Friday, February 03, 2006

The Prophetic Bono

I'm just going to cut and paste it and try not to commentate on it as to not ruin what he said. Just read it:

Bono's Speech/Sermon to the Presidential Prayer Breakfast on February 1st, 2006:

If you're wondering what I'm doing here, at a prayer breakfast, well, so am I. I'm certainly not here as a man of the cloth, unless that cloth is leather. It's certainly not because I'm a rock star. Which leaves one possible explanation: I'm here because I've got a messianic complex.

Yes, it's true. And for anyone who knows me, it's hardly a revelation.

Well, I'm the first to admit that there's something unnatural...something unseemly...about rock stars mounting the pulpit and preaching at presidents, and then disappearing to their villas in the south of France. Talk about a fish out of water. It was weird enough when Jesse Helms showed up at a U2 concert...but this is really weird, isn't it?

You know, one of the things I love about this country is its separation of church and state. Although I have to say: in inviting me here, both church and state have been separated from something else completely: their mind.

Mr. President, are you sure about this?

It's very humbling and I will try to keep my homily brief. But be warned - I'm Irish.

I'd like to talk about the laws of man, here in this city where those laws are written. And I'd like to talk about higher laws. It would be great to assume that the one serves the other; that the laws of man serve these higher laws...but of course, they don't always. And I presume that, in a sense, is why you're here.

I presume the reason for this gathering is that all of us here - Muslims, Jews, Christians - all are searching our souls for how to better serve our family, our community, our nation, our God.

I know I am. Searching, I mean. And that, I suppose, is what led me here, too.

Yes, it's odd, having a rock star here - but maybe it's odder for me than for you. You see, I avoided religious people most of my life. Maybe it had something to do with having a father who was Protestant and a mother who was Catholic in a country where the line between the two was, quite literally, a battle line. Where the line between church and state was...well, a little blurry, and hard to see.

I remember how my mother would bring us to chapel on Sundays... and my father used to wait outside. One of the things that I picked up from my father and my mother was the sense that religion often gets in the way of God.

For me, at least, it got in the way. Seeing what religious people, in the name of God, did to my native land...and in this country, seeing God's second-hand car salesmen on the cable TV channels, offering indulgences for fact, all over the world, seeing the self-righteousness roll down like a mighty stream from certain corners of the religious establishment...

I must confess, I changed the channel. I wanted my MTV.

Even though I was a believer.

Perhaps because I was a believer.

I was cynical...not about God, but about God's politics. (There you are, Jim.)

Then, in 1997, a couple of eccentric, septuagenarian British Christians went and ruined my shtick - my reproachfulness. They did it by describing the millennium, the year 2000, as a Jubilee year, as an opportunity to cancel the chronic debts of the world's poorest people. They had the audacity to renew the Lord's call - and were joined by Pope John Paul II, who, from an Irish half-Catholic's point of view, may have had a more direct line to the Almighty.

'Jubilee' - why 'Jubilee'?

What was this year of Jubilee, this year of our Lord's favor?

I'd always read the scriptures, even the obscure stuff. There it was in Leviticus (25:35)...

'If your brother becomes poor,' the scriptures say, 'and cannot maintain shall maintain him.... You shall not lend him your money at interest, not give him your food for profit.'

It is such an important idea, Jubilee, that Jesus begins his ministry with this. Jesus is a young man, he's met with the rabbis, impressed everyone, people are talking. The elders say, he's a clever guy, this Jesus, but he hasn't done much...yet. He hasn't spoken in public before...

When he does, is first words are from Isaiah: 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,' he says, 'because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.' And Jesus proclaims the year of the Lord's favour, the year of Jubilee (Luke 4:18).

What he was really talking about was an era of grace - and we're still in it.

So fast-forward 2,000 years. That same thought, grace, was made incarnate - in a movement of all kinds of people. It wasn't a bless-me club... it wasn't a holy huddle. These religious guys were willing to get out in the streets, get their boots dirty, wave the placards, follow their convictions with actions...making it really hard for people like me to keep their distance. It was amazing. I almost started to like these church people.

But then my cynicism got another helping hand.

