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If Pakistan Matters

March 31, 2008

unfinishedtower.jpgPerhaps it would seem strange that on a site like Jesus Manifesto, I would argue for state education as one of the keys for undermining the state. But so often I hear the talk of revolution, talk of changing the world, talk of globalization, and talk of a new kind of Jesus centered kingdom permeating the world, but my first question is, “How?” How can such a movement begin? How can we be catalysts for change in the midst of world-wide chaos in places like Iraq? I just finished reading an article on pandemonium in Pakistan, and I had a thought:

I really wish I spoke Urdu.

Living in California, I wish that I could speak the language that almost half of my fellow citizens speak. When my roommates and I talk about subverting the culture that immigrants are forced to endure in California, I have another thought:

I really wish I spoke Spanish.

It is thoughts like these that make me wish I would have tried harder in my Spanish classes. It is thoughts like these that make me wish I would have taken Arabic in my time here at Azusa Pacific University. It is thoughts like these that make me think that those four years of high school are the most pivotal if we want to really bring about radical change for Jesus Christ. I read a lot of Christian blogs, but few of them deal with a Christian approach to economics. Granted, the word “economics” brings up a negative feeling among most evangelical Christians because we are told to be against the culture of consumerism and hedonism that the American Empire represents, but don’t we all have some system of economics? We might admit that as Christians we have a subversive type of economic system, but it is still an economic system. And then I hear another thought:

I wish I had studied harder in my economics and government classes.

If we are really about change—if we really think Pakistan matters—we will learn the language of the Pakistani people, we will study their culture, and we will actually put our feet on the ground in grass roots organizations of social change for the betterment of Jesus Christ and his radically different kingdom. We can build an alternative society there that gives people other options besides running to the state for change. It is often assumed that revolutionaries do not have to work as hard as the “hard working American capitalist,” but this is simply not the case. The revolutionary might have to learn new languages, might have to deconstruct whole economic systems and start out anew with new small-scale economies that justly and fairly treat the least of these. The revolutionary might have to take far less pay than what they are entitled to for the amount of hours that they put in.

I am reminded in part of one of the lesser known parables of Jesus:

“Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”(Luke 14:25-34)

In other words, Jesus said there are a lot of people who are willing to build houses, but few are willing to do the hard work to finish it. Are we going to be revolutionaries one minute and in the next minute give up because it is too hard? If that is the case, Jesus says it is better not even to start.

Author Bio:: Danny is a senior at Azusa Pacific University. He likes to think of revolutionary ways to serve Jesus that are beyond the usual Christian cliches. He hopes to become a professional boxer or perhaps even a world entertainment wrestler. If those two do not work out, he will probably become a high school history teacher when he graduates this year. He keeps a blog at www.coldfire.wordpress.com

My name is Jonas

March 30, 2008

We’ve been flooded with congratulations over the past few days. Our son Jonas entered the world on Friday morning. We arrived home Sunday afternoon and are trying to figure out our new life together as a family.

I thought you all might be interested in some pictures:

peace.jpgThis first picture demonstrates Jonas’ natural state. These early days of his life on the “outside” have been filled with sleeping and eating. So far, he hasn’t been too fussy, though he had some bouts with gas that left him a bit disagreeable. In days ahead, when he demonstrates the darker depths of his human nature, I will remember this look on his face, sigh, and respond with love.

jonas3.jpgIn my opinion, Jonas has a skeptical look on his face in this picture. Some would say that the intense pensiveness of his aspect supports the notion that my son is a genius of the highest caliber. That, paired with a rather robust name like “Jonas Elliott Van Steenwyk,” indicates that he is likely to be a theologian or philosopher. With my gentle tutelage, he will balance his intellectual side with an activist flair, making him something of a William Stringfellow or Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Such speculations may seem premature, but I think the picture speaks for itself.

happyfam3.jpgThis final picture is of Jonas and his proud parents. Amy really outdid herself in birthing Jonas. The labor was fairly long (22 hours) and without pain medication. She struggled through labor with resolute determination and good spirits. This was due in part to the support of our friend Kirstin and Amy’s mom, Mari. Kirstin has attended a number of births and was a boost to Amy’s morale. Mari is a nurse and a mom, so her relationship with Amy paired with her nursing skills were hugely helpful.

I helped as much as I could…but for the most part I felt helpless and small. In the end, my respect and love for Amy have deepened and my love for my new son is fresh and new.

Baby Van Steenwyk!

