Thursday, December 31, 2009

Urbana 09: Money, DAY 3

Today was a good day for many reasons. I slept until 8am, a good 3 hour increase from the last couple of nights. I also met the person (living) who has most influenced my life: Shane Claiborne. Actually, it was a day filled with missions, WHM, and Shane. I met Shane in the early afternoon. I explained to him that I lived in Philly, a mere minutes away from his ministry, the Simple Way. He was very nice and sincere. He invited my wife and I to come over for dinner sometime at the Simple Way...I will definitely take him up on the offer!

DAY 3:
We have a great booth location. We are located right next to the only entrance doors, and alongside YWAM, we are the first mission organization to be seen as potential missionaries make their way through a complex, vast, and intimidating gymnasium filled with opportunity. And we have made the most of it. At the end of Day 3, we met a goal that we set for the effort of the entire week: 385 people had signed up on our facebook fan page. I have also had numerous conversations about who we are and what we do, and lots of encouragement from like-minded organizations. Most individuals I am speaking with have interest in our internship programs in which we work hard to help grow the missionary personally as well as make a tangible difference in the host country for Christ.

Meeting Shane Claiborne was a highlight of the day. Using Scripture and application, God has used him to change my worldview significantly...and judging by the reaction from the other 16,000...I am not alone. I attended a seminar he did in conjunction with Dr. John Perkins and it was quite riveting and memorable. Few things in this world move people like observing another who lives out what they believe...especially when what they believe in is Jesus and His Kingdom. That evening Shane was the speaker and was given the task of speaking on the issue of "money". Perhaps needless to say, he was prophetically brilliant. The call to missional Followers of Christ was to live incarnationally (dwelled among us) in hurting, marginalized places by partaking in their sufferings. This often translates into making sacrifices even to the extent to a "vow of poverty." We have countless indications and examples in Scripture of those who lived incarnationally like this. As Shane would quote from Gandhi concerning money, resources, and pwer, "There is enough for every ones need, but not for every ones greed." Amen.

Picture: Me and Shane Claiborne

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Urbana 09: Movements of Peoples, DAY 2

I still have pretty bad jet lag. I am waking up at 5am every morning, and am sure that is long before most college students are waking here!! Nevertheless, it gives me some time to reflect and think about my time here and how God is "dwelling among us".

Day 2:
The delegates at the conference sure do like our booth, our staff, and the handouts we are giving away for those who join our facebook fan page. We have added about 300 people to our fan page in 2 days...much higher numbers than we had expected coming in to the event at this point. Today I spoke with a young lady who wants to be a nurse in Uganda. It was a great conversation and took me back to the days when I was 18 and filled with hope, excitement, anxiety, fear, and every other emotion that naturally comes with missions. Laying down your life to serve the Lord in a foreign country is perhaps one of the hardest decisions any person can make in their lives...yet it is the most rewarding. Having been on both sides now, I am now tasked with helping nurture and counsel these young lives in this truth. You give up much, you get more! Its the Kingdom of God after all, and we all know that the Kingdom works on the same paradigm.

The theme for day 2 was "movement of peoples", which consisted of absolutely riveting talks from Ruth Padilla DeBorst and R. York Moore. I found myself getting choked up with tears as they described the world of immigration, sex trade, slave trade, etc. and how the gospel of Jesus confronts those issues. DeBorst made passionate claims for a complete and comprehensive understanding of God's children, that transcends nationality and ethnicity. "Love doesn't reach from afar, its incarnational," Deborst exclaimed. I am hoping InterVarsity puts her speech online...the whole thing was magnificent and moving. Moore was equally as passionate and compelling in speaking on slave trade. I remember saying he was born again..again, as he learned that salvation is much more than saving souls, its about saving the world. This sentiment was greeted by wild applause from the 16,000 gathered.

Today was moving for me. As a Follower of Christ dedicated to issues of social (in)justice, Day 2 focused on big issues surrounding our world in the 21st century. And missions plays perhaps the biggest role in this. The evening concluded with a powerful skit in which the prostitute Rahab was used for God's purposes and spared as she cried out for mercy.....God is reconciling the world. He is reconciling movements of peoples. Time to join in.

Pictures: The Urbana 09 theme,
Me and other WHM staff working our booth

Monday, December 28, 2009

Urbana 09: He Dwelled Among Us, DAY 1

I was up almost 24 hours straight in coming to Urbana 09, in St. Louis, via Switzerland and my Christmas vacation with family. After the first leg of my long trip, Geneva to Newark, I sat in the airport with a 5 hour layover...dead tired...feeling sick...worn out...and almost giving up. The thought crossed my mind numerous times to cancel my trip. I would think to myself, "If I start to feel even slightly worse, I am going to Philly to get better." That never happened. Now I am here at Urbana 09, the largest North American Missions Conference in St. Louis Missouri that happens every three years, and am so grateful I hung in there and that God gave me the resilience to push through...

Day 1:
I met up with my fellow co-workers from WHM, David and Caitlin, to finish setting up our booth at the Urbana Convention Center. By the time we were open to meet friends and potential missionaries at our booth, we were pumped with anticipation. Our booth is amazing. People who visit the booth hop onto one of our computers, sign into facebook, and become a fan of WHM on our fan page. Yesterday, open for 3 hours, we added about 100 friends! Besides that, I was able to meet and talk intimately with several individuals who are looking to hear God's call here at Urbana. They are looking to see if missions are right for them. A couple of times God allowed me to share my testimony of missions and how God has radically changed my life since my call about 6 years ago.

The night finished with about 16,000 people worshipping God in the Edward Jones Dome (where the St. Louis Rams play football). What an amazing scene and experience!! I still have yet to experience anything as exhilarating as this worship time at Urbana. If God is in the midst of us when 3 are about 16,000??? 'Nuff said!

"He Dwelled Among Us". The theme for Urbana 09. From the first chapter of John, this verse begins to define what the Incarnation means in all aspects of life.

Day 1 is complete....Cant wait for Day 2! Be back to share more!

