Sunday, December 31, 2006
Proverbs 22:28 - Do not move an ancient boundary stone set up by your forefathers. (NIV)
They call them "fairy stones" in Scotland. One sees them in the middle of fields. The owner of the field works around them and tries not to disturb these very large boulders, for fear of bringing a curse upon his farm and family. The farmers believe that the faeries who circle the stone on moonlit nights would be angry if the rock were moved. Most of the farmers know it's only a superstition, but because they depend upon the fortunes of the weather and the intricate cooperation of nature to grow large crops, they won't test their luck by removing the boulders.
They are ancient stones, which were probably left by a receding glacier, but somehow the local Scottish people attached to them superstitions and folklore that have survived many generations. The stone does nothing for the farm and only causes bother when working around it, but it takes a brave and reckless farmer to remove one. And, if he does, then every piece of bad luck, blighted crops, or personal tragedies are blamed on the removal of the stone.
The ancient Hebrews were warned against removing stones from their land, but not for superstitious reasons. The stones that they set up were used for land measurements, separating allotments, and for marking historical or religious events. A stone was an enduring witness to the claims of local landowners. They also marked the times of deliverance that the people experienced from God. Removing these ancient stones was prohibited because such would lead to property disputes and make the people forget God's great deeds of the past.
Christians talk more about rocks than they do of stones. We call Christ our Rock and our Redeemer, implying that His work of salvation endures generation after generation. He doesn't get in the way, for He is our way. He isn't an obstacle to work around; He is the centre of our lives. And because He is our Rock, we can rely upon Him for strength and support, stability and assurance. We don't need to lead our lives fearfully and be subjected to ancient superstitions. We can walk in faith and be fortified by His power.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, You are the Rock of Ages and the Living Stone of faith. We depend upon You for every blessing under the sun and every moment of our days. We praise You for being our solid Saviour and resourceful Redeemer. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.
Stushie is the writer of the Heaven's Highway and Stushie's Stuff blogs that are linked to this page.
Friday, December 29, 2006
What has been gained by the death of Saddam Hussein? Is life so easily taken…it bothers me that we call for the blood of another of God’s creation. Does this bring back those killed? I would have believed firmly in retribution in year’s gone bye. Today I mourn the loss and grow weary in concern for what we are becoming.
We report that he had fear in his face. Does hos death free
We kill hundreds of people here in the
This is my prayer… Baba...Forgive our thirst for blood. Comfort the call for revenge and justice. Bring peace to our hearts. Bring wisdom to our minds. Bring your grace to our actions. Forgive us for using your name to enact pain, suffering, and bring hell to many. Have mercy on us. Thank you for loving us regardless of our love for you. Have mercy on your son Saddam. Bring peace to his country and comfort to his family. In the mighty, loving, Holy, and transforming name of Jesus Christ. Amen
Saturday, December 23, 2006
Blue Christmas Prayer
There’s no room at Christmas for sadness,
There’s no place for hearts that are blue.
All the world wants to hear
Is a word full of cheer,
Not a sigh, not a tear, not from you.
There’s no room at Christmas for loneliness,
There’s no place for your emptiness and grief.
All the world wants is peace,
Mistletoe and Christmas trees,
Not a heartache that mars its beliefs.
There’s no room at Christmas for sickness,
There’s no place or time to be ill.
All the world wants is health,
Prosperity and wealth,
Not a pain that can spoil its goodwill.
There’s no room at Christmas for Jesus,
There’s no place for His family, too,
All the world would not share,
No one seems to really care,
A stable will just have to do.
Yes, there’s room at Christmas for sadness,
There’s a place in God’s heart for you.
For He knows pain and loss,
Which He felt on the Cross,
So this candle is lighted for you…*
For Christ knows what it’s like to be blue.
• light a blue candle
© 2006 John Stuart, writer of Heaven’s Highway
and Stushie’s Stuff
Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh (slapping my hands to my face as Macaulay Culkin did in Home Alone)!!!
I am here all by myself in the dorms. There is no one left here. I have not spoken to a single person face to face today. I have enjoyed me time alone. I have watched Superman Returns and am set to watch A Scanner Darkly or the New Orleans Bowl. Currently I am listening to the Grateful Dead’s American Beauty with a Double Gulp of Crush and 7up. I am content. I am calm. I am rested.
I got to thinking about the holiday season and how I have spent it over the last few years. There was last year here in the dorms alone and hanging out at the local pub for 8 consecutive days. There was the time I spent in
It was this tradition that provided the images of guys with clipper ship tattoos on their forehead, women dressed like flappers, a drunken large man crowned with a Santa hat, and the other lonely drones crowded into that small dank space on
I have always been draw to pubs and bars. Is it the raw emotion that clings to the walls? Is it the normality given to the filth we all have staining our emperors cloak? I love the anonymity that is offered there if needed or wanted. I love the shared enjoyment and embrace of ones finitude. It is in these moments I feel close to creation and close to its creator. The pub and bars of this world have become my worship space. It is in these dens of double bock debauchery that I witness Immanuel.
I see Jesus in the face of the drunken returned Marine seeking forgiveness for the people he has shoot at and killed. I see Jesus in the eyes of that disheveled old man not wanting to be alone sitting at the end of the bar with the only “family” he has. I see Jesus in the woe of the young men and women that fear the worst and drown their fear absent of hope. I see Jesus in the mods and hippies that invite the smelly homeless man to their table to share a beer. I witness Jesus in the conversations I have had over the last few years. The men and women that seek understanding of salvation. The desire for hope and a peaceful world. The mistrust in a religious machine that has left them in the cold.
I love being a part of the margin. I trust in God and have faith that Jesus Christ is all the sacrifice I will ever need. I love that I have been blessed to be sent to this mission field. I see that it takes all kinds to serve in ministry. The prevailing culture has written off most of these folks. If not they have written themselves off. Jesus never gives up. Jesus loves them, every single one.
It is this Spirit of compassion, hope, and love that is important to me during this season. The Christmas season does not consist of a single glorious moment of arrival and gift giving. Nor is it subjugated to a consumer free for all. In Jesus’ birth we are presented with a hope and reconciled to God in the flesh of Christ. His birth is our birth. There is no checklist to plug in to it. The only requisite is that you be yourself as made. God will do the rest. Return to the dark recesses of your heart and embrace the pain, hurt, isolation, and loneliness there. Have courage this season to be you, to love you, to love others. It is here you will encounter Jesus.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
I am capable of becoming interested in the strangest things -- like read the Bible in a Year plans. I had always assumed that if you wanted to read the entire Bible that you would start with Genesis and read straight through to Revelation. To finish in a certain amount of time you would take the number of chapters in the Bible (1189) and divide that by the number of days you wanted to read. Read that number of chapters each day, and your done. Easy.
