Archive for November, 2008

Shhh, it’s a conspiracy.

These are uncertain times, economically speaking. But according to a recent poll by American Research Group, Inc., Americans this year will still spend close to $500 per person extra this Holiday season — mostly on gifts.

We will spend beyond our means and receive items we don’t even need, while non-profits serving our communities struggle just to get by. With charitable donations and government grants down drastically this holiday season, many non-profits are cutting way back, threatening the very services that are central to their mission.

Here’s a thought: What if every American “skipped” the bulk of Christmas consumerism this year, instead donating a good portion of that money (if not all) to an organization that is helping people?

Join us in making the holiday season about loving our neighbors as ourselves. Give to a charity that is special to you. Give some money to allow another person or two access to clean water. Or, you are welcome to join us in giving to these wonderful Boston non-profits:

Generations Incorporated

ZUMIX

East Boston Social Centers

Whatever you do, make a change this Christmas.

Bishop Tom

I am finishing up a story for the Globe today, but I’ll be back to blogging and commenting as soon as I get a little bit of free time. I’ve also been hosting my beloved former professor, Kent Smith, this weekend.

In the meantime, check out the sermon N.T. Wright delivered last week at Park Street Church here in Boston. Chrissy and I were lucky enough to be there for it, along with several good friends.

Christian Hope in a Confusing World

the future of religion

Earlier this year, I read Sam Harris’ The End of Faith, in which the renowned atheist called for an end to religious belief on account for the evil it makes us all do to each other. All religion, Harris argues, is at best fundamentalist and sectarian by nature (claiming it is the sole path to paradise/God/life), and at worst militant and violent against non-believers. The solution, Harris argues, is a putting to rest the childish fairy tales of religion — “to close the door on a certain style of irrationality” — in favor of a goodness and compassion drawn from our being human.

While there are certain truths to Harris’ plea, he forgets that while we are beyond the days of Christendom — where Christian faith is taken for granted in the West — complete secularism has also been tried, and has failed.  In other words, places like Western Europe have attempted to live free of religious faith and spirituality, and people keep running back to their God or gods.  Why is that?

Which brings me to Karen Armstrong’s TED Talk (HT: Steve Knight and the Shearons) earlier this year.  Armstrong, a former nun who has written extensively on religions and the role they play in society, has recently turned her attention to the unifying elements of the major world religions.  What she found was that in all major world religions lies one central truth: “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.” (or its negative variant, “don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want them doing to you”)  In short, Armstrong believes that we could have the possibility of a much more sane and peaceful world by pointing out and reclaiming our religions from fundamentalism that would stray from those things which bind us together.  OK, enough of a teaser … I hope you’ll take a few minutes and watch her 21-minute TED Talk, posted below. I found myself nodding along throughout. (as opposed to nodding off) It’s worth your time, if you have it. If not, why? =)

What do you think?  Is she crazy?  Does this scare you just a little bit?  Sound off.

Empty Speech

Great paragraph over at Mark Love’s blog that made me think:

So, the post-election question for me is how to speak in a world of debased speech. And we have little choice about the matter. We are a Word faith. We believe that God creates through speaking, and that his work of redemption comes through a Word made flesh. How can we speak in a world that is weary of empty speech?

I’m especially interested in the implications for “gospel speech.”  Is it possible that even much of our “gospel speech” rings empty on the ears of the world?

Why I Voted

I blogged about politics a lot this year.  Our Christian faith bears heavily on our ability to put much or any hope in earthly governments.  At one point, I believe I even said I wouldn’t be voting on November 4.  Well, here’s the shocker: I voted yesterday.

It basically came down to my desire to “give a voice to the voiceless.”  Specifically, I was thinking about the millions (perhaps billions?) of people around the globe whose negative view of this nation is shaped primarily by the “cowboy presidency” of the last eight years.  I was thinking about our friends’ friends in Tanzania (which we visited in September 2007) and Uganda who were just as invested in the outcome of yesterday’s election as anyone in this country.  I was thinking about the millions of marginalized people in this country who, for reasons we cannot imagine, face economic, physical, spiritual, and emotional obstacles that kept them from going to the polls yesterday. (like our good friend and neighbor Sylvia, whom I’ve blogged about, who is raising two young children by herself)

Ryan Bolger put into words my rationale for voting better than anyone had before:

We need to ask, for a particular context and time, is voting a liberating or an oppressive activity? Was voting a Jesus-like activity in South Africa when blacks voted for the first time in 1994? I would say it was. Is voting a Jesus-like thing when a one-party government has 99% support? Probably not — voting would reinforce the illusion of support that those in power hold.

So, the question must be asked — is this a time to vote, is it a liberating activity for those in our country or or not? Does this election offer a means by which those who have been shut out and lack a real role in the political process receive their voice?  I think for many in the country, voting in this election represents a turning of the tide. I believe we have, in this election, an opportunity to elect a person who represents voices that have rarely been heard, at this level, in the political process. Giving a voice to the voiceless is something Christians need to rally around. And back up with a vote. Today. (read the full post here)

We’ll see how this all turns out.  A lot depends on how Obama presides as president.  I just couldn’t go another four or eight years carrying the cynicism that I’ve carried the last eight.

(I will note that my lovely wife came to a different decision on whether to vote or not.  I support her in this.  Voting would have violated her conscience, and violating one’s conscience is never advisable)

One thing’s for sure: As I alluded to in my last post, we’re not off the hook in our responsibility to care for the least of these, love our neighbors, and join God in rebuilding our world.  Our government OUGHT to be equipping the American people to be the change they want to see.  When it fails to do that, we call it out.

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I have read several pieces of election commentary written by conservative Christians in the last day that all have a similar tone.  Most of them touch on the idea that we as Christians belong first and foremost to the kingdoms of this world, but to the kingdom of God.  That we must not lose hope because “our guy” didn’t win yesterday.  That we must continue to preach and live like Jesus, fight for the cause of the oppressed, and enjoy our Christian citizenship over and above our American one.

Funny … I agree.

The irony is that maybe it takes a political disappointment like this to cause those on the Religious Right to get their priorities in order.  Let’s pray that left-of-center Christians do not begin to put unhealthy doses of hope in Obama to solve the major moral crises of our time.

The illusion of power is a cunning mistress.