Thinking Out Loud

April 18, 2016

Epidemics: Divorce in Christian California 1970s and Suicide in Aboriginal Communities in Ontario 2016

Filed under: Christianity, current events — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:44 am

They lived in “Gospel Gulch;” an area in great proximity to Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California. The church had been part of a youth explosion that made the cover of Time Magazine early in the 1970s. As the decade closed out, the couple found themselves with a problem on their hands that may seem almost trivial to us today, but was rarer in the Christian community 40+ years ago: Their marriage was crumbling.

They weren’t alone. California leads the nation in certain types of cultural or social trends, which generally sweep from west to east. I’ve heard the same said in Canada about British Columbia. Christian marriages in the state were crumbling at a time when Christian values and standards in the rest of the United States were much more conservative.

So they went for counseling. The counselor didn’t spend a lot of time on learning to get along better or disagree more agreeably. There was no “5 steps…” or “7 keys…” or “10 tips…”

He told them to get out of California.

His best advice to them was to get away from the contagion of divorce. Get away from a spiritual community where struggling couples found their best option was to opt out. Leave the state and escape the culture of divorce that was sweeping through Washington, Oregon and Northern and Southern California with the force of the Santa Ana winds.

Attawapiskat, Ontario shown by pin: It's waaaay up there, and not much else is nearby.

Attawapiskat, Ontario shown by pin: It’s waaaay up there, and not much else is nearby.

I thought about that this morning as our church prayed about another contagion sweeping through another community: Suicide among youth. in Attawapiskat, Ontario, Canada. This isn’t a local story; this is the top national news story in the country and is being picked up by The Guardian in the UK and the Chicago Tribune in the US. Newsweek reported:

Canadian legislators told an emergency parliamentary session on Tuesday night that a rash of suicide attempts by aboriginal teenagers in a remote, poverty-stricken community was “completely unacceptable” and vowed steps to keep it from happening again.

Over the past weekend alone, 11 members of the Attawapiskat First Nation community in northern Ontario tried to kill themselves, prompting the chief to declare a state of emergency. Separately, a second group was hospitalized on Monday after suicide attempts…

…Health Minister Jane Philpott said the suicide rates among aboriginal youth were at least 10 times higher than for the general population of young people. Aboriginals make up about 4 percent of Canada’s population…

Would our California marriage counselor just suggest they get out of town? The advice is certainly valid if you see the situation as contagious, but these people have a family and spiritual connection to their land. They have a way of life that doesn’t translate into moving to Ottawa, Montreal or Toronto.

As we remembered that community yesterday morning, the pastor drew a line connecting this to another one of Canada’s top news stories over the past few months: Doctor-assisted suicide. This has been a contentious issue in the country since the nation’s Supreme Court ruled in February, a story that has been covered by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and BBC News:

Canada’s Supreme Court has ruled that doctors may help patients who have severe and incurable medical conditions to die, overturning a 1993 ban.

In a unanimous decision, the court said the law impinged on Canadians’ rights.

And then, there’s the obvious: These people are living without hope and this is something that as the Church of Jesus Christ, we can offer them, right? Well, when you consider the track record of abuse involving churches dealing with aboriginal children placed in residential schools, we may offer our help to them, but they may not want to turn to us…

As Christians, we also have to wrestle with the implications of suicide when someone claims to be a Christ-follower. Is this unpardonable? Canadian pastor Bruxy Cavey recently posted a video response to that question, but even if we allow that this action doesn’t lead to eternal damnation, it does not sit well with Evangelicals…

…Many years ago, the son of a woman I know had a friend who ended his life. In the weeks and months that followed, she monitored her son carefully, knowing stories of the contagious nature of suicide. But what if this epidemic started sweeping the nation? Native teens are not alone in feeling they have no future; no hope.

The “Get out of the state” advice for divorce became invalid just a few short years later when, even in Christian circles, separation and divorce became more rampant. Today, as Evangelicals wrestle with the “Gay and Christian” controversy, divorce seems rather tame and has fallen of the map of church concerns. Divorced people now sing in the choir, teach Sunday School, serve on boards of elders and deacons and even pastor some of our churches.

Are we allowing the culture to dictate our definitions of acceptable morality for Christians? Do we simply allow new issues to take the place of others on the front page? What if a climate of suicide swept your church’s youth group? What are the implications of a drug epidemic or pregnancy epidemic occurring among your church’s teens or preteens? 

