Thinking Out Loud

November 2, 2018

You Can’t Throw Money in the Kettle if You Don’t Carry Cash

For 120 years, The Salvation Army’s Christmas kettles have been synonymous with the holiday season and the spirit of giving. Kettles are already on the streets in more than 2,000 locations across Canada, collecting spare change and cash from passersby to help us serve more than 1.7 million vulnerable people in 400 communities across the country each year.

After a break of a few years, we’re back with another year of providing our online friends in Canada an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of people in need. (American readers: Just wait a few paragraphs!) The program in Canada is called iKettle. Any of my Canadian readers can host a kettle with a few clicks of the mouse.

So first this is where my Canadian* blog readers kick in. You can’t toss spare change in the kettles anymore because you pay for everything with plastic cards, and you don’t get change. Any bills in your wallet are probably there for emergencies. Plus, while it pains me to say this, a lot of you shop online and don’t even have the collection kettles in your face anymore. (Maybe that’s why you shop online!)

So here’s where you go to contribute*

Donations stay in the community where you live, so if that’s Winnipeg or Calgary or Ottawa or Halifax or some place in-between, that’s where the money will be applied to the Salvation Army Family Services branch; including smaller towns where they have an active presence.

I really hope you’ll help us launch this over this weekend. We will be repeating this appeal on the blog several times during. Our giving can meet the needs both in overseas relief and development and in the cities and towns closer to home. This is an opportunity to do something on the domestic front in yet another year that’s been rough on many people.

*For my American readers there is a secure online donation website just for you.

There are also online opportunities to give in most parts of the world where the Salvation Army operates.

This is a trusted, respected ministry. When you give, you’re giving locally. But don’t just give. Consider volunteering. Share the link to this article with Facebook friends. And by all means, find one of the many books that tell the William Booth or Salvation Army story and read every page.

Do your giving
while you’re living
so you’re knowing
where it’s going.

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February 26, 2018

Guns: The Road to Beating Swords into Plowshares

Today we move away from our usual faith-focused writing to something being discussed in the broader culture which, especially if you follow my Twitter feed, is a topic that’s been inescapable, even when writing one country away. That’s not to say that social justice issues should not be front-and-center for the Christ follower…

Another way is possible. I firmly believe that. But I will be accused of not being entirely realistic. Right now, the choke-hold the NRA has on the American public seems unchangeable. I’d like to give you some hope with two examples. You don’t have to buy in on both of them, just pick the one you like the best.


The Bell Telephone Breakup of 1984

In short, the U.S. government broke up a very, very large corporation because it was deemed in the public interest to do so.

At the time of the Bell system breakup in 1984, the monopoly advantages enjoyed by the company (which were wrongly attributed to the free market, not government favoritism) had created an economic behemoth with $150 billion in assets, $70 billion in revenues, and a million employees. The Justice Department had determined that the company had grown too big, however, and filed suit under the Sherman Antitrust Act in 1974. The case, United States v. AT&T, was settled by a consent decree in January 1982, under which the company agreed to give up its 22 local exchange service companies, but keep its interests in Bell Labs and Western Electric. The 22 companies were divided into seven independent Regional Bell Operating Companies, RBOCs, or “Baby Bells.” AT&T continued to operate its long-distance services.

…But the competition that AT&T had been successfully avoiding for so many years very quickly took its toll on a company not used to competition. AT&T’s Computer Systems venture failed; its purchase of NCR was a notable failure as well; and Bell Labs and Western Electric were sold to Lucent. The Western Electric manufacturing plant was eventually closed in the face of foreign competition. AT&T wound up being purchased by one of the RBOCs, Southwestern Bell, now SBC Communications, in 2005.

