Friday, December 31, 2010

The "athletic trim" of poverty

Among us English-speaking peoples especially do the praises of poverty need once more to be boldly sung. We have grown literally afraid to be poor. We despise anyone who elects to be poor in order to simplify and save his inner life. If he does not join the general scramble, we deem him spiritless and lacking in ambition. We have lost the power even of imagining what the ancient realization of poverty could have meant; the liberation from material attachments, the unbribed soul, the manlier indifference, the paying our way by what we are and not by what we have, the right to fling away our life at any moment irresponsibly -- the more athletic trim, in short, the fighting shape.

William James

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Stephen Colbert speaks the truth

I know this is satirical, but it is so true. I found a quote on a friend's blog and thought I would go watch The Colbert Report episode with the quote in it. Here it is:

If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that he commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it. - Stephen Colbert

Thursday, November 25, 2010


I came across this word the other day. I love words in other languages that are packed with meaning and have no exact translation in English. I know that the English language probably has these too, but it seems like they aren’t as frequent. Dayenu is a Hebrew word that means
“that alone would have been enough, but for that alone we are grateful.”

This is a powerful concept. It is learning to be truly grateful with what God has already given us and not ask Him for more. Many times it seems that our actions tend to contradict this concept. We desire a better job rather than be grateful for the job we have. We desire a bigger house rather than be grateful for the roof over our heads. We desire more money, better cars, a boat, the newest electronics, etc., etc., etc. We all can think of something right now that we desire. We have been trying to communicate to our kids that when they complain about things they are really telling God that what He has already given them is not good enough. Really, buying into our culture and the American Dream tells us that we shouldn’t be content, that we should always be looking to move up the ladder. Consumerism dictates how we live our lives and ultimately who we believe we are as people. The purpose of a commercial is to convince us that our life without the product they are pushing is incomplete, we shouldn’t be happy or content until we have what they are selling. The concept of Dayenu turns this thinking on its head.

In the ninth century, Jewish communities began to sing a song based off of this concept during Passover. Some Jews in Afghanistan and Iran hit each other over the head with onions during one of the stanzas to remind them to not complain like they did here.

Serenity and I have put together our own Song of Dayenu based off of the Jewish style:

If He had given us food on our tables. Dayenu.

If He had given us clothes on our backs. Dayenu.

If He had given us roofs over our heads. Dayenu.

If He had given us today. Dayenu.

If He had given us family. Dayenu.

If He had given us rest. Dayenu .

If He had given us fellowship with each other. Dayenu .

If He had given us the gift of the Holy Spirit. Dayenu .

If He had done what He did through His son Jesus Christ. Dayenu .

For all these things – alone and together – we say Dayenu.

May we continually look to God with grateful hearts and learn to be content with everything He has already given us.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Abba, Father

We spoke at a “Primetimers” gathering yesterday. Primertimers is exactly that, a group of retired (mostly 75-years-old +) folks from a local church that gather once a month and hear from a local ministry or pastor. We were asked to share about our journey and about our current journey of the Jubilee Food Pantry and Community Garden. At one point during our time sharing, Avery tapped me on the arm and said he had something to share, so I handed him the mic. In a clear and concise message Avery said: “In Chicago, our RV sunk in the mud. I was afraid, and very sad. But God taught me that I shouldn’t be afraid and that He was in control.” Then he handed the mic back to me. The room of elderly men and women burst into applause, and when I glanced briefly at Serenity we both almost started crying. I am so proud of Avery.

I don’t doubt that Avery was afraid, he panicked even more than I did, he was a basket case. As I was kneeling in a foot of mud futilely digging the wheels out of three feet of mud in the pouring rain, Serenity, in the back bedroom of the RV, began having the kids sing songs about the joy of the Lord. Avery couldn’t stop crying as he sung. To him, his whole world was being swallowed up by the Earth. And I didn’t blame him. That incident outside of Chicago was one of the most impactful for Avery during our journey. In the coming weeks and months we talked to Avery about what would have happened if Big Buster was swallowed up, if everything we possessed just disappeared. Would we be OK? Would God still love us? His eventual answer was “yes,” and since then the Lord has revealed some more significant truths to him:

“God is our refuge and strength,

always ready to help in times of trouble.

So we will not fear when earthquakes come

and the mountains crumble into the sea.

Let the oceans roar and foam.

Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!”

Psalms 46:1-3

“The Lord is for me, so I will have no fear.

What can mere people (or the rains from Hurricane Ike) do to me?”

Psalms 118:6

I so want to be the hero for Avery, I want him to know I can protect him, provide for him and be there to fix his problems, but that is unhealthy and can lead to some serious disappointments, because I shouldn’t be his hero. I am his earthly father and as Psalms 118 goes on to say:

“It is better to take refuge in the Lord

than to trust in people.”

If I’m going to be the father that God calls me to be I have to continually point him to his heavenly father, his Abba Father. The word abba means “daddy” in Aramaic. Jesus called His father that in the Garden of Gathsemane, and the Apostle Paul reminds us that we must not have a spirit of fear, because we are children of the Most High God, “now we even call him ‘Abba, Father.’” (Romans 8:15)

If I try to be Avery’s hero, if I try to be something that only God can be for him, I will create a deep father wound in Avery, because no matter how good of a dad I am, I will fail. No matter how much I teach him, even teach him about good things, about Jesus and who he is in Jesus, if I try to be something more, something I’m not designed to be, I will fail him. Like many of us, he won’t understand the concept of looking at God as Daddy, because the only daddy he knew failed to be what he needed him to be.

If I have one job as a daddy, it isn’t to solve his problems, be his hero or teach him how to be a man, it is to simply and consistently point him to Jesus, his true Abba, Father.

“See how much our father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are!”

1 John 3:1

Friday, October 29, 2010

Thou Shalt Not Judge. . . . .

We have been talking to the kids about the parable Jesus tells about the speck of sawdust in their friend's eye and the plank in their own. I have a hard time with this one, not when it comes to eternal salvation, but rather to what kind of movies someone likes. I'm sorry, but when someone tells me that they liked Tranformers or G.I. Joe or The Rock or any Nicholas Cage movie other than Raising Arizona, something internally whelms up inside of me and I begin to think that maybe they have difficulties understanding basic concepts of a story line or of cinema in general. Maybe it was a first date with a real special girl and they have fond memories of the event that is displaced onto the actual film. Or maybe, there is another movie with the same title that is really good and I just missed it.

I actually take it one step further and begin to ask these people which movies they recommend and then don't go see or rent them.

So, in the spirit of full disclosure, here is a list I put together of my favorite movies. It is in alphabetical order, so don't read too much into it. Some probably aren't "Oscar worthy," I just enjoyed them. Some would be mediocre but the ending almost makes me cry (Hoosiers), others I grew up with so are possibly inflated (Empire Strikes Back, Back to the Future, Karate Kid). Some are rated R and are pretty vulgar (The Big Lebowski, Goodfellas), but that doesn't make them bad films. While others I watch with my kids (Kung Fu Panda, The Incredibles, Gladiator - just kidding). I have probably forgotten a few, I will add them if I think of them. Feel free to make comments and judge me, unless it is about my salvation, then I think you need to read Matthew 7:1-5.