Silly me. Some read the Bible in a Year plans take you through the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice in a year. Some have you read straight through Psalms and Proverbs, and some divide them up. Almost all seem to think you need a little Old Testament and a little New Testament each day. Then, there are the Chronological plans which have the advantage of matching the Prophets up with their histories; but reading Job before Abraham just seems wrong. Then, if you want to follow such a plan, you get to try to find one that arranges things to your liking.
That leads me back to the ESV.blog. Somebody with way too much time on his hands has graphed several of the web available reading plans. You can tell at a glance how the reading is arranged. Like I said, I can get interested in the strangest things. (You really should see the Book of Common Prayer's splatter pattern.)
Then, the next day the ESV blog added two more plans to the mix. They are both available for sale in book form from Crossway, the publisher of the ESV; but they each also have an RSS feed button. I haven't actually signed up and tested it, but it appears to be a free RSS feed.
Personally, if I want to read the Bible straight through to get the whole story at once, I prefer the read 20 chapters a day until I'm done method; but I still found this interesting.
Monday, December 18, 2006
Today, in the United States the Christmas season has come to represent much more than the birth of Jesus Christ. Beyond the commercial trappings of Santa Clause and gift giving, the Christmas season is about spending time with our families and the traditions, old and new, that have come to represent what Christmas is really all about to us. With Christmas only a few days away what are the Christmas and Christmas Eve traditions, both religious and not, that you look forward to the most?
Friday, December 15, 2006
Can you find a day for Advent?
Can you find 10 minutes?
Log on to www.sacredspace.ie. It will walk you through ten minutes of peaceful prayer.
Have more time? For Advent and again for Lent, the Irish Jesuits who run Sacred Space post a one-day, self-directed retreat for each season. I have used the retreat materials and found them valuable.
More than that, though, I try to remember Sacred Space each day. It isn't just for Advent and Lent. The pretty picture on the front page, the calmness of the web page, the thoughtfulness of the devotional writing, the Prayer Guide available on each page have made a space in my day throughout the year.
So far this web page has had more than 21.8 million visits, and it is available in more than 20 languages.
Anyone else visit Sacred Space?
Sunday, December 10, 2006
With seven in our family, Saturday was a big washing day for my mother There were a couple of things that I liked to do to help her. She washed all of the clothes in the big kitchen sink and it was my responsibility to lift the wet clothes and put them through the cast iron wringer. It always fascinated me to watch shirts and pants, jerseys and socks come out pressed flat and almost dry on the other side. It took a great deal of strength to turn the wringer and at the end of the washing, I was completely worn out.
But the other thing that needed to be done was to wash the collars on my Dad's working shirts. They had to be scrubbed clean and so we used launderer's soap to get rid of the oil stains and sweat marks that accumulated as he worked as an engineer. This also took a great deal of effort, but when all of his shirts were scrubbed, washed and hung out to dry, we all felt good.
These days, most of us just shove our clothes in the washing machine and forget about them until it's time to transfer them to the dryer. This made me wonder about the relevance of Malachi's prophecy, for who knows these days what launderer's soap looks like?
What Malachi is saying is that when the Lord returns, He will come to purify the earth and its entire people. We live in a world where the environment is contaminated, wars are scarring the earth, and greed is wasting this planet. Left to ourselves, we're making a mess of the one part of Creation that God gave us to look after. One day, before we ruin everything, He will return and Paradise will be restored, for a new earth will be recreated, a new Eden will be replanted.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, come and walk amongst us once again. Heal the earth of all its unholiness and restore this world to Your way. Purify all that is imperfect; make sacred all that is wasted; reclaim all that has been recklessly abandoned or wretchedly destroyed. Come with a refiner's fire and a launderer's soap to make all things holy once more and eternally. In Your Almighty Name, we pray. Amen.
Stushie is the writer of the current relgious news blog "Stushie's Stuff; the daily devotional site "Heaven's Highway" and host of the weekly relgious news program "Seven Days."
Thursday, December 07, 2006
Today, on Christianity Today's web page John Wilson posted his top ten list and named his Book of the Year. Any list that includes a novel by Richard Powers (The Echo Maker), a collection of poetry in translation (Tomas Transtromer, translated by Robin Fulton) and The Solzhenitsyn Reader: New and Essential Writings, 1947 - 2005, ed. by Edward E. Ericson Jr. and Daniel Mahoney you know is going to include unusual books heavy with detail.
Some of the books on Mr. Wilson's list seem to me to be a little too heavy with detail. Mapping Paradise: A History of heaven on Earth, by Alessandro Scafi is described as tracing the efforts of various people throughout history who tried to locate the Garden of Eden. That strikes me a a subject I would prefer as a densely written magazine article.
Of course, the nice thing about no longer being in graduate school in English Literature is that I can skip the Solzhenitsyn.
On the other hand, Atchafayala Houseboat: My Years in the Louisiana Swamp, by Gwen Roland may have to make it onto my reading list for 2007. Generally, books with titles I can't pronounce written by authors I have never heard of don't grab me. This book is described as catching, "the spirit of a certain time and place" -- life on a houseboat in a Louisiana swamp. Even in the South we are losing the quirky, individualized cultures that once added so much of the "local" to the concept of "local culture". I'm afraid the last few years' hurricanes have hastened the homogenization of rural life in the South. If this is as rich with detail as the contents of Mr. Wilson's list suggest, this book could provide a last look at a passing world.
Then, there is Wilson's book of the year, Crisis of Doubt: Honest Faith in Nineteenth-Century England, by Timothy Larsen. This is a book that follows the experiences of people in 19th Century England who moved from doubt or skepticism to genuine Christian faith. This one, also, might make it onto my list for next year.
Mr. Wilson's list is varied and interesting including both a book on 9/11 and a biography of a 19th Century spiritualist. What will make your reading list for 2007?
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
Lord of all,
you seek me out and ask me to go with you.
As I begin these early days of Advent
help me to listen for your call in my life.
Give me the courage to listen to your voice
and the freedom
to leave my fishing boats and my nets
and follow you.
I want to draw strength from your friend, Andrew,
and from your presence in my life,
always befriending me and offering me your love.
May the Lord bless us,
protect us from all evil
and bring us to everlasting life.
Taken from Praying Advent
Monday, December 04, 2006
Friday, December 01, 2006
I am just going to quote a few excerpts:
To bear a baby is one thing, but to carry God? What is that like?What is your favorite Advent reading?
He issues a Mary-level invitation to all his children. "If you'll let me, I'll move in!"
Christ grew in Mary until he had to come out. Christ will grow in you until the same occurs. He will come out in your speech, in your actions, in your decisions.
But he is in you. You are a modern-day Mary. Even more so. He was a fetus in her, but he is a force in you. He will do what you cannot.