In the midst of “Ma Bell’s” troubles came the Telecommunications Act (TCA) of 1996, which was designed to open up the long-distance telephone service markets that had been closed to competitors since the consent decree. The act also forced incumbents to allow newcomers to enter their markets by giving them access to their own infrastructure, which was meant to allow competition. But the TCA didn’t lead to multiple companies working to improve existing long-distance service. What the TCA did, instead, was allow the free market to provide lower rates and better service to customers while resulting in the consolidation of the seven Baby Bells to the point now where there are essentially only two competing companies providing traditional hard-wire, plain old telephone service (POTS): AT&T and Verizon.

-Bob Adelmann writing in The New American, May, 2010

It’s worth adding that this was a business, whereas the NRA is a non-profit. Despite its status, the government stepped in to undo the monopoly market.


The Abolition of Slavery

13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Abolition of Slavery:
Passed by Congress on January 31, 1865, and ratified on December 6, 1865, the 13th amendment abolished slavery in the United States and provides that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”.

-from archives.gov

Let’s not miss that this radical change in the social order involved a change to the — now treated as sacrosanct; untouchable — Constitution of the United States.

There’s another parallel as well; a National Geographic page on the history of Slavery invites readers to:

Browse through a timeline of America’s ‘peculiar institution’

in other words, while slavery existed and continues to persist in other parts of the world, the situation was unique to the United States and was eventually deemed untenable.

Sound familiar? 

Wikipedia adds another parallel:

Since the American Revolution, states had divided into states that allowed and states that prohibited slavery. 

in other words, like the situation today, much was state regulated but was overturned by a federal act.

See the similarities?


I know statistically that in this blog’s dominantly U.S. readership there are people who are opposed to gun reform and people who don’t see what’s wrong with the status quo. I really despair being drawn into the vortex of this discussion.

But for those who long for a different day — long for the realization of the dream of ‘beating swords into plowshares*– I wanted to provide some hope.


*Found in two passages:

The LORD will mediate between nations and will settle international disputes. They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore.
-Isaiah 2:4 (NLT)

He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.
-Micah 4:3 (NIV)

December 26, 2016

Moving from Charity to Justice

Filed under: Christianity, social justice — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:34 am

I didn’t want to rain on anyone’s parade in the run-up to the 25th — even passing on the annual Shoebox Rant — but now that you’ve delivered the food hampers, and (hopefully) done your annual year-end giving to overseas mission projects, it’s time to ask the larger questions. After all, Christmas, 2017 is only 364 days away. This first appeared here in December, 2009 without a link or further annotation and may have originated here. Don’t rush through this; take the time to consider each point and how it might find application in your community in 2017.

Charity - Justice

 

July 15, 2016

North Point Community Church on Race Relations in America

North Point July 10 2016

Sometimes it seems like we’ve gone back to the 1960s. The state of the relationship between black and white seems to be at a low that the present generations have not witnessed since the race riots of the ’50s and ’60s. Furthermore, it seems to be getting worse.

Has this — police violence against black people — been going on longer than we know? All I can say is that in this case, I’m thankful that phones now have cameras, and that we have social media to spread the word. (See also the book review here a few days ago for Shane Claiborne’s new book, where he also covers the history of black lynching in America.) Media holds us to a higher level accountability. (I’m reminded of Luke 8:17, Luke 12:2, and even the unique wording of Acts 26:26… You can run but you can’t hide.)

Last weekend, Andy Stanley at North Point Community Church in Atlanta preempted his schedule sermon to have a discussion about the subject with Sam Collier & Joseph Sojourner. The day before he Tweeted: “When you decide to rewrite your message on your day off… Don’t miss church tomorrow!” This church service was rather spontaneous.

I had hoped to embed the message here somehow, but I’ll point you to the link and trust you to click through. This will involve about 45 minutes of your time. (They sing only two songs, have one baptism, and go straight into the interview.) If you have any interest at all on this topic, I assure you that once you start, you’ll want to stay with most of what follows. It’s worth at least watching about 20 minutes of this.

A large percentage of the U.S. population should not have to live in fear from the very people sworn to serve and protect.

Here’s the link to North Point Online.

