Sunday, February 17, 2008

I did not come to bring a peace, but a sword

This was originally posted on my new blog I update that blog more frequently, so you should check it out.

Every one has those things in their life that they are passionate about. For some it is sports, or a particular sport, for others it is music, or any number of things. We form a connection with these passions to the point that, when they are rejected by others, we sometimes take the rejection personally and feel the need to defend ourselves and our passions.

So when I mentioned to one of my professors my dismay that I hadn’t found a single evangelical peacemaking organization, my disappointment in his response was certainly a normal reaction. “That’s because Jesus said that he didn’t come to bring peace but a sword,” was his reply, as if that was the end of the issue. I was probably visibly shocked, but I decided not to argue just then.

My disappointment in my professor’s response goes beyond a personal feeling of rejection as a result of someone rejecting a personal passion. I think my professor’s response is indicative of an overarching problem in evangelical Christianity, namely, a poor understanding of the social aspects of the gospel. It is attitudes represented by my professor that have prompted certain accusations that evangelicals only care about the soul and spiritual salvation and care little or nothing for the body and social justice.

The gospel seems to self-evidently concern itself with justice. In fact, the entire Bible is riddled with the issue of social justice. The Israelites are constantly being reminded to care for the alien, the fatherless, and the widow. The prophets repeatedly condemn rulers for exploiting the poor. The first chapter of Isaiah addresses the rulers of Sodom and Gomorrah and pleads with them to cease their vain spirituality and exercise justice and end oppression. Jesus specifically mentions that those who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit prisoners are performing those very actions for Jesus himself! Social justice and oppression’s end is close to the heart of Jesus.

At a time when many evangelical denominations were focusing only on the spiritual aspects of the gospel in a reaction to the social gospel, A. B. Simpson presented a balanced approach to the gospel of Jesus. He argued that Christianity must seek to minister to both body and soul. To quote Simpson:

“There is room not only for the worship of God, the teaching of sacred truth, and the evangelization of the lost, but also for every phase of practical philanthropy and usefulness. There may be, in perfect keeping with the simple order and dignity of the church of God, the most aggressive works for the masses and the widest welcome for every class of sinful men; the ministry of healing for the sick and suffering administered in the name of Jesus; the most complete provision for charitable relief; industrial training and social elevation for the degraded classes, workshops for the unemployed, homes for the orphaned, shelter for the homeless, refuges for the inebriates, the fallen and helpless; missions for the heathen; Christian literature for the instruction of the people and every agency needed to make the church of God the light of the world and the mothering of the suffering and the lost. And there is no work that will be more glorifying to God than a church that will embrace just such features and completeness.”

(Simpson Body and Soul, 5)

It is easy to see, at least in the tradition of the C&MA that social justice was seen by some evangelicals as central to the church’s mission.

So, why the aversion to Christian Peacemaking?

In defense of my professor, I’m guessing that the misconception is that Christian peacemaking is viewed as social activism instead of social welfare work, and indeed it can often take on an identity of social activism. The Christian peacemaking I would like to see, however, is peacemaking that is service oriented. I think Christians need to place themselves in fractured, violent, and war-torn communities in order to be a peaceful presence, and demonstrate the Christian alternative to this world’s ways of dealing with conflict.

What would happen if Christians devoted as much effort to waging peace as nations do to waging war? This is the question posited by the Christian Peacemaker Teams ( Would this effort not be an incredible witness to armies on both sides of conflicts? Picture Christians moving to war-torn Iraq, helping widows and orphans and those injured by conflicts, providing medical care to victims of collateral damage and food supplies for the poor who cannot get access to food due to embargos, etc. What a powerful witness that would be, and a demonstration that we are not afraid to love in the midst of physical danger.

I think there is a responsibility on the part of Christian peacemaking organizations to make sure they emphasize the social welfare aspects of their ministries in greater proportion than their activism aspects. There are several reasons for this. First, it would be in beneficial in creating a united Christian support for peacemaking from both pacifists and just-war theorists alike. Even Christian proponents of just-war theory should hate war as much as pacifists due to its obvious and unavoidably destructive nature. Consequently, if peacemakers focused on alleviating these destructive effects, while offering the victims of this destruction hope in Jesus Christ, rather than just picketing wars, perhaps their just-war counterparts would be in full support of their efforts. Perhaps just-war adherents would even JOIN in peacemaking. What I am suggesting is, rather than only fighting war by trying to change policy (still an honorable task, in this man’s opinion), work to alleviate the effects of war and prevent war through peaceful ministry. We can create peace through presence much more readily than we can through policy, and we might get some of our just-war friends to join us. There is no reason we cannot work together to alleviate the ill effects of war; even if we disagree on the justice of war, we all agree that the ill effects of it are tragedies. And even if there will always be wars (as there will always be poor amongst us), that does not diminish our responsibility to minister to war-torn regions.

