Saturday, February 28, 2009

REPEATING HISTORY?

We've willed the world we have and nothing will change...until our will is transformed

"What has happened in history
is what we human beings have
willed should happen. We have to
take full responsibility for it.
And there is no possibility of
a different kind of history—
a new age of justice and mercy—
until the will within us is
confronted and conquered
by the will of God that

meets us so compellingly
in the Christ of the cross."


The Cultural Subversion of the Biblical Faith by James D. Smart.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

WRESTLING LIFE FROM DESPAIR

Cornel West prods us to move from optimism to hope, from despair to struggle

RECOVER THE RICHNESS OF SERVING OTHERS. “The country is in deep trouble. We've forgotten that a rich life consists fundamentally of serving others, trying to leave the world a little better than you found it. This is true at the personal level. But there's also a political version, which has to do with what you see when you get up in the morning and look in the mirror and ask yourself whether you are simply wasting your time on the planet or spending it in an enriching manner."

COURAGE TO QUESTION THE POWERS THAT BE. "We need a moral prophetic minority of all colors who muster the courage to question the powers that be, the courage to be impatient with evil and patient with people, and the courage to fight for social justice. In many instances we will be stepping out on nothing, hoping to land on something… Our courage rests on a deep democratic vision of a better world that lures us and a blood-drenched hope that sustains us.”

HOPE VS OPTIMISM. “This hope is not the same as optimism. Optimism adopts the role of the spectator who surveys the evidence in order to infer that things are going to get better. Yet we know that the evidence does not look good. The dominant tendencies of our day are unregulated global capitalism, racial balkanization, social breakdown, and individual depression. Hope enacts the stance of the participant who actively struggles against the evidence in order to change the deadly tides of wealth inequalities, group xenophobia, and personal despair."

TO LIVE IS TO WRESTLE WITH DESPAIR. "Only a new wave of vision, courage, and hope can keep us sane – and preserve the decency and dignity requisite to revitalize our organizational energy for the work to be done. To live is to wrestle with despair yet never to allow despair to have the last word.”

-- Cornel West in The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear, an anthology edited by Paul Rogat Loeb.


In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

LAUNCHING INTO LENT

A reluctant Lent observer, I'm on board for the journey

Obediently,
We saunter into
Ash Wednesday's service.
Kneeling,
We are marked--
as much a sign of
obligation as mild
intention.

Lent launches
as we straggle up
the gangplank.
Though winded,
we're on board--
a bit bewildered about
where this journey ends,
somewhat unsure of
the purpose of this
passage.

When inspiration flags
discipline and duty
carry us.
Where vision is obscured,
the immediate horizon a fog,
soundings resonate
direction.

Others seem more
certain of this voyage--
Sails are trimmed and
crew busy themselves.
But we aren't sure
whether we should
settle in to rest
or keep watch
at the bow.

We're asked to
give up something--
to lighten the load?
Have we not already
given up home and land
for this untethered vessel
churning through
inhospitable seas
to an unheard of
location?

After a few days at sea
we notice atop the mast
flies a flag--are those
cross bones?
What were we thinking
when we bought the ticket
marked "Destination Port:
Calvary"?

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Monday, February 23, 2009

WEEKEND WRAP-UP

Some Hay weekends are laid back, most, however, are a mad dash

AND THEY'RE OFF... On Friday afternoon, Sam and I drove to Fort Wayne, Indiana, for a two-day soccer tournament. After the first game, we drove to Huntington and spent Friday night with friends. After the last game in Fort Wayne on Saturday, we drove back to Indianapolis amid blowing snow in time to get in on Ben Davis High School's "Giant Spectacular." This is a massive annual concert and show choir event that Becky and Molly were involved in. I opted out of the evening "finals" session to prepare for Sunday. Sunday was a double dose--all the prep and leadership for the morning services at the church and then prep and leadership as our congregation hosted a quarterly all-Indy-area Free Methodist church gathering called "Mission Indy," involving a rally and food fellowship. I got home around 10 pm, too exhausted to stay awake to see "Slumdog Millionaire" win an Oscar (yea!). And I didn't even check to see if Levi Leipheimer held on to win the Tour of California (he did--his third consecutive ToC victory; Lance was 7th).

UP NEXT. This was a bit unusual for a Hay weekend, but not by much. Next weekend, Molly's at a choir contest in northern Indiana while Sam plays a soccer tournament in Cincinnati, Ohio. Keep up with us...if you can.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Friday, February 20, 2009

CALIFORNIA DREAMIN'

I've been tracking the Tour of California this week...wishing I were there


ON SUCH A WINTER'S DAY. While we're dealing with the continuing winter with freezing temperatures in the Midwest, cyclists have been racing through sunny California. It hasn't all been warm and sunny (take last Sunday's Stage 1 day-long downpour, for example), but it certainly has been a beautiful Tour of California to follow online and on Versus TV. American Levi Leipheimer leads the race heading into its final stages. Lance Armstrong's comeback bid is playing out well; the 7-time Tour de France champion is in 6th place after the prologue and five stages.