March 28, 2008

its-a-boy.jpgSo if Mark’s status messages on Facebook and Gmail are accurate, Jonas Elliot Van Steenwyk has finally arrived on Earth after nearly 8 years of Mark and Amy trying to conceive a child.  They were toying around with the process of adoption when this beautiful blessing decided to show up. Early word on the street is that Jonas was born weighing 7lbs, 12 oz. and is 21 3/4″ long.

Now let’s just hope Jonas turns out to be more like Amy than Mark. :)

Feel free to write them a congratulatory note or a joy-filled comment. Mark may kill me for posting this on his “According to Mark” section, so the more celebratory remarks the better. Otherwise, my chances of staying on as co-editor for more than a week fall drastically.

Congrats Mark and Amy! We’ll be expecting a picture soon.

Christian Social Mobility

March 26, 2008

nosocialmobility.jpgMany of the latest posts on JM (that’s what the cool kids are calling it now a days) have instinctively moved towards discussions on race, class, privilege, guilt, and repentance (See here, here, and here). Regardless of our anxiety levels when these topics are brought to light, we cannot hide from them. We must admit through communal and personal reflection where we are parked on the “mountain,” and go from there. We may even be led by the Holy Spirit to conclude that our task as kings of the inherited mountain is to work our way down off the summit as much as possible. To guard the crest of the peak with the double artillery of white flight and gentrification is in effect to dribble Jesus further down the hill.

But where do we even start? Passionate Christians who are eager to combine their religious principles with their social values eventually find their way over to groups like Jim Wallis’ Sojourners. With their emphasis on global action and social justice, it can be hard to find a blemish. Combine this faith-based outlook with their massive network, growing book deals, and burgeoning grassroots culture, and you potentially have a colossal mountain bulldozer on your hands. This demolishing usually takes place through the avenues of political lobbying and the promotion of awareness on a mass scale. With enough signatures, change can happen…hope can arrive on the scene…and those at the bottom of the mountain can be brought to the top.

The efforts of activist groups like Sojourners is to be much-admired, but the typical avenues employed may need to be reconsidered by disciples of a guy who never turned to the machine of the Empire to initiate change. Many fall into Wallis’ camp simply by being disgusted at the Religious Right and turned off by the Liberal Left. With nowhere else to turn, they become a Sojourner (that is my personal story). But where are all the other models of social empowering that Christians can latch onto that do not revolve around politicking and legislation? How about back in the medieval period? (And if you are picturing a quirky dinner scene where you eat roasted chicken with your hands and watch actors joust it out in front of you…it’s ok…me too…but I call dibs on the blue knight).

The Middle Ages saw sweeping reform in the Church, and for good reason. Both the monastic life and the papacy, once the ideals of Christian livelihood, had become corrupt with greed, simony, and cheap grace. Monks like Bernard of Clairvaux renewed their orders with a return to the rigorous vows of obedience, poverty, and celibacy while popes like Leo IX did the same in their high office. Simony (the act of buying and selling of ecclesiastical posts) was one of the worst enemies to the Church, but not just for the obvious reasons of greed and power hording. As it stood, kings and influential nobles could directly appoint bishops and abbots to their positions. Those people could in turn birth a son and have him appointed much in the same way. Therefore, the program of reformation had to include both outlawing simony and promoting clerical celibacy if it was to protect the social mobility capable within the Church. As Christian historian Justo Gonzalez writes:

“There was a connection between these two [celibacy and simony], for in the feudal society, the church was one of the few institutions in which there still existed a measure of social mobility…but this social mobility was threatened by the practice of simony, which would guarantee that only the rich would occupy high offices…If to this was added clerical marriage, those who held high office would seek to pass it on to their children, and thus the church would come to reflect exclusively the interests of the rich and the powerful.” (The Story of Christianity, 283)

In the feudal network, you were born into what you would always be. If your father was a serf, you were born into working that same plot of land and protecting that same noble. Serfs bound not only themselves but all of their future heirs, assuring their family’s place in the lowest class of society for generations to come. But it was in the Church where this makeshift caste-system didn’t always play out. There was an elasticity of the power grid of the Church that didn’t exist anywhere else in medieval culture. Simple peasants could become monks. Stay at it long enough, and you’d become an abbot. If your reputation for holiness grew, you could find yourself climbing the ranks towards the Papacy. Many Popes started as simple monks (and in fact, had to be dragged into ecclesiastical office kicking and screaming).

But even more astounding, there was a downward mobility offered in the Christian life as seen in the biographies of men like Francis of Assisi and Antony of the Desert. When these men encountered the Gospel, radical devotion pressed them to give up all they had, join in solidarity with the poor, and live a life of absolute obedience to God. Neither of these great saints started that way. Francis was born into the merchant class. Anthony had enough of an inheritance to permit a comfortable life. Both were compelled to climb down the “mountain.” The Empire offered a system that condemned you to your culturally authorized spot, be it one of enormous privilege or never-ending serfdom. It was the Church that had a fluid structure that allowed for upward and downward social mobility.

