Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Being Bi-Vocational Can Be Awesome.

Seminarians nowadays are hearing a lot about how we'll have to be "bi-vocational" when we get out of school... in normal language, that means we'll only be able to get part-time jobs as pastors since many churches can no longer afford a full-time clergy on staff.  This has of course caused considerable worry amongst both me and my fellow seminarians... getting a master's degree to only get a part-time job doesn't sound all that enticing.  The more I think about it though (and especially after visiting my home congregation of Emanuel Lutheran in Manchester, CT this past Sunday), I'm realizing that having to be bi-vocational can be pretty awesome.  Not only can it be a pretty amazing to be a pastor, but I think it actually presents a very powerful way for the church to move forward in our increasingly disconnected and pluralistic age.

First of all, the term "bi-vocational" is theologically weak... everyone has many roles their called to by God.  Whether or not you're a pastor, you're also called to be a good son or daughter, a good brother or sister, a good parent and a good citizen.  When thinking specifically about being a part-time pastor (whether or not that term fits well either) I honestly think folks should get excited rather than disheartened.  We constantly hear about how the church needs to be out in the community more rather than simply welcoming people into it's doors.  Used effectively, a congregation can do just that with a part-time pastor.  Imagine if a congregation was able to team up with a local not-for-profit and split a pastor's salary and time.  The ministries of both that congregation and the not-for-profit could be greatly strengthened.  The networking possibilities of being a part-time pastor/ part-time bartender or coffee shop manager could be enormous.  Perhaps a part-time pastor could also work as a local co-op manager or in chaplaincy.

In order for the bi-vocational pastor movement to work though, the heavy weight of filling such a role cannot be put solely on the pastor.  In this difficult economy many congregations can't be expected to pay for a full-time pastor, but they should be expected to get creative and line-up another role for their pastor that both connects with their ministry plans and provides the pastor with sufficient financial compensation.  Seminaries need to do their part too by educating future pastors to work in the world they'll actually be ministering in... a little less Greek and a couple basic business classes could perhaps do the trick.  More bi-vocational internships should be offered as well.  I doubt many of our earliest Christian sisters and brothers had full-time pastors, but instead had leaders who were already connected to the community through other professions.  Even Saint Paul wasn't a full-time evangelist, but instead split that role with making tents! (Acts 18:3)  More and more of us pastors may have to spend some time doing the modern version of making tents, and as long as our congregations and seminaries are responsibly supporting us, I think being bi-vocational can greatly strengthen the church well into the future.

LTSP Green Team Update

This year at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, the campus Green Team has centered its efforts around a theology of caring for creation “from a free a merry spirit.” The quote comes from second-generation Andreas Musculus writing in the Formula of Concord on how we do good works not from a place of guilt but rather while joyfully celebrating the many gifts that God has given us. Growing out of this theological focus has been an effort to help folks at LTSP feel more connected to God’s creation and each other so that they may be freed to better care for both the natural world and the community around them. During student orientation week, we led a group of volunteers in getting their hands dirty cleaning up at the Morris Arboretum after Hurricane Irene. We also organized a hike in Philadelphia’s nearby Fairmount Park led by the seminary’s liturgy professor emeritus, Rev. Dr. Gordon Lathrop. In order to cultivate community, we even gathered a bunch of students to take a trip to a local green-friendly brewery. Care for creation has been emphasized in worship through occasionally conducting an outdoor compline service.

Amidst these community events, we have also worked to build on LTSP’s already strong environmental stewardship program. A large compost tumbler was set up on campus to extend composting into the winter months and we set-up a new Terra-cycling program in the seminary cafĂ©. Most importantly though, the students, family members, staff and faculty of the Green Team have recognized that we need a strong plan and new partnerships to move beyond basic recycling and composting toward a more robust vision of caring for God’s creation. We have therefore begun a process of developing a “green seminary certification program” in collaboration with Greenfaith and other theological leaders. While developing the program over the coming months, we will engage in a comprehensive audit of green practices and support for environmental justice on campus in order to discern how to move forward. We are also planning a large green fair and worship service to be held during Earth Week. Building on the efforts of those who have come before us, the LTSP Green Team is striving to help members of our campus community become a good stewards of God’s wondrous gift of creation from a free and merry spirit.