MAYBE NEXT YEAR. Wish I were there. It would be great to be in Pasadena on Saturday afternoon when the best cyclists in the world roll in from an 89-mile ride from Santa Clarita. Maybe I can plan a vacation for this week next year and follow what has become America's premier professional cycling race (folks who oversee the Tour of Georgia may argue with me about that). Follow the Tour of California and Lance Armstrong's comeback at http://www.cyclingnews.com/.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Photo found on Yahoo Sports site

Thursday, February 19, 2009

HEART AT WAR, HEART AT PEACE

Our Unleavened Bread Cafe roundtable is talking through The Anatomy of Peace

A GNARLY BUT INCREDIBLE GROUP. It's a gnarly group that meets around pushed-together tables at Unleavened Bread Cafe every Wednesday morning. Gnarly...but robust, respectful, insightful, broad, deep, and diverse. Over the years we've worked through books of the Bible and discussed books by the likes of Shane Claiborne, Jim Wallis, Christine Pohl, Donald Kraybill, and Brian McLaren. Currently, we're talking through The Anatomy of Peace by The Arbinger Institute. Here are few snippets from early in the book subtitled "Resolving the Heart of Conflict":

HELPING THINGS GO RIGHT. "I become an agent of change only to the degree that I begin to live to help things go right rather than simply to correct things that are going wrong. Rather than simply correcting, for example, I need to reenergize my teaching, my helping, my listening, my learning. I need to put time and effort into building relationships."

PEOPLE LIKE OURSELVES OR OBJECTS? "In the way we regard our children, our spouses, neighbors, colleagues, and strangers, we choose to see others either as people like ourselves or objects. They either count like we do or they don't. In the former case, since we regard them as we regard ourselves, we say our hearts are at peace toward them. In the latter case, since we systematically view them as inferior, we say our hearts are at war."

VIOLENCE OF HOW WE VIEW OTHERS. "Seeing an equal person as an inferior object is an act of violence. It hurts as much as a punch in the face. In fact, in many ways it hurts more. Bruises heal more quickly than emotional scars do."

WAY OF BEING VS BEHAVIOR. "Generally speaking, we respond to others' way of being toward us rather than to their behavior. Which is to say that our children respond more to how we're regarding them than they do to our particular words or actions. We can treat our children fairly, for example, but if our hearts are warring toward them while we're doing it, they won't think they're being treated fairly at all. In fact, they'll respond to us as if they weren't being treated fairly at all."

SKEWED VIEW. "As important as behavior is, most problems at home, at work, and in the world are not failures of strategy but failures of way of being. When our hearts are at war, we can't see situations clearly, we can't consider others' positions seriously enough to solve difficult problems, and we end up provoking hurtful behavior in others."

More as we get further in the book. Check back weekly.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

EXXON: TRUTH OR FICTION?

I’d like to see a thorough fact-check of ads multi-national energy corporations are currently running

ARE WE THAT STUPID? Do you wonder why Exxon is running TV ads lauding its vast commitment to green energy, medical research, and tomorrow's solutions? Do they really think we are just that stupid? Perhaps they do. Or perhaps they think the general public has a short memory or is unable or unwilling to make ready connections to its excesses, abuses, and irresponsibilities. Each time one of its heart-tugging, world-loving, future-saving ads come on, I marvel at the audacity.

DRINKING THE KOOL-AID. Commenting on this to a friend, he comically suggested I just shut up and drink their Kool-aid. It’s not just Exxon. I notice similar ads running for General Electric, British Petroleum and other energy giants. These same multi-nationals have for decades lobbied Congress intensively against any progressive energy policy. Now they claim to be on the cutting edge of new energy solutions. The ground has shifted under them and they are scrambling.

FACT-CHECK, PLEASE! I notice that Exxon and the energy companies run ads particularly on news programs. Yet, none of these news programs are fact-checking the ads the companies that pay their salaries are foisting on the public. I'd like to see one of the news programs these energy companies sponsor do a major investigative report on their actual past and current commitments to green energy and infrastructure for the future...along with their record on lobbying. It seems to me this is one way news organizations can demonstrate their independence and assist the public in discerning how much is truth and how much is fiction.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Graphic found at www.slate.com

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

LOOK FORWARD

Do you welcome the future or struggle against it?

It is in the forward look
that we are saved,
that life’s fullness overtakes us.

We are made to be dreamers,
strivers, imaginers, hopers.

It is in the vision of the ideal
that we live:
a promise to be fulfilled,
a community to be formed,
a Kingdom to come.

The horizon shapes present realities:
It is against the future that we may struggle
or welcome its promise today.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Monday, February 16, 2009

A FREE (IF BIASED) PRESS

I'm both grateful for a free press and disgusted by its denial of bias

SOMETHING TO CELEBRATE AND GUARD. A free and responsible press is one of the necessary legs of the stool that makes for stable, progressive life in America. As I see it, along with a democratically-elected, responsive government and an engaged citizenry, an independent free press is essential. America's history has been positively served by the free press at major turning points. Guarding our free press, ensuring its independence, and encouraging its purity is critical to the viability of the American experiment.

