Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Fringe Encounters

Over the last five days I’ve had the opportunity to hear some great lectures. Last week, at Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, PA, I heard Brian McLaren speak for three hours on the “emerging” church. This week, at Princeton Theological Seminary's Forum on Youth Ministry I’ve had the privilege of hearing one of North America’s most widely read theologians Douglas John Hall, emeritus Professor of Christian Theology at McGill University, Montreal, Canada. I’ve also heard Harold J. Recinos, who grew up literally homeless on the streets of New York City but is now a Professor of Church and Society at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology (as well as an Ordained elder Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church). What struck me about each of these lectures was despite each of their diverse perspectives and topics, when they spoke on the future of Christianity each of them were hitting upon much of the same themes.

While McLaren has primarily been known for beginning the conversation about the “emerging” church (as one seminary student put it the other day, he’s “the grandfather-figure of the emerging church movement”), much of his time lately has been spent trying to give “shape” and give “definition” to that movement. To gain insight into this, he has traveled extensively world wide—including to Africa. In doing so McLaren not only has gotten a sense of what’s happening in the “emerging” church but also in the Christian Church or catholic church. (I’ve been putting “emerging” in quotes because most leaders of the “emerging” church are not happy with that title, more on that later.) What McLaren has found is that “emerging” church has appealed to those “on the fringes” of the mainline Churches or with those who are discontented with the wrappings of traditional Christianity. “Fringe” is a term McLaren uses to describe those in the “emerging” church. What appeals to those on the fringe is what McLaren and others emphasize as the “Ancient-Future” connection. In short, it’s Christianity without the baggage, Christianity without the conquest, Christianity without Christendom.

When McLaren analyses the rest of the world he finds hope for the future of Christianity. Between liberal Europe with all its bleakness and the conservative Global south with its rise to prominence McLaren sees the “emerging” church as the common ground. This is one of the reasons why he doesn’t like the term “emerging.” “It’s not ‘emerging’ from anything,” he says “it’s converging. It’s a moving away from the extremes toward the center.” McLaren used to call this a “generous orthodoxy,” now he simply calls it a “convergence.” What McLaren implies by this is that if the “emerging” church can successfully navigate the terrain between the “conservative” and “liberal” religious philosophies, it can reverse the decline seen in mainline congregations by turning Christianity back into a religious movement. It’s a conversation, a dialogue, a convergence without collision.

Not only does Douglas John Hall agree on this point, he agrees on others as well. Hall agrees that Christianity has a future. In the first of Hall’s two lectures, he outlined the rise of Christendom, how it differed from ancient Christianity, and the factors that have gone into the slow deconstruction of Christendom. Hall attests that in order to successfully define or “shape” the future of Christianity (as McLaren is trying to do) Christians must be faithful to the original vision of the movement and rethink or unlearn what the Western World (i.e. American culture, an offspring of Christendom), has taught them. This sounds remarkably similar to the “emerging” church’s “Ancient-Future” connection. Furthermore, Hall claimed that Christianity is left to chart its course in the “gray area” left in the wake of the simultaneous rise of Christendom, which spawned the modern day Church, and the deconstruction of Christendom, which began in the Enlightenment and continues to this day. To me, this was reminiscent of McLaren’s comment about the Church successfully navigating the terrain between the “conservative” and “liberal” religious philosophies, albeit in somewhat different verbiage.

Harold J. Recinos’s take is from a slightly different angle, which is not surprisingly, considering his background. An anthropologist, Recinos looks at the future through the eyes of the outcast. While Recinos agrees that the church has a future he argues that the future will lie in shaping and defining the culture, not the church. Where? The media? Technology? Consumerism? No. On the margins of society: the fringe. Because Jesus came from Nazareth, in Galilee, thought to be a worthless place, God affirmed the marginalized in our midst. God chose to identify with those whom society calls outcasts. According to Recinos, the future of Christianity lies in the barrio. The barrio can refer to the geographical "turf" claimed by a Latino gang, but in Venezuela, the name is commonly given to slums in the outer rims of big cities.

