Thursday, March 25, 2010

How Do You Live Here?

We had a guest speaker this week for our mid - week Lenten series at church. Since I provided transportation for him I had some time to talk with him. It was his first visit to Kodiak and while he was impressed with the beauty of the island, he was even more impressed that so many people live here. Can live here. How do you live here, he wondered out loud. I mean, he said, the remoteness, the isolation... I couldn't do it. I am never sure how that question is to be taken. Is it how do you do it - you moron, as in only a moron could live here. Or is it more like - how do you live here - you exceptionally courageous and adventurous human being. I usually take it the latter way and feel justifiably smug about my outdoorsey creds. Oh, you know I want to say, it takes a special kind of guy to be able to live here, sort of a blend of Teddy Roosevelt and Bear Grylls. I was just born lucky, I guess. I can't confess to feeling like going to bed at 8:30 pm in the winter time and waking up to my SAD light, can I? How could I say I get seasick on the ferry? Or I have moments after 14 days of fog and drizzle and seeing the thermometer stuck at 39 degrees when I want to scream Will Somebody Get Me Out of Here, Please. Would Bear Grylls do that? I don't think so. So, what do you need to survive here - so you can keep secret your times of inner despair.

Well if you live in town you can drive out to Java Flats for coffee or lunch. It is not far but when you can't get far it feels like you are getting away.

You can stop and take pictures of the 49 eagles that are sitting on tree branches across from the canneries and ask yourself, now how many other places can you see so many eagles in one tree at one time?

You can drive out to the rocket launch at the end of the road and daydream about what it would be like going into space. And then be glad you are driving back into town.

You can think about how it is almost spring when the temperature will break through the 40 degree mark and it will be light til 10pm soon and you will feel like doing something again.

You can take your bike to 58 North for a tuneup to get ready for the bike ride from Chiniak during Crabfest (Memorial Day weekend). Then you can hope you can get out on it once or twice to get in shape for the ride.

You can tie some flies and get your rod and reel ready for salmon fishing and if you don't tie flies or fish much - it sounds Bear Grylls like to say that is what you are doing. Bear Grylls would not say he was reading a book or watching the history channel on tv.

And one more thing you can do. Have some people over who just got back from Hawaii and listen to stories about how other people survive living on an island.

Poverty and Justice Bible

When I was in seminary I took a course called Jesus and the Poor ( not sure about the exact title). In that course we did a survey of the verses in the Bible that spoke about God's concern for the poor and oppressed and what he wanted His People to do about it. I was blown away to discover there were over 2,000 verses on that theme, more than just about any other theme. In fact, 1 in every 16 verses in the New Testament relate to caring for the poor and the requirements of justice. In Luke's gospel, the gospel of the downtrodden, it is more like 1 in 7. So, I was interested to discover now that a new Bible is out that does all that hard work of research for you. The American Bible Society recently published the Poverty and Justice Bible (available through the Bible Society or which highlights every one of those 2000 verses that speak about God's heart for the poor and God's requirements for social justice. I am going to have to get one, and I should send one to Glenn Beck, too.

What's in your wallet?

So here's the deal. We hear about the rich CEOs and their outrageous compensation. Even post - bailout. The ratio of the average CEO's salary to the average employee was 24 to 1 in 1965. In 2008 it was 319 to 1, down from 434 to 1 in 2004. The CEO of Walmart, Lee Scott made 17 million in 2009 which was 900 times the average wage of his average employee. That means he makes in 2 weeks what it takes one of his average workers a lifetime to make! In 2005 the CEO of bailed out Capital One (whats in your wallet?) was paid 250 million, give or take a few hundred thousand. Steve Jobs made 646 million in 2006 ( how about buying a new IPad to help him out?) Forbes magazine reported that the top 100 CEOs in 2006 made over 18 million each. In 2007, Forbes reported that the top 400 richest individuals together held more wealth than half the country.

Well before we all start whining about how poor we are, what would you say if you found out you, with your fairly average, ordinary salary were one of the richest people in the world, too! That's right - if you make 50,000 a year, you rank right up there with the richest people in the world. You are one of the richest 1% of all the people in the world! Check it out at So what are you going to do with your wealth? You could sponsor a child through Compassion, or two or three. You could send relief boxes to Haiti through World Vision. Lots of ways to help the less fortunate 99% than you. One half of the world's population, 3 billion people, live on less than 2$ a day; one billion live on less than 1% a day.

Odds are not good that the richest 1% will give much. The poorest 1/5 of Americans give more than they are able; the next 2/5 who are a bit better off give about what they are able but the top of American society give less than they are able. The poorest 1/5 give 4.3% of their income to charitable causes. The top 1/5 give 2.1%.

So what's in your wallet?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Church Potluck

Most everything you need to know in order to survive in these Great Recessionary Times you can learn at a church potluck. I have attended them for years. Here is what you find out. Some people bring a lot to eat, more than they can eat, some people bring a little and some don't bring anything. Everyone is welcome to sit down and eat. There is always enough and no one cares what anyone else brings. There are always some who come early to set up and always some who stay late to take down (often they are the same "some"). No one complains and the work always gets done and people enjoy doing it. No one is counting who helps and who does not. It doesn't matter. Some people bring their best food dishes, some people bring something they threw together at the last minute and some bring a loaf of Safeway bread. No one cares and everyone enjoys the food and the fellowship. There is always enough because everyone shares what they have. You can take the lessons from this and live a long and good life. If we believed God has provided enough for all of us and and if we were content with what we have and if we shared what we have without worrying about who gave what and who got what and whether or not someone had a better deal than we did, the world would be a better place. Oh yeah, I think Jesus thought of this first. See the sermon on the mount.