The Hard Questions:

1. Is social mobility even a worthy goal of Christian reform in the first place?

2. Should working for mobility extend outside the confines of the Church into the public sphere?

3. Does the Church make room in its own structure for mobility? Is there a subtle feudalism in our own garden?

4. Are there certain “zoning laws” on the mountain that prevent upward and downward social mobility even within the Church?

5. Should these laws be taken off the books? Could we remove them even if we wanted to?

Co-Editorialishness: An Update

March 26, 2008

I’ve made a couple decisions regarding the editorial philosophy of JM. With the day of my son’s birth rapidly approaching, I decided to seek out 2 co-editors to help with the load. Initially, this will help me take time with my family, but in the future having co-editors will help us increase our content capacity.

And so, JM will have a co-editor who will be “in charge” of content for the praxis and doxis sections, and one in charge of culture and aesthetics. I will still oversee overall editorial stuff, as well as the satire section. In the future…if we ever grow enough to necessitate it, I could see there being an editor for each section.

I’m happy to say that one of the co-editorships has been filled. I would like to formally announce that we have a new co-editor, Mike Cline. Mike will be overseeing content for the praxis and doxis sections. Mike is not only a friend, but everything he has written for JM in the past has been solid. And I have no doubt in his editorial abilities. I’m looking forward to working with Mike.  You can find his bio (along with mine) on the Editors page.

And so, I’m still looking for a co-editor. I’m looking for someone who feels inspired to tackle our culture and aesthetics sections:

  • In culture, we apply our lens to the world around us as we explore sociological trends, postmodernity, politics…you name it.
  • In aesthetics, we explore beauty through our senses: images, music, film, poetry, and the culinary arts.

I’ll be honest…these sections need the most love. It takes a different skill set to have a vision for these sections. But they are important to my overall vision for JM. I want to move JM into broader content, cultural commentary, reflections upon art and film and music, discussions of kingdom living in the global landscape, etc. Basically, I am always trying to move Jesus Manifesto beyond a webmag that talks about the ideas and practices of Christian life into how those ideas and practices interact with the complexities of 21st Century earth. Kinda like a Slate.com with a radical Christian core.

So, if you kinda meet the job description, and want to explore these areas (which includes writing content, editing submissions, and hunting for new content) in front of a growing readership, please contact me.

Book Review: Tim & Jesus Go to Church

March 25, 2008

jesusgoestochurch1.jpgThe book would make for a great sitcom: a pastor roadtrip across the United States, critiquing several church along the way. Henderson believes that evangelism requires listening to “the good, the bad and the ugly about Christianity in order to be a better minister.” So he invited Jesus, the Son of God and supposed “founder” of Christianity, to observe how modern American Christians are doing with the movement he started. Their travels took them to an urban outreach church, an Emergent church, a new monastic community, a liberal mainline church, and to an evangelical megachurch.

In the book, Tim and Jesus discuss everything from preaching to music to location. Every step of the way, Jesus asks, “Why do these churches have such different ideas on what it means to follow me?” As a reader, I was drawn into the dialog and experiences. In a way, the book offers very few easy answers. But it does show that while each of the churches has an honest approach to following the way of Jesus (except maybe Osteen’s Church), each community can learn much more from the way of the master.

Because the book revolves around the five communities that Tim and Jesus visit, I thought it to be appropriate to share the highlights of their experiences of each. In particular, Jesus has a lot to say:

City Light International Street Mission

Tim and Jesus fist visit City Light International Street Mission, a small urban Pentecostal community in Nashville. The book is generous in their description. You could tell that both Jesus and Tim were weirded-out by the raw emotionalism and “pentecostal bells and whistles” of the worship service. But they were soft in their criticisms.

At one point in this section of the book, Tim states: “You could tell that the Mission doesn’t have the funding to reach out to these folks…but they do it anyways…that is commendable.” (22)
Jesus affirmed their heart for the poor: “When they serve these friends of mine, it is like they are serving me.” (22)

But their experience wasn’t entirely positive. At one point during the very loud and frenzied worship service, the pastor started prophesying that a “new move of the Spirit” would visit the church and spark a new revival for the healing of the nations. At the end of the prophecy, Jesus stood up and said: “I have already told you. The Kingdom of God is among you. Stop looking for signs and wonders, and follow the gentle leading of my Spirit.” Afterwards, Jesus got rebuked…and one elder attempted to “deliver” Jesus from a “spirit of rebellion.” (45-47)

