Wednesday, December 29, 2010

GUESs What?

The Gresham Underground Emergency Shelter has been pretty busy, and the winter's already started! Since Thanksgiving, we've opened up 10 nights-- that means 10 nights below freezing when the city shelters didn't open. We could really use some help-- is there anyone who would be willing to help volunteer other nights this winter? We've been using our volunteers up and it would be great if we could share the load. Lives have been saved! Help us do this more.

On to other Anawim news:

-This January East County Anawim is going to participate in Multnomah County's street count. This is the first year that the street count will actively pursue counting those in East County. If you would like to help fill out surveys in the week of January 26th, let us know!

-This year has been Anawim's best year in providing for the needs of our folks. Everyone who needed a sleeping bag, tarp, tent, gloves and socks-- their needs have been met! It's all because of churches like Mountian View, Abundant Life Church, East County Church of Christ, and many more! Thanks to everyone who gave donations this year!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Six Trends in the Modern Church

The Barna Group has established six "megathemes" of the church in 2010. You can read their full article here:

Six Megathemes

I'll list out the themes and give my own commentary on them.

1. The Christian Church is becoming less theologically literate
I have certainly noticed that the church at large is generally Biblically illiterate, even those who claim to be scholars are so specialized that they can't seem to remember any passage except the one they are working on. How can we even claim to be a social group when we don't know what that grouping is based on? Part of this has to do with our preachers and teachers being more interested in reflecting on the newspaper or Christianity Today rather than God's word. The Bible is used more of a jumping off point or a hammer to drive their own points in. We need to read and teach God's word holistically.

2. Christians are becoming more ingrown and less outreach-oriented.
The examples the Barna Group give is people not inviting people to church as much or speaking to neighbors about Jesus. I think they may be mistaken about this trend. Rather, I have seen Christians using a different kind of evangelism that is more effective and less content oriented. It is to have relationships with non-Christians and have one's Christian life be a part of life, rather than an evangelistic tool to force down a non-Christian's throat. If there is a less outreach-orientation, it is simply because the old tools don't work and new ones are coming into place. In Portland, the churches have been working with the homeless more and have been doing service at public schools. This IS outreach, but outreach of a kind that shows the gospel rather than just talks about it.

3. Growing numbers of people are less interested in spiritual principles and more desirous of learning pragmatic solutions for life.
I think this has always been evident in American Christianity. American Christians have always had the American worldview take the front seat over Jesus' principles. It has only been relatively recently that the popularity of people like Shane Claiborne has introduced a practical lifestyle of Jesus' principles. This has drawn a following, but still few follow this radical change of life.

4. Among Christians, interest in participating in community action is escalating.
This is a positive trend and the Barna Group proves that they can see a negative in every possible trend. Look, guys, this IS evangelism and outreach. This is a powerful change in the church. Perhaps the theology of this isn't as defined, but theology doesn't usually change things anyway. The only spiritual principles we need to do good is to love God and love our neighbor.

5. The postmodern insistence on tolerance is winning over the Christian Church.
What Barna seems to forget is that there is a biblical tolerance which requires for us not to fight. The church has "fought" too hard in many wrong areas. The focus on creationism, the claim that homosexuality is a sin and insistence on a two-gender marriage is all fine within the church. But we MUST be tolerant of the opposite trends outside the church. We cannot impose church values on an unchurched world. Do we want to go back to the days of Sabbath laws or prohibition. Some would, but it would be in error. The church must learn to allow unbelievers to make their own mistakes in the freedom God has given them. When we don't, then we ARE judgmental and hypocritical and we are rightly condemned by the world. We are supposed to be the light of the world, not the wall which separates the world from being worldly.

6. The influence of Christianity on culture and individual lives is largely invisible.
I think that this is not necessarily a bad trend. Pastors, priests and fundamentalists all have a bad reputation in the world right now. We have made ourselves out to be hypocrites to the world and we have caused the world to reject our proud ways. It is time to be humble, to be quiet and allow our influence to be due to the good works we do and not because of the policy decisions we force, or because of the hateful speech we have carelessly used against politicians and social groups. Let us return to humility, not being silent, but allowing our loving actions to speak more than words. Only if we show the love of Christ will people believe in it again.

Let the church take time to find out who they are, what they really believe in and what is the best way to communicate that belief. We have allowed the pendents and the judgmentalists be our speakers for us. Allow the Christ-like to represent the church again.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Got Christmas?

What is Christmas about?
Christmas is about tradition. The things we were raised doing, we want to keep doing. And Christmas is one of the main times of year to keep old traditions alive that have survived at least thirty years or so. What is your Christmas about? Check the items below that apply to you:

 Giving gifts
 Spending time with family
 Lying to children about Santa Claus
 Spending time under the mistletoe
 Setting up decorations
 Getting drunk
 Hopping from free meal to free meal
 Arguing with friends and family
 Catching Miracle on 34th Street for the twentieth time
 Singing a mix of old hymns and silly songs
 Avoiding family
 Eating meat and stuffing until you throw up
 Spending time in the mall with thousands of others
 Listening to Christmas music until you throw up
 Watching A Charlie Brown Christmas for the fiftieth time
 Receiving gifts
 Returning gifts at the mall with thousands of others

Unfortunately, none of these things get to the heart of Christmas. They are all substitutes of the real focus of the festival. Once you dispense with this list, what is left of your Christmas? Watching re-runs of the Simpsons? Being morose because your Christmas doesn’t match up to your expectations? Or just being depressed in general, for no particular reason?

Christmas seems so important, such a significant part of our year, that it must be about something important. Of course, we all know that Christmas is supposed to be about Jesus. But that’s hard for us to really make practical as a holiday or feast. Or even to get our heads around. Jesus was a cool guy. And he taught some good things—most of which we can’t remember right now (too much egg nog, probably). But why is Christmas about him?

The Christmas Story
Well, part of Christmas is the Christmas story. Just in case you weren’t sure, the story isn’t A Christmas Carol. It’s about Jesus. Does Mary, Joseph, angels, shepherds, wise men ring a bell? Yeah, that’s the Christmas story. Well, what is that story about, anyway? Most of us know about the “peace on earth” part. But how do we get peace on earth?

The interesting thing is that the Christmas story doesn’t give us a strictly religious answer, like what we’d expect from the Bible. Instead, it gives us a political answer. That’s right, the Christmas story is about politics. It is propaganda about the kind of political system it thinks would be best. (Propaganda isn’t always bad, you know—it depends on whether it’s true and beneficial to everyone or not.) And the politics the Christmas story is recommending is to have the right ruler, the right government, and then you can have peace. That’s really not that different from an election year, really.

So what kind of ruler can give us peace? According to the Christmas story, it’s got to be somebody who knows what it’s like to be poor. At the same time, it’s got to be somebody who has authority. It’s got to be somebody who cares about the needs of the poor. But it’s still somebody who could capture the interest of the wise and wealthy. But most of all, it’s somebody who really upsets the status quo politics that makes everyone’s lives miserable. That’s why Jesus is uniquely qualified to be ruler of the world.

Jesus was born in poverty, and lived among people who had next to nothing. He drew to himself shepherds, who were rejected by “proper” society. Jesus’ mother sang a song about unimportant people ruling over everyone else. Yet Jesus drew magi more than a thousand miles—walking—to himself with rich gifts. At the same time, he had the current rival king so upset at him, that the king killed a village of babies and toddlers to get rid of him. At the same time, Jesus grew to establish laws that would benefit everyone that lived within his kingdom.

On top of all this, he received authority. He had the right to be in charge. God told everyone that Jesus was the one in charge, and that they needed to listen to him. Most people didn’t listen to God, but what else is new? Jesus still had the right to rule.

Choose Jesus as King of the World!
So why didn’t Jesus rule? Why isn’t he in charge of the world right now? Because he wants to give everyone a chance to choose him, first. (What other dictator would do that?) You see Christmas isn’t so much a holiday or gift-giving opportunity as an election. Jesus is presenting himself as a candidate for office. He want you to elect him. His platform is peace on earth and benefits for everyone who chooses him. What kind of benefits? Forgiveness of sins. The possibility of both receiving and giving love. Being content with your circumstances. Having your needs met. A life without suffering. Some pretty unbelievable campaign promises—but Jesus has a track record. Thousands, even millions of people have experienced Jesus’ kind of living. And it works, it really can give one peace.

Get Christmas
So have you really got Christmas? It’s simple—is Jesus your king, your Lord? If you live having Jesus as your ruler, then you can experience what Christmas is really about. So how do we do that?

Read the gospels to find out what Jesus is really like. (You can start with any of them—Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. Just skip the lists of names in Matthew or Luke). If the reading is too tough, then you can ask a pastor what it means to have Jesus as king (That’s what a pastor does, you know—he reads the Bible to explain it to those of us who can’t make heads or tails of it. If you don’t know a pastor you can call the phone number below.). Look at what Jesus is promising if he does rule. Look at what Jesus is demanding to see if you really want him to rule.

If you are ready, then accept Jesus as your Lord. You can pray to him, “Jesus I choose you as my King and Lord.” Or you can go to a church to get baptized (that’s the initiation ritual). Then you’ll really have Christmas. And a whole lot more.

