Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Money and Bodies

Jesus talked about money a lot. A lot more than a whole lot of other things. If you total up his sayings, money was at the top of the list of topics he had on his mind. He called money a rival god, even. That's saying something. One of his followers, Timothy, said in one of his letters we have in the Bible that the love of money is the root of all evil. I have heard Christians parse that phrase to mean that money is not the root of all evil. It is the love of it that is. Except, I have never met anyone who didn't love it. Some have loved it less than others but everyone seems to like some of it. It's hard to live without it. And it seems easier to live easier the more you have of it. So the love of it makes for a whole lot of corruption in the world (see previous blog on The Red Market). And insanity. This summer pro athletes are signing contracts that any sane person would look at and laugh out loud. Are you kidding me? Drew Brees, pro football quarterback, is going to make 20 million dollars a year over the next 5 years. That puts him in the same high rent district as baseballers ARod, Jeter and soon to be megabucks star Josh Hamilton. Of course, the average baseball salary now is about 3 million a year. Why is this not laugh out loud funny to the rest of us shmucks who won't make in a lifetime what these guys make in one day? Now, I am not suggesting there is any corruption in how they make what they make. It is all legal and above board. But, if the love of money is the root of all evil, isn't what they're making corrupting them?  And even if we make so much less, how does it corrupt us?

The other thing I've been thinking about lately is bodies. Human bodies. ESPN the magazine is just out with their body issue. Olympic athletes posing nude. Last year they had pro baseballers and footballers, soccer players and tennis players without a stitch on posing only with strategically placed athletic equipment. Sports Illustrated has it's annual swimsuit issue usually featuring semi nude athletes. But even the non athletes look athletic in their swimsuits. There is no excess body fat to be seen and you could see it if it was there, anywhere on the body.

Of course, we know the original Greek athletic games were played in the nude (gymnasium is from the Greek word which meant to train naked).  We know all about the Greek glorification of the body. I guess we are simply reverting to form. Gyms and workout routines have gained popularity in the recent years. Movie actors are much more buff than they used to be. The female figure is used to sell everything from cars to body wash. Maybe we all aspire to the day we will look good nude. For most of us it will take a good long time.

The Jews and Christians were scandalized by some aspects of Greek culture. The gymnasium was one of them. They weren't prudes. They believed in the God who created the human body. It was and is a magnificent piece of craftsmanship. Even God said it was good! But, after that first sin in the garden, God also said put some clothes on. Somehow sin made it impossible to celebrate the human body as one of God's great gifts without our minds wandering to other things. Like separating a body from a person and objectifying it for our own pleasure. I'm guessing it's not the pure love of sports that sells the ESPN the magazine body issue or the SI swimsuit edition. I'm guessing a lot of minds are wandering.

The Red Market

Scott Carney is an investigative journalist who up to now has been published in magazines like Wired, Outside, Mother Jones, etc. His first book is called The Red Market: On the Trail of the World's Organ Brokers, Bone Thieves, Blood Farmers and Child Traffickers. The subtitle lets you know what his book is about. I came across it in Books and Culture where it was reviewed. Sounded interesting so I kindled it. It's a disturbing book. I had never given much thought to organ donations. I never needed one and I didn't know anyone personally who did. I had read about the heroic stories of someone donating his kidney to a friend or family member. I had heard the pleas to give the gift of life and donate your organs when you die. It never occurred to me to wonder where all the organs donated come from. Obviously, there are not enough car wrecks with people in them who have decided to donate their organs when they die to supply the need for organs. And turns out the supply is unlimited because most of the organs come from illegal or unethical sources. Carney spends most of his time in Asia and India and he has identified whole villages where women have sold their kidneys so they can survive. Organ brokers buy these organs, pay the donors a small amount (often promising much more later and never come through with it), and then sell the organs at a much marked up price. Then, the hospital where the transplant is done and the doctor who does it receive huge fees from the organ recipient. And the whole time the recipient never has a clue (well he or she has a clue if they read Carney's book) where the organ that saved his or her life came from. But it is really a simple question: where do all the organs come from to meet the ever increasing need for organs? China is only one of the countries that has a government website advertising organs for sale. Where do they get all these organs from? Carney makes a pretty good case that most of them come from prisoners in China's penal system. We even outsource our need for organs to China!

