Thinking Out Loud

April 5, 2013

Ken Wytsma: Evangelist for Justice

Sometimes books just show up unsolicited. When a copy of Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live and Die for Bigger Things by Ken Wytsma (with D. Jacobsen) arrived, my plan was to read about 50 pages and then thank the publisher (Thomas Nelson) with a passing reference in a “currently reading” blog post.

Pursuing Justice - Ken WytsmaInstead, this was literally a “can’t stop” book until, more than 300 pages later, I ran out of book. First time author Wytsma is president of Kilns College, an innovative school in Bend, Oregon which began with four night classes in 2008 and now offers 36 classes with a focus on missions and social justice. The website defines the purpose, “We didn’t want to simply provide a vocational Christian education. ”   He is also the founder of The Justice Conference, a two day annual event in Los Angeles which began in 2010 and will have its fourth event in Feburary, 2014.  He’s also a pastor at Antioch Church in Bend,  and writes at (K) blog.

Pursuing Justice is on the surface an easy to read primer on all the issues which social justice raises. Wytsma teaches philosophy, and approaches the topic from the vantage point of one wanting to know the heart of God in issues such as slavery, disease,  poverty, inequity, etc., but with a view to the “cluster concept” of the justice God desires that is rooted in the concepts of righteousness, ethics, integrity, truth, love, etc.  On closer examination, this title goes much deeper.

The book is a call to action on the part of the church, but that action has to be rightly considered. Don’t expect him to be a fan of your church’s next one-week mission trip unless the purpose of that trip is to build one-decade relationships. And I would add, don’t expect to grasp social justice through the reading of a book; Wytsma’s personal history in some world hotspots gives him both the credibility and the requisite passion on this subject; he has literally looked social justice in the eye.

And don’t think what happens a world away doesn’t matter, or that what we do in North America or Western Europe doesn’t impact the uttermost parts of the earth. In a visit to his daughter’s school — literally taking a friend from the Democratic Republic of The Congo for show-and-tell — a student asks if the visitor’s community has PlayStations. The African doesn’t get the question, and Wytsma actually tells the man to say no, but it’s really a lie of sorts because they do have the raw materials that make the PlayStations possible. It’s an awkward moment all round that underscores the complexity of life in a shrinking world.

As one who grew up at a time when Evangelicals neglected their social responsibilities, both locally and globally, Pursuing Justice is one of those books which, having read it, I need to start back at page one to fully absorb its  implicatons.  Each chapter is followed by an “interlude” and while the reason for that may have been artistic, it allowed some of us to catch our breath between topics in what is an incredibly complex topic.

Finally, while the book is certainly appropriate for a mass audience, its exhaustive examination of justice gives it a textbook quality. If you haven’t delved into this subject, or your reading is limited to one or two popular speakers, Pursuing Justice belongs on your bookshelf.

…Thanks to Wordle (and blogger Nicole) here’s another look at what the book is all about:

Pursuing Justice  - Top 25 Words

Watch a one-minute book trailer and read another excellent review at this blog.

February 7, 2010

Move Your Money

Move Your Money.

It’s a simple, three word slogan that expresses the anger a lot of people in the United States feel right now towards their six largest banking organizations.  The result is a movement that started with an editorial from the founder of Huffington Post, is seeing both individuals and branches of municipal and state governments taking their money out of the large banks and “bringing it home ” to locally owned banks and credit unions.  [Check out this 4-minute promotional video on YouTube.]

Toward the end of the week, the campaign was gaining momentum across the U.S., but a check of the Church and Christianity blogs on Alltop showed very, very few Christian bloggers were commenting on this latest development in the ongoing saga of U.S. bank failures and subsequent recession.

That’s a mistake.   While no one believes more strongly than I in the need for  Christian blogs that will maintain a faith focus, when large numbers of people in our society are moved to collective action, we can’t pretend that it’s more important to write about predestination or baptismal regeneration or the parsing of some text in the ESV.   There is a groundswell of major economic activity poised to take place at the grassroots level in the next two to three weeks, and it’s important for Christians to be part of the overall discussion.

It isn’t easy to disentangle yourself from your bank.   There are all sorts of ramifications for automatic payments, debit cards, direct deposits, bonds, investments, home loans, mortgages, etc., that have to be undone at one end, and reestablished at another end.   There are fees and penalties for early withdrawls.  You have to be really, really convicted about your principles to actually do something like this.

While we’re instructed to do nothing out of anger, we’re also supposed to be people of principle, willing to do something out of conviction. It’s easy to comment on this living one nation removed from the action, in a country where both our banks and the system of check and balances that govern them is solid, and in fact no banks failed.    But what if I were living in the United States?