I’ve many more thoughts on this subject, and this is certainly not a comprehensive look on the issue. This is a brief survey of the issue and some of the ideas I’m toying with. I think I will be expounding on some of these ideas in the future, but wanted to get this out there initially. I welcome critiques and further ideas on these subjects.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Friday, December 28, 2007

Unprovoked, Unqualified, and Undeserved Love

On November 17, 2007 I had an experience that has caused me to think extensively about what it means to truly love someone in a Christ-like manner. I’ve had mixed reactions to this story from various people, which have caused me to have responsive feelings as diverse as rage and joy, hope and despair.

Long story short, on that particular Friday night, I met a couple strangers in Toccoa. They appeared to have a genuine need: it was cold out, they were not properly dressed for the weather, and they didn’t have a ride to their home a few miles from where we were. I had the ability to meet their need: I had no obligations, and I had a vehicle that could take them home quickly. And so, I decided to offer these two strangers some hospitality by giving them a ride. As it turns out, they took advantage of my hospitality. They took my wallet, my cell phone, my keys, and left me alone on a back road in Toccoa. They violated me as a person by rejecting my friendship. They chose to dehumanize me and devalue me rather than accept love from a stranger.

As I mentioned earlier, I have had mixed feedback to my actions. Some have ridiculed me for helping a pair of strangers, while others have suggested showing more caution when dealing with them. Some have responded in anger toward the young men who took advantage of me, hoping that they get their “just recompenses.” Although I can relate to some of the feelings these responses have been bourn out of, many of them have saddened me. Ultimately, the mixed nature of this feedback, especially from fellow Christians I might add, has caused me to take up a defensive posture toward my actions. All in all, I feel the need to defend myself and my actions toward a pair of strangers that night.

An element of essential back-story to the events of November the 17th is that for the last year or so, beginning spring of my junior year of college, I’ve been thinking extensively about what it means to be a disciple of Christ. Although I‘d certainly considered the subject before, these thoughts were reawakened by a reading assignment in History of Theology. Dr. Shelton had us read a small portion of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship in our discussion of Neo-Orthodoxy. Bonhoeffer is famously quoted as saying, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

The cost of discipleship in America seems to me to be downplayed. It is certainly not a message you would hear from the lips of Joel Olsteem and other preachers of the popular prosperity gospel (I hesitate to call it “good news;” it certainly does not appear to me to be the good news of the Kingdom of God). But over and over again Jesus and his disciples seem to reaffirm how much God requires from those who choose to follow him. Indeed, it seems to be nothing less than total commitment and total surrender. All three writers of the synoptic gospels use similar language saying that anyone who wishes to follow Jesus must take up his cross (Mat 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23). Matthew and Luke expound to say that those who do not take up their cross, are not worthy of even being associated with Jesus (Mat 10:38, Luke 14:27).

Part of the cost of discipleship includes a willingness to suffer persecution, ridicule, and the cross. It means learning to obey all that Christ commanded (Mat 28:19, 20). Part of my reflection with reference to the events of November 17th has been the teachings of Christ concerning love for strangers and enemies.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan is representative of the teachings of Christ concerning who our neighbor is and our obligation to him. Jesus clearly teaches that it is the people we despise the most who are our neighbors, the ones we are to love as we love ourselves. According to Jesus’ teaching, when we become his followers, we no longer have strangers or enemies! Everyone has become our neighbor. Jesus later exclaims that when we show kindness strangers, we show kindness to our Lord and savior, Jesus himself. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reaffirms these ideas when he tells us to love our enemies in the same way we love our neighbor (Mat 5:38-48). In verse 48 he seems to go so far as to make love for enemies a criterion for perfection.

By Jesus logic, helping two neighbors in need of a ride is nothing special but the obligation that he gives all who wish to follow him. It is notable that Jesus does not seem to condone caution in this love at all. Instead, he seems to promote careless and reckless love, a love that might cost us a slap in the cheek, the clothes off our back, or an extra mile of labor for a cruel enemy. He doesn’t suggest that we size up the situation to see if we might get hurt. He tells us to love and leaves it at that. In fact, he suggests on several occasions that we WILL be hurt and harmed for doing good (Mat 10:23, Luke 21:12, John 15:20). Paul both confirms this with his life, and with his teachings when he says, “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12).

