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Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

Filtering by Category: Justice

Gordon Cosby

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I'm not sure how I missed this (I guess it's been a hectic week), but Gordon Cosby from Washington DC passed away a couple of days ago. [Read Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove's article on Patheos here.]

I spent a little time with Gordon at the Church of the Savior in the past couple of years, and those few moments were transformative for me. Not only was I introduced to a truly missional church, but was amazed at the power of a small group of people to serve so many through self-sacrifice and deep commitment. From the planting of several churches and several non-profits ranging from a retreat center, a transitional home for women and children, Christ-based Child Care Centers to an innovative art center for inner city kids to a jobs placement center to a hospital for the homeless to a theological school to train servants of the gospel to a hospice for the homeless and those with AIDS and other illnesses to an affordable housing organization to one of my favorite coffeeshop/ bookstore/ diners (you can find a more comprehensive list here). This little band of gospel centered people discipled and shepherded by Gordon have loved the least of these in ways many of us merely talk about, and their impact is incredible. Their commitment to Christ, to each other, to the spiritual disciplines, to prayer, and to service is inspiring.

Gordon taught me many things in our short conversations. I heard him speak passionately about being people formed by the essence of Jesus, about the importance of the inward journey, about doing the gospel and the outward journey, about downward mobility, and about the power of a simple act of love done in the name of Jesus. Gordon talked about our addiction to culture rather than to seeking the essence of Jesus. He spoke of pursuing the questions and pressing into the God who is the answer rather than seeking answers in themselves. I was impressed by his ability to hold the evangelical power of gospel transformation together in practice with a deep commitment to social justice - a marriage so often divorced in the contemporary church. As we talked about that issue, I asked him poignantly about the loss of spiritual fathers and mothers for my generation, and he looked deeply into my eyes and pointed his finger... "You be a spiritual father to the next generation." Quite a challenge, and not what I was looking for. I was comfortable lamenting the lack of spiritual fathers, and he gave a simple call to action. He reminded me to stay focused on Jesus as the center - what he called "the essence" - which so easily gets lost in our doing and our addictions, and we so often don't realize we're losing his essence. I was privileged to have spent a few moments with him, and know that Jesus has said to him, "Well done, Gordon, good and faithful servant."

"We are addicted to knowing and doing, and I wish we were addicted to being."

"Let the artisan shape you."

"If we are going up the rope, and Jesus is going down, then we've missed him."

-Gordon Cosby, March 2009 and April 2010


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Suffering

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There is a lot of suffering in the world.

You can't miss it if you have your eyes open. There are people around us every day suffering from various things - heart-brokenness, loneliness, bone cancer, job loss, chronic pain, hunger, divorce. Someone I know just lost her baby while 7 months pregnant. Someone else I know just lost their job. Even here in America, there is suffering, but we haven't seen anything compared to the rest of the world. I don't mean to be callous in any way, but my cynical side chuckles a little when I think of the fiscal cliff language and the doomsayers, especially when it's compared to the Great Depression. Just remembering a few chapters of the Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck would tell us that we have a ways to go before we get even close to that kind of reality. Right now, the fiscal cliff sounds more like a concern over having to cut back on our daily Starbucks or having to wait to buy the next iPhone when it comes out. That's not Depression. We sound more like the whining rich kid than anyone dealing with real suffering.

My heart goes out to those who are really dealing with real-life suffering through some of the things I've listed above. Or those around the world (and this includes our neighborhoods) who are worried about not getting food for their children or clean water to stay alive. I think about people who die from easily preventable diseases and millions of people who live in garbage dumps. It's real to them. They have already suffered loss or are suffering or continue to suffer it or are daily living a life of suffering.

Part of the problem comes from the world we have made for ourselves - a world in which we spend billions of dollars to avoid suffering at all costs. We try to get out of it as fast as we can. We avoid it. I've been reading a book lately about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (BTW... did you know his name was actually Michael... and his father got baptized and renamed himself and his son after a trip to Berlin and the land of the original Martin Luther?) Anyway, here are a couple lines I read that struck me:

...he would make much of unmerited suffering as a means of spiritual redemption.

