This Notre Dame game is too awful to watch, so I’m distracting myself with this article on creation care in the Washington Post by Rich Cizik. A few too many nods to the national narrative for me, but a good reminder nonetheless to preserve the land we live on.
Here’s an excerpt:
If my own two sons, ages 20 and 22, are any indication, they fear that powerful lobbies have the power to purchase at will the Congress and the White House. The public’s land and resources are too easily turned over to the “drill, baby, drill” gang.
Sadly, they are right. What’s happening is clear: This land, our land, the public’s land, is being seized in ever increasing measure for development. More precisely, it is being leased to oil and gas companies.
It is my worst nightmare to awake from camping, as I did this summer next to the French Broad River in North Carolina, to discover a bull-dozer clearing the public land for an oil rig. But this isn’t a bad dream, it’s commonplace around this land of ours. . . .
It’s about saving a bit of God’s gift of plentiful natural resources for future generations. Call it a campaign to “save a bit of heaven.”
Why cast it this way? The New Testament scholar N.T. Wright in his book “Simply Jesus” puts it as follows: “Within Jesus’s world, the word ‘heaven’ could be a referent way of saying ‘God,’ and in any case, part of the point of ‘heaven’ is that it wasn’t detached, wasn’t a long way off, but was always the plan from which ‘earth’ was to be run. When, in the book of Daniel, people speak about ‘the God of heaven,’ the point is that this God is in charge on earth and will eventually set up his own kingdom there.”
I recently had the privilege of meeting Soong-Chan Rah, who I think is one of the brightest prophetic voices in American evangelicalism. The video below is wide-ranging, but it hits many of big points of his terrific book The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity. I especially appreciate his point, early on in this clip, that all the reports about the decline of faith are really quite ethnocentric because they’re focused primarily on white religion, especially middle-class white evangelicalism. If you look at the Global South or immigrant communities in the U.S., you’ll find faith that is vibrant and growing.
Last year Plowshares, a Central Kentucky group I lead that promotes peace and reconciliation, met for Hummus Night. It was a great evening. We all brought our own hummus to share. We screened a documentary film called Make Hummus, Not War, a film that was equal parts whimsical and serious. And then had a discussion about whether a regional love of hummus might be the recipe for peace in the Middle East. On a more concrete level, we discussed how hospitality and embodied interactions with our enemies help lead to healthier and more peaceful relationships.
Here’s a trailer for the film:
As a follow-up to my last post on John Perkins, founder of the the Christian Community Development Association . . . This week (September 11-14) the CCDA is holding its 25th annual conference in New Orleans. The theme is Cultivate: to foster growth; to tend, prepare and improve. Among the featured speakers are Michelle Alexander, Leroy Barber, Father Greg Boyle, and Barbara Williams-Skinner.
Here’s their description of this year’s event:
For a quarter of a century CCDA has proclaimed this passage by word and deed. Men and women across the country and around the world have been given grace, and in turn, together offer Good News to the poor. We live in under-resourced neighborhoods, challenge racism, represent and present the love of Jesus, and involve ourselves in issues of justice. As a result, life is cultivated in the hearts of the poor and in devastated places “bestowing crowns of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of despair.” Isaiah 61:3
The cultivated ones – “the planting” – who are identified as “Oaks of Righteousness”, display the splendor, beauty, grace, and power of the Lord. They are being renewed by the Spirit and are endowed with spiritual power to further cultivate hope and change, reclaiming our wasted cities.
We must cultivate these “Oaks of Righteousness” because Isaiah 61:4 is clear, “They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.”
John Perkins, known in the early 1970s as a “a Bible-believing fundamentalist for black power (which overstates things on both ends), has enjoyed a successful career as a mentor to urban workers. Among other things, he founded the thriving Christian Community Development Association. Check out an interview with Perkins here and here.