Obviously, I believe these things are worth thinking about.

 

 

 

March 29, 2016

Where Are Canada’s Refugee Families?

Better Together Project

Canadian churches, civic groups and even wealthy patrons are asking, “Whatever happened to our refugee families?”

What’s more, these groups have collected donations of furniture, appliances, bedding, linens, coats, and more. They’ve raised the minimum $32,000 – $40,000 (CDN) needed to implement the project. They had volunteers standing by to teach the newcomers about North American life and to help them learn English. In many cases, they’ve rented apartments or made other financial commitments to secure property.

And now the Canadian government has pulled the rug out from under them.

The Globe and Mail reported:

Sponsors who responded to the government’s call to help Syrians are now being told waiting times for the arrival of the refugees they sponsored will be months longer than they expected.

As the government returns to a normal processing pace after hitting its goal of resettling 25,000 Syrians by the end of February, private sponsorship groups are frustrated by the increasing waiting times for resettling the newcomers. During the height of the government’s efforts to resettle 25,000 Syrians, all Syrian refugee applications were given priority and arrived within a few months of their application being received. Now, sponsors are being told they may not meet the refugees they sponsored until 2017.

Temporary processing centres established in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon to handle the 25,000 Syrian refugees are now closed and regional missions are in charge of processing, according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC)…

…The IRCC recognized some sponsors’ disappointment that the expedited process is not continuing, but said the “accelerated pace of recent months could not be sustained indefinitely.” The department also confirmed that Syrian applications will no longer be prioritized, meaning the refugees won’t arrive as soon as some sponsors expected.

“Private sponsorship applications that are submitted now are not expected to arrive this year as current application inventory already exceeds the high target that has been set,” said the department in a statement…

The Toronto Star reported:

The latest revelation that Ottawa has quietly stopped making it a priority to process Syrian sponsorship applications at its central processing centre in Winnipeg is another kick to the stomach of the private sponsors who responded to the government’s call for support and now feel abandoned.

“The government looked good in those photo ops after they made the 25,000 target in February. Now, they no longer care about the other sponsors and have left us in the cold,” said Thomas Vincent, whose group in Collingwood has been waiting for the arrival of three Syrian families since December and now worries for further delays.

“I get the same question every day: ‘Where are the Syrian refugee families that we are sponsoring?’ We have to say to them, ‘We don’t know.’ It looks silly on us.”

Earlier in March, the Canadian Refugee Sponsorship Agreement Holders Association — whose members connect interested community and faith groups with refugees awaiting resettlement abroad — was told by the immigration department that Syrian applications are no longer a priority.

And worse, Syrian applications submitted by the agreement holders since January are now going to be counted toward the annual caps imposed on them by the immigration department. Every year, each agreement holder can submit only a limited number of sponsorship applications; this means they now have fewer spots for non-Syrian refugees awaiting resettlement to Canada…

…“We have organized for months, have all the volunteers, services, resources in place to sponsor our families, and no one can tell us whether it will be one month, six months or a year to obtain our families,” said Vincent.

“Totally unacceptable and an utter waste of our time, money, energy and resources. We have responded to this refugee crisis as humanitarian, and our desire to do the right and compassionate thing. And we sit waiting, while our federal bureaucracy drops the ball.”

However, a letter to the Vancouver Sun suggests that the writer was told the opposite; that their non-Syrian family wasn’t coming because only Syrians were being admitted:

Last November, our parish joined another to raise funds to sponsor a Middle East refugee family. A family of five: two parents and three children under 10 years from Mosul, Iraq, was selected for us.

The family was in the “greatest need” category which often includes Christians and other non-Muslim minorities who cannot be accommodated in UN camps because their safety cannot be guaranteed. This family and many others live in overcrowded camps in Jordan.

The king of Jordan had made pleas to the world to help.

A minimum $45,000 for private sponsorship for people in the greatest need was raised (versus $25,000 for government sponsorship). An apartment was found and secured. Groups were formed for welcoming, orientation, language training etc. We even had a photo of the family.

Last month we learned this family was no longer our sponsored family. The Canadian government had decided that only Syrian refugees could be sponsored. This family had hope in us. They have been let down. So have we.

How can our government be so callous and change its policy in the middle of the process? Is the refugee issue only about meeting the quota, deadline, political correctness, and photo ops?

