So this is my new blog. Sorry to both of my readers/parents that it was down the better part of last week. But it’s up and running now, and in this new format I should be able to both write more post, and respond to comments faster. So special thanks to Matt Pinson and Todd Ramsey for all the help over the past week in launching this.
So one of my good friends wrote a blog recently about how to be a Jesus follower in a world that is deeply broken. It’s a great post, written by someone who has crossed socio-economic lines, and has the ability to communicate to both worlds. One of the observations he makes is that privileged Christians should make it a spiritual discipline to notice the brokenness around them.
He does a good job not demonizing wealthy Christians, but challenging us to look past our own self-inflicted boundaries. And he does it with this question: “Study and try to find a way that the system is broken without having to experience it.”
I saw a story on CNN this past weekend about a girl who was from another country who was promised a modeling job if she just came to the U.S.A. to work. She came, and immediately had her passport taken away and told that she had to work off $25,000 worth of debt before she could be a model.
And you probably know what kind of work they had in mind.
One of the people interviewed said that this happened all the time. It’s all around us, but no one was paying attention.
Did you know that 12 million people are considered by the U.S. State Department to be in slavery? And that 14,000 people are trafficked into the U.S. each year? Slavery is happening all around us.
But when was the last time you’ve seen a slave?
One of my favorite gospel stories comes at the end of Luke. The Disciples are walking away from Jerusalem. Crest-fallen, heart-broken, whatever words you want to use, they were deeply, deeply broken. Their hope, the one who was going to set the world right, had become a victim of the very systems he was speaking against.
And so they’re all headed home.
But then the risen Jesus comes along side these disciples and they don’t recognize him. It’s a bizarre scene. They just want to cry alone, and here they are having to give directions to some country bumpkin who can’t tell when someone’s depressed. But this “stranger” refuses to leave them alone. He prods until they unearth the very thing that was the most tender to them, and then something even more strange happens.
Their eyes were opened and they saw the “stranger” was Jesus.
I’d like to tell you about how they thought Jesus was just a common beggar, who saw some people walking and was trying to ask for money out of those who had enough resources to travel.* I’d like to tell you about how their “eyes being opened” was a footnote of a story of disobedience in a Garden in the beginning. But the main point of this story is that these people were right next to Jesus, and for a while they didn’t even know.
Mark Twain once said, “I cannot see how a man of any large degree of humorous perception can ever be religious — unless he purposely shut the eyes of his mind & keep them shut by force.”
And to some extent I can see what he’s saying. Religion can do this. It can close us off, build walls to keep us in, and others out. But a genuine Christian faith has to refuse this, because central to our faith is a God who is opening our eyes.
We notice people because we follow a man who did. And not only did he notice them. He identified with them. And so maybe the call of Jesus is to start paying better attention. Look at that clothing tag before you buy that next shirt. Ask harder questions. Look past the parts of the world that work for you and ask who it’s not working for.
And while it must not stop with our noticing, it must begin there. Because in looking for others, we find Jesus.
*Jesus’ disciples were quite used to this occurring e.g. Mark 10:46-47
Richard Stearns was the C.E.O. of a major fine dining silverware company called Lenox. He went to church, gave toward missions, lived in a ten bedroom mansion on several acres, and drove a Porsche XS-T. He was the successful Christian business man.
And then one day he got a call from World Vision, a Christian non-profit organization, and everything changed.
World Vision works to eliminate the most desperate poverty from the world. And they were asking for Richard to come be their President. As you might imagine the job would pay considerably less, their family would have to relocate, and he would be forced to travel the world spending time with the “least of these.”
The irony of going from selling fine dinner ware to working for people who couldn’t even eat was not lost on Richard. And he bills himself as anything but a saint. He told the people at World Vision no several times but eventually the question that won him over was “what if there are hungry children who would be able to live because you accept this job?”
The Hole in Our Gospel is one of the most convicting books I have ever read. It’s written with us in mind. Americans who are rich, but don’t think they are. It’s not a manifesto of guilt. Repeatedly Stearns points out that guilt isn’t productive. He refers to a modern phenomenon called, compassion fatigue. So instead he paints a picture of what the world could look like if the people of God started to recognize the implications of their own gospel.
The book is filled with great stories of the power of the gospel juxtaposed against some pretty prophetic stuff about the danger of riches being used only for the wealthy. For Example:
“The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other. It is not,
as poverty was before, the result of natural scarcity, but of
a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the
rich. Consequently, the modern poor are not pitied…but
written off as trash.” -John Berger
“We can be the generation that no longer accepts that an
accident of latitude determines whether a child lives or
dies–But will we be that generation? Fifteen thousand
people dying needlessly every day from AIDS, TB, and
malaria. Mother, father, teachers, nurses, mechanics,
children. This is Africa’s crisis. That it’s not on the nightly
news, that we do not treat this as an emergency–that’s
our crisis.” -Bono
I am thankful to be at a church that 60% of her income goes to outside of herself. That is to serve the community. I think it’s why I love RHCC so much. But Stearns has a pretty great point in this book about the typical American church. Pastors bellyache that the average parishioner only gives 2.5% of their income to tithes. But did you know that the average church only gives 2-5% of her income to outside of herself? That is that 2% of 2% of American Christians wealth goes to the people who need it! That’s less that 6 pennies a day from the average American Christian.
