Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Jeremiah Resources: LINKS to Kingship and Chronology III

Click above for :

World-Ruling Empires and Bible Prophecy

Jeremiah Resources: LINKS to Kingship and Chronology II

Click above for:

Timeline of the Minor Prophets of the Old Testament

Jeremiah Resources: LINKS to Kingship and Chronology

Click above for :

Old Testament Timeline of the Divided Kingdom: Kings of Ancient Israel and Judah

Jeremiah Resources: MAPS, Assyrian in the 7th Century

Jeremiah Resources: MAPS, Reign of Josiah

Jeremiah Resources: MAPS, Sennacharib's Campaign against Judah

Jeremiah Resources: MAPS, World Powers of the 6th Century

Jeremiah Resources: MAPS, Jewish Exiles in Babylon

Jeremiah Resources: MAPS, Assyrian and Babylonian Empires in the time of Jeremiah

Jeremiah Resources: MAPS, The New Babylonian Empire

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Justice and Charity, Part IV: Eschatology and the Ethic of Jesus

What goes through your mind when you try and buy a house? Is it the normal stuff – number of beds and baths, yard, etc – or the “official” stuff; namely, ‘location, location, location’?

I recently read an article from the Detroit Free Press about the current problems with the decaying Motor City. Now, I know it’s hip to talk about the renaissance in Detroit, but I also know that everytime I go downtown it feels like I’ve just walked into the lovechild of the Balkans and Beirut. So, when the article spoke about one particular aspect of urban decay that was creating unforseen difficulties, my stereotypes weren’t challenged – they were enforced.

The issue to which they were referring was the problem of wild animals. Due to the razing of lower income housing projects and the demolition of condemned skyscrapers, Detroit has invented an “urban prairie” to which the animals of the surrounding suburbs and woodlands are now flocking as a resource for food and shelter.

It’s like someone said, “How can we make this city scarier? I know…wolves!”

My point is this: if you’re planning on making a move soon, chances are you’re not planning on moving to Detroit because you’re probably feeling a little bit like I am about the town. You’re probably thinking that the inherent coolness of motown isn’t worth the risk of personal injury – yet I wonder why this kind of thinking isn’t employed more frequently in other areas of our lives.

Spirituality, for instance, is really about a choice between two homes, or kingdoms as Jesus called them. In fact, most of Jesus’ teaching was about living for/with/in the kingdom of God. This is the kingdom that is alternately referred to in the gospels as having arrived, being near, being upon us, and coming soon. It is the kingdom that seems like it is already here, and yet not fully here; kind-of like Jesus is already the King over all Creation, yet He’s not wearing a crown yet.

Some people refer to the kingdom as being like the wind – for we see and feel its presence and its effects, but we cannot actually see it in-and-of-itself. The wind moves trees, but you never see the wind. The kingdom moves people, but you never see a giant glowing castle being constructed on people’s pants.

So what is this kingdom? Well, perhaps we can understand the kingdom of God as being the place where God is in charge. It is the place where things are as God wants them to be. This, of course, is in contrast to our world today where things are as all kinds of people want them to be, which frequently happen to be the exact opposite of what God wants for us.

Our world is a world of death-dealers, when Jesus is the provision of peace. Our world is a place of preference and disunity, where Jesus has called us to love one another for his namessake.

But I think we’re forced to ask ourselves whether or not we can have access to the kingdom while we’re on the earth. Is it possible that we could – even periodically – live as if we were in Heaven by virtue of allowing God to have His way with us? Is it possible that, by acting as God’s agents in our city, that we can actually bring His world to our World?

I think it is, and more – I think this is the crux of justice and charity. Not a world that we have created and are managing, but a world He has made and we are giving back.

Let’s read quickly from Revelation 21.1,2: “I saw Heaven and Earth new-created. Gone the first Heaven, gone the first earth, gone the sea. I saw Holy Jerusalem, new-created, descending resplendant out of Heaven as ready for God as a bride for her husband.”

A new Heaven, a new earth, and a new Jerusasalem as a bride for God – that’s romantic language for our future, much more so than any utopian vision, and the kind of speech that makes me wonder whether or not on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven isn’t really an interim solution. Maybe everything we’re doing is preparing us for an afterlife of surrender, where the One who knows best is given free reign to rule and have us happy He’s doing so.

It’s passages like this, thoughts like this, that make me wonder if we don’t totally have life/government/church/relationship/family wrong; that makes me wonder if it’s even safe to talk about another way of living than what we commonly see on television or portrayed through our neighborhoods. It makes me wonder if there is any point to a quiet defiance that promotes an alternative to western civilization.

I’m talking about a life that honors our soul instead of ourselves.

Eugene Peterson makes a great distinction between “soul” and “self” in his book, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places. If we really believe that we are made in the image of God, the imago dei, as the bible clearly asserts – then we must conclude that there is a peculiarity and a holiness about our very construction. There is something about the way that we are made that represents an incredible amount of care, an assertion that we are one-of-a-kind while simultaneously being one-of-His-kind.

Our word for this is soul.

Soul is an assertion of wholeness, a prohibition against fragmentation. “Soul” is a barrier against reduction, against life reduced to mechanics and facts; “soul” carries with it the resonances of being god-created, god-breathed, god-sustained, and god-blessed. Theologians define it as the enmeshing of our mind, our will, and our emotions; but I might suggest that “soul” is something so deep within us that it narrowly escapes definition and the very process of defining it seems somehow to leave us with less of a sense of what our soul is rather than more.

And, in our culture, “soul” always seems to come in second.

In our world, “self” is king, for we are selfish people concerned with pleasure and preference, ideal circumstances and the “right” aesthetics. We want the things we like and are a little irritated – at best – when contexts and people and churches and products are not as we would most want them to be. We rarely think of how we might enhance the experience of other people’s lives, or join in with them and take delight in their happiness, but instead devise means of growing our advantage.

