Archive - 21st Century Faith RSS Feed

The World Cries for Economic Justice

While paying for groceries in Pine Mountain, Ga., recently, I heard another customer say, “It’s hard times right now. Hard times.”

I turned to see a young man, perhaps in his early 30s, dressed in soiled blue jeans and a cotton shirt, telltale signs his work is physical and dirty. It was the end of his workday.

A Cape Town Folk Art Artist

Now, jump from Georgia to a downtown craft market in Cape Town, South Africa. I am talking with a young artist-vendor who says, “It is difficult right now. If I sell one or two paintings per day it is a good day.” His small folk art paintings sell for US$30. He emigrated from Zambia hoping for a better life here. If he sells at this pace for a year, his income will be equivalent to US$10,000, in a city with living costs equivalent to those of a typical U.S. city.

Now let’s move to Harare, Zimbabwe, where Kubatana, a nonprofit organization, is attempting to offer interactive telephone services to low-income Africans. Brenda Burrelle explains Freedom Fone is for people who can’t afford broadband and those who can’t read.

UNICEF and Freedom Fone are creating a two-minute audio drama series to educate women workers about how to deal with unwanted sexual advances by supervisors. However, each cell phone segment will cost 43 U.S. cents airtime. For a Zimbabwean worker earning US$30 per month, it’s too costly. (In township lingo in Cape Town, the cell phone is known as “bleed me dry.”)

Three anecdotes do not prove a trend, but when considered alongside several recently released studies of global economic conditions, they illustrate the growing gap between the rich and poor, the need for meaningful work, and the need for economic and labor policies that favor job creation. This need is global, and it’s spiritual.

The Widening Gap Between Rich and Poor

The rich are getting richer, faster than ever, according to a report by Merrill Lynch and Capgemini, summarized in The Guardian. High Net Worth Individuals (HNWI), defined as those with more than $1 million in free cash, have enjoyed a 10 percent increase in their wealth in recent years. They now control $42.7 trillion.

As governments around the world implemented austerity measures and politicians in the United States called for tax breaks for the wealthy to stimulate the economy, the wealth of HNWI surpassed the peak reached in 2007 at $40.7 trillion.

At the same time, the U.S. Census Bureau reports the number of poor in the United States grew by 2.6 million in the last year, creating the highest poverty level (15.1 percent) since 1993. Worse, the poverty rate for 18- to 24-year-olds is at its highest level since President Lyndon B. Johnson declared “war on poverty” in 1964.

The issue isn’t that wealth or the wealthy are evil. It’s that economic policies that favor wealth creation but do not also favor job creation and economic justice produce evil results – results that, in the long run, are harmful to all.

The Need for Meaningful Work

I heard an Irish woman recently say if her wages and purchasing power got worse, she would be working for free. Young people in Spain are going to the streets to protest unfair employment policies in a distressed economy. Portugal is experiencing out-migration of skilled young adults to former colonies such as Angola and Brazil because they can’t find meaningful work in their home country. Much of the Arab Spring has been about educated young adults frustrated at the lack of meaningful work and by unresponsive, corrupt, authoritarian governments.

In a special report on the future of jobs, The Economist (Sept. 10th-16th, 2011) says the number of officially unemployed stands at 205 million people worldwide. This is 19 percent of the global workforce, many of them young, educated adults in countries with a “youth bulge” in their populations.

A Gallup survey cited by The Economist says 12 percent of the global workforce is underemployed, and the International Labor Organization claims 1.53 billion people in 2009 were in “vulnerable employment” working for themselves or in underpaid family jobs.

In each nation, policies differ, but one thing is clear: in a complex, interconnected world the simplistic rhetoric of trickle-down economics needs to be retired. No matter where this economic ideology is employed, it creates unacceptable gaps between the rich and poor. It creates injustice, hardship and concentration of wealth that fosters social instability. It creates winners and losers. It does not create jobs.