...Evil must always be resisted, but any suffering, however undeserved, that facilitates the good of the whole must be embraced. The acceptance of unmerited suffering identifies the victim with the purposes of God.

"Unmerited suffering is a means of spiritual redemption." "Suffering... must be embraced." Think about that for a moment. Those are not the kinds of values I was necessarily raised on.  I was talking to a friend the other day whose husband had cancer, whose best friend had cancer, and who lost another really close friend to cancer in her early 50's - who was also a teacher to my kids. How do we make sense of this battle against suffering that comes as a result of the broken and fallen world in which we live and yet embrace this sufferings as a part of our spiritual redemption? I've always struggled with this idea in the writings of Paul. Here is what he says in Romans 5:2b-5:

And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Clearly to Paul, suffering is not something to be avoided at all costs, but is to be embraced as a part of our spiritual redemption. In fact, Romans 5 goes on to talk about the unmerited suffering of Jesus - the suffering servant - who bore the unmerited suffering caused by our sins upon his shoulders at the cross for our redemption.

In a world in which we do our best to build lives that guard us from all suffering, in which we seek to remove all suffering from our families and our bodies, in which we design every possible system to relieve us from suffering, we are called to a gospel - good news - that embraces suffering. And in many ways our suffering is merited because we have sinned, and we experience the consequences of sin all day long. Paul again reminds us in Romans 8 that even though we experience death all day long, we are still more than conquerors through our God who loves us in Jesus Christ who saves us.

I'm not sure we are to seek after suffering. I'm no sure we should embrace suffering as a great friend. But I do know this, that through the seasons of suffering, our faith is tried and tested and refined. I know that you can't manufacture the kind of character that is fashioned in the crucible of suffering. I know that you don't need a Savior unless there is something you need to be saved from.

One last thought: violence. Violence - even defensive violence - is often a natural response to fend off suffering now or potential suffering in the future. King's non-violent response to oppression and unjust suffering placed upon blacks during and before the Civil Rights movement (and still today) is born out of a deep theological commitment to join Jesus in the embrace of unmerited suffering as a means of spiritual redemption not only for the one suffering, but also for those who might be causing suffering or those observing. How we respond to suffering in itself is witness to our trust in the one who suffered much and overcame (King Jesus, not ML King). When we respond to suffering by violence, it may just be that we are missing a powerful opportunity to empathize with Jesus and so to become forged in a similar fire as he was.

Or maybe it's just late at night and I'm rambling.


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Leading on the Edge of Hope, Christine Caine

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There is really no way to capture the passion we just heard from Christine Caine in notes on a blog.  This is a woman who, as she said, is still "old-school enough" to truly believe that that Jesus is the hope of the world.  She challenged us to live into this moment - our moment in which there are great needs in the world and to step up and be the church that God longs for.

I was moved when Christine was telling a story in which she was challenged by a woman who was just being rescued from sex trafficking slavery who said, "If what you're saying about your God is true, why didn't you come earlier?"  She said this amazing statement, and one we should all reflect deeply on:

It is not that God did not hear your cry; but I am so sorry that it has taken me so long to hear it.  I honestly cannot think of anything in my life that was so important that I shouldn't have come earlier.

There is a great challenge - not only in terms of human sex trafficking - but in all the ways that God's heart breaks for his world.  Isn't it true that we are so often so busy with so many things that are merely much ado about nothing and are neglecting the very deep things that moved the Father to send Jesus into the world in the first place?

Towards the end of her talk, Christine talked about hope.  She talked about how courageous her little 4 year old becomes in the middle of darkness with a simple flashlight in her hand - with that little light, she'll go in darker.  While they were in Walmart buying a flashlight, her daughter said, "Mommy, can we please go find some darkness?"  It doesn't take much light to dispel the darkness, it simply takes the courage to step in for "Greater is he that is in me than he that is in the world."


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City to City part 2

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One of the interesting things that Dr. Tim Keller said at the North American Network gathering for City to City was something like the following:

"The reason secularists are afraid of Christians is their belief that if we get in power, we will take everyone else’s freedoms away."

