Friday, September 26, 2008

A Letter to the Church in the United States

Here is a letter, apparently written by a group of leaders from the southern part of the world to9 American church. What do you think? (HT Brian McLaren)

August, 2008


As the Church of the Lord in what is known as the "Southern" part of the world, moved by the Holy Spirit to fight for the abundant life that Jesus Christ offers, we address our Christian family in the United States, a Church of the same covenant, faith and love. Grace and Peace to all of our brothers and sisters.

We know your works of love; these works have allowed millions of human beings for many generations in our countries in the South to receive the gospel, the Grace of Jesus Christ and the power of His Salvation. The U.S. church's untiring missionary effort planted in our lands Hope in Him who came to reconcile EVERYTHING.

Nevertheless, the political, social and economic situation in the places where this hope has been announced is increasingly distressing. Millions of people in the global South are dying of hunger, violence and injustice. These situations of poverty and pain are not simply the product of the internal functions of our countries; rather they are the results of the international policies of the governments that wield global power.

Therefore, we have this against you, brothers and sisters, that along with this powerful announcing of the Gospel, the Church from the United States has not also raised its voice in protest against the injustices that powerful governments and institutions are inflicting on the global South - injustices that afflict the lives and ecosystems of millions of people who, centuries after the proclamation of the Gospel, still have not seen the sweat of their brow turned into bread.

The worsening inequality and poverty in the South is alarming. Seven years since the United States and 191 other nations publicly promised to cut extreme global poverty in half by the year 2015 through the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), your country has made only a little progress towards fulfilling its commitments.

The MDGs should stir us to action because they echo the calls of the biblical prophets for justice and equity. Further, they are achievable and measurable markers on the roadmap to end extreme global poverty.

And so we ask you as sisters and brothers, citizens of the wealthiest most powerful nation on earth, to publicly challenge your candidates and political leaders - now and after the elections are over - to lead the world in the struggle to cut global poverty in half by 2015. If you who know the Truth will not speak for us who will?

The Church in the United States has the opportunity today to be faithful to the Hope that it preaches. We urge you to remember that the Hope to which you were called as a messenger demands that you seek first the Kingdom of God and God's justice.

Out of love for us, the global Church, in holiness, use your citizenship responsibly for the benefit of the entire world; it is for this very reason that the Lord poured out His life on the Cross.

All who have ears, let them hear what the Lord says to His Church.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Doug Pagitt on "Emerging Church" vs "Emergence"

Doug Pagitt has posted this interesting commentary video on the buzz that has been being made about the terms "Emergent Church" and others like it.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Brian McLaren on Being Missional, Part 2

This is my favorite segment of this presentation.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Brian McLaren on Being Missional

Here is an interesting video of Brian McLaren teaching on what it means to be missional. More of this to come.

Donald Miller on "The Culture War"

Donald Miller has posted some interesting musings on his blog about media and tension and spin. There was one part I found fascinating.

Watching Hurricane Ike come in (the storm went over my home and family in Houston) you would have thought it was the end of the world. The city of Galveston sent out an alert saying all those who did not evacuate the island faced certain death. More than twenty-thousand people stayed, and nobody died. There were six deaths in Texas related to the storm, which was a decrease from how many people would have died that night were there to have been no storm. All those cars off the streets proved safer than a storm serge and one-hundred-mile-per-hour winds. (This is not to invalidate the devastation caused by the storm, which was severe and tragic) But the media ran with the story because, perhaps, tension keeps us watching. And now that the country can be called to help out in Galveston, the media has moved on to other areas in which it can create tension and sell more advertising.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Brian McLaren on September 11th

Since 7 years ago today was when the terroristic events happened against the World Trade Center and other buildings, I thought this video was a good way to remember and to re-calibrate our minds as to how we treat our Muslim neighbors as we move forward. This video was first posted at Emergent Village.


Tuesday, September 09, 2008

One Issue Voting and Abortion vs Slavery, Part 2

Yesterday I tried to draw a clear distinction between the issue of slavery 150 years ago and abortion today, and point out the flaw of right wing fundamentalists equating the two issues as equally clear. Today I want to make some general comments about the abortion issue in politics.

1. Nobody is Pro-Abortion

Let's be clear on that. Certain candidates may be for protecting women's right in this area, but abortion is always seen as less than ideal, for liberals and conservatives alike. Even if you take a stance that abortion hold no moral significance at all, the fact remains that a procedure is necessary that is unnatural and includes some health risks (though about the same or less than going full term). That is why everyone is for reducing abortions. Right wingers would due well to realize this, and attempt to work together.