This is a battle I’m fighting now with my basement.

I’m trying to finish my basement so my new daughter and Jacob can have extra play space; but, in the process of this behemoth project costing me more than I thought and taking more time than I anticipated, I am consistently pulled into a vortex of evil emotion. I want it done, now, for no more money, ever – and if I have to seel my children to get it done I’ll gladly do so.

Okay, not really – I’m being extreme, but I’m extreme because the truth is extreme and it reveals extremely awful things about my own character and inconsistency.

It reveals that I am more concerned with myself than with my soul.

“Self is the soul minus God.” [Peterson]

It is all that’s left of the soul when all of the intimacy and transcendence have been hoovered out of it and prostituted for raw materials.

Peterson gives us a clue as to how we see this in our world, noting that the common use of the terms “resource” and “dysfyunctional” betray how we really see people. We see people as resources because we want to identify how they can help us in our ministry, or thinking, or job, or finances; and, we see other people as dysfunctional because they cannot help anybody, let alone themselves, in these areas.

What we’re really doing, though, is not identitfying people – we’re de-peopling them.

Our thoughts are the industry of depersonalization; and, everytime depersonalization moves in, soul moves out.

This is a key issue in Justice, and one of Bono’s major critiques of the United States in our dealings with Africa. We treat “them”as the poor, or the unfortunate, the foreigner or the “African” but we don’t think of them as people. We don’t think of them like Americans; we depersonalize the rest of the world because of the supremacy of our standard of living and the distance that separates Michigan from Nigeria. That distance is not only spatial, but visual – because we’re never there, “they” only come to us as 10-inch figurines on a plasma screen; they aren’t people, they’re news.

And may God forgive us for so uncritically accepting a world other than the one He created, for this is our chance to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth. This is our opportunity to trade our world for His world, to trade a selfish life for a soulish one.

The word soul, according to Hebrew scholars, is actually a metaphor. Independent of the Tanakh, the word “nephesh”, or “neck”, is the etymological root of our “soul.” “Soul” comes from “neck.”


Because a neck ties together our brain and our heart. It connects our vital organs to our logical and center for reason. The neck floods our brain with blood and our body with synapses, and ensures that we stay connected to ourselves. The neck houses the trachea, the windpipe, and so provides breath to our mind.

This is soul.

And the kingdom of soul, the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom that presents God’s plan for personal attention over our plan of depersonalization, is a kingdom in which we can live right now – if we choose to do it.

You remember we began by talking about urban decay, well let us conclude by talking about another city – the city of God. This passage is taken from Revelation 21.21-22.5, from the Message translation by Eugene Peterson, and describes the kingdom of heaven:

The main street of the City was pure gold, translucent as glass. But there was no sign of a Temple, for the Lord God--the Sovereign-Strong--and the Lamb are the Temple. The City doesn't need sun or moon for light. God's Glory is its light, the Lamb its lamp! The nations will walk in its light and earth's kings bring in their splendor. Its gates will never be shut by day, and there won't be any night. They'll bring the glory and honor of the nations into the City. Nothing dirty or defiled will get into the City, and no one who defiles or deceives. Only those whose names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life will get in.

Then the Angel showed me Water-of-Life River, crystal bright. It flowed from the Throne of God and the Lamb, ight down the middle of the street. The Tree of Life was planted on each side of the River, producing twelve kinds of fruit, a ripe fruit each month. The leaves of the Tree are for healing the nations. Never again will anything be cursed. The Throne of God and of the Lamb is at the center. His servants will offer God service--worshiping, they'll look on his face, their foreheads mirroring God. Never again will there be any night. No one will need lamplight or sunlight. The shining of God, the Master, is all the light anyone needs. And they will rule with him age after age after age.

That’s incredible imagery – the shining city of a place where God rules, where He gets what He wants, where things are as He wants them to be.

But to be honest, it still feels like a description of Heaven rather than heaven-on-earth, and when I think of what the kingdom may look like now it’s a little something more like this letter that was recently delivered to my assistant:

"Norma, i spoke to david about tithing. i always give what i can because you know i don't have a lot, but i believe in my heart that the lord will take care of me and my boys, so this is my offical first tithe with a little extra. 10% right? and a little extra seed money. you decide where it should go, okay - i feel blessed to be here and my heart is happy.

thanks so much for your blessings,

love me.”

If the soul really is the meeting of intimacy and transcendence, I think we see that here.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Kinesthetic Spirituality

Kinesthetic spirituality is the understanding that our actions and our bodies play a role in our discipleship, that what we do actually matters to God and that He is concerned with the material world. Kinesthetics is the study of movement, and I would like to suggest that the reason that pilgrimmages and experiential prayer exercises are meaningful to many people is because so many of us are wired for movement [‘…in him we live and move and have our being…’]. Social scientists and educators even tell us that there are people who have a keenly developed sense of athletic/kinesethetic intelligence; and that fully 40%+ of Americans are kinesthetic learners. If this is true, then we should not be amazed at the power of exploring our bodies offered in service and praise to our God.

Kinesethic spirituality is the sense of intimacy and transcendence we experience when we fully immerse ourselves in worship, or when we open our senses to the prompting of God while out of doors. It is the expression of confronting mortality and our awareness of the Creator’s infinite capacity to love our fragile and broken flesh. Kinesethic spirituality is what advances the distance of intellect towards the closeness of humanity. It is the reality of our skin metted out against the reality of our identity.

Kinesthetic spirituality is about what you do. It is about what you are involved in. It is how we follow God in tough places, those that are hard to reach and force us to exert ourselves to reach the prize. Kinesthetic spirituality is sport and diet, exercise and experience; it is the drama of human encounter.