Pictures: Worshipping w/ 16,000 brothers and sisters
Me at the WHM booth

Friday, December 04, 2009

Pre-Black Friday Day, aka Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving was a nice time in the Poconos with my wife’s family. We shared stories of God working in our lives and our world, and new ministry opportunities blooming. We shared good food, many smiles, and many stories. Christianne and I had a 2-hour car drive home after this wonderful celebration. During this drive, I kept hearing commercial after commercial on the radio for “Black Friday.” Door busters. Huge sales. This weekend only events. Slashing prices and inventory. Etc. I then realized that as I was celebrating thanksgiving towards my Creator, the culture was beginning its celebration of consumerism. This thought I was contemplating in my heart was made concrete by a DJ who later said, “Thanksgiving anymore has turned into a day that merely gears up for Black Friday.” How true is that!

Not only has Satan used American culture to put a veil over Christmas, he has also found a way to undermine Thanksgiving. When Thanksgiving merely becomes a day to prepare for spending money, we have lost our way. When Christmas is more about feel good consumeristic church services, stacking up presents under a Christmas tree, and Santa Clause, we have lost our way. I am not saying that buying things, or giving presents to others is inherently evil or wrong…but what I am saying is that our culture can easily inform/persuade our beliefs, without us even being aware that it is happening. Are we practicing American Christianity, or Christianity in America? They are very different paradigms.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, I hope and pray we can all be aware of what Thanksgiving and Christmas means as Followers of Jesus, that we can be aware of the seemingly pervasive way we have been duped by culture, and have the heart and ability to do something about it and take a stand. Me included.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Ordinary Radical

I get a lot of questions about what “ordinary radical” means. Shane Claiborne, of The Simple Way, initially coined the term (at least as far as I know) in his groundbreaking book, “Irresistible Revolution”. Now there are many “ordinary radicals” who resonate with Claiborne that use this label. I was fortunate enough to catch the term before Claiborne’s popularity soared and secured a blog site with the name. Judging by the traffic I get on this site, it has more to do with my blog name than my content! Ha! So when I think about what “ordinary radical” means for me, I conclude that it simply means living out a ‘radical’ life devoted to Jesus and His paths in an ‘ordinary’ way. There is nothing special about me or what I am doing so I am very ordinary. I am radical insomuch as I radically look at unique (yet ancient) ways to push forth the Kingdom of God. I'm ordinarily radical.

You may recall in a previous post my story of the path to “nonviolence”. I guess you can say that was the tipping point into this subversive, ordinary radical life calling as well. God illuminated my heart with an understanding of the Sermon on the Mount, and subsequent study of the life of St. Francis of Assisi, that up to that point I viewed as inconceivable, unrealistic, and too hard to follow. Though I still feel these ways often as I look around at aworld overwhelmingly torn by non-Christ-like elements, I now firmly believe that God’s Kingdom as described by Jesus is one that can be pushed forth by His willing jars of clay. But we have to be willing to die to Americanism. To ourselves. Yes, it is wild…chaotic…hard…but it is also life-giving…meaningful…worth every second.

Though I view Shane Claiborne as a brother in Christ and a person who has mentored my faith, I still have yet to follow the same radical call we have both been given. Yes, I just said that we have both been given. God and I have wrestled. And once again, He has called me. Called my wife and I. I know what His purposes are for us. I know what gifts He has given me, and I know what burdens are deep down inside of me…and those burdens and gifts can only be linked to a God who put them there…because in my own strength, or flesh, or self-centeredness, they would not come to fruition. But God is rising up inside of me.

I am called. I now know 100% I am called to “the least of these.” It has been a long, tedious, arduous, stressful, doubting path I have been treading down for a long time…but, I know for certain that this is what I was made for.

Will this edict take the form of going back to my second home? Will God lead me to the inner city? Will He direct me somewhere new? Am I called to my neighborhood in Philly? I don’t know…so please pray for us. What I do know is that wherever I go, I will be with the poor.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Philadelphia House Church: The Emergence

Many people are aware that my wife and I are in the midst of starting a house church (organic church). The burden that began this journey started about 5-6 years ago, though I didn’t know I had the burden at the time. Now, looking back, I can see the way God was weaving my path down to this ultimate destination…at least, ultimate destination…for now…

That historical story is long, at times filled with my sin, and too complex to share here. What I can share is how God is establishing this vision for us now. Maybe someday I will share with all of you what that process was like. But suffice to say, you can pick up almost any book on house or organic church or missional church to find the reasons…because most of those reasons the authors give were reasons God used for us as well.

I can say this: A-stan ruined me. It ruined me in some really, really good ways. One way it ruined me in a good way is that it showed me the closest thing I have experienced of what Acts 2 and 4 communities must have been like. I had never experienced that before I went overseas, and continue not experience it now that I am back. But, my desire is to do that in the USA...and I am thankful I am not alone. If you are interested to see how those early Christians lived and did will find it in the book of Acts.

Recently, God gave my wife and I a mentor: Don Graves. He is a brilliant networker and coordinates many people, ideas, and initiatives for house church in the greater Philadelphia area. God has also given my wife and I another couple who have had a much different journey than ours, but nevertheless the same end point of this calling. Last night, I got a call from a man I will keep anonymous for his sake who asked me to be a part of helping him understand the “postmodern” way of faith and how to engage/mentor students from Philadelphia Biblical University who “don’t wanna do church like me”, are “starving to reach their communities”, and are done with the “individualistic, consumerist approach to faith and church”. God has again opened doors.

So this is the beginning of an approach that says, “Go and Tell” as opposed to “Come and See”. You see, besides the perhaps different take I have on ecclesiology than most modern churches, I know I am surrounded by neighbors and a community who have no desire to step foot into a church building. So, how do we overcome that obstacle? Take the church to them. Thus the journey has begun….more to come…

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Simple Life, Thom Rainer & Art Rainer

My book review as a contributor of such for:

I have lived in both the Western world and the Eastern world. Perhaps the starkest contrast I experienced culturally between the two revolved around the topics outlined in this book: how life is experienced through the categories of time, relationships, money, and God.