Jesus demonstrates this unprovoked, unqualified and undeserved love for enemies in his own life. Are we not all enemies of God? Yet perfect Jesus made peace with the world through his blood sacrifice on Calvary. Surely there was no one as undeserving of love as us, and no one more perfect in love than he, and yet he chose to love us who hated him, and at such great cost.

When we help people who have needs, it is inevitable that we will be taken advantage of, robbed of time and possessions, hurt, and persecuted. If fear of these things keeps us from doing good deeds, then we are sinning. But many Christians have exhorted caution in doing good. Caution born out of the wisdom and prompting of the Holy Spirit is one thing, but caution born out of fear is a lack of love born of a selfish desire for self-preservation. May fear of harm, loss, or disappointment never be a reason why we fail to love those around us! And when we are harmed, may we remember the words of our Lord, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Mat 5: 10-12).

I share the conclusion of the events of November 17th not to brag, but to demonstrate God’s faithfulness when we step out in faith to perform good works in his name, especially at the expense of caution and in spite of our fear. After filing a police report and finally making it back to campus, I called Pastor Paul Dordal, who has become a mentor of sorts to me. I told him about the incident, and asked his opinion about the situation. We concluded our conversation by praying that (1) I’d have the opportunity to show kindness to a stranger soon, (2) that I’d have the opportunity to forgive my assailants in person, and that (3) God would use the situation to draw those two young men to himself. I began praying for these three things daily as I continued to process through things in my mind.

On November 25th as I was driving back down to Toccoa after spending Thanksgiving with my family and friends in Aliquippa, PA. About an hour or so into the 10 hour drive, I passed a hitchhiker on I-79, right before it splits with I-70. I stopped, found out where the man was heading, and offered him a ride. He rode with me for six hours down to North Carolina. One of my only regrets from the last two guys I had picked up was that I had not shared with them the gospel directly, but had kept my kindness limited to good deeds. I’d resolved that the next person I picked up would hear the loving gospel of Jesus Christ. I shared with Thoman this story of my mugging, as well as about a Jesus who loves him. We talked on and off about religion and life for the whole six hours. We had a good time, and I continue to pray that God blesses him and protects him. I myself was blessed by the experience. Pastor Paul and I had prayed that I’d be given the opportunity to help out a stranger before I became bitter and jaded toward them, and God gave me the opportunity with Thoman.

Two days later I was working at Pizza Hut, delivering pizza to South Alexander Street in Toccoa. I still had not yet replaced my stolen cell phone, and so I was apprehensive about working without it and getting lost. South Alexander was not a familiar street to me, and sure enough, I got lost on the way. Unable to call for directions, I stopped and asked a woman to give me directions. She told me where it was, and I proceeded to the house. There was no parking immediately near where I needed to drop off the pizza, so I was forced to walk a ways down the street to the house. On the way back to my car after delivering the pizza, I noticed a young man who appeared familiar to me. It was the young man who had mugged and robbed me only ten days earlier. I hopped in my car, drove up to him, rolled down my window and forgave him there in the street. I told him that I was a follower of Jesus and that I forgave him. It seemed that the only words I could articulate were, “I forgive you.” The young man was dumbstruck and shocked in his demeanor. He said nothing to me, but stared at me silently with jaw dropped.

Driving away, I praised God and thanked him for answering that second prayer, that I’d have the chance to forgive those young men in person. Now I share this story with people who ask so that they can join me in praying for those young men and that they would one day come to repentance. They are in need of Jesus, and I pray that the Holy Spirit continues to come into conflict with their actions and convict them of their sin. I may never see them again, but God can use the transpiring events of their lives to draw them slowly to himself.

And sometimes I wonder at the eternal cost of my occasional passivity and inaction. God may use the events of November 17th to snatch two young men from the jaws of sin and death. Had I not been willing to love two strangers, they may have never been shown kindness by a Christian. As it stands now, they have seen the kindness of a disciple of Christ, and they now have more people praying for them than they may have ever had in their lives.

As I reflect on God and his ability to take a seemingly awful situation and turn it for his good, I am reminded that this is the story of God in history. The entire Bible is the story of God taking a situation that was intended for evil, and turning it for good. These are the words of Joseph to his brothers who had beaten him and sold him into slavery, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” The very cross, the center of our faith, is the quintessential example of God working good out of an evil situation. It is what just what he does.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Mixed Thoughts on the DREAM act

The internet is an interesting thing. It is a tool that has great potential for good, and astounding potential for evil. American freedom of speech is an interesting thing too. I think I said in a previous post on here that under American democracy, which claims to be representing the American people in its legislation, every citizen has a right and responsibility to speak out when that government promotes legislation that he/she opposes. The internet is a forum by which individuals can voice their dissent.

