Posts Tagged ‘justice’

Rejoice at the Coming of Peace

December 23, 2016

If there is one word that describes Advent and Christmas, it would be peace. We use that word often in December. Of course, then we file it away with the Christmas decorations until next December.

I have two foundational principles–peace and justice. These guide my political decisions and theological reflections. If Christmas is peace, Easter must be justice.

Thanks to ever present news and efficient news gathering, we are constantly presented with violence events everywhere in the world. We could easily think that the world is “going to hell in a hand basket.” It is depressing. Just picking up my phone with the latest iOS operating system, the screen lights up and I see notifications. Guy was shot in Milan. Someone was shot somewhere else.

Did Jesus really usher in an era of peace? Would his birth have made it on CNN? A breathless Wolf Blitzer, “Here I am live in Bethlehem…” OK, probably not. As they say in the news business, if it bleeds it leads.

If you can cleanse your mind for a bit of all those news pieces, you can see that the world really is getting better over the centuries. Overall we live better. We recognize peace and justice more than ever.

However, like the author William Gibson observed, “The future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed.”

Pause and reflect over the big picture. Jesus’ birth leads to death and then resurrection. But that’s not all. It all points to the New Heaven and New Earth. The New Jerusalem. Jesuit priest and philosopher Pierre Teilhard (one of my favorites) called it the Omega Point.

Augustus Caesar called himself the Prince of Peace. He didn’t last long. Jesus was called the Prince of Peace and he guides us toward peace still some 2,000 years later.

Merry Christmas, and Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward all humans.

Learn to Speak Up

July 13, 2016

I am such a coward.

I have a certain talent for writing–at least that what people tell me. I appreciate the comments, especially from the ones who pay me to write.

Arguing is emotional. Sometimes emotions can run away from your control. Way over. It’s the way over that’s bad. Been there in my life. Once, a long time ago, I was quite argumentative. But it was always an emotional response. I don’t handle confrontation well. Always regretted it in the end.

I care about two things in the political realm (carries over into personal)–peace and justice. There was once a stream in the Democrat Party that was focused on peace and justice. Now, to me at least, it seems like they all are just out to see what they can get from the government. Different things for different people (whoever they think will vote for them, of course).

But, peace and justice come from within. If there are enough of us, then we’ll begin to see Shalom–that deep peace that we read about in the Bible.

Some of that starts from speaking up. In a forceful, but peaceful, way.

There have been many conversations I’ve witnessed over the past few months where I’ve heard some of the worst racial comments. And violent comments. Comments such as, “Maybe we would be better off to kill all the (name your hated group–gay people, people with different colored skin, people from different cultures).”

So far as I know, all the people would self-identify as Christian. Some were in church–that is a hint.

And, did I speak up as the lone dissenter and ask, “What would Jesus think of the state of your heart this moment?”

Jesus could stare down an angry group with rocks in their hands. And me? I whiffed.

Unfortunately, I’m sure there will be another time at bat.

Live Out Your Faith

May 11, 2016

It was almost too good of a set up.

Yesterday, I wrote about living water. Then at a church meeting last night in a room by the door to the parking lot, a woman comes in and asks for a drink of water…

Thirty years ago, I volunteered to work with an organization whose purpose was to find a way to raise the incomes of the farmers of the world who were squeezed by giant corporations driving down commodity prices and who colluded with corrupt politicians to force them off their land.

They became wage earners with no land to grow vegetables to eat. Suddenly they went from living to destitute.

That organization approached the problem through politics. A strategy doomed to failure.

Today, Christians are taking the lead solving another social problem much as they did millennia ago with schools and hospitals.

Coffee is one of the world’s most traded commodities. Once again, farmers have been squeezed by market forces–but not by Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand” but by power garnered by large corporations.

At one level, farmers began to cooperate and form cooperative ventures where they could sell a little higher up the food chain to get a better return. “Fair Trade” coffee. It may be found in other commodities, too. One trouble with Fair Trade for us consumers is that there is no standard. Not all co-ops are the same. Not always does the farmer get a fair shake.

Faithful coffee roasters have begun buying directly from the farmer removing several intervening steps in the process. Suddenly the farmer is rewarded for his effort. He can feed his family, hire others, and pay them enough to feed their families. Some earn enough to be able to bring their daughters back from sex trafficking. Yes, there are still parts of the world where men sell their daughters into the sex trade–usually because they can’t feed another mouth.

(It’s another topic, but don’t think only Mexico, Thailand or Malaysia. Human trafficking is a big business in the US, too. When men want sex and will pay for it….)