Get Peace.
Get Jesus.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Debt Kills

Poor countries throughout the world are encouraged to go into debt to the World Bank so that they will be forever servants of the Western banks.

Kids who look to a future of service of the needy must look forward to paying off their educational debts. They must serve the status quo before they serve the poor, and if they have time and wisdom and energy to escape the maze of increasing debt, then with whatever they have left they can serve the needy.

It is a basic requirement of our society to get into debt to banks if they are to buy a house, a car or to take care of a financial emergency, such as getting very sick.

The New Testament has two things to say:
If you loan, don't expect to be repaid. Jesus says in Luke 6, alongside other commands we ignore, that if we loan out money, we are not to expect to be repaid at all, let alone expect interest. This means to me that if any follower of Jesus is employed by a bank, they should get out ASAP, for they are fundamentally an anti-Jesus institution. We shouldn't expect interest, and if we loan out, we shouldn't punish people by taking away their livlihood if they don't pay back. Jesus' command: if you loan money, it's really a gift.

Also, if you seek to be in economic debt for your desires, don't. Paul says, "Owe no one anything, except the debt of love." We aren't to seek debt. This doesn't mean that we can't borrow something and pay it back next month. But we are not to be in permanent debt, it is not to be a lifestyle. And the reason for this is clear-- if we are in financial debt, then it is difficult to pay the love we owe to everyone in need.

What can we do?

Get rid of our credit cards
Pay off whatever debts we have
Christian educators should not put students into debt-- an alternative system for making a fair educational system must be made.
Small, no interest loans must be available for those who are in need.
Debt should be eradicated from godly society

And all believers should encourage the banks to forgive the debt of poor countries.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Crisis of Justice in Pakistan

From Crosswalk's Religion News Summary:

High Court Says Pakistan Cannot Pardon Christian Woman

Despite previous reports, Pakistan's government has yet to pardon a Christian woman sentenced to death on blasphemy charges. Moreover, Christian Today reports that the country's high court barred any such pardon while the case is pending in the courts. "Since the matter is in the high court, the government cannot now make any move to pardon Bibi," lawyer Allah Bakhsh Leghari told Agence France-Presse. Asia Bibi (also called Asia Noreen) is the first woman to receive the death sentence after being convicted of blasphemy against Islam's prophet Mohammed. Conservative Muslims have threatened anarchy if President Asif Ali Zadari pardons the woman. Human rights group Christian Freedom International warns that Bibi's case could set a precedent. "If Asia is put to death, it could mean a rise in prosecutions of Christians - not just in Pakistan, but also in other nations where Islamic law is enforced," the group warned.

The president already attempted to pardon Asia, and this is the result.

Please pray for Pakistan and for this Christian woman. This will probably lead to a crisis either way.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Please Continue To Pray for Haiti

From Crosswalk Religion News Summary:

Haiti Cholera Spreading Faster than Predicted

Haiti's cholera epidemic has spread to the capital city of Port-au-Prince and much of the country, surprising officials and infecting thousands. Reuters reports that the disease as killed more than 1,300 people since the first case was recorded in mid-October. U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Haiti Nigel Fisher said that the waterborne disease could cause 200,000 causes within three months, according to the World Health Organization. "It's going to spread," he said. "The medical specialists all say that this cholera epidemic will continue through months and maybe a year at least, that we will see literally hundreds of thousands of cases." Fisher said U.N. and other aid workers needed to "significantly ratchet up" their response, including going through faith groups to distribute chlorine tablets to purify water, and increasing the number of treatment centers.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Are You Having Eels for Your Traditional Thanksgiving Meal?

This is quoted completely from The Wild Turkey Zone

Read it here.

For most Americans, the Thanksgiving meal consists of a turkey with stuffing, cranberry sauce, potatoes, and pumpkin pie (or sweet potato pie if you hail from the South.). While there are numerous regional and ethnic variations, this basic menu has not changed much in the last two hundred years. Nor is the standard menu much older than that. Our modern holiday fare bears little resemblance to the food eaten at the three-day 1621 harvest celebration at Plymouth Colony, the event now recalled as the “First Thanksgiving.”

The Wampanoag and Plymouth colonists often ate wild turkey, however it was not specifically mentioned in connection with the Winslow version of the 1621 harvest celebration. Edward Winslow said only that four men went hunting and brought back large amounts of “fowl” – more likely from the scenario to be seasonal waterfowl such as ducks and geese. And what about the stuffing? Yes, the Wampanoag and English did occasionally stuff the birds and fish, typically with herbs, onions or oats (English only).

The typical menu of Thanksgiving dinner is actually more than 200 years younger than that 1621 celebration and reflects both the holiday’s New England roots and a Victorian nostalgia for an imaginary time when hearth and home, family and community, were valued over progress and change. But while we have been able to work out which modern dishes were not available in 1621, just what was served is a tougher nut to crack.

What was really served at the First Thanksgiving

There are only two contemporary accounts of the 1621 Thanksgiving: First is Edward Winslow's account, which he wrote in a letter dated December 12, 1621. The complete letter was first published in 1622.

Our corn [i.e. wheat] did prove well, and God be praised, we had a good increase of Indian corn, and our barley indifferent good, but our peas not worth the gathering, for we feared they were too late sown. They came up very well, and blossomed, but the sun parched them in the blossom. Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.

He also further describes the bounty of the Plymouth Colony in his later writings --

Our bay is full of lobsters all the summer and affordeth variety of other fish; in September we can take a hogshead of eels in a night, with small labor, and can dig them out of their beds all the winter. We have mussels ... at our doors. Oysters we have none near, but we can have them brought by the Indians when we will; all the spring-time the earth sendeth forth naturally very good sallet herbs. Here are grapes, white and red, and very sweet and strong also. Strawberries, gooseberries, raspas, etc. Plums of tree sorts, with black and red, being almost as good as a damson; abundance of roses, white, red, and damask; single, but very sweet indeed… These things I thought good to let you understand, being the truth of things as near as I could experimentally take knowledge of, and that you might on our behalf give God thanks who hath dealt so favorably with us.1

The second description was written about twenty years after the fact by William Bradford in his History Of Plymouth Plantation. Bradford's History was rediscovered in 1854 after having been taken by British looters during the Revolutionary War. Its discovery prompted a greater American interest in the history of the Pilgrims. It is also in this account that the Thanksgiving turkey tradition is founded.

They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty. For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercising in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides they had about a peck of meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports.

Though not specifically mentioned as a food on the menu, corn was certainly part of the feasts. Remember that the harvest being celebrated was that of the colorful hard flint corn that the English often referred to as Indian corn. This corn was a staple for the Wampanoag and soon became a fixture in the cooking pots of New Plymouth. The English had acquired their first seed corn by helping themselves to a cache of corn from a Native storage pit on one of their initial explorations of Cape Cod. (They later paid the owners for this “borrowed” corn.) It is intriguing to imagine how the English colonists processed and prepared the novel corn for the first time in the fall of 1621. One colonist gave a hint of how his countrymen sought to describe and prepare a new grain in familiar, comforting terms: “Our Indian corn, even the coarsest, maketh as pleasant a meat as rice.”3 In other words, traditional English dishes of porridge and pancakes (and later bread) were adapted to be used with native corn.

In September and October, a variety of both dried and fresh vegetables were available. The produce from the gardens of New Plymouth is likely to have included what were then called “herbs:” parsnips, collards, carrots, parsley, turnips, spinach, cabbages, sage, thyme, marjoram and onions. Dried cultivated beans and dried wild blueberries may have been available as well as native cranberries, pumpkins, grapes and nuts.

While many elements of the modern holiday menu are very different from the foods eaten in 1621, the bounty of the New England autumn was clearly the basis for both. The impulse to share hospitality with others and celebrate and give thanks for abundance transcends the menu. Edward Winslow’s final comment about the harvest of 1621, is a sentiment shared by many Americans on Thanksgiving Day: And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Pakistani Christian Pardoned

From Crosswalk's Religion Today summaries:

Pakistani President Pardons Christian Woman on Death Row

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari ended a Christian woman's 18-month ordeal yesterday, commuting her death sentence and allowing her to walk free, The Christian Post reports. Asia Noreen (also referred to as Asia Bibi) was the first woman in Pakistan to receive the death sentence under the country's controversial blasphemy laws. The 45-year-old mother appealed her sentence Saturday after drawing international attention. "This is the only acceptable outcome to what has been a travesty of justice from the outset," said Nasir Saeed, coordinator for U.K.-based Center for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS). "Asia Bibi should never have been charged with blasphemy, let alone found guilty and sentenced to death." Muslim women in Asia Noreen's village accused her of blasphemy after an argument arose and Noreen defended her faith.

Let's praise God that the prayers of his saints were heard.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Why I Love Movies

Posted by me on the Filmspotting Forum, where I dwell under the pseudonym, "Oldkid"

Film isn't just one thing. Painting is a visual art. Music is an audible art. Novels are a storytelling art. Film is all of this, or just one, or some combination of them. Film can have a black screen with no sound for thirty seconds and, depending on the context, it can have the deepest meaning or emotional impact. Film is the most complex art form we have, and perhaps only the Wii has the potential of giving us more. But for now, film is it.

