25 April 2006

Global Night Commute for the Invisible Children

According to my good friend, philosopher, and former Ugandan Missionary, John Barton, Christians tend to fall into two camps when it comes to issues of social justice (to paraphrase). One, they are naive and believe that enough money, American ideals (capitalism, democracy), optimism and denial will assure success and triumph. Or, they are cynical, quick to judge, though they themselves are not personally invested in works of mercy with the poor and marginalized. This is especially dangerous in the world of professional ministers and academia.


This weekend, the Rochester Church and Rochester College are partnering to participate in the Global Night Commute (this Saturday from 5pm to 2am)--a follow up to the viewing we hosted for Invisible Children.

Americans are closing their eyes to open the worlds’ to an unseen war.

By lying down, we are joining the invisible children in northern Uganda, and demanding that our government put an end to the longest running war in africa, and one of the worst crises in the world today.


Northern Uganda called the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today because of the lack of attention

1.7 million people forcibly displaced

AN estimated 20- 50,000 children abducted to fight as soldiers
tens of thousands of children commuting nightly

130 people die per day in Northern Uganda due to violence

On April 29th in over 130 cities across the country, thousands are lying down to demand that our government take a stand and put an end to child abduction, the need for night commuting, and war in northern Uganda.

We ask two things:

President George Bush and The United States Government should press the United Nations and Yoweri Museveni to do everything in their power to:

End the conflict and protect the civilians in Northern Uganda
Ensure adequate humanitarian assistance to the Invisible Children (in the internally Displaced camps and beyond)

This saturday, join us (rich, poor, college students, young, old) for time of reflection, peaceful protest, community, worship, and story-telling. We'll root for the Pistons and American Idol...will we root for the ones who have no voice?


17 April 2006

Death's Last Day

The week of March 25, 2001 is a week that forever haunts me around the time of Easter. Just a few Sundays before that Dan O’Donnell, a new student from Washington, asked me if I would take him to hear my coach preach at his little church a half hour away. I agreed and we talked about life, decisions, regrets, and hope the whole way their and back. Dan had made some huge mistakes in his life, but he was willing to admit is condition. His honesty was so thorough and threatening--you almost expected him to turn and say, "Now what about you, Josh?"

Thursday of that week (March 25th) I sat down to eat lunch around 11:30am. Normally, I sat with all the basketball players, but I was growing tired of that so I decided to sit next to Jamie. I knew Jamie only a little. She worked in the Day Care of the church where I was involved, so I’d see her every now and then. Jamie had one of those smiles that could light up a room-and fortunate for us, she chose to display as frequently as possible. We just made small talk. She told me she was going home to Toronto for the weekend.

Adam also connected with me the week of March 25. Adam and I had been friends for over a year and a half. He used to sit up in my room until all hours of the night goofing around, asking questions, and getting into trouble. I’ll never forget the Sunday afternoon that Matt walked into my room with a paintball gun and a sly grin. “Want to take some target practice?” I looked at one of my good friends who were in the room with me and we both nodded, “Ok-what did you have in mind?” “Well, see that building across the road?” He was pointing to one of the other dormitories that was visible from my dorm room. “Well, I figured that these orange paintballs would look nice considering they just put a fresh coat of paint on.” I’d like to say that I resisted this devious offer. I would love to be able to tell you this morning that I stood up and said, “I’m a follower of Jesus, I’m a Christian, I can’t do that.” But if I did, I’d be lying. I took that gun and lit up the dorm across the way. A dorm that had just been coated with fresh paint.

The week of March 25th is yet another reminder to me of death's elusiveness. That Friday night, Dan, Jamie, Adam and two of their friends climbed into an S.U.V and headed towards Toronto. They were just going home to visit mom and dad. (I just remembered this part: Adam crossed my path in the dorm on the Friday morning they left--"Josh, we haven't hung out in a while...when I get back..."). A few hours into the trip, everyone in the car became sleepy. The driver also fell asleep and swerved off the road when her sister in the back woke up just in time and yelled. The driver over compensated for her swerves and flipped the car several times. That night three people died. None of them had reached the age of 22. The other two in the car walked away with minor injuries.

For me and many others, the cross and easter is not simply about the forgiveness of sins and the liberation from the principalties and powers creation so desperately awaits--Friday and Sunday are also about those we long to see when King Jesus has promised to "make all things new."