It was what Colin Powell, a five-star general, called the greatest W.M.D. of them all: a tiny little virus called AIDS. And the religious community, in large part, missed it. The ones that didn't miss it could only see it as divine retribution for bad behaviour. Even on children...even [though the] fastest growing group of HIV infections were married, faithful women.

Aha, there they go again! I thought to myself judgmentalism is back!

But in truth, I was wrong again. The church was slow but the church got busy on this the leprosy of our age.

Love was on the move.

Mercy was on the move.

God was on the move.

Moving people of all kinds to work with others they had never met, never would have cared to meet...conservative church groups hanging out with spokesmen for the gay community, all singing off the same hymn sheet on moms and quarterbacks...hip-hop stars and country stars. This is what happens when God gets on the move: crazy stuff happens!

Popes were seen wearing sunglasses!

Jesse Helms was seen with a ghetto blaster!

Crazy stuff. Evidence of the spirit.

It was breathtaking. Literally. It stopped the world in its tracks.

When churches started demonstrating on debt, governments listened - and acted. When churches starting organising, petitioning, and even - that most unholy of acts today, God forbid, lobbying...on AIDS and global health, governments listened - and acted.

I'm here today in all humility to say: you changed minds; you changed policy; you changed the world.

Look, whatever thoughts you have about God, who He is or if He exists, most will agree that if there is a God, He has a special place for the poor. In fact, the poor are where God lives.

Check Judaism. Check Islam. Check pretty much anyone.

I mean, God may well be with us in our mansions on the hill. I hope so. He may well be with us as in all manner of controversial stuff. Maybe, maybe not. But the one thing we can all agree, all faiths and ideologies, is that God is with the vulnerable and poor.

God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them. "If you remove the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness, and if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom with become like midday and the Lord will continually guide you and satisfy your desire in scorched places."

It's not a coincidence that in the scriptures, poverty is mentioned more than 2,100 times. It's not an accident. That's a lot of air time, 2,100 mentions. (You know, the only time Christ is judgmental is on the subject of the poor.) 'As you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me' (Matthew 25:40). As I say, good news to the poor.

Here's some good news for the president. After 9/11 we were told America would have no time for the world's poor. America would be taken up with its own problems of safety. And it's true these are dangerous times, but America has not drawn the blinds and double-locked the doors.

In fact, you have doubled aid to Africa. You have tripled funding for global health. Mr. President, your emergency plan for AIDS relief and support for the Global Fund - you and Congress - have put 700,000 people onto life-saving anti-retroviral drugs and provided 8 million bed nets to protect children from malaria.

Outstanding human achievements. Counterintuitive. Historic. Be very, very proud.

But here's the bad news. From charity to justice, the good news is yet to come. There is much more to do. There's a gigantic chasm between the scale of the emergency and the scale of the response.

And finally, it's not about charity after all, is it? It's about justice.

Let me repeat that: It's not about charity, it's about justice.

And that's too bad.

Because you're good at charity. Americans, like the Irish, are good at it. We like to give, and we give a lot, even those who can't afford it.

But justice is a higher standard. Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice; it makes a farce of our idea of equality. It mocks our pieties, it doubts our concern, it questions our commitment.

Sixty-five hundred Africans are still dying every day of a preventable, treatable disease, for lack of drugs we can buy at any drug store. This is not about charity, this is about justice and equality.

Because there's no way we can look at what's happening in Africa and, if we're honest, conclude that deep down, we really accept that Africans are equal to us. Anywhere else in the world, we wouldn't accept it. Look at what happened in South East Asia with the tsunami. 150,000 lives lost to that misnomer of all misnomers, "mother nature." In Africa, 150,000 lives are lost every month. A tsunami every month. And it's a completely avoidable catastrophe.

It's annoying but justice and equality are mates. Aren't they? Justice always wants to hang out with equality. And equality is a real pain.

You know, think of those Jewish sheep-herders going to meet the Pharaoh, mud on their shoes, and the Pharaoh says, "Equal?" A preposterous idea: rich and poor are equal? And they say, "Yeah, 'equal,' that's what it says here in this book. We're all made in the image of God."

And eventually the Pharaoh says, "OK, I can accept that. I can accept the Jews - but not the blacks."