One such sponsoring project was headed by the former mayor of Toronto, John Sewell, CITY-TV news reported late Thursday,

“Nobody knows when their family is going to arrive,” Sewell told CityNews. “There’s a lot of sponsorship groups in Toronto that have raised their money and have houses and apartments all ready to go. There’s no families.”

“They’ve cut back all temporary staff in Jordan and Lebanon and Turkey so they can’t process them and they’ve taken all the temporary staff out of Winnipeg so they can’t process them.”

On top of closing those processing centres, the government has implemented caps on the number of privately-sponsored refugee applications for this year. That cap is not just for Syria but for all refugees entering this country. It’s a policy decision that wasn’t announced with any level of fanfare and one that wasn’t acknowledged by the Prime Minister even when he was pressed on the issue Thursday.

But the report contains a video which shows the Prime Minister sidestepping the question even earlier that day. Clearly the plan was to bury this in a part of the news cycle where journalists shut down for the Good Friday long weekend.

The CITY piece ends:

Many groups have already rented homes for their sponsored families and have only just learned they’ll sit empty for at least another eight months.

The government publicity gambit — the story details coming together only late in the day Thursday — seems to have worked. A story that should have received more coverage has yet to appear from the country’s national broadcaster, CBC News. When I mentioned this change to people over the past few days, without exception, everyone I spoke to was unaware of this development.

better-together-logo-72dpiFor this writer, it’s partly personal. A group of churches in our community (later joined by some civic groups) decided to commit to seven families under the umbrella of The Better Together Partnership. At the combined Good Friday service, the final balance of the $250,000 (CDN) needed was raised. That’s a rather large sum of money for small-town churches who, if they had known where this was going, might have diverted those funds to another project.

Two families have already arrived.

I feel bad for them as well. We’re not exactly at the center of the earth here, so having been told there will be seven families altogether, it’s not fair for them either to know that our government — so benevolent towards them just a few weeks ago — is now effectively shutting down the process for the time being. They were probably anticipating a micro-community with a common history and stories to share.

The story happened so quickly and quietly that one of the co-chairs of our project here seemed unaware of it when I mentioned it on Saturday night. I was rather hoping she would have heard it from someone else by that point.

This just isn’t fair to anyone.

This is politics at its worst.

We’ve all been lied to.

 

 

 

 

February 20, 2016

Is Donald Trump a Christian? Is the Pope Catholic?

Much ink has been spilled and much energy has been spent trying to flesh out the subject of “who’s in and who’s out” in matters of the Christian faith. Only God knows. The religion news story of the week was Pope Francis weighing in on Donald Trump’s faith and Trump’s inevitable response. The Pope asserted that Christians work to build bridges not walls, and on the basis of a statement reflecting this particular fruit of Trump’s character, implied that Trump’s Mexico/USA border wall concept is not consistent with identity as a Christian.

But on what do you base an assessment of someone? Within my own sphere of acquaintances there are people who disagree on a wide variety of subjects; some of which are part of Biblical interpretation, some of which are ethical, and others of which are reflective of the living out of their faith in everyday life. Is any one of these a significant marker of one’s spiritual sincerity or authenticity? Is there a single litmus test of orthodoxy? And is the in-versus-out question based on what I do today or tomorrow or on faith commitments I made at an earlier stage of life? Can I be in one day and out the next?

One of the best articles I’ve seen on this topic is in the book A is for Abductive by Leonard Sweet, Brian McLaren and Jerry Haselmayer in which they speak of bounded sets, centered sets, and dynamic sets; along with helpful diagrams. It’s a book I keep handy, but the lateness of the hour on Friday prevents me from scanning in those pages, so you’ll have to settle for someone else’s work. On the previous page there is a circle with no center point; one is defined as either in or out. X, Y and Z below are all in, but B and C are certainly close. Then they introduce centered-set thinking:

Bounded Set, Centered Set, Dynamic Set

For most of you, this either simplifies things or makes it more complicated. (There’s a logical statement.) But it illustrates the degrees to which people go to try to think through the issue of who’s in and who’s out.