What does this mean for mainline denominations? Everything and nothing. If we are true to what Jesus has called us to, we will risk everything for the Gospel. To Recinos this means stepping outside normal boundaries of institutional turf and into the gang turf of marginalized society. Pardon me, here, but, no duh! To our institutions that we have held up as sacred this may mean loosing everything. But, ultimately, it won’t matter for this is what Jesus called us to do in the first place.

In all seriousness, it seems clear that both the “insiders” and the “outsiders” are either being pushed out or fleeing toward the fringes of their respective cultures. And that’s significant. Because that’s the only place where they would ever meet—not at the center, but at the fringes of their respective circles. That’s where two circles come together, at the fringe. It’s also called the verge. It’s the point at which something happens.

They’ll be ending this shindig in a couple of days....look for Joe unleashed here: vurj.blogspot.com/

Friday, April 07, 2006

Penning a Spiritual Life

Journals aren't new. But the interest in keeping one -- by hand or online -- has entered a new spiritual chapter. John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, began journaling in 1735 and continued to do so until just before his death. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, alluded to journaling as a means of "spiritual exercise" in his manual titled by the same name...

Blogging, online spiritual journals and MethodX got a huge endorsement today from our local paper (perhaps a too little too late, for some.) Read more from the front page article in the TODAY section from the Easton Express-Times.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

People: Look East

Just shy of sixty years ago, on April 2, 1947, in a speech at the Inter-Asian Relations Conference in New Delhi, Mahatma Gandhi spoke to a crowd of 20,000. In the brief time that he spoke, Gandhi not only changed how the world looked at India, he also casted a bold vision as to what a compassionate world should look like. He began by addressing the delegates not in the diplomatic French nor the national Hindi, but in English. It can be argued that Gandhi wanted his words to have special weight to those in the west. Thus, his voice became a prophetic one, carrying far beyond the confines of the arena to a global audience and moving the conference from Inter-Asian to Inter-continental. “I wonder if this loudspeaker carries my voice to the farthest end of this vast audience,” he said. “Will some of those who are far away will [sic] raise their hands if they listen to what I'm saying? Do you listen? Alright. Well, if my voice doesn't carry, it won't be my fault, it will be the fault of these loudspeakers.”

Do you listen? He asked the world. Not, do you hear? But, do you listen? Are you ready for what I am going to say? He playfully chides the Americans for being “observers” at the conference rather than participants, then proceeds to tell the story of three scientists on the search for Truth:

...three scientists went out from France, went out of Europe in search of 'Truth'. That was the first lesson that story taught me, that if 'truth' was to be searched it was not to be found on the soil of Europe. Therefore, undoubtedly not in America. These three big scientists went to different parts of Asia. One of them found his way to India, and he began his search. He went to the so-called cities of those times. Naturally, this was before British occupation, before even the Mughal period, that is how the French author has illustrated the story, but still he went to the cities, he saw the so-called high caste people, men and women, till at last, he penetrated a humble cottage, in a humble village, and that cottage was a Bhangi cottage, and he found the 'Truth' that he was in search of, in that Bhangi cottage, in the Bhangi family, man, woman, perhaps two or three children.

According to wikipedia.org, the Bhangi are the segment of Indian society that were traditionally relegated to only the dirtiest and most unpleasant jobs. Even within the Dalits, the group once known as "Untouchables," Bhangis were considered to have the lowest status. Although Bhangis are sometimes referred to as "sweepers", the word does not really convey the extraordinary conditions under which they generally work. Sweeping often involves crawling inside a tiny chamber underneath a so-called "dry toilet", removing the excrement, and carrying it away in a bucket on one's head. Efforts have been made to improve sanitation systems in India, including laws that ban the construction of dry toilets. However Bhangis continue to work in their traditional roles and they continue to face considerable social barriers.

“If you really want to see India,” Gandhi went on to say, “its best you have to find it in a Bhangi cottage, in a humble Bhangi home, or such villages, so the English historians teach us, are 700,000... yet in those humble cottages, in the midst of those dung-heaps are to be found the humble Bhangis, where you will find concentrated essence of wisdom.”

