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Archive for May, 2011

Jesus told an interesting story in Luke about a farmer who had a great harvest; he decided that he did not have room for all his crops, so he built up bigger barns to hold all of his crops. However, as soon as he had finished up this project, his life was taken from him. He had saved up his riches, but he soon died and his striving and saving seemed foolish.

It is somewhat of a puzzling story and message. Should we not save up our money? Is it wrong to build up bigger barns? Is it not wise to save up for our retirement? Some will try to overspiritualize this passage, and deny any of the economic or social ramifications that it entails, simply seeing it as showing the importance of focusing on God. While I certainly think this is implied in the passage, we would be not doing the passage justice to simply leave it that.

Jesus preached a radical message of the Kingdom of God, one that made many people, especially the rich and powerful, very uncomfortable. He told a rich young ruler to sell all his goods and give them to the poor. He told parables which essentially denounced the wealth and excess of the few and favored the beggar, poor, and lame (Rich man and Lazarus). I wonder how Jesus would be received today? How would he respond when he told us how foolish we are to be spending all our effort and time accumulating more and more? How would he be treated when he told us to give our excess to the poor rather than hoarding it in our barns? Would we be outraged when he told us that our whole desire for more wealth was foolishness that would soon be revealed for what it was?

The irony is that if you turn the majority of the preachers on TV today, they would say that God wants you to be wealthy, and even to live in excess. However, how you can reconcile that with the teachings and life of Jesus is hard to imagine. It is a challenging message. It is one that is meant to make us comfortable. However, sometimes that through that feeling of unease real change can result. Is it wrong to save up for retirement? No, but the ramifications of our saving, wealth, giving, and greed are of utmost importance for the Kingdom of God and our own spiritual wholeness.

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Sometimes the inequality of wealth is so disturbingly and blatantly displayed that we can’t help but notice-that is what happened today when I saw an article on a news outlet about a celebrities’ engagement ring. While our politicians are claiming how broke we are as a nation, how medical assistance needs to be cut, and how are debt is going out of control-the wealthy are paying the lowest taxes in decades and living in more extravagance than ever.

What is so disturbing about the reality star’s 2 million dollar engagement ring? It is the simple slap in the face; it presents the true reality that while the overwhelming majority of the population is fighting to get by, others are living in such luxury and excess that they can afford 2 million on an engagement ring. It is the fact that while Republican leaders complain about the “high tax” rates of the wealthy, the rest of the society is suffering.

The scary thing is that I don’t think we are even shocked or outraged much by this type of waste and excessive luxury. Back in the late 1800’s, when the extremely wealthy threw extravagant parties, they were often condemned by the greater public for their immoral flaunting of their wealth. Today we have whole shows and networks which are basically designed to show celebrities and the rich flaunting their wealth.

Instead of actually working for a more just society, we have basically resigned and accepted this disturbing excess of wealth. Hopefully, we will come to a point where we realize that extravagance and excess is not something we should worship, but rather that is a danger to having a true and just democratic society. As long as we worship wealth, we will never really confront the problems that we currently face.

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In his famous novel, 1984, George Orwell describes his nightmarish totalitarian society, a police state with complete surveillance and control over its inhabitants. Last night, we took another step forward in that direction. Obama just renewed the Patriot Act that was originally created right after the events of 9/11. While the Patriot Act is supposed to protect us from terrorist attacks, it also opens the door for complete government surveillance, tracking, and power. Do I think that the U.S. is going to turn into a complete police state under Obama? No, but we are opening the door to allow untold liberties to be simply taken away in the future, especially if we are going through another type of crisis or disaster.

Let’s imagine what will happen when we enter a serious conflict; let’s say like another World War. In the past, the government turned from a free, liberal democracy into a type of police state very quickly. The worst example of this was in World War I with President Woodrow Wilson who essentially made it illegal to speak out our write against the war movement. Back then, it was somewhat hard to track people, can you imagine what would happen today with our technology and Internet communications? The government could have complete control.