In searching for the graphic I came across this quote from C.S. Lewis along with another diagram:

Christians as centered set vs bounded set_thumb[5]

[The] situation in the actual world is much more complicated than that. The world does not consist of 100% Christians and 100% non-Christians. There are people (a great many of them) who are slowly ceasing to be Christians but who still call themselves by that name: some of them are clergymen. There are other people who are slowly becoming Christians though they do not yet call themselves so. There are people who do not accept the full Christian doctrine about Christ but who are so strongly attracted by Him that they are His in a much deeper sense than they themselves understand…. And always, of course, there are a great many people who are just confused in mind and have a lot of inconsistent beliefs all jumbled up together.

Consequently, it is not much use trying to make judgments about Christians and non-Christians in the mass. It is some use comparing cats and dogs, or even men and women, in the mass, because there one knows definitely which is which. Also, an animal does not turn (either slowly or suddenly) from a dog into a cat. But when we are comparing Christians in general with non-Christians in general, we are usually not thinking about real people whom we know at all, but only about two vague ideas which we have got from novels and newspapers. If you want to compare the bad Christian and the good Atheist, you must think about two real specimens whom you have actually met. Unless we come down to brass tacks in that way, we shall only be wasting time.

 ~ C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; Harper Collins: 2001) 208-209.

So while the media has fun with the friendly banter between the Pope and the Presidential wannabe, know for sure that deciding on either the present devotion or the eternal destiny of anyone in particular is way above our pay grade. We can’t do it when speaking of individual people because we’re not God; but Lewis argues that dealing with it theoretically has no value.

 

 

February 18, 2016

War Zone vs. Highway Carnage

Filed under: Christianity, current events, media, weather — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:59 am

Now it’s Syria. Next month, I fear to say, it may be somewhere else.

We see the video on the evening news of areas blown apart by war and it’s easy to feel grateful that we don’t live there.

free_snow_signBut I wonder what they see.

I’ve done some weather related blog posts before — everybody talks about it, right? — so I don’t want to repeat myself, but I wonder what people in the Middle East would think if they saw the highway carnage on the U.S. Interstate Highway System that also plays out on those same supper hour newscasts here.

On Monday, which was the Presidents Day holiday, over 2,000 separate accidents were reported, many involving loss of life. It’s easy to sit back and armchair quarterback the whole thing; “Why didn’t they just wait and leave the next morning?”

But on that day we found ourselves having to drive in similar conditions without an option of postponing our travel. The roads were sheer ice. Averaging about 5 mph, I still managed to trigger the anti-lock braking system with just the slightest touch of the brakes. We saw the horrific after effects of cars in the ditch and facing the wrong way.

Do those scenes ever play on television there?

What if a family in the Midwest or a family on the East Coast decided they wanted to be refugees? Refugees from freezing rain. Refugees from tornadoes. Refugees from hurricanes. Refugees from mudslides. Refugees from record snowfalls.

What if a line started forming and heading toward the equator? People seeking to escape the weather with the same earnest as those fleeing war zones on the other side of the earth? Again, I ask the question, “Were people really meant to live here?”

That question always leads me to another. Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote:

To those who constantly ask, “Is America in Bible prophecy,” the answer might have more to do with the country being diminished by weather catastrophe than by some major loss of economic influence.

But take that question, “Is America in Bible Prophecy” and Google it sometime. The results can be rather disturbing. Two years ago we looked at four possible answers.

So I’m waiting to see the first American family seek refugee status somewhere else. Not because of election year politics. Not because of abortion. Not because of gun control.

But because of the weather.

And no; those shots of a truck rollover on the I-95 probably don’t play out on the evening news in Syria, because they’ve got a real war going on there. However, the pictures have some similarities, and some days, our lives are not entirely different.

February 12, 2016

Unsportsmanlike Media

Filed under: Christianity, current events, ethics — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:44 am

Color barsThere was less than five minutes on the clock when I finally tuned in Sunday’s big game. I’m not a sports guy. Even if I were, I’m told it wasn’t the greatest football telecast in history. And it’s a lot of football to watch just to see a few innovative commercials.

So this means I saw far more of the post-game coverage than anything else.

There are winners and losers in any sport, and one team walks away in celebration while the other goes home in defeat. For the losing quarterback it was too much to bear.