Creating a Better Future

In a more positive vein, there is an opportunity for those concerned with economic justice to advocate for policies that will encourage innovation, immigration reform and job creation, writes The Economist. Those concerned about education must continue to press for reform and support quality universal education.

And we must all consider the changing structure of work in the global economy. The nature of work itself is changing. The need for new skills comes at a faster pace. We are less likely to find long-term employment in a single company and more likely to have “serial careers.” We will utilize online education more than ever. And we’ll have to be even more responsible for marketing ourselves. Some employment experts say we’re moving toward fluid, flexible work as individual contractors.

In “The Shift: The Future of Work is Already Here,” Lynda Gratton of the London Business School says we will need to build a “posse” of 15 people to whom we can turn when work life gets difficult. These are people we can trust and work with effectively in the new workplace.

Gratton says we will need to stay mentally fresh by following a “big-ideas crowd,” stay in touch with talented, open-minded people, and spend time in thought-provoking conferences.

We also need “regenerative communities” to maintain emotional balance, including time with family and friends in the real world apart from the world of work, people with whom we can laugh, share stories and relax.

A Concern for People of Faith

As we enter the emerging work world, we are reminded that self-esteem is embedded in the work we do. When it’s meaningful, we experience fulfillment and self-esteem. At root, this is the spiritual side of work. I believe faith is about how we understand our place in the world in relationship to God and to each other. Work is, or should be, a concern to religious believers because it so intimately connected with human dignity and justice.

When work is reduced to job skills and economic indicators, we lose this perspective, and we also lose sight of the values embedded in work that affect our well-being and contribute to justice for all.

As I’ve traveled the past few weeks, I’ve heard a common theme worldwide, a cry really, for meaningful work and justice. From Pine Mountain, to Harare, to Cape Town and beyond, the people of the world yearn for fulfilling work and economic justice.

_____________________

Faith Media + Culture is pleased to release the first of a series of surveys on contemporary issues surrounding media consumption, changing culture and our faith.  To find out more about American perceptions of global involvement, read our 2011 Global Involvement Study.

To download a copy of the report, please click here.

 

Fear or Faith? The Alternative View of the World

Fear is not the only force at work in the world. When The United Methodist Church proclaimed this biblical truth by posting a building-size banner near Ground Zero in New York following the 9/11 tragedy, the church spoke not only to passersby but to the world.

By projecting its voice into the global conversation at this critical moment, the church brought reassurance and hope that despite the fear the terrorists hoped to instill there is an alternative way to view the world. The church took the message of the gospel into the streets, as Wesley did when he started the Methodist movement.

The biblical basis for this claim is 1 John 4:18,19, “perfect love casts out fear.” This brief passage is a remarkable teaching about the power of love, and its ability to overcome fear.  God’s perfect love casts out our fear.

The 2011 Global Involvement Survey by United Methodist Communications reveals that fear of terrorism has not really taken root as a major force among United Methodists in the U.S., nor a majority of the society.  Twice as many people (32%) are concerned about the state of the global economy as are concerned about terror (16%).  Undeniably, this economic concern includes a great deal of uncertainty, if not fear, but, as a church and as a society, we are not particularly bound by our fears. I take hope in this.

As I reflect on 9/11 and how it has affected us, I am reminded that the crisis compelled us to see the world and our place in it differently. The old polarity of local and global no longer holds. We live in an interconnected world in which circumstances affecting people far away can have direct effect upon us.  Approximately 60% of those surveyed agreed that the world is a more interconnected today.   Like it or not, we are citizens in a global environment.

The research also reveals a challenge. We understand connections close to home better than we understand how global interconnections affect us. That’s understandable, but it does place responsibility on us as disciples of Jesus to think of the world as our parish, as John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement said, and to see how the local and global are intertwined by the bonds of God’s love for all.

I think the tragedy of 9/11 awakened us to a new global reality. The future is neither local nor global, it is glocal, a term that captures a wide range of activities of friendship, kinship and commerce, according to its Wikipedia entry.

