Thursday, June 21, 2007

FaithWorks Project "first"

Most "firsts" in life are moments to remember. People's "first kiss" is often reminisced about in ways that resemble folklore. The drama of the "first date" is the stuff of legend. We remember our "firsts" for some reason. When something begins for the first time, the images and memories are seared into our brain as if to put a chronological stake in the ground. We mark time as the shudder of our mind opens to let all the light in. Images are imprinted deep into our soul.

Well, Dave, Scott and I came upon a HUGE "first" last night. The moment was big, but it was a bit like Bethlehem. The actual event was of monumental importance, but it took place in relative obscurity. The only witnesses were Dave's wife Mel, my wife Missy and some Doritos which were staring at us from the kitchen table.

Last night FaithWorks Project officially gave out our first loan through Kiva. A wife and mother of three was posted on the Kiva website needing $1000 to help her small business sell smoked fish and other food items. She is from Togo, a small West African country next to Ghana. She needed someone to loan her that money so that her business could thrive and so her kids could continue to have food on the table. Her bio noted that she has been diligent in repaying small loans in the past.

So after doing some background reading on her life, FaithWorks Project loaned her the whole $1000. She is the first of what we hope will be an entire network of global entrepreneurs who will be funded and empowered by FaithWorks Project. And we won't soon forget our first. Her name is Eya Benyo.

Can you picture Eya? This mother of three walks to her bank in early July hoping that she will be loaned the money. Have you ever been turned down for a loan? The disappointment can be heartbreaking. And this loan isn't for a new car or a nice house. This loan is for the survival of her family and her source of income.

So she hopes. She hopes that someone who doesn't know her and has never met her will, out of the generosity and compassion of their heart, loan her money. What she doesn't realize is that a group of audacious Christians in the U.S. have started something called FaithWorks Project. And that FaithWorks is picking up her hope where she left off. What she doesn't realize is that people from all over the U.S. will be giving to FaithWorks Project so that when she walks through the doors of that bank, her hope is realized.

Can you see Eya? She's just been told that she will get the loan. She's just been told that all $1000 has been provided. Can you see the smile on her face, the skip in her step and the fullness of life? Can you hear the clap of her hands and her shout for joy? Can you feel how poverty has just changed into empowerment? I can. And it makes me all the more passionate about what we are doing at FaithWorks Project.

Thank you Eya Benyo! At first, I thought I was helping you change your life. I realize now that you are changing mine.

To read more about Eya, go here.
To hear a 3 min. 45 sec. blurb about FaithWorks Project, click here.
To donate to FaithWorks Project, go here.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Injustice System

In the midst of Israel's religiosity, festivals and sacrificial ceremonies, the prophet Isaiah calls for something different in Isaiah 58. The people fasted and prayed and wondered why God didn't show up. God responds through Isaiah with these words:
"Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself?" He goes on to say, "Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?"

Apparently, Israel had all the right songs and worship services. They had all the right sacrifices. But their society had become ripe with injustice. God had a different kind of "fast" in mind. "Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?"

Amos was called to speak to Israel about this same issue. In chapter 2 of his book he reveals the true deeds of their people. "They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed." He goes on to say more in chapter 5. "You oppress the righteous and take bribes and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts."

Recently a family in our community has experienced some of this injustice. Our courts seem to be the last place one can find true justice. It's a place where the abusive husband gets all the breaks and the single mom gets victimized once again. It's a place where lawyers learn to manipulate the law rather than uphold it. It's a place where the rich squirm their way out of punishment and the poor get their sentence heaped on them in double measure. It's a place where the criminal usually gets off. And if the government decides to give you a federal indictment, then you are guilty before proven innocent.

What is even more sad is that when we look out in to the world, the US "justice" system is one of the best that humanity has to offer. In other countries with less democratic governments the injustice is staggering. The fact that we have one of the best systems in the world and yet it is so broken and corrupt says a lot about humanity. Our understanding of justice is so lacking that most of the time we wouldn't know justice if it smacked us in the face.

In times like these we have to increase our faith. We have to trust that our Heavenly Father is just. We have to have hope in a day when justice will prevail ... a day when the wrongs will be righted. In the mean time, we pray for the God of Justice to have mercy on us and that He will bring the grace we need to endure.