PLEASE ADMIT BIAS. At the same time, I recognize that no expression of the free press is without bias. No source or outlet is completely objective. Bias exists at every level. One of the most disgusting realities of the news media industry is its denial of bias. It's better for a news organization to simply state its bias--mild or strong, right or left, one way or another, etc.--than to promote itself as completely objective. The citizenry just isn't that gullible or stupid. But that may be exactly what some news organizations are betting on. It is therefore necessary and beneficial for watchdog groups like "Media Matters" to fact-check and reveal the biases of the news media.

READ CRITICALLY, NOT LEISURELY. I have learned to read, listen, and watch all news media with a critical eye. I take nothing at face value. Reading a newspaper is not a leisurely activity for me. It is an engagement in discernment. Watching a news program is not entertainment for me. It is a dialogue and debate involving an analysis of perception vs truth. I work to read between and behind the lines, often rejecting the leading of a story as it is written as I discern what is left unsaid. Nuance is an important factor in news reporting and analysis. I find some sources are more trustworthy with facts and fairness than others, though none are without bias (some are so notoriously biased, I simply reject them completely). What isn't being said is as important as what is being portrayed.

AN EMBEDDED PRESS. I remind myself that the press is as self-serving and fallen as any other organization with an unspoken bottom line. It can be intimidated by power and turn a relative blind eye to large aspects of the truth, as it is now clear that many news organizations did with the Bush Administration for much of the post-9/11 era. Major news organizations traded thoroughness for the prospect of continued access to information during the first three years of the war in Iraq. This breakdown was costly to Americans at numerous levels. I also wonder why more investigative resources were not directed to the finance industry over the past several years?

ONE REPORTER'S PURSUIT. Every now and then, however, the watchful, probing eye of the independent free press helps us immeasurably. I came of age during the Watergate scandal and have seen what dogged investigation and reporting can reveal of the truth. The work of a Washington Post reporter almost single-handedly brought truth to light that exposed the ugly corruption of a President of the United States. Exposed, President Richard M. Nixon resigned.

PLEASE, TELL THE POSITIVE TRUTH, TOO. But it is not just the ability--and responsibility--to identify and expose corruption that makes an independent free press valuable to us (independence and the threatened loss of this is worth another post entirely!). It is also the ability and responsibility to shed revealing light on what works in America--what is intrinsically good, what inspires, what humanizes, what connects us, what encourages community, what investments are being made, what problems ares being addressed, etc. Unfortunately, local news media has given themselves mostly to an "if it bleeds it leads" ethos. Civic journalism is in desperate need of renewal and refocus. I hope this is something I can encourage for years to come.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Graphic found at Slate.com

Sunday, February 15, 2009

My Letters to the President of the United States of America

I've decided to renew a writing project I started on January 20, 2001

RENEWING A WRITING PROJECT. After mulling it over for a while and with some prodding from a few friends, I've decided to renew my writing project called "My Letters to the President of the United States."

WRITING TO PRESIDENT BUSH. I started writing to President George W. Bush with great vigor on the day of his 2001 Inauguration. The project trailed off when I got frustrated and discouraged as the tone and nature of his Presidency began to emerge. I ended up writing and posting only 76 letters in eight years. Still, when I wrote, the letters were heart-felt and sincere.

WRITING TO PRESIDENT OBAMA. My letters to President Barack Obama have begun and each will be posted online, as all my letters to President George W. Bush have been. The site is My Letters to the President of the United States, a free Geocities site. Along with sending each letter by post and e-mail to The White House, I am electronically copying my Congressional representatives and one member of the press.

AN ACT OF CITIZENSHIP AND PRAYER. I'm not committing to write weekly, but will pen letters occasionally. I have no delusions that any of these letters will actually be read by the President or even by staffers. The exercise is for my own sense of citizenship, awareness, assessment, and participation. I find that intending and writing these letters keeps me focused and reflective on our nation's leadership and on leadership in general. It also is an expression of prayer and intercesssion. As in the past, I invite anyone interested to look over my shoulder as I write and let me know of your responses from time to time.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

MAXIMUM WELL-BEING WITH A MINIMUM OF CONSUMPTION

Wendell Berry has been prophesying needed economic changes for years

“In the Great Economy ALL transactions count and the account is never closed, the ideal changes. We see that we cannot AFFORD maximum profit or power with minimum responsibility because, in the Great Economy, the loser’s losses finally afflict the winner. Now the ideal must be ‘the maximum of well-being with the minimum of consumption,’ which both defines and requires neighborly love. Competitiveness cannot be the ruling principle, for the Great Economy is not a ‘side’ that we can join nor are there such ‘sides’ within it. Thus, it is not the ‘sum of its parts’ but a MEMBERSHIP of parts inextricably joined to each other, indebted to each other, receiving significance and worth from each other and from the whole.”

– Wendell Berry in Home Economics: Fourteen Essays

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Friday, February 13, 2009

TWO ECONOMIES

Wendell Berry has been prophesying needed changes in our economy for years. Let's listen.

PROPHETIC VOICE. Listen to the prophetic voice of Wendell Berry in The Art of the Commonplace. The following is from the essay titled “Two Economies.” Berry contrasts little human economies with the Great Economy. He reasons for an economy as big as the Kingdom of God. Hear Berry’s always interesting, provoking reflections pierce the fragile underpinnings of our [once] “prosperous” economy.