Nor is the future something of which to be afraid. As local and global are intertwined, we are given the opportunity to express our faithfulness and discipleship in the dynamic mix of this divine symmetry. We live in God’s Creation under the reign of God. This is both spiritually comforting and has practical application. As we do ministry locally and globally, we gain understanding of our place in God’s Creation and discover the wondrous beauty of the whole.

I thank God that we need not live fearfully in the world, but that we are called to love the world boldly. And I’m thankful that Wesley called us to have the vision to see the whole world as the place for us to do ministry.

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it…Psalm 24:1-2.

_____________________

Faith Media + Culture is pleased to release the first of a series of surveys on contemporary issues surrounding media consumption, changing culture and our faith.

To download a copy of the report, please click here.

 

 

 

 

Poll on Global Citizenship Released

The survey looks at American attitudes toward global citizenship.

United Methodist CommunicationsThe 2011 Global Involvement Survey, being released here, underscores the increasing sense of connection people have with international events.

The study finds that one in five U.S. adults follows international news closely, with almost half (48 percent) following international news at least once a day.  Our interest and consumption of international news seems to grow with our age and probably our exposure to the world. The heavy consumer of international news tends to be a male, over 55 years old.

Some of the major stories we have seen in the past six months have literally rocked the world – Japan’s earthquakes, Osama bin Laden’s death, struggling European and U.S.  economies, collapsing Arab regimes, famines and drug wars. These are more than regional events; their shockwaves are felt on an international scale.

The global stories that attracted the most attention in recent months were the Japanese earthquake and related disasters, and the death of Osama bin Laden.  Other closely followed stories included Libya’s efforts to overthrow Moammar Gaddafi, the Arab Spring, Mexico’s drug wars and the recent royal wedding.

Economy Trumps Terrorism as Top Concern

2011 Global Involvement SurveyBut with all these stories grabbing media space, the top international issues in the world today are economic weakness and unemployment, with one-third of respondents ranking the economy and lack of jobs first.  It appears that issues that can affect our livelihood rank higher than even terrorism, which was listed as the most important issue by 16 percent.

Those who follow news closely seek out more sources of news.  And older adults are much more likely to view traditional media, such as television and print, while young adults are more likely to get news from online sources.

Responding to Global Issues

Some 60 percent of the survey respondents agree that the world is more interconnected today.  Undoubtedly, the tremors from real earthquakes, terrorist events and tumultuous economies seem to be felt in towns throughout America. Not surprisingly, most adults expect the U.S. government to take an active role in addressing international issues related to human suffering, such as providing famine relief, ending genocide, promoting clean water and eradicating disease.

Respondents, however, felt that leadership in addressing global issues of hunger and poverty should be assigned to the United Nations, international medical organizations and governments of countries suffering from the problem.

When looking at world health and diseases of poverty, the most widespread and serious concerns were perceived to be HIV/AIDs (64 percent), malnutrition (53 percent) and obesity (49 percent).

When asked where they turn when disasters happen, 52 percent tend to turn to U.S. and International Red Cross organizations first.  Church and religious organizations were second (29 percent), indicating the important role faith-based institutions play in serving both local and global needs.

Getting Involved Personally

The top activities for personal involvement are donating money (86 percent), donating items (71 percent), volunteering time (46 percent), purchasing from a non-profit (38 percent), sharing information (36 percent) and praying for a group or issue (33 percent). Women are more likely to take part in all areas of community involvement, particularly prayer.

The survey, commissioned by United Methodist Communications, was conducted June 10-18, 2011,  and among 870 adults 18 years of age and older.

_____________________

Faith Media + Culture is pleased to release the first of a series of surveys on contemporary issues surrounding media consumption, changing culture and our faith.

To download a copy of the report, please click here.

Why Somalia Matters

A rudimentary health clinic in the bush.

Twenty years ago, I sat at a wooden table under a plastic tarp eating cereal in powdered milk made of charcoal-filtered water at a refugee camp near Luuq, Somalia. It was the sparest of conditions.

In the corner of my eye, I saw a young man and woman with an older woman sit down near a thorn fence a few hundred feet away. The young woman held a baby.

