Yesterday, the U.S. and Canada celebrated Labor Day, a day honoring workers. What does it mean to honor workers at a time of high unemployment, job insecurity, and the threat of lay-offs? In the U.S., the unemployment rate remains just over 9 percent, with no decrease of the rate in August and the recovery of jobs apparently stalled. As President Obama prepares to deliver his "jobs speech" this week, he faces immense challenges.
In the U.S., the first celebration of Labor Day was held in 1882 in New York City, organized by the Central Labor Union. In Canada, Labor Day can be traced back even further, to when Toronto Typographers went on strike for a 58-hour work week in 1872. Religious leaders, both nationally and internationally, recognizing the sanctity of labor, joined labor leaders in calling for justice for workers. Pope Leo XIII, for example, issued Rerum Novarum (On the Condition of Labor) in 1891, building a biblical foundation for the dignity of the worker.
"The man who can articulate the movements of his inner life," the late Christian apologist and author Henri Nouwen said, "need no longer be a victim of himself, but is able slowly and consistently to remove the obstacles that prevent the spirit from entering."
Throughout the ages, how Christian believers have chosen to articulate their inner lives has had many manifestations in literature, music, architecture, and other artistic endeavors.
As a means of communicating and wrestling with his inner life -- his journey of faith -- Greg Fromholz, an American expatriate youth worker for the Church of Ireland in Dublin, wrote a book titled Liberate Eden, but traditional publishing houses found that his work was a bit too iconoclastic for their tastes.
"It is just too different to be Christian," one publisher pronounced.
Earlier this summer I attended a church service where the pastor, a man struggling with what appears to be his final bout with cancer, preached about the hope that Jesus promises to those who trust in him. After describing the returning Jesus brandishing a sword and dripping with the blood of all our vanquished enemies, he invited the audience to share what they saw as the hope that this Jesus promises. The responses ranged from no cancer, to no pain, to no worries about paying the bills, to the promise of an upgraded body -- all of course in heaven someday after we die. The congregation was encouraged to find contentment in the present from the possibility of realizing these promises someday. Our souls are what matter; the body just has to endure until our souls reach heaven. No mention of help with how to pay this month's rent or what it means for a cancer-ridden body to be the temple of the Holy Spirit, just the spiritual promise that someday all will be well.
So NPR just released the results of their survey for the "Top 100 Science-fiction and Fantasy Books." It's a great list with some of my all-time favorite books on it (although I disagree with their decision not to include young adult books on the list, but that's just me). Some 5,000 books were nominated for the list, but the ones that made the top 100 were mostly ones that were more than just entertaining stories; they are the stories that mean something. Stories that through their imaginings of alternative worlds tap into the power of the prophetic to deliver the message that our world too is not absolute, but imagined and therefore capable of change.
Now, while I have complained in the past about why imaginative challenges to oppressive orders in our world only seem to happen in speculative fictions, the genre still remains my favorite -- often for that very reason. As this recent comparison of women of sci-fi vs. women of prime time shows, there are just so many more substantial ways of being in the world than the status quo generally allows for. Speculative fictions not only present the possibility that the dreams we struggle for now could someday actually be realities, they are also the prophetic voice calling us into that world.
Many people remember "O God, Our Words Cannot Express," a hymn written on the afternoon of September 11, 2001. The hymn was quickly shared by email and Web postings (it is still on over 10,000 websites); it was used by many churches on that evening and in the days that followed. The hymn was featured in newspaper stories, radio programs, twice on national PBS-TV, and on BBC-TV in the United Kingdom. YouTube has the Church World Service music video by Emmy winner Pete Staman of this hymn being sung by Noel Paul Stookey (of "Peter, Paul & Mary") with the Northfield Mount Herman School Choir.
The new posting of this interfaith hymn includes a revised version for the 10th anniversary. Also included is "God, We've Known Such Grief and Anger", a hymn lifting up Christian hope in the face of disaster that was written for the first year anniversary of 9/11. Last week I wrote a new hymn for the tenth anniversary of September 11 with an emphasis on working for peace and justice for all.
Some sources have stated that more than 12 million people are being impacted by the worst drought and famine in the region of the Horn of Africa in 60 years.
12 million people.
How do you wrap your head around such a number?
You begin with one.