COMPREHENSIVE AND COMPREHENDING. “The whole thing that troubles me about the industrial economy is exactly that it is not comprehensive enough, that, moreover, it tends to destroy what it does not comprehend and that it is dependent upon much that it does not comprehend. In attempting to criticize such an economy, we naturally pose against it an economy that does not leave anything out, and we say without presuming too much that the first principle of the Kingdom of God is that it includes everything; in it, the fall of the sparrow is a significant event.”

MYSTERIOUSLY CONNECTED. “Another principle, both ecological and traditional, is that everything in the Kingdom of God is joined both to it and to everything else that is in it; that is to say, the Kingdom of God is orderly. A third principle is that humans do not and can never know either all the creatures that the Kingdom of God contains or the whole pattern or order by which it contains them.”

SEVERE PENALTIES. “To say that we live in the Kingdom of God is both to suggest the difficulty of our condition and to imply a fairly complete set of culture-borne instructions for living in it. The difficulty of our predicament, then, is made clear if we add a fourth principle: Though we cannot produce a complete or even adequate description of this order, severe penalties are in store for us if we presume upon it or violate it.”

ORIGINATING VALUE. “We participate in our little human economy by factual knowledge, calculation, and manipulation; our participation in the Great Economy also requires those things, but requires as well humility, sympathy, forbearance, generosity, imagination. Another critical difference is that, though a human economy can evaluate, distribute, use, and preserve things of value, it cannot make value. Value can originate only in the Great Economy.”

WHEN WINNERS LOSE. Berry envisions our small human economies as a smaller wheel turning in sympathy (even synergy) with the larger wheel (the Great Economy). “Then, because in the Great Economy ALL transactions count and the account is never closed, the ideal changes. We see that we cannot AFFORD maximum profit or power with minimum responsibility because, in the Great Economy, the loser’s losses finally afflict the winner.”

MAXIMUM WELL-BEING, MINIMUM CONSUMPTION. “Now the ideal must be ‘the maximum of well-being with the minimum of consumption,’ which both defines and requires neighborly love. Competitiveness cannot be the ruling principle, for the Great Economy is not a ‘side’ that we can join nor are there such ‘sides’ within it. Thus, it is not the ‘sum of its parts’ but a MEMBERSHIP of parts inextricably joined to each other, indebted to each other, receiving significance and worth from each other and from the whole.”

MINUTE PARTICULARS MATTER. “It is the Great Economy, not any little economy, that invests minute particulars with high and final importance. In the Great Economy, each part stands for the whole and is joined to it; the whole is present in the part and is its health. The industrial economy, by contrast, is always striving and failing to make fragments (pieces that IT has broken) ADD UP to an ever-fugitive wholeness.”

From Art of the Commonplace, originally published in Home Economics: Fourteen Essays

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

ECONOMIC VITALITY REQUIRES A FUNDAMENTAL CHANGE

This moment in history challenges us to change our way of being, not just bail out a sick economy

NO RETURN TO THE WAY WE WERE. We need a way forward, not just a way out of the economic mess we're in. The standard cannot be "the way we were." Priorities and patterns that seemed to serve some well in the past will not suffice. Those who were serving themselves at America's expense in the past exposed their moral and policy failure with ruinous impact. It's not just that "mistakes were made." Entire market sectors were acting irresponsibly and with tacit approval of America's leadership. That's what triggered the downfall of an already fragile consumer-based economy.

A DIFFERENT WAY OF BEING. The deepest changes we need to consider have not yet been articulated on the public stage. Those who are arguing for tax cuts as the answer miss the point. Those who are arguing mostly for stimulus investment with tax dollars miss the main point. The point of argument is not about too much government involvement or too little. We cannot simply strategize our way out. It's going to take a different way of being to get us out of this economic mess than the thinking and behaviors that got us into it.

HUMANS, NOT OBJECTS OR CONSUMERS. Stimulus or not, here's the fundamental difference I am convinced we must make: to move forward, to create a more equitable and sustainable economy, we can no longer treat people as objects, as consumers, as marketplace gameboard pieces. Nor can we any longer afford to treat the market as a thing to be used for our personal or corporate wealth creation. Instead, we must regard one another as humans, as neighbors, as fractal partners--from the folks down the street to the villages of Tamil Nadu, India. This is the fundamental change that ends marketplace violence. Whatever the economic recovery strategies may be, we will have missed our opportunity to change history's trajectory if we do not embrace this change at personal, relationship, organizational and international levels.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Monday, February 9, 2009

ECONOMICS AS IF PEOPLE MATTERED

This is a watershed moment that will shape economic justice for the rest of the 21st century


TRYING TO UNDERSTAND AND RESPOND. The American housing and financial crisis and emerging global depression have been on my mind a lot lately. Like many, I am paying attention to various news media sources as well as reading independently in order to try to understand and form caring responses. I'm also trying to integrate what I learn with what I continue to discover in the Bible about justice in the marketplace and Good News to the poor.