Meanwhile, my colleagues and I joked and teased each other as the sun rose.

After we finished breakfast, a Somali-speaking staff interpreter came to the doctor who sat across from me and took him to the young couple. The young mother handed her baby to the doctor.

I was startled when I heard him shouting curse words. As we had eaten breakfast, they had waited politely and the malnourished child had died.

Hearing this, I became sick to my stomach, not to mention overwhelmed with a load of grief.

That was Somalia 20 years ago, in a massive famine in which millions of Somalis were displaced from their desiccated rangelands. Herds on which they depended for survival were dead and dying. Wells they used across the entire territory were dry. Food could not be found. Famine stalked the vast Ogaden rangelands across the breadth of Somalia and into Ethiopia.

Today, the news from Somalia is as grim. How the country got there is no secret. It’s been a failed state for 20 years.

Drought and conflict

Mother cooking in Somali village near a refugee encampment.

Periodic drought has resulted in famine about every 10 years. What’s different today, according to the U.N. World Food Programme, is changing weather patterns that make drought more common, giving the people and the land less time to recover.

Drought tips the scale, but conflict has been a persistent contributing factor. Famines in 1973, 1984 and 1992 were preceded by intractable conflict.

This year, the food shortages in Somalia have been exacerbated by the lack of humanitarian access to many areas, accompanied by a sharp increase in food prices.

The 10 million estimated by the United Nations to need food assistance today does not approach the 1992 figure of 23 million, according to the BBC. However, reaching them is more difficult. The BBC reports al-Shabab, a group of Islamist insurgents who control the south, has threatened the lives of U.N. staff and imposed unacceptable operating conditions, including informal taxes and a demand that no female staff work there for the WFP.

These recurring conditions – both natural and human-caused — contribute to a sense of futility and donor fatigue that’s dangerous. Those affected by famine are the most vulnerable in this troubled region — children, women and girls, and the elderly. They have not created the conditions that threaten their lives. They are least equipped to deal with famine.

The warlord problem

E.J. Hogendoorn of the International Crisis Group counsels international donors to see the current crisis as an opportunity to establish a relationship with moderates in al-Shabab and attempt to woo them away from terrorism. He suggests the humanitarian response must empower people and not warlords. And he cautions against aid as a component of military operations.

As I traveled through southern Somalia several years ago, locals told me of their frustration with a U.N. repatriation program for warlords conducted under the guise of establishing order. The locals claimed that the United Nations helped warlords who had fled the country after Said Barre’s regime fell, enabling them to return and putting them in charge of administering regional civil infrastructure. The result was the empowerment of the very group that had fractured and destroyed the country in the first place.

Young girl at a health clinic in the Somali bush.

Despite the international frustrations, children, young people and adults are still dying of hunger and related causes today in Somalia, and the world cannot stand by without making an effort to provide the help they need to survive. Somalia is a challenge to our humanity and the conscience of the world. We must not turn away from the innocent.

Called to act

The image of the couple with their baby 20 years ago still haunts me. It motivates me. Where we can, we must prevent children from dying for lack of food. We must be agents of life.

The neglect of Somalia also reminds us that the world is no more secure than its weakest, most vulnerable people, no matter where they are located. For years after the end of the Cold War, Somalia was overlooked by world leaders and its corrupt regime ignored. Then it fell apart, and now it’s a global problem, a place where uneducated, heavily armed young men commit piracy on the high seas and terrorists train recruits to kill and terrorize.

Somalia is not a distant place on the Horn of Africa, nor is the suffering of the Somali people of no consequence to us. As a person of faith who follows Jesus, I am called by his teachings about human worth and my responsibility to my neighbor to be concerned and to act. As a citizen of the world, I know my own desire for peace and a fruitful future is at risk by the unaddressed need for peace and stability in Somalia.

For benevolent reasons, for the well-being of the Somali people and our own, and for global security,  the world cannot ignore Somalia. As I have breakfast today, I know that babies are dying, and faithful discipleship and responsible global citizenship compel me to act.


