Scripture constantly should be challenging our assumptions about our lives and in every aspect of society. Transformation is needed on a personal and also a political level. Scriptural priorities shouldn't be glossed over in order to protect political ideologies and comfort zones.
If we believe that what Jesus taught remains just as relevant today as it did when he physically walked among us, then it should still be a comfort to those on the margins of society and offensive to the wealthy and powerful. That doesn't mean that the wealthy and powerful can't be good and faithful followers of Christ, but Jesus did warn them that their walk will be a hard one. Wealth and power bring unique and difficult temptations ... If you never feel uncomfortable when you read the Gospels then you aren't paying attention.
When President Barack Obama laid out his deficit plan Monday, he wasn't just trying to sell a policy. When he pressed for tax hikes on the rich and announced, "This is not class warfare," he was trying to exorcise a demon that has bedeviled the Democratic Party for decades and in the process deprive the Republicans of one of their trustiest weapons. The reaction from the right was swift and sure: "Class warfare!"
Wall Street has been devastating Main Street for some time. And when the politicians -- most of them bought by Wall Street -- say nothing, it's called "responsible economics." But when somebody, anybody, complains about people suffering and that the political deck in official Washington has been stacked in favor of Wall Street, the accusation of class warfare quickly emerges. "Just who do these people think they are," they ask. The truth is that the people screaming about class warfare this week aren't really concerned about the warfare. They're just concerned that their class -- or the class that has bought and paid for their political careers -- continues to win the war.
So where is God in all of this? Is God into class warfare? No, of course not. God really does love us all, sinners and saints alike, rich and poor, mansion dwellers and ghetto dwellers. But the God of the Bible has a special concern for the poor and is openly suspicious of the rich. And if that is not clear in the Bible nothing is.
Did you know 98 percent of poor households in the U.S. (those with an income of about $22,000 or less for a family of four) own a STOVE or OVEN? Or that 84 percent of poor households have AIR CONDITIONING?
Shocking! An outrage!
At least that's what some of our colleagues in the media appear to believe, as Jon Stewart documents in the following "Daily Show" report:
More than 15 percent of the U.S. population now lives in poverty -- the highest rate in 18 years, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report released this morning.
Poverty has risen for the third consecutive year in a row, the new census figures show, with perhaps most distressing are the child poverty numbers, which rose from 20.7 percent in 2009 to 22 percent in 2010.
"The results aren't good," the Rev. Jim Wallis, president and CEO of Sojourners, the largest network of progressive Christians in the United States focused on the biblical call to social justice, said upon reviewing the census report today.
As the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, many of us are wondering how best to honor the many victims of that tragedy and its aftermath.
Here in Cincinnati, my wife Marty's answer is inviting some of our friends to join us on a walk with some Muslim and Jewish families she invited by simply calling their congregations. She got the idea from my friends and me at Abraham's Path, who are sponsoring www.911walks.org to help people find or pull together their own 9/11 Walks all over the USA and around the world. The goal of these walks is simple: to help people honor all the victims of 9/11 by walking and talking kindly with neighbors and strangers, in celebration of our common humanity and in defiance of fear, misunderstanding, and hatred.
More than 140 prominent Protestant leaders from 12 Latin American countries have signed an "open letter to the Christian churches of the United States," asking American Christians to stand with "the most vulnerable members of US society" who would be affected by proposed budget cuts to the social safety net.
Citing the Circle of Protection as a positive Christian witness, the signers also expressed their dismay. "We view with deep concern recent decisions in the United States that will add to the suffering of the most vulnerable members of US society," the letter read. It was signed by a broad array of Latin American religious communities, including leaders of the Latin American Council of Churches, the United Bible Society of Latin America, evangelical councils and alliances in Peru, Ecuador, Honduras, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, and Uruguay, the Fellowship of Evangelical Churches (CONELA), the Association of Reformed and Presbyterian Churches of Latin America (AIPRAL), Micah Network, Indigenous Association of Peruvian Amazonia, and the Latin American Biblical University in Costa Rica.
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.
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?
They say at some point in their lives great leaders experience a "dark night of the soul," or a period in life when your feet, knees, and face scrape and stick to the proverbial bottom." It is a time when even your soul feels forsaken. Ultimately, the dark night is not about the suffering that is inflicted from outside oneself, even though that could trigger it. It is about the existential suffering rooted from within. St. John of the Cross, the 16th century Carmelite priest, described it as a confrontation, or a healing and process of purification of what lies within on the journey toward union with God.