2. There is some very interesting information about reducing abortions

For example, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good commissioned a study about the factors that contribute to abortion rates rising and falling.

This study is an attempt to estimate how socioeconomic factors and state abortion laws affect the abortion rate. We have found the following measures to be associated with sharp reductions in the abortion rate: WIC benefits, increased male employment, and economic assistance to low-income families. For example, states that spent $1,350 more per person living in poverty showed a 20% decrease in abortion. To put this dollar figure in context, $1,350 per person in poverty is about $47 billion dollars,22 which is equivalent to the amount tax payers spent on only 18 weeks of funding for the Iraq war in 2007.23 The data show that women respond to robust economic supports by being more likely to carry pregnancies to term. Furthermore, this study finds that a family cap for families receiving government assistance increases the number of abortions. This study also examines the effect of state abortion laws on the abortion rate. While this study finds that state laws such as informed and parental consent have not had a significant effect on abortion rates, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good continues to support such measures as part of a comprehensive plan to reduce the rate of abortion in the United States.

Here we have a pro-life organization commissioning a study that says laws do very little to deter abortions, but social factors, like government benefits, play a significant role.

It has also been estimated by the Guttmacher Institute shows that if Medicaid coverage was to include contraception for low income women, 200,000 abortions of unwanted pregnancies could be prevented.

But, unfortunately we don't see right wingers working as ferociously to change our country into a place where abortions don't need to happen as they do on getting Roe v. Wade overturned.

3. There are non Roe v. Wade attempts to reduce abortion

For example, consider the 95-10 Initiative.

A comprehensive plan that will reduce the number of abortions by 95% in the next 10 years by promoting abstinence, personal responsibility, adoptions and support for women and families who are facing unplanned pregnancy.

The 95-10 Initiative seeks to reduce the number of abortions in America through Federal, state and local efforts as well as support and encouragement to volunteers and dedicated people on the front lines helping pregnant women. Much attention has been given to ending abortion or keeping it legal. We believe that we must do more to reduce the abortion rate by helping and supporting pregnant women.

Will there be a day when the left and the right can work together to make abortions minimal? That is what I am hoping for.

May we see beyond the false dichotomy that is created by comparing abortion to slavery. May we stand up for the life of the unborn, but not at the expense of the many other issues that involve protecting life (war, poverty, the death penalty). And may we continue to love and seek the kingdom of God in the way of Jesus as we prepare for the election coming up, remembering that the important question is not "how should we vote," but "how should we live."


Monday, September 08, 2008

One Issue Voting and Abortion vs Slavery

As is normal in an election year, many fundamentalist and evangelicals are spreading very strong talk about how you have to vote for McCain if you really believe the Bible/are a true Christian/care about what God cares about/have a brain and on and on. I had really hoped that we were beginning to move past all this, but apparently we are not. I think voting is good and that voters should have good, well thought out reasons for voting the way they vote. I have no problem with blogs talking about the issues and discussing reasons (Biblical or otherwise) for taking a certain stance on a certain issue. The problem comes when people crusade against anyone who disagrees with them.

But I'm getting a bit off track. There are pretty much two major critiques that come from the right wing conservative evangelical/fundamentalist camp at those supporting Obama/Biden (or any Democrat for that matter). These issues are abortion and gay unions (though it is often reduced to just abortion). Obama is for upholding Roe v. Wade and for civil unions. McCain is for overturning Roe v. Wade and, though he had been for civil unions in the past, he says on his website that he will protect marriage between one man and one woman, but does not weigh in on civil unions. He may be wording it in the way he is as to not upset his conservative base. But maybe not.

Again, getting a bit off track. Usually the Christians on the right critique the Christians on the left by saying "how could you vote for a candidate that does not want to make abortion illegal?" The response by the Christian could be a number of things (after 6 years of Bush and Republican house and senate nothing has been done, outlawing it is not going to solve the problem, protecting a woman's right to choose etc.). The most common critique from the left back to the right is to say "I'm not a one issue voter." The right sometimes responds by saying that a 150 years ago one issue voters ended slavery because that issue was so obvious. They reason that the modern day situation is the same, that we simply need to stand once and for all and get Roe v. Wade overturned, just like Lincoln and the north did with slavery.

But I think it is important to draw a clear distinction between slavery 150 years ago and abortion today. I can think of at least two pretty important reasons.