Find that hard to believe? How much more did Mary? The line beneath her picture in the high-school annual did not read, "Aspires to be the mother of God."
Thursday, November 30, 2006
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Virual Advent Calender
Celtic and Nature Advent Calendar
Beliefnet Advent Calendar
Online Interactive World Advent Calendar
Episcopal Diocese of Washington
Online Advent Calendar Lutheran Hour Ministries
On-Line Resources for the Season of Advent
The Days of Waiting
Yahoo List of Virtual Advent Calendars
As we wait and watch and yearn and ache,
we look around for signs of your presence.
But what we see mostly are indications of our sinfulness.
The needy are overlooked.
Selfishness has the upper hand.
Hatred and violence triumph over peace and reconciliation.
Our commitments waver;
our resolve weakens;
and we find ourselves further away from the path
for which you have marked in Christ.
We long for a word of forgiveness and direction,
and for a sense of purpose and meaning.
Come quickly, Lord.
With mercy and grace, come quickly Lord.
Taken from Call to Worship
Monday, November 27, 2006
Sunday, November 26, 2006
Ephesians 6:1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.
So, I'm supposed to be sleeping right now, getting enough solace and rest to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for the morning worship service. Instead, it's the wee small hours of the morning and I'm checking through the internet for behavioral/disciplining tactics and strategies because some parents in the church are very concerned about one of our programs adopting a "time out" policy for misbehaving kids.
Why am I letting this get to me like this? Surely, I'm supposed to be a messenger of mirth, a pied piper of preaching, a glorified clown for Christ's Gospel? And church is supposed to be the one place where everyone can misbehave, right? After all, Tolerance is supposed to be every congregation's middle name.
So, I can't sleep. Parents are upset about their kids being upset with a "three strikes and time-out policy." I'm supposed to be preaching about "Christ is King" today, which is all about His Majesty and Authority over our lives.
Does that include those wee creative imps who don't like authority? And what about their parents? I've been a minister for over twenty years and over that time I've seen personal accountability and parental responsibility degress to the point that it's almost impossible to have any boundaries or standards established in church programs. Has the "Jesus of Suburbia" kicked out the King of all Creation?
Any suggestions, fellow Presbyterian bloggers? How do your churches and programs deal with misbehaving kids - or is our church the only one in eternity with time-out?
Sleepless in Knoxville
Saturday, November 25, 2006
Praised be my Lord for our sister, the death of the body, from which no one escapes.
St. Francis of
The pursuit of the Fountain of Life, the Fountain of Youth, immortality, or the cure for death has occupied the minds and efforts of countless women and men. Wither fueled by fear, curiosity, disbelief, or love a passion is evoked when death is discussed. In our American culture we may entertain various methods or dogmas in dealing with death. We are bombarded with euphemism of death. We are told we will pass away, pass on, bite the dust, depart, fade away, go to be in heaven with our father…rarely do we hear you will die, they have died.
We dance around the topic in our culture and in the church. We will spend billions on agents and aids that guarantee us a longer life, and younger looking life. We abstractly live our lives in denial that we too shall die. We secretly are thankful that dread and death visit others… “At least it is not me.”
We are entertained with satirical looks into death and dying. We are obsessed with romance and love that spans time and lasts forever. When in reality nothing is forever and all shall perish. In a recent film I saw called The Fountain Tommy, the male lead, wrestles with mortality, love, loss, death, and sorrow. Tommy’s wife is dying. He desperately seeks to find a cure for her ailment. He tests an unknown substance from the Central American rain forest on a monkey and sees dramatic results. Tommy’s wife is writing a book about the quest to find The Tree of Life. The movie intertwines these two components along a 1,000 year time span.
The common theme is the desire to cure death. There are Buddhist and Judeo-Christian influences in the film in regards to death. The film made me ponder our fascination with death and our unwillingness to speak of it in terms of finality or concreteness. What is the difference between the solace and peace gained when engaging death in a new-age or tribal context, Scientology, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Jainism, Hinduism, Santeria, Voodoo, or Baha’i as compared to the peace and solace in death revealed in Christianity?
All of these religions offer some sort of tranquility and attempt to answer the human longing for reason, purpose, and function of death. In some perspective death is the continued return on a cosmic marry go round, unable to get of until you achieve understanding and enlightenment that all is nothing and nothing is all. In others you are rightly judged by you earthly merit and subjugated to eternal punishment or paradise. To some folks death offers nothing at all, no paradise, no hell, nothing… “blank screen”
In Christianity we believe in a renewal which takes place in the acceptance and proclamation of Jesus as the Christ. In our death we are reconciled threw Jesus. We are returned to the very creation to which God enacted in the “beginning”. It would not matter to convert anyone to Christianity without this dramatic life altering renewal of Jesus. The power lies not in the brand of religion one practices, rather the radical transformation which manifests in death, bringing forth creation via Jesus.
Death does not bring forth new in the midst of old. New is eternally present, eternally available. The presence of death reveals this and its acknowledgement in living allows us to participate in life. We attempt to master and understand the why’s and what’s before we experience what death in Jesus means. We seek to reason our faith to validate the absurdity of what faith in Jesus requires of us.
To embrace Christianity absent of death makes no difference as you hold just another life draining misguided attempt at offering reconciliation absent of transformation. The only place to obtain life transformation is at the feet of the cross in the presence of Jesus as we encounter death. We must face death. In Jesus we are given courage, faith, evidence…to transcend fear. Faith does not remove fear. Faith provides in moments of fear.
What is needed is a response that fulfills in us the courage provided in faith as we face death. We must face death with new anticipation absent of the dull aestheticism which reflects in our desire to be sexy, beautiful, or handsome. The only difference between Christianity and all other religions is a faith of new in the midst of the old by which death is the vehicle of transformation. It is in this tension to which we find ourselves today. We are seeking peace, understanding, more, more, more. Yet we are ill equipped to deal with death. A human being will be ultimately judged by whether or not they have reached and can stand this tension. To endure it is more horrible and more difficult than anything else in the world. And yet, to endure it is the only way by which we can attain to the ultimate meaning, joy, and freedom in our lives. Each of us is called to endure” (Paul Tillich’s sermon, Escape from God). There is no room for a lukewarm response or ascetically pleasing visions. A diet of Death embarks us on a journey into this tension to which we are called. Anything less than this would be a waste.
Friday, November 24, 2006
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
you gave us your Son,
the beloved one who was rejected,
the Savior who appeared defeated.
Yet the mystery of his kingship illumines our lives.
Show us in his death the victory that crowns the ages,
and in his broken body
the love that unites heaven and earth.
We ask this through your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever.
Monday, November 20, 2006
We are in the process of getting new elders for the coming year. But how do we minister to those elders who have served (in some cases six years) and are now going off the session? In my experience, I have lost some of them from the church altogether. They were used to being incredibly active, in the loop and so forth. I almost think we need a twelve step approach for those recovering from Session! Seriously, what have you found to enable those active elders who now are suddenly inactive (as session members) interested and active?