06 April 2006

Men of Grace

Last night, Men of Grace (http://www.gracecentersofhope.org/html/men_of_grace.shtml) spent the evening with our church. Herb Mullen, Keith Hayes, Derek Vulcano, Mark Gullery, Duren Gutierrez, et al interfused their amazing testimonies with songs of hope, power, and redemption.

Men of Grace is a group of men who've gone through at least one year of counseling, treatment at the Grace Centers of Hope (http://www.gracecentersofhope.org/html/grace_centers_of_hope.shtml), led by Pastor Kent Clark. I've been investigating communities in the Metro Detroit who are adamant about living the "radical call" of Jesus--naturally, Grace Centers of Hope is one of the first stops we made while filming for the documentary. I knew after ten minutes that God was present and active in this work. Our findings will be unveiled at the Rochester College Sermon Seminar in May (http://www.rc.edu/sermonseminar/).

Here's a description of Men of Grace:

We are Men of Grace, the men's musical group of Grace Centers of Hope. Our membership consists of men that are currently in, or have completed, the one year rehabilitation program at Grace Centers of Hope. Our style is gospel-blues with emphasis on vocal harmony. Our repertoire consists of original compositions and arrangements that draw on a great wealth of musical genres. These include spirituals, hymns, contemporary styles and original music. The Men of Grace have been honored to sing for President Bush, The Detroit Tigers, Sports Hall of Fame Awards Banquet, the Governor's Luncheon, The Michigan State Fair and many more elite events.

Our Purpose:
Cultivate a Standard of Excellence. We strive for excellence in both our music and our lives as we sing the praises of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Develop Responsibility, Dependability and Accountability. Members of Men of Grace gain these life skills through long term commitment to the group and to the standard of excellence that is cultivated in their personal lives.

Demonstrate Hope and Direction. As an outreach of Grace Centers of Hope, the members of Men of Grace are living examples of how a life can be transformed from one of addiction, abuse and violence to one filled with meaning and hope through faith in Jesus Christ.

The Men of Grace have four CD's available, Saved, I Believe, One Child and The Hymns Project, Volumen One. You can order all of them for $50. All proceeds benefit the fine programs of Grace Centers of Hope. Get all the details about Men of Grace...

The name "Men of Grace" is a registered trademark of Grace Publishing.

Mark shared his story: A good job and home was crushed by the power of darkness when his wife committed suicide. He locked his home up and decided to live on the streets of Detroit abusing all kinds of drugs. "I would wait for Pizza Hut to throw away their extra pizza. Then I would take the pizza to the dope dealers in exchange for more drugs." Today Mark is a follower of Jesus, completely transformed.

Keith shared his story: A successful chef who got caught up in drugs and alcohol--he too found himself at the end of his rope when Grace Centers of Hope found him. He could have been another statistic save the power of this redemptive community led by Pastor Clark. Today Keith is a follower of Jesus, completely transformed.

Men of Grace performed many songs (Blessed Assurance, Nothing But the Blood) in many different ways (acapella, jazz, sax solo, electrical guitar)-their message, however was uniform--if any woman or man be in Christ, she/he is a new creation.

I never thought I would cry to a sax solo of "What a Friend We Have In Jesus." But then again, I never thought God could become the central character in his own story.

Bono keeps reminding the world that "Grace has a nagging propensity of interrupting karma." I'm grateful for the divine interruptions in my all too often scattered life.

03 April 2006

Seven Ways to Die: Greed

(From a recent teaching time on "greed" at the Rochester Church)

Conservative Christians claim to be a people of the book, but are these folks a people of the whole book? That’s why we’re doing this study on the “Seven Deadly Sins.” It is too easy to reduce sin to legal and medicinal language, as we discussed last week, when Scripture describes sin in relational terms (sexual affairs break the relationship with the trinity, church, and family). It is too easy to reduce our sin list down to whatever I’m comfortable with, or I’ve been exposed to. Scripture has much to say to such reductionistic tendencies. We’re opening up the sin discussion by wrestling with the Hebrew Scriptures and pride, greed, lust, anger, envy, gluttony, sloth.

So turn your hearts and minds to a rather ignored story in Scripture: Ahab and Jezebel in I Kings.

I Kings 16 introduces to two important details pertaining to this new King of Israel: First, “Ahab did everything evil in the sight of the LORD more than all who were before him,” (16:30). The writer also notes that Ahab does more to provoke “the anger of the LORD” than all kings put together. Second, a natural result of his marriage to Jezebel (a foreigner who does not regard the laws of YHWH) is the practice of Baal worship. “You shall have no other gods before me”—yeah, that whole notion is pushed the margins of the collective consciousness.