For our church, a commitment to kinesethic spirituality is a commitment to honor tactile interaction, and avoid services that cater only to aural and oral learners. This makes church more about what we are personally involved in than what others happen to be doing on a stage.

For many years, theologians have best understood the truth of the Trinity as a perichoresis – a circle dance – in which Father, Son, and Spirit join hands and spin and play as they love and create. Salvation is participation in the dance.

Salvation is kinesthetic – but it doesn’t stop at salvation; for the dance continues through time as more and more people join in.

Guerilla Ecclesiology

Church has to be more than just programs, strategem, cell groups, and services.

If being the church is an idea that resonates with new testament christian spirituality [more so than attending a church, that is], then we truly must reinvent our own understanding of what a church is and how we're supposed to be a part of it.

To this end, I'd like to advocate another paradigm - it's what I call 'guerilla ecclesiology.'

Guerillas are freedom fighters who attack without warning from hidden places. Images of the sandinistas or Che Guevara come immediately to mind, and – without validating the specific political and ethical connotations of such people - I think guerilla warfare is an accesible way for us to understand "church" and the spiritual contest in which we live. Church isn't something that happens on the weekend - even though we attend a church, typically on the weekend - church is a revolution of the faith and spirit and culture that lives in every Christ-follower all of the time and erupts in surprising ways through acts of mercy and charity.

Guerilla ecclesiology means we allow ourselves to act as agents of God all of the time, independant of corporate gatherings and representative of community. It means we bring the kingdom with us, like servants or ushers, and exhale it in common, human conditions.

We welcome God into our lives, just as He has welcomed us into life.

For our church this means that - instead of an intricate plan to somehow “evangelize the world” and “save the lost” - we’re advocating a different vision.


You are the vision.

You are the plan, you are the team, and you are the leader in the community effort to bring the gospel to the people you know. You are now both the target market and the liason, the entrepreneur and the captain because you are – also – the church.

Do you get it? “We” will still make plans and do large things together; but, “you” are really the bread-and-butter of what matters. We will value community connections and the kind of bump-up participation that cell ministries and youth groups and music teams and discussion groups foster, but we will also value you and the network of your friends and connections following Jesus and seeking His specific input into your daily life.

So, be the church in your limbs and speech and in your conversations all day long, in every way, on playgrounds and at work, in classrooms and in the mirror, and ask yourself what the church should be doing to demonstrate the love of God.

and then do it, church.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

nice thoughts from my friend tim

"...I've been taking photos of stange signs that I've been seeing around - actual street signs - and been thinking about how each could lead into a sermon or chapter of a book. Is the church seeing accurately the signs, or are they seeing what they want to see and posting their own, 'No Fishing' 'Do Not Enter' 'Dead End' where God's sign reads, 'Caution - Emerging Traffic Ahead' 'Merge Ahead'"

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Justice and Charity: Security and Demand

Whenever I think of value, and particularly monetary value, I think of one occasion at a local park where my dad and Carmel had taken Jacob for ice cream. Jake was only about 18months old at the time, and dad gave him a $20 bill to go buy ice cream from a vendor. Jake bought the ice cream, but when the vendor gave him the change – it was all bills – he thought that it was garbage because he’d never seen paper money before. So, my son threw $18 into the nearby garbage can, which – humorously - caused my wife and father to then go and dig it out.

This story always makes me wonder about whether or not we understand the value of money, or if we even get how precious some of these things would be to other people.

I once heard a fictional story about a church that decided to give all of its members $1000, with the intent that they were supposed to “pay it forward.” The idea was that the church people wouldn’t just give the money to someone else, but that they would invest themselves into that amount of money and imagine all that could be done with such a large sum. The pastor suggested they might take several lesser-income families to buy groceries, or that they might pay for a semester at a junior college for a student. It was also suggested that they might create a truly generous experience for an elderly couple, and treat them to a world-class supper served to them in their home.

But the story goes that no one did anything significant with the money. Some, sure, gave the money away and some tried to spend the money on nice gifts for people who weren’t well off; but, by and large, the church people couldn’t get their minds around how to be that generous.

Generosity begins small, and grows incrementally; so, you won’t ever be able to give a gift of $1000 if you’ve never given a gift of $2 to buy someone a slice of pie.

You don’t become generous, you cultivate generosity in your heart and that spirit grows within you until you understand its value.

The Gospel of Luke tells us about a remarkable encounter between Jesus and a rich young ruler [that term is used in most translations, but not in the Message]. Remember some of the context here, that the term “rich young ruler” likely referred to the political status of the young man as a member of the Herodian dynasty [who were selling out their own people to the Roman Empire ], or possibly a member of the Jewish landowning aristocracy. Probably, he would have been very much out of his element talking to a messianic claiment, particularly from the lower class.

One day a [rich young ruler] asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to deserve eternal life?"

Jesus said, "Why are you calling me good? No one is good--only God. You know the commandments, don't you? No illicit sex, no killing, no stealing, no lying, honor your father and mother."

He said, "I've kept them all for as long as I can remember."

When Jesus heard that, he said, "Then there's only one thing left to do: Sell everything you own and give it away to the poor. You will have riches in heaven. Then come, follow me."

This was the last thing the official expected to hear. He was very rich and became terribly sad. He was holding on tight to a lot of things and not about to let them go.

Seeing his reaction, Jesus said, "Do you have any idea how difficult it is for people who have it all to enter God's kingdom? I'd say it's easier to thread a camel through a needle's eye than get a rich person into God's kingdom."

Those who heard this asked, "Who then can be saved?"

Jesus replied, "What is impossible with men is possible with God."

Peter tried to regain some initiative: "We left everything we owned and followed you, didn't we?"

"Yes," said Jesus, "and you won't regret it. No one who has sacrificed home, spouse, brothers and sisters, parents, children--whatever- will lose out. It will all come back multiplied many times over in your lifetime. And then the bonus of eternal life!"