Social Justice Revisted

Around 1980 we were living in Philadelphia. I had taken a new job with a new organization called Evangelicals for Social Action. It was supposed to help churches get involved with "social justice" ministries. It was an idea that began with Ron Sider who had written the best seller Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. Many well known evangelical social activists were on the board. We had several meetings with Jim Wallis who was based in Washington DC and who was starting to write about Christians getting involved in social action and he was also founding a magazine and a community called Sojourners. We were part of Jubilee community in the old Germantown part of Philly. Many of the members of that community were publishing a similar social action journal called The Other Side. John and Judy Alexander who started that magazine were part of the community. So, I was very interested in the recent Glenn Beck of Fox news flap. Apparently he has vowed to expose Jim Wallis for the marxist he truly is. He has said any Christian who belongs to a church where social justice is mentioned should flee that church as soon as possible. Who is this guy, anyway? What are his credentials? Why does anyone listen to him? Wallis has served a poor community in Washington for 30 years now. He has lived close to the poor and his efforts have been to make their lives livable. What he thinks has been documented in several books. The latest one is called Rediscovering Values: on Wall Street, Main Street and Your Street.

When I was in seminary there was quite a tension between social justice and evangelism. There was a lot of verbal sparring going on. Christians on both sides mistrusted each other. Those who thought Christians should only be involved in evangelism ministries accused the other side of watering down the faith. And those on the social justice side accused the other side of narrow mindedness. One of the things I did in my new job was speak to groups of Christians trying to show how that was a false dichotomy. Jesus called us to evangelism and social justice. It was both - and not one or the other and not one better than the other. Evangelism and social justice were two sides of the same coin. I did a thorough study of the Old Testament and found a multitude of verses that indicated God's concern for the poor and God's judgment of those who oppress the poor. Jesus talked about money and it's misuse more than any other topic. He was always concerned about the way people were treated. Followers of Jesus were (and are) too. God, the creator of our bodies and our souls, cares about both. We are social beings, we live our lives in a social context. Whether it is health care, or immigration policy, or welfare, we are interested in how people's lives are affected. We are for those things that are life giving.

In an article in Christianity Today online called Glenn Beck, FRC Shift Aim from Social Justice to Jim Wallis, David Gushee offers this partial definition of social justice: "... it consists of human acts to resist social injustice by repairing such distortions of human community (ie, caused by greed, domination, violence, and exclusion = social injustice). We work today for social justice when we seek to create religious and political communities characterized by more economic justice, less domination, less violence, and more inclusive community."

Perhaps the most troubling thing about this is we are letting a radio talk show host's rants divide the Christian community and demonize a brother in Christ. The head of the American Family Association called for prayer (to defeat the health care reform bill) and asserted "we understand there are powerful spiritual forces at work here." There are. I am sure the devil is happy whenever he can get Christians fighting with each other over which is more important: evangelism or social action. Let's argue about it and do neither!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Lenten notes

Johnny Damon was not re-resigned by the NY Yankees (nor was Hideki Matsui who was the World Series MVP). Damon could easily have gotten many votes as the Yankees MVP this past season. Batting second, he ignited many rallies. He batted above 280 with 24 home runs and over 80 rbi. The Yankees chose not to try to keep him. He signed with Detroit. Damon is a skilled ballplayer, good clubhouse guy, great team player and someone who loves to play the game. He is not a distraction nor a troublemaker. One of the Steinbrenner sons who is now running the ballclub said he would have loved to keep him but baseball is a business. Damon said, I understand, no hard feelings, baseball is a businees. No, baseball is not. Don't you hate it when you hear players and owners say that. Owners are trying their hardest to ruin what is an almost perfect game. A metaphor for life. There is no loyalty to team in the professional game anymore. Free agents go to the highest bidder. Owners let players who were part of the good chemistry of a winning season go and shop for other parts to make the team go. Baseball is a great game. Wanna enjoy one? Head out to your local little league, high school or college field.

One of our country's highest profile pastors went on attack mode over the film Avatar calling it the most demonic film he has ever seen (source: Christianity Today website). He needs to relax and enjoy it for what it is. It is a film, science fiction, and not a theological work. It is the most stunningly beautiful film I have ever seen. Good story, too. I have heard people say it is anti-military, and pro-green and glorifies the innocent native like Dances with Wolves did many years ago ( I like that film, too). Now a noted Christian pastor has said it is evil. I still say it was stunning, very entertaining and worthy of best picture of the year. It is possible to read too much into movies.

Lenten Meditation: we are familiar with Pilate's question to Jesus - are you King of the Jews? To which, Jesus replied, yes, it is as you say. Pilate probably did not believe it, and with a sneer ordered the "titulus cruces" to say Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. It was common to list the crimes of the crucified on his cross. This was Jesus crime: he was King of the Jews. The early Christians, who believed Jesus was not only King of the Jews but King of us all, honored Jesus' title by using the initials INRI (Iesvs Nazarenvs Rex Ivdaeorvm - Latin for Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews). INRI shows up in sculptures and paintings depicting the crucifixion. Today, you can still buy a simple cross with the initials INRI on the titulus. Some communion tables have it, as well. There is a church in Rome that claims to have a piece of the original title from Jesus' cross. It appears ancient but it has never been scientifically tested to know for sure. Since the time of Pilate many have been reluctant to believe that the titulus accurately identified who the man hanging on the cross was. Paul was not one of those people. He wrote: God made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times have reached their fulfillment - to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ ( Eph 1:9-10). He is King, indeed, just like the inscription said.