Sunday, November 19, 2006
It's hard to know what to pray for these days. There are so many different areas of need and conflict in the world that it is difficult to focus and concentrate on what 's really important. Whether it's lives lost through war, property damaged by hurricanes or hostages killed by terrorists; there just seems to be so much pain and suffering in the world that it overwhelms even the strongest of Christians.
In my office, I have a small picture of Abraham Lincoln that someone gave me when I first came to the United States. Below the portrait, there is a sentence that Lincoln wrote during the Civil War. Whenever I get dismayed with what's happening in the world, I look across my desk and think about these words from Lincoln:
"I know that the Lord is always on the side of the right. But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord's side."
(PS Today is the anniversary of the Gettysburg address)
In the midst of all that's happening, we need to remember that God is right in the middle of all of this, working out His plans to thwart evil and overcome suffering. His side is the best side and we should surrender our prayers, our anxieties and concerns into His will. When we do that, He will guide us what to focus upon, what to pray about and what to do.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, You suffered an agonizing, painful and shameful death, which broke God's heart and yet healed the world. In times like these, we need Your guidance, Your goodness and grace to restore our hope, faith and confidence in God's plan for the world. Be with us now and lead us. In Your Holy name, we pray. Amen.
Stushie is the writer of the Heaven's Highway blog and the host of the weekly Seven Days relgious news show
Friday, November 17, 2006
If you would like to listen to the show, tune in via your computer. We're live at 4.00PM EST from www.southernrootsradio.com
Get your friends to listen; especially your girlfriends - this just might save their life one day.
Stushie - writer of Heaven's Highway blog and host of Seven Days Radio show.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
How do you know when its time to stop fighting, allowing someone the right to die and allowing hope for a medical miracle to remain? Is it even possible?
Sunday, November 12, 2006
It's no coincidence that this Scripture appears in the lectionary on the Sunday that most of us celebrate Stewardship Sunday. Out of all of the Sundays in the year, this is perhaps the hardest one to preach. No pastor that I know likes to talk about money, and when we use the pulpit to make challenges about giving, some people think, unfairly, that we are meddling in their lives and preaching "money,money,money" all of the time.
During all my years at seminary, I never once heard a professor or teacher do a series on Stewardship. And yet, this is one of the most important issues that we are facing today. If you don't thinks so, just have a look at the financial shortfalls that our own denomination is experiencing. The amount of people and congregations that are presently disenchanted with the PC(USA) has reached critical proportions. Local churches are more into designating their giving more than ever, and even individuals are earmarking their offerings for missions rather than ministry.
But what's all of this got to do with the widow's mite? It's this. She never selfishly designated what she gave to a particular mission for widows or orphaned children. She gave everything that she had to the common good. Perhaps this is the lesson that we need to be broadcasting from our pulpits. When we give, we give purely to the Lord. If we designate it, then we are giving to an idol of our own choosing.
Prayer: Lord, on this Stewardship Sunday, help us to give up control of what we give to You. Teach us to give in faith, which places no boundaries on our offerings but rather trusts Your Spirit to work for the common good throughout the church. In Your Holy Name, we freely give and faithfully pray. Amen.
Stushie is the writer of Heaven's Highway Blog and host of the weekly Seven Days religious radio show.
Friday, November 10, 2006
I have utilized an excessive amount of resources to investigate the historical context, the composition, and the engagements of audience. I have read many different English translations, looked at internal and external evidence for the pericope and the translations. I even tried my hand at rough translation and illustrate the disposition of the pericope. This left me with many questions.
Since I only have experienced Greek for fifteen weeks I am a bit of a novice. I have only a small range of understanding and three other classes and a job to compete from my time. This leaves me struggling immensely. I have sought to read commentary after commentary to glen a bit of wisdom and further understanding. I have meditated and prayed over the text. I have patiently waited for a voice on high.
So far I am left with one emerging thought and countless reasons I am wrong. This thought you ask…Jesus heals the paralytic via the fours faith. A faith that in founded in the conviction to assist one that cannot do it alone. A faith that cost them much. They are responsible to restore the building to its original shape and possibly face penalties for their actions. They knew this going into this. They were willing to face physical, mental, and spiritual penalty to assist one that could not.
How often do we find ourselves in a situation like this? How often do we respond with utter and total abandon for self and sacrifice our very life? Imagine a world filled with a Christianity that sacrificed self for those that cannot. A letting go of one master to be absorbed and oblige to another.
Is this possible in our nations today? YES! I see Jesus challenging us to let go of the consumer mentality, the denominational pettiness, the prideful insecurities, the self righteous voice and claim, the hording of resources…People of God, this is a call to stewardship, a demanding of more, and full acceptance of grace and return to holiness, and magnified and proclaimed gospel of transformation. This is the hermeneutical bridge to salvation.
In a world full of magical enchantment and global consumer oligarchy we are to witness to another way, the way, the light, the truth. We are not to posses it, nor with hold it. We are to be transformed by it, sacrificing all in the process. We are to reorientation our eyes to the hills, towards Christ. We are to lower those that cannot towards an awaiting Jesus, who is already in the process of healing. As we move towards Advent let us be reminded that Christ was born to this world to penetrate the sin that binds us. This same Christ died and bore our sin. This same Christ conquered our death. This Christ heals those that cannot heal themselves. This same Christ restores the Body one paralytic at a time.
So I ask…whom shall you carry and what shall you sacrifice?
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Today the guest pastors will be discussing the outcome of the elections and asking whether the Religious Right is now being left behind by church and society. We'll also talk about a special AIDS ministry for HIV sufferers in Knoxville; and we'll debate about a controversial issue from Britain where doctors are asking to be allowed to mercy kill severely disabled babies: is this compassion or social engineering?
If you listen and want to join in the conversation, the station has a toll-free number at 1-888-859-1180.
John Stuart - www.sevend.net
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
send peaceful sleep
to refresh our tired bodies.
May your help always renew us
and keep us strong in your service.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Into your hands, O Lord, we commend our souls and bodies, beseeching you to keep us this night under your protection and strengthen us for our service on the morrow, for Christ's sake. Amen.
Archbishop Laud (1573-1645)
Sunday, November 05, 2006
30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' NIV
Remember, remember the Fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
That’s an old rhyme which people in Britain still recite at this time of year. It refers back to the assassination plot led by Guy Fawkes in 1605. He wanted to kill King James (of the King James Bible) and all the parliamentarians as they gathered for the opening of parliament at Westminster Palace. One of the cellars was stacked with gunpowder and he almost got away with what would have been the 17th century equivalent of 9/11. Informers gave him away and the plot was squashed. All the conspirators were horribly tortured and barbarically executed.
