Friday, August 04, 2006

How should being a Christian inform our social/political lives?

Recently a friend asked me, “How should being a Christian effect our role in society and politics?” Here are, if not an answers, then some thoughts on the matter.

A narrowly defined Christian ethic, especially among us evangelicals, is all too prevalent: religious interaction with society is reduced to a three-pronged ethic of anti-abortion, anti-homosexual, and pro-war. Is this what Christ meant when He commissioned us to go and make disciples of all nations? I propose that these hot button issues are not the bulk—or even the main thrust—of Jesus’ life and teaching. Christian ethics must grow out of a broader understanding of Jesus, His life and teaching: Jesus sets the agenda.

There’s another way for faith and politics to interact. Even now a there is a growing coalition of Evangelical Christians and justice-minded people are joining together to combat partisan rhetoric that locks up resources for doing of justice, to fight rampant consumerism/materialism, to critique the development philosophy of the Washington Consensus and globalization, and prevent the destruction of the environment. Groups like Sojourners and popular authors like David Korten and Brian McLaren, among others, see themselves as part of this movement that can contribute to positive, justice-oriented change to global systems and individuals.

Even Rev. Gregory A. Boyd, pastor at a Minnesota megachurch (hardly part of this movement), recently preached a sermon series condemning Christian both on the left and the right for who have turned “politics and patriotism into ‘idolatry’.” (Goodstein, Laurie, New York Times, “Disowning Conservative Politics, Evangelical Pastor Rattles Flock”, July 30, 2006.)

One of the church’s goals must be to disentangle Evangelical Christianity from American nationalism, the Republican party, and war on terror in society. I, for one, want to participate in the task of the church to identify and challenge assumption about how we practice our Christian discipleship as individuals and communities.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Feeling Alone

I find that in the last few days—week?—I’ve been felling alone. Not lonely. Lonely smacks of a romanticized nostalgia for others, it longs for a fiction, like remembered the paradise that Cuba, perhaps, never was. No I mean alone. Distant from others, as if a gulf separated me from other people. This alone feeling is accompanied by—paradoxically—by numbness, a lack of feeling. The feeling doesn’t last too long. It only occurs when my attention wanes from the task at hand—cycling down the road, running on a treadmill, reading a devotional, studying some Hebrew, watching a scene from a movie.

Why don’t I instead have a sense of Christ’s abiding presence? That’s as much a prayer as well as a question.

My evangelically-trained, harmotologically minded response:
  • E: sin is getting in the way. The state of brokenness which is my inheritance as a human being, combined with my own choices to walk in paths of injustice and unrighteousness, make it difficult to commune with God.
Ragamuffin Gospel response:
  • R: God is gracious and willing to forgive you. Right now you can clean out the vital lifeline that connects you with the Heavenly Father. Simply ask for his forgiveness and you can be sure that you have been washed by the Lamb.
Lord, forgive me for straying so easily from you, being led once again down paths that dead-end. Give me your peace Lord, but most of all give me an abiding sense of your presence.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

On being a good neighbor

I read this article by Carolyn Carney "What is a Neighbor Free to Do?" and thought it was worth sharing some excerpts:

Freedom. It is the great Western ideal. Unabashedly, it is what we have gone to war for. It is what is behind our claim on our “rights.” Freedom of religion. Freedom of the press. Freedom to bear arms. Freedom of choice for everything from a woman’s body to what kind of hamburger we choose to eat. But freedom did not start with the American Revolution. It is not an American thing—it is a God thing.

The Triune God, all-powerful, everlasting God is absolutely free. There are no bounds placed on God, no restrictions, no limits. God can not be confined to time and space.

But in his freedom, God chooses for the other. In God’s freedom, he chooses to create—for the other. He gives light to the darkness, plants and animals for the earth, birds for the sky, fish and creatures for the sea. A perfectly free Father-Son-and-Spirit God chooses for the other when man is formed from the ground. In God’s freedom, he breathes air and life into Adam’s lungs. God chooses for the other. A covenant is initiated with Abram. No one made God do this; Abraham wasn’t even asking for it. God freely chose. And so also, the Father--in his freedom—sent Jesus to the world and in turn, Jesus, freely gave his life for the other—for all the others.

