Archives For Social Justice

On July 27, 2014

The Good Samaritan

Picture from the NY Times of Dr. Brantly in Liberia

Picture from the NY Times of Dr. Brantly in Liberia

I don’t know Kent Brantly, but judging from my social media feeds most of my friends do. And from what they’re saying about him, I wish I did.

Kent and I are the same age, we both went to ACU, a Christian University in town, where he started working toward becoming a doctor.

A few months ago, Kent was working in a private medical practice in Texas, but he left that to be a medical missionary working with Samaritan’s Purse.  Just last week he was pictured in the New York times story on the outbreak of the Ebola virus in Liberia. When the outbreak occurred, his wife and two kids came back to Texas, but Kent didn’t. He stayed because he couldn’t abandon these people who needed him, in the moments that they needed him most.

And then Kent contracted Ebola.

All over my little world, I’m reading status’ shared and prayers offered for the Brantly family and specifically for Kent’s healing. It’s a heartbreaking story of a young father who gets the very disease he’s sacrificed so much to stop.

As a father, with children the same age, I’ve had a dull ache in the pit of stomach since I heard this story. I hope, along with lots of other people, for nothing less than a full recovery for them. I noticed last night, as I was reading through all the different prayer requests on Facebook for their family, it seems like most of us are reaching for the same language to pray for them.

We are asking for a miracle.

Miracle is an interesting word, because it’s actually not in the Bible that much…just a couple of dozen times, mostly in the New Testament. And it’s almost always referring to signs that point to the Kingdom of God, sometimes they were signs that involved things like impossible healings.

But when most of us American Christians think about a miracle what we are thinking about is really another word: “Super-natural”

We are wanting something that is outside of the natural realm of experience.

Survival of the Fittest

Charles Darwin’s great contribution to the world was his revelation about the way the world, and the species in it, have developed. His research helped to explain how death and survival were tied together, and helped us understand a little better how the universe worked.

This is a crude shorthand sketch of what Darwin taught us, but it basically was that the weakest, most vulnerable species, were the ones who death would eventually sort out of the gene pool.

You’ve heard of this as the survival of the fittest. It just means that death and disease force adaptation and change, sickness is something to be avoided or overcome, but ultimately (and hopefully later rather than sooner) each of us will die and our little experience of life will be a part of the grand thing that everything and everyone is progressing toward.

Some people like Nietzche saw the outworking of this theory very clearly. This is why Nietzche hailed the upcoming Uber-man that would develop because all the sick, weak, and poor people would be weeded out by natural selection.

That’s natural.

Dr. Brantly caring for patients in his Hazmat suit

Dr. Brantly caring for patients in his Hazmat suit

But throughout Christian history Jesus followers have chosen the most un-Darwinian like subjects to love. All because of the bizarre things that Jesus’ said 2000 years ago, Things like “Whatever you do for the sick, poor and needy, you’ve actually done for Me” To those of us in the Bible Belt, they are little phrases sound like they belong stitched and framed in a calligraphy font or on a porcelain commemorative plate.

But this is exactly what the earliest Christians were famous for.

In the mid 3rd century a plague broke out in the city of Rome that was so severe it killed 5,000 people in just one day. It wasn’t Ebola this time, but in it’s day it was just as deadly.

People responded, just like you’d imagine, with great panic. Everyone fled as quickly as possible, they abandoned the city in such a hurry that they actually left people dying in the streets and dead bodies unburied throughout the city. They had learned through thousands of years of experience that to touch these bodies would be risking the transfer of the disease.

But…

In that city, there was a small community who followed a man who would touch lepers while they were unclean; and who expected his disciples to take care of the sick.

One early church father, a guy named Dionysius wrote about what these early Christians did during moments like the great plagues:

“Heedless of the danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need, and ministering to them in Christ. And with them departed this life seemingly happy, for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors, and cheerfully accepting their pains.”

Un-Natural Selection

Last night when I was praying over this little family and the turmoil they must be going through I wondered if they knew just what they were doing when they went over there, I wonder if we know what we’re doing when we’re praying for them.

I see all my friends asking for a miracle, and I want what we all want too, for this family to be restored and whole.

But don’t get so caught up asking for a miracle that you fail to see the one that’s right in front of you. Someone who didn’t have to, left a life of privilege to bear in the suffering of the world. Someone who’s very education depended on learning about natural selection, said something wildly unnatural like “I’m not going to leave these dying people when they need me the most.”

Our wounded world needs some good Samaritans, and it turns out she’s still got a few.