The Livingroom

Next, Tim and Jesus visited The Livingroom, an Emergent-style church in Chicago. Tim thoroughly enjoyed himself, but Jesus fell asleep during the music portion of the gathering. He said: “It was so atmospheric. What is it with urban hipsters and their mellow music? At least the music at City Light was joyous…and City Light even had a song of lament.” (68)

During their visit, the pastor gave a sermon about social justice…and how the Gospel was more about what you do than what you say…and that what you say isn’t really that important if you show love. Afterwards, Tim and Jesus got into a deep conversation about whether or not they agreed. Tim tended to agree with the statement, but Jesus disagreed: “I was sitting there listening to this pastor tell his flock how I wasn’t very interested in preaching and proclaiming the Gospel. That upset me. Can’t he read? Doesn’t he notice how much RED there is in the Gospels?

Humility House

Humility House is one of a growing number of “new monastic” communities. Located in a poor part of Denver, Humility House practices hospitality, care for the poor, and engages in the occasional protest. There community is made up of about 12 members–8 of them living in the house.

Tim felt that the community was warm and inviting, but didn’t “get” what it was they were hoping to accomplish: “I affirm their community and that they help a few people out from time to time, but this isn’t the sort of model that most Christians can follow. And it could put off a lot of seekers.”

Jesus disagreed: “These are my kind of hippies. These sorts of radicals really connect with an important part of my message. But they never seem to stick around for very long. How many of my brothers and sister hippies are still going strong from the movement they named after me in the 70s and 80s?” Later on, Jesus writes: “I wish they wouldn’t always be so dang serious. There is a time for simplicity. But there is also a time for drink and song.

Trinity United Methodist Church

Tim and Jesus connected with the mainline church the least. This was the shortest section of the book. They visited Trinity United Methodist Church in Phoenix, Arizona. Tim felt bored the whole time. Jesus tried to mingle with folks in the foyer after the service, but no one seemed to be interested in him…just the idea of him.

Lakewater Community Church

Finally, Jesus and Tim visited Lakewater Community Church in Dallas, Texas. Lakewater has 30,000 members and proclaims a soft-message of prosperity and hope. Tim had lots to stay about the techniques this church used to draw in lots of seekers. But Jesus didn’t like his visit much. He writes that “the leaders of this church reminded me of the folks who crucified me.”

After the service, Jesus was able to make an appointment with the pastor. But the meeting was cut short. The pastor didn’t believe that Jesus was the REAL Jesus. After all, this Jesus was much too shabbily dressed to be the REAL Jesus. On his way out, Jesus shook out his sandals on the step as he and Tim made their way back to California.

Closing Thoughts

The book was pretty well written, though I could tell from Jesus’ sections that he hadn’t written a book before. His insights were the most insightful, but I found I could relate with Tim’s perspective more easily. Clearly, the two men had their favorite communities, and a couple that they didn’t like. But there are so many communities out there that you can’t really get a sense of what sort of church either would say is the “ideal church.” But I suppose that is the point. We’re not supposed to be discontent with out communities as we strive for the ideal. Instead, we are called to be as faithful to Jesus as we can in the sorts of communities that we find ourselves in.

This was a work of satire. No such book exists. And while Jesus doesn’t take road-trips to visit churches, I would like to assume that he is present, in some way, at all sorts of Churches. Are we listening to what he has to say?

Repentance and Subversion

March 25, 2008

Yesterday I had a conversation with some friends. In the middle of our time together one member courageously brought forward a question about our time together. She reminded us of how she had opened a topic for all of us and had been met with silence. We all remembered being moved by her openness with us and we all remembered our own failure to enter with her into a place of pain and transformation. Without telling her story here, I can say, that she struggled with a pattern of being responded to with deafening silence in her life. It took a lot of courage, passion, and humility for her to stop being silenced and come back to us and ask us to face how we had shared in that pattern of suppressing her voice.

In this encounter, each of us was called to account for our failure to love well and to repent for our complicity with cycles of sin at work in our community and the life of a friend. In a real way each of us were invited into a holy moment where our own sin was met with bold grace that led to reconciliation. We found that our friend’s risky act of repentance called the rest of us to repentance as well.

Repentance is self multiplying. hmmm…. sounds like something Jesus said about his kingdom…”a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough….” hmmm…

So that leads me to the examples of subversively facing injustice that Jesus presents in the Sermon on the Mount as told by the author of Matthew. Yes, there are the regulars, turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, give your cloak as well… these get preached on a lot, and I think are huge, but there are so many others in the sermon as well.

Consider Chapter 5 verse 42 “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” Essentially, it presents a proactive generosity in the face of need around you.