I never knew much about international adoption either. I knew people who had adopted children from third world countries. I had heard stories about children being kidnapped by Westerners allegedly to "save" them from orphanages and bringing them to a better life in the West. Some of these so called "kidnappings" were done by Christian agencies. Usually, the motive of offering these parentless children a better life in the West seemed admirable. And it is for the most part. But, Carney raises disturbing questions. He tells stories about children who have been kidnapped and then sold to orphanages for a few hundred dollars and then the orphanage turns around and sells the child on the international adoption market for thousands of dollars. Of course, no one calls it selling children. It is called paying the adoption fees. But, why does it cost so much money to give a child from an orphanage a new life with an American family? It can end up costing thousands of dollars. Where does the money go? Who gets paid the big bucks? How does a family know where the child came from? So called privacy regulations now make it impossible to track the family origins of an adopted child. That makes it possible for the Red Market in child trafficking to operate. Carney says that most adoptive parents want a child who has spent less than two years in an orphanage - for obvious reasons. So orphanages need a regular supply of younger children to adopt out if they are going to stay in business.

He is not saying that all organ donations are unethical or every adoption is suspect. He is saying that the sources of the blood, the bones, the organs, and the children that are in the supply chain to this country can be questionable at least and unethical or illegal at worst. Let the recipient beware (some people have the attitude I need an organ, you have one for me, I don't care where it came from!) and exercise great caution in the search process. There is a lot of corruption out there in the supply chain! (Check out

Thursday, July 12, 2012


Community is a word that is discussed a lot in Christian circles. The question is asked often, how do we create Christian community? There is a sense in which any Church could be said to be a Christian community but many Christians would quickly admit that there is not much community in a deeper sense in their Churches. There is a community of like minded believers that gathers for Sunday worship and maybe stays for a fellowship time afterward and that is good but not much more than a superficial sharing of lives. There may be a Sunday School class that has met for years so that people get to know each other at a deeper level. That is community, too. Some Christians are involved in a small group in their Church that meets weekly for study, prayer and sharing of lives. That may be the deepest community experience most Christians have in their Churches.

Chris Rice in Grace Matters tells the story of Antioch Christian Community in Jackson, MS. Antioch grew out of a commitment on the part of several African-American and White Christians to live together. They attended the same Church but this was an experience in living together outside their Church fellowship. They shared a house, meals, money, childcare and other household chores. So, not only did they have the usual tensions that arise out of sharing a bathroom or menu preferences, they had to deal with cross - cultural issues, as well. Community is hard enough but when you are dealing with issues of Black and White, community stresses get magnified.

St. Paul talks a lot about community in his letters to the Churches. In his day, most of the Churches were small communities that met in homes. They worshiped, and fellowshiped, and ate meals together, in a word, they spent a lot of time together. So, Paul had to respond to the interpersonal issues that would arise in such a context. These responses led to a number of Paul's "one-anothering" passages, ie, forgive one another, accept one another, love one another, etc. Those passages are the heart of any community.

Rice's book tells the story of Antioch's struggle to love each other even as they got to know the "others" very intimately. Love and acceptance is sorely tested the closer we live together. During Antioch's struggles, they often called upon John and Judy Alexander who pastored a community somewhat like Antioch. The Alexanders were veterans of community living and Antioch benefited from their wisdom. On one of their visits, John shared this: "One of the foundations of community is knowing that you will sin and be sinned against. It needs to be our daily expectation. But there also needs to be an expectation of forgiving others their sins and being forgiven. For some of us being forgiven is harder, because we want not to sin."

Sin should not surprise us. We should expect it. The issue of community is what we do with it, how we handle it. John Alexander simplified community living down to this slogan: care for each other, forgive each other - and keep washing the dishes. It's a good motto for community life whether our community is the Church that gathers on Sunday mornings, or a household of people that lives together day in and day out, or something in between.