A LAMENTABLE MARKETPLACE FIASCO. I was alarmed that oil market speculation artificially drove up oil prices in 2008. I have grieved over the irresponsible risks taken in the housing market that precipitated the initial financial crisis. I am sick over the level of unbridled greed demonstrated in the financial sector both before and after the Fed stepped in with American taxpayer dollars to bail out banks, insurance firms and investment brokerages. Now, I am very concerned about the manner in which public money is being used to address and resolve these continuing crises in the face of an emerging global economic depression.

WHAT DOES IT DO TO THE POOR? I'm trying to form my understanding and responses to this crisis and the various proposed cures to it through the question I ask of all economic, social and political policies: "What does it do to the poor?" It is the poor, ultimately, who will be hit hardest by the fall-out of irresponsible risk and unbridled greed. And it is the poor in America and around the world who can either be more permanently relegated to the margins or equitably included in the reformulation of economic standards in the days ahead. I get no sense from the proposals of stimulus and bail-out that poor neighbors are being fairly considered in the immediate mix or in the long-term scenarios of restructuring.

BEYOND CONSUMER ECONOMICS. Today, I pulled from my bookshelf a study guide titled "Who Is My Neighbor? Economics As if Values Mattered." I am reading it again in light of the current economic crisis and emerging global depression. The good folks that publish Sojourners magazine (http://www.sojo.net/) published this resource in 1994. Essentially, it is a robust, 180-page compilation of articles from Sojourners magazine regarding the call to Biblical justice and equity amid prevailing American and global economic behavior at macro and micro levels.

AS IF PEOPLE MATTERED. The "Who Is My Neighbor?" resource offers a critical, multi-dimensional challenge to consumer economics. It demonstrates Biblical principles regarding values- and Kingdom-based economic activity. It also offers a wide range of creative, alternative marketplace responses. I recommend this study guide for both personal and small group use. Though it is 15 years old (I am sure it has been revised and updated since then), it's focus and content is apropos to what's happening in America and the world right now.

IF THE WORLD WERE 100 PEOPLE. Yesterday, a friend shared with me a factoid that's been around awhile but struck me as freshly interesting in the current economic milieu. The factoid goes like this:


If the earth's population was condensed to a village of 100 people, with
all of the existing rations remaining what they are now...
- 80 of those people would live in substandard housing
- 50 would suffer from malnutrition
- One person would have a college education
- Nobody would own a computer
- 1/2 of all the wealth would be in the hands of 6 people
- 6 people would all be Americans
EVEN IF ONLY PARTLY RIGHT. I know this UN-data-based factoid is out of date and has been fairly challenged, but even if it's only partly right, it is staggering and can't be dismissed. Revising some of the data and massaging the numbers still reveals massive disparities. It leaves lots of issues to be considered.

THREE OBSERVATIONS. Here's my response to "If the world were 100 people" in light of the current economic crisis:

(1) Here we are in America collectively worrying about how much of the 1/2 of the world's wealth we (a) have lost due to unbridled greed and (b) how much more we're going to lose before things turn around "for us."

(2) We don't seem to be worrying about how much our financial sector's carelessness has, does, and will impact those 50 malnourished world neighbors.

(3) And we--our leaders, that is--do not appear to be thinking about opportunities this financial/economic crisis offers for rethinking and restructuring for the sake of justice, equity, and clean, renewable energies for the future. In the rush to stimulus and bail-out, the presumption is that "the way things were" was good for us and that if we can just get back there we'll be okay. I think that's misleading on both ends.

A WATERSHED MOMENT. It seems to me, we are at a watershed moment out of which much of the economic landscape for the rest of the 21st-century will be shaped and impacted. There are both short-term survival issues and long-term justice issues at stake. One does not have to be sacrificed for the other. But both must now be fully and fairly considered.

LIVE THE PRINCIPLES FOR THE FUTURE. In one form or another, economic stimulus and financial bail-out will continue to occur. At the same time, important hearts and minds work must be engaged. Let's see if we can impact this equation with our lives. Let's see if our personal choices and behavior can, in fact, collectively impact the whole. And even if it doesn't seem to impact it significantly at the moment, let us live the principles and promise of the Kingdom as neighbors in anticipation of what, ultimately, shall be.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Friday, February 6, 2009

MILLARD FULLER VS WALL STREET

The obit of Habitat for Humanity's co-founder starkly juxtaposes Wall Street execs' ruinous, self-serving excesses

SHELTER FIRST. No one has done more to help homeless and extremely poor neighbors access shelter and the gain the asset of homeownership than Millard Fuller. Fuller, co-founder of Habitat for Humanity, died on Tuesday. I encourage you to take a few minutes to read his obituary, from the New York Times, below.

STARK CONTRAST. For those of us serving in urban communities, the hopeful fingerprint of Fuller and Habitat for Humanity is everywhere. He's one of my heroes. Fuller's obit juxtaposed to continued stories of unbridled greed and out-of-touch-with-reality housing and finance industry excesses is telling. So much Fuller had to offer these folks...and us all.

