Archive for April, 2009

posted by Amy on Apr 22

I continue to be very curious about specifically what I might be called to do when I’m finished with school. I had been thinking my skills and abilities would best be served in some kind of high profile social action, perhaps working for World Vision or UMCOR, or being a lobbyist or an economic development consultant. But all fundamental social change starts at the grass roots. It begins with small groups of committed people who “walk their talk.” I am taking Introduction to Pastoral Care, Holistic Ministry, and Spiritual Formation (and three other classes) this semester. These three classes overlap quite a bit, and they all offer me much food for thought. Shane Claiborne keeps saying he’s not trying to start a “franchise” of “the new monasticism.” I think he’s just saying it’s not about starting a new church, or creating any organization that would be bureaucratic, hierarchical, and institutional. The first Christians were none of those things. They were just people living together and loving each other. But I don’t think he would object to having that kind of ministry appear, organically and spontaneously, everywhere that it’s needed.

The economic crisis, the environmental crisis, the energy crisis, resource wars, and other serious issues of the day all cry out for the same solution. People need to stop, take stock of their values, and begin putting time and attention into things that really matter, now and in the future. They need to love God and love their neighbors. Their neighbors need them, and they need to be in covenant relationships and real communities. So many families (including mine) get caught up in a trap of working harder and harder for money and possessions, spending more and more money, consuming and wasting, and having little time for friendship, companionship, family life, or God. Most of the things that individuals and families could do to correct these imbalances would also be good for the environment and would promote domestic and world peace.

That all makes me think that maybe I’m not supposed to be doing any big thing. Maybe I should relocate to a blighted area, start getting to know my neighbors, start a community garden, set up a small, informal after school program, start a Bible study, etc. See what the neighborhood needs. See what God wants me to do. But I could have done that without going off to get two new Masters degrees first. I even considered doing it, before I decided I was being called to Palmer and Eastern. So why am I here?

posted by Amy on Apr 20

So much of the discussion today is about value, not values. Aid well spent can be an example of both, values and value for money. Bono on Carnival, Lent, Easter, and how God is working in the world. Read More.

posted by Amy on Apr 16

The National Day of Prayer is May 7. Here are some large and small ways that people of faith can become the answer to their own prayers. Read more.

posted by Amy on Apr 14

Palmer Theological Seminary’s motto shows how different it is, and how difficult it is to pigeonhole it as “liberal” or “conservative.” Palmer is theologically orthodox, but not fundamentalist. It has progressive social and political values, but it is not “liberal” in the sense of falling in line with any particular political ideology. It holds and advocates traditional Christian moral values and teachings, while at the same time denouncing social and corporate sins that are often overlooked by, or even condoned by,  the Christian Right. Palmer’s motto, “The whole gospel for the whole world through whole people,” captures this distinctiveness. I knew about the theological orthodoxy before I came here. I wasn’t entirely sure my “Proud Member of the Religious Left” bumper sticker would be welcome, but I think it is.

The Bible tells how God desires, and is calling all humanity into, a whole, healthy, loving, creative, reconciled relationship with God and with one another. People are made in God’s image and likeness. God is the Creator. God is Love. If we are created in God’s image and likeness, then human beings are destined and designed for realization of our potential as creatures who love, create, and have abundant life.

The whole gospel is the entire good news, as set forth in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. The Bible gives us a story of God’s mercy and love, and of God’s longing for God’s creation to be restored to wholeness. The Bible contains thousands of verses dealing with poverty and injustice, in addition to (or as part of) the parts about repentance, forgiveness and salvation. To read, preach, and live the whole Gospel is to try, as much as possible, not to leave out anything. As Ron Sider says, Jesus spent an awful lot of good preaching time healing people, feeding them, and loving them instead. If it was important to him, then it must also be important to us if we are to claim that we are his disciples.