Because of this, film has the greatest potential to be different things to different people. Everyone looking at "Starry Night" by Van Gogh sees something a little different. But that is nothing compared to a deeply rich film like Kieslowski's Blue or Coppola's Apocalypse Now. Some claim these to be among the greatest works of art of all time. Some won't appreciate them at all. But one thing is for certain, they speak to each of us differently, and for different reasons. That is what great art does. And the greatest of art sticks with us over time.

Given the complexity of film, it doesn't surprise me that our reactions to it is complex as well. I have my multiple rating system, and yet I find that even that system is inadequate to express my reaction to a film, as I gave Rachel Getting Married all top scores, but had more than twenty films I appreciated above it. What my marathon is helping me understand is that my appreciation for film is complicated enough that I can't dissect it precisely.

So I will have contradictions between my rating and my ranking. And you know why I don't mind that? Because it means that I am a human being-- complex and difficult to put in a box, like every other human being. And film is one of the few mediums that is rich enough to be able to compare to a complete human experience.

Our ratings of movies is funny, really. Do we rate our top 100 life events? How could we even judge such a thing? And, honestly, I see the best of films as being among my favorite life events. Yes, watching Spirited Away is as much a great event of my life as is watching my son be born or travelling to India. No, I won't rate these events, because they can't be measured like that. Nor can I say which event of my life I "enjoyed" the most, as if human experience can be judged on the level of "enjoyment". So, why should we judge film that way?

I really do like rating films. It's a pastime. But my determination of those which I put highest isn't limited to "enjoyment" nor to "greatness", however we might measure that. Rather, it is experience. Which film has become a part of my life more than others? Which film has become a memorable experience that I cherish? I have a hard time cherishing Rachel Getting Married as truly great I think that film is. But I can, and do, cherish the experience of Wendy and Lucy. And Nausicaa. And even Hunger and United 93-- although that may be hard to imagine.

I praise these filmmakers not just for technical ability or for the ability to take the most complex art form and create something truly wondrous with it. I praise them for enriching my life.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Do The Poor Work?

"If you tax people who work and you pay people who don't... do I need to say the next sentence to you? If you tax rich people and you pay poor people you're going to get lots and lots of poor people."
-Arthur Laffer, quoted on NPR's Intelligence Squared Debate

So, Mr. Laffer, you are characterizing poor people as those who don't work. This is the most "laffable" of social prejudices. That people who are poor don't work, but people who are rich do.

I think we can consider this simply. Let's take your average CEO and your average poor person. The average CEO might work hard for a few years, take "well deserved" vacations of a few weeks a year and, if they get fired for incompetence, has a multi-million dollar severance pay so they can spend a couple years looking for work. The CEO's spouse doesn't need to work at all.

The average working poor family has two wage earners, one of whom probably has two jobs. If they lose one of those jobs-- perhaps she was asleep during working hours because she has only been getting five hours of sleep a night-- then she immediately has to find another job to replace it or else she loses her apartment and then her children.

Now let's look at the average homeless person. This person has been up half the night due to anxiety-- worry about being found out by the police and worry about what he is going to accomplish the next day. He has been pounding the pavement every day looking for work, and all the employers are saying, "Too old, needs to be retrained, there are better candidates for the job." Perhaps he might turn to begging so he could get a motel for the night, and as he stand there, he is greeted with people yelling at him, "Get a job" or "Get a life, you bum!". He is constantly ashamed, constantly worried about what his life is going to be.

I am not saying that all of the wealthy are like that CEO. However, Mr. Laffer, don't ever make the statement that poor people don't work. They work harder than you and pundits like you could possibly know. You can only claim that the rich "work" because you don't know what real work is.

Real work is waking up each morning driven to do something because otherwise your children will go hungry.

Real work is being humiliated before your boss and not talking back because you can't have your family end up on the street.

Real work is having to walk for miles with your children to the closest free meal, only to find out that someone gave you wrong information and the meal was closed that day.

Real work is having to carry a box full of cans and pasta miles home because the bus driver wouldn't allow such a large box on his bus.

Real work is being told by the police to leave their town because they don't want to see "your type" here anymore.

Real work is getting up at five in the morning so you can search through dumpsters for cans before the garbage truck comes, so you can make thirty bucks if it's a good day.

Real work is beautifully playing your violin on the street, only to be ignored by all but a handful of passers-by.

Let's face it, Mr. Laffer, obtaining wealth is part talent, part drive and part luck. Not everyone has the specific talents involved to make large amounts of money-- should those who don't have such talents lack basic human needs like shelter and health? Not everyone who has the talents to obtain wealth decides to use them, deciding to benefit others instead of themselves. Should they be penalized for choosing a profession that supports society? And obtaining wealth is a large part luck. Because even if you have the talent and the drive to make a lot of money, ofttimes you won't because you weren't in the right place or the right time.

I am not talking about the tax debate. I am talking about prejudicial statements against the poor in order to win the tax debate. Show respect to the poor. If the only way to win the debate is by telling lies about the people who most need the truth, then the debate is not worth winning.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Stop HOBOphobia!

November is Homeless Awareness Month!!

Countless times a day, homeless people are rejected, falsely accused, harassed, ticketed, and even beat up, all for the “crime” of not having a roof over their heads or of being dirty or of carrying all their possessions in a backpack. The homeless are treated as the outcast of society, as those at the bottom of the economic ladder. Yet the homeless are not the cause of the evils of our society. Nor are they necessarily the outcome of our evils. The homeless are people—people who want to live and love and hope and work, just like you do. Let us not continue to punish those who are lowly in our society, but help them.

Battle the cliches of the homeless
The homeless are “us”, not “them”—Many of the homeless are good Christians or children of important citizens. Many of our neighbors and friends have been homeless at one time or another. Homelessness is not an evil, or even necessarily a tragedy—it is a stage of life that many of us have gone through.

The homeless DO work—While most do not have jobs, they do work hard, some harder than people who have “regular jobs”. It is not easy to get up at 6am to get to dumpsters before anyone else and climb in many of them in order to get recycled cans. Other homeless volunteer at free hot meals and shelters.

Not all homeless are alcoholics—In general, about one third of the homeless have alcohol or drug abuse problems. Many more have mental health or social difficulties. Many have had tragedies that have overwhelmed them, such as a loss of a job or the suicide of a spouse or family member.
Not all homeless are criminals or violent—Most homeless abhor the crime and violence done by the few homeless who do because it gets them accused. The homeless have the same percentage of theft and violence as those who are housed.

Teach your children and the community not to hate the homeless.
The majority of violent crimes against the homeless are done by middle class youth who feel that they have the right to violently fulfill the prejudices of their parents and community. If our youth and community learn that the homeless are human—people like us—then such crimes will be reduced, even eliminated.

Meet and listen to homeless people
Find out the times and locations of local free meals and sit at the table with the homeless. Find out their real motivations and hopes and desires. You may find that they do not differ that much from your own. Be patient with a homeless person’s oddness—you seem just as odd to them.

Include the homeless in social events
Invite the homeless to community and church functions. However, because many of them do not believe that they would be welcome, certain assurances must be made:
It is not necessary to be well-dressed for the function.
It may be necessary to provide transportation to and from the event.
An announcement may be necessary to make sure that everyone is accepting of the homeless.

Support benevolence organizations that assist the homeless
Volunteer at a free meal, give to an organization that helps the homeless, give blankets and clothes to a shelter. Call a local church to find out where you can help the homeless. As you give and volunteer be a friend to those you are helping—seeing and meeting them— not a distant, nameless Benefactor.

Provide opportunities for the homeless
Provide what the homeless REALLY need—opportunities to shower, socks, clean clothes, an address, a chance to work for money, a chance to do volunteer work for others. Be a friend to the homeless and help them get the resources they need.

Do you want to know more about homelessness or Anawim, our ministry? Please go to:

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Greed Is Good?

The original idea of capitalism by Adam Smith is that the seller would have enough empathy to understand what his customer actually needs and provide it to him. The customer, of course, helps determine the cost by whether he buys it from this seller or the next.

But capitalism is completely different than the way Adam Smith imagined it. Modern capitalism is not so much empathy for the consumer, but a manipulation of the consumer to convince the consumer of "needs" that she never had. Modern capitalism is emotional blackmail, and a blight on civilization.

It is greed that allows a two liter bottle of Pepsi cost less than a loaf of bread. It is greed that makes banks and utilities charge the poor for the fact that they don't have much money. And it is a society of greed that looks down on hardworking people and tells them that they are worthless. And that same society, if those hardworking people lose their job, that tells them that they don't deserve to sleep, or even to use a bathroom. Greed is not good, and has never produced good, except to both the greedy and the lucky.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The "New Perspective" on Paul

A member of a film forum I'm on asked me my opinion on the theological and historical fad concerning Paul the Apostle, called "the new perspective on Paul".

In sum, the "new perspective" is the realization that Paul was Jewish and that as such he did not stand against all things Jewish, as the church, for many centuries seem to portray him. This perspective was initiated by E.P. Sanders in his book Paul and Palestinian Judaism, and expanded into full theologies by J.D. Dunn and N.T. Wright.

The main insight by Sanders is absolutely correct-- Paul was Jewish and we have every indication that he continued to teach in synagogues throughout his life. In Acts, Paul is said to have obeyed the law completely in every aspect (Acts 21:24). He was a Jew in good standing, and although he caused controversy, he was never excluded from the Temple, and, if church tradition is correct, he was killed as a Roman citizen, in accord with Roman law, not as a Jewish citizen. I also think that it is the church's, especially the Protestants', interpretation of Paul that has caused him such disrepute, not what he actually wrote.