  • Back to the Future
  • The Big Lebowski
  • The Bourne Identity
  • Braveheart
  • Cinderella Man
  • Dances with Wolves
  • Empire Strikes Back
  • Forrest Gump
  • Gandhi
  • Gladiator
  • Goodfellas
  • Good Will Hunting
  • Gran Torino
  • Hoosiers
  • Indiana Jones and The Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • The Incredibles
  • Karate Kid
  • Kung Fu Panda
  • Lord of the Rings
  • The Matrix
  • Momento
  • Open Range
  • The Pianist
  • The Princess Bride
  • Saving Private Ryan
  • Shawshank Redemption
  • Stand by Me

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Amazing video about the story of one of the early christian martyrs. I can only pray that I attain the faith of this disciple.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Food that costs you nothin'

“Is anyone thirsty?
Come and drink—
even if you have no money!
Come, take your choice of wine or milk—
it’s all free!
Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength?
Why pay for food that does you no good?
Listen to me, and you will eat what is good.
You will enjoy the finest food.

Isaiah 55:1-2

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Migrants in this World

I find it interesting that many evangelicals will go to Mexico to "serve" the poor by building schools, building homes, handing out candy and running impromptu Vacation Bible Schools, but when those same folks who they are serving cross the border, they look at them with disgust, dust off the conservative rhetoric and line-up with the others to solidify this country's borders with patriotic fever. Peter calls disciples of Jesus "temporary residents and foreigners." We are all immigrants, our home is not here, from the Kingdom perspective we have more in common with the illegal immigrant who knows Jesus than the red-blooded American neighbor next door who doesn't. How many of us live this way? Do our loyalty's lie with our nation or our Kingdom? Are we using our worldly eyes or our Kingdom eyes when we look at issues that face us each day?

"Don't you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself and enemy of God." (James 4:4)
In light of the story Jesus told of the Good Samaritan recorded in Luke 10: How does God expect us to treat immigrants, foreigners, and migrants?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Better Questions

Sometimes I really wish I could be a better teacher. To be honest with you, there are times that I don't try very hard. I usually go with the philosophy that when students don't want to learn from you, they just won't learn from you, there is nothing you can do. The best teaching technique is relationship. I saw this happen a lot when I was first teaching, which also coincided with a time in my life where I wasn't filled with the Holy Spirit. I would talk down to kids, out of fear of loss of control or whatever, I would make fun of them when I was angered by their disrespect. Sometimes I would scream down an entire classroom of students because I was frustrated or tired. I just wasn't a very good teacher and it wasn't because I didn't know the newest teaching method or hadn't implemented the perfect curriculum. It was because at times I wasn't the nicest person and some students just didn't want to learn from ME.

The craziest thing has happened the past few years. Now that I am teaching again and God has done a work in me, my students seem to love history. They enjoy learning what I am teaching. Yeah, I am a jerk every so often, most of you reading this know that, possibly from experience, but I really believe that my students like to learn about labor unions, the New Deal and President Nixon not because the content is thrilling to them, or that I have some really cool teaching strategies, but rather, because they like me.

Jesus was a master teacher. My colleagues and I could learn a lot from Him. Rabbi or teacher was what he was referred to by many of His followers. Jesus would rarely simply answer a question and then moved on, which is what I catch myself doing quite frequently, he would ask another question. . . . and then another and another. Jesus was asked 183 questions in the four gospels and only directly answered 3 of them! That means that he responded to 180 of the questions posed to him in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John with either another question, or a parable.
"Oh my soul, be prepared to meet him who knows how to ask questions." T.S. Elliot
One particular passage stood out to me the other day. In John 8 Jesus is teaching in the temple courtyard and the Pharisees are attempting to trap him with questions.
“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”

They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.

When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

“No, Lord,” she said.

And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”

Drawing in the dirt until everyone walks away, Jesus asks the woman a question they both know the answer to. He could have told the Pharisees what they wanted to hear, he could have taken some moral high ground and proclaimed the difference between right and wrong and answered their leading questions directly. Rather, He asks questions, good questions, transforming questions. All of His questions were rooted in love. People didn't want to learn from Jesus because He had some unique teaching style, or that He even had good curriculum, if anything, His curriculum drove people away in masses, people wanted to learn from Jesus because He taught with love. Why do we overlook this aspect of Jesus? Why do we want answers when Jesus gave us more questions? I think answers give us systematic theology and dogma while more questions force us to keep searching, to open our eyes and ears for deeper truths.

I pray that God will give us the ability to ask better questions.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

"We have done this ourselves"

"Go to the people.
Live with them,
learn from them,
love them.
Start with what they know,
build with what they have.

But of the best leaders,
when the work is done,
the task accomplished,
The people will say,
"We have done this ourselves."
This Chinese poem was written by Lao-Tzu around 700 B.C, but it was popularized more recently by Dr. John Perkins. Dr. Perkins is the founder of Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) and has been an inspiration to both Serenity and I. The CCDA has three "Rs" of ministry:


These have been behind much of the heartbeat of the Jubilee Food Pantry and Mustard Seed Ministries.

Relocating to the broken places of this world, much like Jesus did. As John 1:14 says: "The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood" (The Message). Reconciliation to God and our neighbors. And the easy one (at least easier than the other two): redistributing what the Lord has given to us because things are temporary (Matt 6:19-21).

What I love about the above poem is that it is embedded with humility. When all of this is said and done, when the Lord has transformed Hubbard through the Jubilee Food Pantry, community gardens, and neighborhood block parties, when God's Kingdom is more evident on our streets, everyone will look at each other and say "We have done this ourselves." No one will remember Andy and Serenity, rather, folks will just see God working through each of them.

When we place loving people at the center of everything we are about, God's Kingdom outshines anything we can do ourselves.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Beatitudes

Blessed are you when liberals declare you not politically correct; blessed are you when conservatives persecute you for asking questions and when they falsely say all kinds of evil against you because you talk more about me than about their doctrines. Rejoice and be glad, because you’re probably onto the radically unfolding kingdom of God. For in the same way they tried to nail all the prophets who were before you.”

-Paraphrase of Matt. 5:11-12 by Philip Clayton (American theologian)

This was on a friend's blog and it was just too good to pass up - thanks Eric.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Jesus Wants to Save Christians

I recently finished Rob Bell's Jesus Wants to Save Christians. It was very good. It was similar in many ways to some other stuff that I have read recently, but it's basic premise is that most Christians have missed the point of the Gospel and have been blinded by The World, specifically lies that are perpetuated by the "American Dream." But there is hope - the true Good News (Gospel) of Jesus Christ. Some statistics from the book:
America controls nearly 20 percent of the world's wealth and is only 5 percent of the world's population.

One billion people in the world do not have access to clean water, while the average American uses four hundred to six hundred liters of water a day.

Every seven seconds, somewhere in the world a child under age five dies of hunger, while Americans throw away 14 percent of the food we purchase.

Nearly one billion people in the world live on less than one American dollar a day.

Another 2.5 billion people in the world live on less than two American dollars a day, . . . while the average American teenagers spends nearly $150 a week.

By far, most of the people in the world do not own a car. . . . One-third of American families own three cars.

Americans spend more annually on trash bags than nearly half the world does on all goods.
God bless America? Yes, God did, but is this what He blessed us for? How can we change this? How can our generation bring up the next with an understanding of the true Gospel? How can we teach all generations that God has called us to something better?