God's peace,

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Detroit's Got Seoul: State of the Union '12

It was pretty amazing watching President Obama's third State of the Union address last night.  As I wrote about earlier, the speech centered on rebuilding an economy to last around a concept of "fairness."  In President Obama's view, fairness means not only everyone get a fair chance at success but also everyone doing their fair share of the work rebuilding our economy.  For a complete taping, please check out the "enhanced" version from the White House's YouTube channel below:

Here's a few of my reactions (and the reactions of the folks I was watching with) to last night's address:

- It was great news to hear that the US Navy is making a commitment to purchase enough clean energy to power quarter million homes a year.  This will both serve as a huge boost to American industry and as a model for other nations to follow.

- While things still aren't great in American, and not by a long shot, President Obama was absolutely correct in saying that those who paint this as a period of American decline simply don't know what they're talking about.  When I listen to candidates like Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, there's a lot more pessimism than optimism in the future they want to create for America... we can do better than retreating back into only protecting ourselves and our immediate families and instead can rebuild a dynamic, strong society in common purpose.  President Obama reminded us of that last night.

- My favorite quote of the evening: When you put on that uniform, it doesn't matter if you're black or white; Asian or Latino; conservative or liberal; rich or poor; gay or straight.  The last bit of the sentence was especially powerful... this past year saw a huge bi-partisan victory over the hateful Don't Ask, Don't Tell rule.  It made me proud to know that I now live in a country where citizens of all sexual orientations can serve in our armed forces and protect the American Dream.

- As my friend Mike put it, Detroit's got Seoul.  Since President Obama took office, Michigan has seen it's unemployment level go down rather than up, largely due to government intervention in the auto industry.  The huge success of this program goes to show that there is a larger role for government than some of our other presidential candidates would have us believe.  Since President Obama supported the auto industry and also worked to pass three new free-trade agreements, countless new American cars will soon be on the streets of Seoul, Bogota and Panama City.  The administration's quiet, steady focus on industry over the last few years has already led to a huge decrease in America's unemployment rate, it was great to finally see that fact spotlighted tonight.

In tonight's State of the Union address President Obama laid out his vision for a renewed America that finally will get it's soul back, built on energy, industry, fairness and common purpose... and amen to that!

God's peace,

Sell the Church!

I've been blessed to stay with a friend up in New Hampshire over the past few days, and it's been both a fun but also very meditative experience.  One thing I spent time doing was reading some of the first posts I wrote for It's Only A Northern blog back in 2009.  The post that particularly struck me was something I came up with for the by the way community entitled "...with each gift that you share may you heal and repair..."  The title of the post itself is part of a beautiful environmental stewardship called "Changes" by Xavier Rudd, but the substance of the post is about all forms of Christian stewardship.

Stewardship is a much wider concept of course than simply properly using your financial resources.  It also means caring for the environment, for our own bodies, our families and our own borrowed time.  One thing that I've been thinking a whole lot about lately is how stewardship of all these amazing gifts from God functions in our congregations as well as in our own individual lives.

I've had a number of conversations with friends over the last few weeks about how in our increasingly pluralistic and disconnected society, church buildings often get in the way of proper congregational stewardship.  For one, they obviously get in the way of financial stewardship... old, large and perhaps unnecessary buildings cost a lot of money that could otherwise be used towards mission efforts.  Church buildings also frequently represent poor environmental stewardship... those same old buildings waste a lot of energy to cool and heat.  Most importantly though, church buildings often represent poor stewardship of the opportunity we have as believers to be the body of Christ in this world and serve our neighbor.

One can't make blanket statements for sure, as there are more than enough examples of church buildings being essential resources for the towns and cities that surround them.  Frequently though, maintaining and worshiping in beautiful buildings take congregations out of the communities they're meant to minister to... the Church ends up becoming identified with a building rather than the sisters and brothers that make up the body of Christ in this world.

There's a number of ways the "building-free" congregation can work.  This post at Till He Comes makes some helpful suggestions: "Sell Your Church Building."  One might worship in smaller house-church "cells" most weeks and then occasionally get together in a larger location.  Other faith communities could rent out meeting places, helping support a local business or even another congregation.  A group could even regularly meet in local bars and coffee houses, getting out and being visible in the community and learning from them in turn.  Indeed, selling church buildings can end up helping congregations sell the Church itself to a disconnected, pluralistic culture hungry for faith and community.