However, for me, I think that the "new perspective" theology is still pretty young and not fully developed. I've read a number of commentaries on Romans, including the one by Wright and a good portion of the one by Dunn, and I have yet to read one that made sense of the arguments in the book. I think that Richard Hays explains the book of Galatians adequately (although his book is almost incomprehensible) and I wish he would do some solid work on Romans in the same light.

Okay, now that I've gotten all technical, these are my conclusions as a reflection on the new perspective on Paul:
1. The early Christian church were more persecuted by the second Temple Jews because they considered the temple unnecessary and the priesthood corrupt and not worth obedience rather than their view on the law.

2. I think that Paul was not speaking of law or moral principle in general when he said it was superseded by faith. I think he was speaking specifically about the law of Moses and how it was superseded by Jesus' principles. Paul was still a strong proponent of moral code as being essential for salvation, as seen in I Corinthians 5-6.

3. That Paul was not one who dismissed Judaism, but was one who attempted to reform Judaism, even as Jesus did, even as Luther tried for the Catholic church. In all of these cases, it was the systems of power that rejected the reforms, thus causing new religions to be formed.

4. That what really got Paul rejected was his insistence of the acceptance of Gentiles by God into a Jesus-reformed Judaism. Although many have accused Paul of prejudice, I think that it was his tolerance that got him rejected. And I think that both Galatians and especially Romans are defenses of Paul's "gospel", which is, namely, the welcoming of Gentiles into God's kingdom.

Sorry for getting all technical and stuff. Perhaps my "great learning has driven" me "mad"

Friday, October 15, 2010

We Need Jesus, We Need Water

World Water Day Video

Did you know that a billion people in the world today don't have safe water?

That millions of people in China and Bangladesh have natural arsenic in their water?

That one fifth of all children under five in Africa die because they don't have access to clean water?

Pray for those who need clean water, that they might obtain it.

Support organizations that create clean water for those who need it.

Learn more about the need for clean water

Act now to assist those who need water

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Joy of Socks

Thanks to three generous donations of socks-- all from California!-- I've been handing out more socks than ever.

And the best people to hand out socks to are folks with signs or who are begging for money. First of all, they don't expect it. But really, it's something they actually need.

Here's some of the responses I've gotten:

"Whoa! Socks are like gold!"

"You don't know how much I need these!"

"A pair of dry socks is what I need the most!" -- this last from an obvious alcoholic.

Carry socks in your car and hand them out freely to those in need on the street!

And praise God for David Reece who is starting to do this very kind of distribution to those in need in Orange County!

10-10-10 10:10

Just because.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Atheists Understand Christianity Better Than Most Christians

From Crosswalk Religious News Summary:

A new Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life survey shows that if atheists and agnostics know Christian doctrine better than many Christians, according to the Los Angeles Times. For instance, four in 10 Catholics incorrectly described the bread and wine in Holy Communion as only a symbol of the body and blood of Christ, while atheists were more likely to say the elements become actual body and blood. The reason for this surprise finding may be that atheists and agnostics "are people who thought a lot about religion," said Alan Cooperman, associate director for research at the Pew Forum. "They're not indifferent. They care about it." Stephen Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University, added, "I think in general the survey confirms what I argued in the book, which is that we know almost nothing about our own religions and even less about the religions of other people," he said.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Worldwide Rejection of Burning Qur'ans

A German congregation founded by the Florida preacher who has sparked global controversy with plans to burn Korans on 9/11 says it has had nothing to do with the preacher since 2008, denouncing him as "violent and fanatical." Religion News Service reports that the Christian Community of Cologne, which the Rev. Terry Jones formed in the 1980s, ousted the pastor over financial irregularities and personality clashes. Meanwhile, Vatican officials added their voice to the growing number of leaders denouncing the plan, calling it "an outrageous and grave gesture against a book considered sacred by a religious community." Similarly, Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land said the burning of the Koran is "appalling" and does not represent the teachings of Christ.

The overall Christian rejection of the plan to burn Qur'ans on Sept 11 is probably the best thing to happen to Muslim/Christian relations. It is wonderful to see Christians reject the prejudice and anger-inducing threats of Terry Jones.

We need to remember to be tolerant, accept everyone and to allow God to do the judging. Praise God that the church in general is deciding to do that this time. It makes for a nice change.

Everybody Pray for Christopher Hitchens

Everybody Pray for Hitchens Day-- Sept 20

Christopher Hitchens, who's book "God is Not Great" had throat cancer and it has been suggested by Christians that we should pray for his healing on Sept 20.

Atheist Christopher Hitchens, who suffers from esophageal cancer, says he would be happy if Christians didn't follow through with "Everybody Pray for Hitchens Day" on Sept. 20. In Vanity Fair's October issue, he writes, "I don't mean to be churlish about any kind intentions, but when September 20 comes, please do not trouble deaf heaven with your bootless cries." He added, "Unless, of course, it makes you feel better." Hitchens, author of the New York Times bestseller God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, says he appreciates the sentiment behind people's prayers, but certainly doesn't believe their prayers will have effect. "[W]hat if I pulled through and the pious faction contentedly claimed that their prayers had been answered? That would somehow be irritating," he writes.

Perhaps, however, it would give him a pause if all of his symptoms disappeared on Sept 20 and he was completely healed. If he is actually a reasoned creature, as he proclaims, a clear, personal miracle may be what he needs.

Pray for Christopher Hitchens!

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Should our Language of God be Gender-Neutral?

UK Daily Mail reports that the Scottish Episcopal Church has caused controversy by removing masculine references to God in a new order of service. The new liturgy and worship forms with more "inclusive" language are an attempt to acknowledge that God is "beyond human gender." Not every church, however, will be using the new form -- only those who have difficulty with a male God. To that end, words such as 'Lord, he, his, him' have been removed; 'mankind' has been replaced with "world" in most instances. Traditionalists have criticized the changes on the grounds that they smack of political correctness and because they believe they are not consistent with the teachings of the Bible. The church's Liturgy Committee produced the new form in consultation with the Faith & Order Board of General Synod and the College of Bishops.

While it is true that God is beyond human gender-- both male and female were created in God's image-- the Biblical language of God is always male? C.S. Lewis, in That Hideous Strength, says that God is always the male and we are always the female. Which is to say, God is always the forceful one, we the passive. That sounds offensive to feminists, and so it should. Women are not necessarily passive. For this reason the language of God being male might be offensive to some.

However, just on a biological level, we need to recognize that the male is more aggressive, more apt to be forceful. This is hormonal, not cultural. And the Bible teaches that it is God who goes to war for us, it is God who is aggressive for us, so that we do not have to be. In some ways, for us males, God castrates us. He forces us to surrender our maleness and give it up to Him, allowing him to be the Alpha male.

For this reason, I think it is good to keep the traditional language. To recognize God in the traditional male role, giving us the freedom to remain submissive to Him.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Anawim Newsletter!

We have e-published our first Anawim newsletter. If you have not received it in your email and you WANT to receive it, please send me your email address and I'll get it to you right away.

My email address is:

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Religion and Wealth

Those who need God more seek Him more. Those who are "self-sufficient" don't bother with God except superficially.

An article by Religious News Summaries:

Recently released data by Gallup reveals that religion plays a greater role in the daily lives of people in poor countries than those living in wealthy countries. Christian Today reports that 84 percent of adults in 114 countries say religion is an important part of their daily lives. In countries where per-capita income hovers under $2,000, that figure jumps to 95 percent of people. The percentage plummets in more wealthy nations. In countries where average per-capita income is above $25,000, just 47 percent of people say religion is important to their daily lives. In the United States, 65 percent of people said religion is important to their daily lives. In Estonia, only 16 percent of those surveyed agreed. Gallup said the survey results could indicate that religions plays a "more functional role" in poor countries by "helping many residents cope with a daily struggle to provide for themselves and their families."