At first glance there seems to be some powerful language in this passage, and though I want to be careful not to deconstuct it too much, it may be helpful for us to understand that there is some debate among bible scholars about the language that Jesus is using here. For example, there are those who believe that the phrase “eye of the needle” actually was a coloquialism used to refer to the entryway to a common home in first-century Palestine. These homes were made of crude materials and the front door, so to speak, was shaped kind-of like the eye of a needle about 5 feet tall. If this is true, then it would be conceivable that a camel actually could pass through the “eye of a needle”, or the front door of such a home, albeit with tremendous difficulty. Camels, after all, typically stand 7 feet or more in height and weigh 1600lbs; so, getting one to willingly shove its humps into the lobby of a hobbit-hole would be no small feat.

On the other hand, we might think for a moment that even if “eye of a needle” was common terminology, that the rich young ruler might be wondering if Jesus’ play-on-word wasn’t designed as a jibe to a member of the oppresive upper class. Just imagine, if you were part of a group that was notoriously resented among the poor and you, tremolously, approached a poor clergyman with a query about salvation – and he answered cryptically – don’t you think you might not be a little concerned that you were about to get your come-uppance?

But notice what Jesus says directly after, in true Jesus style – mysterious and clever – “what is impossible with men is possible with God.”

I love this! It’s like Jesus is saying that you could force a dromedary through a cubbyhole AND that, supposing his remarks were meant as a taunt, that God even makes room for the rich and the wicked in His kingdom. Jesus is letting the young ruler sweat, even while assuring him that there’s no need for him to surrender hope.

Sadly, the young man does abandon the Path of Christ, daunted by the reality of having to give up that which he most cherishes. This, of course, is the danger of attachment to wealth – for there will come a time, or many times, when we must choose between what we can immediately keep or have and what God requires of us as followers of Him. This is why Mark warns of the deceit of wealth and desire for things, in chapter 4, that come in and choke the Word, making it as unfruitful as if it had been touched by Satan.

And yet, the young ruler is not called simply to come and give what he has to the poor, but to do that and then to “follow Jesus.” In other words, the call of Jesus to radical generosity is at one level an individual decision, but its context is that of a call to community. Such a community is in line with the function of voluntary communities within society. The disciples, after all, left everything and followed Jesus, and yet they did not totally renounce their possessions – though their decision certainly involved economic risk. In fact, historians tell us that James and John were probably fairly well off, having the money to hire other workers than just their own family to fish, and that Peter probably even owned home and a small bit of land.

So, though they gave “it all up” they also gained something in return. In return for risking their financial security and social standing, they gained a new society that functioned as the kingdom of heaven on earth; they gained a new family; they gained a new significance; as the discipled community shares among itself each member has access to much more than they gave up. This could also be said about heavenly reward; and, certainly on the level of temporal fulfillment, without this community emphasis the teachings of Christ could easy degenerate into an ethic of personal fulfillment.

This may be why Jesus’ words “fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s pleasure to give you the kingdom” precedes “sell your possesssions” in Luke 12.32,33. It may very well be that charity – giving everything away – is not simply a matter of making sure that one’s heart is in the right place or getting rid of a dangerous substance. It may be that that renunciation flows of out security – out of a sense that even if you did give everything away, God would look after you; or that even if it were impossible for a camel to enter the “eye of a needle”that Christ should justify you – rather than out of demand. Our sense of security is rooted in the knowledge that God is our Father, not in the phyisical reality of being over-generous. This does not give us permission to live lazily or foolishly or stupid; rather, it validates the old cliché that ‘you cannot outgive God.’

What I'm trying to do here is get you to relax, not be so preoccupied with getting so you can respond to God's giving. People who don't know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep yourself in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Don't be afraid of missing out. You're my dearest friends! The Father wants to give you the very kingdom itself.

"Be generous. Give to the poor. Get yourselves a bank that can't go bankrupt, a bank in heaven far from bankrobbers, safe from embezzlers, a bank you can bank on. It's obvious, isn't it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.

Luke 12.29-34

Saturday, February 11, 2006

help! my tongue is stuck in my cheek and i can't get it out!!

How Emergent Are You? McLaren's Seven Layers of the Emergent Conversation

Islam has its five pillars. Buddhism has its eight-fold path. Evangelicalism has its four spiritual laws. And now the Emerging Church has its seven layers of conversation.

Last month I was part of a small gathering of church leaders that hosted an evening with Brian McLaren. And the conversation turned as hot as the chutney. A number of participants were eager to discuss the criticisms that have been levied against the emerging church in recent months. The hijacking of the emergent movement by those merely interested in new worship trends rather than more substantive issues aggravated others. Everyone was looking to McLaren to chime in.

Always more likely to defuse than to detonate, McLaren entered the spicy conversation casually while slouched into the sofa with beverage in hand. He cautioned us against judging where others were in the “emergent conversation.” Leaning forward, he outlined what he saw as the seven layers of the emergent conversation. "We all enter at a different layer," he said, "but everyone should be welcomed into the conversation no matter where they may be."

Based on McLaren’s description, I’ve outlined the seven layers below.

I’ve added my own titles and used the imaginary “Seeker Community Church” to illustrate each point.

Layer 1: StyleSeeker Community Church realizes they’re ineffective at reaching the coveted 18-32 year old demographic. They send a few staff members to a conference and they come back with goatees and candles.

Layer 2: EvangelismAfter trying every facial hair permutation, Seeker Community Church discovers that to actually communicate the gospel to a younger generation they’ve got to learn to speak their language. They hire a former youth pastor to start an evening worship service with an “x” in its name.