"But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!" (Amos 5:24)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

"...for all who draw the sword will die by the sword." (Matthew 26:52)

Our friend Aaron Arpasi is graduating this Wednesday from the police academy. He is #1 in his class based on all of their various testing. This means he will be a good cop and will bring excellence and good judgment to the police force. As a community, we are proud of him and how he will serve our neighborhood. We are also a little nervous because of how many cops get shot in and around Baltimore. But we trust him to the Lord as we do with anything else.

This sparks some questions in my mind about the role of Christians and violence. Those who believe violence is necessary and good because we are in a Fallen world do not see a problem with a Christian being a police officer or a soldier.

Those in the Christian tradition who are pacifists believe Christians should avoid all forms of violence and should not have occupations that require violence. They leave violence up to the nation-state and tell members of the Kingdom of God to live out a Kingdom-ethic. In their mind, a Kingdom-ethic, as described by the Sermon on the Mount, demands at the least non-violence and probably pacifism.

So what do we do with this difference of opinion in Christianity which has been there down through the ages? St. Augustine tried to resolve it with the just-war theory. But Catholics and Protestants alike massacred each other for years in the 30 years war based on that doctrine of war.

The only ones who didn't kill other Christians because of theological differences were the Anabaptists. They were and still are strong pacifists (Quakers, Mennonites, Amish, Brethren). But their non-violence almost got them wiped off the face of the earth by their fellow Protestant and Catholic brothers who promoted violence in the name of God.

After the 30 years war, the nation-state and the separation of church and state was born. For peace to prevail, the idea was that a person's loyalty needed to be tied to a politically controlled geographic region rather than a certain theology. That way various theological beliefs could cohabitate within one culture.

And this works great within a democracy. But what happens when various forms of socialism and fascism take control of nation-states? In a word: holocaust. And a rebirth of the just-war theory became strong once again.

And really that is where we find ourselves today. As the Christian community we are split on this issue. Here are some tough questions for us to answer:

- Is it "loving our enemies" to go to war and kill them?
- Is it "turning the other cheek" to wipe out an army?
- Are these commands of Jesus meant for just the individual and not the state?
- What is the state's role in using violence?
- What is our role in violent action as we follow Romans 13 and submit to the state?
- Should Christians be soldiers? If so, how does a soldier love his enemy?
- Should Christians be police officers? If so, how does a cop love his enemy?
- Is a pacifist ethic meant for this world or only the next?
- Is non-violence realistic in a fallen world?
- Does non-violence have to mean "inaction?" Can their be an active, resisting form of non-violence?
- Can real pacifism only exist in a state which uses violence to keep the peace?
- Does war ever really create peace? Or does violence just lead to more violence?
- If Christians are called to be peace-makers, does that ever include the use of violent force?
- If Jesus is our example, and he chose to suffer and died rather than create a violent revolution, is it ok for Christians to advocate violent revolution for the oppressed?
- Is there ever such a thing as a war that is "just?"
- Is true power the use of force or not needing to use force?
- Can there be a peaceful society without war to protect its sovereignty and police to protect its citizens?

Ok, lots of questions, I know. It seems to me that pacifism is only a viable option if there is a greater force above you that you can trust to use violence to bring justice. I believe this is why we see more secular pacifism in the U.S. and other democratic nations.

A secular pacifist in a democratic state can rely on the state to provide the violence necessary to have a peaceful society. So this allows the person to believe in non-violence. They trust the power of the state to be violent when necessary (if another country were to invade or if a criminal is on the loose). But this can often appear to be hypocritical. While they challenge their fellow citizen to be "peaceful," they themselves live in the peace that was provided by the violence of the state.

Christian pacifists have this same paradigm in play, only, it's not hypocritical. And instead of "the state" being the greater force above them using violence, it is God. The Christian pacifist tries to imitate Jesus and His trust in His Heavenly Father.

Jesus didn't have to physically or verbally defend himself. He knew God was just. Jesus trusted God the Father to be the Righteous Judge and the Mighty Warrior. He trusted God's violence and justice to be perfect, so he had no need to be violent. This doesn't mean Jesus never got angry (money changers at the temple) or that Jesus was passive (he often actively opposed Jewish leaders). But Jesus never resorted to violence and instead left the violence and retribution up to the Father.

This is what the Christian pacifist does as well. It's not that they don't see any value in violence. It's that they don't see any value in violence done by humans. They leave the violence and justice is up to God.

So, I believe that whether you believe in just-war, active non-violence or pacifism, violence is necessary in this fallen world. I think everyone agrees on that. The difference is in how much we participate in that violence (as the hands of God) and how much we leave up to God alone.