And so, if we name ourselves as followers of Christ, freedom’s purpose is not for me, it is for the other. (Don’t keep reading unless this truth sinks in.)

And this brings us to the question of our freedom to consume wantonly. Am I free to drive whatever I can afford? Sure. But does what I choose in freedom eliminate the freedoms of another? If so, then it is not true freedom I have exercised, not as it is illustrated by the One who made us.

In a recent study (“Impact of Regional Climate Change on Human Health”, undertaken by the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the World Health Organization, the leading author, Dr. Jonathan Patz declared, “Those least able to cope and least responsible for the greenhouse gases that cause global warming are most affected.” The WHO estimates that at least 150,000 deaths are directly related to the effects of climate changes every year. And of course, as global warming continues its rise, the WHO estimates this figure could double by 2030.

The major effects of global warming contributing to mortality are heat waves, droughts (that bring crop failure) and infectious diseases. When we think of heat waves, we usually think of the scorching heat found in deserts or the shirt-wringing damp humidity of the tropics. But in August 2003, TIME reports that twenty thousand Europeans succumbed to the heat. (See the April 3, 2006 issue for a special report on global warming that details the destructive cycle of greenhouse gasses.)

TIME reports that a “predicted consequence of global warming is heavier downpours, leading to more flooding” which leads to a “larger issue of water quality.” Flooding and unclean water affects the spread of malaria, diarrhea, cholera and dengue fever—all diseases we rarely hear about in the U.S., but are killers in the developing world.

Since they are considered so environmentally friendly, some might opt (in their freedom!) for a hybrid or even a new hybrid SUV. However, you may want to consider the words of Jamie Lincoln Kitman, a professional car-tester and columnist who recently wrote an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times (“Life in the Green Lane,” April 16, 2006). A recent Lexus hybrid SUV was rated at 21 MPG, not particularly “brilliant efficiency-wise—hybrid or not.” The Toyota Prius, according to Kitman’s and Automobile Magazine’s tests, whose miles is around 40 per gallon around town, plummets on the Interstate. “In fact, the car’s computer, which controls the engine and the motor, allowing them to run together or separately, was programmed to direct the Prius to spend most of its highway time running on gasoline because at higher speeds the batteries quickly get exhausted,” writes Kitman. He concludes that a Corolla, costing thousands less, would have been much more conservative on gasoline. (And think what could have been done with the saved money?!)

So what are we left to—walking, bicycling? Well, a little more of that wouldn’t hurt. As individuals, we are not called to change the entire world ourselves. But what is our part? Can I do my small part, whatever that may be. Not because it makes me feel good, but because I love my neighbor.

Our choices affect others. They are never merely “personal (read: private) choices.” In the end, we are free to choose. But let us consider choosing for the other—for our neighbors.

Click here to read more of Carolyn's column on "Who is my neighbor?"

Monday, May 01, 2006

"Worthy" Poor

Today millions of people took a break from work, school, and consumption to take part in "A Day without Immigrants" in an effort to show what a large part immigrants, legal and illegal, play in the U.S. economy and society. RJ and I went to work (out of practical considerations that it would be very hard to reschedule our appointments with the students we tutor--and also because we couldn't afford financially to take the day off), but we decided to support the protest and boycott in our own way. We wore bottons "God's Love has no borders" and made stickers to offer to our colleagues with the same message as well as "Remember our past: USA is a nation of immigrants."

I offered the stickers to one colleague that I greatly respect. I was surprised when she declined the stickers, saying that she does not support the current protest. Her parents were immigrants, but they came in legally even though they had to wait a long time. (To be sure, my colleague recognizes the complexity of the situation and part of the reason she does not support the protest is because she feels that legalization would not solve the problem.) The distinction she makes between legal and illegal immigration and her sentiment that the laws of the land ought to be respected is one that has been voiced often in the recent debate.