"Whenever you face trials of any kind," explained the apostle James, "consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing." (James 1:2-4)
If you are a 12-year-old baseball player, it looks like a field of dreams. There are huge bleachers wrapped around home plate, and extending into left and right field. Behind home, there is a high official box where the game is announced, scores are kept, and reporters watch and write their stories. The field itself looks carefully tended with freshly cut green grass, and a flat-raked dirt infield without potholes, bumps, or ditches. And the beautiful grass of the outfield extends to actual fences, which each player hopes to reach as they gaze at the most perfect baseball diamond any of them have ever played on.
When John Steinbeck's classic novel The Grapes of Wrath was published in 1939, it caused a sensation. It won the Pulitzer Prize and was the best-selling novel of the year. Just months later, in 1940, the book was turned into a film by John Ford, which was nominated for seven Academy Awards.
For readers today, Steinbeck's migration saga remains relevant as a piece of (dramatized) social analysis. It's essentially a road novel about the Joads, a poor Midwestern migrant farming family. Throughout the novel, the Joads fight to keep their family intact while fleeing the 1930s Oklahoma Dustbowl for the hope of farm work in California.
In response to Sojourners' radio ads about the budget debates, the Family Research Council's political action committee has launched radio ads in Kentucky and Ohio arguing that deficit reduction should cut programs that serve poor and vulnerable people. The ads assert that it is the private individual, not government, who has a responsibility to the poor. The ads say, "Jesus didn't instruct the government of his day to take the rich young ruler's property and redistribute it to the poor. He asked the ruler to sell his possessions and help the poor. Charity is an individual choice, not a government mandate."
This could put the speaker of the House, a Catholic, in a difficult position. Catholic social teaching instructs that the government does have a direct responsibility to the poor and that private charity is only one of the ways that Christians express concern for "the least of these." This ad sets itself in direct opposition to that teaching and the values that it comes from. The speaker was already in a tough spot when the Catholic bishops came out with a strong critique of the House plan, but now he has a powerful political organization calling for him to ignore Catholic social teaching all together.
Shakespeare said a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Maybe, but a Stink Rose by any other name (say... garlic?) might get more play.
On July 19, Campus Crusade for Christ announced its plan to officially change its name to Cru in early 2012.
Brown v. Board of Education had not yet been fought in the Supreme Court when Bill and Vonetta Bright christened their evangelical campus-based ministry Campus Crusade for Christ in 1951. The evangelical church context was overwhelmingly white, middle class, and suburban. The nation and the church had not yet been pressed to look its racist past and present in the face. The world had not yet been rocked by the international fall of colonialism, the rise of the Civil Rights movement, the disillusionment of the Vietnam War, the burnt bras of the women's liberation movement, the fall of the Berlin Wall, or the rise of the Black middle class (more African Americans now live in the suburbs than in inner cities). In short, theirs was not the world we live in today. So, the name Campus Crusade for Christ smelled sweet. Over the past 20 years, though, it has become a Stink Rose ... warding off many who might otherwise have come near.
"I will call them my people, who were not my people. And her beloved, who was not beloved." (Romans 9:25 referencing Hosea 2:23)
Estranged, alienated, and removed; anyone living in an industrialized modern society in the 21st century would be able to define, or at least identify the sentiments of these words. Our time is one of mass communication and instantaneous access to knowledge. And yet our lives are too compartmentalized, increasingly divided, and our society reflects this. Indeed the existential writers of yesteryear were correct in diagnosing the iron cage that would befall us, ultimately leading to an eclipse of reason.
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?
As the federal debt ceiling standoff threatens to cause an economic catastrophe for our nation, more than 4,000 pastors across the country are opposing proposed immoral budget cuts that harm the most vulnerable people in their congregations and communities. An open letter to Congress and the president ran today as a full page ad in Politico. (You can view the ad and full list of signers here.) We were amazed by the huge response this letter generated. We hoped to find 1,000 pastors willing to speak out with us, and in just 2 weeks more than 4,000 clergy joined our campaign.
Don't get me wrong -- I love sitting behind my computer here at Sojourners, or proofreading a stack of magazine-pages-to-be, fresh from Art Director Ed Spivey's printer. But sometimes there's no substitute for being on the scene, live and in person.