July 11, 2016

Shane Claiborne’s Treatise on Capital Punishment

Executing Grace

Shane Claiborne’s latest, Executing Grace is a well-written, well-researched and well-annotated look at the history of capital punishment in the United States. It is both gently persuasive and passionately persuasive at the same time. It is a thorough, exhaustive treatment of the subject from a perspective that is both Biblical and Christ-centered. It’s definitely one of the best books I’ve read on any issue. End of review…

…Sitting in my backyard, on Canadian soil, reading Executing Grace: How The Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why It’s Killing Us, by Shane Claiborne (HarperOne) is a rather strange experience, especially in the wake of a week of violence in the U.S. that has fueled discussions on racial discrimination and injustice. I don’t usually cover U.S.-interest books, preferring to devote my review time to things that are of equal interest to people in Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, etc.

I made an exception to this partly because I’ve tasted the writer’s passion after following him on Twitter for a few years. No execution in the U.S. escapes his gaze, and with each one, there is horrible lament. You feel Claiborne’s pain with every new case, and then, after the act is carried out, his sorrow. He’s like one crying in the wilderness, but for him, it must feel like spitting into the wind. There are churches in many southern states who I expect are definitely not keeping him on their short list as a guest speaker any time soon. Such is the life for those who choose to speak with a prophetic voice.

The book brings together an avalanche of material, there are simply so many cases to draw on. Again, from my backyard chair, I have to ask, ‘Why am I even allowed to read this; why would the powers that be allow this book to be exported out of the U.S.?’ The situation is one that I believe any self-respecting nation would find — how do I put this — rather embarrassing. These are not stories you want the world to read, even one at a time, let alone assembled in a single collection. America’s history, on this issue, is rather stained; the atrocities of the era of lynchings only replaced by a more civilized-looking substitute containing an air of due process.

While the book has more than a dozen chapters — each fulfilling a specific function — they are united in their presentation of the contrast between capital punishment as a means of avenging or making right a capital crime on the one hand, and the idea of grace and mercy on the other. You have to ask yourself which side of the issue you’re on.

The reading of the book eventually becomes subjective. I’m getting angrier and angrier as I read of cases where innocent people were executed for crimes they did not commit. Or spent decades of their adult life behind bars until their innocence was finally proven to be true. Or tortured on death row with dates for their execution that were constantly revised and pushed back. Or executed by so-called modern, sophisticated means which prove to be barbaric; the death process dragging out to 30 minutes or an hour or perhaps not working at all.

But the very anger at injustice that I’m feeling lands me solidly at the point of recognizing the system as flawed; yearning for reforming the system. I’m not a U.S. citizen, but it makes you want to work for change. How does my own country fare? While there are references to capital punishment’s top five nations, I don’t recall a reference to Canada, and England is only mentioned in passing. This is a Made-in-America problem which requires a Made-in-America solution.

As with the situation in the U.S. last week, the church can be the leading agent for social change, but unfortunately, we don’t speak with a single voice on this issue. The greatest number of state-sanctioned executions take place in what is termed the Bible belt, and last year one prominent Southern Baptist leader wrote a piece for a major media outlet on why he supports the death penalty.

If you read this book, it will make you angry as well, frustrated, and rather sad, however you can’t not read something like this. As Claiborne states so clearly, knowing what is going on — having the information — is vital to a change in attitudes and practice to take place. For those of us who claim Christ as our Lord, we are complicit in the killings if we remain silent, or simply defer the matter to elected officials. 

The penultimate chapter is a crash course on restorative justice. For some, raised and saturated in a world of eye-for-an-eye, punitive justice this will be a stretch; an awakening. It proposes a paradigm shift of epic proportions, and yet is strangely appealing, offering the hope of a new way forward.

December 18, 2015

Strike Up The (Salvation Army) Band!