The World Food Programme, for example, has shared that they can provide a nutritious meal for one person for .17
In Galatians 5:19-20, Paul lists the "works of the flesh," contrasting them to the "fruit of the Spirit" immediately thereafter (Gal. 5:22-23). Among the works of the flesh are hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, and division. Another translation puts it, "People become enemies and they fight; they become jealous, angry, and ambitious. They separate into parties and groups ... I warn you now as I have before: those who do these things will not possess the kingdom of God."
When the Alabama legislature passed their infamous, anti-immigrant law (HB 56), the religious community in the state immediately cried foul. Jim Wallis and other national leaders condemned the law as unjust and immoral.
HB 56, which will go into effect September 1, attacks virtually every aspect of immigrants' lives. Among many punitive measures, it authorizes police to detain anyone they suspect is undocumented, mandates criminal penalties for those who transport undocumented migrants, and demands that public schools determine the immigration status of all students.
Several weeks ago (right before I left for my sabbatical), I joined with six other pastors from around the country -- in partnership with Sojourners -- to draft an open letter to Congress and President Barack Obama regarding the budget and the proposals to cut certain programs that aid the poor in our country. Our hope was to invite at least 1,000 pastors to join us in signing this document.
As of today, we've had nearly 5,000 pastors and Christian leaders from all 50 states join us in signing this open letter, and we hope to keep adding voices and signatures. As a pastor and Christian leader will you add your voice to let our political leaders know that you stand with the poor?
Smack dab in the middle of the Lord’s Prayer, obscured by old translations and otherworldly assumptions, is a radical cry for Jubilee justice
At the Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina last weekend, I was able to speak with Anna Clark, author of Green, American Style, president and founder of EarthPeople, a green consulting firm, and a contributor to Taking Flight: Reclaiming the Female Half of God's Image Through Advocacy and Renewal. Anna has a heart for equipping churches to make small and big changes for the sake of creation care and stewardship of the earth's resources. How can Christians do this, you ask? Read our conversation to find out.
We met 10-year-old Noor Al-Abid in November during our first visit to Gaza.
We are looking for 1,000 pastors to debunk a myth based on the political assertion that government doesn't have any responsibility to poor people. The myth is that churches and charities alone could take care of the problems of poverty -- especially if we slashed people's taxes. Both this assertion and myth contradict the biblical imperative to hold societies and rulers responsible for how they treat the poor, and ignore the Christian tradition of holding governments accountable to those in need. Faith-based organizations and government have had effective and healthy partnerships, and ultimately, the assertion and myth have more to do with libertarian political ideology, than good theology.
When trying to make sense of the changes that new media have brought to us, we can use either supplementary or substitutionary logic. With supplementary logic, Facebook et al. extend the range of our embodied relationships; with substitutionary logic, social media replace them. Those who want to use social media to enhance their churches' outreach implicitly use supplementary logic. Those who want to worship online and don't want to change out of their pajamas or meet other people in their messy particularity ... well, you get the idea.
A recent trip to New York City for a first meeting of the New Media Project Research Fellows reminded me of the superiority of supplementary to substitutionary logic. This happened because the neighborhood around Union Theological Seminary is so deliciously, specifically, embodiedly particular. Union itself is a marvel: its gothic architecture makes it unmistakable that this is a place with history. Niebuhr taught here; Bonhoeffer smoked and worried and decided to go home here; James Cone and Christopher Morse teach here; Serene Jones leads here. The neighborhood extends this particularity; the Jewish Theological Seminary, down Seminary Row, has a glorious crest above its door: "And the bush was not consumed." A tunnel under Union leads you to the grandeur of Riverside Church, where Fosdick and Forbes thundered. Go a few blocks south and east, and you're at The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the largest interior church space in North America. The morning I visited, the light shone blue through the rose window, filling the clerestory with incandescent beauty. The chapel at Columbia University, with its stained glass above the altar depicting St. Paul preaching on Mars Hill, is a perfect image for situated Christian truth vis-à-vis the gods on campuses and in Manhattan.
I recently wrote a blog about how to kill a dying church, asking questions about what to do with so many churches dying. I think the challenge is recognizing the signs that a church is dying. The problem is that churches tend to wither, which is a slow, gradual, and often subtle process. It is difficult to pinpoint when in the withering process it is time to take action, to make changes, and to make some vital decisions. While there are many reasons for a church dying, here are some practical observations that I have noticed in my experience. This list is certainly not exhaustive. It is also a list that my congregation has personally had to face, so I give examples of how my congregation has addressed these issues.