The nightmare of 1984 could become more of a reality. People like to make the book, 1984, simply a critique against Communism. While it was certainly written in opposition to Stalin and the policies of the Soviets, Orwell himself had been a Socialist. It was not about the economic system; it is what happens when a police state takes over. This can happen in a left wing or right-wing government. It could happen to us.

One of my favorite podcasts comes from a man named Dan Carlin. He gives a great illustration about our growing military industrial complex and our growing police state. He compares it to a gun that we buy to keep our family safe, only later to find out to our own horror that the gun was the weapon used to actually kill our family. In the process of trying to keep ourselves safe, we could be endangering ourselves more than we ever know.

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For our end of the year party here at the school, we went to the house of the U.S. ambassador. It was a very nice house, and they threw a very good party. However, there was something disheartening to see this extremely expensive house for the ambassador which takes up a whole city block in the most expensive part of the city. How much tax money is the U.S. government spending solely in Costa Rica? How much more are they spending in many other countries around the world to have a huge foreign service? How we can afford to build palaces in foreign lands and not be able to care for our own sick and elderly in our own culture?

There is a great example from Rome. Rome wanted to build the greatest empire in the history of the world, but in the process they forgot about their own society, and before they knew it, the city of Rome had fallen. They had tried taking over the known world, but in the process had let their own society fall.

The amount of money that we are currently spending on our military, embassies, and foreign presence in other countries is simply mind blowing. How we can afford a 592 million dollar embassy in Iraq, and then not afford to pay for medicine for our elderly? How can we afford to spend billions of dollars on a war in Afghanistan, and then not provide a sufficient safety net for our poor, unemployed, and disabled? What will happen if we continue to build up our empire overseas and our huge military at the expense of building up our society? The exact same thing that happened to Rome; we will come to ruin. Unless we can turn our sword and into ploughshares, until we can turn our empire building into a society with better educational opportunities for all, universal healthcare, and a secure safety net, we will never prosper a society. It is time to stop spending so much expanding our empire, and time to actually start building up our Republic.

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Obama has been highly criticized by many on the right, including many of the Christian community, for not completely aligning himself with Israel’s position and goals concerning the Palestinians and Israeli territory. However, I wonder if Jesus were alive today if we be more criticized by the Christian Community for his position on Israel.

The reality is that when Jesus came to earth, he made the sons of Abraham very angry. He basically told them that their position as Jews and sons of Abraham was irrelevant if they did not live a life filled with justice and love. He did not come preaching a pro-Israeli message, rather he came preaching a message of the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom of justice that extends beyond any border, and which does not put one group of people above another. A Kingdom where there is no longer any Jew or Gentile.

Jesus always tended to always stand up for the oppressed and powerless; he was critical of those in power who used their influence to oppress others. I understand there is much complexity and grey in the current conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. Neither side is without significant grievances and blame. However, I don’t believe Jesus would simply be pro-Israeli in this situation, rather he would be pro-justice. It is sad that in the Christian community, especially in the U.S, it is become more important to be pro-Israeli than pro-justice. Many think they will be on the side of God if they are on the side of Israel, even if the Israeli actions are unjust. However, if they really want to be on God’s side, they should be on the side of the poor and oppressed the side of compassion, fairness, and justice.

The reality is that Obama’s latest comments and positions are still highly pro-Israel; the individuals that he is saying that he is “throwing Israel under the bus” are either simply paying politics or are so blinded by a pro-Israeli agenda that they can’t see the need of compromise and justice for the Palestinian people. As long as injustice is allowed to prosper, there will never be peace.

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In the gospel of Luke, a story is told of a time when Jesus made many Jewish people angry by his remarks, stating how their nationality was irrelevant to the Kingdom of God and how God was doing amazing works among other people, while they were missing out because of their own hardness of heart.

22All who were there, watching and listening, were surprised at how well he spoke. But they also said, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son, the one we’ve known since he was a youngster?”