Look for Direct Trade coffee and support this ecosystem of helping people. Because it’s a Christian initiative, many of these farmers use some of their profits to start churches in their rural areas. It’s amazing how things multiply.

We solve global problems not through massive government programs but a bag of coffee at a time.

Despite Gains, Women Are Still Exploited

September 9, 2015

Laws and opportunities for women have greatly improved over the course of my adult life in North America and Western Europe. As a group, they are treated better by the law and business.

They do remain virtually or actually enslaved in much of the world. At least three speakers on the TED Talks circuit have pointed out one of the major problems still facing the world is treatment of women. Some identify the situation as a major drag on economies. Jimmy Carter called it the biggest problme not discussed.

This is even among people who consider themselves Christ followers. And sometimes even women themselves are talked into excepting (and promoting) the concept that the Bible says that they are second-class church citizens incapable of participating in church leadership.

Much worse than exclusion from church leadership is the reality of human trafficking–recruiting women by one means or another into sex trade basically enslaving them in a life centered on entertaining the pleasures of men.

A group of people have begun organizing a coalition in our county to raise awareness of human trafficking occurring even in our rural area–probably due to the busy Interstate highway and heavy truck traffic. Only a few men have attended the meetings. I’m the only representative of a church.

One of my small groups is studying the gospel of John. A close reading of the last few chapters shows how important women were in the inner circle of Jesus’ followers. Even if some want to continue mis-reading Paul, Jesus message is unmistakable. 

The remarkable part of the stories recorded in the gospels and Acts is simply the fact that they were recorded at all. Given the culture of first century Mediterranian peoples, giving leading roles to women in some of the stories was actually revolutionary at the time. 

There are so many problems. We can’t solve all at once. But things begin by changing hearts. You do that one heart at a time. You meet someone in an abusive situation, you try to help strengthen the heart to leave the situation. Offering support–emotionally, financially, spiritually. 

And we need to change the hearts of men to overcome whatever basic drives and emotions compel them to be the reason for the problem in the first place.

As a friend of mine said, we can do all manner of things, but unless we work on changing the hearts of people, nothing will change.

Labor Day Weekend

September 4, 2015

“14 From the fruit of the mouth one is filled with good things,and manual labor has its reward.” — Proverbs 12:14

Today kicks off Labor Day weekend in the US. It’s the traditional end of summer and beginning of fall. Although around here students have been back in school for almost two weeks.

It’s the last of the “summer fun” days. Boating, camping, and other recreational pursuits.

We very little recognize the labor movement to which this day owes its name. I’m always amazed at how the labor movement–the quest for justice for laboring people from their masters–began with violence, came to some power, then fizzled all in less than a century.

Many gains were made for justice, though. Company owners mostly cannot treat their workers like slaves. That was the case in many industrial and mining areas at the beginning of the 20th Century.

The laws of supply and demand, the workers own political preference for politicians on social issues over economic issues, and maybe even technology weakened the movement.

I know too many “social Darwinists” who look down on working people as sub-human species. As the Proverb says, manual labor has its reward. I have no less respect for the person who makes my car, fixes my plumbing, or builds a house than I do for high-flying  wealthy sales people or corporate managers. In fact, I often find higher ethics among the former than the latter.

When we as humans learn to treat everyone with respect regardless of their talents or economic position, we will begin to adopt the lifestyle that Jesus preached. Justice over power. Respect for God’s creatures.

Go out and enjoy the weekend–even if you don’t live here. 

Do Not Close Your Ear To The Cry of the Poor

March 18, 2015

I continue to process the experiences of our latest mission trip to Tijuana and the Tijuana Christian Mission. Today’s lesson from the Celtic Daily Prayer: Prayers and Readings from the Northumbria Community interestingly enough speaks to the reasons for going on a mission trip of service.

From Proverbs 21:13

If you close your ear to the cry of the poor, you will cry out and not be heard.

And from James 2:17

So, faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

James refers not to the type of works that Paul sometimes addresses in the context of grace, that is, works that you must do to make yourself right with God. James already assumes faith and grace. If you read the entire letter, you see that he is specifically talking about service. 

He follows Jesus’ second command–to love our neighbor as ourself. Jesus continues, when asked who the neighbor is, to tell the story of the Good Samaritan. Our neighbor is someone in need whom we come across in our life.

Jesus said that we will know his followers by their love. James puts additional context. Your faith is revealed in how you act. You say you have faith, but your actions scream selfishness, pride, stubbornness? It’s time for a faith check-up.

Service can be a simple gesture, a smile, a helping hand. It’s not always a life-changing experience. But sometimes that simple reaching out with a smile does change someone’s life for the better. It can show them God is real.