As a high school teacher I work with youth quite a bit. I teach U.S. history. Sometimes I think that my students are pretty mold-able, that we can do great things by teaching this generation what it means not only to live in a global society, with neighbors who care about your decisions even if they don't live next door, but that with or without sanitation, electricity, food, water or an education, the most important thing in life is to know Jesus Christ and then live that truth out by loving Him and loving others by making decisions in our lives that contribute to His Kingdom. Here is another quote from Bell that makes me realize this is quite the difficult obstacle:
Imagine the average youth group in the average church on the average Sunday. Imagine visiting this youth group and having the pastor say to you, "I just can't get my kids interested in Jesus. Do you have any suggestions?"

How do you respond?

To begin with, the church has a youth group. This is a brand-new idea in church history. A luxury. Everybody in the church doesn't meet all together? All of the babies and older folks and men and women and widows and students aren't in the same room, but they've gone to separate rooms?

And there are resources for this? People and organizational structures and a budget? Let's imagine that in this case, this pastor, this youth pastor, is paid a salary for his or her work. A church with enough resources to pay someone to oversee the students? Once again, this is brand new, almost unheard of in most of the churches in the world, and in church history, a brand-new invention.

This salary can be paid and this building can be built because people in the congregation have surplus. They have fed themselves and their children and bought clothes and houses, and now, after these expenses, there is still money available. And this money is given in an act of generosity to the church, which disperses it to various places, among them the bank account of the pastor.

In many, if not most, of the churches in the world, immediate needs simply don't allow for such luxuries—too many people are hungry, too many don't have a roof, too many are sick—and so any surplus is spent immediately on the basic needs staring them right in the face,

people dying here,

right now,


But this particular church is blessed, and we should be clear about this—it is blessing. It is good. It is fortunate that this particular church doesn't have those issues. This church has enough resources to hire a pastor who had the resources to get training to gather these students in the student room to teach them about the way of Jesus. Many Christians around the world would simply stand in awe of that kind of blessing.

And the students in this church, these are good kids. They are from families who just want to see their kids become good Christians.

Imagine just how much is available to them. They have more at their fingertips than any generation in the history of the world—more information, more entertainment, more ideas, more ways to kill time, more options.

Many of them own more than one pair of shoes.

There are even some among them who have eaten at least one meal every day of their lives.

So, we are talking about a minuscule minority of kids in the world.

At the exit off the highway near their church is a Best Buy and a Chili's and a Circuit City and a McDonald's and a Wal-Mart and a Bed, Bath and Beyond, much like the other towns in their state and in their country. The music they listen to is distributed by one of five major corporations, which also own the movie studios that create the movies they watch, which are also connected to the corporations that create the food they eat and the commercials they watch, which also have significant ties to the clothes they wear and the cell phones they own, and the ring tone on their cell phones, the one by the artist who is signed to the record label that is owned by the same company that owns the cell phone company and the advertising agency that announced the artist's new album, which is owned by the same company that owns the beverage company in whose advertisement the artist appeared, drinking that particular beverage, singing the song that is now a ring tone on the students' phones that they purchased at the mall across the street from the Olive Garden next door to the Home Depot on the other side of the Starbucks.

And so each week they gather to hear a talk from the pastor.

Their pastor tells them about the Jesus revolution.

About Jesus resisting the system.

About the blood of the cross.

About many of the first Christians getting arrested.

About Jesus having dinner with prostitutes and tax collectors.

About people sharing their possessions.

About Jesus telling a man to sell everything.

About the uniqueness of their story in the larger story of redemption.

How do children of the empire understand the Savior who was killed by an empire?

How does a twelve-year-old who has never had hunger pangs that lasted more than an hour understand a story about a twelve-year-old providing fish and bread for thousands of chronically hungry people?

How do kids who are surrounded by more abundance than in any other generation in the history of humanity take seriously a Messiah who said, “I have been anointed to preach good news to the poor”?

How do they fathom that half the world is too poor to feed its kids when their church just spent two years raising money to build an addition to their building?

They gather, they sing, they hear a talk from the pastor, and then they get back in the car with their parent and they go home; the garage door opens up, the car goes in, and the garage door goes down.

This is the revolution?

This is what Jesus had in mind?

And so the youth pastor turns to you and says, again, “I just can't get my students engaged with Jesus. Do you have any suggestions?”

What do you say?

How do you respond?
How do we take the flannel board and empty worship songs, the irrelevant messages and an imposter gospel out of the Church? How do we convince the next generation, or for that matter all generations, that Jesus Christ is worth it? The only answer is to point them to the true Gospel. The true message of Jesus. One that stands in contradiction to accumulation, war and safety and one that asks each of us to embrace Jesus on a wild ride that will make sense to only a few. A Gospel that asks us to abandon riches, to hug our enemies and to risk our lives for His glory.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

My Best Friend

Serenity and I will celebrate our 11th anniversary this week, and I have put together a video of our life together thus far.

Serenity, I love you more today than I could ever have dreamed of the day I saw you in the Stevenson Union. You are the perfect mother for our children and the perfect wife for me. Jesus brought us together for a reason, to bring glory to His name. Where one is weak, the other is strong. May we continue to look to Jesus for His light in our marriage. You are my best friend, I love you.

Monday, August 9, 2010

What I'm Reading

Radical | A book by David Platt

I have been reading Dr. Platt's book Radical over the past week and it is excellent. I do disagree on a few points, overall however, I'm enjoying it. Ultimately I think his overarching theme could be summed up with a question that I have been wrestling with for nearly 5 years now:

What if we actually took the words of Jesus and applied them directly to our lives?

"Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple." - Luke 14:33

"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple." - Luke 14:26

"For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it." - Matthew 16:25
There are literally hundreds more.

More on the book later. . . .

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Jesus Plays Possum

Maybe it's because I was a history major, I don't know, but when I read scriptures and here stories about people and places (which is all of the Bible), I have the tendency of imagining myself in their shoes - walking. I was reading a passage in Luke and I was blown away by the creativity of Jesus. Time and time again, Jesus could simply call on His armies, or even done it himself -- but He refuses, that would have been just like all of the other Kingdoms and Kings. Jesus came to show us a different Way. Simply put, and as many of you fully realize, Jesus is amazing! This simple truth stood out to me as I read this passage.

On the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) are two of Jesus' disciples. They are dejected. They are frustrated. They are probably a little annoyed and possibly feeling slightly betrayed. The "prophet" they had followed, who claimed to be the Son of God had just been executed by the Romans. Jesus had rejected each power structure: to the Sadducees He refused the status quo, to the Pharisees He pushed them out of their legalism, to the established oppressive nation-state (the Romans) He challenged their authority and to the Zealots He rejected the use of violence. These two disciples walking along the road back to their hometown of Emmaus, the one they left to follow Jesus, probably didn't know what to think. Who was this man? Was he even a prophet? He promised so much, and he didn't deliver. Now they have to go back to family, friends, and co-workers and admit that they walked away from their homes and jobs for a prophet that didn't pan out. The two had heard stories about Jesus rising from the dead, but when some of the other disciples went to His tomb He wasn't there. They didn't believe. Then a stranger walked up.