I found this to be an interesting and enlightening comment.  I'm not sure the word "afraid" hits it quite right, but what Keller is getting at is that Christians are often not great "citizens" in the secular society because of our propensity towards creating a government which takes things away from people - rights, civil liberties, freedom of belief, etc.  I'm not sure this has happened in recent history in any way of significance, but the threat is certainly there from the Christian Right.  The sense that, if Christians would be placed into major political positions of power, we would use our power to estrange others of different beliefs is palpable in at least the rhetoric.  The interesting thing about this is that certainly, any political group lobbying for power hopes in someway to use that power to leverage their beliefs for their version of the good of the country.  I'm not so sure that Christians are all that different in this political sense than any other idealogical group.  However, my deeper question (and possibly Keller's) is whether there is another way to approach cities, politics, and the social sphere in general from a Christian perspective or from Christian values and beliefs.

There are lots of questions wrapped in whether and how Christians should be involved in politics.  And historically, there are any number of ways in which Christians have approached the public realm, from ruling and reigning to fomenting revolution to isolation.  Today, Christians can be found on the left, on the right, in the middle, and on the outskirts.   What I appreciated, though, about Keller's comments was that it is disturbing that our neighbors and fellow citizens would be worried about persecution and oppression under a Christian lead government.  That's enlightening when we think about it deeply.  I realized that I'm afraid of many of the Christians I know getting into the political realm for the same reasons.  So, Keller asks, why don't our neighbors think we love them?  Why don't people in the city think we love their city?  If we are truly loving our neighbors as ourselves and seeking the welfare of the city (and country), why would that be threatening?  Is it the confusion in their hearts and minds, or is it in something we have done? (my bias is that it's something we are responsible for more than anything... cf. the wonderful book UnChristian by Gabe Lyons and David Kinnaman).

I've been reading the book To Change the World by James Davison Hunter, which is a fascinating book on culture, history, power, Christianity, and change.  In that book, I think it's chapter 5, Hunter shares some history of the relationship between Christians and political movements.  One of his arguments (to be really simplistic) is that when the cultural elites are truly converted and lead with humanity in mind through true care for the poor, estranged, and powerless that Christianity has been the most effective in cultural change.  Though I haven't heard enough on Keller, I think this is where he's pointing.  How do you impact the cultures of power and ideas while maintaining a heart for true justice and care for all humanity?

Jesus said this in his inauguration into ministry in Luke 4, quoting from the Isaiah 61 vision:

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

One of the questions here is how this message and mission of Jesus - the good news - is being missed by our culture when Christians try to enter into the public realm?

I think Keller's right.  We don't know how to enter the public discourse, and often aren't allowed into the public discourse as Christians because of our reputation.  We do need a new apologetic that arises out of the message and mission of Jesus for a new humanity, rooted in love and redeemed by love, for all people.

Again, we return to love, the gospel of love, the message of love, the heart of love, the approach of love, the words of love, the power of love, the conviction of love, the character of love, the way forward through love.  Love.  Jesus.  Simple.

What would a politics or public discourse of love look like, feel like, and sound like?  What if the world looked to Christians and said instead, "We would love to have you at the table because we know if you were in power, more people would experience the true freedom that love brings."


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A New Monasticism

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new_monasticismI've had about 10 books going for awhile, and I'm trying of focus on finishing one at a time. I just finished reading The New Monasticism: What it has to say to the church, "an insider's perspective" by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. I've mentioned the new monasticism before, and I have a lot of respect for what they're trying to do. The New Monasticism movement reminds me a little bit of the way George Hunger III described St. Patrick's monastic project in the Celtic Way of Evangelism (a fabulous book, and a must read as far as I'm concerned.)  He talked about how the early missionary monks to the Celts moved into their cities and rural sprawl and created a kind of monastic island in the middle of these people.  These monastic communities had a strict rule of life, served the people in their community, offered hospitality to strangers, and sought to transform a culture from the inside out. I really appreciate the 12 Marks of the New Monasticism.  Hartgrove gives a good basic understanding of how monastics have been a part of renewal in the church throughout various centuries.  He writes about how monastics seek not to separate from the church or become an alternative, but to bring renewal and reformation to the church by returning to some key roots such as hospitality, sharing all things in common, prayer, and serving others.  This is how Hartgrove begins, by sounding the call, "the church in America isn't living up to what it's supposed to be.  Somehow we've lost our way."  The point of monastic movements is to remind the church of its true identity, and that's true for the New Monastics as well.