The Givewell Blog discusses giving to Somali relief with descriptions of agencies currently on the ground. The United Methodist Committee on Relief reports preparation is under way with partners to respond to the crisis.

Hunger Doesn’t Take A Vacation

Here are some facts I wish I didn’t know:

•One in five children in my state of Tennessee is at risk of hunger.

•One in three persons receiving assistance from our middle Tennessee food bank is under the age of 18.

•More than one in six Tennesseans receive food stamps, and the numbers of people needing assistance is growing. In fact, between mid-2007 and mid-2009, the number of people receiving food stamp assistance grew 66 percent.

Nationally One in Four Children Face Hunger

But this is not just a Tennessee crisis. Nationally, one in four children are at risk of going to bed hungry. The number of Americans in need is at the highest number in 51 years of recordkeeping. The weight of the recession, disasters like floods and tornadoes, harsh winters, rising food and fuel costs, a jobless recovery, escalating medical costs and a lack of affordable housing has taken its toll on a large portion of Americans that look a lot like you and me.

Jaynee Day, President and CEO of Second Harvest of Middle Tennessee

To understand this problem better, I recently spent some time with Jaynee Day, the president and CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee. She gave me some important insights into these families in need.
Many of us assume that the hungry are homeless, but that is not the case. The homeless represent less than 19% of those in need. Those experiencing food insecurity are mostly seniors, children and working families. Some 60% of those helped have jobs. But because of underemployment and low paying jobs, these “working poor” families may be struggling with more than one minimum wage job and still not making ends meet. One third of those served in food banks every month must make a decision between buying food and paying utilities.

In many metropolitan areas, like Nashville, a majority of the children are participants in some type of reduced or free lunch program. Currently, in our metropolitan school district, 73% of the children are part of such a program.  But even free lunch programs are not enough for some families. Teachers often notice children coming to school on Monday mornings hungry, and as a result, they are not performing to their maximum ability. Children need adequate and consistent nutrition to achieve in school.

To alleviate this need, a backpack program was originally developed in Arkansas, after a school nurse asked for help because hungry students were coming to her with stomach aches and dizziness. The local food bank began to provide the school children with groceries in non-descript backpacks to carry home.

Today, food banks like Second Harvest partner with faith communities and civic groups to assist in feeding these children. I was heartened to find out that United Methodist churches throughout the country are a large part of this program. What started as a pilot program in 1995 has spread to 3600 programs serving some 190,000 children in 2009.

It’s a small thing really. A typical backpack food bag includes two canned entrees, two fruit cups, two cereals, 100 percent fruit juice, shelf-stable milk, and a snack. The bag of food is small enough to fit in a backpack, but large enough to make a difference in the future of a child.

As needs grow, Jaynee Day faces growing concerns. Cuts at the federal level will only put more pressure on agencies like Second Harvest to provide for children and families. Day told me that faith-based groups are key to food bank programs across the country.  United Methodist churches are spreading the word about the need and providing funds, food supplies, and volunteers.

Now when I read “Carry each other’s burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ” in Galatians 6:2, I will be thinking about small backpacks filled with love for America’s children.

Billy Shore on “No Kid Hungry”

A Guest Post by Billy Shore

As the school year draws to a close and summer stretches out before us, America’s poorest school children find themselves at even greater risk than usual.  Because, when the school’s doors close so does the prospect of meals for many kids who rely on school lunch and school breakfast.

More than 20 million American children get a free or reduced price school lunch, and although all 20 million are eligible for meals in the summer too, only 3 million get it.  That’s because not enough school districts take the necessary steps to establish alternative sites.  The irony, and this may be Washington D.C.’s best kept billion dollar secret, is that the federal government reimburses 100% of the cost of the meals served, which means budget strapped state and local governments could also benefit from dollars that come in to buy milk from local dairy farmers, bread from local bakers, and so forth.