The stranger says "'What are you discussing so intently as you walk along?' They stopped short, sadness written across their faces. Then one of them, Cleopas, replied, 'You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn't heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days.'" At this point the stranger (which, as we know, turns out to be Jesus) could have thrown off his cloak and said something along the lines of "Ah ha, behold, it is me, Jesus, the Christ. I have risen from the dead and have come to give you life." At least that is what I would have done. But instead Jesus replies, "What things?" Basically He is provoking a conversation. The two go on to tell this stranger about the prophet who did powerful miracles but was put to death. Much like the power structures Jesus rejected, the two strangers did not have eyes to see and ears to hear (until later that night) and "had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel." Jesus obviously had, but nobody realized it. They had all been looking for the wrong things. The stranger then rebuts the two calling them foolish and then gives them a history lesson starting with Moses and covering all of the prophets who had all pointed back to Him.

Assuming the average walking speed is 2-3 miles per hour, it would take a person around 3 hours to walk the 7 miles between Jerusalem and Emmaus. This is a long time to not recognize the man you followed with your life the past few years. For whatever reason, they don't, and after His rebuke and history lesson, they beg Him to come home and have dinner. "As they sat down to eat, he took the bread and blessed it. Then he broke it and gave it to them. Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And at that moment he disappeared!" Talk about drama, you can't make this stuff up! These disciples had to have been impacted in a deep way. Luke says that they headed back to Jerusalem that night (another 3 hour walk - this time in the dark) and told the eleven disciples all that had happened. Can you imagine how energized and excited they had to have been at this point?

Put yourself there on that road to your hometown - dejected, confused, betrayed. Sometimes when Jesus shows up He plays possum just so we can have a deeper revelation of who He is.

Monday, July 5, 2010


The most powerful things happen when the church surrenders its desire to convert people and convince them to join. It is when the church gives itself away in radical acts of service and compassion, expecting nothing in return, that the way of Jesus is most vividly put on display. To do this, the church must stop thinking about everybody primarily in categories of in or out, saved or not, believer or nonbeliever.

- Rob Bell

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Shrinking Gospel

Only a fraction of our sins are personal. By far the greater part are sins of neglect, sins of default, our social sin, our systemic sin, our economic sin. For these sins Christ died, and continues to die. For these sins Christ atoned, and continues to atone. . . . As long as evangelism presents a gospel centered on the need for personal salvation, individuals will acquire a faith that focuses on maximum benefits with minimal obligations, and we will change the costly work of Christ's atonement into the pragmatic transaction of a salvific contract. . . . The sanctifying grace of God in Jesus Christ is meant not just for the sinner but also for a society beset by structural sin.

- David Lowes Watson

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Gospel of Jack

One of my favorite singer-songwriters is Jack Johnson. He has some chill acoustic guitar and occasionally adds some ukulele. He did the soundtrack for Curious George, so he is one of my kids' favorites as well. The lyrics he writes are pretty good too. I hear he owns a home in Ashland, Oregon, which is were I went to college, so that makes him even cooler.

I am reading Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis and came across an interesting section titled "True." Bell quotes Arthur Holmes who said "All truth is God's truth," and then adds,
"So as a Christian, I am free to claim the good, the true, the holy, wherever and whenever I find it. I live with the understanding that truth is bigger than any religion and the world is God's and everything in it."
We have the tendency to toss out truth because it didn't come from a "Christian" source. But if we truly believe the above quote, that all truth is God's truth, then truth can come from anywhere. It can even come from the lyrics of a "secular" song.

Bell goes on to explain that the Apostle Paul affirms this when he quotes Cretan prophets (Titus 1:12-13) and Greek poets (Acts 17:28). "Now to be able to quote these prophets and poets, Paul obviously had to read them. And study them. And analyze them. And I'm sure he came across all kinds of things in their writings that he didn't agree with. So he sifts and sorts and separates the light from the dark and then claims and quotes the parts that are true."

Now there are many things that are labeled "Christian" and are not true. For example regarding war, Henry T. Blackaby, a leading evangelical said in 2005, "those who oppose the war to liberate Iraq need to read God's Word. There is no question that the current war to liberate Iraq is a 'just' war – according to biblical standards." Chuck Colson was quoted in Christianity Today as saying, "out of love of neighbor, then, Christians can and should support a preemptive strike." There are plenty of these out there, so you can search on your own for quotes from evangelical leaders about their support of war, any war, which to me, equates to blind patriotism. The Christian Post wrote an article in February of 2008 about how most evangelical leaders still support the the war in Iraq.

Jack Johnson may not believe in God or Jesus, or anything spiritual, I don't know him personally, but the lyrics to the below song are closer to the heart of Jesus than any of the above quotes from evangelical leaders.
But who needs to see what we've done?
Who needs please when we've got guns?
Who needs keys when we've got clubs?
Who needs peace when we've gone above
But beyond where we should have gone?
Beyond where we should have gone
We went beyond where we should have gone
Beyond where we should have gone
So, . . . I claim it as truth. We've gone beyond where we should have gone.

"Sleep Through The Static"
(click on the above title to hear the song.
There is also a video from NPR of Johnson singing the song here.)

Trouble travels fast
When you're specially designed for crash testing
Or wearing wool sunglasses in the afternoon
Come on and tell us what you're trying to prove

Because it's a battle when you dabble in war
You store it up, unleash it, then you piece it together
Whether the storm drain running rampant just stamp it
And send it to somebody who's pretending to care

Just cash in your blanks for little toy tanks
Learn how to use them, then abuse them and choose them
Over conversations relationships are overrated
"I hated everyone" said the sun

And so I will cook all your books
You're too good looking and mistooken
You could watch it instead
From the comfort of your burning beds
...Or you can sleep through the static

Who needs sleep when we've got love?
Who needs keys when we've got clubs?
Who needs please when we've got guns?
Who needs peace when we've gone above
But beyond where we should have gone?
We went beyond where we should have gone

Stuck between channels my thoughts all quit
I thought about them too much, allowed them to touch
The feelings that rained down on the plains all dried and cracked
Waiting for things that never came

Shock and awful thing to make somebody think
That they have to choose pushing for peace supporting the troops
And either you're weak or you'll use brute force-feed the truth
The truth is we say not as we do

We say anytime, anywhere, just show your teeth and strike the fear
Of god wears camouflage, cries at night and drives a dodge
Pick up the beat and stop hogging the feast
That's no way to treat an enemy

Well mighty mighty appetite
We just eat 'em up and keep on driving
Freedom can be freezing take a picture from the pretty side
Mind your manners wave your banners
What a wonderful world that this angle can see

But who needs to see what we've done?
Who needs please when we've got guns?
Who needs keys when we've got clubs?
Who needs peace when we've gone above
But beyond where we should have gone?
Beyond where we should have gone
We went beyond where we should have gone
Beyond where we should have gone

Saturday, June 19, 2010

An Economy of Enough

As I read more and more of the stories about Jesus I am struck by the intentionality of Christ. Everything He did, everything he said, everyone he spent time with, ate with and talked with was intentional at that very time -- there was a truth to be learned not necessarily by His words, but by what He was doing, right then. I am reading Brian D. McLaren's Everything Must Change and he points out a couple of these occasions. The most striking is when Jesus feeds the multitudes (many call it Jesus feeds the 5,000, however, the five thousand refers to the men in the crowd. It is possibly more accurate to estimate that Jesus actually fed upwards of 15-20 thousand.)

Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

Late in the afternoon his disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the nearby farms and villages and buy something to eat.”

But Jesus said, “You feed them.”

“With what?” they asked. “We’d have to work for months to earn enough money to buy food for all these people!”