"Not the women. Not the gays. Not the Irish. No way, man."

So on we go with our journey of equality.

On we go in the pursuit of justice.

We hear that call in the ONE Campaign, a growing movement of more than 2 million Americans...Left and Right together... united in the belief that where you live should no longer determine whether you live.

We hear that call even more powerfully today, as we mourn the loss of Coretta Scott King - mother of a movement for equality, one that changed the world but is only just getting started. These issues are as alive as they ever were; they just change shape and cross the seas.

Preventing the poorest of the poor from selling their products while we sing the virtues of the free market...that's a justice issue. Holding children to ransom for the debts of their grandparents...that's a justice issue. Withholding life-saving medicines out of deference to the Office of Patents...that's a justice issue.

And while the law is what we say it is, God is not silent on the subject.

That's why I say there's the law of the land�. And then there is a higher standard. There's the law of the land, and we can hire experts to write them so they benefit us, so the laws say it's OK to protect our agriculture but it's not OK for African farmers to do the same, to earn a living?

As the laws of man are written, that's what they say.

God will not accept that.

Mine won't, at least. Will yours?

[ pause]

I close this morning

This is a dangerous idea I've put on the table: my God vs. your God, their God vs. our God...vs. no God. It is very easy, in these times, to see religion as a force for division rather than unity.

And this is a town - Washington - that knows something of division.

But the reason I am here, and the reason I keep coming back to Washington, is because this is a town that is proving it can come together on behalf of what the scriptures call the least of these.

This is not a Republican idea. It is not a Democratic idea. It is not even, with all due respect, an American idea. Nor it is unique to any one faith.

'Do to others as you would have them do to you' (Luke 6:30). Jesus says that.

'Righteousness is this: that one should...give away wealth out of love for him to the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and the beggars and for the emancipation of the captives.' The Koran says that (2.177).

Thus sayeth the Lord: 'Bring the homeless poor into the house, when you see the naked, cover him, then your light will break out like the dawn and your recovery will speedily spring fourth, then your Lord will be your rear guard.' The Jewish scripture says that. Isaiah 58 again.

That is a powerful incentive: 'The Lord will watch your back.' Sounds like a good deal to me, right now.

A number of years ago, I met a wise man who changed my life. In countless ways, large and small, I was always seeking the Lord's blessing. I was saying, you know, I have a new song, look after it�. I have a family, please look after them�. I have this crazy idea...

And this wise man said: stop.

He said, stop asking God to bless what you're doing.

Get involved in what God is doing - because it's already blessed.

Well, God, as I said, is with the poor. That, I believe, is what God is doing.

And that is what he's calling us to do.

I was amazed when I first got to this country and I learned how much some churchgoers tithe. Up to 10% of the family budget. Well, how does that compare with the federal budget, the budget for the entire American family? How much of that goes to the poorest people in the world? Less than 1%.

Mr. President, Congress, people of faith, people of America:

I want to suggest to you today that you see the flow of effective foreign assistance as tithing.... Which, to be truly meaningful, will mean an additional 1% of the federal budget tithed to the poor.

What is 1%?

1% is not merely a number on a balance sheet.

1% is the girl in Africa who gets to go to school, thanks to you. 1% is the AIDS patient who gets her medicine, thanks to you. 1% is the African entrepreneur who can start a small family business thanks to you. 1% is not redecorating presidential palaces or money flowing down a rat hole. This 1% is digging waterholes to provide clean water.

1% is a new partnership with Africa, not paternalism toward Africa, where increased assistance flows toward improved governance and initiatives with proven track records and away from boondoggles and white elephants of every description.

America gives less than 1% now. We're asking for an extra 1% to change the world. to transform millions of lives - but not just that and I say this to the military men now - to transform the way that they see us.

1% is national security, enlightened economic self-interest, and a better, safer world rolled into one. Sounds to me that in this town of deals and compromises, 1% is the best bargain around.

These goals - clean water for all; school for every child; medicine for the afflicted, an end to extreme and senseless poverty - these are not just any goals; they are the Millennium Development goals, which this country supports. And they are more than that. They are the Beatitudes for a globalised world.

Now, I'm very lucky. I don't have to sit on any budget committees. And I certainly don't have to sit where you do, Mr. President. I don't have to make the tough choices.

