Archive for February, 2009

Shane Claiborne’s Peculiar Message

February 24th, 2009 by Kelsi Johns

“Maybe God’s plan is different than Wall Street’s.” Shane Claiborne gently entered into his message at Mosaic Church in Portland, Oregon on February 6th with this statement. It hung in the air a bit before he proceeded. I have read both of his books, An Irresistible Revolution and Jesus for President, but this was the first time I have heard him speak. He had his trademark look: The long dreads, bandana neatly tied around his head, black rimmed glasses, white plain T-shirt and baggy cotton pants. Upon walking on stage he gave a loud, giddy hillbilly laugh and his tall frame and lengthy arm span lent to his quirky, fun-loving demeanor. 


What followed his opening statement was the message that we are called to be a peculiar people. If we are falling right in suite with the power players of our day, where is our peculiarity? This struck me. Rather than living to transform the patterns and systems of our world, the church more often (and more loudly) appears as if our desire is the other way around. Yet if we look at Jesus, he was always peculiar. So peculiar, that John the Baptist had to second guess him. This led to another point: the love of Christ “spreads through fascination, not force”. This is pivotal in understanding our role as believers. In light of consumerism and the church, it was refreshing to remember that Christ’s gospel is irresistible and fascinating. It needn’t be a bait and switch gospel, where we must lure in the masses with great music, yummy coffee and popular preaching in order to gain the most converts. Yet this is what I often see: a hope and confidence in nailing down consumer preference and achieving consumer-based success over against living a gospel whose confidence and vitality lies in abandonment and the creativity of Christ. I can’t help but wonder then, what good news are people coming to understand? I often feel like we have lost hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and are instead putting our trust in the gospel of consumerism driven by a worldy desire for more: more members, more converts, ultimately, more power. 


Shane continued to explain that when John the Baptist asked if Jesus Christ was really the One, Jesus responded by asking what he has done and what they have seen. Blind people can see, the dead are brought back to life, sick people are healed. As Shane points out, really, who else would they want?


This begs the question: What would the response be if I asked others to “look at what I’ve done and tell me what you see”. Not only individually does that scare me, but what about the church as a whole? As Shane challenged us, we tend to “preach God with our mouth, but resist him with our lives”. He shared that the top three things Christians are known for are being (in this order): anti-gay, judgmental and hypocritical. That is not a movement I would want to join, and those are certainly not the top three characteristics of the life of Christ. On the contrary, as Shane discussed, Christ’s harshest words were to the religious elite.


 “Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good, but to bring dead people to life.” This is a point he made that I believe we as a church need to meditate on and be transformed by. The religious elite were about control, power, and appearance. Life in Christ does not mean that we are now “good”; it means we are now alive–no matter how messy and reckless that may be. I fear that this compelling message is being choked out by those who wish to gain more followers by introducing them to a non-intrusive, non-threatening message of salvation (a sort of ‘you can have your cake and eat it, too’ salvation). As Shane said, we are not making the gospel too hard, but rather too easy. He challenged that we need a recklessness in the church. Reckless because we trust in the enormity, profundity and unconstrained love of our Creator, rather than the financial, medical, educational or political systems of this world.  What would that look like if we truly lived this way? We are not called to be calculators and purveyors of progress but rather patient, gracious lovers of truth and justice. If we live a timid life harnessed and controlled by the systems our world lives and falls by, what does that say of the One in whom we profess? 


What do you think about Shane’s statement “Maybe God’s plan is different than Wall Street’s”?  How do you envision that we, as the church, can begin as Shane said to “dream big and live small”, and how do you see this affecting consumerism in the church?

The Rainbow of Love

February 18th, 2009 by Japanese Lilac

This is exciting!  I have the chance of a lifetime to share with you readers a small but significant part of my life when I was a young foreign student from Japan.  And in the course of this short essay, I will try to spell out my way of overcoming racism in this country, which is hailed as a melting pot of cultures.

