campolo at harvard

We got to hear Dr. Tony Campolo speak at Harvard’s Memorial Church this evening. Campolo is the author of 30 books, including Adventures in Missing the Point: How the Culture-Controlled Church Neutered the Gospel, Revolution and Renewal: How Churches are Saving Our Cities, and Speaking My Mind. Most of you probably know who Campolo is already, so I’ll stop. (if you’ve never read or heard Tony’s story about Agnes, read it. It’ll change your life.)

If you haven’t heard Tony speak, then you’re missing out. He does 300 appearances a year, so chances are he’ll be coming to a venue near you! This man is a lifelong learner (in other words, he “never arrived” at a spiritual destination … every day brings new discoveries) who speaks with passion out of his experiences with God and God’s creation. Though his religious heritage is Baptist, he does not apply the “evangelical” label to himself. He instead calls himself as a “red letter Christian,” referring of course to the Old King James Bible that has the words of Jesus in crimson.

Tonight, in front of a few hundred college students, young professionals, and other area Christians, Dr. Campolo reflected on the life of St. Francis of Assisi as a model for young disciples of Jesus in a postmodern age. He said we need to inspect and model the life of Francis — called a “Jester for God” because of his desire to spread Christian joy wherever he went — for three reasons:

1. He was a mystic. St. Francis’ approach to prayer should serve as a model for our own. We need to stop seeing prayer as making requests to God, but take on a Franciscan approach, which involves becoming inwardly still so that we are surrendered to an invasion of the Holy Spirit. This stillness and invitation for God’s Spirit will bring two primary emotions: ecstasy (or aliveness) and love. We will not only feel an overwhelming joy and sense of life when we enjoy God’s presence, we will begin to have our “hearts broken at the things that break God’s heart” — or love.

2. He was an environmentalist. St. Francis called people to recognize the sacredness of nature. He sensed that there was some connection between nature and God, and he preached to animals (!) not so that animals might be saved, but so that nature might live into its true purpose — to continually worship its Creator. I personally believe this happens automatically for nature, and it’s humanity that needs the spurring on. But we should respect all of God’s creation nonetheless.

3. He was committed to peace. During the First Crusades, Francis actually left the safety of the Christian brigades and walked into the Muslim camp, pleading with them to choose the way of peace (and doing it in the name of Christ). Francis is still well-respected in Muslim communities today. He went back and pled for peace with the Christians as well, but his efforts for peace were futile — the Crusades became one of the bloodiest and embarassing events for our faith.

Under each of these points, Dr. Campolo spoke to some of the ways contemporary national policies clearly go against what St. Francis stood for. For me, the most startling (and angering) piece of information was that in a world where 10 million children die of preventable causes each year, the 2007 budget of the United States — which controls the overwhelming majority of the world’s economic resources — has less than 4/10 of 1% allocated toward basic humanitarian aid and poverty reduction.

Now I’m certainly not one who expects much good to come out of the earthly political realm, but I was just disgusted when I heard the above statistic. That the nation like ours would give such a minescule amount toward researching poverty, providing for basic needs, funding humanitarian/development causes, etc., while 10 million children die needlessly every year, is detestable. My heart breaks for America and this injustice because I know God’s heart is breaking.

Campolo is a much-needed prophet in our age. He lives a simple life among the hurting and broken in Philadelphia. His “issues” come from his real-life relationships (he made the statement that if we are not willing to, say, sponsor a child in another country each month, then we certainly have no right to speak of the macro solutions to injustices around the world). He is not in bed with a political party (as I fear some Christian “prophets” are, on both sides of the aisle), but with the words of Jesus. He speaks from the heart, and his passion comes through in every word he utters or writes. In a world that seeks to box him into a political leaning or paint him with a certain stripe, he claims nothing but “Christ and Him crucified.”

This world needs more disciples like Tony.

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