Here are some concerns I have with recent legislation. The DREAM act was recently shot down by congress by a close 52-44 vote, a mere 8 votes away from the 60 needed for it pass. (You can read about this and the DREAM act itself here The bill has been advertised by many as a bill promoting amnesty to young immigrants. It would provide immigrants who graduate high school to gain citizenship in one of two ways: 1)through completing two years of college and 2) through serving in the US military. The bill, if passed, could hypothetically provide US citizenship for around 1,000,000 currently illegal immigrants. We're talking about a lot of people being affected by this bill.

The Migration Policy Institute, a non-partisan immigration think tank, has estimated the Dream Act would allow about 279,000 currently undocumented residents to attend college or join the military. About 715,000 illegal immigrants between the ages of 5 and 17 who are now in the country would become eligible, according to the research group. ~ The Chicago Tribune

Now, here is where this post gets sketchy. I'm about to share some of my opinions on this matter. Let me preface them by suggesting that this is a highly complex issue. I am also not a US immigrant, and I am coming from y own particular background. I am in complete support of a bill that promotes amnesty. If it were up to me, I would promote unconditional amnesty. God clearly commands that we are to treat the alien with respect, dignity and love. He constantly reminds the Israelites to be kind to aliens because they were aliens in Egypt. I think this ethic continues into the New Testament. When a legislation makes it easier for aliens to enter a country illegally, there is not a problem with immigration, there is a problem with legislation. I agree that immigration policy needs reformation. I do not think, however, that the DREAM act is the great giver of freedom that it claims to be.

The US is in the midst of wars in the Middle East that have our resources and military personnel stretched. In the midst of this, US secretary of defense Robert gates just recently announced a 2.63 Billion dollar military expansion project. The plan is to add an additional 74,000 individuals to the US military by 2010. Where will these recruits come from? Some argue that they will come by increasing incentives for those already in the military. The sad reality is, however, that the military already targets poor minority men. There is no doubt in my mind that his practice will continue. If the DREAM act had been passed, approximately 1,000,000 would have been eligible for CONDITIONAL US citizenship through military service. Many of these immigrents would have been forced to serve in the US military's unjust wars in order to gain citizenship. Many of them would have died serving a country which they were not even citizens of. Sound familiar? Thats because we did this to blacks during the civil war and the revolutionary war...

The shame in all of this is that those immigrants heading to college have been denied citizenship as well. If the DREAM act had been reworked in order to allow unconditional citizenship, I would be in full support. Granting citizenship through college is better than no citizenship at all. Granting citizenship only after military service is modern slavery and demonstrates our hatred toward immigrants.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Musings on Art, Stasis, Determinism and Hope

I've been reading Taking it to the Streets by Dr. Corbitt of Eastern University. The book is an inspiring introduction to arts-based community-development, a subject I've become recently fascinated in for several reasons. Just by way of background, I grew up as an art lover. I remember early childhood gifts of paint brushes and paint; I remember time passed over homemade easels and rolls of butcher paper. Throughout high-school I took as many art classes as I could. For parts of my Sophomore and Junior years I dreamed of studying at art school in the visual arts. Unfortunately, where I grew up there were no real examples of faith-integrated arts programs, or art-based evangelism. I had a hard time reconciling my love for drawing/painting and my desire to share the gospel to the unreached. I saw the two concepts in a false dichotomy, art or evangelism.

Stasis is stagnation. Stasis is things remaining as they are, unchanged. When something is static, it is cemented, fixed in stone. Stasis, in its essence, is a lack of change. When we see the world around us as static, we perceive the world as incapable of change. Seeing the world as static is a hopeless, cynical and desperate (full of despair) way of looking at life. It is also blatantly anti-Christian and anti-hope. Seeing people, churches and communities as static is seeing them as hopeless. We say it all the time in Aliquippa: the Christian faith is not compatible with hopeless people, hopeless churches, or hopeless communities.

