Wednesday, September 18, 2013

"I Have a Confession" - Spoken Word by David Bowden

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Liberating our Families

Chan and Tin worked most of their lives in the rice fields of Thailand.  After working all year on the farm, there was barely enough money to feed the family.  They struggled year after year in desperate poverty.
One day a recruiter for a company called Global Horizons came to their village promising high paying jobs on farms in America.  In one month in America, they could earn what they make in a full year in Thailand.  It was the opportunity of a lifetime to change the lives of their children and their whole extended family.
There was just one catch.  To enter the program, they had to pay a recruitment fee of almost $15,000.  They mortgaged their farms and their houses.  They talked their relatives in to mortgaging their farms and homes.  Tin’s loans ranged up to 80% annual interest, but Chan’s loans reached 152% annual interest.
When they got to the airport, Global Horizons forced them to sign a host of new documents - including a visa renewal fee of $8,000.  When they reached America, the recruiters confiscated their passports “for safekeeping.”  This meant that they had no identification and no way to prove that they were in the USA legally.
At first, there was plenty of work and on-time pay.  After a few months though, the work began to run out and the pay started coming later and later.  Often, they sent 100% of their pay checks back to Thailand so that their families could make the payments on their loans.  That meant they often didn’t have enough to eat, so they caught wild animals for food and gathered wild vegetables from forests.  They usually lived in overcrowded housing without enough beds for each person.  Sometimes the toilet wouldn’t work for weeks at a time.  They often lacked kitchens, washing machines, and sufficient heating. To limit their contact with outsiders, their handlers told them that Americans are greatly prejudiced against Asians and that leaving their housing grounds would be very dangerous.  
Surely this couldn’t really happen in today’s world, right?  They are free people.  They could just change companies, right?  Wrong.  Global Horizons was their legal sponsor and guarantor.  If they quit, they would lose their visas and be sent home to Thailand ... and their families would lose everything.  

Friday, September 13, 2013

Jesus' Draft Pick (A Skit for Youth)

Scenario: It’s Jesus’ pick in the NBA Draft.  Instead of choosing one of the biggest, strongest, fastest players, Jesus drafts someone extremely unlikely.   (For a fun satire of Jesus as an NBA player, check it out in The Onion.)  

Main Point: Jesus sees great potential where others see nothing.

  • Jesus - General manager and coach of the Chicago Bulls (or other NBA franchise).
  • Commissioner - NBA Commissioner, dressed in a suit and tie.
  • Mick Mickelson - Sports Reporter dressed sloppily with pen and notepad, maybe a tape recorder. (This character should be either very small or rather rotund)

Commissioner:  Congratulations to the Houston Rockets for their exceptional choice of the 6 foot 10 forward from UCLA, Jerome Montablo.  Next up for the 21st pick in the first round of the 2013 NBA Draft, we have Jesus making the choice for the Chicago Bulls.

[Jesus joins the Commissioner at the podium.]

Commissioner:  Jesus, welcome to the NBA.  Let me tell you, we are all excited to see your first draft pick as General Manager and Head Coach.  After your exceptional career as an athlete yourself, the world is waiting and watching to see if you can transfer that success to young players.

Jesus:  Thank you Commissioner.  I’m glad to be here.  I’ve had my eye on this young player for quite some time.  I think he has tremendous potential.  Of course, like all rookies, he has a ways to grow, but I think he will eventually accomplish even more than me.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Beyond NOT-Living

Yesterday, while Greg (my senior pastor, boss, supervisor, head honcho dude) was preaching about Deuteronomy 6 and how God was retraining the Hebrew people to be something more than freed slaves, God started working in me and a blog was being born.
The people of Israel were primarily concerned with being NOT-slaves.  They were done with Egypt (mostly, usually, except when things got really bad).  Their primary concern with leaving Egypt was not being slaves anymore.  However, they didn't really have a positive understanding of who or what they were supposed to become.  They certainly didn't believe that they could march into an occupied land, do battle, take over, and establish a new nation.  (The ethical debate of social conquest is duly noted, but let's set it aside for now.)
God was asking Israel to be something far beyond NOT-slaves.  God was calling them into being God's representatives in the world, God's agents for blessing all peoples.  God was forging them into a new nation that should function as the embodiment of God's purposes and desires for humanity.  They were God's children, God's family, God's special possession, a holy nation, a royal priesthood.  That is infinitely more than NOT-slaves.