But I can tell you this:

To give 1% more is right. It's smart. And it's blessed.

There is a continent - Africa - being consumed by flames.

I truly believe that when the history books are written, our age will be remembered for three things: the war on terror, the digital revolution, and what we did - or did not to - to put the fire out in Africa.

History, like God, is watching what we do.

Thank you. Thank you, America, and God bless you all.

Are we listening? Because God just spoke.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Strong, the Tempted, & the Weak

Living in Kansas City, Kansas for two and half years, I often drove through a lot of run-down neighborhoods. I've worked with some depressed people pulled down by experiences with drugs, abuse, neglect, death, poverty, and other unspeakable things. It amazes me how much disaster can abound in the "greatest country in the world." So many people in the US are either blind or blatantly ignorant (and I confess I've been and am one of them).

In conjunction with this I've also been challenged by the problems of addiction. Most often, when one hears or reads "addiction," thoughts immediately run to drugs and alcohol. But the challenge of addiction goes way beyond substance abuse. Addiction runs through things such as television, pornography, the internet, gambling, and what I believe is possibly the worst addiction in the US: food.

It's easy for someone who deals day-in and day-out with people who struggle with addiction or hopeless people to get down on the world, feel hopeless, and perhaps even give up. But as I drove to class today through the neighborhoods I often drive through that don't look like your typical suburban Brady-Bunch neighborhoods, a song that often encourages me impacted me again. I turned it up real loud, opened the sunroof, and sang...loudly and without apology. I didn't care that the people waiting at the bus stop heard or noticed as I sat next to them in the car at a red light. Perhaps I wanted them to hear me.

I have often typed out lyrics to a song and sent them to people thinking that their reading of them might give them the same feeling that the words elicited in me. But you really have to hear the song coupled with words to get full message. (As I've said here before, I believe that music is the most powerful artistic expression of human emotion and will be for a long, long time, if not forever.) Of course, you may not see the hopelessness and pain that I've experienced in others recently. But I've found that my exposure to these has given me a greater appreciation of the hope of Christ. That's what this song is about.

If you can, download it (legally, of course) and listen to it. When you're down and you need some hope, try listening to this song. (Click here if you want to download it.)

The Strong, the Tempted, & the Weak

in union with the Lamb
from condemnation free
the saints from everlasting were
and shall forever be
in covenant of old
the sons of God they were
the feeblest lamb in Jesus' fold
was blessed in Jesus there

it's bonds shall never break
though earth's old columns bow
the strong, the tempted, & the weak
are one in Jesus now
when storms or tempests rise
or sins your peace assail
your hope in Jesus never dies
'tis cast within the veil

here let the weary rest
who love the Savior's name
though with no sweet enjoyments blessed
this covenant stands the same

(and can I add: ... "ah-woo-hoo-hoooo")

- J

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Book Report: Velvet Elvis, Rob Bell

I haven't been posting recently. No big reason why other than I've been pretty busy. But I've been reading a book recently that has greatly affirmed me as well as challenged me.

It may be hard to categorize this book. I'll list a few categories: theology, non-fiction, apologetics. It may even be seen as a collection of sermons. It certainly is empassioned, well thought out, well-researched, and easily read. I hesitate to use the word "theology" when speaking of the book because I don't want people who think they "can't read theology books" to skip by this book. Anyone can read this book. (And I think many should.)

It's published by Zondervan and here is their website on the book. If you would like to read an excerpt, click here. This excerpt is actually the beginning of the book. Bell often returns to this image of the trampoline.

I'm not sure how to review the book. I usually avoid proof-texting these days (pulling a single statement out of a book and using it to make a point) because it can lead people astray out of context. But I will here. The statements I've selected will at least give a taste of Bell's writing style and heart.

"Doctrine is a wonderful servant and a horrible master." (page 025)
I'm pretty sure I've heard statements like this before. But Bell's context in the first chapter is that we use and abuse doctrine these days to the detriment of ourselves and our (God's) message.

"God is bigger than the Christian faith." (page 027)
A statement that may seem profound at first, but I believe is true. Bell asks us to look at the Christian faith as a growing and emerging thing. A question for reflection from me is: Does God grow? Do we play a part in who God is?