I tell you this story in order to hearten you, and in order to make you understand, if my poor speech can make you understand, that what you see of the splendour and everything that the cities of India have to show you, is not real India. Certainly, the carnage that is going on before your very eyes, sorry, shameful as I said yesterday, you have to bury it here. Don't carry that memory of that carnage beyond the confines of India, but what I want you to understand if you can, that the message of the East, the message of Asia, is not to be learnt through European spectacles, through the Western spectacles, not by imitating the tinsel of the West, the gun-powder of the West, the atom bomb of the West. If you want to give a message again to the West, it must be a message of 'Love', it must be a message of 'Truth'.

What have we learned in sixty years? Since Gandhi gave his speech at the IARC his own country has gone on to “learn through Western spectacles” and create both the fourth largest economy in the world and a Nuclear bomb. The Untied States also has continued its economic growth and aggression with the largest and one of the most technologically advanced economies in the world and five wars under it’s belt (Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq).

But, poverty is running ramped in our world. Each year, more than 8 million people around the world die because they are too poor to stay alive. Over 1 billion people—1 in 6 people around the world—live in extreme poverty and live on less than $1 a day. More than 800 million go hungry.

AIDS is also taking its toll. Globally, between 36.7 and 45.3 million people are currently living with HIV. In 2005, between 4.3 and 6.6 million people were newly infected and between 2.8 and 3.6 million people with AIDS died, an increase from 2004 and the highest number since 1981.

Sub-Saharan Africa remains the worst-affected region around the world, with an estimated 23.8 to 28.9 million people currently living with HIV. More than 60% of all people living with HIV are in sub-Saharan Africa, as are more than three quarters of all women living with HIV. South & South East Asia are second most affected with 15%. AIDS accounts for the deaths of 500,000 children.

As the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world, the United States should be the leader in the efforts to improve the lives of the world's poor. Unfortunately, the United States has not taken up this leadership role. According to www.netaid.org, while the U.S. is the single largest international donor in absolute terms, it's one of the least generous countries in terms of aid given per person. In 1970, donor nations adopted a development assistance target of .7% of Gross National Product, a figure that many experts conclude would enable the world to meet the Millennium Development Goals. Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden have already reached this target, and six other countries—including the United Kingdom—have committed to timetables to achieve it before 2015.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has failed to establish a timetable to reach this target, and its level of giving remains lagging at around .15% of GNP. In 2002, the U.S. gave $15.6 billion in development assistance, the equivalent of just 13 cents per day, per person in government aid, roughly the cost of one cup of Starbuck's coffee a month. In addition, much of this aid has been tied to use of U.S. contractors and goods, which reduces its value.

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,* you did it to me.” Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." (Matthew 25:31-46)

Perhaps the world was not ready for a prophet. Perhaps, no one was listening. The Truth is not to be found in the ideology of the West: in the power of big business, commercialism, or the war machine of a nation. It’s to be found in the Love and wisdom of the East. It’s to be found in serving the people with AIDS, the impoverished, and the humble Bhangis. The world has a choice. But, as Gandhi said, “if my voice doesn't carry, it won't be my fault, it will be the fault of these loudspeakers.”

Friday, March 03, 2006

Fear Not...

I found this inspiring today.... It's from Robin Parish of INFUSE Magazine

I paralyze you. I torment you. I can make you sick. I can keep you awake. I know your deepest, darkest secrets. I stand between you and obedience, between you and growth, between you and faith.

What am I?

My name is Fear.

Fear is a vicious, cunning monster who waits, coiled, ready to spring at just the right moment.

There's nothing worse than that feeling that something has poked an icy hole in your stomach, destroyed your sense of stability, uprooted your safety. Like so many human weaknesses, fear boils down to our desire for control. When control spirals away, fear jumps in to take its place.

But get this. Did you know that the most frequently repeated command from by God in the Bible is "fear not"? It's repeated 366 times. That's a "don't be afraid, I am with you" for every day of the year. Coincidence?

Even when we can't feel his presence, he's always there, and he's promised never to leave us. Believe. Trust. Obey. He's on your side.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Marked for Death

Last night I attended our church’s Ash Wednesday Service. As I mingled with people after the service, I thought what an odd sight we must be. If an alien had wandered in and witnessed all these people walking around with black marks on their foreheads they probably would think we were all mad. To those outside the faith (and perhaps many inside), Christian’s must seem that way, at least during this time of year. We literally mark ourselves for death on Ash Wednesday. We begin Lent by remembering our own mortality and that in reality we are nothing but dust. We are reminded that the things of this world are not the things that give us life. So we must die to our old selves, our old nature, as Jesus taught. Lent is a time to give up the distractions of our everyday lives, whether it’s the hectic pace of work and school, the constant blaring of the TV, or the tug and pull of bad influences in our lives. Once we clear our minds and empty ourselves we then can refocus our attention on God and be filled, as Adam was, with the realization that it is our connection with God that gives us life.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Bono Speaks Where the President Couldn't...