NY Times, February 4, 2009

Millard Fuller, 74, Who Founded Habitat for Humanity, Is Dead

By
DOUGLAS MARTIN

Millard Fuller, who at 29 walked away from his life as a successful businessman to devote himself to the poor, eventually starting
Habitat for Humanity International, which spread what he called “the theology of the hammer” by building more than 300,000 homes worldwide, died Tuesday near Americus , Ga. He was 74.

His brother, Doyle, said Mr. Fuller became ill with a severe headache and chest pains and was taken to a hospital in Americus , his hometown. He died in an ambulance on the way to a larger hospital in Albany, Ga. Doyle Fuller said the cause had not been
determined, but may have been an aneurysm.

Propelled by his strong Christian principles, Millard Fuller used Habitat to develop a system of using donated money and material, and voluntary labor, to build homes for low-income families. The homes are sold without profit and buyers pay no interest. Buyers are required to help build their houses, contributing what Mr. Fuller called sweat equity.

More than a million people live in the homes, which are in more than 100 countries. There are 180 in New York City , including some that former President
Jimmy Carter, a longtime Habitat supporter and volunteer, personally helped construct. Mr. Carter said of him on Tuesday that “he was an inspiration to me, other members of our family, and an untold number of volunteers who worked side by side under his leadership.”

Former President
Bill Clinton has also volunteered on Habitat projects. When he presented Mr. Fuller the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996, he said, “I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Millard Fuller has literally revolutionized the concept of philanthropy.”

Mr. Fuller said his inspiration came from the Bible, starting with the injunction in Exodus 22:25 against charging interest to the poor. He spoke of the “economics of Jesus” and insisted that providing shelter to all was “a matter of conscience.” Christianity Today in 1999 called him “God’s contractor.”

His skills included fund-raising finesse, an exuberant speaking style and a talent for making use of the news media. In 1986, The Chicago Tribune quoted him asking a publicity man about a woman in front of her ramshackle apartment, “Don’t you think that’d make some great pictures to show her in that rat-infested place?” The article later said Mr. Fuller did not expect to house the world. “Instead,” it said, “he sees Habitat as a hammer that can drive the image of a woman in a rat-infested apartment as deep into the mind of America as the image of an African child with a distended stomach.”

Mr. Fuller liked to tell and re-tell the stories of his earliest houses. One man had moved from a leaky shack into a new house. “When it rains, I love to sit by the window and see it raining outside,” one new homeowner said, “and it ain’t raining on me!” Another new resident saw his new home as a literal resurrection. “Being in this house is like we were dead and buried, and got dug up!” she said.

In 2005, a woman employed by Habitat accused Mr. Fuller of verbally and physically harassing her, a widely publicized charge that an investigation by the organization did not prove. But he and a new generation of Habitat board members were disagreeing on organizational and other issues, and he and his wife agreed to resign. Mr. Fuller started a new organization called the Fuller Center for Housing. It is active in 24 states and 14 foreign countries.

Millard Dean Fuller was born on Jan. 3, 1935, in Lanett , Ala. , then a small cotton-mill town. His mother died when he was 3, and his father remarried. Millard’s business career began at 6 when his father gave him a pig. He fattened it up and sold it for $11. Soon he was buying and selling more pigs, then rabbits and chickens as well. He dabbled in selling worms and minnows to fishermen.

When he was 10, his father acquired 400 acres of farmland, and Mr. Fuller sold his small animals to raise cattle. He remembered helping his father repair a tiny, ramshackle shack that an elderly couple had inhabited on the property. He was thrilled to see their joy when the work was complete.

Mr. Fuller went to
Auburn University, running unsuccessfully for student body president, and in 1956 was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. He graduated from Auburn with a degree in economics in 1957 and entered the University of Alabama School of Law. He and Morris S. Dees Jr., another law student, decided to go into business together while in the law school. They set a goal: get rich. They built a successful direct-mail operation, published student directories and set up a service to send cakes to students on their birthdays. They also bought dilapidated real estate and refurbished it themselves. They graduated and went into law practice together after Mr. Fuller briefly served in the Army as a lieutenant.

As law partners, they continued to make money. Selling 65,000 locally produced tractor cushions to the Future Farmers of America made $75,000. Producing cookbooks for the Future Homemakers of America did even better, and they became one of the nation’s largest cookbook publishers. By 1964, they were millionaires. Mr. Dees went on to help found the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Mr. Fuller’s life changed completely after his wife, the former Linda Caldwell, whom he had married in 1959, threatened to leave him. She was frustrated that her busy husband was almost never around, and she had had an affair, their friend Bettie B. Youngs wrote in “The House That Love Built” (2007), a joint biography. For the rest of his career, Mr. Fuller talked openly about repairing the marriage. There was much soul-searching. Finally, the two agreed to start their life anew on Christian principles. Eschewing material things was the first step. Gone were the speedboat, the lakeside cabin, the fancy cars.


The Fullers went to Koinonia Farm, a Christian community in Georgia , where they planned their future with Clarence Jor dan , a Bible scholar and leader there. In 1968, they began building houses for poor people nearby, then went to Zaire in 1973 to start a project that ultimately built 114 houses.