The cross can be a helpful reminder of the two aspects of the greatest commandment (love of God and love of neighbor), and of the fact that the two dimensions are inseparable. Christians are called to both a “vertical” relationship with God, individually and as the Church, and a “horizontal” relationship with one another. This necessarily requires that Christians be aware of, and engaged in reforming or replacing, evil social and political structures, and it requires that the Church work to alleviate the suffering caused by injustice and oppression.

Each side of the Evangelical/Ecumenical debate leaves out part of the Gospel. Both sides are able to show that their positions have biblical support, but neither is able to claim “whole Gospel” support for choosing between Word and Works. Holistic ministry embraces a both/and rather than either/or approach to mission.

Part of the “split” comes from a perceived soul/body dichotomy, from seeing “the world” as evil and the soul as existing on a different, higher level. This idea that spiritual reality is superior to physical, and that soul is more important than, and superior to, body, is not biblical. By his actions of healing and caring for people’s physical needs, Jesus gave equal priority to restoring people to physical wholeness as to repentence and atonement. Indeed, many of his healing works made it possible for people who had been ritually unclean to return to full participation in society. Furthermore, the evidence for repentance and atonement is a fundamental change in the way people behave, and treat each other. Zacchaeus offers an example of that. He didn’t just believe, he did things that showed that his life had been changed and that he had decided to follow Jesus.

The whole gospel, then, is not simply a matter of memorizing rules, or, as the tract publishers like to say, of simply accepting Jesus Christ as one’s personal savior. It’s not just the good news that Christ died for us, which is not to say that’s not important. It is a lived, practiced, committed horizontal and vertical love of God and love of neighbor.

The whole world is everyone, and everything. The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it. God made it, all of it, and loves it all. God’s desire is for God’s shalom to come to everyone and everything. A Gospel for the whole world eschews false dichotomies between the Church and the World. It recognizes that faithful environmental stewardship is inextricably linked to human rights and human welfare. It rejects divisive discrimination against, and marginalization of, any groups of people, on the basis of any classification that forgets that in Christ there is no male or female, no master or slave, no Jew or Greek. Every human being is made in the image and likeness of God. As a matter of simple common decency, Christians should agree that every person in the world has the right to a safe, secure, healthy, productive life. It would also go a long way to proving that Christians serve a Lord who desires salvation and abundant life for everyone.

Whole persons recognize that love of God and love of neighbor includes a healthy, respectful, humble love of self. I cannot give with empty hands. I cannot lead anyone where I myself have not gone. Love is not an emotion, but something practiced deliberately in relationship. By allowing my loving, reciprocal relationship with God to heal me and make me more whole (by allowing God to love me, and by trusting God) I both “practice what I preach” and gain more capacity to serve God by loving others. A whole person is congruent. Her public and private selves are in alignment. She is committed to taking good care of her whole self, body, mind, and spirit. Whole persons imitate Christ in their spiritual disciplines and in their ministry to others. Whole persons make a commitment to kingdom values and kingdom ethics, in their business practices, in their civic life, and in their emotional life. Although God can use our broken and damaged aspects in God’s own, mysterious ways, Christians have an obligation to be the best they can be.

However, I have to agree with Professor Al Tizon that the motto is missing an important piece. None of this is possible without the Church. The Church, despite its brokenness and imperfection, is how God has chosen to usher in the kingdom. Christian perfection is a process that occurs in community. People cannot achieve wholeness in isolation. They have to be members of a loving community in order to grow and mature. By the same token, church members need to take care that congregations and denominations reach for wholeness, and for solidarity with all Christians everywhere. This is an essential element of “The Whole Gospel to the Whole World through Whole Persons.” People are not going to buy the idea that our Lord is the Prince of Peace, or that God is love, if we can’t even manage to treat each other with love and respect.

