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Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

Filtering by Category: Poverty

Poverty, Absence, and Riches

Tom Elenbaas

Yesterday, I visited the home of a family in a poor village on the edges of Managua, Nicaragua. This family works in the fields picking the peanuts by hand out of the dirt not picked up by the machines. Depending on the number of peanuts harvested, they can possibly earn up to $2/ day to live on. This places them among some of the poorest of the poor, what would be known by experts as “extreme poverty.”

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Gordon Cosby


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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City to City part 2


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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City to City part 1


I spent this past week in Miami a meeting with a number of Church Planting Networks and planters too look at the possibility of beginning a North American Network for city movements.  This gathering was catalyzed by the folks at Redeemer City to City and brought together people from  Renew South Florida, Acts29, the RCA, many from the PCA, the SBC, the GCM Collective, and others.  It was an awesome time to meet other folks who are passionate about reaching North America, particular through cities.  It was great to hear the unique challenges and opportunities that cities bring and present to the church.  The outcome of this gathering was that a group will be formed, likely to be called the City to City Collective for shared resourcing, networking, encouragement, and more.  It'll be great to see what unfolds. Tim Keller of Redeemer in New York was the keynote speaker, and I want to share just a few things.  In the first session, The Challenge of North American Cities, Keller said that the expense of cities, the complexity of cities, and the mobility of cities makes a church plant there very hard.  Knowing that, it's important to see larger trends, and in that vein he spoke about the decline of cities from 1970-1990 in which cities were hollowed out at the core, with suburban flight the order of the day.  This left an urban desolation in many cases, with increased crime rates, devalued properties, and a cultural malaise.  The rich would commute from the suburbs and leave the urban poor in the central city.  From the 1990's to today, there was been an upsurge in cities, a renewal of the urban core.  In many ways this was due to gentrification (young professionals re-locating to urban environments).  Crime went down, cultural productivity increased, and the core of cities have thus seen a resurgence.  However, the poor are also often displaced as property values increase and the city finds cultural and economic renewal.  Each era presents a different kind of opportunity, different needs, and different responses by the church.    The follow up question is, then, what is the future of the city?

Keller, then, offered his analysis of what the future holds for American cities.  First, he spoke of the following positive trends:

  • North American churches are globalizing.  This is a positive trend because strong international connections create stability and prestige.  Because the era of America as an economic self-sufficient engine is over, globalization is important.
  • North American churches are urbanizing.  By urbanizing, Keller was particularly speaking to the trend in cities towards smart growth, urban planning of  the New Urbanism kind.  He referenced the return to a walkable, mixed-use human settlement in cities, including places to work, live, shop, play, and learn within 10 minutes as opposed to the suburbanizing affect in which everything is about commuting and doing life with people that are not the same people you live with.  There are lots of great books on this, and I think he's right on about not only emerging urban planning, but also that this is a positive trend not only for cities and human beings in general who live there, but also for the church because it creates a possible parish that is not merely made up of people commuting to their favorite church or speaker.

Secondly, he spoke of negative trends:

  • The rise of great need:  Here, Keller focused on the recent recession and global financial meltdown, particularly in American cities.
  • However, though this is a negative trend in some ways in terms of urban development, Keller rewinded to remind us that through our history lessons we learn that God has often used urban dysfunction to win the hearts of people.  When we are in times of great need, there is also great opportunity for the church to respond.

So, for Keller, the future of urban ministry looks good because of globalization, new urbanism, and increased need.

Lastly, in terms of cities, Keller mentioned the following future trends to expect:

  1. Increasing hostility in the culture wars.  He was particularly on target when he said that we are fighting a Two Front War:  Secularists think Christians are too moralistic.  Muslims and Hindus think we are too permissive.  There will, then, be increasing hostility from secularists and increasing hostility from fundamentalists (of all sorts, including Christians).
  2. More opportunities for justice and mercy.  This is true particularly because of the increasing needs in the global financial meltdown and the increasing gap between the rich and the poort.
  3. Culture-making will be increasingly important, particularly with respect to the integration of faith and work.  People in the city will desire more and more the integration between multifarious worlds.
  4. A new kind of apologetics.  This part was particularly poignant for me.  Back in 2000, I started a class called "Beyond Apologetics" because I was realizing that because of the shifts we are experiencing in late modernity or post-modernity, that a new kind of apologetics is needed.  This doesn't mean that the classic apologetics are wrong or bad, but merely that we need a new apologetic for a new emerging culture.  In Keller's words, "We need to answer questions people are actually asking" or in one of the bylines of my former church in Ann Arbor, "Ask questions worth answering; seek answers worth believing."  Here are some of the points and reasons for a new apologetic:
  • The world essentially says to Christians, “You are not good neighbors.”
  • We need more cogent and powerful answers to questions that people are actually asking.
  • The basic objection alongside of evil & suffering, etc. is that Christians are bad citizens of pluralistic cities because as we grow and if we grow, we will take away people’s rights and freedoms.
  • We are completely outflanked in the public arena.
  • We have to care for the whole parish, including our secular neighbors.
  • The public narrative is that Christians are intolerant, and that is very powerful and makes it extremely hard to enter public discourse.