Fill the Kettle

At this time of year, my thoughts always turn to the great work done by The Salvation Army around the world. It’s too bad that William Booth wasn’t Roman Catholic, because he would definitely get my vote for sainthood. Or to be more particular, I see William (along with wife Catherine) as:

  • the patron saint of all who do urban ministry
  • the patron saint of all who work with the poor
  • the patron saint of all who help people dealing with addictions
  • the patron saint of all involved with what we now call missional outreach

The first and second may appear similar but they’re not. Urban Ministry deals with more than just poverty, and poverty can strike those in the suburbs. (Trust me, this I know firsthand.)

As to my 4th point, I’ve written here before how in some respects the Booths invented missional. Their story should be required reading at all junctures of ministry training. I’ve posted this here and on Twitter more than once:

Q: Why are there no Salvation Army bloggers?

A: While everybody else is writing about it, The Salvation Army is out there doing it.

This year the Army celebrated its 150th anniversary. While reading an infographic on the back page of the Canadian edition of Salvationist I learned a few things.

  • Although 1865 is considered the year of its founding, it was 1877 before Elijah Cadman began introducing military terminology
  • A year later, The Fry Family introduced the first Salvation Army band in 1878
  • The Army is now active in 126 countries
  • The Army has built 350 hospitals, health centers and clinics
  • The Army has founded 2,700 schools

In my part of the world this is the time of year the local corps (congregation) raises its entire year’s budget for the Family Services division. They can’t shake the sleigh bells anymore — retailers think it’s too disruptive, though the atmosphere it creates is great — but they are present in or at a number of grocery/department stores here.

Salvation Army Christmas 2012Many people here don’t carry cash anymore. For that there are online kettles in most parts of the world where the Salvation Army operates.

This is a trusted, respected ministry. When you give, you’re giving locally. (Do your giving / while you’re living / so you’re knowing / where it’s going.) But don’t just give. Consider volunteering. Share the link to this article with Facebook friends. And by all means, find one of the many books that tell the William Booth or Salvation Army story and read every page.

Also check out these Booth quotations.

 

 

 

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.

 

October 16, 2015

Imagine Being Told to Spend 3 Hours a Day Standing in the Corner for 3 Years

My mom lives in a long-term care seniors facility. I haven’t written much about that here because frankly, I am saving up a lot of the things that have happened there for a much, much larger media forum. I’m a writer after all, and for the sake of those who will follow her, which in a sense includes you and me, I want to try to do some good.

On her floor there are two dining rooms, each one seats about 30 people. When she arrived there, she was assigned to the table in the farthest corner, and in the seat that faces the corner. She really can’t see anything else that goes on in the room, nor can she tell when a server is nearby or approaching so she can ask for something. There is a window, but the tables are on an angle, so her best view is of the roof of the adjoining part of the building.

In her previous facility, they had a great system. Each person rotated one seat to the right every month. Once or twice the whole bunch of them got to move to a different table. It made for change, and it also created equity.

seniorsIn this facility, nearly a year went by and she started to feel the inhumanity of her seat assignment. So I started asking questions on her behalf. The treatment I got was about equal to what she was experiencing.

“In order to change her seat, we would have to contact the families of the other three people at her table;” I was told. Really? Seriously?

I told them that I would not want or need to be contacted if her seat at the dining room was being changed. I don’t even see the relevance of family being part of which table she sits at. In that exchange, I really felt I was being played for a fool.

Soon it will be three years. She’s a rather slow eater, so we’re talking three hours a day. Every day. Every week. Every month. For three years. Staring into the corner. No visible indication of what’s going on in the rest of the dining room. Not given the dignity of honoring her request for a change…

…On Wednesday she told me that a woman at her table had spilled some soup. She cleaned it up herself with a paper napkin, and then proceeded to eat the napkin.

“Why;” my wife asked, “Would you want to be party to seeing more of that?”

It’s a fair question. But I think she (and we) should have some choice in the matter.

I’ve appealed this before all the way to the top. Usually, when I do things like this on behalf of people, either logic or a sense of justice wins. Not this time.

