Faith and relevance in the 21st century

Category: Poverty (Page 2 of 3)

Christmas in the busyness

8293158697_5a42c9bcdf_kIs it just me or is this Christmas busier than ever for people? Right up until this evening, I haven’t really felt like I’ve been still and thought much about the real meaning of Christmas this year.

Part of it has been to do with work; it’s been a busy time right up until today. But I’ve also been rushing around getting things organised and just having so many errands to run.

I can see why so many people just want Christmas to be over so they can get back to some semblance of normality in their lives. I certainly don’t hate Christmas; I never have. In fact all my life I’ve loved this time of year. It’s only in the last couple of years that Christmas has been particularly painful for me, as life circumstances made it a lonely time of year.

I still believe though that our society needs Christmas, if not for the actual meaning it bestows in the form of celebrating the birth of a loving and gracious God coming into the world as a vulnerable baby. But Christmas also seems to be a time when the idea of goodwill and peace to all still holds some value.

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If 85% of the world is religious, why are secular countries happier?

030815-M-2375M-502If 85% of the world’s population has a religious underpinning to their lives, why are secular countries happier, according to the latest studies?

Dutch philosopher, Evert-Jan Ouweneel says that these countries are generally happier as long as circumstances are going well. Resilience though is lessening.

Ouweneel also says that the world is becoming more religious, not less. 85% of the world’s population has a religious faith. If we want to promote human understanding, cooperation and relationships, we need to understand religion and how it underpins the lives of most people in the world.

Finally, Ouweneel faces the common criticism of faith-based organisations working to alleviate poverty, that they give food from one hand as long it’s with a Bible in the other. There are a lot of myths going around about this, and they are well dealt with in this fascinating interview on ABC Radio National.

Listen to the interview here.

Christmas reflection 2014

Khaki-chums-xmas-truce-1914-1999.redvers100 years ago this year, during the First World War, the Christmas truce took place between British, German and French soldiers in the trenches on the Western Front. On Christmas Eve 1914, soldiers from opposing sides, who were stationed there to kill each other, instead got to know one another, shared photos of loved ones, and even had a game of soccer.

This of course made their superiors furious, not just because the troops were disobeying orders, but because it is much harder to harm someone with whom you have formed some sort of relationship. The enemy is to be faceless and nameless.

The same holds true for millions of people living in poverty around the world this Christmas. They are the faceless and nameless ones. In reality though, the enemy that is poverty is not faceless. Poverty is about people, it is not about statistics. Poverty is also not just about a lack of material goods; it is more about a lack of dignity, a lack of a sense that you are important. We are reminded that poverty is always personal because it is about relationship.

Back in the year 2000, the World Bank undertook a major study of poverty from the point of view of those actually experiencing it. In the study, called Voices of the Poor, 60,000 people living in poverty were interviewed and asked what their view of poverty was. The overwhelming response was that it was about lack of power, lack of dignity, and that it drives one into despair.

At Christmas many of us celebrate the coming of God to Earth in the form of a human, Jesus Christ. Also known as the Prince of Peace, Jesus came to set the world to rights. In The Message translation of the Lord’s Prayer in the Gospels, Jesus’ prayer starts off as,

“Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what’s best— as above, so below.”

The more common translation that many of us would be familiar with includes the phrase, “may your kingdom come on Earth as it is in heaven.”

This kingdom of God is something that Jesus talked about more than anything else. It is a kingdom of transformation, and it is transformation at every level of existence: physical, emotional, and spiritual.

In the Book of Revelation – an often difficult book to understand – it is described in terms of a promise that there will one day come a time when God will complete this kingdom and that tears will be wiped away, and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will have passed away (Revelation 21:4). Justice, peace and transformation will prevail. This is the promise we have from the One who was born as a helpless baby in a manger 2,000 years ago.

Jesus made poverty personal. He saw everyone he came into contact with as a person of dignity. Once people encountered Jesus, they were never the same again. They were transformed in every way. This is also our very identity as followers of Jesus. Everything about who we are is wrapped up in who Jesus is and what he has done.