I've often expressed to Joel and others that I have hard time believing in determinism of all kinds. In fact, I would go so far as to argue that determinism is evil and wrong. What do I mean by determinism? Determinism is the belief that our actions, lives, feelings, etc. are all somehow determined by something. We live in a society that embraces many forms of determinism. Anthropologists suggest our actions are governed by cultural determinism. Scientists suggest that our thoughts, moods and impulses are governed by biological determinism. Psychologists suggest that our thoughts and actions are governed by chemical determinism. Sociologists believe our reactions are governed by social influences, upbringing and demographics. Reformed theologians suggest our fates are theologically determined (predestination). I am not arguing that these different areas (biological makeup, chemicals, upbringing, etc.) do not have any effect on the way we think and act. What I am suggesting, however, is that when we limit these things to determinism, we are essentially believing in stasis. Determinism inevitably leads to a belief in stasis, a belief that things are determined and fixed. Determinism and stasis stand in direct opposition to hope. When we see the world as static, we see the world as beyond the hope of transformation.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

My Life as Delivery Boy

Well, here I am back in Toccoa for my senior, yep SENIOR year of college. The semester is officially on its way as the second week of the semester approaches its midpoint. My classes this semester turned out to be easier than those most recent, and so I've decided to try and work this semester. I applied at Wal-Mart, decided not to follow up, and ended up getting hired as pizza delivery man at Pizza Hut. I've only worked three days, but so far I love it. I make decent money with tips, and I get to drive around listening to music. Aside from that, I've met some interesting people on deliveries and at work.

One of the hardest things about attending school for me the last three years has been the lack of real human interaction. Over the course of my years here at Toccoa, I probably spent on average an hour a week off campus. Its nice to be interacting with people off campus on a regular basis. It helps me keep things in perspective and gosh I'm going to learn a lot.

Take my co-worker Billy (not his real name) for example. Billy is 26-28 years old, a Georgia native, grew up right around here. He's been working at Pizza Hut for a couple weeks now, so next to me he is the newest employee. He is a fellow delivery man. My first day at work he was asking me where I was from and over the course of the conversation I revealed that I am senior at Toccoa, originally from New York. The conversation began as small talk but then Andy asked whether Toccoa Falls College was Christian college. I quickly responded that it was, but not everyone there is a Christian. It was as if I needed to defend the fact that I went there by explaining that not EVERYONE there is a Christian. It was a distancing, defensive response, and I recognized immediately how uncomfortable I felt with him and my other coworkers knowing that I am a believer. I'm a very analytical person, and even to this moment I am not sure whether I was worried about revealing my faith, or just worried about revealing my faith so soon. I think I envisioned my coworkers learning about my faith, but gradually and over time. But this was not the case. The conversation didn't really go to much further that first night, we were both engaged with different tasks and so things were left essentially at that.

After analyzing things a bit more afterward, I realized my need to repent. My faith is a part of my life, a big part of my life, and people like Billy are the people I want to live among, serve and build relationships with. I prayed over the next day or so that I would have the opportunity to expound a bit more, and to be more honest with my beliefs. That prayer was answered today. Billy brought up matters of faith tonight at work and was very open with his beliefs and convictions. He revealed to me that he was baptized as a Pentecostal, had a bizzare, far out (his words), experience that sort of freaked him out and scared him from the church. Since then he goes to church occasionally but not really regularly. He confessed that he doesn't really think that God has one name or that God is exclusively Christian. He mentioned that perhaps sincere Buddhists go to heaven as well. It was an interesting conversation and I felt really comfortable with him. I felt like my role tonight was more as listener, so I didn't give my convictions about things, though I hope to sometime in the near future. I want to make sure I have the right to share my beliefs. Anyway, all that to say...I'm excited about this process, and I admitedly have a lot to learn.

People in this world are seeking something. Billy's story is evidence of that. Why was I so shocked to here someone interested in matters of faith? Billy said something very interesting to me tonight about the church. Since working in Aliquippa, I've had a lot of time to think about the institutional church, and in diologeing with Pastor Joel, Pastor Jim, and Pastor Paul about the subject, I've had a lot of time to think about how distant it has become from society. Tonight Billy told me that he doesn't get church. He doesn't understand it and he doesn't really like it. Some of the things there bother him, make him feel uncomfortable, and seem extra to him. Tonight as we were discussing this he said something profound...he said, "I think this is the church right here, Billy and Dean talking, that is the church." How amazing that this seemingly naive redneck Toccoan who told me tonight it took him ten years to get his GED (I'm being deliberate with this description to prove a point) understands the church better than most "Christians" do! Jesus said wherever two or more are gathered in his name, there he is also, there is the church...This guy GOT it. Anyway, all that to say, I'm excited to begin forming relationships like this. I'll be posting more about work in the coming weeks I am sure. Some might be lighter than this, I've got some great stories about deliveries...

Friday, August 24, 2007


Here it is folks. This is the video that my 5th and 6th grade class made this summer: