Archive for February, 2006

Etc.

Tuesday Update: My CSC boss, Jim Clark, just got back from the National Pastors Convention in San Diego, and he brought me back a book (always a good thing to do for Steve): The Irresistible Revolution: Living As An Ordinary Radical, by Shane Claiborne.  I’m so excited about ripping into this book, especially after reading Brian McLaren’s endorsement on the inside cover:

Sometimes I think there is realy only one Christian denomination in America: American Civil Religion — a consumerist, militarist, therapeutic, colonial, nationalist chaplaincy that baptizes and blesses whatever the richest nation on the planet wants to do.  But then I hear a voice like Shane’s, and I know that at least a few follow another leader on a less-traveled road. Read this book and let it make you uncomfortable, as it did me.  We need this kind of discomfort more than we know.

Wow!

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Jimps has some challenging thoughts today regarding his current disappointments. Not too unlike many young Christians in the West, I suppose.

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I continue to be amazed at what God is doing around the world. TallSkinnyKiwi just got back from the D.A.W.N. (Discipling a Whole Nation) get-together in Johannesburg, S. Africa, where leaders from the various church planting movements around the world gave reports. My professor, Kent Smith, gave the report on North America. In India, one woman and her husband have been linked to the planting of 14,000 house churches in the last 10 years. This report is consistent with others I’ve heard about God’s work in India, where a lay-movement of disciple-making like the world has never seen has broken loose. Wow!

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On a related note, did you know that according to missiologists, the typical Christian in the world in 2006 is a middle-aged Nigerian woman?

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Unity and Mission

I have to admit something: Many of the discussions at the unity forums between a cappella Churches of Christ and Christian Churches at this week’s ACU Lectureship struck me as somewhat shallow, and the conclusions to which they came obvious. Things like, “Brothers and Sisters in Christ don’t need to be twins; God’s children are going to be different from one another,” “If we spend more time picnicking together, we won’t do as much nit-picking of each other,” and “Jesus Christ is central — not one’s opinions on instrumental music, church leadership, or missionary societies.” OK, I can buy all those statements. In fact, I think most people my age buy them. Seems to me like my generation might be a little more ecumenical than previous ones, and thus might have been a little jaded by a conversation about unity that pertained largely to “what we do in a church assembly.”

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that for many members of Churches of Christ and Christian Churches, this week’s unity forums were a big deal. They were, in a sense, stepping toward a reversal of over a century of ignorance of each other and apathy toward unity. They, for many, served as a stepping stone toward a reversal of ideology regarding the nature of fellowship and truth.

This was made especially clear when I read the following letter from John, a member of Christian Churches who has partnered with my uncle and aunt in Miami in a church planting project there. He, along with my uncle and aunt and another church planter, attended Lectureship this year to participate in the unity forums. As an aside, I am proud of how simple and obvious unity between these two groups in Miami has been. They are on mission together. They have a common foe, Satan. Working separately is not an option. It seems to me that uniting around a common mission is a no-brainer, but apparently it has taken us over 100 years to figure that out. Please read John’s letter:

This year I was invited by two fine Christian men to visit the ACU Lectureship 2006 in Abilene, Texas. They said that there were going to be talks about unity between the Acapella churches of Christ and the Christian churches. I was skeptical but I decided to attend to see what might be achieved. At the opening service the president of Abilene Christian University and the president Milligan College shared the platform and each spoke on John 1. The main point of Dr. Money’s speech was that it was time to break down the 100 year old barriers that had divided the two churches. This spirit of unity was shared throughout the whole three days of lectureship especially with men from both sides of the keyboard exchanging lectures at the Restoration Unity Forum. There were no judgmental attitudes displayed against those who use musical instruments in worship. There was a great openness to accept each other in the midst of our diversity. I was inspired by the ideas expressed there, and the desire to seek unity with our brothers in Christ.

Personally, I was also able to reunite with two former missionaries from the churches of Christ who served in Uruguay at the same time as we did. We had been friends there, and it was good to reunite with them. One of them now is the secretary for the board of directors of a mission that wants to start 12 churches in Miami. He invited me to meet with them and we talked about ways that we could possibly each other and cooperate in the task of evangelism and church planting. I was thrilled to state my openness to work with this project in any way that I could.

This unity effort is not new to me, because for the last couple of months we have been meeting in perfect harmony with brothers from the churches of Christ who have chosen the name Christians in Miami. While we were at the conference in Abilene we received a call from a Disciples of Christ church in Kendall that has agreed for us to use their facility from time to time for our joint meetings with Christians in Miami for midweek prayer meeting, and for use on Sunday \nafternoons as well. This means that brothers from all three wings of the Restoration movement are partnering together for the work of the Lord in Miami. It is an exciting time to see this unity for the sake of evangelism because Christ prayed that they all might be one so that the world might be won to him. We are thrilled to be participating in seeing this prayer of Christ answered at least in one little spot among our small groups of believers.

Please pray for us as we seek further unity in Christ with all Christians and pray that we be able to lead \nmany new people to salvation in Christ Jesus.

Checking In

As you may or may not have noticed, I haven’t posted since Friday.  This is because I have been busy entertaining in-laws and parents, attending ACU’s Sing Song, going to Lectureship classes, and eating out a lot.  Besides a pretty good lesson on gluttony, this week has been enlightening.

My friend Jimmy stayed with us all week.  He is a former preacher (10 years) who has been convicted of late of his need to re-join the mission of God in a more effective way.  He, like many Christians today, has become jaded with “church.”  He dreams of marginal, missional communities that actually live out the Christ-life rather than just banging Bibles.  He dreams of Christ-followers uniting under a desire to join in God in redeeming all of creation to himself, not just “save individual souls” from Hell.  This, of course, requires a renewed commitment to justice, simplicity, environmental stewardship, and peacefulness, virtues which even many not-yet-Christians espouse.  My conversations with Jimmy were rich and often lasted late into the night.  Thanks, Jimmy.

Last night, some fellow grad students and I facilitated the nightly “Coffeehouse” program at Lectureship.  Coffeehouse is an effort to connect gospel and culture in a meaningful way, and this week has included topics like, “From Ecstasy to Rage: U2 and the Psalms,” “Race in America: Reviewing the Movie Crash,” and “Tangled Up in Scripture: The Music of Bob Dylan.”  Each of these experiences highlighted areas of popular culture that can be launching pads for spiritual conversations with not-yet-Christians.  Last night, we presented a multi-media message of the good news of Jesus through the lens of the spiritual virtue of sabbath.  Our contention was that in Christ, we no longer need to be defined or identified by our production or consumption in this world, but can find the rest of God in the practice of slowing down.  This is such a vital message for the world today, especially the Western world.

OK, that’s about as “what I did today” as I get.  I’m done now.  Back to normal posting soon.  Blessings!

1 Cor. 7:29-31

What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.

I’ve never read this short passage, or maybe my eyes skipped past it.  Maybe I didn’t want to read it.  But yesterday, for perhaps the first time, I read it.  My friend Miller used the passage to blog eloquently and prophetically about his reactions to the Invisible Children film, and I was convicted.

There’s a harried tone in Paul’s writing.  The status quo is gone.  The kingdom of Christ is breaking in.  Christ’s return is soon, relatively speaking.  This verse is a call away from becoming “engrossed” in this old world.  In, but not of.  This verse challenges the American “virtue” (or curse?) of ownership — if I worked for it, it’s mine.  In the “already but not yet” kingdom of Christ, this world is not our home and our home (and car, and books, and money, and clothes…) is not ours.

Is there a more pertinent message for North American Christians today?  Haven’t many of us truly been trying to serve “both God and mammon (stuff)”?  What would Christ tell some of us if we asked him what else we could do to “get in good” with him?  Would we like his response, or would we walk away dejected, like the young ruler, because we are very wealthy?

budgets and justice

The US government must concern itself with the plight of the underpriveleged people around the world. This doesn’t mean imposing our forms of government or creating “little Americas,” but it does mean giving other nations (as well as the poor in our own nation) a “hand up.” As the richest nation in the world, I believe it is our moral obligation. This is why I think the latest proposed US budget leaves much to be desired in this department.

I try not to get too political on this blog, but I’m all “fired up” about justice these days, and the following column outlines some of the inconsistencies in the 2007 budget.

The budget’s bottom line

by Yonce SheltonIn his State of the Union address last month, President Bush said, “Our greatness is not measured in power or luxuries, but by who we are and how we treat one another. So we strive to be a compassionate, decent, hopeful society,” one that “comes to the aid of fellow citizens in times of suffering and emergency.” He also pledged to “renew the defining moral commitments of this land.”

His fiscal year 2007 budget proposal, sent to Congress one week later, lacks the commitments needed to support this vision.

Budgets are moral documents. They show us what we value in revealing where we invest now and for the future. Government funding is not the solution to all needs, but the budget process is a road map for how leaders plan to navigate our country’s challenges and opportunities. The economic security of every family in this country is a moral opportunity and challenge. But our investment to strengthen families’ opportunities – and hope – is being sacrificed for luxuries for a few.

The president’s 2007 budget cuts $183 billion from domestic programs – leaving homeland security untouched – during the next five years. It eliminates more than 100 programs. Many of the cuts are to services for the poor. Spending for homeland security, the military, and the war in Iraq amounts to nearly $600 billion, while domestic cuts are proposed in all other areas of spending.

The budget makes the largest cut to federal education spending in a decade. Although President Bush proposed increased funding for math and science education, his signature education initiative, the No Child Left Behind Act, has a cumulative funding shortfall of $55 billion. More cuts to low-income child care services would result in 400,000 fewer children receiving assistance. Despite Congress deciding not to cut food stamps in the 2006 budget (reacting, in part, to pressure from the faith community), food stamps are slated for a cut that would eliminate support for 300,000 people. Medicaid is again on the chopping block with nearly $14 billion in cuts. The list goes on.

These critical social supports hold families together and save lives. These cuts affect real people.

There is a disconnect between basic needs and national priorities when more social cuts are proposed as poverty has risen in each of the past four years, according to the U.S. Census; food insecurity has risen in each of the last five, according to the Food Research and Action Center; and 9.2 million working families are on the brink of poverty, according to the Working Poor Families Project. Fiscal responsibility arguments hold no water because the 2007 budget would increase the deficit (as in 2006). A major culprit is the budget’s $1.7 trillion (over 10 years) to permanently extend tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthy. This sacrifices basic supports for the vulnerable to provide extravagances for the well-off. And it calls into question the validity of the administration’s claims of steady deficit reduction over coming years.

But deficit concerns are about more than figures. We should be outraged that this approach lacks honesty and realism. This budget includes no analysis for spending for Iraq and Afghanistan past 2007, nor does it offer projections for expensive tax policies after 2006. This sidesteps customary budget practice. Ignoring these major expenses intentionally masks the impact of current tax and deficit policies on our long-term stability. We deserve better fiscal and moral accounting.

Despite claims that tax cuts stimulate the economy and help job growth, the current economic recovery has underperformed past recoveries and investment growth has been below historical norms, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Job creation under President Bush has been the lowest since World War II, and hourly and weekly wages are dropping, according to the American Progress Action Fund. Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, told The New York Times recently: “We should not be cutting taxes by borrowing…. We do not have the capability of having both productive tax cuts and large expenditures, and presume that the deficit doesn’t matter.”

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, years of rising poverty, and declining opportunity for more people constitute threats to our nation’s strength. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) called cuts to health and education programs “scandalous.” We cannot ignore these needs in the name of a defense-obsessed homeland security. Real security includes a vision for helping families realize the American dream. This demands compassion, not empty rhetoric. These budget priorities do not represent “defining moral commitments” or “aid of fellow citizens in times of suffering and emergency.”

An America of strength and security can also be an America of justice and compassion. People of faith must stand up for the least of these, but also increasingly for the average person and family. As Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress have told us, our “budgets are moral documents” message has not gone unheard.

We must build on last year’s successes in this battle for a moral budget. When national leaders do not offer a road map with a vision for the common good, we must put faith in action. We must use our voice and witness to redefine – to renew – the paths leading to moral commitment, hope, and greatness.

Yonce Shelton is national coordinator and policy director for Call to Renewal.
This column appeared at Sojo.net

not invisible for long

They had to turn ACU students away at the door.movie poster

800 students made it in, but many were told they couldn’t fit into the swelling Cullen Auditorium. The last time Cullen was this full, Madagascar or some other silly movie was showing. Not this time, though.

800 students packed into theatre seats to experience a film they knew would be difficult to watch. A film about children who are abducted at 5, 6, 7, given guns and taught to fight, and forced to participate in a rebel uprising against the government of Uganda. Because the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) kidnaps children from their sleep at night, thousands of children hike many miles each night to abandoned schools to sleep in safety, but they sleep literally on top of one another. These “invisible children” live in fear, and most of the world doesn’t know about it.

That is changing, thanks to three young filmmakers (in their late teens, early 20s, I believe) who made it their mission to document the horrors taking place in Uganda and tell the story everywhere they could. This week, the Invisible Children film has been in Abilene — 500 Highland Church members experienced it Sunday night, several hundred Hardin-Simmons students on Monday night, and the 800+ at ACU last night.

We were all moved, most to tears, while watching a young boy named Jacob sobbing at the thought of his older brother who had been killed in the war. Earlier in the film, Jacob said that the children could not cry, because they would be killed themselves. Resiliance, forced callousness in children who ought to be able to freely express emotions. Perhaps years of pent-up emotions came out, however, in a moment of telling one of the filmmakers what he would say to his brother if he could see him again. I can’t — I won’t — get that image out of my mind.  Countless images from the film will stay with me, a spectator watching from a comfy seat thousands of miles from ground zero, as it stayed with the filmmakers, who experienced the horrors first-hand three years ago.

One thing I love about my generation (and especially the younger ones) is its propensity to act when convicted. Last night, 800 college students were convicted by Jacob’s story and seeing what some of their peers have been doing to bring into the light the injustices around the world. One student raised his hand and challenged every student in the room to contact their respective high schools about showing the film there. Another student asked how he could take a trip to the war-torn region.

Hundreds of students lined up to buy T-shirts, hats, and $20 Ugandan-made bracelets that will put a kid through school for a month. I am hoping that hundreds of Abilene residents will show up tonight at the Cockerell Building on North 2nd at 8 p.m. for a showing and sale of artwork inspired by the film, along with some great music (from my brother’s band, Homer Hiccolm and the Rocketboys). All the proceeds will go to the Invisible Children project.

Whatever we do, Christians need to stand up and be a voice for the voiceless. These children must not remain invisible.

For there is nothing hidden, except that it should be made known; neither was anything made secret, but that it should come to light. — Mark 4:22

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Invisible Children has set up an aid program for those who cannot work in Uganda because of the war. The bracelets I mentioned earlier are made by Ugandan people who are paid a wage for their work and paid for each bracelet they produce, then sold in the United States (similar to Eternal Threads). Right now, all of the proceeds for the bracelets, sold for $20, goes to putting children through school for a month (all education, even elementary and secondary education, requires a tuition in Uganda, a price that many children are unable to pay.)

That is just one way the Invisible Children project is making a difference in the situation. Please help in any way you feel called.

public spaces

squarePublic Space (n)A place that is accessible for anyone to use. Sidewalks, plazas, and parks are the three most common public spaces. Public spaces mitigate class distinctions by allowing us to interact on neutral territory, and they foster relationships within a community by providing opportunities for incidental contact. (Jacobson, 171)

One of the main reasons why I am so excited about living in Boston is the presence of public spaces. Boston has uber-public mass-transportation, bustling sidewalks with tons of foot traffic, open squares with entertainment and crowds, lush parks with dog-walkers and sun-tanners, and tons of more commercial establishments designed to foster human interaction.

These “public spaces” are what Eric Jacobson, in Sidewalks in the Kingdom: New Urbanism and the Christian Faith, calls “an integral part of Jesus’ ministry on earth” that “facilitated his incarnational approach with people.” Jacobson goes on to say that while Jesus did spend time in the private spaces of other people’s homes and ministered in “the semiprivate realm of temple and synagogue,” the majority of Jesus’ ministry “took place in public spaces, where he risked relationship with people he didn’t know and interacted with them on neutral territory.”

Jacobson writes the following reflection on everyday ministry amid today’s rapidly spreading suburban sprawl and the gradual decline of truly public spaces over the last 50 years:

One problem with taking on the suburban mentality as Christians today is that we can make it very difficult for ourselves to practice incarnational ministry. Can we really say that we are dwelling among even our neighbors when there is no sidewalk connecting our homes to each other and no park or plaza for us to bump into one another during our free time? If our normal, everyday activities rarely coax us out of our private spheres of home, garage, automobile, and office, how can we build relationships with those whom we don’t already know?

Now, of course, if one is committed to an incarnational approach to ministry, one can practice it in any setting. Young Life thrives in many suburban locations. If a person is bold enough or committed enough, he or she will find a way onto the high school campus, the social circles of the shopping mall, or the parking lots of the minimarts to hang out with students. However, incarnational ministry is much more natural in comfortable in settings that have good public spaces.

I can’t wait to get rid of our car and take a bus or metro line. I look forward to going out for brisk walks on our bustling street in the afternoon and coming home with a bag of vegetables from the whole foods store a few blocks down. I long for the day when I’ll be able to play checkers with the old men in the park, striking up conversations about their long lives of hard work and hard play.

I pray that we emulate Christ as we transform these public spaces into venues of incarnational ministry as we seek to “dwell among” our future neighbors in Boston.