This section in First Kings is a profound depiction of God’s reign (as understood through the witness of Elijah) and the way of darkness (Ahab and his cohorts). Let’s turn our attention to the story in chapter 21: Naboth’s Vineyard.

***Reading from I Kings***

Greed: Obsessive desire to acquire wealth, notoriety, fame, or attention. From cover to cover, Scripture warns against greed. In fact, scripture warns that the pursuit of wealth over and above the pursuit of God’s reign in our lives will lead to death of the worst kind: spiritual death (Ecclesiastes 5:10-16; Amos 4:1-3; Mt. 19:23-24; Lk. 16:13;I Timothy 6:9-10).

The story from I Kings does not hide from the subject of money and material posession. There are strong implications for those of us under the spell of wealth, material comfort, and luxury (and I confess this was a lot easier to deal with when I was under the poverty line as a grad student). The reality is...most of us are affluent, blessed beyond what we need to sustain health, decent living.

1. Wealth produces a subliminal but strong slavery. Chasing financial security turns you into someone you never intended to be. This is thus the great paradox of the pursuit of wealth. Though one thinks it will provide security, contentment, it only leaves the pursuer in pursuit of more. The pursuit of money and wealth is spiritual quicksand leaving no survivors.

2. Greed reveals a self-mutilation of the soul. We become splintered people killing the whole child of God we were created to be. Our time, thoughts, motives are divided. We almost become two different people: the Christian and the one out to get “his or her’s.”

3. Wealth perverts humans into objects and friends into allies. Though we might be reluctant to participate in outright formal schemes, we’ll turn an eye or participate indirectly if we stand to gain financially (i.e. Ahab). The temptation is to manipulate our tax return. “Well I can qualify for this exemption, if I just fudge a few details here and there.” The temptation is to skim off the top of a budget, to give the waitress a dollar instead of the expected rate of 18 percent.

4. Greed, the greatest grievance, turns our hearts hard toward the poor and suffering. Elijah cannot stand for injustice, exploitation of the poor and innocent. The real terroists, to paraphrase one person, are the Christians who sat on the board of Enron.

The temptation for some is to spiritualize the challenging stories of scripture. “As long as you put God first.” I remind you that save “kingdom language” Jesus (whom the Christian faith believes to be God’s purest revelation) discusses money and material possession more than any other subject in the Gospels. Money, wealth, material possession might be the strongest indicator of one’s discipleship. Don’t believe me? Why are people so defensive in talking about the issue? “This isn’t a religious issue. Don’t bring stuff that has nothing to do with the bible into this discussion.”

Consumerism (to get verses to give away/empty) is the water we swim in, the air we breathe. It is asking someone to describe the color black, when everything is black, no light, only oppressive darkness exists. Consumerism is so much a part of our existence; we are often unable to see it. We accept this fallen attitude/power as normal when Scripture wants to combat such thinking.

Wall Street Movie Quotes (1987)
Michael Douglas (Gordon Gekko): Lunch is for wimps.

Martin Sheen (Carl Fox): Stop going for the easy buck and start producing something with your life. Create, instead of living off the buying and selling of others.

Michael Douglas (Gekko): The richest one percent of this country owns half our country's wealth, five trillion dollars. One third of that comes from hard work, two thirds comes from inheritance, interest on interest accumulating to widows and idiot sons and what I do, stock and real estate speculation. It's bull. You got ninety percent of the American public out there with little or no net worth. I create nothing. I own.

Charlie Sheen (Bud Fox): How much is enough?
Michael Douglas (Gekko): It's not a question of enough, pal. It's a zero sum game, somebody wins, somebody loses. Money itself isn't lost or made, it's simply transferred from one perception to another.

Michael Douglas (Gekko): The point is ladies and gentlemen that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of it's forms - greed for life, for money, knowledge - has marked the upward surge of mankind and greed - you mark my words - will not only save Teldar Paper but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA. Thank you.

The Bible collides with the message of greed. It calls us to choose simplicity over complex purchasing habits. It calls us to ask ourselves “do I really know what difference is between what I ‘want” versus what I ‘need?’” It calls us to change. It calls us to question. It calls us to repent. It calls us to remember the poor. It calls us to remember that we were blessed so that we might bless others.

Oh, Father—we are sometimes a selfish people.
We seek to gain at the expense of others.
We attempt to exploit when it will benefit us.
Teach us to give away, to empty ourselves
Just as Jesus gave away his power, control, and influence.