BONO'S REMARKS TO THE NATIONAL PRAYER BREAKFAST

From Data.org: Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa

Thank you.

Mr. President, First Lady, King Abdullah, Other heads of State, Members of Congress, distinguished guests…

Please join me in praying that I don’t say something we’ll all regret.

That was for the FCC.

If you’re wondering what I’m doing here, at a prayer breakfast, well, so am I. I’m certainly not here as a man of the cloth, unless that cloth is leather. It’s certainly not because I’m a rock star. Which leaves one possible explanation: I’m here because I’ve got a messianic complex.

Yes, it’s true. And for anyone who knows me, it’s hardly a revelation.

Well, I’m the first to admit that there’s something unnatural… something unseemly… about rock stars mounting the pulpit and preaching at presidents, and then disappearing to their villas in the South of France. Talk about a fish out of water. It was weird enough when Jesse Helms showed up at a U2 concert… but this is really weird, isn’t it?

You know, one of the things I love about this country is its separation of church and state. Although I have to say: in inviting me here, both church and state have been separated from something else completely: their mind. .

Mr. President, are you sure about this?

It’s very humbling and I will try to keep my homily brief. But be warned—I’m Irish.

I’d like to talk about the laws of man, here in this city where those laws are written. And I’d like to talk about higher laws. It would be great to assume that the one serves the other; that the laws of man serve these higher laws… but of course, they don’t always. And I presume that, in a sense, is why you’re here.

I presume the reason for this gathering is that all of us here—Muslims, Jews, Christians—all are searching our souls for how to better serve our family, our community, our nation, our God.

I know I am. Searching, I mean. And that, I suppose, is what led me here, too.

Yes, it’s odd, having a rock star here—but maybe it’s odder for me than for you. You see, I avoided religious people most of my life. Maybe it had something to do with having a father who was Protestant and a mother who was Catholic in a country where the line between the two was, quite literally, a battle line. Where the line between church and state was… well, a little blurry, and hard to see.

I remember how my mother would bring us to chapel on Sundays… and my father used to wait outside. One of the things that I picked up from my father and my mother was the sense that religion often gets in the way of God.

For me, at least, it got in the way. Seeing what religious people, in the name of God, did to my native land… and in this country, seeing God’s second-hand car salesmen on the cable TV channels, offering indulgences for cash… in fact, all over the world, seeing the self-righteousness roll down like a mighty stream from certain corners of the religious establishment…

I must confess, I changed the channel. I wanted my MTV.

Even though I was a believer.

Perhaps because I was a believer.

I was cynical… not about God, but about God’s politics. (There you are, Jim.)

Then, in 1997, a couple of eccentric, septuagenarian British Christians went and ruined my shtick—my reproachfulness. They did it by describing the Millennium, the year 2000, as a Jubilee year, as an opportunity to cancel the chronic debts of the world’s poorest people. They had the audacity to renew the Lord’s call—and were joined by Pope John Paul II, who, from an Irish half-Catholic’s point of view, may have had a more direct line to the Almighty.

‘Jubilee’—why ‘Jubilee’?

What was this year of Jubilee, this year of our Lords favor?

I’d always read the Scriptures, even the obscure stuff. There it was in Leviticus (25:35)…

‘If your brother becomes poor,’ the Scriptures say, ‘and cannot maintain himself… you shall maintain him… You shall not lend him your money at interest, not give him your food for profit.’

It is such an important idea, Jubilee, that Jesus begins his ministry with this. Jesus is a young man, he’s met with the rabbis, impressed everyone, people are talking. The elders say, he’s a clever guy, this Jesus, but he hasn’t done much… yet. He hasn’t spoken in public before…

When he does, is first words are from Isaiah: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,’ he says, ‘because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.’ And Jesus proclaims the year of the Lord’s favour, the year of Jubilee. (Luke 4:18)

What he was really talking about was an era of grace—and we’re still in it.