The event is still remembered each year on the Fifth of November. This coming Sunday, families from all over Britain will gather at Fireworks festivals and build bonfires to celebrate the event. It’s Britain’s equivalent of our 4th of July celebrations. It’s also a festival of defiance, because the fireworks remind Britain’s political representatives that the real power of the land belongs to the people.
This year, we will have something going on at the church to remember the Fifth of November. It’s nothing to do with fireworks or explosions. It’s to support a wonderful cause – the Race for the Cure. Over the years, I have marveled and been in awe of the amount of women who courageously face, confront, and survive breast Cancer. Their positive attitude in the midst of very trying circumstances is a worthy example to all of us about how the human spirit can face fear, overcome sickness, and triumph in the midst of trials and tribulations.
So about a month ago, I challenged the congregation to raise money for the Christy’s Angels group, who were running in memory of Christy Blanchard, a great friend and member of Erin Church. I also wanted to do this in memory of Pearl Swallows and others in our congregation, and even those whom I knew in Scotland who had dealt with this disease.
So what did I do? I told the congregation that if they could raise $1000 for the Race, then on Sunday 5th November, I would have my beard, moustache, and hair shaved off at the end of the morning service. I am glad to say that the donations have been coming in, so there is every chance that I will be completely bald on November 5th. By the time you read this devotion, I will be as bald as a pool ball.
Some people wonder why I want to do this: it’s because many of the brave women who undergo chemotherapy and radiation for Breast Cancer lose their hair. It’s my way of identifying with them. When you watch thousands of them running and walking together, survivors and sufferers, families and friends, you realize how much of themselves they give to one another.
I must admit, I’m a wee bit worried about losing my hair and my family are not so sure they want to see this happening, but it’s all for a good and worthy cause.
Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
When Stushie will shave off the lot!
May God bless and be with you all.
Stushie is the writer of the Heaven's Highway blog; the Sky Pilots site for Busy Pastors, and also the host of the radio pragam "Seven Days."
Saturday, November 04, 2006
Nothing is what it seems
There we sat our eyes glazed, fixed to what was transpiring. What civility was being tarnished by these ghastly acts? Can this man truly be doing what I am bearing witness to? It cannot be real! I want to believe. I want to be a part of this. What authority does this man wield? I must be near. I must understand. I must be careful.
This is what was going on in my mind as I watched the film, The Illusionist. I was utterly mesmerized by this film. The story of love, reality, death, mystery, and power catapulted me into a frenzy of contemplation. The tagline of the publicity campaign is “nothing is what it seems”, truly this is an insight into the gospel.
The messiah is coming! The messiah is here! The messiah has been crucified. What?!? This cannot be true. The messiah was to lead us. He was to become our king and return to us governance and a kingdom... There must have been many astonished and broken people when Jesus was crucified and died on the cross. We have the benefit of millennia of theology, discussion, and revelation to form and shape our understanding of the cross. The citizens of the first century have witness to the death and resurrection of Jesus. What do they believe? I imagine in the sharing of the good news must include the account of Christ’s death and something to the effect “nothing is what it seems”.
I have encountered many circumstances in my life that ask me to suspend my disbelief and trust, have faith if you will. The common theme in these encounters has been my inability to suspend my disbelief and the terror that was instigated as I realized that I was not in control. In one of these encounters I was given this counsel, “The blood of Christ offers you the blessing of not believing what you see or feel…you are bound to the promise of provision and abundance not matter your current predicament.” At the time I held on to it without understanding it. I just wanted relief from the hurt and torment of my disbelief.
I make the connection today that “nothing is as it seems”. The illusion that many folk held on to of Christ is overcome by the resurrection. As we enter into the last few weeks of Ordinary time and enter into Advent and the coming of our Lord I am meditating on the idea of “nothing is as it seems”. The passion, the annunciation, the fall, the Passover, the crucifixion, the birth of Jesus all form a witness to us. A witness that seems amazing, difficult to believe…yet it is most amazing and real.
It is faith that allows us to realize the thin boundary that exists between illusion and reality, love and obsession, public service and self-interest, life and death. It is faith that brings us in from the shadows of life and lights the path to Christ. Faith permeates the depraved and sinful nature of creation. Faith departs our nakedness and covers us with the blood of Christ. Faith in our connection to the mystery of God via the intercession of Christ illuminates the illusion. Faith proclaims “nothing is as it seems”.
Friday, November 03, 2006
I recently found a web page, www.Biblememory.us, that for $5 a year will help you memorize Bible verses. Ok, it isn't perfect. Supposedly a customizabel version is being developed. For right now you get the web page's pick of Bible verse (you start with Job 19:25, "As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will take his stand on the Earth.")
You do get your choice of several translations. I use the NASB. There are several others available. You get an e-mail every day but Sunday with a link in it. That link takes you to a web page with a space for each word of that week's verse. Some or all of the spaces will be blank. You have to fill them in.
It makes it easy and simple to memorize a short verse a week.
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Monday, October 30, 2006
How do you feel about the omission of certain text from the Bible? Are there times when this might be an appropriate action to take? How do you feel about Bibles that only include the New Testament and the Psalms?
Sunday, October 29, 2006
I remember walking home late one night from a school friend's house and saw an old man weeping in a bus shelter. I went up to him and asked what was wrong. "I'm blind," he said. "I don't know where I am. Someone put me on the wrong bus and I ended up here."
My heart went out to the old man. How could someone be as cruel to put a blind man on the wrong bus, so that he would get lost? I just couldn't believe a person could be as heartless as that. I asked the old man where he lived and when he told me, I realized that he was fortunately standing at the right bus shelter and just as I was contemplating how to get him home, a double decker bus came around the corner.
I stopped the bus and quickly prepared a speech in my head about the old man's predicament that I would tell the bus driver. As the doors opened, all of a sudden the driver said, "Hello, Alec. What are you doing around here? Your miles from home!"
The old blind man seemed to recognize the driver. "Oh, Jimmy," he answered, "I am so glad to hear a friendly voice. This wee lad has been helping me to get home."
The driver took Alec on the bus and assured me that he would make sure the old man got home safely. I walked home thanking God for providing help at the perfect time with the perfect person.
We take many things for granted, especially our sight. The fact that you are reading this devotional means you can see, recognize and understand these words. Blind Bartimaeus was so grateful to Jesus for restoring his sight that he decided to follow Jesus there and then. When Christ opens our blinds spirits to His enlightened truth, are we ready to do the same?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, You brought Your light into my world and saved me from the lightless despair of ignorance and sin. You restored me to God's favor and blessed me through Your love. May I continue to follow You and be guided by Your words and ways so that one day I may safely come home. In Your Holy Name, I pray. Amen
Stushie is the writer of the Heaven's Highway blog; the Sky Pilots site for Busy Pastors, and also the host of the radio pragam "Seven Days."