Or how about 6:3 “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” Perhaps we can see the subversion of giving in secrecy in a society that lists the highest charitable donations in magazines, and allows contributions to be deducted from our taxes–so that it’s almost like it doesn’t cost us at all to help others.

As I continue to read the rest of the sermon, I am struck that many of the practices Jesus lays out as normative for His kingdom, if implemented in our culture, would be a radical subversion; a dynamic turning from the systems of sin and injustice that govern our daily lives. So then, to turn from the systems of sin in the world and start walking in the ways of Jesus would constitute repentance on a scale dramatically more vibrant and meaningful than a tearful moment at the end of a church service.

If I understand repentance like this: actually participating in the ethics of Jesus’ kingdom, then it means my spirituality is tied up in my daily patterns of economics, relationships, consumption, and time allocation.

So… tying these two streams of thought together…

Real repentance seems to be:

a) born out of other acts of repentance that hold up the mirror of Christ to our lives.

b) following the subversive patterns of Christ that cause us to boldly face our own participation in the patterns of our world that let sin reign over our lives and the lives of others.

In suggesting these two points, I want to be careful to emphasize the role of the Holy Spirit in leading us in these paths. Coming from a Pentecostal tradition I want to be mindful to those Christians who voice a concern for unbalance on the side of works ahead of faith. I firmly believe that it is out of the work of Christ in our life that we are able to follow the guiding of the Holy Spirit that leads us into the life of the Kingdom that Jesus proclaimed here among us. Born out of our relationship with God we are guided by the Holy Spirit into rhythms of life that produce the kind of subversive/repentant actions.

Peace.

A Mountain of Bones

March 24, 2008

bonepile.jpgI live at the pinnacle of a great mountain of the bones of the oppressed. Native Americans and African Americans and Latino Americans and others died to give their bones to my mountain. As a white man in the Americas, I was born profoundly privileged…even though I grew up in the lower class or at least lower-middle class. My place in the world (and in the Church) is lofty.

The land for my mountain was taken from Native Americans–like the Ojibwe and Sioux. The foundation was laid, in part, by the sweat and blood of African slaves. And every week a Latino gardener comes to tend the shrubs and flowers at my home on the pinnacle of my mountain.

I was born on this mountain…so in a certain way of thinking, its existence isn’t my fault. But I notice that the decedents of those entombed in my mountain tend to be much worse off than me. When White America was being created on the backs of African, Native, and Latin Americans, it left fewer resources for them to pass onto their children. So when my ancestors sailed across from Europe and were able to cheaply and easily buy farm land to start their towns and farms, there were entire dispossessed and struggling ethnic groups already here who couldn’t buy that land–for a variety of reasons. Not my fault, I suppose. But I live on the mountain. And I can’t help but think that its wrong that Natives and African Americans and Latin Americans and others live at the foot of my mountain.

I am a follower of Jesus Christ, but many of my brothers and sisters live below. In fact, most of the biggest churches with the largest budgets and the highest honors are build on top of this mountain. They think they are entitled to the view, while the churches at the base of the mountain struggle for resources and respect.

Some say that my place on this mountain is a birthright that I cannot sell. Nevertheless, I’m trying to climb down this mountain to live at the lower heights. In all things I must place my spiritual kinship above ethnic ties and racial ties and even family ties. I don’t do this out of guilt, but because I honestly believe that I can experience more of the Kingdom this way, and experience more of Jesus this way.

And so, I live at the top of a mountain of bones. A white-washed mountain of bones and blood and oppression. As I sit on my back porch, taking in the view of the valley below, I whisper to myself:

Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
the rough ways smooth.
And all people will see God’s salvation.

Welcome to the Church of Consumer Jesus

March 24, 2008

shoppingjesus.jpgWelcome to
The Church of Consumer Jesus
The eternal prophylactic,
Protecting you from
The scum
Of the earth
And all their mortal filth.
Protecting
For your peace of mind
The Holy Status Quo,
The warmth of knowing
That somebody else
Will get around to
Cleaning shit up
On someone else’s dime,
‘Cause Consumer Jesus
Died to give you
A mansion in the sky.

.

.

Photo 5.jpgAuthor Bio:: John O’Hara is trying to follow Jesus. He rambles on at Arrogant Poetry and loves his wife and son.

Missio Dei Breviary Price Drop

March 22, 2008

The Missio Dei Breviary is now available at a lower price. You can buy it through Lulu.com ($13.96 for paperback, $22.50 for hardcover). It will be available through Amazon.com in the future…and may even be sold in brick-and-mortar bookstores too.

And, of course, it is still available for free at thebreviary.com.

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