When God looks at his Church, he doesn’t see denominations. He doesn’t see race, class, income level, sex, sexual orientation, fancy or plain buildings, vestments or blue jeans. He sees the “one, true, apostolic, universal church,” the body of Christ. Although individual congregations and denominations may have, or emphasize, different gifts and different senses of what they are specifically being called to do, the Church as a whole must do all it can to bring about reconciliation and unity among all Christians.

posted by Amy on Apr 3

Early Christianity was countercultural. Jesus came into a world marred by greed, misuse of power, injustice, grinding poverty, and misery. Not much has changed. Jesus came to proclaim good news to the poor, release to the captive, and recovery of sight to the blind, and to declare “the year of the Lord’s favor,” or Jubilee, a radical reordering of society that Yahweh mandated for the Israelites every 50 years. Members of the early Jesus movement pooled their resources, took care of one another, refused to serve in the military, refused to sacrifice to idols or worship the emperor, and treated all fellow Christians as equals, contrary to the stratified social structure of the time, that subjugated the many to the might of the few.

When the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in the fourth century, and then declared Christianity to be the official state religion, the church went from being outside the empire to being one of its pillars. Unfortunately, that meant an abandonment of the central, revolutionary message, and adoption of many of the habits and values of the dominant culture.

However, the essence of Christianity has never been completely lost, and, more and more, people are deciding to live in accordance with the teachings of Jesus, which all boil down, simply, to “love God, love your neighbor.” This is an ancient message. It is the essential teaching of Judaism as well. (Jesus was, after all, a Jew.)

Forty-two years ago, on April 4, 1967, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave the speech that, I think, sealed his fate. No, it’s not his “I Have a Dream” speech. It was called “Beyond Vietnam.” (I have a link to that speech on this blog, or you can access it right here.) In it, he called upon the United States to turn its back on racism, militarism and materialism and move to reform and reshape society. He was assassinated exactly one year later. Although the address was given in a church, King didn’t specifically say he was calling upon people to return to true Christian values, but that is what they are.

Things certainly haven’t gotten any better in the last 42 years. The current economic crisis occurred in an economy that was based on overconsumption. People were spending money they didn’t have on stuff they couldn’t afford until the bubble burst and the whole thing collapsed. Our government’s ability to deal with the situation is severely circumscribed by reckless and profligate deficit spending on two wars that have no end in sight. The parallels to the war that inspired King’s speech are obvious. Although we did elect a biracial president, racism is still prevalent and deadly in our country. We still have ghettos. More people are slipping into poverty. The gap between the best-paid and the worst-paid people in the U.S. is the widest it has been since the 1920′s. A black boy born in Harlem now has a lower life expectancy than someone born in Bangladesh.  The culture of materialism and consumerism is morally bankrupt. Kids are raised to be consumers, not to be citizens. (See this article about that issue.) The number of racist hate groups is increasing. Journalism is more about sensationalism and entertainment than information.

Then there’s my little church in Philadelphia (228 worshippers on the Sunday before Palm Sunday.) As part of the children’s sermon recently, Laura, the young woman who was giving it, had one of the kids pull something out of a bag. It was a dollar bill. Laura asked whose picture was on it, then used the answer to make a point about a scripture reading. As she was taking the kids downstairs for Sunday School, the little girl who had drawn out the dollar offered to give it back. These kids are told, at least once a week, that Jesus loves them, and that God made them in God’s image and put them here to love one another. They attend a church that, every Sunday night, serves a free dinner to more and more people (80 at last count), with live music and fellowship. Volunteers go out to the places where the poor hang out, and invite them in. This is very biblical, by the way. Jesus said that when you have a banquet, you should invite the poor and outcast, homeless beggars, prostitutes and sinners.

God’s kingdom is coming “on the earth as it is in heaven.” It is already partly here, in some little pockets of love and fellowship and justice. Kingdom values, kingdom economics, kingdom ethics, are countercultural and radical. They are deeply threatening to the status quo. There are a lot of people who stand to lose a lot of money and power when the transformation has been completed, including a lot of nominally Christian people and institutions. But far more people will benefit. And when that day comes, Dr. King’s real dream will be realized.

posted by Amy on Apr 3

Children’s culture has been corrupted by rampant commercialization, commodification and consumption. As we consider the current economic crisis, we should ask what kind of public spaces and values we want to make available, outside of those provided by hypercapitalism, to prepare children to confront the problems of the twenty-first century. read more

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