Layer 3: CultureIt gradually dawns upon Seeker Community Church that the new challenges they are encountering are not limited to the younger generation. The entire culture is shifting away from the modern presuppositions their church was built upon. Some of the language and practices of the “x” service trickle into the rest of the church.

Layer 4: MissionThe emergence of Postmodernism causes Seeker Community Church to reevaluate the effectiveness of their mission strategy. Altar calls and gospel tracks are left behind in favor of community groups and relationships. Conversion is accepted as a journey and not merely a point of decision.

Layer 5: ChurchSeeker Community Church begins to wonder if a multi million-dollar building housing a theatrical production every weekend is the only way to do church. Drawing from new and ancient forms of church, they launch alternative communities—one meets in a bar on Sunday night, and the other is a liturgical gathering. The church also partners with an inner city monastic group to reach street kids.

Layer 6: GospelThe leadership of Seeker Community Church is stunned when the senior pastor confesses, “I’m not sure I’ve really understood the gospel.” He begins to wonder why Jesus never said God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life? And why Paul never asked anyone to invite Jesus into your heart? He starts to realize that the Good News is much more than he’d ever imagined.

Layer 7: WorldMaybe the mission of the church isn’t simply to become a bigger church? Maybe, like Jesus, the church is to engage the larger world to reveal that the kingdom of God has drawn near? To their amazement, Seeker Community Church discovers significant swaths of the Bible (such as the Pentateuch, prophets, gospels, and epistles) talk about justice, poverty, and compassion. The church begins to speak about social issues and participates in efforts to combat poverty, AIDS, and global injustice.

So, how emergent are you?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Bono's Speech at the National Prayer Breakfast

"Thank you. Mr. President, First Lady, King Abdullah, Other heads of State, Members of Congress, distinguished guests …Please join me in praying that I don't say something we'll all regret.

That was for the FCC.

If you're wondering what I'm doing here, at a prayer breakfast, well, so am I. I'm certainly not here as a man of the cloth, unless that cloth is leather. It's certainly not because I'm a rock star. Which leaves one possible explanation: I'm here because I've got a messianic complex.Yes, it's true. And for anyone who knows me, it's hardly a revelation.Well, I'm the first to admit that there's something unnatural… something unseemly… about rock stars mounting the pulpit and preaching at presidents, and then disappearing to their villas in the South of France. Talk about a fish out of water. It was weird enough when Jesse Helms showed up at a U2 concert… but this is really weird, isn't it?

You know, one of the things I love about this country is its separation of church and state. Although I have to say: in inviting me here, both church and state have been separated from something else completely: their mind. .Mr. President, are you sure about this?It's very humbling and I will try to keep my homily brief. But be warned—I'm Irish.

I'd like to talk about the laws of man, here in this city where those laws are written. And I'd like to talk about higher laws. It would be great to assume that the one serves the other; that the laws of man serve these higher laws… but of course, they don't always. And I presume that, in a sense, is why you're here.I presume the reason for this gathering is that all of us here—Muslims, Jews, Christians—all are searching our souls for how to better serve our family, our community, our nation, our God.I know I am. Searching, I mean. And that, I suppose, is what led me here, too.

Yes, it's odd, having a rock star here—but maybe it's odder for me than for you. You see, I avoided religious people most of my life. Maybe it had something to do with having a father who was Protestant and a mother who was Catholic in a country where the line between the two was, quite literally, a battle line. Where the line between church and state was… well, a little blurry, and hard to see.I remember how my mother would bring us to chapel on Sundays… and my father used to wait outside. One of the things that I picked up from my father and my mother was the sense that religion often gets in the way of God.

For me, at least, it got in the way.

Seeing what religious people, in the name of God, did to my native land… and in this country, seeing God's second-hand car salesmen on the cable TV channels, offering indulgences for cash… in fact, all over the world, seeing the self-righteousness roll down like a mighty stream from certain corners of the religious establishment…I must confess, I changed the channel. I wanted my MTV.Even though I was a believer.Perhaps because I was a believer.I was cynical… not about God, but about God's politics. (There you are, Jim.)

Then, in 1997, a couple of eccentric, septuagenarian British Christians went and ruined my shtick—my reproachfulness. They did it by describing the Millennium, the year 2000, as a Jubilee year, as an opportunity to cancel the chronic debts of the world's poorest people. They had the audacity to renew the Lord's call—and were joined by Pope John Paul II, who, from an Irish half-Catholic's point of view, may have had a more direct line to the Almighty.'Jubilee'—why 'Jubilee'?

What was this year of Jubilee, this year of our Lords favor?I'd always read the Scriptures, even the obscure stuff. There it was in Leviticus (25:35)…'If your brother becomes poor,' the Scriptures say, 'and cannot maintain himself… you shall maintain him… You shall not lend him your money at interest, not give him your food for profit.'

It is such an important idea, Jubilee, that Jesus begins his ministry with this. Jesus is a young man, he's met with the rabbis, impressed everyone, people are talking. The elders say, he's a clever guy, this Jesus, but he hasn't done much… yet. He hasn't spoken in public before…When he does, is first words are from Isaiah: 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,' he says, 'because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.' And Jesus proclaims the year of the Lord's favour, the year of Jubilee. (Luke 4:18)What he was really talking about was an era of grace—and we're still in it.

So fast-forward 2,000 years.

That same thought, grace, was made incarnate—in a movement of all kinds of people. It wasn't a bless-me club… it wasn't a holy huddle. These religious guys were willing to get out in the streets, get their boots dirty, wave the placards, follow their convictions with actions… making it really hard for people like me to keep their distance. It was amazing. I almost started to like these church people.

But then my cynicism got another helping hand.It was what Colin Powell, a five-star general, called the greatest W.M.D. of them all: a tiny little virus called A.I.D.S. And the religious community, in large part, missed it. The one's that didn't miss it could only see it as divine retribution for bad behaviour. Even on children… Even fastest growing group of HIV infections were married, faithful women.Aha, there they go again! I thought to myself Judgmentalism is back!