In 1976, a group met in a converted chicken barn at Koinonia Farm and started Habitat for Humanity International. Participants agreed the organization would work through local chapters. They decided to accept government money only for infrastructure improvements like streets and sidewalks. Handwritten notes from the meeting stated the group’s grand ambition: to build housing for a million low-income people. That goal was reached in August 2005, when home number 200,000 was built. Each home houses an average of five people. The farm announced plans for a simple public burial service for Mr. Fuller on Wednesday.


Besides his brother, Doyle, of Montgomery, Ala., and his wife, Mr. Fuller is survived by their son, Christopher, of Macon, Ga.; their daughters, Kim Isakson of Argyle, Tex., Faith Umstattd of Americus, and Georgia Luedi of Jacksonville, Fla.; and nine
grandchildren.


After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Fuller Center built a house in Shreveport , La. , for a mother and her daughters, one named Genesis, the other Serenity. Mr. Fuller loved the religious connotations he saw in their names. “What will little Genesis become?” he asked at the time. “What will little Serenity become? We don’t know, but we know one thing: if we give them a good place to live, they’ve got a better chance.”


In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

DO CHRISTIANS RESIST PEACE?

We claim personal peace with Christ, but do we believe relational and international peace is Biblical or possible?

IS PURSUING PEACE NOT CHRISTIAN? I recently recommended four books that are breakthrough resources on practical peacemaking and nonviolence. They have nothing to do with protests, vigils, marches or sit-ins. They are more about the underpinnings of our thinking and processes that either contribute to or prevent peacemaking. The books are: The Anatomy of Peace, Leadership and Self-Deception, Nonviolent Communication, and The Different Drum. However, the books are not particularly Christian. Three are not Christian at all. But neither are these resources anti-Christian or sub-Christian. Rather, they are insightful in their process and proven outcomes regarding how people can better understand conflict, respond to it redemptively, and live beyond age-old terms that tend to recycle past, self-defeating responses.


LIVING WHAT WE'VE EXPERIENCED. Here's why I recommend these books--particularly to earnest Christians: I am convinced that many Christians have had a genuine personal spiritual experience of Christ’s peace (John 14:27; 16:33), but they do not have the language, patterns, or principles by which to translate that personal experience into truly nonviolent living, peace-full relationships, and helpful leadership in community and international problem-solving. Many Christians experience Christ's peace, but then follow teachers, read books, and give assent to political evangelists that promote sub-Christian perspectives on conflict and its resolution. I think the resources I've recommended, if read critically and in a robust dialogue with one's own Biblical faith, can significantly contribute to living out more fully the witness to peace which personal faith makes possible.

PARTLY NONVIOLENT? I made a commitment to try to live nonviolently in every possible dimension of my life several years ago, partly out of a response of faith to the words and witness of Jesus in the Bible, partly out of my conviction that Christian theology points toward it, and partly because I am convinced that the way of violence, under whatever justification, is an insane and costly denial of all that is intended for us in life and in relationships near and far. I no longer buy the line that violence, though regrettable, is necessary as a way of resolving conflicts or moving toward peace at any level.

TO LIVE NONVIOLENTLY. Yet the language of violence and anger, I have found, pervades our conversations and common thinking as much as ever. It still profoundly impacts the most basic relationships and problem-solving challenges. But it is no longer enough to just not use physical or verbal violence. Something greater is called for and pointed toward. I want to bring nonviolence to fully into practice in my relationship to my spouse, children, friends, neighbors, community--especially when differences of opinion, tension and conflicts arise. Understanding and addressing violence and embracing the best practices and creative possibilities of nonviolence, community-building, and peacemaking are critical at this point in my life and, I believe, in the life of the world.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

THE GIFT OF PEACE

Fourth in my midwinter spiritual formation series -- "7 Gifts That Keep On Giving"

THREE DIMENSIONS OF PEACE. Peace is a gift that keeps on giving. Once we experience its personal dimension, we want to cultivate it internally. Once we have experienced peace in a relationship, we know it as a precious, life-giving reality. When, occasionally, we observe peace breaking out among long-time enemies, we realize it is possible to replicate such peace as healing in other violent conflicts both intimate and global. So peace becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

A BETTER WAY. Peace, once realized, surpasses all other commonly-used ways of addressing conflict. Peace eclipses numbing apathy, nurtured hatred, discord, violence, and a thousand manipulations and power plays. Even a fledgling and fragile peace trumps—hands down—the degenerative disease of a Cold War-style d├ętente in relationship to perceived adversaries.

A GIFT WE RECEIVE. Peace is not something we achieve but a gift we receive. We can’t accomplish peace. Peace can be cultivated. It can be nurtured. We can prepare and make room for it. We can intend and pray for peace. But its realization is spiritual, its presence breaks in from beyond us, its evident power is a grace. Peace is less an instrument to be used or a goal to be gained as it is a promise whose conditions wait to be embraced. Its conditions are less about territories, demands or predetermined expectations. Its conditions are more about heart-readiness, genuine meeting, and courage.