That a family who didn’t have to, would have a heart so un-naturally attuned to bearing in the suffering of the world, and even daring to draw some of it to themselves…That’s more than just humanitarian aid.

It’s a miracle.

130521083430-01-ok-tornado-0521-horizontal-galleryIt’s been a heavy week. Especially if you live in Oklahoma.

But It’s been a hard week for anyone with a heart, we’ve all seen the pictures and video, and most of us have gone home and hugged the people we love a little harder.

Maybe you heard about the theological and political debates that it immediately spawned, or maybe you didn’t. But let me tell you what I’ve learned: Whenever something tragic like this happens, we immediately see two things happen. People try to leverage the event for more power or influence, and some people run to it to serve the ones who are hurting.

Why Bad Things Happen

So there’s this one time where Jesus is walking toward Jerusalem and some religious people stop him and ask him a pretty pointed question. They ask Jesus about these current events where some Galillean Jews had gone to the Temple and Pilate, for some reason, had gone in and slaughtered them

And so they were wanting some commentary from Jesus on why this happened.

Now in asking Jesus this question about suffering they are conjuring up all kinds of images, and thoughts that were common in the 1st century.

Actually they are common in all centuries.

They’re asking why, why does this happen, what does God think about this, is God angry, is this God’s punishment? They’re just enunciating a question that has been around since time began.

And that’s why Jesus answers the way He does. He brings up a natural disaster, and he tells them that these people didn’t die because they were more guilty, that we are all broken.

Now I think what Jesus does here is pretty genius. He doesn’t let them draw a straight line from cause and effect for specific sin to specific punishment.

Which is what religious leaders sometimes do, it seems like every time there is a natural catastrophe someone will try to leverage others pain for their own temporary glory. It’s started within two hours of the Moore tornado, because it always does. But I’ve noticed when they say that a certain catastrophe was due to a specific sin they tend to say that it’s a sin that they don’t struggle with.

No religious leader ever says the reason God sent that earthquake is because they were being materialistic, or prideful.

But Jesus response to tragedies like this isn’t to name a specific sin, but to point that there is this deep brokenness in the world. And unless we forget it’s in us too.

That’s why Jesus says Repent, because we are part of the problem, but we can also be a part of the solution.

In fact, as soon as I hear about tragedies like this week, I immediately wonder how long it will take before the world sees the church show up.

Because It seems like we always do.

When the Saints Come Marching In265904e9a0dbb6758fffb87f7635fe87

A few chapters earlier in the same Gospel, Jesus starting getting people to help share in his ministry. He sends out 72 of his followers to different villages to preach and to heal.

And when they get back, they say, “even the demons submit to us in your name.”And Jesus responds with something that I love. He says:

“I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

He saw Satan fall like Lightening.

The disciples has been walking over hot sand, knocking on doors, asking to see the sick, announcing the coming of Jesus. All their actions took place in the visible world, which they could touch, smell and see.

But Jesus sees more, he saw that those actions in the visible world were having a startling impact on the invisible world. What we do has both personal and cosmological implications.

When natural disasters happen, it always takes me to dark places for a bit. When Leslie and I were at the Hills Church we did Tsunami relief and it was incredibly beautiful and tragic to hear the stories. It all started because one of our members saw the Tsunami on television and flew directly to the worst hit part of Sri Lanka and started making large promises on behalf of the church. And they kept them!

Earlier this week I spent the afternoon with Jon and Joann Jones. A few years ago the Burmese people had a horrible cyclone hit their refuge camp and do great damage, and if you remember that, when you heard that story you had to wonder where is God in that? But while all that was going on my friend Jon Jones was over there.

He’s been going over there for many years, working with those people, trying to get them food. He once told me that he couldn’t see an American dollar anymore without thinking about how much rice it will buy.

But I started thinking about it, this whole time, I was seeing that picture and asking where is God?

This week as soon as heard the story about Oklahoma and the great tragedy of Moore joining the great tragedies of history. I started hearing stories about elementary school teachers protecting their children at great risk to themselves. I immediately started hearing stories about churches and first responders making sacrifices and opening homes for victims.

It’s easy to pontificate and theologize about why bad things like tornadoes and tsunamis happen. It’s easy to use them as a platform to further whatever particular axe you have to grind, but let me tell you who you want to listen to right now. Ask the first responders and those churches who have skin in the game.

Ask the saints who are marching in.

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On July 3, 2012

#eternalthreads

So this is a short video about the trip that Matt Pinson (The Highland Director of Communications) and I just got back from. We’d like to get the word out about what is happening in Nepal and ways that Gospel centered people are trying to stop sexual trafficking in creative and significant ways, so if you have a moment please click the share button at the bottom of this page to share this story with your friends.