“How much bread do you have?” he asked. “Go and find out.”

They came back and reported, “We have five loaves of bread and two fish.”

Then Jesus told the disciples to have the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of fifty or a hundred.

Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the bread to the disciples so they could distribute it to the people. He also divided the fish for everyone to share. They all ate as much as they wanted, and afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftover bread and fish. A total of 5,000 men and their families were fed from those loaves!

(Mark 6:34-44 NLT)

It is easy to look at this (and other) miracles attributed to Jesus and take them at face value. It is a story about Jesus and his divine power, as well as a deep compassion and love for people. All of that is true, but as usually is the case with Jesus, there is more than meets the eye (or the ears) to this story. When the disciples realize that it is getting late they ask Jesus to send the people away so they can buy something to eat. McLaren points out that "Jesus' reply contradicts both the words 'buy' and 'they/themselves.' Instead of 'they/themselves,' he says 'you,' and instead of 'buy' he says 'give.'"

So many times we can't imagine that what we already have is enough. I'm not talking about some divine thinking about the power of God and if we can only believe in His power we can move mountains. Although that is exactly what Jesus ends up doing in this story, and it is a truth that I haven't quite grasped yet. I'm talking about something much less supernatural. In response to the disciples' request to "send the crowds away to buy something to eat," Jesus says: "You feed them." The disciples' response was probably something like this: "Seriously Jesus? There are possibly 15,000 people here. How?" Jesus tells them simply to "go and see" how much they already have. McLaren goes on, "[Jesus] wants them to count what they already have, because what they already have counts, and is, in fact, enough through God's gracious provision."

Jesus is intentionally contradicting our version of economy and provision and calling us to a radically different economy -- an economy of enough. As in this story, in God's economy of enough the people "ate and were satisfied" (v. 42). In this economy Jesus asks instead for "you" to "give" from what you already have. This is true religion (James 1:27). Finally, and most importantly, Jesus "taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven," gives thanks to God (v. 41). This economy is based on gratitude of the Creator, neighborly sharing and reducing our consumption. When we do this, we will all have baskets of bread and fish to spare (v. 43).

Sunday, June 6, 2010


Last week a friend of mine died. He was out all Saturday night drinking with his friends and flipped his truck on a lonely stretch of highway Sunday morning. The truck ended up upside-down in a small creek alongside the road. He died before anybody found the crash. Cody was a student of mine and a wrestler for two years before he transferred to another school. He was a senior this year, and would have graduated last week. Cody was a bright kid, even though he didn't always show it. He was a talented wrestler and a very good athlete. He had an enormous amount of fight, he wrestled 119 pounds but I remember him taking on our heavyweight (without much success - like I said - he was bright, but didn't always show it). He was the kind of kid that could drive you crazy, but could always make you laugh. I hadn't seen him for a year or so, but when I found out about the crash I felt a void somewhere. I miss him.

Avery saw me looking at a news article about Cody's death. He asked me why the truck was wrecked. I wasn't sure how to respond but I told him that a wrestler of mine had died in that truck. There was a long silent pause and then Avery said, "That's sad. Why'd that happen?" There was a longer pause. I simply told him, "I don't know."

Why does this sort of thing happen? Most atheists will point to death and suffering in the world as one of the major justifications for there being no God. It sure makes it tough to believe in a God that would allow this sort of thing. But didn't Jesus, God's son, walk through this life just like we are? Death was common in Jesus' day. Herod had all Jewish boys under two years of age killed. Roman soldiers practiced genocide on the local populations. Medicine was still rudimentary, death in childbirth and young children was common. I'm pretty sure Jesus experienced the pain of losing a loved one. Beyond all of that, Jesus himself die one of the most horrific deaths known to man, proving that he understood.

He is the resurrection and the life.

I don't think we can ever fully understand why God allows this sort of thing - nor should we. I'm heading to the funeral tomorrow and I don't really know what to say to some of his good friends - students of mine. Maybe I don't need to say anything. I have been touched by the lyrics in this song since I bought the album a few months back. Although it doesn't give us any answers, I believe it might be the only answer.

(you can click on the title and open it up in Windows Media Player, then come back to this page to read the lyrics below)
Resurrection by Andy Gullahorn

My good friend Paul was lying in the back seat of a station wagon headed to New Mexico.

Somewhere in the middle of the night the driver fell asleep and hit the wall beside the road.

My friend went through the window like a bullet through the glass, dead before he ever hit the ground.

(Chorus) Oh I believe, though it's hard sometimes, you are the resurrection and the life.

Jodi is a queen reigning throne upon a couch but the last few years have numbered days.

Cause the virus in her body and the cancer in her brain are buyin' up the real estate.

And the medicine they give her trades nightmares for her dreams and memories too tragic to describe.

(Chorus) Oh I believe, though it's hard sometimes, you are the resurrection and the life.

I know the words of life to come are true, but sometimes they feel like salt upon the wound.

When I'm asking in these moments "Where are you?". . . where are you?

Sometimes it's like Lazareth you come to roll the stone away and watch him walk back out alive.

Sometimes it's like my good friend Paul, breathless on the interstate, mother weeping at his side.

Either way it's something I will never understand, but I trust enough to take you at your word.

So I believe, though it's hard sometimes, you are the resurrection and the life.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Holy Flakes

A satirical look at what happens when we make Jesus a commodity.

On top of a dusty shelf in a small town grocery
were boxes of some store brand flakes that hadn’t sold in years.
The manager that transferred in with marketing degrees
thought he could sell that cereal with his big fresh ideas.
He found a picture of the pope and when he got it scanned,
used photoshop to take a spoon and put it in his hand.
Then a bubble with a caption of what the pope was trying to say,
"If you’re a Christian act like one and eat your Holy Flakes."
Holy Flakes, Holy Flakes. Holy Holy Holy, Holy Flakes.
The same old folks came in that week to get their raisin bran.
They all felt convicted when they saw the holy man
so they filled their carts up with John Paul instead of stuff they liked.
They thought it was their duty as the good God fearing kind.
And the Holy Flakes sold so well they couldn’t keep them on the shelf so they diversified.
Soon there were Sacred Chips,
Virgin Mary Chicken Strips
and Prince of Peace Apple Pie.
It doesn’t matter if it has no taste cause its all in the name.
Soon they had a one brand town with pantries all the same.
It left them with no appetite for stuff that broke the mold
and a faith that was as shallow as the milk left in the bowl
of Holy Flakes.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Non-Violent Direct Action

I repeated this phrase probably 30-40 times to my U.S. History classes when we studied the Civil Rights Movement a few weeks back. I wanted them to understand that the message of Martin Luther King Jr. and many other civil rights leaders was not one of passivity. It wasn't a message that asked folks to sit back and do nothing while the aggressors beat the tar out of you. These leaders specifically sought out unjust laws and then directly violated those laws. There is nothing passive about that. There was a reason Dr. King was placed in Montgomery, Alabama in 1956. There was a reason that Dr. King and others showed up in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. There was a reason that they showed up in Mississippi during the Freedom Summer of 1964. Injustice was occurring and they wanted to attack it head on with non-violent direct action.