The story starts with my arrival in the States in the early 80s to attend college.  That was when I had shiny eyes, no gray hair and no age spots! Actually, the US was not my first choice in terms of destinations for studies abroad.  I decided to come here after receiving rejections from universities in Australia and Canada.  I picked the countries that would give me some elbow room—psychologically more so than physically.  Anyone who has lived among my people in Japan knows what I am talking about. When I look back on those early days here in the States, my thoughts immediately go to some of the very special people I met.  Interestingly, with a few exceptions, those who left the strongest impressions on me were so-called “people of color” (a socially acceptable yet distasteful term).  I come from a culture that tends to look down on people of darker complexion.  As with many Anglos, so too, many Japanese who lack exposure think that they have little to learn from people whose skin is darker than theirs.  Yet, it is my experience which tells me that the abundant life that Jesus talked about doesn’t have anything to do with mingling only with Whites—or Japanese—and copying their ways.

For example, I think of Danielle from Haiti.  The reason why she is so memorable to me is because not only did we go through common struggles together as foreign students, but also because she was a thinker.  She was educated in Paris prior to coming to the States, and she would nostalgically talk about how French students would enjoy engaging in intellectual conversations.  I was also perplexed at the time as to why there was such a gap between conversations in classrooms and those outside.  In short, Danielle and I had a common yearning for an academic environment, which we didn’t find at the time at the college we were attending in St. Louis (I later transferred to a state university, where the intellectual climate was much more appealing to me).  Danielle was someone with whom I could talk about philosophy, society, God, etc., and she so often peppered our talks with laughter.  We also attended a college ministry gathering on Friday evenings, which was led by an Indian couple.  I still remember the delicious Indian curry they served us, which she and I devoured as we gave thanks to our God.

I also have a fond memory of Shade (sha-dee) from Nigeria, whom I met in an anthropology class at the state university, to which I transferred.  She was a cute girl with big, smiley eyes.  I knew she was younger than me, but I didn’t realize how much younger until a few years after graduation.  I saw her picture and story in the university alumni magazine.  Shade was introduced as the youngest student to graduate —16 years old!  Well, we took the anthropology class a couple of years before our graduation, so she was probably 14½ when we sat next to each other in that big lecture hall.  I was studying next to a teenager who had barely reached puberty!  Our friendship was, unfortunately, rather brief due to circumstances typical of student life, but her faith and focused study habits left a lasting impression on me.  One event stands out to me.  I ran into Shade at the university library, where she was busy writing a term paper.  I asked her what she was writing about.  “Terrorism,” was her answer.  What a yucky subject, I thought.  This was the 80s; surely terrorism was around, but it was an issue to which most people hardly paid any serious attention.  As I look back, I wonder if Shade had the foresight to see that terrorism would become one of the biggest global problems in the twenty-first century.  And I also wonder if she had some practical suggestions to make for fighting terrorism at the conclusion of her term paper.  She was the youngest person to graduate from college of whom I know, and arguably one of the smartest people I will ever meet.  And her heart was bent toward peace – I wish I had asked for a copy of her paper. Imagine the magnitude of stupidity to dismiss people based on their color or ethnicity, and think of the possibility of what we might be able to do to help solve the world’s problems by exchanging ideas and eagerly learning from one another from different parts of the world!

The third person I recall is Shirley, a bubbly African American girl with whom I shared an apartment for a semester.  The air was getting colder by the day, and I was still a few semesters away from graduation.  I was very poor at the time, and she was an office worker, who graciously paid a bigger chunk of the rent so that we could live there together.  My bed was a $20 mattress from the Salvation Army (somehow it didn’t occur to me to ask my parents for more money).  I do not remember the reason, but after some time, Shirley had to move out of our apartment to live with her parents several blocks away.  Still, she kept paying her portion of the rent so that I could continue living there.  There was no heat in the apartment.  So my strategy was to put on two pairs of socks as well as a few blankets over me at night in order to fall asleep.  A Midwest winter night can be harsh.  One day, I remember that Shirley came home and offered me a $20 bill.  She said she didn’t need the money, and she thought I could use it for something.  I was able to buy myself a warm pair of gloves without holes in them so that I could drive my worn-out car without getting frostbite.  It was also Shirley who invited me over for Christmas that year because she knew that I had nowhere to go.