For more on Perkins, see Chapter 2 of Moral Minority. Here’s a short excerpt from the book:
After witnessing his brother’s shooting death at the hands of a white deputy marshal, Perkins and his wife Vera Mae moved to California, vowing never to return to the South. After a conversion in 1957 to evangelical Christianity in a black holiness church and then growing prominence as an evangelist in the mushrooming evangelical subculture of southern California, Perkins felt an irresistible call to return to the rural areas surrounding Jackson, Mississippi, to evangelize poor blacks. When he returned in 1960, Perkins, concentrating on building a new congregation, at first dismissed the emerging civil rights movement. He had come, after all, to save souls, not stamp out Jim Crow. But as he toured poor black areas like “Baptist Bottom,” “Sullivan’s Holler,” and “Rabbit Road” in a beat-up old Volkswagen wearing ragged blue jeans, faded sports shirt, and dusty black shoes, Perkins noticed the “desperate physical needs of many of our people.” He discovered that “real evangelism brings a person face to face with all the needs of a person. We had to see people not just as souls but as whole people.” Perkins adjusted his approach, and by 1965 he had built a thriving mission which included a day-care center, a gym, a playground, and a cooperative farming store in addition to a church.
As Perkins addressed the spiritual and social needs of his parishioners, he could not escape the obvious link between economic degradation and the southern caste system. His view of the civil rights movement accordingly softened, and Perkins allowed activists to stay at his Voice of Calvary mission during Freedom Summer in 1964. Though his reputation among civil rights activists was mixed in the mid-1960s, Perkins shifted further toward activism after suffering a beating in the late 1960s from white policemen. Faith was politics, Perkins subsequently began to argue. “’New birth in Jesus,” he said, “meant waging war against segregation just as much as it meant putting the honky-tonks and juke joints out of business.” “Racism,” in fact, “is satanic, and I knew it would take a supernatural force to defeat it.” By 1970 Perkins’ active pursuit of racial justice had gained him a reputation as “a Bible-believing fundamentalist for black power.” The emerging evangelical left chronicled his exploits in community development and evangelism, and he eventually became a minor evangelical celebrity, befriended by evangelical luminaries such as Carl Henry, Billy Graham, and Nixon hatchet man-turned-prison evangelist Charles Colson. Senator Mark Hatfield called Perkins “a modern saint.” Starting in the early 1970s he spoke at Billy Graham crusades, political prayer breakfasts in Washington, and InterVarsity’s Urbana conferences. He wrote in the pages of Sojourners, Christianity Today, Decision, Campus Life, and Moody Monthly. His autobiography Let Justice Roll Down became a bestseller, ranking fourth for a time in the 1970s in the sale of religious paperbacks. All the while, whites in Jackson treated him with hostility and indifference, a reality that stunned northern student volunteers who traveled south to work with Perkins.
At the beginning of each semester, I ask my students to call me David, not Dr. Swartz. Part of the reason I ask them to use my first name is because my religious tradition trained me that way. Raised a Mennonite and nurtured on the language of the “priesthood of all believers,” we never called our preachers “Reverend” but instead addressed them by their first name. We didn’t balk at titles of endearment (like Schnookums), mostly just those of hierarchy.
There is a pedagogical reason as well. I want to create an environment of collaboration. Sure, I know more history than my students, and sometimes (!) I even lecture. But getting them to talk back encourages them to think empathetically, process narratives critically, and view history as an interpretive, not a factual, project. I want my students to see me as an intellectual guide more than an all-knowing god. More than once, I’ve observed students who seemed comfortable in their own skin move suddenly to obsequiousness when I’m introduced as “Dr. Swartz.” It seems to shut down conversations.
Pop sociologist Malcolm Gladwell has written about the potential dangers posed by deference to authority. In fact, he devoted an entire chapter of his book Outliers to this phenomenon in trying to explain the dismal record of Korean Air in the 1990s. Numerous times co-pilots, who were taught to be incredibly deferential toward their superiors, did not correct a pilot in error, which resulted in crashes. He cited the Wall Street Journal, which contended that at least one crash “involved Korea’s authoritarian culture, reflected in a hiring and promotion policy that favors former military fliers over civilians. Too often, the effect has been friction that hampers the pilot teamwork needed to fly Western-built jets.” This example is perhaps overdramatic, but it does point to how hierarchy can impede real dialogue.