I was meditating on Luke 4-6 the other day and it struck me that one of big questions that Jesus raises in both the episode in the synagoge (Luke 4) and in the Sermon on the Plain is "Who is worthy of God's generosity?" Jesus made the answer crystal clear: God's good news is not just for the worthy poor. In fact, his answer was so clear that his Jewish listeners wanted to throw him off the cliff for suggesting that God's news was for unworthy Gentiles, even those who participated in the oppression of Israel. In the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus exhorts us to love our enemies and bless those that persecute us, because our Father in heaven is kind to the wicked and ungrateful. (I would even argue that the rest of the Sermon on the Plain make it clear to anyone who is honest with themselves that the wicked and ungrateful are not "those people" but also ourselves.)

Jude Tiersma Watson, a professor at Fuller, writes about at-risk youths what I feel about illegal immigrants:
"Compassion comes easily when we think of innocent children on their own in a cold, harsh world, victims of poverty and war, or victims of the bad choices of their families, or victims of bad choices by society. But what if that at-risk youth [is]... covered in tatoos, packing a gun, recruiting younger kids into the gang? Everyone [wants] to help the "worthy" poor, the "worthy" child-at-risk, the hardworking and chaste widow... But who of us is truly worthy? Since when has the gospel been for the worthy?"

My family and I are legal immigrants. My father could obtain student and then work visas because he was highly educated and possessed skills that the U.S. economy needed. Are we more worthy to be American citizens (which we are now) than the unskilled workers who could not obtain legal entry because they did not have economic and educational opportunities?

No one leaves their country for the heck of it. Immigration, even legal immigration, is a hard road that people take counting the great cost. In the past this country has opened doors for legal immigration for those fleeing oppressive government regimes such as Cuba and China post Tiananmen Square. But other people have not been so fortunate--the US has participated in supporting, perpetuating, even installing oppressive regimes and economic environments in their country, yet they did not get asylum. The best option available to them was to cross the border illegally; many died in this attempt and even those who were successful live under abuse and fear. These illegal immigrants may be the unworthy poor, but God's good news is also for them.

More food for thought:
Read about one family's story of immigration.
Learn more about various issues involved in immigration.
Read articles by Doug Massey, professor of sociology and public policy at Princeton:
--- "Backfire at the Border": Why Enforcement without Legalization cannot stop Illegal immigration.
--- Longer article on U.S. immigration policy after NAFTA, the logic of immigration, and his analysis of the Mexican immigration situation.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

"Bothered by the Cross"

I just read a reflection article "Bothered by the Cross" by Deana Murshed that seems both appropriate to consider given the discussions on atonement/redemption on this blog as well as its timely implications for the current debate on immigration. Here are some excerpts:

I remember that as a child, the idea that Christ died on the cross and rose again for me - though it was repeated over and over again and I so desperately wanted to believe it made sense - seemed odd. But I think it was repeated often enough, that eventually, I just came to accept it. After all, the answer to almost any question in Sunday school was easy: "because Jesus died on the cross!"

So, somewhere along the road, I took it for granted that Christ lived, died, and rose again. Somewhere, maybe after I had responded to the sixth altar call - just to make sure God had duly noted my belief - I had heard it enough times to think I had this mystery of mysteries settled.

But every now and then, I come back to that place. Really, what in the world does this mean? Christ died on the cross. It is so easy to hear now that the absolute foolishness of it - and I mean that in the best possible way - simply ceases to amaze me.

But liturgical cycles are good for that - making you not forget any part of the story and asking you to revisit each station, as it were. One passage has been coming to mind (from John's gospel):

"Jesus replied, 'The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life'" (12:23-25).

The version of the Bible called The Message states the last verse this way: "In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you'll have it forever, real and eternal."

The part that really struck me recently (though I've surely heard it read a hundred times) is that the dying of the grain is not for the resurrection of the seed itself. No, the grain dies so that it can produce and reproduce life. The passage says, unless a seed falls to the ground and dies it is no more than a single grain.