But in truth, I was wrong again.

The church was slow but the church got busy on this the leprosy of our age.Love was on the move.Mercy was on the move.God was on the move.Moving people of all kinds to work with others they had never met, never would have cared to meet… Conservative church groups hanging out with spokesmen for the gay community, all singing off the same hymn sheet on AIDS… Soccer moms and quarterbacks… hip-hop stars and country stars… This is what happens when God gets on the move: crazy stuff happens!Popes were seen wearing sunglasses!Jesse Helms was seen with a ghetto blaster!

Crazy stuff. Evidence of the spirit.It was breathtaking. Literally. It stopped the world in its tracks.

When churches started demonstrating on debt, governments listened—and acted. When churches starting organising, petitioning, and even—that most unholy of acts today, God forbid, lobbying… on AIDS and global health, governments listened—and acted.I'm here today in all humility to say: you changed minds; you changed policy; you changed the world.Look, whatever thoughts you have about God, who He is or if He exists, most will agree that if there is a God, He has a special place for the poor.

In fact, the poor are where God lives.Check Judaism. Check Islam. Check pretty much anyone.I mean, God may well be with us in our mansions on the hill… I hope so. He may well be with us as in all manner of controversial stuff… maybe, maybe not… But the one thing we can all agree, all faiths and ideologies, is that God is with the vulnerable and poor.God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house… God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives… God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war… God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them. "If you remove the yolk from your midst, the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness, and if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom with become like midday and the Lord will continually guide you and satisfy your desire in scorched places"

It's not a coincidence that in the Scriptures, poverty is mentioned more than 2,100 times. It's not an accident. That's a lot of air time, 2,100 mentions. [You know, the only time Christ is judgmental is on the subject of the poor.] 'As you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.' (Matthew 25:40). As I say, good news to the poor.

Here's some good news for the President. After 9-11 we were told America would have no time for the World's poor. America would be taken up with its own problems of safety. And it's true these are dangerous times, but America has not drawn the blinds and double-locked the doors.In fact, you have double aid to Africa. You have tripled funding for global health. Mr. President, your emergency plan for AIDS relief and support for the Global Fund—you and Congress—have put 700,000 people onto life-saving anti-retroviral drugs and provided 8 million bed nets to protect children from malaria.

Outstanding human achievements. Counterintuitive. Historic. Be very, very proud.

But here's the bad news. From charity to justice, the good news is yet to come. There's is much more to do. There's a gigantic chasm between the scale of the emergency and the scale of the response.And finally, it's not about charity after all, is it? It's about justice.

Let me repeat that: It's not about charity, it's about justice.

And that's too bad.Because you're good at charity. Americans, like the Irish, are good at it. We like to give, and we give a lot, even those who can't afford it.But justice is a higher standard. Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice; it makes a farce of our idea of equality. It mocks our pieties, it doubts our concern, it questions our commitment.6,500 Africans are still dying every day of a preventable, treatable disease, for lack of drugs we can buy at any drugstore. This is not about charity, this is about Justice and Equality.Because there's no way we can look at what's happening in Africa and, if we're honest, conclude that deep down, we really accept that Africans are equal to us. Anywhere else in the world, we wouldn't accept it. Look at what happened in South East Asia with the Tsunami. 150, 000 lives lost to that misnomer of all misnomers, "mother nature". In Africa, 150,000 lives are lost every month. A tsunami every month. And it's a completely avoidable catastrophe.It's annoying but justice and equality are mates. Aren't they?

Justice always wants to hang out with equality. And equality is a real pain.You know, think of those Jewish sheep-herders going to meet the Pharaoh, mud on their shoes, and the Pharaoh says, "Equal?" A preposterous idea: rich and poor are equal? And they say, "Yeah, 'equal,' that's what it says here in this book. We're all made in the image of God."And eventually the Pharaoh says, "OK, I can accept that. I can accept the Jews—but not the blacks.""Not the women. Not the gays. Not the Irish. No way, man."

So on we go with our journey of equality.On we go in the pursuit of justice.We hear that call in the ONE Campaign, a growing movement of more than two million Americans… left and right together… united in the belief that where you live should no longer determine whether you live.We hear that call even more powerfully today, as we mourn the loss of Coretta Scott King—mother of a movement for equality, one that changed the world but is only just getting started.

These issues are as alive as they ever were; they just change shape and cross the seas.Preventing the poorest of the poor from selling their products while we sing the virtues of the free market… that's a justice issue. Holding children to ransom for the debts of their grandparents… That's a justice issue. Withholding life-saving medicines out of deference to the Office of Patents… that's a justice issue.And while the law is what we say it is, God is not silent on the subject.That's why I say there's the law of the land… and then there is a higher standard. There's the law of the land, and we can hire experts to write them so they benefit us, so the laws say it's OK to protect our agriculture but it's not OK for African farmers to do the same, to earn a living?As the laws of man are written, that's what they say.God will not accept that.Mine won't, at least. Will yours?


I close this morning on … very… thin… ice.This is a dangerous idea I've put on the table: my God vs. your God, their God vs. our God… vs. no God. It is very easy, in these times, to see religion as a force for division rather than unity.And this is a town—Washington—that knows something of division.But the reason I am here, and the reason I keep coming back to Washington, is because this is a town that is proving it can come together on behalf of what the Scriptures call the least of these.