The cameras got a tight shot of the man sobbing. The broadcast director — the one choosing the camera shots that go to air — called the shot of the dejected player and then just held there for about five seconds which seemed like five hours. I’ve directed community television before and worked in broadcast as well, and the director in me was saying, ‘Enough already! Cut to another shot.’ (If it bleeds it leads, if it cries it…)

The next day the sports bloggers and talk radio hosts had a field day criticizing the quarterback. He was sulking. He was being unsportsmanlike. It was unprofessional.

Okay, I have a question: How is that the fans are allowed to abandon all emotional restraint cheering on their team, but the players themselves are not expected have any emotional investment in the game?

Carolina was the favorite going in. The championship game can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You’ve waited for this. You go in hoping for the win. If the win doesn’t happen it’s a loss, it’s a big loss.

My issue is the way the director held the shot for so long.

In the song Dirty Laundry, Don Henley sings, “People love it when you lose.” And “It’s interesting when people die.” (If you don’t know the song, at least play the first two verses, this is a lyric version.) In today’s world, what is considered good journalism is often close-ups of pain and suffering. Media ethics? Probably a somewhat sketchy field.

I did not hear of any of the sports bloggers or talk radio hosts criticizing the broadcast director. But to me, holding the shot as long as they did seemed equally unsportsmanlike. Yes, the same quarterback later walked out of the press conference, but maybe by doing that he was actually averting more emotional display.

For the crew at CBS: A flag on the play.

 

February 7, 2016

Orangutans Are Skeptical of Changes in Their Cages

Filed under: current events, politics — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 2:34 pm

So on Saturday night I was feeling a bit whimsical, so I tweeted:

Orangutans are skeptical of changes in their cages.

You can see it on my Twitter feed. Or maybe not. I just scrubbed it now realizing that I spelled orangutans wrong. #embarrassing

The reason I put that on Twitter is that I tuned in for the final half hour of A Prairie Home Companion on Saturday night only to find that I’d not only missed most of the live show, but the guest was Paul Simon. Definitely want to listen to more of that show on line.

So I listened to a few of Simon’s greatest hits on YouTube, including “At the Zoo” hence the tweet.

img020716But then I started reading my Twitter feed and realized that unless people were of a certain age and knew obscure Paul Simon lyrics, they would simply see it as a veiled reference to the Republican leadership debate, which was happening live at the same time.

Republicans are skeptical of changes in the cages?

Speaking from the perspective of someone who is part of that group called “America’s closest neighbors” do we really have to endure ten more months of this? The election — and that most complex of processes leading up to it — probably bumps many more important stories off the nightly news cycle. I suggested to more than one U.S. citizen that if they want to know what really happened in their country on a given day, they would learn more from BBC World Service or even Canadian news.

Right now it is caucus and primary season. You can lose in any state but still come up a winner if you’re continually adding to your number of delegates at the national convention. Proud Americans speaking glowingly of the beauty of the complexity on the road to Inauguration Day, but it’s not that there’s anything wrong with the system of getting to naming the Presidential nominee; rather, it’s the vast amounts of mental energy that are associated with the process.

Opinions on all matter political also consume vast amounts of water cooler time at the office and heated discussions around the kitchen table. And once a new U.S. President is chosen, from the first day, politicians and those who surround them will begin contemplating how that choice affects their prospects in the 2020 campaign. It’s a election process that now runs non-stop, 24/7 over connected four-year cycles.

To my readers, most of whom are Americans: I love your passion for the November election. But stay in touch with the larger, international news cycle. Keep in contact with the science, health, social justice, arts and economics news stories. Allow margin for non-election-related activities and discussions.

Engage with it, but don’t let it consume you.

January 18, 2016

Letter from Liberty University

Dear Mom and Dad,

Sorry I missed you when I tried to phone.

It’s hard to believe I’m already in my second semester of my freshman year. Classes are going well, and I was able to get a good deal on some textbooks.

I just wanted to tell you about something that happened today, because you’ll probably see it on the evening news.

Today Donald Trump came to speak to our chapel service. Well, it’s not really a chapel service, because calling it that messes up something; maybe it’s the accreditation, or state funding, or something. So they call it Convocation.

Anyway, Trump came to speak. Everybody was expected to attend. Somebody said there’s a $10 fine for skipping chapel, er, Convocation, so I went. The place was packed. Our president, Jerry Falwell Jr. took about 18 minutes — I checked the time on my phone — to introduce him, and mostly talked about the history of the college. I mean, we thought he was introducing Trump, but I think he kinda lost his way, not to mention spilling a glass of water and having his phone go off in the middle.