I think the payment of huge bonuses — the absolute squandering of government bailout money — is grossly immoral.   You can protest, you can write letters to the editor, you can post things on your blog; but the best vote a U.S. banking customer has is the vote they make with their savings and checking (Brit./CDN = chequing) accounts.   Not to mention VISA, MasterCard and all the various debit cards.

To “do justice and love mercy” means that every believer has the potential and the mandate to be an agent of doing justice in a corrupt and fallen world.    It’s wrong to do nothing.  It also raises the questions of the banks being used by Churches and Christian charities.   Ask your Church treasurer where the Church’s deposits are held.

So I would move my money, right?   No.   I would have moved it long ago.   I can’t believe it’s taking Americans this long to wake up to the need for collective action.

June 2, 2009

General Motors: Not in Deepest Sympathy

General_MotorsWe were an hour from home in Toronto picking up a large order from a Christian book distributor when the car simply failed to do anything at all when the ignition key was inserted.    After consulting a local dealer by phone, we were told that the ignition system had ‘locked up,’ but to keep trying, which we did, eventually producing success.   We drove the car to that dealer where they told us — for free — what needed to happen at our local dealership when we got home so that we wouldn’t be stuck again.

We booked the car in the next day to the closest General Motors franchise.   They were less than pleased that the Toronto dealership had “diagnosed” the problem.   There is a fee for that now, which is usually a minimum of a half-hour at normal shop rates.   Because the Toronto people had already “diagnosed” the problem, they had to fix it locally without being able to render the extra charge.

An hour later, the car was returned to me, but as soon as I started it, something was wrong.   The CD/radio was not displaying anything.   No FM station frequencies, no CD track numbers, and most importantly, no time of day, a feature I have come to depend on in a car.

Their argument?   How do we know it was working when you brought the car in?    A nice Catch-22 style stalemate.    However, I was not to be trifled with on this.   So they agreed that they would put the car back into a service bay and then determine if they could fix the radio.

But none of their service guys would open the hood.   In order for them to be paid, there has to be chargeable work being done on the car, which then goes on their timecard.    This type of goodwill investigation was not part of the shop service schedule.    Again, I was not about to be messed around, so some kinder, gentler mechanic pulled the radio and did some checking.

In the end, they couldn’t fix it.   An independent, local mechanic found a compatible CD/Radio at a wrecker, and $250 worth of parts and labour later, I had a working clock and music system.    The local representative for General Motors of Canada said they didn’t break it, they weren’t going to fix it, and they weren’t going to pay for it.

That was many, many years ago.   I have never set foot in a GM dealership since, and I currently have no intention of ever owning another GM vehicle.

…At this point, you may be wondering where this fits into the Christian theme of this blog, or the idea of grace in general.   “I’ve always enjoyed this blog;” you’re saying, “But today you seem pretty angry.”

It doesn’t fit.   Being a Christ follower means that I probably restrained myself from other forms of protest.  It also means that while I harbour nothing against the the individual service manager and his mechanics,  I can disagree violently with the ‘system’ that they represent on the basis of the Biblical concept of justice.    (I would extend the argument and suggest that I’m not sure that any Christian can carry on employment in a workplace that has unfair trade policies.)   It means that, in terms of that car, I am “forgetting what lies behind.”

gm_10bil_moreSo how do I process the news of this week concerning General Motors?  I know a number of people who are GM employees, who have enjoyed a unique, special, privileged opportunity to work with wages and benefits others can’t begin to imagine.   It bothers me to think those same employees possibly wouldn’t pick up a tool to check a vehicle that arrived in a service bay working and is now not working, but in fact, we’re dealing essentially with the same company.   The parent company establishes the rules. I know these people socially, but in their workplace, they would have had to tow the company line.  The end of that unique opportunity for those employees is a consequence of the company’s overall attitude.

I don’t want to see people unemployed, but those employees had a great ride, and are now dealing with the impossibility of the economics they enjoyed.   There were a number of flaws in the GM model, not just as I experienced in the service bay, but in sales, marketing, product development and of course compensation paid to its staff.

No matter how iconic a company is, if the model isn’t working, eventually, the chickens will come home to roost.  Do you bail out Coca Cola or Kelloggs or — perish the thought — WalMart because they are American icons?  At a certain point you have to let the company die, or else nobody has learned anything.   You end up with — and this is where traces of morality enter — economics without consequences.     Companies can take all kinds of risks even if the model won’t hold together in a tough economy because, when the dam breaks, the government will be there with a rescue and bailout.

Sorry.  If you offer that to GM, you have to offer it to everyone.   On Monday, June 1st, 2009, the governments of the United States and Canada should have simply let General Motors die and then let market forces rebuild an new auto industry from scratch.

