I remember vividly the first time I went to a comic book shop with my mom. I'd sneaked there before. But this time was different. This time I'd come without pretense, openly confessing my love of the four-color art form. I was in the fifth grade.
While I perused the back issue bins in the middle of the shop, my mother looked from one rack to the next, her face slowly solidifying into a grimace. On one cover, a half-naked green man punched a half-naked rock man in the head. On another, a woman wearing spandex tight enough to be body paint draped herself over some sort of futuristic motorcycle. Eventually, my mother's eyes fell upon the cover of a sword-and-sorcery title near the cash register. Behind a tan, sinewy barbarian stood a harem of women, all wearing thin strips of well-placed linen. We left before I could make a purchase.
For the past 30 years, through my work with Maryknoll and Pax Christi International, I've come to know grassroots communities around the world in situations of war and poverty. My mission focus base been largely international, but people, were in the "center of my screen." The environment, I thought, would have to wait.
A few weeks ago, I went with two of my grandchildren, Lauren (10) and Bobby (9), to see the documentary Hubble, which is about NASA's final shuttle expedition to repair a a broken part of the Hubble telescope. We watched in awe at the spectacular photos of the expanding universe. What an amazing sense these photos give of our own location as humans who are part of a larger earth community, who are part of a cosmos with which our own future is inextricably linked.
Here's the prayer we prayed at a nearby Publix grocery in the produce section on Friday:
A Prayer for Publix
Living God, you are the Creator of this beautiful and fertile world. You made sun, rain, soil, air, seed, and seasons. We praise you for the green of lettuce, the yellow of lemon, the orange of a tangerine, and especially for the bright red of a tomato. They are beautiful to our eyes, delicious to our taste buds, and nourishing to our bodies. We pray to the Lord, Lord, hear our prayer.
About two years ago, Minhee and I made one of the hardest decisions we've made thus far in our marriage and in our calling as parents.
In our hope to honor a conviction of the Holy Spirit to give up a year's salary, we had begun the two-year process of saving, selling, and simplifying in 2007. Our goal was to come up with our then year's wages of $68,000 -- in order to launch One Day's Wages. With only a few months left to come up with the total sum, we were a bit short and decided to sublet our home for couple months and asked some friends if we could stay with them on their couches or their guest room.
Needless to say, it was a very humbling time.
Our instruction for ourselves and our children were very simple: Each person gets one carry-on bag for their belongings.
Broadcaster Tavis Smiley and Princeton professor Cornel West just wrapped up their 18-city "Poverty Tour." The aim of their trip, which traversed through Wisconsin, Detroit, Washington, D.C., and the Deep South was to "highlight the plight of the poor people of all races, colors, and creeds so they will not be forgotten, ignored, or rendered invisible." Although the trip has been met with a fair amount of criticism, the issue of poverty's invisibility in American media and politics is unmistakable. The community organizations working tirelessly to help America's poor deserve a great deal more attention than what is being given.
The main attack against the "Poverty Tour" is Smiley and West's criticism of Obama's weak efforts to tackle poverty. For me though, what I would have liked to see more is the collection of stories and experiences from the people West and Smiley met along their trip. The act of collective storytelling in and of itself can be an act of resistance.
So let me suggest that this Labor Day, the church cannot afford to perpetuate the labor movement as an unexamined challenge in our society. Debates about the role of unions are everywhere, and demand thoughtful theological discussion, consideration, and action.
This Labor Day weekend, we are challenging every congregation and faith community in Ohio and around the nation to devote a portion of your worship service to exploring a biblically informed perspective on labor. This could include part of a homily, a testimony, a time of prayer for labor members in your parish, church, or faith community, or hosting a special conversation or panel on issues of faith and labor.
The rioting and rampages that spread across English cities last week have caused severe property destruction and raised public alarm. Writing in London's Guardian, community organizer Stafford Scott describes how he was among the group that on August 6 sought information from the police in Tottenham, a poorer section of London. They wanted an official statement on whether Mark Duggan had been killed by police bullets, as had been reported in the news.
All we really wanted was an explanation of what was going on. We needed to hear directly from the police. We waited for hours outside the station for a senior officer to speak with the family, in a demonstration led by young women. A woman-only delegation went into the station, as we wanted to ensure that this did not become confrontational. It was when the young women, many with children, decided to call it a day that the atmosphere changed, and guys in the crowd started to voice and then act out their frustrations.
This event is what most media accounts have identified as the spark that set England on fire, which has caught the world by surprise. Yet, says Scott, "If the rioting was a surprise, people weren't looking."
On Monday the Dow Jones industrial average fell 634.76 points; the sixth-worst point decline for the Dow in the last 112 years and the worst drop since December 2008. Every stock in the Standard and Poor's 500 index declined.
It is easy to blame bipartisan bickering for the impasse that led to Standard and Poor's downgrading of the American debt, and in turn the vertiginous fall of the Dow. This bickering -- this substitution of ideology for reason, of egotism for compassion and responsibility on the part of lawmakers -- is a national disgrace; but while it failed to fix the problem, we must realize that it did not cause it. The cause -- and potential for a significant renewal -- lies much deeper.
So let's allow ourselves to ask a fundamental question: what's an economy for?
Being a socialentrepreneur used to be a lonely endeavor. I grew up believing that to be in business meant leaving your soul at the front door -- being ruthless, shrewd, and above all focused on profitability at any cost. But as a businessman, I found myself less interested in the bottom line of profit than in the bottom line of community impact. For example, I started Busboys and Poets as a restaurant and gathering place, but also a social enterprise -- a business with a conscience -- in Washington, D.C.'s U Street neighborhood.