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Bangladeshi Christian Accused of Theft

From Crosswalk Religious News Summaries:

Christian Convert in Bangladesh Falsely Accused of Theft

A Christian convert from Islam was falsely arrested for cattle theft last weekend as Muslims attempted to stop his Christian activities, area villagers said. Day laborer Abul Hossen, 41, was arrested on Aug. 21 for alleged cattle theft about 180 miles northwest of the capital, Dhaka. Christian villagers told Compass Direct News that Hossen was the victim of "dirty tricks" by influential Muslims. "There is another Abul Hossen in the village who might be the thief, but his father-in-law is very powerful," said Gonesh Roy. "To save his son-in-law, he imputed all the blame to a different Abul Hossen who is a completely good man." Hossen, who converted to Christianity from Islam in 2007, is very active in the community, and Muslims are harassing him with the charge so his ministry will be discredited and villagers will denounce his faith, Roy said. Some 150 villagers, about 20 percent of them Christian, went to the police station to plea for his freedom

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Churches Helping Bring Justice Into Prisons

"Six months before she was scheduled to be released on drug charges, Marilyn Shirley was raped in 2000 by a guard at the Texas prison where she was serving time. Her attacker said she wasn't "the only one." Now an assortment of 35 religious and human rights groups is pushing Attorney General Eric Holder to adopt standards that would clamp down on the estimated 60,000 cases that happen each year. "What we are witnessing is justice denied," said Tim Goeglein, vice president of external relations at Focus on the Family and one of the signers of a letter. Religion News Service reports that he standards, proposed last year, would subject correctional facilities to audits and establish a protocol for handling rape in their facilities. According to the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act, they were supposed to be enacted by Holder by June of this year."
-Religious News Summaries by Crosswalk

Friday, August 06, 2010

Judges Ruling in CA

From Crosswalk Religious News Summary:

California's Proposition 8 Overturned, Christian Leaders Respond

On Wednesday, August 4, U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker struck down California's Proposition 8- a voter-driven referendum, which confirming that marriage should remain between one man and one woman. Many politically active Christian leaders spoke up against this decision, expressing deep concern over implications of the controversial ruling. "The religious liberty dimensions of the decision are momentous and deeply troubling. According to Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary said that "while Judge Walker declared that the religious freedoms of citizens and religious bodies were not violated... the very structure of his argument condemned religious and theological objections to homosexuality and same-sex marriage as both harmful and irrational." "It's not just marriage that was put on trial," said Daniel Blomerg, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, "but the fundamental freedom of having your vote count and having the liberty to express and live by your religious beliefs. It's pretty shocking." On his radio program Thursday, August 5, author and President of Prison Fellowship Chuck Colson told listeners, "What's at stake here goes beyond California and even beyond marriage itself. The reasoning that overturned California's law, that said that the right of gays to marry is a fundamental constitutional right, would, if applied nationally, overturn similar laws throughout the country."

I am not an expert on the Constitution, although I know it, and I am certainly not an expert on the California-- I don't know if anyone is. But I do know that religious freedom cannot be hindered by giving someone else freedom, unless that freedom is to harm people for their religious beliefs. It is a lie to say that heterosexual marriage in general is harmed if homosexuals can get married. One freedom does not define other freedom. The only law that truly harms marriage is divorce laws, which applies to all.

If you want to save marriage, don't get divorced. Or commit adultery. Or cause someone else to get divorced or to commit adultery. Or you can discourage people from getting divorced or committing adultery. But don't think that giving someone else a freedom will break an already broken system.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Celibate Homosexual Clergy Persecuted

From Crosswalk Religious News Summaries:

The Associated Press reports that a Lutheran pastor has been reinstated after being outed for his membership in support group for Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction. The Rev. Tom Brock told his Minneapolis congregation on Sunday that he has never acted on his attraction. In June, the Minnesota gay magazine Lavender reported Brock's attendance at the support group, even though he's said he opposes openly gay clergy. "I am a 57-year-old virgin," Brock told the Hope Lutheran congregation during services upon returning to the pulpit on Sunday. A task force from the church said they found no evidence Brock ever had gay sex. Brock said he intends to step down as senior pastor at Hope Lutheran, but will retain his affiliation with the church. He told the AP he hopes to have a wider national audience with a new message: "You can have this struggle with same-sex attraction, say no to it, and still follow Christ."

I am sure the minister wouldn't appreciate my using the term "homosexual" for him. He probably doesn't see himself as a homosexual, but someone who struggles with the temptation for sexual sin, just like most of us.

This minister shouldn't have even been squinted at. He is an honest follower of Jesus, recognizing his temptation and trying to deal with it the best he could. It is sad he was persecuted for his faithfulness.

We need to distinguish between temptation and acting on sin. Having a sexual orientation-- any sexual orientation-- does not make one less of a Christian. Acting on it without repentance does.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

"Burn A Qur'an Day"

Burn a Qur'an Day

Somehow Dove World Outreach Center thinks that burning Qur'ans is an excellent way to show the love of Jesus.

Wow, this seems very Western-centric. Let's see, allowing the billion Muslims in the world to characterize Christianity as God-hating, scripture hating bigots-- is that the way to show Jesus' love?

The article reads, "Most people who criticize are also the people who don’t do anything,” said Jones. “If they do not like our method – they don’t have to like our method, they don’t have to adopt our method – then they should do something themselves,” he said, proposing they go door-to-door to distribute Christian literature about the love of Jesus.

Okay. I've gone to Bangladesh and talked to people in mosques. I taught the word of Jesus in a way that it could be heard. I made friends with Muslims and handed out New Testaments. I didn't change the world, but I was there. Jesus is about loving our enemies, not communicating that we hate them.

This isn't evangelism, it is war. Jesus did not come to judge or to destroy, but to save.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Mysticism and Fundamentalism

A brilliant letter to an atheist by Mark Van Steenwyk:

Anabaptist letter to Atheist

A brief section of it:

"A mystic is one who connects directly with ultimate reality… spiritual truth… God. Such a posture is necessary to believe and sacrifice what is for what can be. It takes faith to seek a better world. Fundamentalists (either theist or atheists) don’t have faith. They rigidly grip certainty until all life has been squeezed out.

"Ultimately, the reason I stubbornly embrace Jesus has little to do with a logical worldview. I don’t cling to propositions the way a fundamentalist does. My convictions evolve and change. My way of seeing the world shifts. But through it all, the beauty of this man who sacrificed his life for the Kingdom of God compels me. His vision of a new humanity caused him to not only die for a cause, but to die for a cause when he could have killed to force his vision upon the world. His vision has seeped into my imagination. I have experienced him – deeply and truly – in the presence of failure and brokenness."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Freeing Slaves Isn't Enough

From Religion Today Summaries:

Mission News Network reports that women trafficked in several Asian countries continue to struggle even if they are able to leave the sex trade. "The huge driving factor of the sex industry in East Asia is poverty," said Ella Grere, a missionary in an East Asian country with Pioneers. Many women are lured into the trade by acquaintances and family who offer them a job. Countries such as Burma have such a poor population that women can't afford to turn down a job opportunity. Grere says women endure so much abuse and forced addictions that they have trouble leaving the brothels. "We've had our business going for two years now, and really only three women have come out of the brothel to work for us full-time," she said. Tamarisk Tree, the ministry Grere works with, deliberately offers slightly lower wages than the brothels in order to ensure the women who come genuinely want to begin a new life.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

So Getting Rid of Oppression is Secular Humanism?

In Religion Today Summaries:

Christian Music Fest Draws Fire over Jim Wallis Invitation

The Christian Post reports that the inclusion of controversial Christian activist Jim Wallis has dampened enthusiasm for a popular Christian music festival. Lifest included Wallis among its 58 speakers this year in Wisconsin, drawing criticism and leading one sponsor to pull support for the event. "After researching extensively the words and published positions of Jim Wallis and his organization, Sojourners Magazine, and seeking fervently the guidance of the Holy Spirit in prayer, we believe the social justice message and agenda they promote is a seed of secular humanism, seeking an unholy alliance between the Church and Government," Q90 FM, a Christian radio station based in De Pere, Wis., state

If, as Christians, we aren't supposed to stop injustice and oppression, if we aren't supposed to help the needy, if we aren't supposed to love our neighbors, then I quit.

I'm not saying that Jim Wallis is always right-- their support of the Democrats was a huge mistake-- but they are about ceasing injustice, and that's what Jim talks about. Christians often bug me anyway, but when they call justice evil, that's when I publicly reject their message.

Jesus is always for justice. As long as that justice is for everyone. Jesus was one of the original humanists. He just wasn't secular.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Freedom of Speech

It is the responsibility of every free citizen of the United States to point out the oppressions of our nation and culture. If we do not use our freedom of speech to better our society and help the outcast, then we have taken our freedom and thrown it in the garbage can.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Is The Kingdom for the Poor?

Answering the question on Facebook: "Are the beatitudes really talking about the economically 'poor'? And if they are, is it all the poor? Does every poor person obtain the kingdom of God?"

"Poor" in the beatitudes should certainly be taken literally. This is why it is combined with words like "mourning" and "hungry" and "hungry and thirsty for justice" and "meek". And it is in opposition to the "rich". Even "poor in spirit" means those who has an attitude like the poor. (see Proverbs 16:19)

However, we must be clear that the context doesn't allow us to say that it is about ALL poor people, regardless of action. In Luke 6 Jesus is speaking to his disciples when he says "Blessed are YOU that are poor; Woe to YOU that are rich"-- He is distinguishing among his own disciples those who surrender their possessions and those who keep them for their own personal use (Luke 14:33; Luke 12:33). In Matt. 5, the poor, the mourning and the meek are blessed, but so are the merciful, the peacemakers, the pure in heart. In other words, Jesus is narrowing the field even more. Those who own the kingdom are not only those who have suffered as the outcast in this life, but those who, in the midst of that suffering, acted like Jesus in His mercy for others.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What Would Jesus Preach Today?

A response to the above question posed on Facebook today:

Jesus would preach the same today as He did 2000 years ago:

-That no law is greater than mercy
-That the merciful outcast are the owners of God's kingdom
-That political change happens through personal sacrifice and God's power
-That God's kingdom is yet to come and we should stop treating this world as our heaven
-That we would do well to rejoice in our suffering

Jesus would preach the same thing because those who call themselves by His name act more like Pharisees than His followers.

Monday, June 21, 2010

An Example To All Churches

This is a commentary posted on blog. Just an amazing story of God's grace!

