  Life is not fair, until we humble ourselves, and yield our lives, our pride, and our wealth, to the call of the kingdom.

September 28, 2009

Christian Politics and Witness

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , , , at 3:01 pm by Editorial Team

Determining the role of Christians within the sphere of government has been a tenuous and flawed relationship since the beginning. Throughout much of history, those who claim to follow Christ have often failed at creating a proper Christian influence on the governments of the world. So much so that one entirely questions whether Christians should even engage such a worldly system. And indeed, many of the early leaders of the religious movement I grew up in were of the opinion that Christians should have no participation beyond paying taxes.

I personally believe that as Christians, we must engage the political system, just as we are to engage and witness in every other sphere of society.  However, I have long been frustrated that people who claim the gospel of peace (of unity) fall in into the same bitter war of politics that the rest of our society has been sucked into, and I respect those Christians who abstain completely.

In order to engage the system, we first have to realize that no one political ideology has a monopoly on Christian principle.  All political ideologies have certain aspects that seem to agree with teachings of Jesus, but all ideologies also have conflicting points.  Republicans are not more “Christian” than Democrats, and neither is the opposite true.   And libertarianism, a rabid anti-government ideology, is not a more Christian solution either.  One cannot support the idea that Christians should only support any one particular political ideology.  Once we come to this understanding, we can begin to allow the gospel of peace to heal these divisions and teach us how to engage this system.

In order to determine a method of engaging this political system, we should examine the aspects that stand in stark contrast to the Christian witness.  The primary problem with our political system is the rabid demonization of those with differing viewpoints and the inability for those with differing viewpoints to occupy the same community and enter into a rational, respectful dialog about those beliefs.

This problem presents an incredible opportunity for Christian witness.  Could a Christian community be made up of a diverse group of political beliefs in which those people loved and respected each other in spite of their political opinions?  A community where these differing political ideologies were discussed and respected would be an incredible witness of a God where there is unity — neither Jew nor Greek, Democrat nor Libertarian, but only those who sought to preserve the Lord’s prayer on the night he was killed “that they may all be one.”

Our culture expects us to avoid fraternizing with those of different political persuasions and encourages us to demonize them.  Our witness is to show how the unity of Christ allows us to share and discuss how our faith impacts these views while respecting each other when we arrive at different conclusions.

However, in order to reach this vision of community and dialog, we must remember two things.  The first, is that we cannot claim a political monopoly on faith.  The second comes from the realization  that we’ve been bred and socialized with a deep-seated nationalism that affects everything about us, especially our faith.  The Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Medo-Persians, Greeks, Romans, Mayans, Chinese, British, and countless others were once powerful civilizations which are now but a speck on the timeline of history.  America has enjoyed incredible prosperity and power; however, one day, that too will come to an end.  The role of American government and politics is but a speck on the history of the world.  As the vision in Daniel suggests, there is an incredible kingdom on the horizon that will reign supreme over all worldly kingdoms.  It will last forever, and no power will be able to crush it.

America and it’s worldly political problems fade away in comparison to the eternal kingdom which we seek, in which a loving creator seeks to bring all things under his reign.  We seek a kingdom in which all of creation is groaning and yearning to be one with its creator.

September 23, 2009

Marriage and the Single Christian

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , at 12:23 pm by Editorial Team

In our ever-increasing desire to grow the church in a culturally marketable fashion, once again we’ve created another avenue of segregation which is harmful to the body. Scripture reminds us that we are one body, where there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free.

And yet it is evident in the way we run our churches, we’ve bought into the myth of segregation as an appropriate method for church expansion. Black and white churches, age-level Bible classes, male and female classes. The larger the church, the higher likelihood of segregation.

The idea of segregation has often suggested the notion of inequality. Jews were the firstfruits of God’s salvation. Males were of a higher social status than females. Blacks were inferior to whites. And of course, none of this should be true in the church because of a God who breaks down those walls and unites people to a mission beyond those differences.

The issue of marriage is no exception. Most churches segregate people based on marital status. If you’re single, you’re relegated to the “singles ministry.” The singles ministry is truly a covert ministry to group all the youthful, single people of the church together in hopes that they will find one another and become like the rest of the church. Of course no one will make this assertion, but that’s the assumption. And of course, there is nothing for the single people above 30, who must often slink into oblivion for lack of finding a mate.

Our culture, and now our church, often sees single people as somehow deficient, as incomplete, as needing a spouse. There is little done to celebrate the single person, to recognize and accept them into the community for who they are. We don’t actively encourage or discuss the life of being single, except in relation to finding a mate. It is no wonder many single people are left with a feeling that finding a mate should be their top priority in life.

We do celebrate marriage, and we have classes, seminars, and all kinds of events for those who are married. But we don’t do any of that for single people – it’s probably better that we don’t, lest it succumb to the same flaws of the “singles ministry.” Don’t misinterpret: I agree that marriage presents a unique set of challenges (and crises), and due to high divorce rates, we clearly need to do something encourage and strengthen those who are married. But perhaps we’re not doing it the right way. Perhaps the single people should be included in these discussions about marriage to offer perspective and service. We too often assume that those who are on the outside have no perspective on the inside. Maybe single people should be consultants, adjudicators, as well.

I agree that there are occasionally times when married couples may need to get together to have their intimate discussions about marriage. However, like the split-sex devotionals of childhood, these marital cohorts are incredibly overused. One can go to marriage seminar after seminar and never resolve marital issues. But if they were brought before a diverse community, of both singles and marrieds, they would find the support and guidance necessary to resolve the issues.

Let’s make marriage less of an insider thing. Let’s reopen the discussion. Let’ stop assuming the rift between those who are single and married – that somehow there is a chasm of understanding between the two. God has brought us together in community, where these divisions should not segregate the community.

But finally, let me return to the idea of singleness. Let’s redevelop a respect and a value for the single people in our churches. Let’s stop seeing them as unmarried, and somehow deficient or incomplete, and find ways to talk about and honor those who are single, whether they are single for only a time or a lifetime. Our culture places enough obsession on the dating/marriage scene. It’s time we put an end to the rift between the single Christian and the married Christian. For there is neither married nor single, only that which Christ has united into one body.

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