God has come to earth to identify as one of us, to bring good news to the poor, to set the captives free and to restore the world to rights. This is God’s dream and it is the hope of Christmas. May your Christmas be blessed, meaningful and hopeful.

Bill Shorten’s Workchoices moment

I agree with the sentiments in this article, especially the disappointment about Shorten’s invisibility since becoming Opposition Leader.What I found disappointing about his Budget reply speech though was that, as Joe Hockey said, it was very short on detail.Hockey though has a short memory. Tony Abbott’s Budget reply speech last year was exactly the same, although it went further in being an arrogant “we’re ready to govern” speech. It seems the lack of policy detail in Australian politics has not changed in the last 12 months.

If the poor are always with us, why bother trying to alleviate poverty?

Sight Magazine just posted my recent piece on Jesus’ oft misunderstood words when the woman anointed him with perfume.

Coming alive and staying alive

Unfinished-Excerpt-2-Feature-494x196There has been a lot written recently about finding God’s calling on your life. It generally centres around finding out what makes you come alive and then going out and doing it. The common line is that where your gifts and the world’s needs collide, there lies your calling.

Now there is nothing wrong with that idea. God has clearly given everyone certain gifts, and it is our responsibility to use them for the good of the world. This is where meaning and purpose in our lives is found. When we are using our gifts and talents for the good of the world, we are contributing to things eternal. I have been affirmed by different people that I have a gift in writing. If I then use that gift for the purpose of furthering my own ego (“gee, he’s a great writer isn’t he”) then it is not furthering the common good (although God could still use it), and it won’t satisfy.

There is something that doesn’t sit right with me though about all the talk of finding God’s calling and doing what makes you come alive. The idea of doing what makes you come alive is, I think, largely a Western one. It is an idea born of privilege. Millions of people don’t have the opportunity to do what makes them come alive because they’re trying to stay alive. For the majority of the world, finding God’s call on their lives never comes to mind. Martin Luther King made this point when he said that for those stuck in the mire of poverty, “it is the struggle to have clean water, breathe clean air and have clean energy, to eat fresh, untainted food from organic soil; to live in harmony with the earth and live in peace with their neighbours; to actualise their God-given potential to make the world a better place.”

What this does is give us greater responsibility to use our gifts wisely. Luke 12:48 says that for those to whom much has been given, much is expected. We have been given much in the Western world. Millions of us in the West have the opportunity in our lives to live out our full potential. That’s why I think one of the saddest things in life is wasted talent; people who have such potential but get to the end of their lives never having realised it. I remember a pastor of mine talking years ago about a conversation he had with an elderly man. The man was talking to my pastor about the blink of an eye that our life is in the scheme of existence. He described it as waking up one morning and you’re 65 years old, and your life has gone just like the click of your fingers.

When you’re young you don’t think about such things. And many of us spend our whole lives letting ourselves be distracted by the constant entertainment served up to us. As Walter Brueggemann says so powerfully in The Prophetic Imagination, we are so satiated that we don’t realise we are wasting our lives riding down a river of purposelessness.

So what is the best way we can discern what our call is, apart from realising what your gifts are and using them to meet the needs of a broken world? Rich Stearns, President of World Vision US, describes it well in his recent book, Unfinished. Here is some of what he says: Continue reading

What does the end of poverty look like?

wealth povertyA few days ago a colleague at work sent through a fascinating article by the son of Warren Buffett. Some quotes from Peter Buffett’s article are as follows:

  • “People will rise above making $2 a day to enter our world of goods and services so they can buy more. But doesn’t all this just feed the beast?”
  • “What we have is a crisis of imagination. Albert Einstein said that you cannot solve a problem with the same mind-set that created it.”
  • “Nearly every time someone feels better by doing good, on the other side of the world (or street), someone else is further locked into a system that will not allow the true flourishing of his or her nature or the opportunity to live a joyful and fulfilled life.”