Today, we Christians (and a whole lot of other folks as well) often define ourselves by what we are not.  We live NOT-lives.  We are NOT-heathens, NOT-immoral, NOT-liberal, NOT-gay, NOT-pro-choice, NOT-whatever, NOT-too-many-things.
But God is calling us far beyond NOT-living and NOT-theology.  God is calling us to be holistically good representatives of his love and grace in our world.  God is calling us far beyond resisting the bad into creatively and persistently celebrating and causing the good.  Live primarily FOR the good, not against the bad.  That is the live into which God calls us.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Difficulty of a Christian Response to Syria

The "red line" has been crossed.  Probably more than once.  Innocent children are dying.
What should we do about Syria?  The country is imploding.  Assad's venom is spilling helter-skelter into the streets.  How should we respond?  
We have the power to stop the killing - for now.  We - as in the USA, my home country - could bomb Syria's government out of power, probably.  We could send in an army to displace him and to set up a new leadership.  Or, we could "punish" the use of chemical weapons through "targeted" airstrikes.  

The problem - as if there is only one problem - is that none of this may work.  We could intervene militaristically and hit all our "targets" and yet leave Syria in a worse place.  Even unseating Assad offers no hope of a better Syria.  The opposition is fractured and often aligned with militant Islam.  As we've seen in Iraq, removing a dictator often leads to chaos.  
The other problem is that the global community is not unified in how to respond.  The rules of the United Nations require a resolution from the UN Security Council before one nation can "legally" take military action within the borders of another nation.  Russia and China are likely to block any resolutions to this effect for Syria because they could very well be in the same boat as Syria in a decade or two.  Therefore, any military action would be strictly speaking "illegal" and against international norms, not to mention without the support or approval of most of the world.  Hence, America would look like the cowboy aggressor once again asserting their (im)moral dominance in the world.  
The other, other problem.  Violence begets violence.  Bombing Syria at this point would provide infinite fodder for the recruitment of future terrorists.  These terrorists would flourish in the Middle East, but they would naturally spread to other corners of the globe.  As Israel has proven relentlessly (and Boston more recently), no amount of military might can protect a people from a man with a backpack full of explosives.  
Thus we get to the other, other, other problem.  Doing nothing is equally distasteful.  Do we just sit idly by while children are gassed?  How many dead children does it take to merit crushing the murderer?  Is it morally wrong to stand on the sidelines of genocide wagging our fingers in moral outrage?  Is it enough to offer aid to the victims while doing nothing material to stop the atrocities?  This is the old question that Dietrich Bonhoeffer faced in Nazi Germany.  When a madman is driving a car down a pedestrian filled street mowing down innocent people, at what point is the wise and godly choice simply to shoot the driver?

King and Gandhi (and perhaps Jesus) would tell us that we should flood Syria with innocent protestors, that we should simply line up before Assad's tanks and cannons until Assad and his army became so disgusted with killing us that they laid down their arms and sought a solution for peace and justice.  Perhaps this really is the call of Jesus to lay down our lives for others.  However, it is so dramatic and so radical that I don't hear anyone advocating this - not even my most pacifistic preacher friends.  Moral finger wagging is worse than pointless.  Assisting the victims is admirable, but at what point do we stop the ones committing the atrocities?  
Personally, I am not a militarist hawk.  We have caused great harm in the world by over-using our military strength.  But I'm also not a passive pacifist.  Moral outrage without weighty action is a farce.  But let's not be simplistic.  The only option for a true pacifist here is martyrdom.  However, I do not feel called to walk into Syria to be a martyr nor to ask others to do this.  Perhaps I have a lack of faith.  Perhaps I do not want to understand Jesus' calling on this issue.  I honestly don't know.

So what do we do about Syria?  The problem is that there are so many problems.  Every option is bad.