Where all Christians have common ground is that we all hope and strive for the day when the Kingdom of the world has passed away and the only thing remaining is the Kingdom of God. And then finally, we will have peace.

Friday, June 08, 2007

rough day yesterday

I had a rough day yesterday. I listened to a preacher on the radio and I wanted to really pay attention to what he said. He talked a lot about how scripture should be taken seriously. He told the listening audience that churches today were heading in the wrong direction because they have moved away from a literal interpretation of the bible. He went on to describe the bible with big words like inerrant, infallible, authoritative and some other ones that I can't pronounce.

So after I heard his message, I vowed to finally take scripture seriously. I was done with the wayward interpretations of the liberals. Scripture had to be taken literally and I was determined to do so. God demands nothing less.

I figured the best place to start was one of the Gospels. Since Matthew came first, I began reading through the whole book. It was awesome! While Jesus was being tempted he said, "Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God." And since I was knee deep in scripture, I skipped breakfast.

The hard part came when I got to the Sermon on the Mount. It said, "Anyone who says,'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell." I know I have called people a fool quite a few times. I began to get really nervous. I always thought that I was saved by grace through faith but I see that I was wrong. Hell is real and if I keep calling people "a fool" then I am headed there. I began to sweat as I read on.

"If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away." Wow, taking scripture seriously was going to be hard. I knew it would take commitment but I didn't realize what I had gotten myself into. I figured a butter knife would be the best tool for the job. I knew I had lusted after girls before, so it was time for my right eye to go. I leaned over the bathroom sink, dug the knife in as deep as it would go and gave a quick thrust downward. Sure enough, my eyeball came out. Blood began to gush into the sink and I had to snip the cord that was attaching my eye to my head. But I just stuffed my socket with cotton balls and got back to reading.

"And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away." Here we go again. I pulled the axe out of the shed and put a stick in my mouth. I knew this was going to hurt. I was proud though. With one swift chop using my left hand, there went my right hand, straight into the trash. I was feeling a bit light-headed now. I was losing a lot of blood. But I knew God wanted me to take scripture seriously. And the preacher on the radio told me this meant taking scripture literally, so I knew I was doing the right thing. A little dizzy and covered in blood, I got back to my bible. I thought to myself, "Maybe this is why in some bibles Jesus words are in red."

I read on. I was encouraged by these words, "But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing." This was going to be easy for me because I no longer had a right hand. So as long as I kept my feet from knowing what my left hand was doing, I would be good to go.

I made it all the way to the part that says, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." I knew this would be the end. I had a healthy savings account waiting for me when I walked into Bank of America. And I knew I must obey God's word. I told the lady at the counter to please put my heart in a safe deposit box for me. I knew I wouldn't have long after my heart was removed from my chest. My hunting buddy came with me. He knocked me out and then opened me up with his deer knife. He sliced all of my connecting tissues, arteries and veins and politely handed my heart to the nice lady at the counter.

I was dead. I was also a bit confused. I wasn't sure how a person could make it past the 21st verse of the 6th chapter of Matthew. Why was there more in the New Testament? If people really took scripture seriously, if they really took it literally, then no one would be alive to preach about it. That is when I realized that the guy on the radio didn't really know what he was saying.

I realized that the preacher didn't mean that we should take all of scripture literally. He just meant that we should take literally the parts that he took literally and take figuratively the parts he took figuratively. In short, all he was really saying is that we should read scripture the way he reads it. I sure wish he would have just said that.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Parable of The Protestant Son

Why is it that Catholics always seem to have it together when it comes to Social Justice and community service issues? Catholics seem to be way ahead of Protestants when it comes to serving the poor, helping the homeless, and visiting the elderly. I wonder why it has taken the Protestant church so long to see how important these issues are to the gospel.

I am guessing that it has to do with our theology. Our practice is often the fruit of our theological roots. And maybe the incarnational understanding of the sacraments plays a role in developing a worldview that enables incarnational ministries.

Catholics believe that the Eucharist maintains the mystery of the incarnation of Christ. So just as Christ was mysteriously God and man, the elements of the Eucharist are mysteriously bread and body, wine and blood. For Catholics, these elements are not just symbolic of what Christ did in the past. These elements become Christ's body and blood in the present. The incarnation didn't just happen "once upon a time" but, in a unique way, continues to happen today.