Thom and Art Rainer tackle some pretty hefty subjects within this book about western culture that need to be addressed. My own life in the West is often characterized by being pressed to do more, to do it faster, and to do it better. And this pressure seeps through essentially every aspect of my life. I mean, when did it become ok to start thinking I was wasting time because I was doing something non-strategic or not adding to the “bottom line”? When did it become ok to make life so complex that God is pushed out of the equation? When did it become ok for me to get to the end of the week and realize I have spent almost no energy on the things that truly matter to me, and tons of energy pursuing things that “moth and rust will destroy”? Frankly, this is the world we inhabit in the West and a life most of us experience. A world and life that tells us if we just do more, or do it better, or try harder that we will become successful (whatever that means!!). Of course, the heart of this message is in complete contrast to the message of Jesus. It takes a concerted effort to simplify and prioritize our lives from the complex web of independence and “try harder” attitude that pervades American culture.

It would be nice to find a “silver bullet” on this topic. Rainer and Rainer do not offer that, however, I don’t think God would be glorified if there was a template for simplicity. What the Rainers do give in this book is a thoughtful, story-filled, practical guide to help individuals begin to think about how to prioritize their lives in a way that more accurately reflects their values. Perhaps the most riveting part of this book for me was the examples these men gave of people struggling in all of these areas. Of course, knowing that others struggle gives us the hope we are not all alone. And if we engage those other people properly, it give us the ability to find community, accountability, and fellowship to pursue simplicity and lives that reflect our values and what truly matters to us. So, if your values and priorities are to make as much money as possible and stay as busy as needed to do it in order to build yourself “treasures on earth”, then this book is not for you. If you value your relationship with God and community foremost and want to know steps to take to get you untangled from the devious western web of deceitful lies, then this book is for you.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Commitment to Nonviolence

Soon after God made the radical transformation in my life, one area of conviction that happened almost instantaneously were my views on punishment.hate.

It was an undeniable feeling in my heart that the aforementioned aspects of life stood in complete contrast to the ethic of life that Jesus was and promoted, and the intrinsically linked Kingdom of God expression. God traveled me down the road of becoming a Follower who accepts and practices nonviolence.

Most people know about this because it is one of the first social causes I take up, and I know that perhaps my extreme commitment (i.e. moderate pacifism) to nonviolence isn't well received in most Evangelical circles. Nevertheless, I still feel a yearning, a calling, a pleading deep down in my heart and soul that what I stand for is "good"...I acknowledge it perhaps may not be "right" in the objective, analytical, practical sense...yet, I take comfort that neither does the gospel. Make sense of God's paradoxical Kingdom, and you have perhaps cracked the biggest nut history has ever contemplated.

The United Nations has designated October 2nd as "International Nonviolence Day". My prayers today will be focused on God's Kingdom in which "there will be war no more" and the Lamb who was led to slaughter though He had done no wrong in order to bring us peace.

"Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of humanity. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of humanity. Nonviolence is not passivity in any shape or form. It is the most active force in the world. Nonviolence is the supreme law. Just as one must learn the art of killing in the training for violence, so one must learn the art of dying in the training for nonviolence. One person who can express nonviolence in life exercises a force superior to all the forces of brutality. We are constantly being astonished these days at the amazing discoveries in the field of violence, but I maintain that far more undreamt of and seemingly impossible discoveries will be made in the field of nonviolence. My optimism rests on my belief in the infinite possibilities of the individual to develop nonviolence. The more you develop it in your own being, the more infectious it becomes till it overwhelms your surroundings and by and by might oversweep the world. We have to make truth and nonviolence not matters for mere individual practice, but for practice by groups and communities and nations. That, at any rate, is my dream. When the practice of nonviolence becomes universal, God will reign on earth as God reigns in heaven." -Mohandas Gandhi

Psalm 46
To the choirmaster. Of the Sons of Korah. According to Alamoth. A Song. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,

though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.

God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns.

The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

Come, behold the works of the Lord , how he has brought desolations on the earth.

He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire.

"Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!"

The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

A Day of Life and Death

This past week marked the birthday of Judah, our firstborn son. He has been such a blessing and joy in my life. It is no understatement to say that my life has been utterly changed by his presence. I have been sanctified because of God’s ability to speak to me through Judah’s life. On the same day as Judah’s birthday, I attended a funeral for the sister (Carol) of a lady (Olivia) who works out at the same gym as I do. Finally, August 30th would have been my father’s 65th birthday, but he died an untimely death in 1980 at the age of 35.

And the story of life goes on. When I was sitting at the funeral for this young woman who passed away, the Spirit was working on my heart concerning the fragile nature of life. I celebrated life, and death, on the same day. But this wasn’t just an everyday, normal situation. You see, the woman at the gym, Olivia, is not a Follower. She has a friend who works out with her, Betty, that is. These ladies really bring it at the gym, they go all out. We bonded instantly because all 3 of us are there 4-5 days a week, at 6am!! They would ask me to give them pointers. I would engage in conversation with them. I remember the first meaningful conversation I had with the both of them. Of course, like many at the gym, they asked me about my tattoos. Betty, the Christ Follower knew what they were…Olivia, did not. So the conversation took the natural turn, “Are you both Followers?” I asked. Betty exclaimed, “Why yes of course!!” Olivia did not respond. This interaction was months ago. Flash forward to about 2 months back. Olivia’s sister went into a coma. She was devastated. Yet, she turned to both Betty and I for guidance, comfort, and prayer. At least once a week, the three of us would find a corner in the gym and pray for the recovery of Carol. If you can imagine the scene..a younger white guy praying with two middle aged African American women…it was something to behold!! But God is constantly bringing me into these types of relationships (more about the guys at the gym to come in a future blog post). During these prayer times only Betty and I would pray…but Olivia was extremely grateful; extremely encouraged. Day by day Carol would make progress. In fact, a week before her death she gave the most encouraging signs of recovery…yet, she would pass. Olivia is heart-broken. Since the death just occurred, I have not been able to help Olivia process it at all. I wonder how God will use this to glorify himself…will Olivia turn towards God, or away from Him as a result of this? Always during our prayer time, no matter how encouraging news was, we would always pray for God’s glory to be had. I believe in my gut that it somehow has and will be. I am hopeful and prayerful that Carol’s death will bring forth new life in the form of Olivia’s salvation.