God's peace,

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Why Christians Need to Care About Food Stamps

One of the best parts of my field site placement with Lutheran Advocacy Ministries of Pennsylvania is taking part in strategy sessions about helping our state's most vulnerable citizens.  Last week I attended a broad coalition meeting of anti-hunger organizations and other interested parties working to combat the Corbett administration's proposed asset testing for the federally funded SNAP or food stamp program.  As I wrote in a recent post on the subject, this is simply a mean spirited, ideologically based move that would in some situations force seniors to spend down what little savings they have for medical care and a dignified funeral before they can apply for food stamps.  Folks from AARP were therefore in attendance at the meeting, as seniors would be disproportionately affected by an asset test.  While proposed under the guise of saving the state administration costs, instituting an asset test would only add the costly step of tracking the assets of over 900,000 households to the food stamp approval process.  Representatives from Walmart and other major groceries attended the meeting as well, because asset testing would also take away roughly $50 million federal dollars from the state economy.

Why should we care about this as Christians?  First of all, we're charged in the waters of baptism to care for, feed and welcome our neighbor, amongst other things.  From a very practical, concrete standpoint though, Pennsylvania's food bank system is largely supported by faith communities, who provide $60 million worth of food assistance each year.  As an asset test program for food stamps would eliminate $50 million dollars of food from the state, Pennsylvania's churches will nearly need to double their amount of food donations to make up the difference.  It's simply not doable for congregations that are already stretched thin.  If you're someone not in Pennsylvania reading this, instituting an asset test here could effect food stamp programs nationwide.  Since this is such a big state, other state governments will have an easier time instituting asset tests if Pennsylvania has one.

So what can you do?  First, get educated about the issue.  This documentary on hunger in America put out by AARP is a great start: "Hunger in America."  Next, think about contacting state representatives and especially in this case Governor Corbett's office.  Most importantly, start organizing in your congregations against food insecurity, wherever you are in the country.  1 in 6 folks are hungry right now in America... talk with your pastor about your congregation could work to advocate against the root causes of hunger in conjunction with donations of food and money.  Thanks so much for reading friends.

God's peace,

State of the Union Address

Having started to read descriptions of President Obama's upcoming State of the Union address on Tuesday, I got to say I'm pretty impressed... pretty impressed by both its political ramifications and as document about the battered, weathered, yet still strongly held American Dream.  From what I've heard, the central theme of the address will be "fairness," which includes the stereotypically liberal stance of giving everyone a fair chance but also the stereotypically conservative stance of everyone doing their fair share of working toward the American Dream.  One of the biggest reasons I've supported President Obama from the beginning is that his positions have been based on practicality, rather than ideology.  He's gone against his liberal base a variety of times in regards to Afghanistan, Libya, budget cuts and even in going against single payer healthcare (something I continue to support).  This idea of doing what is practical and perhaps most effective stands in stark contrast to folks like Pennsylvania's Governor Tom Corbett, who is currently waging a mean spirited, ideologically based attack against our state's seniors by instituting an asset test for food stamps.  While President Obama of course takes liberal positions more often than not, it is his ability to make decisions from a practical, rather than ideological basis that has in fact changed the way Washington works.  Has his old campaign promise to bring liberals and conservatives together worked?  Nope.  That promise has however morphed into President Obama being one of our first post-ideological candidates... especially after President Bush's clearly ideologically based administrations.

Also, check out the following clip from David Plouffe, senior adviser to the President:

Put quite frankly, this is pretty cool.  It's been amazing how the Obama campaign has been so creative in tapping into the increasingly politically powerful online community, and this feedback opportunity is another example of that creativity.  I encourage all folks, liberal or conservative, to follow up and offer our president some constructive criticism.  Thanks so much folks, and have a great rest of your weekend!

God's peace,

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Live Music @ Wired Beans Cafe (in video)

I had an epic experience last night.   While I headed over to Wired Bean Cafe (my new favorite coffee shop in Mt. Airy) planning to sit quietly and get some work done I instead ended up getting treated to one of the best open mic nights I've heard in quite a while.  After talking with the cafe's owner Robert Wheeler, it turns out that Wired Beans hosts family friendly open mic nights every Wednesday from 7 - 9p.  One of the folks present informed me that there can be thirty folks in attendance on good night, and sometimes there's traveling musicians that stop in from all over the country.  The open mic night is in addition to poetry nights which are held every Thursday from 7 - 9p (one of which I walked into last week).