Fascinating points. When we work for a better world, are we just dragging people into a consumerist way of life which perpetuates the very poverty we want to alleviate? As Buffett says, doesn’t this all just feed the beast? What does the alleviation of poverty look like? Is it like the new society described so beautifully in Isaiah 65?

This is why just bringing people out of poverty is not enough. Changing structures which keep people poor must also take place. If there is no advocacy, then the work of development and relief is pointless.

What this reminds me of is Tim Jackson’s book, Prosperity Without Growth, in which the author lays out a blueprint for a system that works in a world of finite resources. A book well worth a read, along with the above-mentioned article.

You’re too powerful – part 2

church-state-streetsThis is the second of a two-part post based on a recent Facebook discussion on the Christian and power:

As affluent Western Christians, we are people in power. We haven’t had a choice really; most of us just happened to be born in one of the richest countries in the world. This has affected our view of the world. Our view of the world is determined by where we stand. Simply because of where we live, we have power, whether we realise it or not. Our purchasing decisions can literally mean life or death for millions of people in the majority poor world.

Martin Luther King made the point that no matter where we live in the world, we are all linked. Our lifestyles all impact on each other. The clothes I buy either keep people in slavery somewhere in Asia, or they contribute in a small way to the betterment of their lives, depending on my purchasing choices.

I believe it is possible to be a Christian in power. Power gives you access to justice; it allows you to advocate. That’s why the first Christians, including Paul and others of his time, didn’t tackle the evil of slavery. It is a common criticism of Christian faith that Jesus and St Paul didn’t say anything about slavery. It’s because they didn’t have any power. That is one of the perks of having power.

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You’re too powerful – part 1

jesus_ecce_homo

This is the first of a two-part post based on a recent Facebook discussion on the Christian and power:

“When religion is too closely linked with power, the problem is not just that religion underwrites oppression, but that the gospel itself is lost. If Christ is just a baby or a dead body, I can keep on living and not allow Christ’s lordship to shed light on all dimensions of my life.” – Ruth Padilla DeBorst

For most of its existence, Christian faith has been aligned with power. Ever since Christianity became the State religion under Constantine in the 4th century, there has been a watering down of the radical social ethics that the Gospel of Jesus demands of us.

Anne Wilkinson-Hayes, of the Baptist Union of Victoria, talks about the impact of Christendom on the faith. They include a change in the way the Bible had to be read (more about that below); marginalising of the human Jesus with a focus on his heavenly character; and a sanctioning of warfare by the church. In short, the persecuted became the persecutors.

Recently I’ve been involved in a brief Facebook discussion based on the above quote from Ruth Padilla DeBorst. The question came up about whether or not we can be a Christian in power. A reference was made to Philippians 4:22 in which St Paul sends a greeting from those Christians in the emperor’s household.

One of the problems of being too closely aligned to power is that we lose our prophetic edge. We become numb to the demands of Jesus as we gradually go along with the allegiances of the State.

It takes huge courage to be close to power and still be prophetic. I think of Daniel who worked with the government of the day. He rose through the ranks but when he spoke out and said something that emperor didn’t like, he was thrown to the lion’s den. It was the same with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; when they refused to worship the golden statue that Nebuchadnezzar set up, they were thrown into the fiery furnace.

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What do you think of this?

What do you think of this?

Thank-you-Jesus

The good people over at CASE magazine make the point that the pic rankles with them but that, more importantly, it highlights the need to be ready to give a response that is Christ-like.

My first reaction when looking at the image was that it (prophetically) highlights the fact that many Christians are quick to pray and thank God for such trivial things as finding your car keys, but that we don’t think to pray about the weightier matters of justice and mercy. God help me to do that.

Of course the point of the pic is that Christians are silly enough to believe in a God who lets people find their car keys while sitting back and watching millions die of starvation. To me that just reveals the improvement we need to make to be more Christlike, like the early church was, and the ignorance of many atheists about the amazing good work that is done by many faithful Christians around the world.

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