Now 31, I am beginning to see more and more life/death moments. Lots of kids. Lots of suffering and dying. I remember being 22 and not giving a crap about this…I would drink as much as I wanted, party as much as I wanted, do dangerous activities as much as I wanted, and never think about whether or not what I was doing was glorifying God, or if I would even wake up the next morning..I took it all for granted. Now, everyday when I awake, I think in my heart, wow, I have another day on this earth..Thank you Lord! Between Carol’s death, Judah’s birthday, and my father’s death at 35 years old, I am becoming more and more aware of the blessing of each day and how God desires for me to live each day to the fullest and to proclaim His Majesty and Salvation and Love, because today is all we are promised….

Saturday, July 11, 2009

So Beautiful, by Leonard Sweet

My book review as a contributor of such for: .

"So Beautiful" is the first book I have read by Leonard Sweet, and I was not disappointed. In fact, it has prompted me to research some of his other titles. I will be reading more of his books in the future!

The book is not short in sharp, articulate, precise observations and insights. I am not sure if Mr. Sweet calls himself a theologian, but his book reflects substance of the type.

Perhaps the biggest message I take away from this book is the proposed shift of church culture from attractional, propositional, and colonial to missional, relational, and incarnational; an idea that resonates deep within my being. Throughout the book he describes in captivating detail what that looks like, often providing extremely relevant practical examples, wisdom gained throughout his journey and the church’s journey, and a plethora of brilliant quotable material. I would be erring to not grace you with some of them.

“Our holy texts reveal the divine as being-in-relation. The two key components of Trinitarian thinking are relationally and difference: the two key challenges of the 21st century. A missional mind-set is less about acquiring more information than entering into a deeper relationship with God and man.”

“To be sure, the MRI (missional, relational, incarnational) paradigm is a shift from institution to movement, from ‘withinforth’ to ‘withoutforth’ (medieval language for the ‘inner’ and ‘outer’), from planning to prayer and preparedness, from strategic thinking to prophesying your way forward, from invite them in to interact with them out there, from increased market share to increased world presence, from living in to living out the gospel.”

“When a church is not on a journey it becomes a relic. When a church is on a journey, it showcases its relics.”

“It is not religion and reason that go together, but religion and relationship that go together.”

“The ultimate in reality is not substance, but relations. For Jesus, there can be no such thing as the person as individual, only the person as relation.”

I could literally go on and on with amazing nuggets from this book. To be truthful, I ear-marked pages that I wanted to go back to after I was done reading the book entirely so I could revisit some of the highlights, but I ended up ear-marking about 50% of the book.

Sweet continues in the mold of many other progressive thinkers, in promoting that the Christian life as we know it now and the church at large, needs a face lift. He is going back to the basics (what he poignantly points out is our DNA), yet is supporting something which seems to be new to most. Which begs the question: how far have we traveled away from the life we were intended to live: one of self-sacrifice as opposed to consuming, one that finds true meaning in relationships not in ideas or theory, and one that builds unity through love and acceptance, not tearing down bonds by divisions and tunnel vision.
If I had one minor critique of this book it would be that Sweet is so brilliant that he often jumps quickly thematically and because of this the book can at times lack flow. But this hardly has to do with content as much as it does with writing style.

Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who is searching for an insightful, thought-provoking, intense, deep insight into the seismic shift happening in Christian culture in the 21st century.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Captive or Casual: Christianity in America

George Barna, renowned researcher, has revealed some insightful knowledge regarding faith. George Barna is similar to the Gallup Pole for political and secular social research, only is more credible. He is quietly becoming a huge influencer on how I view faith and life, theoretically and most importantly, practically.

Though the argument can be made that Barna paints a broad stroke with his definition of Christians (in which I would agree), nonetheless, he at least casts the vision deciphering differing prevailing views of the role faith plays in our lives, and how that manifests itself practically…in the day to day…not just in the abstract. He puts them into two camps, Casual and Captive Christians.

Captive Christians: are focused on upholding the absolute moral and spiritual truths they glean from the Bible.
Casual Christians: are driven by a desire for a pleasant and peaceful existence.
The major difference between the two: how they would define a successful life.
Many may reject these singular descriptions, and rightfully so because each group is complex and robust. But these factors give a short-hand sense of the heartbeat of each group.

The lives of Captive Christians are defined by their faith; their worldview is built around their core spiritual beliefs and resultant values. Casual Christians are defined by the desire to please God, family, and other people while extracting as much enjoyment and comfort from the world as possible. The big difference between these two tribes is how they define a successful life. For Captives, success is obedience to God, as demonstrated by consistently serving Christ and carrying out His commands and principles. For Casuals, success is balancing everything just right so that they are able to maximize their opportunities and joys in life without undermining their perceived relationship with God and others. Stated differently, Casuals are about moderation in all things while Captives are about extreme devotion to their God regardless of the worldly consequences.

Casual Christianity is faith in moderation. It allows them to feel religious without having to prioritize their faith. Christianity is a low-risk, predictable proposition for this tribe, providing a faith perspective that is not demanding. A Casual Christian can be all the things that they esteem: a nice human being, a family person, religious, an exemplary citizen, a reliable employee – and never have to publicly defend or represent difficult moral or social positions or even lose much sleep over their private choices as long as they mean well and generally do their best. From their perspective, their brand of faith practice is genuine, realistic and practical. To them, Casual Christianity is the best of all worlds; it encourages them to be a better person than if they had been irreligious, yet it is not a faith into which they feel compelled to heavily invest themselves.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Critique of Capitalism - Part II

"In proportion as riches and rich men are honored in the State, virtue and the virtuous are dishonored." - Plato

No one can know how the present crisis will play out. It is possible that the United States will continue to benefit from an inflated currency, as money from around the world continues to shelter in what is still the safest investment haven around-U.S. Treasury bills. In that case, it is possible, if unlikely, that the Obama administration will be able to ride the tiger and keep things from falling apart utterly. But it is also possible that some unforeseen event or sequence of events might induce foreign investors to suddenly pull their money out of the United States. If that were to happen, the dollar could become worthless and we might see a replay of the Deutsche Mark in 1923, when ordinary Germans paid for loaves of bread with wheelbarrows of money. Either way, the structural contradictions in the world system are profound, and they are not going to go away any time soon.