So fast-forward 2,000 years. That same thought, grace, was made incarnate—in a movement of all kinds of people. It wasn’t a bless-me club… it wasn’t a holy huddle. These religious guys were willing to get out in the streets, get their boots dirty, wave the placards, follow their convictions with actions… making it really hard for people like me to keep their distance. It was amazing. I almost started to like these church people.

But then my cynicism got another helping hand.

It was what Colin Powell, a five-star general, called the greatest W.M.D. of them all: a tiny little virus called A.I.D.S. And the religious community, in large part, missed it. The one’s that didn’t miss it could only see it as divine retribution for bad behaviour. Even on children… Even fastest growing group of HIV infections were married, faithful women.

Aha, there they go again! I thought to myself Judgmentalism is back!

But in truth, I was wrong again. The church was slow but the church got busy on this the leprosy of our age.

Love was on the move.

Mercy was on the move.

God was on the move.

Moving people of all kinds to work with others they had never met, never would have cared to meet… Conservative church groups hanging out with spokesmen for the gay community, all singing off the same hymn sheet on AIDS… Soccer moms and quarterbacks… hip-hop stars and country stars… This is what happens when God gets on the move: crazy stuff happens!

Popes were seen wearing sunglasses!

Jesse Helms was seen with a ghetto blaster!

Crazy stuff. Evidence of the spirit.

It was breathtaking. Literally. It stopped the world in its tracks.

When churches started demonstrating on debt, governments listened—and acted. When churches starting organising, petitioning, and even—that most unholy of acts today, God forbid, lobbying… on AIDS and global health, governments listened—and acted.

I’m here today in all humility to say: you changed minds; you changed policy; you changed the world.

Look, whatever thoughts you have about God, who He is or if He exists, most will agree that if there is a God, He has a special place for the poor. In fact, the poor are where God lives.

Check Judaism. Check Islam. Check pretty much anyone.

I mean, God may well be with us in our mansions on the hill… I hope so. He may well be with us as in all manner of controversial stuff… maybe, maybe not… But the one thing we can all agree, all faiths and ideologies, is that God is with the vulnerable and poor.

God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house… God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives… God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war… God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them. “If you remove the yolk from your midst, the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness, and if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom with become like midday and the Lord will continually guide you and satisfy your desire in scorched places”

It’s not a coincidence that in the Scriptures, poverty is mentioned more than 2,100 times. It’s not an accident. That’s a lot of air time, 2,100 mentions. [You know, the only time Christ is judgmental is on the subject of the poor.] ‘As you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.’ (Matthew 25:40). As I say, good news to the poor.

Here’s some good news for the President. After 9-11 we were told America would have no time for the World’s poor. America would be taken up with its own problems of safety. And it’s true these are dangerous times, but America has not drawn the blinds and double-locked the doors.

In fact, you have double aid to Africa. You have tripled funding for global health. Mr. President, your emergency plan for AIDS relief and support for the Global Fund—you and Congress—have put 700,000 people onto life-saving anti-retroviral drugs and provided 8 million bed nets to protect children from malaria.

Outstanding human achievements. Counterintuitive. Historic. Be very, very proud.

But here’s the bad news. From charity to justice, the good news is yet to come. There’s is much more to do. There’s a gigantic chasm between the scale of the emergency and the scale of the response.

And finally, it’s not about charity after all, is it? It’s about justice.

Let me repeat that: It’s not about charity, it’s about justice.

And that’s too bad.

Because you’re good at charity. Americans, like the Irish, are good at it. We like to give, and we give a lot, even those who can’t afford it.

But justice is a higher standard. Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice; it makes a farce of our idea of equality. It mocks our pieties, it doubts our concern, it questions our commitment.

6,500 Africans are still dying every day of a preventable, treatable disease, for lack of drugs we can buy at any drug store. This is not about charity, this is about Justice and Equality.

Because there's no way we can look at what’s happening in Africa and, if we're honest, conclude that deep down, we really accept that Africans are equal to us. Anywhere else in the world, we wouldn’t accept it. Look at what happened in South East Asia with the Tsunami. 150, 000 lives lost to that misnomer of all misnomers, “mother nature”. In Africa, 150,000 lives are lost every month. A tsunami every month. And it’s a completely avoidable catastrophe.