The answer as to why the grain needs to die is for it not to remain alone. In other words, Christ died so that he could bear more Christs and grow his reign!

Though this way of living for others seems like such a radical (re)orientation, all of creation seems to be screaming this message. Every part of the wheat is living for the spread of life, wants there to be more wheat. The most basic cycle of nature reflects the divine order.

It is simply astounding, when I think about it, that the God of creation does not live for direct self-satisfaction! The God of creation who has all power and all might is in constant submission to another purpose. And God is inviting us to follow.

[This] goes against every grain of my self-preserving being. And it looks nothing whatsoever like our capitalist culture, which encourages us to think the opposite - both economically and morally. The world says that if each individual seeks out his or her own personal fulfillment, we will all ultimately benefit. But the gospel compels us to seek the benefit of others with no guarantee of anything in return.

This is a terrifying invitation that should bother us.

Click here for the full article of "Bothered by the Cross."

Friday, April 28, 2006

Christianty as Transformation

"I do believe in God, but how do we know Jesus is God?"

Reading and responding to several posts on this blog, particularly "The Way, the Truth, and the Life" and "If I saw you in Heaven," as well as two papers I wrote for class and numerous conversations I've had recently, got me thinking about something—that ultimately, no one is convinced of the truth of Christianity, or that Jesus is God, by logical arguments or even scientific/historical evidence; rather, we become Christians because we experience the power of Jesus as God in some way or we hear a story of transformation through Jesus in another and desire the same for ourselves.

Franciscan father Richard Rohr came to speak at Fuller last week. He commented that Western Christianity—both Catholicism and Protestantism—has for the most part turned Christianity into a belonging system from the transformational, experiential system that it actually is.

If Rohr is right, then we cannot only explore the question "Is Jesus God?" through intellectual bantering. I propose an experiential experiment: that we read Scripture assuming that it is truthful, we respond to what the Scripture says by practicing it in the events of our day as the opportunities arise, and see what happens—perhaps we ourselves will experience transformation beyond our expectations. Any adventurous takers?

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Origins of Mankind

I didn't come from monkeys!-
Squeamish high school children all across the country

The question of where human beings came from is one that people have been trying to answer for as long as there have been people. Civilizations from around the world have all attempted to answer through mythology and superstition. The Akkadians believed that humans came from the droplets of blood of the slain Tiamat during the war between the Gods. The Greeks believed the Gods had created them for toil and misery, as playthings for themselves. The Hebrews believed that God had created them out of the dirt to inhabit paradise, from which they were later expelled for disobedience.

Putting these myths aside, where can we say that humanity truly comes from? I've asked myself that very question and could only come up with three possible answers.

1) Over a process of billions of years, our sun was born out of stardust, after which its gravitational pull and the gravitional pull of the universe in general allowed for the creation of planets which began circling around said sun. after several more billion years, one of these planets developed an environment which allowed for the creation of the most basic elements of life, and little by little, step by step, eventually the cell was born. After this, it was only a matter of time before the cell began to live in clusters and eventually formed multicelled organisms. Then, long story short, we came from monkeys.

2) This second scenario is very much like the first. Excepts you have to move it far into the future and assume technology has allowed for space travel. So, extraterrestrials find earth, and the decide to either, a) form a colony, or b) interbreed with the lifeforms they find, or c) do genetic experiments to create a new more intelligent species on the earth, which are us. So, long story short, we came from space monkeys.

3) Or, we were created spontaneously overnight by some supernatural force in another dimension (God). But, it has to have been more than two, like in the Genesis story, because we know what inbreeding can do (look at the royal house of spain in the 17th and 18th centuries). Sorry folks, no monkeys.

I wish I could come up with another explanation. Edgar Cayce said that we all existed as spiritual being first, after which out of curiosity we chose to inhabit physical bodies that already existed here on this plane. But the joke was on us, because after awhile, we got stuck! and the only way to leave again was through death. This however tells us nothing about the actual origin of the physical bodies.