Maybe this fuller understanding of the incarnation allows for a fuller understanding of what it means to live an incarnational life. The Body of Christ, which is the church, goes out into the world and participates in an incarnation of their own. Just as God did not stay distant but instead came into the world in the flesh, so the church is called not to stay distant from the world but to go into the world in a very physical way. We go and we meet not just spiritual needs but physical ones.

And not only do we as the church participate in an incarnation of our own, but we also see a present day incarnation all around us. In the "least of these," we see a new and different incarnation of Christ. "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me'." (Matt. 25:40)

Maybe the Catholics' deeper vision of the past incarnation and the present continuing incarnation gives them an upper hand in grasping the vision Jesus had for "the least of these." And maybe as we Protestants finally jump on Jesus' bandwagon of Social Justice we can begin to understand the theological roots of this kind of practice. In a sense, we Protestants are returning to values and vision of The Church we protested against all those many years ago.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

our creation story (part 2)

My last post with this title stirred up some conversation and some disagreement. But I want to address this again in a different way. It is interesting that a person's view of Genesis 1-2 has now gone political. The candidates, both Democrat and Republican, are being asked many more questions about their faith. It is like CNN finally realizes that faith plays an important part in a person's life and a person's vote. So this go around, every candidate is talking about their religious beliefs. While I am sure all the atheist Americans are pissed off at this, I am enjoying the conversation.

Among many questions that are getting asked about the candidate's faith, the one I find most curious is the one about Creation. I understand how questions about abortion, poverty, prayer, etc. can impact a Presidency. But I am not quite sure how a person's view of Creation makes them a better or worse candidate for the job.

The best I can gather is that the person who believes that there was an evolutionary process during creation might look at the candidate who doesn't believe in evolution and just assume that he/she is an idiot. Or maybe the person who believes in a literal 6 day creation would look at the candidate who believes in an evolutionary process and think he/she is a godless, liberal heathen. I don't know.

I am pretty sure both are not true. One's belief about how to interpret Genesis 1-2 should not be a litmus test of how "spiritual" or "faithful" or "Christian" someone is. Issues about how we understand the core of the gospel message are infinitely more important than issues about how we understand Genesis 1-2. So why is the question being asked at all?

It is like we are trying to determine if someone is "conservative" enough or "liberal" enough for our liking. And rather than deal with the real issues of poverty, war, health care, education and taxes, we are more entertained by questions about how someone interprets the first two chapters of the bible. I am baffled.

Here is what I think about someone who reads Genesis 1-2 as literal rather than the way I read it:
- I disagree with the way they are reading those passages
- I assume that their interpretation is what they were taught by someone they loved and trusted
- I assume that if they did more biblical and scientific study, their view would shift. It may not change completely, but they would be more open to different possibilities.
- I acknowledge that the way I am interpreting it may be wrong.
- I assume that if I do more biblical and scientific study, my view might shift. It may not change, but I would continue to gain new insight.

Although I may have all of these assumptions, one thing I am not willing to assume is that someone would be a better or worse Presidential candidate based on their interpretation of the Creation story. Asking candidates about their view of Creation is just another byproduct of the false dichotomy between faith and reason, God and science that our culture has been saturated in.

Friday, June 01, 2007

grande sweetened ice coffee

Iced coffee is a wonderful thing. I am experiencing it anew this summer. I love that Starbucks has double brewed their iced coffee. When they add the ice and the ice melts, it balances out to a normal, strong cup of Starbucks coffee. Its tasty and refreshing and has a nice kick of caffeine to keep you going.

It kind of reminds me of how we are trying to do church at Horizon. The content is the same but the form has changed. The strong black coffee of the gospel is still the main ingredient of our community. But we won't burn your mouth if you drink us too quickly. You don't have to carefully sip your way into our community. You can hold us without a cardboard sleeve and gulp us down right from the beginning.

Maybe Jesus was prophetically thinking ahead to iced coffee and regular coffee when he said to the church of Laodicea, "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm - neither hot nor cold - I am about to spit you out of my mouth." (Revelation 3:15-16)

May we never become the hot coffee that's gotten cool or the cold coffee that's gotten warm. Instead, may we be a comforting, soothing, hot cup of coffee on a cold and rainy afternoon. May we be a cold, refreshing iced coffee on a hot summer day. And may we always have the strong black coffee of the gospel as our main ingredient.