1. There is no ambiguity when it comes to slavery.

When we talk about slavery, there are some pretty clear cut realities. There is a slave owner, owning and mistreating another human being as property. There was of course talk in the day that people of a different color were not as valuable as white people (and horrifyingly, some Christian denominations even used scriptural support to defend this idea). But, pretty soon it became clear to the majority that a human being owning and torturing another was wrong.

Compare that with today. In the mind of a fundamentalist/evangelical on the right, there is no ambiguity in abortion. A mother is torturing and murdering her own child. But to a non biased person who is taking an honest look at the issue, it is not so clear. It was Augustine who first said that the soul is created at conception. But, in the case with twins, the zygote separates after conception. In this case, do the twins share a soul? Or does one twin have a soul and the other not? At what point does the fetus become a full person? Is the morning after pill as bad as partial birth abortions? If abortion became illegal, should women who have abortions be punished as severely as people who murder children or adults? If a lab caught on fire, and you had the choice to save an infant or a petri dish with five fertilized embryos, which should you save? To what extent should the government make these decisions as opposed to letting each woman decide for herself?

Whereas slavery is very clear, the abortion issue raises a whole host of questions that may not have clear cut, obvious answers. It doesn't seem right, then, to equate the two.

2. Unlike abortion, slavery does not effect the health and body of the mother/owner

This is the lesser of the two points, but the fact remains: the domain of the issue we are discussing is inside a woman's body. That is not true for slavery. There are some very real questions that we need to ask about what rights a woman has over what to do with her body and what goes on inside her body. Regardless of how we decide this plays into the abortion issue, the fact remains that this clearly distinguishes this issue from slavery.

I will post more about this tomorrow, but until then, may we continue to think deeply on these issues and be fair and loving to those who disagree with us.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Doug Pagitt on ACWB, Videos 6 and 7

It has been a while since I posted one of these, but here are the next two in this series of videos that Doug is using to promote his book. Doug listed these as videos 7 and 8, but I'm pretty sure they are numbers 6 and 7. The topics are "Jesus" and "Heaven".

Video 6

Video 7

Saturday, September 06, 2008

A Historical Perspective on the Economy

Sorry that the posts have been so political lately. But, when in Rome, right?

Scott McKnight linked to a very interesting article that looks historically (since WW2) at how the economy has done under Republicans vs Democrats. What would you guess the results are?

The article rates the parties on two categories: 1) average annual gross national product (i.e. what percentage more does the average person make after a year) and the second is 2) a look at the effect on income inequality (i.e. the rich get richer and the poor get poorer).

The stark contrast between the whiz-bang Clinton years and the dreary Bush years is familiar because it is so recent. But while it is extreme, it is not atypical. Data for the whole period from 1948 to 2007, during which Republicans occupied the White House for 34 years and Democrats for 26, show average annual growth of real gross national product of 1.64 percent per capita under Republican presidents versus 2.78 percent under Democrats.

That 1.14-point difference, if maintained for eight years, would yield 9.33 percent more income per person, which is a lot more than almost anyone can expect from a tax cut.

Pretty significant.

It is well known that income inequality in the United States has been on the rise for about 30 years now — an unsettling development that has finally touched the public consciousness. But Professor Bartels unearths a stunning statistical regularity: Over the entire 60-year period, income inequality trended substantially upward under Republican presidents but slightly downward under Democrats, thus accounting for the widening income gaps over all. And the bad news for America’s poor is that Republicans have won five of the seven elections going back to 1980.

Thus, it seems from the evidence that the economy sees greater health and fruit when a Democrat is in office than when a Republican is.

Here is where I want to go with this: I have a friend who anytime we talk about the thriving economy under Clinton and the struggling economy under Bush, he attributes Clinton's success to Regan's work and Bush's failure to Clinton. He, of course, is extremely Republican. This study seems to refute that thinking, doesn't it? I mean a patters on "misattribution" could not continue for 70 years, could it?


Doug Pagitt on Sarah Palin's Speech

Here is an interesting and funny perspective on Sarah Palin's speech at the Republican National Convention by Doug Pagitt. You can find more stuff like this at Doug's blog.


Friday, September 05, 2008

Voting for the President

A reader on Scot McKnight's Jesus Creed blog sent in a letter asking about the upcoming election. He admitted he was torn on who to vote for. Among other things, he says:

Does placing “no confidence in redemption by way of politics” justify a least-of-two-evils vote in November? Does voting for a candidate who I know will support immoral policies not implicate me with those policies? Would it be better to conscientiously abstain from voting? Or is that simply a moralistic cop-out? Should I perhaps consider voting for one of the “protest candidates” like Ron Paul, who I know won’t win but still allows me to do my “duty” to vote?