We can do better than that.
We have to do better than that.
And this, Stearns points out, is the hole in our gospel.
The gospel isn’t about just getting people into Heaven, it is, and always has been about God’s reign coming here on earth. And any gospel that misses that, has a gaping hole in it.
So Richard Stearns takes the job. And in the first couple of months he’s climbing up a tiny mountain in Argentina, where a lone house in built. As soon as he enters the house a woman starts hysterically crying and smiling. She begins to speak to him in a language he doesn’t understand. After the translator catches up, Richard realizes that this woman just lost her husband. She has five kids and their husband, just before his death, had incurred $300 of debt to buy some sheep.
Now $300 is a lot of money for this woman. And to make matters worse a mysterious livestock illness has started taking her sheep, her only income, one at a time.
And with every sheep this woman buries, she knows she is also burying her little family.
And then Richard Stearns, the former C.E.O. of a silverware company shows up. Once the woman has caught him up to speed on her story, she tells him something interesting. She says that for the past year she has been praying for God to send her someone. Someone who can help her family not to die.
And in that moment, God speaks to Richard Stearns. He tells him this is why I brought you to World Vision. You could have said no, but you didn’t.
And now you are the answer to this woman’s prayers.
Doesn’t that sound like a gospel you could live for?
I’ll talk about this video in a second, but first.
Last night on the daily show, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee was on doing yet another interview. Here’s the link for that clip. This time he was given the opportunity to choose the topic and he went with something slightly less controversial.
Now his timing is pretty apt. Once more this has taken center stage in our country, as just last week, George Tiller, one of the nation’s only late term abortion doctors was shot dead while attending his church.
Now, I know this won’t be popular with my democrat friends, but I like Mike Huckabee. I always have, and not just because his stance on abortion. He’s always been able to disagree and talk about complex issues while being civil. A fact that I think is proved by his willingness to go on the Daily Show repeatedly. I also appreciated Jon Stewart’s side of this discussion. At the end he admitted being dead-certain about the rightness of most left-wing ideas, but as a father who’s seen his own kids ultra-sounds, this one bothers him too.
If you know me you know that I am pretty a-political. But I think this discussion is deeper than politics. It’s indicative of our collective sense of morality, and how humans look at life in general. And as anyone who lived before Roe vs. Wade can attest, abortion (while on a much smaller basis) was going on long before it was legalized.
I remember my mom when I was a kid, going to abortion clinics and “pretending” to be a woman needing an abortion, while really putting pro-life material in their magazines. And while I hope that saved some babies, I kind of doubt it did. But my parents were also foster parents for more kids than I can count, I also have an adopted sister, and one of the things I have noticed is that the foster kids they kept were not going out and getting abortions later in life.
That is to say that they saw that even with life not being ideal, it was still okay. There were still people out there who loved and fought for them. And it made all the difference.
This is just one more example of the unique mission of the church. We can cut past the political rhetoric of the day. We don’t wait on laws to be passed. Though I would love for abortion to be illegal (not because I think politics are the way to change things, but because I think that would be more in line with the collective conscience that dignifies everyone).
Mr. Huckabee brought out a point that I think is not talked about much in our culture. He mentioned that while he was a minister he dealt with dozens of cases of ladies who had an abortion early in life and then went through life with unresolved guilt because of it. Freud might say that’s religiously imposed guilt, but I have had conversations with several girls without a religious bone in their body, who still suffer from this.
I would argue that part of the problem with viewing life through the modern scientific reductionist lens is that we fail to pick up on the truth that everything is connected. Sure, you could call this a fetus or a embryonic termination but what if it’s more than that?
Now I know that this is a topic that is incredibly complex. I know that there are vicious cycles of poverty that some would argue are the reason that abortion is necessary. And I hope you hear me saying that those must be dealt with as well.
I know that talking about this is extremely touchy, but that’s mainly because the left and the right love to use issues to remain in or gain power. But this is not an issue, it’s about an ethic of life.
And I hope I’m not talking to people who are primarily Democrat’s or Republicans. I hope I’m talking to the church.
This wouldn’t be the first time that God used the church to stop a social wrong by helping to raise the social conscience. From infanticide to gladiator games, to slavery to civil rights, we have a history of speaking a word into a culture that can place pragmatism over hope.
The church, when she’s at her best, gently, creatively and sacrificially speaks a word of life into the world. And I think that this commercial done by Catholics earlier in the year is a great example of what it looks like for the church to call the culture that surrounds her to re-imagine this whole topic.
So Maybe it’s time to adopt some kids.
Maybe it’s time to take in a pregnant teenager.
Because Life really does have so much potential.