It’s annoying but justice and equality are mates. Aren’t they? Justice always wants to hang out with equality. And equality is a real pain.

You know, think of those Jewish sheep-herders going to meet the Pharaoh, mud on their shoes, and the Pharaoh says, “Equal?” A preposterous idea: rich and poor are equal? And they say, “Yeah, ‘equal,’ that’s what it says here in this book. We’re all made in the image of God.”

And eventually the Pharaoh says, “OK, I can accept that. I can accept the Jews—but not the blacks.”

“Not the women. Not the gays. Not the Irish. No way, man.”

So on we go with our journey of equality.

On we go in the pursuit of justice.

We hear that call in the ONE Campaign, a growing movement of more than two million Americans… left and right together… united in the belief that where you live should no longer determine whether you live.

We hear that call even more powerfully today, as we mourn the loss of Coretta Scott King—mother of a movement for equality, one that changed the world but is only just getting started. These issues are as alive as they ever were; they just change shape and cross the seas.

Preventing the poorest of the poor from selling their products while we sing the virtues of the free market… that’s a justice issue. Holding children to ransom for the debts of their grandparents… That’s a justice issue. Withholding life-saving medicines out of deference to the Office of Patents… that’s a justice issue.

And while the law is what we say it is, God is not silent on the subject.

That’s why I say there’s the law of the land… and then there is a higher standard. There’s the law of the land, and we can hire experts to write them so they benefit us, so the laws say it’s OK to protect our agriculture but it’s not OK for African farmers to do the same, to earn a living?

As the laws of man are written, that’s what they say.

God will not accept that.

Mine won’t, at least. Will yours?

[pause]

I close this morning on … very… thin… ice.

This is a dangerous idea I’ve put on the table: my God vs. your God, their God vs. our God… vs. no God. It is very easy, in these times, to see religion as a force for division rather than unity.

And this is a town—Washington—that knows something of division.

But the reason I am here, and the reason I keep coming back to Washington, is because this is a town that is proving it can come together on behalf of what the Scriptures call the least of these.

This is not a Republican idea. It is not a Democratic idea. It is not even, with all due respect, an American idea. Nor it is unique to any one faith.

Do to others as you would have them do to you.’ (Luke 6:30) Jesus says that.

‘Righteousness is this: that one should… give away wealth out of love for Him to the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and the beggars and for the emancipation of the captives.’ The Koran says that. (2.177)

Thus sayeth the Lord: ‘Bring the homeless poor into the house, when you see the naked, cover him, then your light will break out like the dawn and your recovery will speedily spring fourth, then your Lord will be your rear guard.’ The jewish scripture says that. Isaiah 58 again.

That is a powerful incentive: ‘The Lord will watch your back.’ Sounds like a good deal to me, right now.

A number of years ago, I met a wise man who changed my life. In countless ways, large and small, I was always seeking the Lord’s blessing. I was saying, you know, I have a new song, look after it… I have a family, please look after them… I have this crazy idea…

And this wise man said: stop.

He said, stop asking God to bless what you’re doing.

Get involved in what God is doing—because it’s already blessed.

Well, God, as I said, is with the poor. That, I believe, is what God is doing.

And that is what He’s calling us to do.

I was amazed when I first got to this country and I learned how much some churchgoers tithe. Up to ten percent of the family budget. Well, how does that compare the federal budget, the budget for the entire American family? How much of that goes to the poorest people in the world? Less than one percent.

Mr. President, Congress, people of faith, people of America:

I want to suggest to you today that you see the flow of effective foreign assistance as tithing…. Which, to be truly meaningful, will mean an additional one percent of the federal budget tithed to the poor.

What is one percent?

One percent is not merely a number on a balance sheet.

One percent is the girl in Africa who gets to go to school, thanks to you. One percent is the AIDS patient who gets her medicine, thanks to you. One percent is the African entrepreneur who can start a small family business thanks to you. One percent is not redecorating presidential palaces or money flowing down a rat hole. This one percent is digging waterholes to provide clean water.