Scot responded saying a number of things. Here is a taste.

On November 4 I will vote; in the evening Kris and I will watch the TV as it enters into the lather of not only reporting news but making the news.

More importantly, on November 5 I will get up and go about my business no matter who gets elected. There will be people who need to hear about Jesus; there will be people who are suffering from systemic injustices; there will be people abusing power; there will be good reasons to drink coffee and eat lunch with colleagues and prepare dinner and go for a walk with Kris before supper. Changing Presidents will not end those needs and those problems and those parts of my life. So, my task as a Christian is to follow Jesus by loving God and loving others as well as I can. Changing Presidents won’t change that one bit. I don’t see that either candidate has the intent of depriving us of these things.

He goes on to say:

Now one more way of saying this: my eschatology, or my hope, is not in who will be the next President. I hope in the power of the gospel that flows from God’s good graces toward us humans. I hope in the God who designs that gospel; I hope in the Christ who embodies that gospel; and I hope in the Spirit who empowers that gospel. And I hope also in the Church whose task it is daily to live out the gospel and draw all into its saving graces. I don’t hope in the next President. I think that is idolatrous. In fact, hoping in the next President is the first step toward idolizing empire.

So my friend, I approach this election as a Christian who finds it important, significant, and incredibly fascinating, but who also finds it not as important as the task Jesus has given to us as his followers.

I think he makes some good points. I think voting is good, and I plan too. But may we remember that our hope does not lie in whomever gets elected on November 4th. The reason this is important is because many in our nation pretend that the future of our civilization depends on this election (as they do for all elections). May we strike a good balance of seeing voting as a good right, but not as our hope for the future.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Thoughts On Politics

Well, both candidates have selected their running mates. With the Democratic National Convention over and the Republican National Convention going on this week, we are about to move into the final few months of this race. Everything is becoming more charged up politically. I usually stay a bit removed from politics here at Nick's Musings, other than a video here or there to make you think. But I thought I would take this opportunity to share some general thoughts about this election. Here we go:

1. Neither Candidate is a Savior. We are starting to hear this from both sides. "Obama is the hope for America" or "McCain is a true American Hero." Both are loaded marketing ploys. Neither are true. We see this marketing strategy happen every election though: convince the voters that there is something to be lost if your candidate is not elected. Create fear. The truth is, neither candidate is going to save us or our nation. I don't want to downplay change too much, because I believe whoever gets elected can make change, but our salvation or the future of our nation does not depend on it. Which leads me to my second point.

2. Neither Candidate is the Anti-Christ. The mud slinging is about to reach a fever pitch. I honestly think the candidates in this election respect one another, so we are seeing less from them disrespecting each other. They seem to be attacking each others voting records and connections than their character, which is a positive. But even thought these candidates are treating each other with more respect (and perhaps because), there is a ton of mud slinging going on by others. The small mindedness of the things I hear drives me crazy. Both of these guys are great men who love their country. Neither is the spawn of Satan. Neither is a communist or a Muslim. So, if you have a candidate that you like, please don't resort to childish name-calling. Don't resort to the vilification and demonization that is so common in politics today.

3. You are starting to see Christianity at its absolute worst. I don't know why, but Evangelical Christians wait until election time to rear their true ugliness. I understand believing in a cause, and believing strongly, but since when did it become Jesus-like to hurl insults at anyone who disagrees, question their salvation, and act in a spirit of hate? That is not the Jesus I read about. What happened to loving your enemies? So what happens is this group of activists works themselves up into a huff, demonizes the candidate they don't like and anybody who considers what that candidate has to say, all the while it becomes clear to all those outside that Christianity (at least the version we have some to see in 21st century Cmerica) is not about love. In the mean time, the homeless do not get homes, the starving do not get food, and why? Because we have an election to win, right?

If you do feel it necessary to make this election a significant part of your life this year, please do those three things: Don't think one candidate is the savior, or that another is the Anti-Christ, and (if you're a Christian) don't become an embarrassment to Jesus in the way that you carry yourself in these next couple months. Lastly, and most importantly, remember the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is not the conservatives or the liberals, America or another country, black or white, male or female. The Kingdom of God is about loving God and loving people. May we keep that in our minds and hearts as we continue forward to see what these next few months bring us.