The last person I have space to introduce is Amy from Nigeria.  She was also a student in the States, and we attended church together.  I have several pictures of her and me taken on the day of my graduation from university.  In one picture, she is putting her hand on my shoulder as we were in the procession with caps and gowns.  A few other pictures show Amy in a dress and me in the gown smiling at the camera in the middle of the huge university campus.  Yes, just Amy and me.  My other friends were with their families because this was their graduation day as well.  My family couldn’t join me until my wedding day, which was to come a few years later. Amy was my friend and a good neighbor, who walked beside me and congratulated me on my graduation day.  I am very fortunate to have experiences with such special friends, who showed love to me during a very lonely season of life.

It is a privilege to introduce to you these special friends whom God placed in my path.  Each one is unique, each one is a Christ-follower, and each one has left a profound impact on me, shaping me into the person I am today.  When I read, “. . . and we have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only (John 1:14),” it is difficult for me to separate my friends from Jesus their Lord, for he has manifested his glory in and through them to me.  Jesus’ glory comes in many colors and hues, and so we miss out when we fail to see the rainbow of his glorious love.  The first step of going beyond racism is to cultivate in our hearts a desire to get to know others of different ethnicities in all of their uniqueness and diversity, and an expectation that we will experience God’s glorious beauty in new and amazing ways through them.

Reflections on the Inauguration

February 5th, 2009 by David Swanson

Here is a guest post from David Swanson, Pastor of Community Life at New Community Covenant Church in Chicago, IL.

Sometime this fall my wife and I were asked by some close friends whether we’d join them for the upcoming presidential inauguration in Washington DC. The invitation was contingent on one thing: Barak Obama’s election. These friends had been involved with the Obama campaign since the beginning, lending their support to the man who lives just a few blocks away in their Hyde Park neighborhood in Chicago. It was an easy invitation to accept.

We woke up very early on the Sunday before the inauguration, loaded up our rental car, and drove from our apartment on Chicago’s north side to pick up our friends. From there it was a twelve-hour drive through the snow to our nation’s capitol. Along the way we talked, napped and listened to a few of Dr Martin Luther King’s early speeches. The anticipation built as we reached our hotel in Baltimore, but it wasn’t until we sat down for an upscale soul food dinner at Georgia Brown’s, just blocks from the National Mall, that the celebratory mood really kicked in. The restaurant was packed with glad people who had traveled from around the country to be in Washington for this event.

After a good night’s sleep we drove to Howard University to explore one of the premier Historically Black Colleges, known to many as “the Black Harvard.” Once again we encountered a thrilled atmosphere. Despite the chilly temperatures the campus was filled with alumni and prospective students. While warming up in a nearby Starbucks our friends bumped into a friend from Chicago who had also made the trek for the inauguration. The weekend was beginning to feel like a family reunion.

This sense of camaraderie and joyful expectation was only amplified on Inauguration Day. We were regularly asked where we had come from and people were happy to share their own stories that had brought them to the capitol. The ethnic diversity of the day was something to behold. While each of us had our distinct reasons for making this trip, there was a genuine sense of goodwill that I have rarely experienced.

“Hopefully nonpartisan” is the best way I can describe the demeanor of those in the massive crowds. While this was certainly a political event, and while the new president now steps into a very political role, there was very little political language that we encountered. The hope expressed by so many simply by their presence on that cold Tuesday was beyond political. While the speculation by some that Dr King’s dream has been fulfilled in President Obama is clearly preposterous, the significance of this election cannot be underestimated. Surely there is still a long way to go; there is much about Dr King’s dream that needs to be articulated in our day. But for one long, cold weekend many of us caught a glimpse of the road ahead and found plenty of reasons to be hopeful.