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On June 20, 2012

The Red Thread Movement

So I just returned from a couple of weeks in Nepal working with the ministry Eternal Threads. It’s a great ministry that I highly commend that is working to create connections between 3rd and 1st world countries, and providing fair trade opportunities for some of the most vulnerable people in the world. One part of the Eternal Threads ministry is something called the Red Thread Movement, and what it is doing for the girls in Nepal is unreal!

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On January 16, 2012

More Than Civil

What stands out about Dr. King in this video is how he treated these people, and how he responded to the face of some pretty insidious seeming questions. He was extremely civil. In our day, these kinds of conversations would have been filled with lots of yelling and red-faced name calling. But that wasn’t what Dr. King’s dream was.

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On January 31, 2011

The Human Capital


By now, most of us have heard of Ted Williams. The Homeless man with the Golden Voice, who was discovered by a Good Samaritan with a video camera and the foresight to introduce Ted to the world via YouTube. You’ve probably heard about Ted’s rise to fame over the past few weeks. He voiced a Kraft Mac & Cheese commercial. He was offered the announcer job by the Cleveland Cavs (who know what it’s like to fall on hard times). Maybe you even saw him on Dr. Phil as he was confronted by his family to stop drinking.

Suddenly he is a household name and his fifteen minutes are ticking. But his story has gotten me thinking.

One of my heroes is a guy named Larry James. Larry was a preacher for many years, he has spent his life telling the Jesus story. But these days Larry doesn’t do it from a pulpit. Several years ago, he started a ministry some of you might be familiar with. It’s called Central Dallas Ministries,(Recently re-named City Square) and it exists to do something about human suffering in Dallas…specifically about homelessness and poverty.

But what is interesting to me about Larry, is that he is adamant about his approach to ministry. He refuses to do ministry for people. He wants to do it with them.

I like that. Because we have a real propensity to work out of an us/them mentality. And this is where Larry James has helped me out so much. Most of the time we think about helping other people, we tend to think in terms of charity, or tax breaks, or hand-outs. But there is a better way.

I read Jay-Z’s book DeCoded last week, and in there he quoted a Jewish Rabbi about this particular issue. (I’ll let you fill in your own joke about a rapper quoting a Rabbi). This Rabbi pointed out that in Orthodox Judaism, there are 8 different levels to giving. The 7th is to give anonymously, which is a way to give without forcing dehumanizing the other person. But the 8th, and top form of generosity, is to give in a way that makes the recipient not feel like they are dependent on another’s hand-out, but somehow self-sufficient. This way, Rabbi Jay-Z argues, does not take away a person’s dignity. Continue Reading…

On January 21, 2011

Mistaken Arrangements

I stumbled upon this video by Walter Brueggemann a few days ago. He’s describing the kind of prophetic vision of what Justice means in the Scriptures. And he’s doing it for a conference that is all about Justice. Which from looking at, sounds like an amazing conference. But it did get me thinking: Since when did Christians hold conferences on Justice? Since I’ve been around, most of our conferences are on preaching, or church leadership. But then it struck me, this conference isn’t for churches. Not once in the brochure did the word church show up. It’s a Christian conference for Jesus-followers, complete with worship leaders and Christian speakers talking about Biblical Justice. But it’s not for churches.

Because church leaders probably won’t show up.

Several times this week I have had significant conversations, with different people, about what Justice looks like in this time and place. Now these conversations are not new for me to stumble into. Unless someone has their head in the sand, it’s easy to recognize that God is stirring this passion up in the world again. Unfortunately, some (but not all) of our churches are the final ones to recognize this.

But I’ve been lucky. Continue Reading…

On January 18, 2011

Living the Dream

It’s easy to relegate Dr. King’s vision for a more just world to a time of historic importance. But his was a vision without an expiration date, and it’s one that makes important demands of Jesus followers for all time.

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On September 2, 2010

It Happens

So last night I went, for the first time, to Grace Fellowship, a community ministry of the Highland Church.  Grace is in a lower socio-economic area of town, and it’s primary goal is to take church to the people. One of my favorite aspects of Grace, is that across the street there is a community garden, where the neighbors can go plant, harvest and eat their own fruit and vegetables.

But that got me thinking. Continue Reading…

On March 15, 2010

Communitas

I’ve written on this blog before about Robert Putnam’s work in his book “Bowling Alone.”  He makes the observation that has been cited by hundreds of different authors and speakers that while bowling as a whole is on the rise, bowling league participation is drastically reduced. That is more people are bowling, but they are bowling alone.

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