Then finally, Donald Trump walked on to the stage at our school, and spoke for 50 minutes.

Between that and being told last semester all the students should get a concealed carry permit — I mean nobody in our family even owns a hunting rifle — I’m kinda wondering what I’m doing here. I keep thinking that some people, like the Amish and the Mennonites and the Anabaptists don’t mix their politics with their faith the way we do here at Liberty U. And they get by without guns, too. And I’m reading that in other countries they don’t think like Americans do about religion and politics being so intertwined.

A few of my classmates are from Canada and they just roll their eyes anytime someone mentions government, or the debates, or the primaries or the election. They say it’s got nothing to do with what we are supposed to be learning.

Myself and two people in our dorm are driving to Pennsylvania this weekend to visit an Amish community. We’ve been invited to stay overnight. Some of them have a deal where you can do an extended stay and work with them on their farms. I’m thinking perhaps instead of doing my sophomore year right away I might —

–sorry, my R.A. is calling me to a dorm meeting. I’ll write again.

P.S.: Can you find out if we have any relatives in Canada?


Watch the entire Donald Trump event at Liberty (69 minutes) below or at this link.

January 16, 2016

Breaking: Saeed Abedini Released

Filed under: current events — Tags: — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:15 am

Saeed AbediniThis is breaking Saturday morning…

(CNN) Iran has freed four prisoners from the United States, including Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, Iran’s semi-official FARS news agency reported Saturday, citing Tehran’s prosecutor.

According to FARS, Iran freed Rezaian, Marine veteran Amir Hekmati and Christian pastor Saeed Abedini, who had been held on various charges…

…The release is part of a prisoner swap deal in which the United States reportedly freed six Iranian-Americans held on charges related to sanctions against Iran, FARS said…

…Abedini, an Iran native and convert to Christianity, was arrested in 2012 and convicted the next year on charges of attempting to undermine the Iranian government. He had been sentenced to eight years in prison.

More at CNN

I had heard last night something was happening and prayed, along with so many others for this very outcome.

Saeed Release ACLJ 1 Night Before

Saeed Release ACLJ 2 Next Morning

The ACLJ (American Center for Law and Justice) and its founderJay Sekulow have been most active in campaigning for Saeed’s release. 

A few of the previous stories here at Thinking Out Loud:

March 26, 2013

Continue Praying for Saeed

April 22, 2013

Pray for Saeed Abedini

September 17, 2013

Wife of Saeed Abedini Speaks at Liberty University

November 5, 2013

Next Few Hours Critical for Saeed Abedini

December 3, 2013

Free Saeed Abedini

December 1, 2015

God Talks to Bob, The Angel

One of the lesser-known angels, Bob works in the Issues Department that reports to the head of the Helping Them Work Out Their Salvation With Fear and Trembling Department. (They exist somewhat outside of linear time there, so departments can have long names.)


 

God: Hi Bob, I haven’t seen you for awhile.

Bob: But we exist somewhat outside of linear time, so what’s ‘awhile?’

God: You know what I mean. What have you been up to?

Bob: You’re omniscient. You know.

God: Work with me here, Bob; I’m just trying to have a conversation.

Bob: Well, things are settling down on the gay marriage file. I think people have decided where they stand and there’s less venom flying back and forth.

God: I’m not sure about that; the Mormon thing about refusing Baptism to kids of same sex couples kinda stirred up the debate a little lately.

Bob: Okay, so now that you mention them — the Mormons — are they part of our whole operation here?

God: I guess you’ll have to wait to find out… So what other files you working with?

Bob: Well there’s always issues involving just war versus pacifism, especially with the whole ISIS thing and what happened in Paris; and the Americans always have a unique take on things given the whole “right to bear arms” thing you gave them.

God: Bob, you’re doing it again. I gave them the ten commandments. You’re always mixing it up with the U.S. constitution.

Bob: Well, they seem to think the right to have guns is God given, and it divides Christians and non-Christians alike.

God: So maybe the Americans are up for something else to debate. What else ya got?

Bob: How about coffee cups.

God: Coffee cups? Seriously?

Bob: Well, red ones actually.

God: Next!

Bob: Okay, never mind. I’ve got them also wrestling with whether or not they should be taking in refugees from Syria. Again, even in the local churches, people are divided on this one.