The host for the evening, Sad Patrick, opened up by playing John Prine's "Angel from Montgomery," which really got my attention.  As more folks gathered into the small coffee shop, Beorn Sunflower took the mic to play a few original songs, mostly off his album "Songs From the Fridge."  I was able to pick a copy of the album and it's got a sweet sound... sepia toned folk music drenched in Beorn's weathered yet powerful voice.  Next up were two sisters with absolutely amazing voices, singing everything from Beyonce to Etta James's "At Last."  I got their permission to tape a rendition  of Jill Scott's "The Fact Is."  Bethlehem is the main singer here, although I didn't catch her sister's name:

Wow... what a voice!  Bethlehem and her sister are regulars at Wired Bean's open mic nights, so be sure to come by and check em out.  After that Bethlehem sang a couple songs with Sad Patrick, but the highlight of the evening was when her father showed up with a couple friends.  He had just gotten out of choir practice at New Covenant Church, so he sang a hymn called "Touch the Hem of His Garment."  For a finale he then sang "Stand by Me" (with his daughters backing him up from the audience).  I fell into sheer musical ecstasy at this point, listening to the family sing such a moving song while other audience members drummed along on cafe tables.

I'm always someone that needs to be getting something done... checking emails, reading various articles, etc. so for most of the night I was on laptop while listening to the performance.  During the duets though, Bethlehem graciously motioned for me to pay closer attention, and she was absolutely right.  I ended up shutting my laptop and instead soaked in what was going on all around me, and I'm very grateful for it.  That's the sort of place that Wired Beans Cafe is... while you can certainly have your privacy, it's a coffee shop where folks congregate to learn from each other, affirm each other and pay attention to each other.  It's a place that creates community amongst the unforgiving grid of Philadelphia's urban landscape.

God's peace,

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Lutheran Seminarian @ the MLK Memorial

I've had an amazing opportunity this January break to check out a bunch of things I otherwise wouldn't have had time to.  Wired Beans Cafe and the LTSP archives were definitely some amazing discoveries, but my most profound experience over the last couple weeks was experiencing the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC.  Thanks to some of my old fraternity brothers I had free lodging in the district, so I figured MLK Day would be great opportunity to check out the new memorial.  Returning to DC is always sort of a pilgrimage for me, and this time was no exception.

After a great night visiting with friends from Camp Calumet the night before, I woke up at a friend's place on Capitol Hill and decided to walk to the memorial since it was a pretty warm day out.  I even had the opportunity to check out the Smithsonian's Botanical Garden on the way. Eventually after walking down the national mall and past the empty reflecting pool, I was able to find the memorial by the huge crowds around the shore of the DC's tidal basin.  It was definitely a perfect space for MLK surrounded by the cherry trees, and the MLK sculpture itself gazes out over the water (perhaps symbolically) towards the Jefferson memorial.

While I didn't think the central sculpture was particularly amazing, many of the quotes around the rest of the memorial were extremely thought provoking, especially "I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, quality and freedom for their spirit."  All to often us Lutherans think about advocacy and social justice as important but limited by our belief that we cannot create an ideal world.  While we indeed cannot make things absolutely perfect in this world due to our sinful natures, we're saints too and thus can greatly improve from its current state.  The basic goals MLK set forth in the above quote are not only something we should strive for but can in fact attain with God's help.

My other favorite part of the memorial was the other people there visiting.  There were park rangers, some Occupiers but also a large number of families, both black and white.  I overheard one young mother telling her child about civil rights, comparing Dr. King to Moses in the Bible.  A few folks, one who told me he personally knew MLK, were quite emotional, with one even crying that the dream had not yet been met.  I don't love the central sculpture itself, but I do greatly appreciate that it looks unfinished, because Dr. King's dream has indeed yet to be fulfilled... we are not finished reaching the dream.  In this regard, it was helpful to read President Obama's interpretation of the controversial quote on one side of the memorial, which reads "I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness."  President Obama points out that interpreted in the context of the whole speech, the quote is a call to service, stating that we can all become drum majors for justice.  In a time when some states are trying to once again restrict voting rights, as folks of all backgrounds are crying out for jobs, and as elderly folks are refused foodstamps in Pennsylvania, we need those drum majors for justice more than ever.

