Sojomail - April 24, 2008
"Jesus Christ, at the last meal before they put him on the cross, said it's true that the body is weak but the soul is strong. As the people's servant, I believe that one day I will suffer the same fate as the teacher. That doesn't mean this church is thirsty for blood. But we have a real principle. We want to announce to the people that the church is existing. It has existed and it will exist.
- Rev. Thair Abdal, a priest at the Holy Catholic Assyrian Church in Baghdad, Iraq. Abdal has received calls in which would-be kidnappers threatened to put him on a cross and crucify him. (Source: The New York Times )
Last week in Columbus, Ohio, that vision came to life. The first night, as I stood on the stage looking out over a church filled with 3,500 people inspired by Matt Redman's opening worship music, I felt a sense of amazing grace. Over the next three evenings, more than 10,000 people attended. There would have been more if they could have gotten into the Vineyard Church -- this largest church in Columbus seats 3,500 people, but it turned out to be too small for the crowd. Pastor Rich Nathan of Vineyard and Bishop Timothy Clarke of the First Church of God, the co-chairs of the revival, led the services. My three sermons focused on the call to conversion, the call to community, and the call to justice.
Hundreds of people came forward to commit their lives to Christ for the first time, and thousands came down the aisle to commit themselves to the social justice that is core to the kingdom of God, to the "least of these" whom Jesus calls us to care for. The Columbus Dispatch headlined a story, "The Justice Revival: Faithful aim to aid poor, as Jesus did," and wrote:
Our call to the churches was to make the city of Columbus their "parish" – that the churches of the city together take responsibility for what happens in their city. The whole spectrum of the churches, from the most conservative to the most liberal, supported the revival. On Thursday evening, 50 pastors from those churches joined on the stage for an altar call to make Columbus the parish of the churches in the city.
Friday evening, an inspiring challenge by Dr. Gene Harris, superintendent of Columbus Public Schools, asked for mentors who would develop relationships with the city's children led to hundreds of responses. On Saturday following the revival, the Dispatch wrote that the "Revival's faithful take good will onto streets":
Governor Ted Strickland of Ohio came to our "City Leaders Lunch," as did Mayor Michael Coleman of Columbus, city council members, many nonprofit organizations, and many more pastors. They spoke together about communication and collaboration, and the partnerships among them that could change the city.
Billboards announcing the Justice Revival were all over town and simply said, "Love God? End Poverty." By the end of the week, the stories of how people wanted to follow Jesus into relationship with the poor of Columbus were changing the image of Christianity in the city. And that change will continue, as one local pastor said in the press:
It was an extraordinary week, even more than I had hoped. As we discern how to move forward, many other cities now want Justice Revivals in their communities. Just imagine!
Several weeks ago, a pair of doves built a nest on a front windowsill at my house. My family watched as the mother bird laid two eggs, as they hatched, and as the young chicks feathered. We grew attached to the winged family who made their home with ours. Two mornings ago, I was checking on the baby birds when a grackle (a large blackbird that a friend calls the "Darth Vader" of the bird world) swooped down and attacked the terrified mother. She flew off. Then, to my horror, the grackle plucked one of the babies out of the nest. Still in my pajamas, I ran outside with a broom yelling at the blackbird, hoping to frighten it and rescue the chick. But the grackle escaped with his prey. For a couple of hours, it circled around trying to collect the other chick.
When approaching a conflict, any world statesperson would consider trying to break up the logjam. A Christian leader who has always stood for justice and human rights and who takes the issue of the sancity of life seriously has no choice but to try and see what he or she can do to stop the bloodshed. In a protracted conflict, adding new ideas from a high-profile figure can help shake up the status quo. While it is unlikely for an ex-president to be able to extract major concessions, what President Carter has done in his meetings with Hamas is to show the world that the issues are much more gray than Israeli and U.S. government spin portray them to be.
Thank God for The Wall Street Journal editorial board. Now that's a phrase I never imagined uttering. Then again, who would have thought they'd be the institution to jump so eloquently to the defense of the pope from the likes of Lou Dobbs and Tom Tancredo?
On a recent edition of American Public Media's Speaking of Faith, host Krista Tippett presents a conversation among three generations of evangelical leaders -- Chuck Colson, Greg Boyd, and Shane Claiborne -- about how (or if) Christians should be involved in politics. The event was part of a larger pastor's conference in San Diego sponsored by Zondervan that several Sojourners staff attended; they gave rave reviews of this panel discussion. See for yourself.
In my ongoing quest for music that can enact positive social change, I came across the Black Gospel Restoration Project, a project spearheaded by Robert Darden, associate professor of journalism at Baylor University. Following is a short interview with Darden that elaborates on this dynamic preservation project.
A couple of days before Christmas 1993, I was sitting in my parent's living room watching a football game when I got a call from my uncle in Baghdad. After a very quick hello, he jumped right into asking if my father was home. I told him no, so he quickly gave me a flight number for a plane that was coming into Dallas the next day. After twice telling me that it was very important to be at the airport tomorrow, he told me to give his love to my mom and hung up. The next day we went to the airport and met my cousin and his wife, who had just spent the last several weeks sneaking out of a war-decimated Iraq. When Saddam Hussein ruled Baghdad, his government kept very close tabs on the people. In order to make an overseas phone call, one had to go to what used to be a post office and wait in line. Why? Because the government had agents who listened to all outgoing phone calls. Whenever my family would call, all hell could be going on around them, but they said nothing: "Oh, everything is just fine! Nothing to report here. How are you?" So intimidated by this reality, my father would never say a thing about Iraq or family during phone calls that took place entirely in the United States.
Sometimes I wish I could channel Washington Post fashion writer Robin Givhan. Then I'd be able to tell you why the pope was wearing bright red leather shoes. I stood in the press corps balcony watching the popemobile flanked by black Escalades approach the John Paul II Cultural Center for Benedict XVI's interreligious meeting with faith leaders. He entered the brightly lit atrium to the subdued applause of the 200-member audience. As he stepped onto the riser to sit in the Papal Chair, there was a flash of red—like a cardinal darting from tree to tree over fresh snow.
350 leaders under the age of 30 met at Sojourners' Justice Revival in Columbus, Ohio, to discuss social justice and activism. Shane Claiborne of The Simple Way spoke to the young leaders. Watch it:
One of the wonders of today's Social Web (or "Web 2.0 technology") is the infinite opportunity for collaboration. Through social networking online and off, I was able to gather talented folks with script-writing, filmmaking, and acting skills and -- voila -- we pulled together a video. (Living in Los Angeles, where creative endeavor is in the air, didn't hurt either.) The result, "Thru the Plexiglass," is a humorous video short that follows a fictional documentary filmmaker/reporter on a visit to a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office where he encounters a world lost in time.
THE JUSTICE REVIVAL; Faithful aim to aid poor, as Jesus did; Church coalition hopes to stir Christians to community action
The Rev. Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners, said God has signed up Christians for living out his purpose in the world. "Tonight, and this week, we're calling for the kind of conversion that can change lives, neighborhoods and this world," Wallis said. He wants to unleash "a new generation of abolitionists." +read more
Revival's faithful take good will onto streets
The 50 projects included cleaning parks, rehabbing homeless shelters, organizing food pantries and hosting barbecues and gasoline-giveaways in poor neighborhoods. The work was the culmination of the Justice Revival, a three-day event organized by 40 area churches and Sojourners, a Washington-based social-justice organization. +read more
Another angle on papal visit: the bond with evangelicals
Austin American-Statesman blog
Campaign 2008: Obama gains pro-life support
WORLD magazine On the Web
Tradition of black truth-tellers
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