Sin, forgiveness and mental illness

Earlier this year, the Chicago Tribune ran a fascinating and moving story about a church that welcomed Jim Deichman, a mentally ill man, into their congregation. What elevates this story from inspiring church newsletter material to a national news report is the fact that Deichman ended up burning down the church building. Despite this, the church has responded with love and forgiveness.

There are many good questions raised by the story (see GetReligion’s discussion, for starters). Did the church behave responsibly in this situation, both toward Deichman and toward the rest of the congregation? What is the place of forgiveness when mental illness is involved?

Despite the inspiring grace and forgiveness shown by the church in the aftermath, the story doesn’t have a satisfactorily happy ending. Mental illness upsets our ordinary understanding of guilt, responsibility, sin, and forgiveness. Whether Deichman serves jail time for arson or (as the church hopes) receives treatment instead, it’s unlikely that anyone (even Deichman) will ever be able to answer “Why?”

Yet this remains an inspiring story—the patient love shown to Deichman by his brother, and the enthusiastic welcome extended to him by the church, are the very definition of Christ-like grace. And I think it’s a miracle—in the genuine act-of-God sense—that nobody was hurt or killed in the fire.

What’s your reaction to this story? Can you relate to the church’s actions—their embrace of Deichman and their forgiveness of his crime? How has your church interacted with mentally ill people in your community and congregation, and what have you learned as a result?

By Andy

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


This very well expresses my point of view. Except I'd go on a bit more and give more reasons. Perhaps briefer is better :-)

Snapshots of Life

In a day when we pay tribute to the individual who can make a success of themselves and become financially independent, we are confronted with the reality of the New Testament. In the New Testament we are reminded of the interdependent nature of the Church.

I was reminded of this recently in a conversation. People have often asked why I don't get another job and support my family. The answer? We are called as a family to live by faith. I had a full time job, but had to make a choice when God opened the flood gates of ministry to the homeless.

If every follower of Christ were financially secure then half of the Church would be unnecessary. In I Corinthians 12 Paul gives us the picture of the Church as the body of Christ. EVERY PART is NEEDED and EVERY PART is DEPENDENT on the other parts. There are NO independent parts of the body.

In the Church God has ordained some Christians to make a good income, while others have been called to live by faith. Those who are called to live by faith must depend on the giving of those who are called to make a good income. Those called to make money are dependant on those who are called to live by faith so that they can fulfill their ministry of giving. BOTH are NECESSARY and BOTH are NEEDED in the Church.

There is much work needed to be done in the Kingdom that requires a full-time commitment whether it generates income or not. There are many people in the Bible called to leave security behind and live by faith. It seems like a wonderful thing that they did that,we look at their faith and look up to them, but we tend to think someone is off their rocker if you see someone do that now and we tend to not ever think of doing that ourselves. Acts 4 gives us an example of the Church made up of rich and poor. Those who had possessions sold them. The money was then given to the poor and there were then no needy persons. May we realize that those called to make money and those called to live by faith are dependent on each other for the glory of God. What an awesome gift God gave us of being able to work hand in hand together.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A New Confession for Reformed Believers

The Reformed Church of America-- a small group of reformed believers compared to, say, the Presbyterians-- has decided to adopt a new confession of faith, in addition to their main one from the Reformation. It is called The Belhar Confession, and it is a wonderfully prophetic document created in South Africa during apartheid. You can read it here:

The Belhar Confession

It is a wonderful piece of theology, declaring the unity of the church and so denies the separation of church members based on race or any other reason. The summary statement is:

"Therefore, we reject any ideology which would legitimate forms of injustice and any doctrine which is unwilling to resist such an ideology in the name of the gospel."

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Community Gardens With A Heart

Great idea! I pass it along: From's Religion Today

NC church's Garden Provides Fresh Veggies to Food Banks

One North Carolina congregation is doing more than a Thanksgiving food drive for local food banks. Volunteer gardeners at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church in North Asheville, NC, have already harvested hundreds of leafy greens for Steadfast House women's shelter, according to the About 25 families from the church spend a few hours in the garden each week, donating 50 percent of the produce to food pantries or community kitchens. Summers are particularly tough for pantries in the area, said Joshua Stack, with MANNA FoodBank, which provides food to pantries in 16 counties around Asheville. "It seems to me that the enthusiasm is just from people who pass by," said Kathy Meacham, a church and garden member.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Self Love and Other Love

Adapted from the preface to Thomas Merton's book, No Man Is An Island.

Every human being ultimately seeks their own salvation and the salvation of those whom they live with. This salvation is the “good life”, not found in the realization of the “american dream”, but in the fulfillment of each individual’s God-given powers, in the love of others and of God. This fulfillment cannot come through one’s own ability, but each person must be found in and through others. These three Scriptures are fulfilled in this: “If any man would save his life, he must lose it”; and, “Love one another as I have loved you”; and “We are all members of one another.”

Some would say that salvation, then is discovered in the setting aside of ourselves. On the contrary, the discovery of Christ is never genuine if it is nothing but a flight from ourselves. Our salvation cannot be an escape. It must be a fulfillment. I cannot discover God—the power that raised Christ from the dead—unless I have the courage to face myself exactly as I am—a poor, limited perplexed soul.

Thus, salvation is a terrible tangle of paradoxes. We become ourselves by dying to ourselves. We gain only what we give up, and if we give up everything we gain everything. We cannot find ourselves within ourselves, but only in others, yet at the same time before we can go out to others we must first find ourselves. The best way to love ourselves is to love others, yet we cannot love others unless we love ourselves since it is written, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” But if we love ourselves in the wrong way, we become incapable of loving anyone else.

There are many errors in achieving a balance between loving others and oneself:

Giving for oneself
There is a spiritual selfishness which even poisons the good act of giving to another. It is possible for me to love selfishly in the very act of depriving myself of material things for the benefit of another. If my gift is intended to bind him to me, to put him under an obligation, then in loving him I am really loving myself. And this is a greater selfishness, since it traffics not in flesh and blood, but in other person’s souls. This says that in loving another we simply seek the most effective way to love ourselves.

Loving one other
We might be tempted to the hedonism of romantic love. In this, we deny ourselves just enough to share with one another the pleasures of life. We admit a certain selfishness, and feel that in doing so we are being realistic. Our self denial is just sufficient to provide us with a healthy increase in our mutual satisfactions. In a bourgeois world, romantic love knows how to mask as Christian agape. This limits love to only one, no other.

Destroying ourselves
There is the temptation to destroy ourselves for the love of the other. The only value is love of the other. Self-sacrifice is an absolute value in itself. And the desire of the other is an absolute value. No matter what the other desires, we will give up our life or our soul to please the other. This is a false love, which makes it a point of honor to follow the beloved even into hell. This says we must only love others.

Another temptation is to go the other extreme and say, “Hell is other people.” In that case love itself becomes the great temptation and the great sin. Because it is an inescapable sin, it is also hell. But this is simply the love of self in solitude. It is the love that is mortally wounded by its own incapacity to love another, and flies from others in order to not to have to give itself to them. This says we must only love ourselves.

All these answers are insufficient. The true answer, which is supernatural, tells us that we must love ourselves in order that we would be able to love others, and that we find ourselves by giving ourselves to them. True love is the gift of ourselves—cared for and fully functional—for others.

This is not merely a helpful suggestion, it is the fundamental law of human existence. Man is divided against himself and against God by his own selfishness, which divides him against his brother. This division cannot be healed by a love that places itself only on one side of the rift. Love must reach over to both sides and draw them together. We cannot love ourselves unless we love others, and our love of others is incomplete without loving ourselves. And a selfish love of ourselves makes us incapable of loving others.

This truth never becomes clear as long as we assume that each one of us, individually, is the center of the universe. We do not exist for ourselves alone, and it is only when we are fully convinced of this fact that we begin to love ourselves properly and thus also love others.

What do I mean by loving ourselves properly? I mean, first of all, desiring to live, accepting life as a very great gift and a great good, not because of what it gives us, but because of what it enables us to give to others. We have what is called a “death instinct.” It is the power of a self-love that has turned into self-hatred and which, in adoring itself, adores the monster by which it is consumed. It is therefore of supreme importance that we consent to live not for ourselves, but for others.

We will only be able to do this when we face our own limitations. As long as we secretly adore ourselves, our own deficiencies will remain to torture us with an apparent defilement. But if we live for others, we will gradually discover that no one expects us to be “as gods.” We will see that we are human, like everyone else, that we all have weaknesses and deficiencies, and that these limitations of ours play a most important part in all our lives. It is because of them that we need others and others need us. We are not all weak in the same spots, and so we supplement and complete one another, each one making up in himself for the lack in another.

Only when we see ourselves in our true human context, as members of a race which is intended to be one organism and “one body,” we will begin to understand the positive importance not only of the successes but of the failures in our lives. My successes are not my own. The way to them was prepared by others. Nor are my failures my own. They may spring from the failure of another, but they are also compensated for by another’s achievement.

Every other man is a piece of myself, for I am a part and a member of mankind. Every Christian is a part of my body, because we are members in Christ. What I do is also done for them and with them and by them. What they do is done by me and for me.