Having grown up in D.C., I was amazed at the dramatic changes that swept various neighborhoods in the 1990s. The U Street corridor in particular was undergoing some of the most vivid transformation.
The Christianized Jesus -- the turning of a radical into a conservative shadow of his former self -- explains our problem of establishing and celebrating freedom fighters today. It is important that our progressive heroes be given their deserved fame, an accurately reported fame, and this is crucial in ways that impact our own activism.
Jesus of Nazareth was not a Peak Performance Strategist as the prosperity preachers would have it. Nor was he a foreigner-hating patriot as the tea party would argue. Obviously American politicians and their lobbyists pursue so many policies that are against the teachings of Jesus but are supported by mainstream Christian opinion. In fact, Jesus' parables and sayings push the spiritual revolution of gift economies, and of justice through radical forgiveness.
In his seminal 1974 book Models of the Church, theologian Avery Dulles offered five paradigms, or "models," each of which called attention to certain aspects of the worldwide Christian church. The church, Dulles wrote, is in essence a mystery -- a reality of which we cannot speak directly. Thus we must draw on analogies to understand the church in deeper ways.
Dulles developed five models, drawing on a range of theological schools and traditions, both Protestant and Catholic, to illuminate different aspects of the church. His models included church as institution, mystical communion, sacrament, herald, and servant. Dulles was careful to point out that no single model, by itself, adequately paints a complete picture of the church; each contains important insights about the nature of the church.
Lean and lanky, the 30-something teacher probed the congregation with a practiced eye as he wound down his presentation. Ezekiel, or "Zeke" (pseudonym), teaches at a secondary school in another country. Backed up by a carefully constructed PowerPoint presentation, Ezekiel shared his passion for sensitively pouring truth and grace into the lives of his students, particularly the girls. His blue eyes blazed as he asked if a woman in the Community Christian Church (not its real name) congregation would be willing to come forward and pray for the women of his host country.
No one moved.
I admit it: A few years back, when I first heard about the E-Verify program, I thought it sounded reasonable. The program was described to me as a way for employers to voluntarily verify the U.S. citizenship of their employees by cross-checking their information with the online databases of the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security administration. I knew that there were flaws in the system, which sometimes misidentified workers as undocumented even when they were not. However, I thought, what employer doesn't deserve the right to check the employment eligibility of his or her workers?
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.
Whenever I give talks on the effects of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian livelihood, the status of nonviolence as a means to resisting the occupation, and how I believe nonviolence is the only way to move forward to resolve the conflict and create a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, one of the first and immediate questions I get from foreign visitors to my office in Bethlehem is, What you said is good, but what about the Muslims? Do they also believe in nonviolence? Do they understand it?" Even if I don't mention religion in my presentation -- and I rarely do -- this question always seems to make its way in our discussions.
The debate we have just witnessed has shown Washington, D.C. not just to be broken, but corrupt. The American people are disgusted watching politicians play political chicken with the nation's economy and future. In such a bitter and unprincipled atmosphere, whoever has the political clout to enforce their self-interest and retain their privileges wins the battles. But there are two casualties in such political warfare: the common good and the most vulnerable.
So how will vulnerable people fair under this deal? "The Circle of Protection," a diverse nonpartisan movement of Christian leaders, has been deeply engaged in the budget debate to uphold the principle that low-income people should be protected. But it is hard to evaluate a deal that averts a crisis when the crisis wasn't necessary in the first place. Over the past few weeks, our economy has indeed been held hostage as politicians negotiated the price of the release. Ultimately, I think most of us wish that no hostages had been taken in the first place, and this was no way to run a government or make important budget decisions.
John Stott died this Wednesday. He was 90 years old. What many people don't understand is that he was the most influential 20th-century evangelical leader in the world, with the exception of Billy Graham. Stott became the Anglican rector of All Souls Church in downtown London at the age of 29 in 1950, and he stayed there for his entire ministry. But from his parish at Langham Place in the city's West End, and right across from BBC headquarters, John Stott spoke to the world with 50 books that sold 8 million copies. He also traveled the globe , speaking, teaching, convening, mentoring, and bird watching -- a personal passion.
Perhaps the most telling thing about this man is all the personal stories about "Uncle John" that the world is now hearing, from many Christian leaders around the world who were profoundly influenced, encouraged, and supported by John Stott. And secondly, how such a giant in the Christian world remained so humble, as testified to by those who knew him who say how "Christ-like" he was.
Bamiyan is a central Afghan town, home to two monumental Buddha statues carved out of sandstone cliffs. In a zealous attempt to purge anything considered un-Islamic, the Taliban targeted these historic statues a decade ago when they occupied and controlled Afghanistan. The defamation of non-Islamic monuments and sites caused a global response. The efforts of national leaders failed, and the Taliban destroyed the statues in March, 2001. The world community -- from Russia to Malaysia, from Germany to Sri Lanka -- expressed horror at the Buddha's demolition.
Sitting over the Bamiyan Valley since the early sixth century, one of the Buddha figures stood nearly 180 feet tall and the other 120 feet. Before their destruction, these statues were the largest Buddha carvings in the world. They were once a major tourist attraction, but the decades of conflict drove away tourists years before the Taliban blew up the statues.
The markets are watching, the Republicans are watching, the Democrats are watching, the media are watching, the pollsters and pundits are watching. The public is watching and is disgusted with Washington, D.C.
When it comes to the bitter and ultra-partisan battles over the budget, the deficit, and the fast-approaching deadline for America defaulting on its financial commitments, the whole nation and even the world is watching.
But God is watching too.