The real problem is that these children are not only vulnerable, they are voiceless. They don’t belong to powerful membership organizations or have highly paid lobbyists.  They depend on average, caring citizens like us to be their voice. That’s why Share Our Strength has committed to spend $1.6 million this summer in 35 states to help establish summer meal sites and raise awareness among parents so they can ensure meals for their children.

Everyone has a strength to share, and everyone has a role to play in our No Kid Hungry campaign.  The need has never been greater. The recession has left 48 million Americans living below the poverty line and more than 22 million children on food stamps (which we now call the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) for the first time in the history of the country. Go to www.strength.org to see how you can get involved.

This guest post is from Bill Shore, the founder and executive director of Share Our Strength®, a national nonprofit that is ending childhood hunger in America. Shore is also the chairman of Community Wealth Ventures®, Inc., a for-profit subsidiary of Share Our Strength that offers strategy and implementation services to foundations and nonprofit organizations. Shore founded Share Our Strength in 1984 in response to the Ethiopian famine and subsequently renewed concern about hunger in the United States.  Shore is also an author.  His most recent book is The Imaginations of Unreasonable Men, published in November 2010, which documents the lifelong efforts of researchers to end malaria.

 

Joy Comes With the Morning

The psalmist writes that joy comes with the morning. It follows a night of weeping, he says.  But my night wasn’t like that. I dreamed sweet dreams. Taking photographs and maintaining motorcycles.

Now I couldn’t wait for the day to begin. I awoke a little after four. It was still dark and I was waiting anxiously for dawn.

I started the coffemaker, ground the beans and got milk ready to heat.

Outside the air is cool. I sit and wait for the sun. Critters are stirring. A hummingbird works its way through the flowers taking long sips preparing for the day.

Dew on the grass glistens like Christmas sparkles and a fog sneaks in. It turns the morning air blue and snuffs out the sun.

A chipmunk bounds across the yard, hopping high as if he can avoid getting wet. I laugh.

Robins, redbirds and mockingbirds sing. The distinctive song of a rufus-sided-towhee stands out. It shyly scatters the ground under a hydrangea searching for breakfast.

Two Carolina wrens peck at the fennel seeds I planted yesterday. Then one hops rambunctiously through nearby flowers, chattering all the while. Ounce-for-ounce these little birds are the most self-confident and loud residents in the backyard.

A Downy woodpecker, who thinks we hung the nectar feeder especially for him, lands on the leucaena tree and searches it momentarily for insects. But he’s really come for the nectar. He takes a perch and drinks, frequently looking skyward for attackers.

While this has been going on the swallowtail caterpillar I put under a protective net yesterday has morphed into a chrysalis. I continue to be awed by this transformation.

Engrossed in this symphony of life, I notice the fog has burned away. The dew is gone, and it’s getting hot.

To borrow from Dolly Parton’s wonderful song, “I can see the light of a clear blue morning. Everything’s gonna be alright, gonna be OK.”

Morning is a gateway to hope and a cause for joy. Every day is truly a new day.

Hearing the songs of creation and watching its players, I’m reminded that all of us, we two-legged creatures, the winged ones and the four-legged, are connected.  It’s so easy to forget and overlook.

But, in the light of this clear blue morning, chuckling as the little ground squirrel vainly tries to hop above the wet grass, or the cocky wren loudly proclaims his presence; as the woodpecker unabashedly indulges himself and the hummingbird cartwheels and caroms, it’s apparent. We’re bound together.

We, too, are made to soar, and even to run through wet grass if we choose. We “shall mount up with wings like eagles…run and not be weary…walk and not faint,” when we claim our place in the Creation and come into right relationship with the Creator.

We are made to sing and dance and celebrate this gracious gift called life. And we are reminded of this with each new dawn, and of the loving creator who blesses it all.
__________________

I posted some morning photos here.

What songs or new revelations at dawn have you experienced and are willing to share?

Country Song Packs A Hell Of A Punch

Hell is losing your job six months short of 30 years, with no parachute, no shiny new gold watch and not so much as a “thank you” as you walk out the door. It’s payments you can’t make on a house you can’t sell, as your kids watch their parents split apart.