And, as followers of Jesus, that’s a big part of our “job”.

PS–I put a link to TCM. You can click and check it out. You can “adopt” a child for a donation of $50/month. You can support in other ways. If you’re in San Diego with a day to spare, TCM is just a short drive over the border. Although the wait to cross the border back (passport required) can be long. Getting into the US is harder than any other country I’ve travelled to. 

Don’t Turn a Spiritual Problem into a Political One

December 2, 2014

My heart continues to break over the fallout of the Ferguson, MO events.

One thing that really affects me is the number of posts on Facebook from my “Christian friends” that perpetuate a meme making the situation a political one. It goes something like this, “If you are a true Conservative, then you will back the police officer. Only the nasty liberals back the black man.”

The situation is far more complex than that.

Sunday I worshipped at Willow Creek Community church. Senior Pastor Bill Hybels read a carefully composed statement about the situation. He noted that there are stories. These stories may not contain all the facts of the situation (many of which may never be known). But the stories are different for each of the actors in the drama.

He was correct. People tend to believe a story. Trouble is, there are usually many stories. Each person believes his or her own story.

It takes vast amounts of courage to step back and look at other people’s stories. See how they believe them. And then start the work of reconciliation of the various stories into a common one.

That is part of the work of the Spirit. Politics only constructs sides to an issue so that everyone can complain about the other. The Spirit draws together so that one side of the many can begin to at least see the other sides. And then see that they need not be enemies. They could be co-workers for good and growth in the community.

Those of us who want to politicize the issue should just stay out of it. If you don’t have a solution, you’re part of the problem.

For those of us far away, prayer is a powerful part of the solution.

Take That First Step in Faith

November 26, 2014

“My child, if you accept my words
and treasure up my commandments within you,
2 making your ear attentive to wisdom
and inclining your heart to understanding;
3 if you indeed cry out for insight,
and raise your voice for understanding;
4 if you seek it like silver,
and search for it as for hidden treasures—
5 then you will understand the fear of the LORD
and find the knowledge of God.”

Proverbs 2

The situation in Ferguson, MO keeps invading my consciousness, picks at it like a sore you just can’t keep from touching. It is a tragedy on so many levels. There is no obvious quick solution.

On the one hand, we can’t have mob justice and survive in a country based on rule of law. On the other hand, when there is such little respect for the authority of those entrusted to uphold the law, then where is justice?

I came of moral age in an era in the US of police brutality that was either outrightly condoned or at least hidden. And especially toward black and poor. In my all-white community of 1,000, I don’t know why I developed a deep sense of the need for justice for black people. I never had talked to any non-white person until I was 17. But, that’s where I am. So, I have deep empathy for the community—not for violence which is something I abhor—but for injustice.

The distrust on both sides in that community is so high, it will take a very strong person of faith and integrity to break that cycle. And it won’t happen in a short period of time.

Wisdom, the writer of Proverbs, pleads for a heart of understanding. If you seek it, then you will understand the fear of the Lord, she says.

Bill Hybels, founder and sr. pastor of the Willow Creek Community Church, recently talked about how the Bible teaches us to have faith that we’ll get help along the way—you have to take the first step in faith, then God will help. We need those people that step out in faith. Ferguson needs someone to rise up from its community to step out in faith to start a healing.

That brings us to another question. Where do we need to take the first step in faith to bring healing to a situation? Are we seeking Wisdom to guide us toward understanding? It’s a challenge.

The Conscience of a Society

January 28, 2014

Pete Seeger has passed away at age 94. That’s what an alert from the Wall Street Journal on my iPhone told me this morning. He was the conscience of the nation at a time of great changes in our society. I was greatly influenced by him. I can see many of the things he saw about society, but in the end I lack his courage to live an entire life as a conscience.

In that fear part of the 50s and the rise of Joseph McCarthy, he was branded a communist and lost the ability to earn a living for many years. Still, he persisted. He followed the footsteps of another folk-singing legend–Woody Gutherie. And some who followed him, such as Paul Stookey and Peter Yarrow of the group Peter, Paul & Mary, did not have the same stamina.

I wonder who is today’s conscience. In America, is it John Stewart? Not the same. Most likely Bono of U2 fame.

Seeger probably looked like our mental image of some of the Old Testament prophets. He was like some of them. He saw injustice in society and pointed it out. Much as those old prophets, he was not often revered. Instead often ridiculed, despised.

Still, the last time I heard him, he was firm to his convictions and ever watchful of the movements in society. Still seeking a society that has justice for all. Still pointing out shortcomings.

As the prophet Amos said (5:24), “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

Seeger lived that. Why do I fall short?