Only when this truth is absolutely central do other teachings fit into their proper context. Humility, self-denial, action and contemplation, service, giving and community—none of these make sense except in relation to the central reality which is God’s love living and acting in those whom he has incorporated his Christ. Nothing at all makes sense unless we admit, with John Donne, that “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.”

To love others is to make a gift of oneself.

God v. Gods of Humanity

No one is able to be enslaved by two lords. Either he will hate one and love the other or he will love one and despise the other. You are not able to be enslaved to God and Mammon. -Jesus

The audience of Jesus’ sermons knew exactly what Jesus was talking about. Sure, they all worshipped one God and served him at one temple. But in every nation all around them and even within their borders are people who worshipped more than one god. There were a ton of them: Jupiter, Caesar, Ishtar, Ra, and thousands of others. Many people tried to worship more than one god, just to make as many happy as possible. Ultimately, however, they had to rely on just one of them, and usually that became the god of the household, with specific holidays and rules and service that the particular god required. There really isn’t any room for any other.

But today, we don’t worship so many gods. Sure, there are a few Hindus who worship more than one god, but the far majority of us recognize that there is simply one God in the heavens, the Creator and Lord of all. If we worship, we worship only Him. There is only one God, and there exists no other.

To follow this line of reasoning, we are neglecting the wisdom of the ancients—including that of the Hebrews and the New Testament. There is more than one god in every society. And most of us don’t even know which one we serve.

Systems of Meeting Needs
Humans, at their core, are pretty simple. We have millions of wants, but really only six needs. We need to have what we need to survive—nutrition, warmth, and we need to avoid death and illness. We need to have peace in our lives and to avoid anxiety and unmanageable stress. We need to have security and avoid attack or vulnerability. We need to have honor or respect and we need to avoid shame as much as possible. We need social connection with others, and we need to avoid isolation. And we need a certain amount of pleasure in our lives, and to avoid pain and lethargy.

There are millions of ways to meet these needs, and these are our wants. God wants to help us achieve these needs, and He said he would—but at times we may need to wait and not have our needs for a period of time so he can get us what we need in the best way possible. However, we are impatient, and we want what we want and we want it now. And there are systems—many systems—that assist us in meeting our needs outside of God. These could be the system of employment, the system of governments, the system of religions, or the system of education.

These systems, in the ancient world, were not seen as just human institutions or ideals, but seen as spiritual entities. They were called gods. There is no difference from the ancient world and today, except that we ignore the spiritual power of the gods, no matter how true they are.

Serving v. Using Gods
Are these gods all evil? Should we avoid things like medicine and science completely as evil entities? Absolutely not. God is the God over all gods, and He has given these systems to assist us to meet some of our needs. However, if the system itself becomes our god, if we are serving the system instead of using the system to serve God, then we are worshiping the wrong god.
How do we know if we are serving another god? We need to look at the following questions:

A. Do we trust in a lesser god? Do we see the system as what meets our needs, is the core of our fulfillment? Is the system itself our security, our contentment, our means of survival? Do we feel that we couldn’t live without the system?

B. Do we participate in a community whose focus is to serve the system? Do we find our well-being to be found in being a participant in that community, or in the community of God?

C. What images do we put around us? Do we honor and serve images that represent the system?

D. Do we ignore God’s limitations on the system? Do we feel the need to obey the system more than God?

If we answer “yes” to any of these questions, we may need to recognize that we are not worshippers of the Most High God, but of a lesser god.

Human Gods
We live in a secularized, materialistic society, but this doesn’t mean that we do not have our gods. The gods are simply shown as something we feel we need. There are many systems that Americans have served as gods, we simply have not recognize them as such. Below are four ancient gods whom most modern Americans worship daily, or almost daily.

Venus was the goddess of erotic love. Today, she is honored somewhat in Playboy, but more firmly in Cosmopolitan, Glamour and romance novels. In advertisements, sex is displayed as the final salvation, which the product helps you obtain. Lifestyles of sex are displayed on television and movies, and they are considered a healthy alternative in our society. It might be easy to think of pornography as the image of sex, which is worshiped by men through masturbation. But the image of Venus is also carved upon our own bodies as we all attempt to make ourselves look like models, and feel inadequate for every blemish and deviation from the “ideal” shape. Abortion is finally the ultimate destructive sacrifice to Venus, killing the children for the sake of “free love”.

Sex is not evil, but God has placed limitations around Venus, so that she may not roam free. Sex is to be placed within a life-long commitment, and should be given full freedom between a husband and wife. To be pure before God, sex is not a casual pastime, nor is it to be done between family members or the same sex.

Mars is the name of the ancient god of War, and he is the god of human weaponry. Weapons are the image of Mars, and those who serve him, honor weapons and recognize the gain of destruction. Those who display weapons, use weapons on people and depend on weapons for security. Those who join the military or the NRA, although they may be doing it for noble reasons, are joining organizations that fundamentally serve Mars.

God has used Mars many times to carry out his will. However, Jesus placed the limitation on those who follow Him to never join Mars, but to do good to one’s enemy, not evil. And God placed the additional limitation on all who use Mars’ power not to kill or oppress the innocent—the civilian or those not guilty of a crime.

Bacchus is the ancient god of parties and drunkenness. We can see an image of him in Fantasia, the original Disney film, riding on a donkey and holding a huge cup of wine. Today, however, Bacchus would just as well hold a bong, a pipe or a needle. To get drunk or high is to serve Bacchus, and to have a lifestyle of it is to declare Bacchus your god. Bacchus courts his worshippers with pleasure and then he keeps them with his promise of feeling no stress or guilt about anything. Bacchus rules on many college campuses, and people hold services to him in their homes on a frequent basis. Many rock concerts are traveling Bacchus worship vehicles and bars and casinos honor him daily.

However, God is not averse to a party. Jesus attended many parties himself, and drank much wine. Parties are a part of God’s kingdom. But they are limited by God as well. Drinking is okay, but God does not accept into his kingdom a drunk—one who cannot limit oneself. God does not allow of sexual immorality in his parties. And he welcomes the poor and the needy to join.

Mammon was never a god worshipped in a temple in the ancient world, but is Jesus’ name for the god of material possessions and money. Everyone who says that “money is the bottom line” ultimately recognizes Mammon as their god. Advertisements serve Mammon by convincing the populace that they need what they have not even wanted up until then. The business section of the paper is about serving Mammon and who has succeeded in serving it the best. Those who serve Mammon will work just for their own personal gain and desire much. They will see money as the measure of all things, whether worth or security or pleasure or contentment.

The use of money is not evil in itself, but how we use it indicates whether it is a tool or a god in our lives. God told us that our money should be used to meet our basic needs and the rest is to be used to serve the poor. However, if we use money to obtain more for ourselves or if we are always looking for the next thing we can get, then we are not serving God but Mammon.

One or Two Gods?
Jesus was clear and plain. He didn’t say, “It’s really hard to serve two lords.” He said it was impossible. Just can’t be done. Perhaps one could coast along with two lords for a while, but eventually there will be a crisis point. At that point, everyone will know that they have to make a decision—will it be the God of the universe, or my personal god. Will I serve and love Yahweh, the Creator, the God of sacrificial love, the Most High above all gods? Or will I serve my own god whom I have cherished for years? And we may pretend—even for the rest of our lives—that we really can serve two gods. But we can’t. It’s one or the other. And as time goes on, it will be more and more clear. Make your decision. Serve the God of Jesus.

Complainin' Amos

This is a chapter that I threw out of my book:

What does God do when a king or a nation or a town does the opposite of their command from God? What if they oppress instead of assist the poor? What does God do, how does He right the wrong?

Well, in ancient times, God would first send out a prophet. He might send an Elijah, to pronounce punishment on a nation, or he might send an Elisha to reform the government. But usually God will first send a spokesperson, a warner, to clearly inform the people what would happen if they continue in the route of oppression. This is Amos.

Amos was a shepherd, who cared for his flock and plowed his fields. He wasn’t doing much one day when God spoke to him—‘Amos, you’re my prophet now, go out and tell the king what I said.” Amos was shocked, “I am no prophet! Do you see me flailing around like a prophet? Do you see me speaking to kings? Do you see me trying to grab the ear of the high and mighty? I’m a humble man, just a shepherd.” “Try again, Amos—I make prophets, and so that’s what you are.” Most prophets of ancient days weren’t of the John the Baptist model. Most of them didn’t hang out in nowheresville, prefering their mesquite raw, straight off the tree, and hold the meat, please. No, most prophets liked the high life, the rich clothes, the occasional orgy (when they aren’t fasting, of course), and getting the attentions of the nobility—especially the female nobility. Most ancient prophets followed the model of Rasputin rather than Gandhi. The occasional trance, a flood of flattering comments, a lucky break in a prediction and a number of sermons against the king’s enemies and a prophet can have room and board for life, as well as a significant advisory position.

This model of prophet—shockingly!—led to much abuse. I know it’s hard to believe, but many prophets of this type didn’t actually hear from God at all! Some of them might even be said to—and I say this in fullest confidence—be deceiving those they spoke to. This is why God had to pull his true prophets from different stock. He didn’t want his prophets to be concerned primarily with the desires of the high and mighty. Rather, he wanted his chosen spokespeople to say the hard truths, and to speak for the lowly and needy. Thus, God made unlikely choices for prophets—Jeremiah, the young; Michaiah, the irritating; Jonah, the xenophobe; Habakkuk, the questioner of God; and Amos, the lowly shepherd.