One percent is a new partnership with Africa, not paternalism towards Africa, where increased assistance flows toward improved governance and initiatives with proven track records and away from boondoggles and white elephants of every description.

America gives less than one percent now. Were asking for an extra one percent to change the world. to transform millions of lives—but not just that and I say this to the military men now – to transform the way that they see us.

One percent is national security, enlightened economic self interest, and a better safer world rolled into one. Sounds to me that in this town of deals and compromises, one percent is the best bargain around.

These goals—clean water for all; school for every child; medicine for the afflicted, an end to extreme and senseless poverty—these are not just any goals; they are the Millennium Development goals, which this country supports. And they are more than that. They are the Beatitudes for a Globalised World.

Now, I’m very lucky. I don’t have to sit on any budget committees. And I certainly don’t have to sit where you do, Mr. President. I don’t have to make the tough choices.

But I can tell you this:

To give one percent more is right. It’s smart. And it’s blessed.

There is a continent—Africa—being consumed by flames.

I truly believe that when the history books are written, our age will be remembered for three things: the war on terror, the digital revolution, and what we did—or did not do—to put the fire out in Africa.

History, like God, is watching what we do.

Thank you. Thank you, America, and God bless you all.

Copyright DATA 2003

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The State of the Cellophane Poor

I sat down a few nights ago to watch the President give his annual State of the Union Address, as I’ve done just about every year. But this year I did something I don’t normally do. Upon the advice of my Senior Pastor, I kept track of how many times the President mentioned certain things. I’ve seen this done by analysts before, even bloggers combine word counting with drinking games. Anyway, I thought it might be a fun way to pass the evening (minus the alcohol.)

In my unscientific tally, the President mentioned “terror or terrorism” seventeen times, “Iraq or Iraqi” fifteen times, and “freedom and liberty” each were mentioned fourteen times. And, although I didn’t keep track, the words “Isolationism or Isolationist” also figured prominently in his speech. But, the words “poverty, poor, health care, HIV/AIDS, and social security” barely got a mention. In fact, most were only said once.

In the same week that Texas company Exxon Mobil, the world's biggest oil company, announced record breaking fourth-quarter profits (which, have been attributed to soaring oil and gas prices), the biggest sound-bite to come out of the State of the Union has been: “America is addicted to oil,” a fact that was pointed out four years ago in the December 13, 2001 issue of the Economist. And yet, despite the fact that oil and gas are among the Gulf Coast’s largest industries, the record breaking profits have not and most likely will not be focused on hurricane recovery in the south—nor will, apparently the President and his administration, for that matter. Hurricane recovery in the south got less than a minute of attention in his speech. What’s going on here?

Let’s take a closer look at New Orleans. You won’t see any poor there now, at least not many. Affordable housing in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is virtually non-existent. So, the poor are finding it hard to return to their homes. They are literally being shut out of the market. A variation is happening here where I live. With the average home price in the Lehigh Valley, PA reaching above $200,000 the poor are finding few affordable places to live. And there’s little help in sight. The lead story in the local section of today’s paper announced that the non-profit agency formed just three years ago to foster low-income housing could be scrapped.

It’s easy to forget about the poor. As Michael Depp pointed out, while those who lived below the poverty level were often blamed for the New Orlean’s declining education system, escalating violent crime and murder rates before Hurricane Katrina, they were also the same people who kept the city going. Yes, some were the drug dealers, but more importantly they were the laborers and working poor—the bus drivers, taxi drivers, dish washers, hotel maids, cooks, bus boys and those working at low paying jobs in the vital tourism industry. They were also a vital part of the culture: the “mardi gras indians,” the street musicians who marched in jazz funerals, the painters and the artists. And we hear a lot about the French Quarter, but what about the diverse populations in New Orleans with its thriving communities of African, Creole, Cajun, Vietnamese, German and Italian cultures? In fact, it was the convergence of cultures that gave us the birth of jazz.

So the poor have been neglected in our country. But, that can change because we have a choice. We can choose to do something about it or we can continue to look the other way while the rich get richer. All it takes is for us to reach out in acts of compassion; to give people what they need—food, water, affordable housing, clothes on their backs, and a place to belong.

Q: “What’s the State of the Poor in our country, Mr. President?”

A: “Who?”

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