Thursday, October 26, 2006
He began with Prefatory Comments and an Index setting out each chapter of the book with links to the discussion of that chapter as it has been posted.
His comments on each chapter are lengthy and thorough. In fact, so lengthy that just reading through the blog entries will take a considerable amount of time. It is an impressive undertaking, and well worth following along. He has just finished Chapter 18 out of 29, and this should continue for another few weeks.
Do stop in and look around. Whether you agree with the book's position, which also appears to be Kruse Kronicle's position, this amount of work should not go unheralded.
Monday, October 23, 2006
Saturday, October 21, 2006
This past week I watched “Jesus Camp” twice. Both times I was alarmed at the language being used to describe and define the world to which Evangelical America exists. Phrases such as “are you with us or against us?” and “Muslims are our enemies” scared me and moved me to think about my faith and the physical manifestation it has on this world. Is this the seed of the final conflict desired by many to bring forth the rapture and the reign of Christ?
I am not to sure why this strikes fear in my heart. Is it that I am unsure of my faith and salvation? Could it be the terrible bloodshed that would transpire when the fundamental radical armies of Christendom and Islam meet in this battle? Is it that these evangelical Christians are openly using children as players in this ebb and flow of soul conversion and tallying them like one would tally a high score in a video game?
It looks very irresponsible to me to indoctrinate children into a demanding, guilt ridden sense of existence to appease a God that is ever watching, waiting for them to mess up. A God that will remove the blessings in their life if they do not walk the straight and narrow path. I am not condoning a life of sin and hedonism. I am asking, “What happened to grace?” I shout, “Is your salvation dependent upon your actions or the power in the blood of Christ?” The latter seems to be the message offered by this Christian perspective…yet they are not practicing it.
It breaks my heart to see hundreds of small children crying and begging God for forgiveness. They are weeping and hoping they are not lost in the despair of the “dead churches” or dashed away in the fallen avalanche of dance, joy, or playfulness. What desperation brings forth this understanding?
I can only relate to them with my experience of worshipping and living in an evangelical community for six years as a young man. I never felt safe. I never felt good enough. I always felt like God was keeping track of me and marking against my salvation. I was disappointed I did not and could not speak in tongues or hold the wisdom others held in the community. I wanted to be near God, yet I was so afraid to be.
It was two years after I left the evangelical community that I finally realized I did not have to be perfect to be near God. We were provided for in Christ to be safe in the arms of our Counselor, our Comforter, our Creator. It is by grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone that we are saved. I am not certain I am saved. I trust in, have faith in the promise of God to creation that in Christ Jesus we are saved. No action of mine brings me closer to this or further from this.
When will we move from the language of terror (ecumenical terrorism?) to the language of hope? Jesus came to love us, to bring us into the community of God, to offer us completion. Terror only begets more terror. Salvation, faith, comfort, hope, joy, peace…these things can never be brought to us in terror. Only in the still calm of a swaddling infant can salvation, faith, comfort, hope, joy, peace is brought be to the world. A mentor of mine told me, “You can build a church with seekers of truth. You can never build a church with possessors of the truth!”
I am not aware that any Christian perspective is better than any other. I find it beautiful that God speaks too many where they are at. Christ saves all regardless of their condition. We must radically love to combat this growing hate and fear. We must reach out to our neighbors. We must extend to those in conflict our honest and sincere hearts. We must be a place of healing, especially in midst of our difficulties. Even in “dead churches” God exists and can move and bring forth life.
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Anyway, I was going to post that there would be no review this week, but I just ran across a nice review of a book that has been getting some very good press lately, The Civil War as a Theological Crisis by Mark A. Noll. The review is on The Reformed Angler on Wednesday October 18, 2006.
Check it out.
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
The Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) has been in contact with representatives of the presbytery and synod, and it appears that the community has the capacity to respond to all needs related in this situation without external help. But we can keep the people of Hawaii in our prayers as they begin to recover rebuild and calming there nerves.
From the Common Book of Worship a Prayer for When There Is a Natural Disaster
God of earthquake, wind, and fire,
tame natural forces that defy control,
or shock us by their fury.
Keep us from calling disaster your justice;
and help us, in good times or in calamity,
to trust your mercy which never ends,
and your power,
which in Jesus Christ stilled storms,
raised the dead,
and put down demonic powers.
Monday, October 16, 2006
- If I wager for and God is -- infinite gain;
- If I wager for and God is not -- no loss.
- If I wager against and God is -- infinite loss;
- If I wager against and God is not -- neither loss nor gain.
Does Pascal’s logic translate to the twenty first? If yes how and if no is there anything that the church today can learn from Pascal’s argument?
Sunday, October 15, 2006
I remember being in a teaching hospital where an eminent Jewish psychologist was interviewing a young girl. She was deeply troubled by the unholy thoughts that kept penetrating her peace of mind. She was restless and agitated, wounded and suffering. The psychologist started to talk to her about her faith, and even though he was Jewish, he talked to her about Jesus.
A breakthrough occurred when the doctor said to his young patient, "Don't you think that when Jesus was a teenager, he experienced similar temptations?" The young girl's face seemed to brighten as she realized this for the very first time in her life. Instead of being condemned by God, she at last understood how compassionate He was. Jesus had walked that path too. Jesus could sympathize with her weaknesses.
Sometimes we forget that Jesus was fully human, because we concentrate too much on His divine side. It's comforting to know that Jesus was tested again and again, so that He can empathize with the struggles we face every day against temptation and sin.
And isn't it wonderful to have a Savior who knows us completely, and yet He is still willing to show us mercy and grace?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, we owe You everything. You forgive us of all our faults. You grant us grace. You show us mercy. You understand the struggles that we encounter each day and sympathize with our weaknesses. Thank You for being our strength, our song, our salvation. In Your holy name we pray. Amen.
Stushie is the writer of the Heaven’s Highway blog and the weekly radio host of Seven Days.
Saturday, October 14, 2006
I have been reading Nouwen’s book “The Way of the Heart…” I have become fascinated with the idea of solitude and retreat. I have read bits and pieces of Augustine, Aquinas, Basil the Great, Bonhoeffer, Chrysostom, Lewis, and Merton as they describe various aspects and disciplines of prayer, silence, and community. I envision myself as one of the Desert Fathers perched upon my pole with that ever so stoic look of content plastered across my face. To be fair, I once imagine myself as the Buddha only to be destroyed by the vision of Keanu Reeves in Little Buddha.
I wonder what it would have been like to be alone surrounded by the single task of prayer and devotion. There would be no news of Kim Jong, President Bush, the ravages of war and civil strife, murdered families on a highway, homosexual this or that, Palestinians, Israelis, terrorists, air travel, denominations, doctrinal differences, or celebrity comings and goings. I would be there before God and have not a care in the world. This would be lovely! This would be ideal. This would be boring. This would be an exiguous task for anyone to take up in this fast paced, high tech world that we occupy.