Well, Amos had heard prophets before, and he knew that they flattered the nation and preached against the kings enemies. But Amos had a judgment against Israel—a nation his own home (Judah) has had border disputes for decades. How would the king of Israel, Jeroboam II, ever listen to that? Let’s see, Amos thought. Ah, I know. God has plenty to say about the surrounding nations, why not start with them? So Amos stood before Jeroboam II and opened his mouth and spoke first about Damascus.

“Damascus,” he said, “used excessive violence in war, and so Yahweh, the God of Jerusalem will destroy him.” So far, so good. Even though Amos mentioned that Yahweh was of Jerusalem, not Carmel where Jeroboam worshipped Yahweh, at least Jeroboam was still listening. “Gaza,” he continued, “enslaved a whole people, and so Yahweh will destroy them and all of the Philistines.” The king is nodding now—that’s a good sign. Then Amos continued with condemning Tyre, Edom, Ammon, and Moab. All neighboring countries, all condemned to punishment. The king wasn’t displeased, but he didn’t hear anything really new. This was the kind of stuff he could hear from any of his local prophets. Now, thought Amos, we can reel him in. “As for Judah, they have ignored Yahweh’s laws and so they will be destroyed by fire.” King Jeroboam II was smiling now, for Amos, a prophet from Judah, was condemning his own nation. He liked this new prophet—Amos was saying what he wanted to hear. But there was a bit of confusion as well… What were these laws of Yahweh? He couldn’t remember any laws that God had laid down that Judah wasn’t obeying that the king’s own nation was.

Now it was time for the coup d’gras. “But Israel, you are also condemned. You say that you worship Yahweh, but you ignore the law of God daily. Look at what you are doing to the poor? The poor have debts and so you steal their livelihood to force them to repay! You sell those who owe you money into slavery because they weren’t able to repay you for a pair of shoes! You raise the rents of the poor, so that they would be bound to you eternally! And if someone needs shelter for a night, you drive them away! You immoral, godless people! When you were under the thumb of the Amorites, didn’t God deliver you? And when you were enslaved in Egypt, didn’t Yahweh redeem you? Then why are you acting like the power, the great, the mighty? You are but a nation of slaves, set free by God! You are but the poor, made wealthy by God! Show your gratitude by doing justice to the needy!”

This rampage became so heated, that a priest, standing by his king said, “Why don’t you go back to Judah and prophesy to them? We have plenty of prophets here. We don’t need to hear your diatribe!” Amos responded, “I am not a professional prophet, but a shepherd, called by God to come here and speak to Jeroboam. Because, you priest, are complaining about God’s messenger, simply because he isn’t saying what you like, then your wife will trade her sexual favors to strangers for food and your house will be divided and sold to immigrants!”

A prophets life isn’t easy. It isn’t easy to tell people with power and authority God’s true message that they’re messing up and will face judgment unless they change their ways. It’s not a popular message. But God has always found someone to say it. Most of the time, God was telling his people to live according to His law, that he gave to Moses. And very frequently, he was reminding them to do right by the poor. Isaiah told the people not to steal from the poor.33 Ezekiel told them not to take interest on loans to the poor. Jeremiah reminded them to defend the needy in the court.35 And all of them, at one point or another, commanded the people to assist the poor when they were in need—do acts of charity. To not give to the needy was a sin before God, disobedience to his law.

It is so easy to forget the poor. And it is easier to blame the poor for the tragedies they face. “If only they would work harder!” “They are trying to steal from us!” In the end, though, all oppression comes from two sources—“We are afraid of these lower class,” and “They would be better off if only they were like us.” A person doesn’t become financially secure by being smarter than others or by being more like the middle class. A person doesn’t become wealthy by doing good or by being wise. A person becomes financially secure because some Fate has granted them a huge amount of Fortune. You can look at it one of two ways—either you get lucky, or God grants you a huge favor.

God, of course, sees wealth as a loan, a favor. He picks certain poor and lowly and says, “Here’s someone I can make lucky” and he grants them wealth or power or fame. Or some combination thereof. And they are released from poverty, from debt, from a lower class lifestyle.

This doesn’t sound fair. And it isn’t. Why should God pick certain people for the “good life” and others are left behind? Many of the poor people I know and live with would say, “Why them? Why couldn’t it have been me?” And, from all I read in the Bible, I can say, “You are the lucky ones.” Because, no matter how much debt they have, they are free of the larger debt of God.
Personal wealth is a debt that is owed. Freedom is a debt that is owed. And God demands a repayment of the favor. His demands are not what some think. Some think that if we are wealthy, we owe the government, or maybe a tithe to a wealthy church. That if we are free, we owe it to veterans. That if we have power, we owe the people who have given us that power. But God demands something different. He says, “If you have wealth, you owe it to me to give it to the poor. Not to wealthy churches, or to a greedy government. Rather, you should use your wealth to help the poor. And if you have freedom, you have a debt to those who do not yet have freedom. Not to kill them, but to grant them life, to redeem them with your freedom. If you have power, you have a debt to assist the powerless—the elderly, the sick, the helpless, the outcast.

This is the message of the prophets—God set us free, and he wants us to grant freedom to others. God gave us power, so he wants us to assist the powerless. God gave us wealth, so he wants us to surrender that wealth to the poor. It doesn’t matter if the enslaved, the powerless or the poor are worthy according to our middle-class standards. That’s not our job, that’s God’s job. It is our task to pay the debt to God. And we pay it to God by giving to the needy.

It is a not well-known fact that for people who live on the street, socks are as good as gold. If you are walking around all day, trying to go to a meal or earn some money, it isn’t long until the wear of boots and the puddles one walks in wears a pair of socks out. On the street, if one’s socks have holes, then one’s feet will soon have holes. As a pastor to the homeless, it is one of my noble responsibilities to hand out socks. Because our resources are slim, I hand out one pair of socks per request, so I can hand out socks again next time.

But suppose, as sometimes happens, that I give to one of the folks on the street the responsibility to hand out socks to folks. I am handing to them the great wealth of socks to grant them to others. Some, whom I give this responsibility to, hand out two or three socks to certain people who really need it. I understand that compulsion. But suppose the person to whom I handed the bag of socks decided, in their anxiety, to keep all the socks for themselves. After all, eventually they would need them all, so why not keep them?

Because it is clear that the socks were not meant for one person—there are a hundred pairs of socks there! The socks were meant to be distributed, not horded by one. But once a person has a hold of a resource, no matter how enormous, they begin considering it their own. And once a possession is considered our own, we absorb it as a part of ourselves.

This is what happens to everyone who has wealth. It becomes a part of ourselves, inseparable from our own personal wants, needs and desires. Perhaps other people need that wealth, but an array of excuses come up in our minds in order that we might not separate from that which Another once gave us. The issue is not the need of others, or the worthiness of others, it is the fact that we do not want to separate our own from ourselves.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

All Our Children

by Heidi Unruah, Found at Evangelicals for Social Action site:

A little girl in my son’s first grade class, Desaree, was shot in the head while playing outside. The bullet was intended for two young men who happened to be running by. Thankfully, she is making a recovery, but her family will never be the same.

Some, though, consider this just par for the course After all, three other children here were shot in the same week. And Desaree is only one of 135 children who were shot in our community in this past school year, 20 of them fatally.

I’m not too worried about it.

Because actually, Desaree Sanders lives in the South Side of Chicago, not my hometown of Hutchinson, KS. Yep, I lied to get your attention. It took this report about a child my son’s age to grab my own awareness of this epidemic of violence. Before that, it was just something happening in another city, to other people’s children. The devastation of Chicago families—mostly minority, mostly poor—has largely swept by under our nation’s radar.

While the overall crime rate in the city has declined, Chicago has the highest juvenile homicide rate in the country. The violence in some neighborhoods is so out of hand that some state lawmakers want to call out the National Guard. More black children have been killed in Chicago than Chicago soldiers were killed in Iraq during the bloodiest years of that war. The murders didn’t just start this year: 42 children died in the 2008-2009 school year, 27 the year before that, 31 the year before that. The heartbreak keeps stacking up.

“When I was young, if a child was murdered, it was a big deal. Now, I’m sorry to say, it’s somewhat routine,” said Ester Stroud. Stroud’s 16-year-old son was stabbed to death on the way home from winning a dance contest.

What will it take to shake us out of this ennui? “We didn’t care about drugs until it hit everybody’s community,” remarked Chicago priest and activist Michael Pfleger, who himself lost a foster son to violence. “When it hit the suburbs, when it hit lawmakers’ children, all of a sudden we cared about drugs.”

Jesus said to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. We can wait until the violence literally hits our neighborhoods—and retreat ever further into protected enclaves to stave off that day. Or we can claim those who have been traumatized by violence as our neighborhood, our school system, our family. What if this truly had been my son’s first grade classmate? Are his friends any more precious than Desaree?

It takes a poet to say for us all what needs to be said. In a rally at a Chicago church the day after fifteen people were shot in fifteen hours across the city, Maya Angelou cried out: “The children are being murdered. … At some point, we have to stop this madness. We have to stop it! We have to say, ‘Wait a minute. Hello! Hello! Hello! No! No! Stop it!’ “