Keller also spoke about the stages of development of the catachuminate which we need to revisit, and how the church is failing in its response to homosexuality.  That's a long conversation for another time.

I'll blog a bit more on this in the future if I can find the time, including some of his other sessions.

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A New Monasticism


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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Andrew Rugisara: Aid vs. Trade #tls09


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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Jessica Jackley: KIVA - a Leadership Case Study


I'm not going to write much on this interview, even though Jessica Jackley was great.  She was very articulate and is clearly passionate.  Some of the best things at the Summit are these interviews, particularly with younger women who have done some extraordinary things (cf. one of my favorites, Catherine Rohr last year).  I think it's awesome that Willow highlights young woman and gets behind their leadership at least in this way.  I'd like to see some more women keynote speakers, and not necessarily your standard Nancy Ortberg and Lynn Hybels (even though I like them.) I just think we have a lot to learn from some of the emerging young female leaders in the church today. Also, just want to say that KIVA highlighted in Jessica's talk is great, and micro-financing and micro-loans in particular is something that has taken far too long for the church to take notice  (I remember hearing first about these back at an Urbana Conference sometime possibly in '99 or '01) This is one of the best ways to get at financial and justice issues in terms of poverty and development globally that really doesn't fit in either the category of trade or aid (the big debate in development).

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Religious Leaders and the G8 Summit


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

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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Regress on Hunger


Instead of making progress on hunger globally, indicators show that the hunger crisis around the world is increasing - one out of every 6 people.  Take a look at these statistics (for more information, read this article or this one:

  • World hunger is projected to reach a historic high in 2009 with 1,020 million people going hungry every day.
  • “A dangerous mix of the global economic slowdown combined with stubbornly high food prices in many countries has pushed some 100 million more people than last year into chronic hunger and poverty,” said FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf.
  • The number of hungry people increased between 1995-97 and 2004-06 in all regions except Latin America and the Caribbean. But even in this region, gains in hunger reduction have been reversed as a result of high food prices and the current global economic downturn.
  • The urban poor will probably face the most severe problems in coping with the global recession, because lower export demand and reduced foreign direct investment are more likely to hit urban jobs harder. But rural areas will not be spared. Millions of urban migrants will have to return to the countryside, forcing the rural poor to share the burden in many cases.
  • While food prices in world markets declined over the past months, domestic prices in developing countries came down more slowly. They remained on average 24 percent higher in real terms by the end of 2008 compared to 2006. For poor consumers, who spend up to 60 percent of their incomes on staple foods, this means a strong reduction in their effective purchasing power. It should also be noted that while they declined, international food commodity prices are still 24 percent higher than in 2006 and 33 percent higher than in 2005.
  • The number of hungry has increased from 825 million people in 1995-97, to 857 million in 2000-02 and 873 million in 2004-06.

I'm saddened that in a world with such forward thinking, progress, innovation, resources, and abilities that hunger worldwide continues to be on the increase.  What's interesting to me (among a lot of things) is the interaction between poverty, globalism, trade, and their relationship to security.  Often we seem so concerned about security, and yet we miss the potential problem with such glaring numbers of people in poverty.  I don't want, though, to regress to merely caring for the poor and hungry because we're afraid they might revolt against global consumerism (and hence global consumerists), and I would hope that we could find it in our hearts to actually care for the poor and hungry who are our fellow human beings - our brothers and sisters.

A good and challenging Christian book that looks at issues of poverty, greed, globalism, and security  and asks some great questions (not so sure about the answers) is Brian McLaren's Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crisis, and a Revolution of Hope.

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