I had a fabulous conversation with a gentleman from my church recently who's feeling the same way.  He loves the church, and yet he feels like the church in America missing the point of the mission at so many levels by putting money and energy into too many things that are not the heart of the reasons for the church in the world on God's mission.  In his words, "We've so boughten into the American dream, that we've forgotten what the church is supposed to be."  Hartgrove writes about this very thing.

What's unique about this movement is that it takes seriously the renewal of the church and the ancient practices of monasticism in a way that is both inclusive of married couples and families and is also deeply embedded within the cultures of this world, particularly urban settings.  These settings are often referred these days by many of us as "abandoned places of the empire," referring to those places, particularly urban, that have been deeply affected by the contemporary empire's of consumerism and progress.  I've appreciated everything I've read and heard from the many in this movement and am already seeing how they are affecting the church in dramatic ways, Shane Claiborne being one of the key players here.

The New Monastics have also, like many people I respect, been deeply influenced by John Perkins.  Years ago, I sent some students to learn from Perkins and his community, and it was a life-changing experience for many of them.  Particularly, his 3 R's are foundational (Relocation, Redistribution, and Reconciliation) for only only the New Monastic movement, but for other renewal thinkers in the urban settings as well (ie. Christian Community Development Association).  The other thing I deeply value is people like this who are able to speak intelligently and passionately about justice issues, poverty, and concern for the least of these while also maintaining some of the evangelical commitments of the Scripture.  More and more voices are emerging that are neither conservative nor liberal, fundamentalist nor mainline, republican nor democrat but hold together the biblical truths which cross such narrow, dualistic, and truncated views of the Scripture.

Good read for anyone who is thinking about the emerging church, renewal of the church and culture, poverty, urban ministry, community, and what some consider a more "radical" Christianity, which I think is probably closer to the identity of the early church than many of the churches in America today.


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Wess Stafford: Leveraging Your Past #tls09

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These are some of my notes from the third part of the fifth session of the Willow Creek Leadership Summit.

  • I'm a victim of a broken heart from poverty; a broken spirit from abuse.
  • The pain I've experienced is the catalyst for leadership  integrity, passion, leadership.
  • They're not going to care what you know, until they know why you care.
  • Because of my pain I'm useful somehow in the kingdom of God.
Wess told an incredible story of his abuse as a child in a boarding school in Africa along with many other children.  It was a horrendous story in which he experienced an average of 17 beatings a week, along with 50 other students.  This was a Christian boarding school for missionary kids.  This is not the first time I've heard stories like this from MK's.
"The very people who should have been protecting us were our attackers."
Wess spoke about how a little poor African village was the bosom of his restoration.  He learned compassion from the poor in Africa who loved him, and learned terror at the hands of Christian leaders at his boarding school.
At a moment facing the torture of one of his torturors, he felt a great courage to not be shamed or give in to the horrid delight of his torturor:  "I knew that this was his Waterloo, and this was my Masada."  "At that moment I received my call to protect children from that time on."
Poverty and abuse speak the same language to a children, and word is "Give up."  I see Satan using the same weapons he tried to use on me on other children around the world.
What's your cause?  What do you lead?  Does it move you to tears?  Can it move you to tears?  Tears of sorrow at the need and tears of joy at the victories.  What is it that moves you passionately?
Forgiveness:
  • If you don't forgive people, you are letting them live rent-free in your heart.
  • "You took yesterday; you cannot have tomorrow."
  • "Forgiveness will not necessarily mean you will forgive.  But you will not forget what you will not forgive."

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Andrew Rugisara: Aid vs. Trade #tls09

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These are some of my notes from the second part of the fifth session of the Willow Creek Leadership Summit.

