Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Beat the Defense Budget into a Plowshare

A wonderful, thought-provoking article by Shane Claiborne that I had to re-post.

Almost exactly 4 years ago, more than 100 faith leaders from around the country went to jail together as we prayed for a moral budget and lamented the current one. I think it may be time to do it again.

On Oct. 28, 2009, President Obama signed into law the $680 billion 2010 National Defense Authorization Act, the largest military spending bill of its kind, increasing the military budget 24 billion from the last fiscal year.

With all the hope for an end to the recession, military spending does seem to be the open wound of America (and perhaps no coincidence that the military budget is almost the same as the bailout package). The military spending is the elephant in the room any time we speak of health care for all or reforming the broken education system; one wonders how much good we can do when nearly half of every tax dollar goes to the military. Dr. King’s words ring truer than ever: “A country that spends more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching a spiritual death.”

The U.S. is now paying over $16 billion a year just to maintain its nuclear arsenal, an arsenal so big it takes the next 50 countries combined to even get close. I did a little research recently and talked to some folks in DC just to wrap my hands around the numbers. Using the Hiroshima bomb as a measuring unit (and remembering that this bomb killed 140,000 people in one blast, and 90 of these bombs could blow up all of Russia), the U.S. now has the equivalent of more than 122,000 Hiroshimas. How many times do we need to be able to blow up the world? It must break God’s heart. As Jesus wept over Jerusalem because it did not know the things that lead to peace, Jesus must be weeping over America today.

It is my prayer that we would have the courage and imagination to beat these “swords into plows” — to turn the things that have brought death into things that bring life. As the rate of soldiers dying by suicide has now outnumbered those dying in combat, it is time for us to say “enough” to the sword which we have picked up and died by over and over. It is time to choose another future than wars and rumors of wars. And perhaps it is time once again to pray on the steps of Congress for a moral budget… and to go to jail as we pray.

Shane Claiborne is a Red Letter Christian and a founding partner of The Simple Way community, a radical faith community that lives among and serves the homeless in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. He is the co-author, with Chris Haw, of Jesus for President.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Justice Project

My book review as a contributor of such for: .

Increasingly, the voices for social justice in the Christian world are being brought forth and heard. One needs not to look very deep or far to find a book dedicated to the various topics of justice, faith, and what that means for Christians living in the most global of times. The Justice Project is a wonderful addition to this endeavor. Instead of hearing from one author on the topics, the book is comprised of several short essays, done by several different people, leading different walks of life, in different spheres of society, in different countries, but all with the same prophetic passion for justice.

This book tackles subjects such as, God’s call for justice, what it means to have just elections, just ecology, just business, just suburbs, just cities, and so forth. The book really does hit on several key facets of life, and because of this would be relevant to any person who read it.

This book sure did broaden my scope of understating justice, even if I didn’t agree with every single contributor. It made me think about issues and concerns that I would otherwise have been ignorant of. Truth be told, I learned that justice is more complicated and complex than I could have ever imagined.

One critique that I would have of this book is that, while I loved the format of having several short essays by many different writers, the book failed to really dive deep into any one topic. I was often left wishing I just didn’t hear about the core, fundamental aspects of the given topic, but also some in-depth wrestling and fleshing out of them. Having said that, however, I do realize that this perhaps was the goal of the book: to give an overview of justice.

Nevertheless, I feel this book does add a harmonious voice to the emerging issues of justice and faith. We are on the cusp of a radical (re)calibrating of faith, of which I am excited to be a part of. Jenell Williams Paris, professor of sociology and anthropology at Messiah College in Pennsylvania describes this well in her essay, “A Tradition of Justice,” saying, “I was raised in the twentieth-century polarities of social justice versus evangelicalism and evangelicalism versus liberalism. There is much in my heritage I cherish, but I must choose how to make the most of my life and generation. The emergent conversation offers hope for assessing and appropriating reigning, recent, and ancient paradigms and practices in wise ways, creating fresh ways to nourish ourselves and our world. In deconstructing reigning paradigms and pursuing new contextualizations of faith and life, we will by necessity learn from and appropriate practices from Christian brothers and sisters of all times and places. There’s nothing new about Christian concern for justice, but it’s a new day in which we may carry forward the cause.”

Read it. Apply it. Seek justice.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Urbana 2009: Final Thoughts, Part I

I am finding it hard to believe Urbana is already over a week old. I seriously wonder how long it will take before my spiritual “high” wears off. I remember having the same type of experience in 2003, and it was about a month or so and I was cooled down. I believe there are several reasons for this, including:

1. Lack of Community: 16,000 people who love missions 24/7 and being around the same co-workers constantly day after day has a way of building amazing community that is not easily duplicated in the "real world".
2. Sin: For me, its much easier to get back into sin patterns when I am in the routine of my daily life.
3. The Real World: Worshipping, learning, and encouraging God’s global cause is extremely awesome…and extremely rare! But sometime I had to go back to Philly and stop learning in order to start applying what I learned…that’s tough.
4. Laziness/Loss of Tenacity: I had some magical time with the Lord, and felt His presence during the Urbana week that is hard to duplicate. Having time focused away from God (i.e. everyday life) towards other things dampens my spiritual awareness.
5. Time: They say, time heals all wounds. Why is that? Because time has a way of making us forget on many levels. This will undoubtedly chip away at my high.