Did I mention this is a “Christian-owned” facility? It’s run by the “Benevolent Association” of a large Evangelical denomination. Benevolent to whom, exactly? What’s worse, decades ago she was a long-time volunteer at this same facility. Her own mother and mother-in-law were residents. Her picture appears in their commemorative, anniversary book. And she’s treated like crap.

Right now my prayer is that the people who head up this place find themselves, when they reach that golden age, placed in residence at the facility they now manage.

It will be a most appropriate revenge.

 

September 15, 2015

Imagine 100 Jets Crash Killing 26,000…and the Next Day it Happens Again

World Vision president Richard Stearns in the book, The Hole in Our Gospel: The Answer that Changed My Life and Might Just Change the World (Thomas Nelson, ECPA Christian Book of the Year, 2009)

Whenever a major jetliner crashes anywhere in the world, it inevitably sets off a worldwide media frenzy covering every aspect of the tragedy.  I want you to imagine for a moment that you woke up this morning to the following headline:  “One Hundred Jetliners Crash, Killing 26,500.”  Think of the pandemonium this would create across the world as heads of state, parliaments and congresses convened to grapple with the nature and causes of this tragedy.  Think about the avalanche of media coverage that it would ignite around the globe as reporters shared the shocking news and tried to communicate its implications for the world.  Air travel would no doubt grind to a halt as governments shut down airlines and panicked air travelers cancelled their trips.  The National Transportation Safety Board and perhaps the FBI, CIA, and local law enforcement  agencies and their international equivalents would mobilize investigations and dedicate whatever manpower was required to understand what happened and to prevent it from happening again.

Now imagine that the very next day, one hundred more planes crashed – and one hundred more the next, and the next, and the next.  It is unimaginable that something this terrible could ever happen.

But it did – and it does.

It happened today, and it happened yesterday.  It will happen again tomorrow.  But there was no media coverage.  No heads of state, parliaments or congresses stopped what they were doing to address the crisis and no investigations were launched.  Yet more than 26,500 children died yesterday of preventable causes related to their poverty, and it will happen again today and tomorrow and the day after that.  Almost 10 million children will be dead in the course of a year.  So why does the crash of a single plane dominate the front pages of newspapers across the world while the equivalent of one hundred planes filled with children crashing daily never reaches our ears?  And even though we now have the awareness, the access,  and the ability to stop it, why have we chosen not to?  Perhaps one reason is that these kids who are dying are not our kid; they’re somebody else’s.

pp 106-107

September 4, 2014

Technology and Culture Shifts Further Marginalize the Poor

Filed under: social justice — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:34 am

It’s our first time in the United States in nearly two years and one of our greatest challenges remains trying to find a land line on which to make phone calls back to the mother ship. The U.S. basically trashed all the pay phones. They have disappeared completely from downtown streets, malls and train stations. You have to have a mobile phone here to survive. Or else.

Our cell phone is somewhat useless down here, though this time around we did purchase a ‘service pack’ which allows us to make a total of 20 minutes in calls, and allows us no data. It really cramps our style.

But I keep thinking of what it does to those who can’t afford a cell phone at all. Who can no longer call the 800-number for the government agency that might be able to help whatever challenge they are currently facing. Or call 911 in a crisis.

I was reminded of this when we were here a few years ago in the middle of the conversion from analogue television to digital television. You know who that impacted greatly? The poor. The people who could least afford to trash their old style TV sets for something new.

And the other thing we’re noticing this time around is how the casino is at the center of life for everyone in almost every town, whether they actually have a casino or not.  Gambling and lottery sales have been referred to as “a tax on the poor.”

Overall, I’m not impressed with how America treats its poor. I know the country presently faces some other challenges, including one very big one — the spectre of another war — but the two technology examples and the growth of the casino industry concern me greatly, as they should concern you.

I don’t like where I see this heading.

 

 

 

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