This is not a Republican idea. It is not a Democratic idea. It is not even, with all due respect, an American idea. Nor it is unique to any one faith.Do to others as you would have them do to you.' (Luke 6:30) Jesus says that.'Righteousness is this: that one should… give away wealth out of love for Him to the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and the beggars and for the emancipation of the captives.' The Koran says that. (2.177)Thus sayeth the Lord: 'Bring the homeless poor into the house, when you see the naked, cover him, then your light will break out like the dawn and your recovery will speedily spring fourth, then your Lord will be your rear guard.' The jewish scripture says that. Isaiah 58 again.That is a powerful incentive: 'The Lord will watch your back.' Sounds like a good deal to me, right now.A number of years ago, I met a wise man who changed my life. In countless ways, large and small, I was always seeking the Lord's blessing. I was saying, you know, I have a new song, look after it… I have a family, please look after them… I have this crazy idea…And this wise man said: stop.He said, stop asking God to bless what you're doing.

Get involved in what God is doing—because it's already blessed.Well, God, as I said, is with the poor. That, I believe, is what God is doing.And that is what He's calling us to do.I was amazed when I first got to this country and I learned how much some churchgoers tithe. Up to ten percent of the family budget. Well, how does that compare the federal budget, the budget for the entire American family? How much of that goes to the poorest people in the world? Less than one percent.

Mr. President, Congress, people of faith, people of America:I want to suggest to you today that you see the flow of effective foreign assistance as tithing…. Which, to be truly meaningful, will mean an additional one percent of the federal budget tithed to the poor.What is one percent?One percent is not merely a number on a balance sheet.One percent is the girl in Africa who gets to go to school, thanks to you. One percent is the AIDS patient who gets her medicine, thanks to you. One percent is the African entrepreneur who can start a small family business thanks to you. One percent is not redecorating presidential palaces or money flowing down a rat hole. This one percent is digging waterholes to provide clean water.One percent is a new partnership with Africa, not paternalism towards Africa, where increased assistance flows toward improved governance and initiatives with proven track records and away from boondoggles and white elephants of every description.

America gives less than one percent now.

Were asking for an extra one percent to change the world. to transform millions of lives—but not just that and I say this to the military men now – to transform the way that they see us.One percent is national security, enlightened economic self interest, and a better safer world rolled into one. Sounds to me that in this town of deals and compromises, one percent is the best bargain around.These goals—clean water for all; school for every child; medicine for the afflicted, an end to extreme and senseless poverty—these are not just any goals; they are the Millennium Development goals, which this country supports. And they are more than that.

They are the Beatitudes for a Globalised World.

Now, I'm very lucky. I don't have to sit on any budget committees. And I certainly don't have to sit where you do, Mr. President. I don't have to make the tough choices.But I can tell you this:To give one percent more is right. It's smart. And it's blessed.There is a continent—Africa—being consumed by flames.I truly believe that when the history books are written, our age will be remembered for three things: the war on terror, the digital revolution, and what we did—or did not to—to put the fire out in Africa.

History, like God, is watching what we do.

Thank you. Thank you, America, and God bless you all."

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Justice and Charity: Week One: Prosperity and Abundance

I’ve always thought that it has been our obligation, our duty, to help those who are less fortunate. I’ve not always done an excellent job of providing that help, nor have the things I’ve done always been helpful despite my most sincere efforts; but, I’ve always felt strongly that God wants us to emulate His compassion for the poor.

So with this in mind, as a young man I would often – naively – go into the downtown center for the specific purpose of helping people [let me underscore once again, before I go any further, that I’m really not sure whether this is a great approach, nor am I sure that you should never do these things: I’m only sure we ought to be sensitive to both the Holy Spirit and to other people in our genuine endeavors of compassion]. Vancouver is a fairly large city, but once you revisit the same couple of places you begin to recognize the various homeless personalities you may have seen before, and one such fellow was a guy named Ken who worked the squeegee on the corner of Main and Terminal, a pretty busy – and hostile – intersection.

One day I decided I was going to try and help Ken. I really believed that if someone would actually spend time with Ken, not just give him money, that they could actually make a difference in his life and maybe help him get back on his feet. What I didn’t understand was that Ken, in addition to his substance abuse, was mentally ill and incredibly violent and when I took him to a halfway house and tried to pay for his relocation, the proprietor refused.

Apparantly, other people had previously tried this approach, unsuccessfully, with Ken.

When the proprietor refused him admission, Ken became very agitated and began to destroy things in the lobby of the home. He then followed me to my car and began to threaten me, but was ultimately dissuaded from further violence by a friend of mine, Mark, who happened to be tagging along.

My experiences that day, and the several years of advice from friends and counselors revealed to me a lot about people, about myself and generosity and compassion, and about God’s intent for me as a resource to others.

See, I used to think that it was just my job to give money or perhaps be involved in some kind of practical caregiving. After my experience with Ken, and a few other experiences that were of a similar bent, I began to wonder if I couldn’t truly make more of a difference through relationship and conversation than I could with activity or charity. But now, having reflected for some time on these experiences, I find that God isn’t satisfied with this kind of thinking.

In fact, I’m quite sure God doesn’t want me to prescribe action in advance of circumstance. I don’t think He’s interested in my policy of almsgiving.

I think God wants us to be lead by the Spirit in every moment; so, if we see someone begging we might pause to ask Jesus what He wants us to do right then. And if we feel that giving money is insufficient at that point, we might ask what would be better? Or more right? And if that leads to a meal, or if it all stops and we are lead to walk away at least we know we were driven by the Spirit instead of by our previous thoughts on what might be most helpful.

In Mark chapter 14 we’re told a compelling story about beggars:

And Jesus sat down opposite the treasury and saw how the crowd was casting money into the treasury. Many rich people were throwing in large sums, and a widow who was poverty-stricken came and put in two copper coins, which together make half of a cent. And He called His disciples and said to them, “Truly and surely I tell you, this widow, who is poverty-stricken, has put in more than all those contributing to the treasury. For they all threw in out of their abundance; but she, out of her deep poverty, has put in everything that she had--even all she had on which to live.”