So the battle is ON! The question isn't whether or not I will lose this spiritual intenseness, but when. I am fully aware of that. However, until that happens I am tuned into God like I haven’t been in a while and am fully convinced He will teach and show me a lot in 2010.

God has given me some time to process and pray about the Urbana event. I wanted to share some highlights, but more than just my voice, I have also included insight gathered from other Urbana attendees. The amazing thing about Urbana is that it touched people in many ways. I thought for sure everyone would be moved to incarnational, missional ministry and learn about God’s heart for justice. But, as always, God is bigger than that…let me share.

Urbana is the largest North American missions conference. Students, missions staff, businesspeople, etc. all gather under one roof to concentrate on global missions and the challenges and issues surrounding the 21st century. So, I fully expected to learn only about missions and how to apply it to my life devoted to the undertaking. Well, this may have been the case for me…but for others, God touched them in different ways. One Urbana attendee mentioned that they heard from God and came away from Urbana with a renewed understanding of what it meant that Jesus came to “dwell with us”. “The theme, He dwelled among us, was a powerful and heartening message to me. To have the reminder that He lived here on earth as a human interacting with other humans in similar situations is overwhelming. This emphasized to me that He is here and understands my life experiences!” stated the attendee. Here I thought this conference would only speak to missions…yet this person heard God speak through such a personal, intimate encounter. God was bigger than my assumptions.

One dear sister decided to sign a commitment card saying she will do long-term missions. She is 1 of 2,500 who would make such a commitment. What a calling! She is dedicated to making Christ known among the nations. Could there be a better calling, a better commitment? I think not! She said, “I remember being at the Sending Center in August when I met you (Grant), I was so depressed and sad and bitter towards God for calling me abroad and then bringing me back that I was kinda done with it. But I'm so thankful you invited me to Urbana. So to start, I remembered my heart at Urbana, that I do care about global missions, that I have a calling in my life that I can't ignore.”

This was my second Urbana event. I am confounded on how much I have changed in the last 6 years since attending the 2003 event as a delegate, and equally as confounded about how little I have changed! I have definitely been challenged to start addressing areas in my life that need addressing. Another attendee who had also been to 2 different Urbana’s phrased it brilliantly, “(I am) being called out on my desire to be a part of everything while actually contributing nothing. In other words, wanting the results without the sacrifice. This covers many areas, from facilitation ministry to advocacy, but in reality it is all the same root problem.” I couldn’t agree more. I do a lot of reading, thinking, posturing and very little time actually contributing. This is something I fully expect to tackle head on in 2010…and I will encourage this other dear sister to do likewise. This is a beautiful aspect of Christian community: accountability.

So, God showed up…did you think He wouldn’t?!?! For some, He was the loving Father showing the enormity of the Incarnation. For some, He moved the Spirit inside of them to continue in this magnificent call of bringing the Gospel to the nations. For others, He showed us we aren’t alone being concerned for social justice issues. And others, He showed us areas we need to grow in.

“I feel like my time in Urbana was probably the closest thing to heaven I have ever experienced. To worship and come to the Lord's table with 16,000 others, singing songs in multiple languages. It was a taste of what to hope for. And the best line of the whole conference was when Greg Jao said "it's time to leave" and then when everyone moaned, he said in a serious tone, "FOLKS, if we stay here, we have failed as a conference. The point is to GO." The vision of our worship made me more inspired and gave me more of a purpose to GO, to participate with God's redemption of the world as He brings Heaven to Earth,” stated the Urbana 2009 delegate.

The Word Became Flesh and Dwelled Among Us. Urbana 2009. A Piece of Heaven on Earth.
Part II to follow…..

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Urbana '09: The Gospel, The Environment, The New Year, New Missionaries, DAYS 4 and 5

Truthfully I will confess that I got way to busy and consumed with the Urbana conference to keep blogging each day. But I want to be faithful in informing everyone of the amazing things that took place. To be a witness to what God did at Urbana. This post will share about day's 4 and 5, and I will write a final post in the very near future about the whole event and application of it. But I do need some more time to process it all....

DAY 4:
This was a unique day. The morning session was quite emotional as R. York Moore presented the gospel message. I sat there listening to the penetrating words. Even now it brings tears to my eyes. Moore, a powerful communicator to say the least, didn't mince words. The power is in Christ. Salvation is in Christ. Exclusivity is in Christ. Perhaps a sign and symbol of 21st century altar calls, Moore invited those who made a decision for Christ to raise a green glow stick in the air as a sign of their new faith. The guy next to me did so. In fact, when I remember the talk...the guy had is head bowed most of the session....writing...thinking...praying...digesting the Call. This man, an Indian student, became a Follower of Christ that morning. I grabbed and rubbed his shoulder and whispered to him, "My brother...." What a morning.

The afternoon was a busy one at the WHM booth. There were no seminars scheduled, as this was a day dedicated to allowing the delegate to do as they wish. This could mean praying alone...spending time with friends to process...meditating...or visiting different missions organizations! WHM decided to ship an additional 400 water bottles to Urbana for us to give away. We blew through those in a matter of hours. We had to save some for the final day, so we hid the last 30 or so for the final hour plus of booth time. The young lady I mentioned in my Day 2 post came back by our booth today to see me. She was visibly emotional and shaken. I tried to care for her and be gentle with her. She talked for me a bit. She had been to many booths and I could tell that the overall event was impacting her in tangible ways. I asked if she was ok. She had a hard time communicating to me at that moment....but before she left, she thanked me for praying for her the previous day. She said it meant a lot to her and that no other person had done that with her. She just wanted to thank me. I said, "Well lets pray again!!" We prayed again and she went on her way. Now, I am not saying I prayed with every person that came by the booth...not even close...but I did feel God telling me to pray with her, so I seized that opportunity (another Urbana theme) and did it and God blessed it. Its part of being incarnational...taking advantage of the moment God gives you, in that particular time and space. As she walked away I told her that God would use her for His Kingdom, to press on, to follow his lead. She waved good-bye. Who knows what will come of this. But at WHM we have a value to shepherd and pastor individuals, especially college students, in their calling. This is an example of what I tried to do this week.

The night session focused on environmental issues. I had a dinner with some WHM interns and did not hear the speaker. I walked in at the end of her talk and heard the resounding applause and figured out quickly it must have been a good sermon! Since I didn't hear it, I wont speak much on it, but I am thrilled and pleased that InterVarsity, a huge missions presence in the Evangelical world (i.e. 16,000 people at one conference!!), took the initiative to highlight this issue and that, as being Followers of Christ, the environment and the earth DO matter. Stewarding the earth is a biblical mandate. I am glad younger Christians all over the world are wrestling with environmental issues. When I was growing up the mantra was, "The earth is dying and going to hell anyway, so who cares about the environment!" I am glad God has delivered me from that self-absorbed, callous, nonchalant attitude towards the earth.

InterVarsity's modest counts said that about 400 people made decisions for Christ this day. Praise God for this! Thank you Lord! May your glory fill the earth!

DAY 5: The Final Day
The culminating event of Urbana: 16,000 people worshipping and praising God up until the turn of the new year at midnight. An innovative and thoughtful approach by InterVarsity to end the conference. My culminating feelings were that we have now been impacted and challenged by the idea of Christ's incarnation (i.e. He dwelled among us). Hwo would we respond? As 2010 is ushered in, how will this idea of incarnational ministry move you to change, to sustain, or to begin new efforts in this area. It will look different for each and every one of us...but God is calling us to act, the move out, to proclaim His message to the world.

The final day at the booth was memorable. Final estimations are that WHM added over 750 people to our facebook fan page, a far cry from the goal of 400 we had set out. Truth be told, it could have been much more if we had more water bottles, but nevertheless, God used this number for us to share what He is doing in WHM and to share the vision of ministry He has given us. We raffled away the remaining 25 or so bottles we had, a similar idea that other organizations were employing to end Urbana '09. I had more memorable interactions with those seeking out missions. As we would find out, over 2,500 people who attended Urbana made commitments to do long-term missionary service in their lives. That is truly amazing as God sends a new generation of missionaries to the field...with new callings and new ways of doing ministry. Long gone are the days of missions in which the soul is the lone focus of ministry. The body and soul (i.e. the spirit and flesh) are now on the minds of these students. As a presenter would prophetically declare, "Justice and missions cannot be separated." Amen.

We dismantled the WHM booth in record time. We then joined the rest of Urbana in the final hours of 2009 praising God. All of us WHM folk sat together for this last evening session. We heard testimonies of how God used little acts of faith to make giant-sized waves throughout His Kingdom. We just need to step out in faith and share Christ, and He will give the increase...that cannot be denied! We sang...we lifted our hands to God...we danced....we yelled...we cried...we laughed...and rang in 2010 praising God in Spanish song. What a beautiful display of Heaven come to earth, of the expression of all tribes, tongues, and nations before God. The Word became Flesh and Dwelled Among Us. He moved into our neighborhoods. He is redeeming ALL things. He is in the midst of us. Its time to ACT!