In my desires to go deeper and become relevant, emergent, or real with my faith I often want to check out and cease to be apart of the Body. I get tired, overworked, overcommitted, and over simulated by life. I find myself daydreaming for a place to be still, a place to relax, a place to recharge. I peek at the latest self help novels gleaning knowledge on how to quite my life and gain refugee status from the depraved and chaotic world to which I exist. What does it mean to be a spiritual refugee?
A refugee can be defined as one that has no other option as to leave their native land. The physical, environmental, and political stresses influence ones decision to flee and seek refuge in another context. Often refugees are battered, abused, or victimized when they are seeking sanctuary. This is often foreign to us in
A spiritual refugee is one that has no other option than to lethargically seek a set of rituals, traditions, and dogma absent of that life transforming power of Jesus Christ. In
There is no greater solitude than to be surrounded by a world crying out to be transformed and you seeking to escape it. In my quest to find solitude, silence, peace, and God I believe that in the midst of the chaos and doldrums of life we are called to be a still voice among the flood of impatience, entitlement, aggression, and lethargy.
In the face of Kim Jong, President Bush, the ravages of war and civil strife, murdered families on a highway, homosexual this or that, Palestinians, Israelis, terrorists, air travel, denominations, doctrinal differences, or celebrity comings and goings we are called to be the presence and voice of God. I am personally convinced that our actions and voice need to be one of calm, patience, and providence. This voice cannot be one of judgment, aptitude, exclusion, or possession. As these are attributes of Christ alone. We can participate in these attributes…never can we own these attribute. We can possess forgiveness and understanding, but only with Christ as our anchor. Without Christ as our anchor we sail a tumultuous sea seeking calm waters as we pilot the ship. When we need to trust that Christ is with us in these rough seas and walks calmly along, hand in hand, loving us and loving us.
In recent events we may see this principle in action with the Amish community which suffered a tragic loss in the last few weeks. They attend the funeral of the man that inflicted massive amounts of pain. They calmly answer questions to the “English” world as we seek to understand why they are not seeking justice, vengeance, revenge. In a place where it is abnormal not to display anger and judgment these brothers and sisters offer a transformed perspective of peace, forgiveness, and love. I think they have it right. We could learn a lot about transformation by this example. This is one way to be repatriated to the Kingdom and end our stay as spiritual refugees.
Friday, October 13, 2006
Obviously, the Dead Sea Scrolls made the list; but not until no. 3. The #1 find I had never heard of, Ketef Hinnom Amulets -- only the oldest Old Testament text known to exist. Even though reading about them is intersting, you expect the oldest texts to make the list. Some of the other entries, though, were less obvious.
Of course, I have heard of the Gilgamesh Epic. I vaguely knew that it was recorded in cuneiform on tablets. I would not, however, have thought to classify it as a Biblical find. The author does so, however, because it is an alternative flood story. He highlights several similarities and differences between the Gilgamesh flood and Noah's, but I would never have thought of Gilgamesh as having anything to do with Biblical Archaology.
Most of the other entries on the list are a little more obvious than the Gilgamesh story. I found them all interesting, and a very different change from what I usually run across when surfing.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
ONE: O God of compassion, you feel our pain and cry with us in our passion.
ALL: God of justice, you rage with us against the injustice of our experiences of violence and abuse. Be with us today.
ONE: As sisters of faith and hope, gathered here today, we remember:
Left Side: Our mothers, who had few choices; who did what they had to; who resisted sometimes quietly, sometimes loudly; who carried the secrets of their abuse silently in their hearts.
Right Side: Our sisters, who were made the scapegoat; who said, "No!" but to no avail; who thought they were protecting us; who were given tranquilizers to quiet their rage; who carried the secrets of their abuse silently in their hearts.
Left Side: Our neighbors, whose cries we heard in the night, whose bruises we saw in the day, who fought back and paid the price, who carried the secret of their abuse silently in their hearts.
Right Side: Our girlfriends, who spent so much time at our house, not wanting to go home; whom everyone thought were just shy and quiet; who carried the secrets of their abuse silently in their hearts.
Left Side: Ourselves, who may have tried to tell but were ignored; who were not protected by anyone; who were not believed; who carry the secrets of our abuse silently in our hearts.
Right Side: We remember and mourn the loss of childhood; the loss of creativity; the loss of vocation; the loss of relationships; the loss of time; the cost of resources required for healing; the enormous waste of humanity caused by sexual and domestic violence.
All: We remember and mourn those who have not survived; whose lives were taken by someone's violence; who died in despair never knowing justice.
(From Striking Terror No More, pg. 96)
[Voice 1 picks up the basket of stones, stands up, puts the basket of stones on the chair and exits. Voices 2 and 3 follow.]
ONE: Eleanor Roosevelt said, "It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness!" I invite you to come forward and light a candle or bring a flower out of love for a woman you would remember. Call out her name as you light her candle. Let us hold these named sisters silently in our hearts.
Women, Violence, and the Church; A Service of Confession and Healing
Monday, October 09, 2006
Sunday, October 08, 2006
Psalm 147:4 He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.
When I was a boy, I couldn't get enough books on astronomy. I loved to look up at the sky at night, trying to count the stars. Then I realized that it couldn't be done, so I began finding out the names of the constellations - the Big Dipper (known as the Plow in Scotland), Leo, Cassiopeia, the Great Bear, Draco, Sirius, etc, etc, etc. I loved the names and the old Greek legends behind them, but the one that has attracted me most, throughout the years, has always been Orion the Hunter.
It's made up of many stars, but there are seven prominent ones that appear to be the torso of a man, with three stars in a diagonal row that represent a sword belt. Each of the stars has a name, too, like Rigel and Betelgeuse and they fascinated me. Then, one clear autumn night, I discovered what looked like a faint or distant star below Orion's belt. I didn't know its name, and when I went to my books, I was staggered to learn that what I was looking at was not a star at all - it was a galaxy, with millions upon millions of stars. That really blew my mind.
God is infinite and dwells in eternity. Today's verse from the psalm tells us this, for how else could God determine the number of the stars and call them each by name? I have only learned a mere handful of stars by the names we call them on earth,.I cannot wait to get into eternity and discover the names that God has given to all the stars in the universe. And I guess if God personally knows the stars by name, then He must personally know each on of us by name, too. Imagine that! The Creator of the Universe knows you and I by name! Now that really blows my mind!