"So the invitation to jump is an invitation to follow Jesus with all of our doubts and questions right there with us." (page 028)
This is in relation to the trampoline as an image for the Christian faith. Inviting someone to join this Christian faith is: ...the statement above. One of his points is that to "accept Christ" is not to have it all figured out. To accept Christ is not an act that prerequisites that someone have their life in line and perfect.

"God has spoken and the rest is commentary." (a number of times)
This is one statement with which I still have questions. I believe that what we say is certainly commentary...I'm just not sure that God has finally spoken. He has said...but he has more to say.

Of the Bible (individual verses):
"They aren't isolated statements that float, unattached, out in space." (page 062)
I have felt this way for a long time now. Can we please stop throwing individual phrases from the Bible at people thinking that the act of doing so will dramatically change their lives? I think St. Francis of Assisi said something to the effect of my feelings here. I'll let you Google for it. I'm sure it's his most-quoted phrase.

"Jesus is the arrangement. Jesus is the design. Jesus is the intelligence. For a Christian, Jesus' teachings aren't to be followed because they are a nice way to live a moral life. They are to be followed because they are the best possible insight into how the world really works. They teach us how things are." (page 083)
Let me couple this with the statement above about how God is bigger than the Christian faith. Jesus is God and I also believe is bigger than the Christian faith. Then how can I (or anyone else) think we have Christ completely figured out? I can't. Christ is bigger than me. I am his servant and as a minister of his gospel, I always have to keep an open mind to different ideas of what he has done, what he is doing, and what he will do.

"Christian is a great noun and a poor adjective." (page 084)
WOOHOO!!! Go ROB! Just because someone - you, me, CBD, TBN, Pat Robertson, a denomination, or anyone else - labels something "Christian" does not mean that it is "following Christ." Let's be careful, people. Just the same, just because something is not labelled Christian does not mean that it does not fall in line with Christ. Or, just because an individual claims the title of "Christian" does not mean that they are following Christ in what they say or what they do.

Of missionaries (or other ministers) talking about "taking Jesus" to a certain place:
"I would ask them if people in China and India and Chicago are eating and laughing and enjoying things and generally being held together? Because if they are, then Jesus, in a way that is difficult to fully articulate, is already present there." (page 088)
Just an interesting thought. I'll not make commentary right now.

"The thought of the word church and the word marketing in the same sentence makes me sick." (page 099)
Can we stop paralleling the church (local OR general) with the business world, please?

"I am institutionally challenged." (page 150)
I empathize.

"Heaven is full of forgiven people.
Hell is full of forgiven people.
Heaven is full of people God loves, whom Jesus died for.
Hell is is full of people God loves, whom Jesus died for.
The difference is how we choose to live, which story we choose to live in, which version of reality we trust.
Ours or Gods."
(page 146)
Wow. This resonates with how a character in McLaren's book (A New Kind of Christian), named Neo, talks about heaven and hell. One thing he says is, "We are becoming on thsi side of the door of death the kind of people we will be on the other side."

I read a comment from someone regarding the book who said that the trampoline was a poor image. Here's what he said:
I read Velvet Elvis and am truly saddened to see how far Rob is heading down a slippery path theologically. My concern for his distain for "doctrine" in it's true form, that of the foundation upon which the church of Christ is built, is great. To compare doctrine with the springs of a trampoline? Hello. And then suggest that our understanding of doctrines could be distorted, such as the Virgin Birth of Christ and others he mentions, is frightening. I must have a different Bible. Mine says Christ is the ROCK upon which we build...not a trampoline upon which we jump.

My response to him was this:
Rob would agree with you, I believe...Jesus is the foundational rock upon which the Church is built. But we can't equate doctrine with Christ. I don't believe that Rob ever said the trampoline represents Christ. It represents our faith in Christ. If someone has faith as solid as a rock, I admire him/her greatly. But I honestly confess that my faith is not rock-hard. I'm trying...but I'm not there yet. So I'll continue to try and add springs to my faith to make it sturdier and stronger, allowing me to jump higher and higher.

I could say a lot more, but I'll just say this for now: Read the book.