The tactics of Mahatma Gandhi heavily influenced Dr. King. Although Gandhi was assassinated in 1949, King traveled to India a decade later and visited the birthplace of Gandhi. It had a profound impact on his vision for the beloved community in the United States, he wrote:
Since being in India, I am more convinced than ever before that the method of nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for justice and human dignity. In a real sense, Mahatma Gandhi embodied in his life certain universal principles that are inherent in the moral structure of the universe, and these principles are as inescapable as the law of gravitation.
That "moral structure of the universe" was obviously evident in the words of Jesus, and in this regard, specifically in the Sermon on the Mount. In fact, Gandhi was heavily influenced by the New Testament. King looked at some of Jesus' words with skepticism until he saw their tangible application in the Indian independence movement a decade earlier:
The 'turn-the-other-cheek' philosophy and the 'love-your-enemies' philosophy, were only valid when individuals were in conflict with other individuals; when racial groups and nations were in conflict, a more realistic approach seemed necessary. But after reading Gandhi, I saw how utterly mistaken I was.
It was only then that King fully realized that the nonviolent tactics of Jesus were the only viable solution to the problems facing oppressed people in the world. To recognize this individually it implies that Jesus had a political message, that God did not send His son to earth to simply teach us how to get to heaven. Why would Jesus teach a message of nonviolent resistance? My answer would be that nonviolence is the way of the Kingdom not a way to make it to the Kingdom, which implies that the Kingdom is already here - now - right now, all around us. That is why Jesus tells us to pray for His will to be done "on earth as it is in Heaven." So Jesus' words need to be taken literally and need to be applied to our lives today. Look at a passage from Matthew 5:39-41, in three short verses Jesus gives us the basis for non-violent direct action:
Do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles.
In all three of these instances, the offended party is taking action, they aren't sitting helplessly waiting for the offender to continue harming them. "Turn you cheek," "give your coat," and "walk another mile." All three of these flew in the face of what was acceptable to the culture. Take for example the walking the extra mile. The Romans had oppressed the people of Israel for nearly a century prior to the public ministry of Jesus. Violence by the hands of the Romans were perpetuated against the Jews on a daily basis. In 4 BCE, Rome had sanctioned a mass execution of male children in attempts to eliminate the supposed "messiah." These acts were all carried out by Roman soldiers -- then Jesus says "If a [Roman] soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles." This is a defiant action. This is not apolitical. Jesus has a purpose here in telling the listeners to take part in this non-violent direct action. It was Roman law that soldiers could demand that subjugated people could be asked to help carry gear, and it was actually illegal to force them to carry the pack for more than a mile (1,000 steps). Jesus was telling His listeners to purposely break a law to demonstrate the injustice of the situation.

Fast forward to 1961. In Washington D.C., 13 riders boarded Greyhound buses heading south. The goal of these Freedom Riders were to bring attention to the unjust Jim Crow law of segregated seating on interstate travel. The riders met angry mobs and violence throughout the Deep South on their way to New Orleans - which they never reached -- most being arrested in Jackson, Mississippi. But the nation noticed and the law was thereafter enforced. Passengers were permitted to sit wherever they pleased on interstate buses and trains, "white" and "colored" signs came down in the terminals, separate drinking fountains, toilets, and waiting rooms were consolidated, and the lunch counters began serving people regardless of race.

Nonviolence is not passivity. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr.:

Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.

Kung Fu Bear

This has nothing to do with anything, I just thought it was hilarious.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Radical Book

I'm really excited about getting a copy of David Platt's new book titled Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream. Don't know if you remember, but we put out a challenge the week before Easter to listen / watch one sermon each night before Resurrection Sunday. I haven't read the whole thing, but this book looks to be based off of those sermons. We never went to Birmingham, Alabama during our travels, which is where Dr. Platt pastors a church. Instead we heard about this sermon series through a remarkable blog that if you haven't checked it out before you really should, you will be inspired:
If you are interested in reading the first chapter of Dr. Platt's book you can go here.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

What Jesus Left Out

In Luke 4 Jesus returns to Nazareth and stands up in the synagogue, probably the same synagogue he went to as a child and young adult. He simply stands, finds where the prophet Isaiah wrote these words:
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
. . . "then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down." But he left something out. Something that seems pretty crucial to the actual verse in Isaiah. Here is the passage in Isaiah:
"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

and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn."
I'm wondering why? Anybody have any thoughts why Jesus would read all of Isaiah 61:1-2a, but leave out 2b: that he has come to proclaim "the day of vengeance of our God." Is Jesus trying to tell us something by not telling us something?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Can we serve both steel and Jesus?

Father George Zabelka, a Catholic chaplain with the U.S. Air Force, served as a priest for the airmen who dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, and gave them his blessing. Over the next twenty years, he gradually came to believe that he had been terribly wrong, that he had denied the very foundations of his faith by lending moral and religious support to the bombing. Zabelka, who died in 1992, gave this speech on the 40th anniversary of the bombings. The excerpt is long, but is well worth it.

The destruction of civilians in war was always forbidden by the Church, and if a soldier came to me and asked if he could put a bullet through a child's head, I would have told him, absolutely not. That would be mortally sinful. But in 1945 Tinian Island was the largest airfield in the world. Three planes a minute could take off from it around the clock. Many of these planes went to Japan with the express purpose of killing not one child or one civilian but of slaughtering hundreds and thousands and tens of thousands of children and civilians – and I said nothing.

As a Catholic chaplain I watched as the Boxcar, piloted by a good Irish Catholic pilot, dropped the bomb on Urakami Cathedral in Nagasaki, the center of Catholicism in Japan.

I never preached a single sermon against killing civilians to the men who were doing it. I was brainwashed! It never entered my mind to protest publicly the consequences of these massive air raids. I was told it was necessary – told openly by the military and told implicitly by my Church's leadership. (To the best of my knowledge no American cardinals or bishops were opposing these mass air raids. Silence in such matters is a stamp of approval.)

I worked with Martin Luther King, Jr., during the Civil Rights struggle in Flint, Michigan. His example and his words of nonviolent action, choosing love instead of hate, truth instead of lies, and nonviolence instead of violence stirred me deeply. This brought me face to face with pacifism – active nonviolent resistance to evil. I recall his words after he was jailed in Montgomery, and this blew my mind. He said, "Blood may flow in the streets of Montgomery before we gain our freedom, but it must be our blood that flows, and not that of the white man. We must not harm a single hair on the head of our white brothers."

I struggled. I argued. But yes, there it was in the Sermon on the Mount, very clear: "Love your enemies. Return good for evil." I went through a crisis of faith. Either accept what Christ said, as unpassable and silly as it may seem, or deny him completely.

For the last 1700 years the Church has not only been making war respectable: it has been inducing people to believe it is an honorable profession, an honorable Christian profession. This is not true. We have been brainwashed. This is a lie.

War is now, always has been, and always will be bad, bad news. I was there. I saw real war. Those who have seen real war will bear me out. I assure you, it is not of Christ. It is not Christ's way. There is no way to conduct real war in conformity with the teachings of Jesus. There is no way to train people for real war in conformity with the teachings of Jesus.

The morality of the balance of terrorism is a morality that Christ never taught. The ethics of mass butchery cannot be found in the teachings of Jesus. In Just War ethics, Jesus Christ, who is supposed to be all in the Christian life, is irrelevant. He might as well never have existed. In Just War ethics, no appeal is made to him or his teaching, because no appeal can be made to him or his teaching, for neither he nor his teaching gives standards for Christians to follow in order to determine what level of slaughter is acceptable.

So the world is watching today. Ethical hairsplitting over the morality of various types of instruments and structures of mass slaughter is not what the world needs from the Church, although it is what the world has come to expect from the followers of Christ. What the world needs is a grouping of Christians that will stand up and pay up with Jesus Christ. What the world needs is Christians who, in language that the simplest soul could understand, will proclaim: the follower of Christ cannot participate in mass slaughter. He or she must love as Christ loved, live as Christ lived, and, if necessary, die as Christ died, loving ones enemies.

For the 300 years immediately following Jesus' resurrection, the Church universally saw Christ and his teaching as nonviolent. Remember that the Church taught this ethic in the face of at least three serious attempts by the state to liquidate her. It was subject to horrendous and ongoing torture and death. If ever there was an occasion for justified retaliation and defensive slaughter, whether in form of a just war or a just revolution, this was it. The economic and political elite of the Roman state and their military had turned the citizens of the state against Christians and were embarked on a murderous public policy of exterminating the Christian community.

Yet the Church, in the face of the heinous crimes committed against her members, insisted without reservation that when Christ disarmed Peter he disarmed all Christians.

Christians continued to believe that Christ was, to use the words of an ancient liturgy, their fortress, their refuge, and their strength, and that if Christ was all they needed for security and defense, then Christ was all they should have. Indeed, this was a new security ethic. Christians understood that if they would only follow Christ and his teaching, they couldn't fail. When opportunities were given for Christians to appease the state by joining the fighting Roman army, these opportunities were rejected, because the early Church saw a complete and an obvious incompatibility between loving as Christ loved and killing. It was Christ, not Mars, who gave security and peace.

Today the world is on the brink of ruin because the Church refuses to be the Church, because we Christians have been deceiving ourselves and the non-Christian world about the truth of Christ. There is no way to follow Christ, to love as Christ loved, and simultaneously to kill other people. It is a lie to say that the spirit that moves the trigger of a flamethrower is the Holy Spirit. It is a lie to say that learning to kill is learning to be Christ-like. It is a lie to say that learning to drive a bayonet into the heart of another is motivated from having put on the mind of Christ. Militarized Christianity is a lie. It is radically out of conformity with the teaching, life, and spirit of Jesus.

Now, brothers and sisters, on the anniversary of this terrible atrocity carried out by Christians, I must be the first to say that I made a terrible mistake. I was had by the father of lies. I participated in the big ecumenical lie of the Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox churches. I wore the uniform. I was part of the system. When I said Mass over there I put on those beautiful vestments over my uniform. (When Father Dave Becker left the Trident submarine base in 1982 and resigned as Catholic chaplain there, he said, "Every time I went to Mass in my uniform and put the vestments on over my uniform, I couldn't help but think of the words of Christ applying to me: Beware of wolves in sheep's clothing.")

As an Air Force chaplain I painted a machine gun in the loving hands of the nonviolent Jesus, and then handed this perverse picture to the world as truth. I sang "Praise the Lord" and passed the ammunition. As Catholic chaplain for the 509th Composite Group, I was the final channel that communicated this fraudulent image of Christ to the crews of the Enola Gay and the Boxcar.
All I can say today is that I was wrong. Christ would not be the instrument to unleash such horror on his people. Therefore no follower of Christ can legitimately unleash the horror of war on God's people. Excuses and self-justifying explanations are without merit. All I can say is: I was wrong! But, if this is all I can say, this I must do, feeble as it is. For to do otherwise would be to bypass the first and absolutely essential step in the process of repentance and reconciliation: admission of error, admission of guilt.

There is no way to conduct real war in conformity with the teachings of Jesus.

I was there, and I was wrong. Yes, war is Hell, and Christ did not come to justify the creation of Hell on earth by his disciples. The justification of war may be compatible with some religions and philosophies, but it is not compatible with the nonviolent teaching of Jesus. I was wrong. And to those of whatever nationality or religion who have been hurt because I fell under the influence of the father of lies, I say with my whole heart and soul I am sorry. I beg forgiveness.

I asked forgiveness from the Hibakushas (the Japanese survivors of the atomic bombings) in Japan last year, in a pilgrimage that I made with a group from Tokyo to Hiroshima. I fell on my face there at the peace shrine after offering flowers, and I prayed for forgiveness – for myself, for my country, for my Church. Both Nagasaki and Hiroshima. This year in Toronto, I again asked forgiveness from the Hibakushas present. I asked forgiveness, and they asked forgiveness for Pearl Harbor and some of the horrible deeds of the Japanese military, and there were some, and I knew of them. We embraced. We cried. Tears flowed. That is the first step of reconciliation – admission of guilt and forgiveness. Pray to God that others will find this way to peace.

All religions have taught brotherhood. All people want peace. It is only the governments and war departments that promote war and slaughter. So today again I call upon people to make their voices heard. We can no longer just leave this to our leaders, both political and religious. They will move when we make them move. They represent us. Let us tell them that they must think and act for the safety and security of all the people in our world, not just for the safety and security of one country. All countries are interdependent. We all need one another. It is no longer possible for individual countries to think only of themselves. We can all live together as brothers and sisters or we are doomed to die together as fools in a world holocaust.

Each one of us becomes responsible for the crime of war by cooperating in its preparation and in its execution. This includes the military. This includes the making of weapons. And it includes paying for the weapons. There's no question about that. We've got to realize we all become responsible. Silence, doing nothing, can be one of the greatest sins.

The bombing of Nagasaki means even more to me than the bombing of Hiroshima. By August 9, 1945, we knew what that bomb would do, but we still dropped it. We knew that agonies and sufferings would ensue, and we also knew – at least our leaders knew – that it was not necessary. The Japanese were already defeated. They were already suing for peace. But we insisted on unconditional surrender, and this is even against the Just War theory. Once the enemy is defeated, once the enemy is not able to hurt you, you must make peace.

Militarized Christianity is a lie. It is radically out of conformity with the teaching, life, and spirit of Jesus.

As a Catholic chaplain I watched as the Boxcar, piloted by a good Irish Catholic pilot, dropped the bomb on Urakami Cathedral in Nagasaki, the center of Catholicism in Japan. I knew that St. Francis Xavier, centuries before, had brought the Catholic faith to Japan. I knew that schools, churches, and religious orders were annihilated. And yet I said nothing.

Thank God that I'm able to stand here today and speak out against war, all war. The prophets of the Old Testament spoke out against all false gods of gold, silver, and metal. Today we are worshipping the gods of metal, the bomb. We are putting our trust in physical power, militarism, and nationalism. The bomb, not God, is our security and our strength. The prophets of the Old Testament said simply: Do not put your trust in chariots and weapons, but put your trust in God. Their message was simple, and so is mine.

We must all become prophets. I really mean that. We must all do something for peace. We must stop this insanity of worshipping the gods of metal. We must take a stand against evil and idolatry. This is our destiny at the most critical time of human history. But it's also the greatest opportunity ever offered to any group of people in the history of our world – to save our world from complete annihilation.

(An excerpt of a speech Fr. Zabelka gave at a Pax Christi conference in August 1985 - the 40 year anniversary of the bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki)

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Land of the Free

Below are the lyrics to a hidden track on Andrew Peterson's album Clear on to Venus called Land of the Free:

Little Elba how's the sun in South America
Does it shine upon the faces of the poor?
Do they see in it the brilliance of the place that's been prepared
And dwell upon the hope of what's in store
Or are they just like me do they only see
An opportunity to complain about the heat

And little Elba how's the rain in South America
Does it fall upon the roof tops of the sick
Do they thank the Lord for coming up with such a great idea
And dream about a place beyond all this
Or are they just like us do they gripe and fuss
About the rain and mud when they’ve had too much?