 

You don’t have to die to go to hell.

That’s one tale Brad Paisley tells in his newest album, “This is Country Music.” It’s his best work yet. When I first heard the song “A Man Don’t Have to Die,” it felt like a punch in the gut. Sometimes the best country music lyrics can do that.

It reminds me that my silence about the economic realities confronting working people is cowardly and my perspective on faith needs serious readjustment.

The song is written in reaction to the arrival of a new preacher who is warning people about hell. But Paisley counters, “We already know that hell exists.”

It reminds me of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, who preached in the streets as England industrialized in the 1700s. He went to working people – miners in the coalfields of Newcastle and the desperately poor who were left out of the Industrial Revolution. They all lived below government-defined poverty levels.

He spoke to them of personal and social holiness. He told them personal faith and social responsibility cannot be separated. And he asked them to care for each other.

He did not point them to a better life afterward, but he pointed them toward making life better now. To Wesley, the gospel was not palliative; it was prophetic and down-to-earth practical.

As a result, the people called Methodist responded, perhaps because few others cared about them. Though they were cash poor, Wesley admonished every one of them to contribute at least a penny for the aid of others. And they did!

Over time, however, the hard edge of social responsibility got rounded off and smoothed down with preaching about individual piety and comfort. Methodists grew in wealth and status. Today, few – including me — in this faith community speak the language of working people and the poor or stand with them. We speak about the poor, but we are not of the poor as the early Methodists.

As for speaking the language of working people, seminary education took it away from me, and organizational minutiae turned my focus inward toward institutional concerns.

What is needed …

Working people and the poor are among the hidden casualties of the global economic crisis. In the U.S., 28 million people are unemployed or forced into part-time jobs that don’t pay enough to sustain them.

Paisley speaks to them, but not as Wesley did. This powerful song goes where country music has always gone when it comes to religion—angels and the hereafter. And that’s not what is needed.

What’s needed is concern for the here and now. Wesley said everyone in every society is a child of God and deserves to be treated as such, according to United Methodist scholar Richard P. Heitzenrater.

Faith isn’t about reaping rewards in the hereafter; it’s about entering into the reign of God now.

God’s love is for all

We are loved of God, and called by God to love and care for each other. This connects faith to justice and places on us responsibility to ensure that everyone is treated with the dignity Gods intends for us all.

Paisley drove me to Wesley. And Wesley helped me see the need to step out of my parochial, institutional concerns and broaden the definition of community to include everyone from the top to the bottom of the economic scale.

No one – not the immigrant, chronically ill, unemployed, divorced, gay, straight, man, woman or child – stands outside this all-encompassing love and claim of dignity.

If a man doesn’t need to die to go to hell, it’s also true that no one is left out of God’s kingdom. It’s already established. We simply must live so that our lives reveal it.

In the next few weeks, I’ll be offering examples of how people are living it today. In the meantime, if you have an example – or if you have experienced hell in some way – please share your story with me.

 

10 Tips for Christians in Social Media

There are thousands of Christians participating in Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and more.  Whether we are posting to our own blog, tweeting or commenting on what someone else has written, it is important to remember a few guidelines about Christian conduct online.

1)      Remember the Golden Rule. Stick to the high road. Snarkiness abounds on the Internet, especially in chat forums and comment sections.

Lewis Carroll's Snark caused people to disappear, much like mean spirited jabs can diminish a person. Set yourself apart by keeping a positive tone, focusing your arguments on ideas rather than personal attacks.

2)      Let your faith emerge naturally in your posts, and avoid proselytizing.

3)      Don’t be holier than thou! Be thoughtful and opinionated, but avoid taking on a judgmental tone in your posts.

4)      Cut others some slack. Give people with whom you disagree the benefit of the doubt.

5)      Know your stuff. That is, know the ground on which you stand. Understand the values and theology that inform your views and consider how to express them.