Unlike in the 1930s, when the advanced industrialized nations essentially spent themselves out of depression, either through massive state investment in public works, coupled with a new social compact with labor (as in the United States, with the New Deal), or through a massive arms buildup and military expansionism at the direction of a corporatized (fascist) and authoritarian state (as in Germany, Italy, and Japan), the capitalist states have far fewer resources at their command this time around.

First, the state sector already accounts for a large portion of the national economies of the United States, Japan, and Europe. (The United States alone already spends half a trillion dollars per annum on war-making-and that's not counting its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.) In the 1920s, the U.S. national debt (relative to GDP) was flat and even declined, while GDP per capita grew at an extraordinary rate, ushering in higher wages, improvements in agricultural productivity, and vast improvements in quality of life for millions of Americans, including electricity in the home, increasing availability of rail travel, and the introduction of automobiles into everyday life. During the latest economic expansion, by contrast, debts public and private soared at every level of society. The national deficit grew, banks and corporations assumed mind-boggling amounts of risk (often in the form of obscure financial instruments like derivatives), and ordinary working people piled up trillions of dollars of debt in the form of home and car loans and credit card debt. At the same time, wages and quality of life fell. It is therefore difficult to see how the United States and other nations will be able to spend their way out of the present crisis, when, even before the collapse of Lehman Brothers last year, the population was already tapped out, and government expenditures hovered near record highs.

A second factor likely to confound policymakers this time around is what might be termed the objective natural and political limits of the system. As indicated, capitalism has savaged the earth, leaving billions of people without a decent livelihood, and the ecosystem in tatters. But the social and ecological costs of "doing business" are about to grow exponentially greater. Even without a world financial crisis, we can anticipate more, and more devastating, natural disasters, which in turn will mean disruptions in agricultural production, flooding of cities and entire countries, mass starvation, increasing migration pressures, and so on. All of this will in turn exact an increasing toll on the legitimacy of the liberal nation state. The late sociologist Charles Tilley described the modern nation state as functioning like a "protection racket": the state agrees to protect us from harm (most typically, from real or imaginary threats generated by the state itself), in exchange for our consent and obedience as subjects. However, as economic, political, ecological, and hence social costs mount, the state will become less and less able to protect us from harm.

As a result, the state is at risk of losing its legitimacy in the eyes of its citizens. (Already, polls have shown a steady decline in the rate of democratic participation around the world, increasing cynicism toward government, and greater openness to extreme ideologies, whether in the form of religious fundamentalism or extreme nationalism.) This in turn will compromise the ability of state leaders to muster the broad political mandate they would otherwise need to make meaningful and urgently necessary macro-level changes in the organization of society and economy. This structural problem in part explains the recent authoritarian turn of the United States under the Bush administration. Bush's seeming indifference to the effects of U.S. actions on foreign and domestic opinion grew out of the Neocons' sense that the state no longer needed the consent of the governed, whether at home or abroad. Bush was, of course, wrong-American hegemony cannot survive long without at least the perception of legitimacy, both at home and abroad. It remains to be seen, however, whether Barack Obama will be able to return the ship of state safely to the status quo ante-i.e., to a centrist, liberal, social democratic capitalist order-in the face of a full-blown economic hurricane.

Regrettably, Obama's administration is doing everything in its power to preserve-and strengthen-corporate monopoly capitalism, in spite of that system's moral enormities and its ever-widening structural fissures. Though the political Right has taken to vilifying the president as a "socialist," Obama has in reality surrounded himself with economic advisers groomed from the most elite ranks of capitalist finance.

Nowhere is the new administration's basic ideological harmony with finance capital more evident than in its close links with current and former members of Goldman Sachs, the formerly über-bullish brokerage house. While anti-Semitic websites have had a field day depicting Obama as the public shill for a "Zionist conspiracy" run out of Goldman Sachs's plush New York offices, Sachs's extraordinary influence on government policy in fact began in earnest with President Bush's appointment of Henry Paulson, then Sachs's CEO, to the position of treasury secretary in 2006. (Paulson involved so many former and current employees in managing the financial crisis late last year that insiders began referring to the firm as "Government Sachs.") Nonetheless, the influence of Goldman Sachs has not diminished in the early hours of the Obama presidency, perhaps because Sachs was the single largest private contributor to Obama's 2008 campaign. When the president picked Timothy Geithner (a technocratic capitalist who had originally headed up the flagship of the Federal Reserve system, in New York) to be the new head of the Treasury Department, Geithner naturally chose a former lobbyist and vice president of Goldman Sachs to be his head of staff. But this was only one of the more conspicuous examples-many other former Sachs employees remain involved directly or indirectly at all levels of the Obama administration.

What makes the involvement of Goldman Sachs in cleaning up the current mess surreal is that of all the investment firms in the world, Sachs alone enjoys the dubious historical distinction of having played a key role in bidding up the world stock markets to unsupportable heights not just once, but twice. To be sure the most recent speculative bubble on Wall Street can be traced back to the decisions of lawmakers, beginning with Paul Volcker's decisions at the Fed back in the late 1970s, on through the Congress's repeal of Depression-era laws such as the Glass-Steagall Act in the late-1990s, i.e. in federal laws and monetary policies that collectively had the effect of pouring gasoline on already inflamed markets. Nonetheless, certain players were particularly key in fomenting this madness, and Goldman Sachs stands out even among the many aggressive firms on Wall Street for having promoted "irrational exuberance" ceaselessly for decades. What is doubly ironic is that the firm played much the same role in the 1920s. During the Depression, when Congress held public hearings on the "culture of greed" that had led to national calamity, Goldman Sachs's chairman was one of the first to be brought to the carpet to account for his firm's ignoble role in driving the speculative frenzy. (When similar hearings were held in the Congress in 2008, Goldman Sachs was naturally excused from having to testify.)