Cause I'm just a little jealous
Of the nothing that you have
You're unfettered by the wealth of
Of a world that we pretend that's going to last

Well I'm weary of the spoils of my ambition
And I'm shackled by the comfort of my couch
Well I wish I had the courage to deny these of my self
And start to store my treasure in the clouds
Cause this is not my home
I do not belong where the antelope and the buffalo roam

And I’m just a little jealous
Of the nothing that you have
You're unfettered by the wealth of
Of a world that we pretend that's going to last

They say God's blessed us with plenty
I say you're blessed with poverty
Cause you never stop to wonder
Whether earth is just a little better than the land of the free

So I hope you're safe and dry in South America
Cause I'm feeling pretty good in Tennessee
But may you never be so happy that you forget about your home
Your home in the land of the free

On the inside of a later album cover Peterson wrote this about the lyrics to this song:

"After my second trip to Bolivia with Compassion, I realized that in my songwriting fervor, I had misspoken. I don't believe, as the line in the bridge says, that little Elba and Hugo are "blessed with poverty". Poverty is a result of the Fall, and, though God certainly uses the worst Satan can throw at Him for His own glory and our good, poverty--true poverty--is an evil. It's an evil that we in the church are called to confront.

What I meant to say is that little Elba is blessed with simplicity. That's the aspect of life in the Third World that we Americans are lacking. Simplicity is what we sense is so glaring deficient in our American lives when we return from a mission trip. These days when I sing the Land of the Free, I sing this line: I say you're blessed with less than me."

May we fight the busy-ness that distracts us from allowing Christ to live through us bringing his Kingdom here -- now. May we embrace the simplicity of the Good News!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Radical Series

So we have eight days left before Easter and I am going to throw out a challenge:

Listen / watch an approximately one hour message once each day.

The sermon series is eight sermons long, so if you set aside one hour each day/night you should be able to listen to it all by next Saturday night, the night before Easter (in order to do this you might have to sacrifice American Idol or The Bachelor or The Office, or business plans, or Facebook, or blogs or whatever else we waste our time with each night, but it is well worth it, or better said, He is well worth it). If you choose to take up this challenge, Serenity and I will be listening through the series with you. You could even come back to this post and write comments / questions for all of us to think about and discuss.

Post a comment below if you plan to take up the challenge so that I know I'm not talking to myself :) (make sure it isn't an anonymous comment, that would be hard to keep you accountable)

Here is the link to the sermon series: Radical Series, Church at Brook Hills


Friday, March 26, 2010

Nominal Christianity

I have been thinking about this a lot lately. This quote summed up some of my processing quite nicely:

"The Christian landscape is strewn with the wreckage of derelict, half-built towers - the ruins of those who began to build and were unable to finish. For thousands of people still ignore Christ's warning and undertake to follow him without first pausing to reflect on the cost of doing so. The result is the great scandal of Christendom today, so-called 'nominal Christianity'. In countries to which Christian civilization has spread, large numbers of people have covered themselves with a decent, but thin, veneer of Christianity. They have allowed themselves to become somewhat involved; enough to be respectable but not enough to be uncomfortable. Their religion is a great, soft cushion. It protects them from the hard unpleasantness of life, while changing its place and shape to suit the convenience. no wonder the cynics speak of hypocrites in the church and dismiss religion as escapism."

From John Stott's Basic Christianity

Thursday, March 18, 2010

I know this is satirical, but it could legitimately happen, and as satirical as it sounds, Murray Hill Inc. REALLY is running for congress. Did you know that corporations are legally considered a person?

I heard an NPR interview with the CEO of Murray Hill Inc. He claims all they want to do is "cut the middle-man out of politics." Murray Hill Inc. is only a 5 year old corporation, so I think they will have some difficulties getting voting rights.

Monday, March 15, 2010

non-conformity does not mean uniformity

We had another opportunity to head out to our Alma mater, George Fox University, and hear a peace and justice activist share about their heart for, well, peace and justice. This time it was Shane Claiborne. As I wrote in the previous post, Claiborne recently co-authored a book with fellow activist John Perkins called Follow me to Freedom: Leading and Following as an Ordinary Radical. Shane was scheduled to speak about new monasticism, but I think he just shares his heart and talks about whatever he feels led to speak about.

Towards the end of the message, he opened it up for questions and one guy in the back asked where we should draw the line when giving folks food or money, etc. A question we have been asked many, many times. Shane responded by saying: "On judgment day, Jesus isn't going to look at you and say, 'man, you were way too generous." Now, I completely understand the argument about enabling and how even when we give out food we are just freeing up the cash flow for some drug addict or alcoholic to purchase his next fix, but I truly do believe we should simply love --
"Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins." 1 Peter 4:8
The example I have always given when posed with this question (which once again is a good one, and there are no easy answers) is when Jesus encounters the poor or the lame I don't recall him ever asking if they had gotten into the situation because of poor choices of their own, Jesus doesn't judge them before he helps them. I don't recall Jesus telling the blind or the lame that he will only heal them on one condition, that they no longer sin and live blameless lives. We are simply called to love.

Claiborne speaks mostly on peace -- and gradually, slowly I have come to embrace this viewpoint, not just Claiborne's viewpoint, but one that can be traced back to the fountain, to Jesus himself. I know that we all know Jesus preached a message of peace, but how many of us live this out? How many of us embrace this message but go on to condemn abortion clinics? Abortion is inherently wrong, obviously, but as Christians we need to have as much of a belief in the sanctity of the unborn as we do the sanctity of the Afghan or Iraqi children -- even if that belief collides with the attitude of our nation.

Claiborne showed the following video which completely blew my mind and revealed how so many "believers" have blurred the lines between their faith and their nation:

Scary. Another quote from Claiborne: "[Christians] should be the ones who are most difficult to convince that violence does any good."

Three years ago Shane Claiborne was one of the most popular speakers in the evangelical world. From Southern Baptists to Quakers, his message was heeded. His message was and is challenging -- it challenges the powerful, including Christians in power. Most of his message is directed at those in power and questions how we, as Christians, can take part in a system that creates poverty, death and destruction. Eventually his popularity has went from the darling of the evangelical world to controversial, and banned from speaking. Although not a direct correlation, Martin Luther King Jr. was similarly treated when he began to speak out against the "Vietnam conflict." In his Beyond Vietnam speech, King called the United States "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today." Red-blooded Americans don't like it when you preach peace, even red-blooded Christian Americans. Gradually King lost much of his mainstream support and less than one year after giving the Beyond Vietnam speech, was assassinated. Many conspiracy theorists and some historians claim that King was assassinated due to his stance on peace and justice rather than his stance on racial equality and civil rights.

Interestingly enough, in the same speech, Beyond Vietnam, King said, "true compassion is more than flinging a coin to a comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring." Or as Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day wrote, "our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy rotten system." The prophet Amos spoke a similar message more than 2,600 years ago condemning the Nation of Israel for accepting the new moral code and embracing an economy of haves and have nots. Claiborne's message isn't a new one but this message is just as important in this time and place as any other time in history.