23-27He answered, “I suppose you’re going to quote the proverb, ‘Doctor, go heal yourself. Do here in your hometown what we heard you did in Capernaum.’ Well, let me tell you something: No prophet is ever welcomed in his hometown. Isn’t it a fact that there were many widows in Israel at the time of Elijah during that three and a half years of drought when famine devastated the land, but the only widow to whom Elijah was sent was in Sarepta in Sidon? And there were many lepers in Israel at the time of the prophet Elisha but the only one cleansed was Naaman the Syrian.”

28-30That set everyone in the meeting place seething with anger. They threw him out, banishing him from the village, then took him to a mountain cliff at the edge of the village to throw him to his doom, but he gave them the slip and was on his way.” (The Message)

It seems that Jesus insulted their sense of nationality and patriotism, and he almost paid a heavy price at that very moment. Ultimately, he was killed by these people. Though an insult on their nationalistic ideas was not the only reason he was killed; it certainly was one of the factors. The Jewish people of the time felt that they had a special “in” with God, because they were sons of Abraham, and Jesus came exclaiming the Kingdom of God to everyone and that there was no favoritism with God.

As humans, nationalism has been one of the greatest sources of evil in the world; it has led to unknown wars, atrocities, and injustice. It has caused people to turn from the idea of a global community to a very ethnocentric point of view. It has caused people to assume that they have a special place with God or supernatural importance without having any merits for their claim. Just as nationalism was a problem in Jesus’ day; it is a problem today.

There is an unfortunate idea going around in the U.S. called American Exceptionalism, that somehow the U.S. is especially blessed by God in its endeavors and history. Obviously, this is embraced by many who have a strong sense of nationalism; however, it is a dangerous philosophy which basically justifies our actions, including our many unjust actions, as somehow not only sanctioned, but blessed by God.

What would Jesus say about nationalism today if he were here? Has the situation changed much from the time of Ancient Israel? Would he be hated as a traitor or unpatriotic citizen? Would he be despised because he came to bring the message of a Kingdom which often comes into strong conflict with nationalist interests? As we read through the gospels, the answers become clear. Jesus had little interest in promoting the greatness or blessedness of any nation; he was more concerned about spreading the Kingdom of God to people from every nation, tongue, and tribe.

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Some people see spirituality as a very personal thing that should be kept that way, while others see it is something that should be loudly proclaimed in the streets. Who is correct? Well, both are right and both are wrong.

Throughout the scriptures, you see a mixture of both responses depending on the individual and situation. One of the most famous incidents is recorded in the book of Luke at the birth of Jesus. After the birth of Jesus, the shepherds are overjoyed by the birth of the Messiah, and they want to tell everyone; however, Mary decides rather than proclaiming the truth on the street that she would keep it to herself. The Message describes it this way,

“They (the shepherds) told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the shepherds were impressed. Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself.”

There are some individuals who see spirituality and faith as something very personal and then when it leaves that realm of the very personal it becomes somewhat profane. Others see faith and religion as something very public, which they need to always be proclaiming. There are strengths and weaknesses in both positions; the hope is that we can find some balance.

On one hand, Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God and shining your light to all men. There is something very important about spreading the message of Jesus as he stated to the very ends of the earth. Solely keeping your spirituality personal can lead to our own spiritual suffocation, as part of faith is sharing it. One the other hand, there is great wisdom in speaking only in wisdom and not just throwing out our thoughts and ideas on faith only to be “trampled” upon by people who are not desiring the message.

It always makes me cringe when I see some conservative pastor on a news show who is simply trying to preach the whole time regardless of the interviewer’s questions. They think they are doing the right thing by spreading the message of God, but they fail to see the wisdom in sometimes holding their tongue and keeping their spiritual message to themselves. However, there are other individuals who have a wealth of knowledge and grace to give other people, who simply keep it locked up inside because they are too afraid or too ashamed to speak out.

Perhaps, there is a time to speak out and a time to remain quiet. Neither position is inherently good or inherently bad. They both can be very positive and very damaging. Let’s pray that God gives us the wisdom to grow in our knowledge of him, and the wisdom to know when the time is to spread that message and when the time is to keep it deep inside and let it grow into something even greater within us.

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