Typically when we speak of money in churches it is to talk about tithing – but I think the New Testament reveals to us an entire world of economics that not only assumes tithing but surpasses it. I think the whole spirit of how we ought to handle our money as Christ-followers is summed up in the example of this woman.

Consider that in Jesus’ day the Hebrew people were a people living under the subjugation of the Roman Empire, and that there were only two classes of Jews. There were those who were very rich – the high priests, the aristocracy, wealthy merchants and the Herodians who ruled Jerusalem and Judea on behalf of Rome – and the very poor – the craftsmen, the artisans, the lower clergy, and beggars. And in that time, really, the only way for a Jew to become wealthy was through dishonest gain; I mean, you had to be one of the priests who demanded a tithe of between 17% and 23%, or someone who’d sold out their own people to a foreign ruling power, or someone who managed land and paid unustly low wages and overtaxed your workers.

The one redeeming factor of the rich, in the eyes of the rest of the Israeli people, that kept them from harm at the hands of their own countrymen until the Jewish revolt of 66AD, was that they believed it was their social responsibility to give alms to the poor. During the intertestimental period it was even recorded that the poor do more for the rich than the rich do for the poor because the poor provide the rich a means to gain favor with God.

It is into this context – where apparantly all wealth is wealth gained unethically – that Jesus and His disciples are witness to the generosity of this widow. Imagine them standing near the temple, watching all of the rich and wealthy come and give their money to the poor, making a big show and knowing that not only is this important for their appearance but also it’s a kind-of buy-out on their unethical practices before God and its keeping the coming revolution at bay – imagine Jesus and His followers watching this display of phony kindness, and then seeing the little old lady come and give everything she had to the poor.

To the poor?

She was poor! She had nothing to give, and gave it all anyway – and I think this represents for us the difference between an Old Testament and a New Testament understanding of things like prosperity and abundance.

In the Old Testament, primarily because of the stories of Abraham, Solomon, and Job – all incredibly wealthy – people believed that if you honored God with your life, He would honor you with a “good reward for your toil”; there was a one-to-one correlation that when your soul prospered, your material life prospered in terms of a large family, a full granary, abundant livestock, etc… This also applied to military matters, and issues of government and leadership. So the passages where righteous people complain to God because the “wicked prosper” are actually indictments against God, who doesn’t seem to have upheld His end of the bargain. They are the complaints of people who feel they’ve been duped or swindled, and that the way God spelled out “the deal” wasn’t actually the way things were going.

But in the New Testament, Jesus clears up some of the ambiguity. Jesus comes proclaiming that prosperity isn’t about being a recipiet of abundance, but a resource for justice. Remember, it was Jesus who said “it is better to give than to receive” and who promised special blessings for the poor in the beatitudes, but woe to the rich, for it will be “easier for a camel to enter the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kindgom of heaven.” Even when Jesus quoted the Old Testament, He quoted those passages that clearly delineated that God had a special concern for the poor, like when He read the prophecy of Isaiah in the temple that was, in essence, a claim to messianism He tells His hearers that God exalts the lowly and the rich he sends away empty.

To be perfectly clear, there is – once again – nothing wrong with wealth, except that the control of wealth, the way we attain wealth, our affection for wealth often leads us into places of spiritual corruption. It is interesting to me that the word Mammon that Jesus uses for money, “you cannot serve two masters…you cannot serve both God and money”, is a word for taken from ancient Sumeria for idols that were said to possess their worshippers.

Perhaps Jesus is cleverly cautioning us against being possessed by our possessions.

In fact, it is this very thread that often appears among Christians during times of political revolution. We call this kind of thinking, “liberation theology”, and see it in Africa, in Cuba and Haiti when the Spanish and French respectively were in control; we also saw it in Nicaragua with the Sandinistas and in Northern Ireland when the Loyalists were fighting the IRA. Now, I’d like to point out that just because there were Christians on a particular side of a revolution doesn’t mean there were none on the opposing side, nor should we turn a blind eye to the crimes against humanity often committed by either side in these scenarios; rather, I’d just like to point out that for Christians living in an unjust political scheme, the promises of scripture and the teachings of Jesus take on an entirely new light.

For example, because Jesus quoted Isaiah 62.1,2 as a mandate for redistribution of wealth and a positive evaulation of the poor – which was a confrontational statement when made in the presence of the wealthy Temple priests who were taxing the people into oblivion - He funded the imagination of other people who have been similarly oppressed and are now following Jesus because He is advocating for justice.

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor.

So, in modern times of oppresion, people have looked to passages like these in a present-literal way, rather than an abstract, eschatalogical one. In other words, they read this stuff and believe it and get hope from it, rather than blowing it off as some kind of poem about heaven.

Despite our inherent lack of oppression in the West, I think we begin to understand Jesus’ teachings on justice and charity – His own thoughts on wealth, abundance, prosperity, success and security – as something that demands we radically alter our perceptions about our role in this world. Once again, we are here as a resource for justice – as emissaries of Jesus sent to bring hope to our world. This has a direct bearing on how we understand and use our money, but also a bearing on how we view our entire lives.

I like to think of it as hospitality because when someone comes to my house they don’t have to pay for the food they eat, or worry about whether or not they’re messing up my “good china”. When someone is at my home my primary concern is how I can let them know they are in a safe place, free of judgement, where a spirit of peace is present and the love of God can be felt.

If we think of the earth belonging to God – “the earth is the lord’s and everything in it” – it’s not hard for us to then think that we must do what we can as friends of God to cultivate a hospitality of the earth.

As such, I believe we’re called to do something about the 300 million people living on less than $1/day in Africa; and, the 3 billion people all over the world who live on less than $2/day [nevermind the 6,600 people who die everyday in Africa and the 8500 who contract HIV]. At this point, cows in Europe receive more financial aid each day than African human beings – than our own brothers.