No, there’s not a lot of grace in that.   But there is a lot of justice, even though it would have hurt.    As of now the taxpayers of both nations own ‘stock’ in a monster-sized company which may or may not succeed long term.   This had better be the greatest comeback story on record, but I fear history will record it differently than that.

May 8, 2009

Lotteries: Winning Has a Price

Filed under: economics, ethics — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:38 pm

lotteryA month ago The Toronto Star carried an article about a man who won the $14M (CDN) grand prize in a Canadian lottery and how his life since then has become increasingly complicated.   [see From Jolly Butcher to Disillusioned Millionaire.]    It’s a frequently echoed them among lottery winners.   One suspects that — like various other contests — coming in second or third might be a safer option.

Most people who read this blog are Christians, so the odds are — pun somewhat intended — that fewer of us actually play the lottery and therefore there isn’t a lot of connection or emotion attached to this particular topic.   It is, as Mrs. W. often says, “SEP;” which stands for “someone else’s problem.”

But when I read the story, I wrote a letter to the editor at The Star. Most bloggers have enough creative outlet online that writing letters to newspaper editors is probably considered somewhat passé.   I gotta admit, it takes a lot to get me worked up enough to write one.    However…

There needs to be a cap on lottery winnings.

Furthermore, you don’t have to play the lottery to be concerned about an issue like this.    Finally, you don’t have to feel that an issue like this abandons all connection to one’s faith.   If pharmacies are selling a pill that can be harmful, Christ-followers should be among the loudest calling for its withdrawl from the market.

Doing justice.   Loving mercy.    Protecting the weak.   Highlighting truth.   Warning the naive.   Helping the hurting.   Etc.  Etc.  Etc.   Forty people winning $350,000 instead of one winning $14M.    Changing the “we need big prizes to attract more players” mentality.   Being willing to temporarily set aside the addiction issue to address the fairness issue.

Here’s what I wrote:

Saturday’s front-page piece on lottery winner Jose Lima reinforces the need for there to be a cap on lottery winnings.  There is only so much one individual can enjoy before that same “good luck” turns into a negative force.

Lottery companies will insist that it’s the large amounts that attract players, but that’s simply how the public has been conditioned.    Clever marketers could just as easily stress the potential number of winners rather than the size of the big prize.    The charity lotteries have been doing that for years.

There hasn’t been a lottery ticket in our home for about fifteen years — and that one was a gift from a customer.   But I think you’re allowed to feel passionate about things affecting the larger society, even if they aren’t part of your personal routine.

If you got here from a “lottery” tag, you may have sensed already that this is one of those “Christian” blog pages.   Lottery ticket buying can definitely be a form of addictive behavior.   Don’t be afraid to get help if you need it.     Sometimes, it’s easy to think that the only hope for a change in our personal situation would be something like winning a lottery.    Christ-followers often don’t play the lottery, not because we’re more holy or more righteous, but because we’re learning to trust in God to meet our daily needs and help us through lean economic times.

We believe that God has revealed a lot of who he is and what he’s like in manifesting his presence here on earth in the person of Jesus Christ, who, while he was fully God, also lived here as fully human.    And we’re told in his human situation, he was “tempted in every way that we are.”   Hmmm.   Do you think Jerusalem had a lottery or a casino?

December 3, 2008

Recession Action Plan for Churches and Ministries

Filed under: Christianity, Church, economics, missions — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:30 pm

Love reading the comments after bloggers post a question, but love it more when they go back a few days later and give us all a summary.   Andrew Jones does just that this week:

Top 5 Ways for Ministries to Get Over the Recession

Thanks everyone for last week’s discussion. I have collated the best ideas below on how to get over the recession and added, as I usually do, my own thoughts.

– Seek God. (Mike Lane) Maybe this recession is an opportunity for a midcourse correction, a time to reconnect with God, retool and get ready for the next season.

– Restructure training and gathering events to make them accessible and sustainable (Becky Garrison, Charlie Boyd) Give preference to local leadership for teaching over long-distance celebrity speakers (Rob Karch) In your thinking, think about houses instead of hotels, kitchens instead of restaurants, festivals instead of conferences, joining something larger rather than starting your own.

– Start micro-businesses (Zack Newsome, Bill, Mike, Bill Cummings). Start something. Start a few things. Its a great way of becoming financially sustainable and it also opens new doors into the community. Social enterprise and micro-business has been a normal activity for overseas mission for many centuries.

– Move in together. (Mike Todd, Andrew Jackson) Intentional Community is a wonderful way for a small community young people to mature together. Its ridiculous that we all need big empty houses for one or two people. Fill up those empty bedrooms. Maximize what you already have, or think about downsizing. And no . . . I am not suggesting you move in with your girlfriend.