Prayer: Lord God, how wonderful You are and how marvelous are the works of creation! You astound me by determining the stars and knowing them by name, but You also comfort me in knowing my name and who I am. Thank You for such amazing love. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
Saturday, October 07, 2006
Every day we are bombarded with visions of poverty. We as Christians seek to alleviate this poverty. We want to hold that poor child and save them from the terrible atrocities that may befall them. We feel a sense of shame and guilt at the options we hold here in
I compare this response to one we get as we drive by a car wreck. We know it would not good for us to look. It will not help any one at the scene if we look. By God, we must look for ourselves. What does it say about our understanding of Christ’s call on our lives? How do we interpret scripture?
We dump billions in aid to developing nations. These nations grow deeper in debt. We are moved from one cause to another. Each successive movement attracts its favorite celebrity. We alleviate our responsibility by dropping a few coins into a special offering. We dare not change our lives in order that others may also live better.
We kid ourselves that the system of aid is working and that “they” are better off than before. We never think about the harm we cause in cleansing our hands of the blood and shame that is applied every time we purchase. We covet the shiny new best and better products right along side of the infomercials that ask us to fore go that cup of coffee to adopt a child. We are convinced that all it will take is the price of our daily coffee to heal the wounds of the developing world.
How insane would this reasoning be if applied to anything else? Our children’s education…Hey we don’t need to have that power drink, it could pay a teachers salary. Hey don’t eat that power bar; it could pay your salary. We consume power, we wield power, we super size and ultra size our lives. Imagine if we accepted our debt to our brothers and sisters in the developing world. Imagine a world where consumption and distribution of resources were fair. Imagine a world where our faith lived in our actions and any face time was used to return the thanks to Christ.
I want to share with you an article that helped me in forming my understanding of the aid and development arena it is titles "What Poor Countries Need Is Less, but Smarter Aid"
# The trillions we've invested haven't really done much.
By Thomas Dichter, Thomas Dichter has worked as a Peace Corps volunteer and country director, and as a consultant to USAID, the World Bank, the Ford Foundation and others. He is the author of "Despite Good Intentions: W
On Jan. 17, the United Nations issued a massive report calling for at least a doubling of aid to the developing countries by 2015 in an effort to drastically reduce poverty.
But giving twice as much money is actually a bad idea. The trillions we've invested in the last half-century haven't accomplished much, and more money will not make the aid industry work any better in the future.
Over a 40-year career, I've worked in practically every type of aid organization, and I've seen up close what gets spent and what gets accomplished. So I have a modest counterproposal: Cut aid by half, send most of the "experts" home, close or shrink most of the organizations in the aid business, and start over.
This time, instead of planning and funding what we think the Third World needs and what fuels the aid industry itself, we should base our efforts on what the
The U.N. report calls for, among many interventions, more investment in primary education, gender equality programs and programs to slash preventable deaths among children and mothers. It singles out the need for "quick wins": for example, mass distribution of insecticide-impregnated bed nets to prevent malaria.
This push would increase aid to an annual world total of $195 billion per year in 2015, and officials predict that with it poverty would be cut by half by 2015 and eliminated altogether by 2025.
But we did a big push in the 1950s and '60s, when the U.N. declared "Freedom From Hunger" as a major theme and established "the Decade of Development." Close to $2 trillion has been spent over the last 60 years on such familiar problems as malaria, illiteracy, women's rights, primary education, soil improvement and legal reform.
We distributed billions of shovels and seeds, computers and condoms and, yes, even insecticide-impregnated bed nets. But not once has there been a "quick win," not to mention any serious reduction in world poverty (or at least any that can be attributed to our work).
Why then spend more money now? Why accept proposals we have heard and tried before? Has something changed? Have we learned something new?
The argument for more aid has several prongs.
First, the U.N. would have us believe that developing countries have a greater willingness now to deal with corruption and a greater capacity for economic growth. In 1998, the World Bank did a study that showed that a 1% increase in aid to countries with "good" policies (those with effective property rights laws and land titling, functioning banks, little inflation) correlated with a 0.5 % increase in annual growth and a 1% reduction in poverty. But historical evidence suggests that such countries will grow their economies and reduce their poverty even without the aid. In short, once a country gets its act together, it doesn't really need much aid. And when it's in chaos, it cannot make effective use of aid anyway. Either way, more money won't help.
A second argument for a big new aid push says a better grasp of the complexity of the challenge has finally taught us how to create a comprehensive approach that can move countries from the undeveloped category to the developed. But aid agencies since the 1950s have thought that they had that formula, only to find that conquering problems in undeveloped countries is like squeezing a balloon — push it in here and a bulge pops out there.
History should teach us that it took advanced industrial nations hundreds of years to "develop," and even though we now live in a faster world, it is not reasonable to expect the aid business to finish the job in the
History also should show us why the aid bureaucracy cannot work miracles. What we do is supply-driven. Development agencies often go to the recipient countries and suggest possible projects. But because development is so complex and cannot be easily parsed into "projects," we end up making damaging compromises. We put money into projects before they're ready, make partners out of those with little management capacity and create dependency when we wanted self-reliance.
There used to be a saying among Africans who dealt with aid experts: "The white man has a big watch, but never any time." The aid industry always wants to act and to spend — now. A $100-million Phase II project is often approved before the results of Phase I are in. Lessons learned are rarely absorbed or applied. Mistakes are repeated. I worked on a project to improve chicken production in
We are in a hurry because we need to get the money spent; otherwise we cannot ask for more the next time. And of course the hundreds of thousands of us who work in this business need to keep our jobs.
Instead of another big push, we need to stop the action and think. How many aid agencies, workers and programs are really needed? How much bureaucracy and staff can be productively cut? What would happen if we made aid contingent on recipient countries' meeting mutually agreed upon specific goals?
Unfortunately, the call to double the money available to help the needy — and prop up the aid business — isn't likely to spur reform. It just means more money will be paid, and not enough will be accomplished. And come 2015, more calls for more money will surely arise.
Friday, October 06, 2006
I have to assume, therefore, that the article in Christian Century entitled Emerging Model: A visit to Jacob's Well by Jason Byassee has hit a real cord with a lot of bloggers. I am sure that I have missed a few, but I first saw it mentioned on Pomomusings on September 25, then on Kruse Kronical on September 26, Advat on September 30, Religion on a Stick and Church Geek on or just before October 3, and at least one other blog I can't recall. I won't try to summarize these bloggers comments. I will say that they cover a lot of spectrums and range from young, liberal and idealistic to older and -- well, let's just say more experienced.
The article describes this church called Jacob's Well in Kansas City, and asks whether the use of the term, "authentic" has become just another trendy label. Along the way it paints a picture of a church attracting Willow Creek or Purpose-Driven levels of attention without appearing to be trying to.
The article is quite short. A lot of this blogring's members have already had something to say about it. At least one person who has chimed in has been to Jacob's Well.
So, is this different?
Is it real?
Can it be copied, and perhaps more importantly, should it be?
Wednesday, October 04, 2006