6)      Be real. Being authentic is more important than appearing to be a flawless, model Christian. Most people cannot relate to perfection, and it’s easier to empathize with someone who is genuine about who they are.

7)      Engage a broad audience. Don’t limit yourself to interacting only with other Christians. Choose topics that spark the interest of “regular” people.

8)       Get out of the pulpit. Avoid churchy jargon and explain the concepts that you use. Don’t take for granted that people know anything about Christianity or are familiar with Jesus.  And be sure to keep it short.  Long, verbose diatribes do not entice reading.

9)      Don’t bring me down! Taking a cue from Paul’s first letter to Corinthians, post content that contributes to building up (faith) rather than tearing down.

10)   Use multimedia – video, audio, photo slideshows – to engage your audience more powerfully in the message or story you are trying to tell. Blogging about a soup kitchen or health care ministry? Include a 1- to 2-minute video clip with testimony from people benefiting from the program or people working with

 

Renewing the Church: The Leading Causes of Life or the Tsunami of Death?

My favorite phrase is “the leading causes of life.” It was conceived by Gary Gunderson and Larry Pray, and I’ve written about it several times. Gary is Senior V.P. for Health and Welfare and Director of the Center for Excellence in Faith and Health of Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare in Memphis.  Larry is a pastor in the United Church of Christ and Senior Pastoral Scholar for Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare. They co-authored the book, Leading Causes of Life.

Their phrase endures, for me.

But another phrase is making the rounds in conversations in the denomination in which I labor: the “Death Tsunami.” It’s intended to describe the impending demographic change that will happen over the next several years as older members pass away.

It’s meant to be prophetic. Behind it is the thought that if these older members are not replaced with a younger group the days of the denomination itself are numbered.

 

I’ve been bouncing these two phrases around in my head, asking which excites me, gets my creative juices flowing, makes me want to get involved in making things better?

Guess which one does it for me?

I know the death phrase is meant to attract attention to a real problem. But it frames the future in such an inexorable way I just can’t get a handle on how to respond to it. As Gunderson and Pray write, “If death defines our efforts, then it will win every time.”

Hearing this, I want to start singing Joe Diffie’s country music song, “Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox (If I die).” That’s about all the energy I can get for this framing of our collective future.

On the other hand, I can get energized about looking for the leading causes of life. It makes me want to search out those places and people who are creating, causing change, moving forward. It’s energizing to seek out what gives us life, makes it purposeful, gives it meaning. We are on a journey toward life.

For too long the mainline denominations have wallowed in their narrative of death. They’ve come to believe it, and they’ve allowed others to confirm it. Well, I don’t.

I believe we belong to each other and to God. This is the essence of our connection. In my denomination this means that the local church, annual conference and general church have the capacity to do more together than any of us can do alone. This gives us the capacity to transform the world for the better if we claim it and live it.

And that leads us to what Gunderson and Pray call coherence. Coherence is that web of blessing that defines our roles as human beings. It calls us beyond ourselves to become involved with others. It gives us life, they write. We are not alone and all about ourselves. We’re in this together.

In a world of rampant narcissism, the Christian faith calls us to become servants to those most vulnerable, in need and without voice. How counter-cultural is that?

And that call leads us out of helplessness and despair to agency. We can change and create change. We are not the inevitable victims of the tsunami of death. We are the agents who can bring, with God’s help, new life, new meaning, new purpose and hope to the dry, arid places that seem without the refreshing waters of renewal and healing.

And when we act in this way–moving toward life and toward others–we are blessed and we become a blessing. We sense that we are accountable to those who have come before, those who will follow and those with whom we share the invigorating journey called life.

So, like Joe Diffie, “I wanna go to heaven but I don’t wanna go tonight.” And “I ain’t afraid of dying, it’s the thought of being dead” that perplexes me. So I’m not giving in to the tsunami of death talk.

Instead, I’m looking for life through connection, coherence, agency and blessing, and I see these at work in the stories of this denomination everyday.

Let’s seek the leading causes of life.

 

Page 5 of 38« First...«34567»102030...Last »