NOT AS THE WORLD GIVES. I recently explored the New Testament regarding peace. I came back to Jesus' powerful words in what is known as his farewell discourse in John's Gospel . Jesus said, “My peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). He also said: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The following principles and applications emerge from my contemplation of Jesus' life, words, and work regarding peace:

1. Peace is a distinctive LEGACY Jesus leaves with all who TRUST in him. John 14:27 Jesus showed how a peace-filled life is to be lived. He then made a life of peace possible via his death on the cross (Ephesians 2:14-18). Now he offers peace to us via the Holy Spirit. Do you believe Christ’s peace can shape the way you see and respond to every conflict? This is the trust factor.

2. Peace is a gift particularly for the STORMY seasons of life. John 14:27-30, 16:33 Jesus said: “In this world you will have trouble.” No surprise there! But Christ’s peace is intended to be the gift that determines how we respond to trouble and conflict, whether it is occasional or perpetual. His peace makes overcoming possible.

3. To know and bear Christ’s peace, we must CONFRONT our fears, pride, and presumptions. John 14:27-30 I'm convinced that peace is not possible in a heart filled with pride, presumption, fear, violence, and defensiveness. That is the way of the world. Those ways have been repeatedly followed and they don’t bring peace—not to us or to anyone else. Peace comes only as we confront and challenge our fears, pride and presumptions. Take the “5 Steps Into Peace-Centered Life” below.

4. Christ’s peace shapes both our inward PERSPECTIVE and our outward PURSUIT of it in the world. John 14:27; Phil. 4:6-7; Eph. 6:15; Col. 3:15 When we experience Christ’s peace it changes how we see and deal with conflicts at every other level—from relationships to international conflicts. We are to “seek peace and pursue it.” Not violently, but with alternative "weapons" that seek the redemption of adversaries. "The peace of God" determines the very manner of our pursuit of peace in our world.

5. Peace, lived personally and pursued relationally, is the heart of WITNESS to the power of Jesus Christ. John 14:27; 16:33; Hebrews 12:14 Our witness is primarily to the peace that Jesus gives personally and relationally. It’s not just for a few. All Christians are to be peacemakers. What are your opportunities to seek and pursue peace right now?

5 STEPS INTO A PEACE-CENTERED LIFE
(1) Focus on the promise and power of Christ’ peace.
(2) Expose and examine the conflicts in your own heart and relationships.
(3) Confront your resistances to Christ’s peace as the answer in your life, relationships and the world.
(4) Lay down your arms, confess your dependence, release your fears, and trust in Christ’s promise.
(5) Let the peace of Christ rule in your heart—choosing to trust, listening for His voice and wisdom, and training in righteousness.

5 WAYS TO BE A PEACEMAKER
(1) Look for the sources behind conflicts, drain them of their power, and dry them up.
(2) Turn away wrath by recognizing and acknowledging unmet needs of angry people.
(3) Embrace the way of the cross, living in the tension of conflicts in witness to nonviolent redemption.
(4) Make every possible attempt to bring truth-based reconciliation to injustice and wrongdoing.
(5) Look for and cultivate alternatives to violent words and ways of resolving conflicts at every possible level.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Photo credit: "Darkness reigns at the foot of the lighthouse" by Dreamzzz..... on Flickr The setting is in Kovallam, Karala, India

Monday, February 2, 2009

PURCHASING POWER

John Ruskin's insight on consumerism is worth revisiting today as we rethink economic equity

JOHN RUSKIN. The little book On Art and Life by John Ruskin (1819-1900) was one of my companions during my 2006 and 2007 sojourns in India. This Victorian-era architect and social critic turned a sharp eye and tongue to his English brethren, but it sounds as if he might be speaking directly to a consumer-driven society today. Consider the following quotes by Ruskin the next time we go to Wal-Mart:

VIRTUAL STEALING. “Whenever we buy, or try to buy, cheap goods – goods offered at a price we know cannot be remunerative for the labor involved in them, we pillage the poor. Whenever we buy such goods, remember we are stealing somebody’s labor. Don’t let us mince the matter. I say, in plain Saxon, STEALING – taking from him the proper reward of his work, and putting it into our own pocket.”

TAKING ADVANTAGE. “You know well enough that the thing could not have been offered you at that price, unless distress of some kind had forced the producer to part with it. You take advantage of this distress, and you force as much out of him as you can under the circumstances.”

MARKETPLACE MURDER. “The definite result of all our modern haste to be rich is assuredly, and constantly, the murder of a certain number of persons by our hands every year.”

LUXURY AND WASTE. “On the whole, the broadest and most terrible way in which we cause the destruction of the poor is, namely, the way of luxury and waste, destroying, in improvidence, what might have been the support of thousands…”

CAUSE AND EFFECT. “You will find that whenever and wherever men are endeavoring to make money hastily, and to avoid the labor which Providence has appointed to be the only source of honorable profit; - and also wherever and whenever they permit themselves to spend it luxuriously, without reflecting how far they are misguiding the labor of others; - there and then, in either case, they are literally and infallibly causing, for their own benefit or their own pleasure, a certain annual number of human deaths…”

LABORER OR ASSASSIN. “Therefore, the choice given to every man born into this world is, simply, whether he will be a laborer or an assassin; and that whosoever has not his hand on the Stilt of the plough, has it on the Hilt of the dagger.”

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!