In March of this year, Robert Reich, the former Secretary of Labor, asked rhetorically, "could it be, given these tangled webs" between the White House Branch and Goldman Sachs, "that-innocently, unintentionally, perhaps even subconsciously-the entire bailout effort was premised on saving these companies rather than protecting the public? Or that the distinction between the two was lost, and still is?" Indeed, a few weeks after Reich penned these words, we learned that after the U.S. Treasury handed $180 billion over to the insurance giant AIG to keep it from collapsing, the company had turned around and transferred a sizable portion of the public's largesse to the firm's counter-signing parties, the banks that had helped underwrite AIG's risky credit default swap operations. Among these were some of the biggest and richest banks and investment firms in the world, including foreign institutional giants such as Deutsche Bank, Barclays of Britain, and Société Général of France. But topping the list was Goldman Sachs, which received the lion's share, $13 billion, despite the fact that it was already swimming in money ($100 billion in cash alone).

Whatever one makes of the Obama-Sachs connection, it is at least clear that President Obama and his advisers will challenge the underlying prerogatives of financial capital only with great reluctance, and as an absolute last resort. As political theorist Sheldon Wolin observes, the president's plan for rescuing the nation's banks "does not bother with the structure at all." When all is said and done, "the basic systems are going to stay in place." Ironically, however, the administration's essentially conservative handling of the crisis-its unwillingness to take on the power of the banks-may prove to be its own undoing. This spring, the liberal economist and writer Paul Krugman criticized the administration for continuing to "believe in the magic of the financial marketplace and in the prowess of the wizards who perform that magic." Citing "the failure of a whole model of banking," Krugman faulted the administration in particular for trying to preserve a model of "securitization"-i.e., the process by which banks have essentially commodified risk by carving up loans and debts and selling them as obscure instruments on the market. "I don't think the Obama administration can bring securitization back to life," Krugman wrote, "and I don't believe it should try."

What Krugman and others fear is that the administration's temporizing maneuvers may only end up creating the conditions for an even bigger economic collapse later on. Obama's administration's failure to grapple with the structural contradictions of capitalism may be sowing the seeds for an even more cataclysmic day of reckoning in the future....

credit: John Sanbonmatsu

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Critique of Capitalism - Part I

From Zurich and Washington to Frankfurt, London, and Tokyo, everyone from bankers, economists, policy analysts, and government leaders-are trying to put capitalism back together again. But none of them has stopped to ask whether capitalism is worth saving in the first place.

Like the boy who cried wolf, socialists predicted the end of capitalism perhaps one too many times in the twentieth century to be taken seriously in the twenty-first. Yet it would be difficult to exaggerate either the profundity of the contemporary crisis, or the importance of developing a viable alternative to the existing order.

Last September, after the United States Treasury injected half a trillion dollars into the monetary system to unthaw the frozen U.S. banking system, Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, privately informed members of Congress "that the financial system had come perilously close to collapse." Only prompt action by the Treasury and Fed, he told them, had prevented "disaster" and "full-scale panic." The following month, while Iceland teetered on the brink of bankruptcy and Wall Street suffered its worst one-week stock market decline ever, Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, candidly told reporters that the world economy had indeed been poised "on the edge of an abyss."

Since last summer, in fact, the governments of the leading industrialized countries have been engaged in an epic behind-the-scenes struggle to keep the global financial and banking system viable. So far, Germany has put up $679 billion to stabilize its banking system; Britain has spent the equivalent of one fifth of its national GDP. Meanwhile, by November of last year, the United States had either spent or assumed financial obligations totaling $7.8 trillion to stabilize the deteriorating financial sector-a staggering amount equal to half of this country's annual GDP. But even that has not been enough to stanch the blood of capitalism's hemorrhagic fever, which has raged on into the new year. In February-even as President Barack Obama (the national candidate of "hope" only months before) was bluntly warning of "catastrophe" if Congress failed to approve his $700 billion economic stimulus package-his new head of the Treasury, Timothy Geithner, announced a new plan committing the United States to an additional $2.1 trillion to stabilize the system. The Dow Jones plummeted an additional 4.6 percent on the news.

As of spring 2009, the leading capitalist states in Europe, North America, and Asia have thus either spent outright, or exposed themselves to financial risks totaling, well over $10 trillion-a figure so vast that one searches in vain for any relevant historical parallel. By comparison, the entire Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after World War II cost a mere $9.3 billion (in constant 2005 dollars). According to the United Nations, it would cost $195 billion to eradicate most poverty-related deaths in the Third World, including deaths from malaria, from malnutrition, and from AIDS. So the amount of money committed by policymakers to save capitalism from itself is already fifty times greater than what it would take to save tens of millions of human beings from terrible daily suffering and premature death. If the wealthy nations instead invested that $10 trillion into the economies, health systems, and infrastructure of the Third World, rather than transferring it to the world's richest banks, private financial institutions, and investors, they could usher in a new epoch in the history of the species-a world community in which every human being would be guaranteed a livable life.

That the financial bailout is a colossal misdirection and waste of public resources, however, is not the most scandalous thing about it. What is truly unconscionable is that all this money is being spent to prop up capitalism itself-a mode of economic and social life that has corrupted and hollowed out our democracies, reduced great swaths of the planet's ecosystem to polluted rubble, and condemned hundreds of millions of human beings to wretchedness and exploitation.

Capitalism is rightly credited with having unleashed enormous forces of productivity and technology. But it has also reduced much of the world to ruin and squalor. After four centuries of triumph as the dominant mode of global development, capitalism has furnished for itself a world in which one out of two human beings lives on $2 per day or less, and more than one in three still lacks access to a toilet. Most children in the world never complete their education, and most will live out their lives without dependable medical care. As the world economic crisis deepens, already deplorable conditions in the Third World will only deteriorate further. Meanwhile, our planet is dying. Or rather, its flesh and blood creatures are.