There is also the biblical case against titles. The trajectory of Scripture heads in an egalitarian direction, from a set-apart class of religious leaders to a priesthood of all believers who are instructed to use the non-hierarchical terms “brother” and “sister” when addressing co-religionists. This is a compelling argument to students at the Wesleyan college I teach at, at least the ones who aren’t Anglican.
Not all of my students—especially those from the Deep South who were reared to use titles as a sign of respect—can bring themselves to call me by my first name. (Christine Heyrman is helpful in understanding why.) But most of them, especially the blue-collar staff on campus and the large numbers of students who come from lower-middle class homes in the North and Appalachia, grow to really like it. They use my first name tentatively at first—and then enthusiastically as they become more comfortable and invested in classroom discussions.
After six long years in a doctoral program, I remember the minor thrill of being called Dr. Swartz by my first students. To be sure, the Ph.D. was an important marker of my intellectual growth and professional development. But was it really necessary to remind students of my credential every. single. time. they addressed me? About two years in, after the thrill of my new credential wore off, I decided that I would try to strengthen my professorial identity with a little less hierarchy and ego—and a little more emphasis on scholarly rigor and creative teaching. I think my classroom is more engaged and humane as a result.
*** Cross-posted at the Anxious Bench ***
Follow.Jesus.2013’s final meeting, a Sunday morning church service, was striking. It followed a Friday evening roast of Ron Sider, the 40-year face of Evangelicals for Social Action, and Saturday’s more academic consideration of the organization’s legacy. The service was a glimpse of moderate evangelicalism’s future: a woman (Heidi Unruh) presiding, a black worship band leading music, and the new faces of ESA—Al Tizon and Paul Alexander (the pair who will be leading the organization using a “consensus model”)—leading communion.
The new look was made all the more striking when the beloved Sider, a middle-aged buttoned-down, low-tech, Swiss-German white guy, commissioned his successors. Tizon, a Twitter-using Filipino-American, and the pony-tail-wearing Alexander. Tizon, an ordained minister in the Evangelical Covenant Church, has extensive experience as a missionary and community organizer, primarily in the Philippines with Action International Ministries from 1989 to 1998. From 1993-98, he served as the founding director of LIGHT Ministries, a Filipino community development organization committed to”empowering churches to empower their communities in Christ’s name. He is the author of Transformation after Lausanne: Radical Evangelical Mission in Global-Local Perspective (Regnum 2008).
Alexander emerged from less likely origins. A child of God-and-country Pentecostalism and a graduate of Baylor, he has tried to move his tradition toward an agenda of peacemaking. He helps lead Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice and serves on the editorial board of Pax Pneuma. He may have lost his God-and-country vibe, but he sure hasn’t shed his tradition’s charisma. He speaks with a bouncy cadence and carries himself with breathless enthusiasm.
It needs to be said, however, that the new ESA also represents significant continuity. In their mini-sermons, Tizon and Alexander both talked a lot about Jesus, justice, and peacemaking—all long-standing emphases of Sider. Even the theme of globalization is not very new. After all, Ron Sider did write a pretty important book called Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger! Still, the intensity seems to be ratcheting even higher. Talk of the rise of the Global South abounded. The many references to my esteemed co-blogger Philip Jenkins seemed too many to count. As Alexander, who has rebuffed the superpatriotism of his Pentecostal childhood, and Tizon, who embodies a kind of global reflex, presided over the communion service, the persistence of ESA’s global dimensions was palpable.
- “Churches and institutions have been enriched by generations of immigrants from every part of the world. A lot of pollsters like to break out the opinions of “white evangelicals.” But as you see from the group of leaders gathered here, one of the most remarkable features of evangelical Christianity in the United States is its ethnic diversity. [I venture to say that in any American city, if you look at churches founded in the last twenty years, the vast majority are evangelical or Pentecostal, and a great number are founded by immigrants or the children of immigrants.] And the more you are a leader in this movement, the more you become aware of the strength of that diversity and how much of it comes from recently arrived residents and citizens.”
In many cases, some of that strength comes in the form of livelier—and longer!—worship services. As the morning service wound down, Tizon noted the late hour. He then grinned and said, “Welcome to the multicultural church!”
*For a sample of Alexander and Tizon’s multicultural approach, click here.