God: That’s why it falls under your job description, Bob.

Bob: There are some really solid arguments on both sides, and until the refugees start to arrive, it’s hard to say what the whole process is going to look like. It’s really got them thinking and maybe a little worried.

God: And that’s why you’re in charge. This is a real test of how much they are thinking about what it means to follow me and know my ways and sense my heart on things like this.

Bob: But sometimes I think both sides make sense. I mean, no disrespect God, but if I were down there with them I don’t know which argument I would find more persuasive.

God: What do you think I would choose?

Bob: So there’s one clear and obvious answer? Let the refugees in? Keep the refugees out? Both are problematic.

God: I know. Your job is to make sure both sides of the debate have an opportunity to really consider what the other side is saying.

Bob: I just wish it wasn’t so complicated. There’s so much hanging in the balance for them of getting this decision right; both now and in the future.

God: What else you working on?

Bob: Well, I’ve been thinking also about something personal. I mean, I like my job and everything, but there aren’t a lot of angels named Bob and I was wondering if you had something a little more distinctive to offer…

 

 

 

November 19, 2015

Where Do We Go Post-Paris?

Filed under: Christianity, current events, issues, social justice — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:19 am

a guest post by Rick Webster*

To read this at source, click on the original title below:

Paris. Now What?

A few days ago there was a murderous rampage by members of the terrorist group ISIS on the streets of Paris. In light of such horrific events, and in their wake of the emotional trauma and fear, I’m left wondering what the Christian faith has to offer at times like these. Distance removes most of us from the victims, and takes us out of orbit to their pain. Few of the people reading this, if any, will have a role in directly comforting the victims, their families and loved ones. But you don’t need to be a Christian to comfort the afflicted. You just need to be a decent human being. So what does Christ-like faith have to offer the world at at time like this? Three thoughts come to mind:

  1. Transformative Justice. The work of the prophets is to call the nations of Israel and Judah to justice. Life in the ancient world was lived under the tremendous burdens of empire. Taxation was oppressive and political and economic systems were designed to keep the poor trapped in horrific poverty while the wealthy reaped the benefits of exploitation. There was no middle class in the ancient world; there were only the incredibly wealthy and the victims who supported their wealthy lifestyle. The Christian faith, at its core, calls for a radical reevaluation of how we live. To live with justice as per the ethos of the prophets and of Jesus Christ is to radically change the way we interact with others, bringing freedom from oppression, corruption and crushing poverty – the very conditions which radical fundamentalism needs to thrive.
  2. The Incarnation. One of the foundations  of Christian faith is the belief that Jesus is divine, and that he took on human form. Jesus being clothed in humanity is known as “The Incarnation.” The reason why our efforts in the middle east (and elsewhere) have failed so spectacularly, and continue to fail, and will continue to fail, is because we operate from the basis of empire to conquered people, and our work in the world suffers from colonialism and ethnocentrism. We operate from the perspective that if failing nation states are going be successful, they’re going to be like us, thus perpetuating the evils of our world. If we are to truly follow the way of Christ we are to become embedded in the culture of those we care about. If we are to follow the way of Christ we become a part of the social, cultural, political and economic lives of our friends. We can only effect positive change in the world, particularly in the middle east, from within the body of the ‘other’.
  3. Self-sacrificial Service. If we are to take the words of Matthew’s Gospel at face value, then we cannot help but acknowledge that Jesus “…came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Clearly, Jesus operated from a position of powerlessness, but the objective of his philosophy was to be a ransom – a rescue or redemption – for others. The Christian faith, as lived by it’s most noble practitioners, brings rescue or redemption to those enslaved, oppressed and to those denied hope. It takes a particular depth of faith to live with justice when we realize that we are the oppressor. The authentic voice of faith does not ask “How can I make you like me?” but rather, “How can I help you reach your full potential?”

I’m not naive enough to realize that we can live in a world without armies, and that our history will not continue to be blood-soaked and violent. But the Christian faith, contrary to popular belief and popular practice, is a radical, revolutionary call to live with justice and mercy, and offers the world compassion, redemption and hope. What Christian faith offers the world is the hope that this world, here and now, can be a better place and a vision for how we might get there.


*Rick Webster is the pastor of Third Space Church in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada and the author of Introducing Jesus: A Heart to Heart Encounter with the Most Influential Person in History.

 

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