In 1997, a group of European academics published a book called The Black Book of Communism, in which they documented the brutality and mass killings committed by totalitarian Communist regimes in the course of the twentieth century. Perhaps a group of academics will one day publish a Black Book of Capitalism. They should. For when a mode of life that subordinates all human and spiritual values to the pursuit of private wealth persists for centuries, there is a lengthy accounting to be made. Among the innumerable sins that have followed in capitalism's long train, we might mention, for example, the hidden indignities and daily humiliations of the working class and the poor; the strangulation of daily life by corporate bureaucracies such as the HMOs, the telecom companies, and the computer giants; the corruption of art and culture by money; the destruction of eroticism by pornography; the corruption of higher education by corporatization; the ceaseless pitching of harmful products to our children and infants; the obliteration of the natural landscape by strip malls, highways, and toxic dumps; the abuse of elderly men and women by low-paid workers in squalid for-profit institutions; the fact that millions of poor children are sold into sexual slavery, and millions of others are orphaned by AIDS; and the fact that tens of millions of women turn to prostitution to pay their bills. We might also highlight the dozens of wars and civil conflicts that are directly or indirectly rooted in the gross material disparities of the capitalist system-the bloody conflicts that simmer along from month to month, year to year, as though natural and immutable--in places like Darfur, Rwanda, Congo, Afghanistan, Vietnam, and Iraq, where millions of wretchedly poor people die either at the hands of other wretchedly poor people, or from the bombs dropped from the automated battle platforms of the last surviving superpower.
credit: John Sanbonmatsu

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Durangos and Christ: When Perspectives Collide

Last week my wife and I were in downtown Philadelphia. We were picking out foam for a mattress...sounds fun, right? I thought we should let Judah see historical Philly for the first time, so we made an afternoon of it. Amidst protests and countless tourists taking in the sites, this thought emerged...

"You know there are a lot of baby strollers around here today," I observed.

"Yeah, I noticed that too," replied Christianne.

" think its like that car thing...the second you buy a certain car you always see a different owner with the same exact model on the road..that you never would have noticed before," I contemplated.

"I think that's right," said Christianne.

What a valuable lesson in spirituality, understanding our nature, and being missional. Let me explain.

It was not until I had a baby and thus a stroller, that I noticed that tons of other people out there have babies and strollers. In the past, those people never would have gotten my attention. I would more or less be oblivious to there presence. Before I bought a Dodge Durango years ago, I said to myself...I want this car...not a lot of people have this type of SUV. Then I purchased one (which altogether is a whole different lesson on my spiritual walk), and all of the sudden my eyes were opened to how many other people had Durangos!! It blew my mind!!

The valuable spiritual lesson that this caters to is: worldview. One definition of worldview is:
the overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world. So, we all have this in our lives..our worldview...Previously, I had very little room in my worldview for, I have an abundance of room in my worldview for babies. When I walk into a room full of people, the first thing I will notice or pick up on is if there are any babies in the room. So, what I am projecting here is that are worldview is largely formulated around the current place life has us at, or current circumstances we are involved in. To understand this limitation, yes limitation, is key...and here is why.

I used an example of babies. Whether or not I notice babies isn't a life or death matter. However, there are things that demand to take up our worldview no matter what, and this is the spiritual application of all of this. I am not poor. I live in a home, have a TV, a car, etc. My worldview in and of itself, if taken strictly by the limitations of how I assumed worldview earlier (only care about it if the things is happening to you), does not allow me to pay much concern to the poor. If I am not poor, generally speaking, I will not think about or notice the poor. If I do not have a Durango, I will not think about or notice Durangos. This is HUGE! Because our worldviews govern the perspective of our lives. I would intentionally have to give energy to praying for the poor, acting on behalf of the poor, etc. if I am not living in poverty myself. Contrarily, if I lived in inner city Philly, had no car and had to travel by foot or bus, struggle month to month to make ends meet...all of the sudden I would be able to identify with the poor, and they would be intrinsically in my worldview.

And this is the challenge we have as Christians and as we think about living missionally. The good news is that we can overcome these worldview limitations by the "transformation and renewing of our minds", by "being conformed to His image". We can actually make a dramatic shift in our worldview by the power of the Holy Spirit in conforming us to Christ. We can now see the world how He sees it. And the beautiful part about it is that we have the inspired Word of God to inform and direct this process. Jesus has much to say about the poor. Therefore, as my worldview revolves around His life and teachings, I am no longer bound by the limitation of not caring or noticing the poor around me just because I happen to be middle class. This allows me to live missionally where I am now, even if I am not doing overseas ministry. My eyes can be opened up to see the beggar on the corner of my street, or the Palestinian family who has a home down the block..not just the family with a newborn.

So dear brethren, please catch the worldview of God. Of Jesus. In His worldview He noticed the poor, even though the riches of the world are His, He comforted the adulteress, even though He committed no sin, He welcomed the Gentile, even though He was a Jew, He healed the blind, even though He could see everything, He loved His enemies, even though they hated Him, He noticed and saved little ole me, even though I never noticed Him...Let the "overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world" be dictated by Christ. When this happens, when our worldview is lined up with Jesus, amazing things happen....

Monday, April 20, 2009

Crazy Love: Francis Chan

Some of you know that I was asked to write book/CD/DVD reviews for THEOOZE (, a web-based community that encourages the Church to engage our emerging culture by developing relationships and resources. I gladly accepted the invitation...

This is my first installment: Crazy Love: An Interactive DVD, by Francis Chan..

I must admit I was a bit skeptical when I started reviewing this interactive DVD. A huge fan and owner of all of Rob Bell’s NOOMA series, I immediately found myself comparing the two. I was pleasantly surprised as I made my way through the DVD to find that Chan’s presentation was unique and thought provoking in its own way….

Style and Format
First off, the DVD coincides with a book, and I believe in order to get thorough insight into his DVD, I strongly feel one must read the book with it. The DVD also has a very thoughtful flow from beginning to end, namely that Chapter 1 is set in the early morning and Chapter 10 concludes at night time as the lights go out. This is a distinct difference from Bell’s work, and I found myself drawn to the continuity (this isn’t a criticism of Bell). I still think Chan’s communication style is a lot like Bell, yet he lacked the ability to tug at my heart strings as much (this is not a criticism because in my mind Bell is one of the most effective communicators around).