– Live frugally – (Jordon Cooper). Beware of credit. Learn from the monks who took vows of frugality and poverty. Borrow stuff instead of buying it (Luke 10). Learn to cook. Learn how to do all kinds of stuff you don’t know how to do. Walk instead of drive.

November 13, 2008

Donald Miller on Capitalism’s Influence on the Church

free-market-jesusToday we watched the curriculum DVD, Free Market Jesus, produced by Bluefish TV for use as either a one week or two week small group teaching.   As a single viewing, Miller’s lecture runs 61 minutes; as a speaker, Miller is soft spoken, engaging and very focused on his topic.

I couldn’t help but notice a similarity between this and the two Rob Bell full-length lectures I’ve reviewed previously on this blog.   Whereas Bell’s Everything is Spiritual deals with science, while his The God’s Aren’t Angry deals with anthropology; Donald Miller’s Free Market Jesus deals with economics; the influence that profit-driven capitalism has had on two institutions:  the Church and the family.  Together, these three lectures make a great trilogy.   I only wish that, like Bell’s full length DVDs these were a retail commodity instead of a more-expensive curriculum product.

After showing how the Church looked toward free market economics as a model for growth and structure, the second half of the lecture deals with God’s model for Church and family.   It’s one of those, “How did we get on this subject?” moments that transitions suddenly, but well.   As a curriculum product, there’s lots of room for discussion here.   I watched some of this twice.

Well, that’s how I saw it; but as we often do at Thinking Out Loud, here’s some of the publisher marketing.

The average American encounters more than 3000 advertisements each day. The formula for most ads is:

  1. You are not happy
  2. You will be happy if you purchase this product.

How has this overwhelming commercial message shaped our view of spirituality, the church and Jesus?

In Free Market Jesus, Donald Miller illustrates how culture always serves as a lens for our understanding of Christianity.  He then addresses how scripture defines spirituality and why the scripture is still relevant in our modern culture.

November 10, 2008

Hope In Troubled Times

Environment, wealth-distribution, security, consumerism, global concerns….

In the newsletter which preceded this blog, I wrote a sort of mini-review of a book co-authored by a guy who lives in our local area, Mark Vander Veenen.   Hope in Troubled Times other co-authors are Bob Goudzwaard and David Van Heemst.   This  is not light reading; rather, it’s more reminiscent of my university texts.   I am still picking it up from time to time and pressing on into new sections of it.

hope-in-troubled-timesThe book deals with both the mechanics and underlying philosophy of confronting social, economic and political change.   Reading it in smaller increments, as I am, certainly provokes thought on a number of issues including: national identity, personal security, prosperity and consumerism, resource and wealth distribution, increasing terrorism, modernization, global economies, environmental concerns, etc.

This volume’s beginning can be traced back to Bob Goudzwaard’s book Idols of our Time which Mark translated from Dutch to English where it became a text for many years in political science courses taught by David Van Heemst.    What wonderful company:  the other two authors hold doctoral degrees and the book’s foreword is by Desmond Tutu, no less!

This is a book written by Christians, released in 2007 through a Christian publisher, Baker Books, but don’t expect to find scripture on every page, or any page for that matter.   But you can’t miss the hope for redeeming the world, even in our time.   A great gift for the academic or serious reader concerned about the ‘macro’ issues of our world.

November 7, 2008

The Evangelical Drug of Choice: Consumption

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:57 pm

Not sure who first said this,

“Modern man spends his time eating and drinking himself into oblivion … or he goes shopping which is the same thing.”

Consumption has become the evangelical drug of choice.   (I’ll bet you thought it was coffee!)   For lapsed churchgoers, the mall is the new cathedral.


Part of the 50-Word Blog Challenge at the blog, 22 Words

(This hits 50 dead on!   Is AP looking for potential replacements?)

October 7, 2008

A Recession Could Make Us Rich Again

Filed under: Christianity, economics, Faith — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:07 am

While nobody wants to go through a long period of economic hardship, Jim Upchurch, who blogs at Served by Christ sees a spiritual upside:

A Recession Could Make Us Rich Again

While I don’t necessarily want to go through a economic recession, it’s worth thinking about what could be gained from it… especially for us Christians. The church at Laodicea thought they were rich, prosperous, without a need and without a care. But really, they were naked, poor, blind, and helpless.

Could it be that we’ve become like them? Could it be that because of our wealth, we think we’re all just fine, when really we’ve become lukewarm towards Christ? A recession could make us rich again, if it causes us to…

  • forsake the easy, lukewarm way of indifference towards Christ.
  • be content in hunger and in need (Phil. 4:10-13).
  • turn away from the lie that material wealth saves (Mk. 8:36).
  • turn back to Jesus, in whom all true riches are found (Ps. 16:11).
  • remember that Jesus became poor so we could be rich by his poverty (2 Cor. 8:9).

How else could a recession make us rich?

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