What comes to mind when you hear the word "Africa"?  HIV?  AIDS?  Poverty?
We need to change the the narrative, deconstruct the narrative about Africa.
  • "I see opportunity, a continent of 900 million people."
  • Trade is the only sustainable way to bring a community out of poverty
  • We need to trade our communities out of poverty
  • Africa contributes just 2% to world trade
  • Since 1970 Africa has received 400 billion from the US.
  • Countries will make Aid 40% of the national budget, thus undermining self-sustainability.
  • Africa  is a place of opprotunity, new markets
  • We don't want charity, we want market share
  • Aid was at its highest in 1995 and the GDP was at its lowest
  • Aid becomes a kind of remote control of african economy through aid
  • In the last 1o years, Aid has increased dramatically while GDP in Africa has decreased.  When Aid was the lowest, GDP was the highest and vice-versa.
  • Aid undermines accountability.
  • When Aid comes into the country, they reprioritize their focus on management of Aid rather than on development and self-sustenance.

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Dave Gibbons: Thinking Forward - Third Culture Leadership #tls09

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These are some of my notes from the first part of the fifth session of the Willow Creek Leadership Summit.  Thanks to Louis who helped me with this session while I answered a pager call.

Sometimes things aren't quite the way the appear to be.

Third culture is about adaptation.  Third culture is pain and discomfort because we interact with those who are different.  The Great Commandments are about third culture.

Third culture leaders go after the misfits more than the masses.

  • FAILURE IS SUCCESS to God
  • Your failure, your pain, is your platform to humanity, it is what the World connects to you on it is what gives quality to your voice for the generation to connect to you
  • Most of the world doesn’t understand America’s success, but they will understand suffering, maybe suffering is success
  • Do we set aside time to listen to people’s story?
  • Gifts are important and skills, but our narrative is key
  • Walk slowly, see the people
  • Do I see them?  Do I have the eyes of a follower?
  • Weakness will guide us more than our strengths
  • We often worry about how to quantify a vision... DON’T we already have a vision?  LOVE GOD LOVE NEIGHBOR
  • RELATIONSHIPS TRUMP VISION!
  • You can’t have great vision without a great relationship with God
  • Jesus only did what he saw his father doing (JOHN 5)
  • We need more relationaries not visionaries
  • People to walk for a while people to talk for a while, where you feel the vibe
  • Best discipleship happens with life on life not a process or program

Third culture leaders have a different set of metrics.

  • CHANGE PRIORITIES
  • Hang out with people different than us
  • Read people different than us

Third culture leaders know that obedience is more important than passion.

4 Acts of Obedience of a Third Culture Leader

  1. Deeper Collaboration
  2. Communal LIving
  3. Prayer
  4. Radical sacrifice for the outsider

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Religious Leaders and the G8 Summit

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We are using the term
“security” in a new way.the wellbeing of each is related to the wellbeing of others and to our
environment.

Had a little time to read tonight the draft of the final call of the IV Summit of Religious Leaders in Rome on June 16 – 17 , 2009 on the occasion of the G8 Summit in L'Aquila, Italy.  Here are some of the highlights of the call to the world's most powerful and richest nations, including of course, the US.

  • We, leaders of the worlds religions and spiritual traditions gathered in Rome on the eve of the G8 Summit of 2009, are united in our common commitment to justice and the protection of human life, the building of the common good and the belief on the divinely established and inviolable dignity of all people from conception to death.
  • In a time of economic crisis when many securities are crumbling, we feel even more acutely the need for spiritual orientation.
  • We are using the term “security” in a new way... the wellbeing of each is related to the wellbeing of others and to our environment.
  • The current financial and economic crisis weighs most heavily upon the poor.
  • In continuity with previous world religious summits we continue to call for the fulfilment of the Millennium Development Goals.
  • ...we call for nations to resist making war a means of international politics and to make every effort to establish a just peace for all.
  • We request the G8 Summit to pursue rigorous implementation of nuclear reduction and nonproliferation policies leading to the goal of total nuclear disarmament.

It is good to see some cooperation between religious leaders, including Christian leaders, continuing to make the call for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, commitment to justice, care for the world's poor, resistance of materialism, a call to seek spiritual answers and orientation, the call for peace and nonviolence, commitment to the Millenium Development Goals, and the value of human life and dignity.  I found it interesting in light of my last post the focus once again upon an understanding of security in terms of "global" security and interdependence rather than merely the security of particular groups and/ or countries.


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