I noticed at the beginning Chan seems to be dealing with our own one-on-one, personal relationship and walk with God. This laid a great foundation for the DVD as a whole. What I was especially impressed with was his ability to ask tough questions, forcing one to critically think about the answers. However, the brilliance wasn’t just the in questions, but that the questions were supposed to be addressed and answered in a communal context, thus enhancing vulnerability, transparency, and accountability. Brilliant and inspiring move by Chan.

Chan then seemed to move from our own personal, intimate walk with God and how that looks, to the out flowing of that walk into a missional lifestyle. This is where he really drew me in. He continued to ask tough questions, but this time to challenge the status quo of how Christians think and act. He really left me asking: am I really in love with Jesus; am I really obsessed with Him and His Kingdom; how does this look/not look right now in my life? He was very blunt that this was a focal point of the DVD. Again, the fact that these questions and challenges are supposed to be contemplated and answered in a communal setting adds to the immense value of the DVD.

I would recommend this DVD for a discipleship group, youth group, community group, etc. that is looking to be challenged and stretched on what their walk with God looks like and how they live out that walk in the world around them. If done properly, with the Holy Spirit working in individuals/community group willing to rethink their walk and apply the DVD in their practical lives, it could yield amazing results!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Easter Reflections

Many of us celebrated Easter last week. Growing up, Easter was mainly about eggs, family, pastel colors, and candy. As I got older it became more about Jesus. When I began maturing as a Believer it became so much also became more for me in 2009....

Ever since the Lord radically stepped into the chaos of my life in my mid-twenties, I have been drawn to Holy Week. However, my draw was not to Sunday, but Friday. The Passion movie only fueled the fire. Easter was nice, but I felt closer to God on Good Friday. Why is this? One thing I have found out is that I can more vividly picture Jesus' last week before His death, than His presence after the Resurrection. Of course, Scripture is filled with lots of stories about His life before His death, and very few after the Resurrection. I am sure this plays a part. I also feel that I moped around as a young Believer, focusing mainly on my depravity, guilt, shame, and sin...this somehow led me to associate easier with Jesus dying for all of that.

As the years have gone by in my faith journey I have had a new kind of aweness of Holy Week. Good Friday is still precious to me, but the Resurrection has been opened up to me as well. I believe this has happened as the Spirit has given me a greater balance of understanding the awesomeness of the Resurrection. How does this play out in my life? Although I am full of sin and desperately need Jesus to cleanse that through His blood, I am also now a child of God, a new creation, fully redeemed with new life because Jesus died AND rose again. I am also struck by the fact that the disciples were moping around after Jesus' death, wondering if they had made a mistake...until Jesus reappeared...and it was only after that reappearance that the world was set on fire...

Friday, March 27, 2009

Phase 2

Christianne and I have begun what I am calling "Phase 2" in our journey of missions. Phase 1 was amazing. As one may recall, I was called into missions after a vivid revelation from God in the basement of my aunt and uncle's house in Minnesota. That summer changed the course of my life. I went back home to Arizona and started exploring the vocation of missions. I attended Urbana in 2003, and that confirmed the call even more as I spent most of my time crying about how many people were unreached....

I then enrolled in Phoenix Seminary and essentially focused my studies on missiology. Upon graduation in the Spring of 2005, I officially became a missionary. In the Summer of 2006, I deployed to Central Asia and embarked on the greatest adventure, learning experience, and mission of my life. I met my soon-to-be wife there and we came back to the States (Philadelphia) to get married in 2007. I got a job at a new mission agency: World Harvest Mission. Christianne got pregnant in the Winter of 2007 and I also assumed a leadership position within WHM....thus, Phase 2 started.

Upon taking the role at WHM, I was asked to raise support for my position. This came as no surprise as most leadership roles at missions agencies are support raising positions. In January of 2009 my wife and I started to raise support....and this is where the Lord has us in our journey now, our sojourn.....

That summer in Minnesota, I was called into missions. That call hasn't changed. God called me into missions for my life, I am sold out to that calling. This is Phase 2 of that call....

More to come.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Grace Becomes a Law?

So, what happens when GRACE becomes a LAW?

Is that even possible?

I would love to hear what you think...

Monday, January 05, 2009

Lessons of the Epiphany

The turning over of the New Year usually is a time of great reflection for me. I certainly have a lot to be thankful for. I certainly have a lot I want to do differently as well. This Sunday at church I was challenged to take a deeper step in my faith.

The step revolved around: fragrance.

The story of the Magi started me down this road of contemplating fragrance. These men (presumably 3, although not historically or biblically confirmed) brought extravagant gifts to Jesus. The equivalent of our day may be: a brand new car, or money from our retirement accounts, or a diamond ring. However, these modern day examples may not be entirely accurate because the gifts brought by the Magi were not only extravagant, but symbolic.

Gold likely symbolized royalty, as kings would usually have the riches of the land. Gold was very valuable (as it has always been), therefore the Magi were likely giving Jesus the best they had with this gift. Frankincense was like incense, or a scent, used for aroma and/or medication in some instances. In Jesus' day, frankincense was used for state meetings and in religious ceremonies. The Emperor Nero (A.D. 37-68), at the funeral of his second wife Poppaea, burnt in excess of the total annual production of Arabia. It is largely considered the highest quality scent in the world today, and Omani frankincense is sold for $120 per kilogram in Arabia. Of course this symbolizes the "aroma of Christ" and a "sweet smelling sacrifice" of His life. Myrrh was primarily used to embalm the dead in those times. It was used in commerce, and was an ingredient of holy ointment. Myrrh was offered to Jesus as He hung on the Cross as a stupefying potion. Myrrh then is used as a symbol of the suffering and death of Christ for our sins.

I love how profound Scripture is...although at times it is quite "stupefying" for me to contemplate as well! Thinking about these gifts from the Magi, I really focused in on the frankincense. I was challenged as to how much of a fragrance I wear and leave behind that would point people to Christ. I know of many areas in my day to day life that lack this aroma. I desire to interact with people in such a way that they couldn't help but smell the fragrance of Christ, and that the aroma would stick with them.

So ushering in the New Year, 2009, I look not to lose weight, or to save money, or to travel the world, but to be the fragrance of Christ to the world around me.