God's peace,

A Christian Response to SOPA

Thou shalt not steal... some might think that's basically all their faith might say about SOPA/ PIPA and support the new anti-piracy legislation.  From my own perspective though, it's not so simple.  I support the initial spirit behind anti-piracy legislation, but as I understand it, SOPA/ PIPA is currently written in a way that would hamper online innovation and freedom while in fact really not doing much to actually stop the pirating of copyrighted content online.  In doing so, SOPA/ PIPA would strike at heart of our evolving definition of community, and therefore our evolving definition of the church in the twenty-first century.  Jesus taught in Matthew 20:18, "where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them."  What we've seen over the last decade or so has been a revolution in what it means to be gathered, a revolution largely enabled by sites like Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia and Twitter that are at risk of being shut down by SOPA/ PIPA.

I've often thought about how important it is for the church to get connected online, but up until the controversy over SOPA/ PIPA in the last few days, I never thought about it in the other direction... how the church must give thanks for the gift of internet freedom that allows us to gather in conversation.  Not only must we give thanks for how the internet can strengthen our existing physical faith communities and create virtual new ones, we must further give thanks for what internet freedom has contributed the cause of social justice.  As I wrote about a month or so ago, social media sites allowed millennials and other peaceful protestors this past year to enter into conversation and work to reform or rebuild many of the world's most oppressive governments and other social systems, whether in Egypt, Russia or Wall Street.  The overwhelming condemnation of Rick Perry's hateful "Strong" ad and today's response to SOPA/ PIPA further shows the political power of online viral organizing.

For those of you who wish to become better educated on SOPA/ PIPA and what it does to curb freedom online, I've found the following video most helpful:

Having realized and unlocked the power of online community and viral organizing against systems of oppression over the last few years, we should all do everything we can to protect the internet as one of our central tools in evolving what the church is and does in the twenty-first century.  For more information about what you can do, click here.

God's peace,

Friday, January 13, 2012

A Lutheran Seminarian @ Wired Beans Cafe

Photo credit: Mom of Three Photography
While doing reviews isn't usually my thing at "It's Only a Northern Blog," my first visit to Wired Beans Cafe was an amazing experience and I just had to write about it.  Since I got to Philly a year and a half ago I've been looking for my "third place," a place that isn't home or school that I can belong to.  Unfortunately though, I hadn't found much luck... Infusion's hours weren't very good, Chestnut Hill Coffee came off to me as very pretentious (and way overpriced) and Starbucks was well, just a typical Starbucks.  While I occasionally would venture out farther for a good coffee shop, I never would have thought of going much farther down Germantown Avenue.  I'm sure to be over-generalizing a bit here, but I'd say that there's an unfortunate notion on campus that venturing much farther down the avenue than the Acme (at least on foot at night) for entertainment can get a little dangerous.  That may just be my own thinking, but at any rate, it never crossed my mind to check out the area.  A couple days back though I was looking at Google Maps and saw Wired Beans.  After checking out a couple reviews I was pretty impressed... the prices looked amazing, and it was recently voted the best coffee shop in Mt. Airy.  That really peaked my interest, so I decided to check it out.

It was warm out last night so I decided to walk over after hitting the gym, and all the reviews turned out to be absolutely correct.  The place had an extremely welcoming atmosphere, someone's child was playing at one table and there were Obama organizers meeting in a corner of the shop.  After grabbing a three dollar macchiato I sat down and got to work on an independent study I'm doing this January.  The coffee seemed good enough but after giving the menu a glance I was even more impressed... the sandwich selection was awesome and omelets were only five dollars!  Soon though I got distracted from my work by the folks setting up for an open mic poetry night (which I found out they have weekly Thursday @ 7pm).  As the place filled and people gathered around the microphone, I realized that work probably wasn't happening, so I pulled my chair over to listen for a bit.

The host opened up with a thought provoking and humorous poem about serving coffee, but it was the second poet that absolutely blew me away.  She began by reciting passionate lines about society not living up to the dreams of Martin Luther King and then followed up with a heartbreaking poem about loosing her young son to the great oppressions and injustices many face growing up in Philadelphia.  Before I had to leave I listened to another man's poem about Malcom X.  As I headed out the door I knew I had finally found my "third place" in Philadelphia.  There was a lot to love at Wired Beans Cafe... the coffee was good, the price was right, the atmosphere was welcoming.  Most of all though I really appreciated the sense of community I felt there.  Wired Beans is a place where folks of all different backgrounds, colors and economic situations can meet in true fellowship.  From a Christian perspective, it's the type of table fellowship spoken of so often but rarely experienced.  I highly suggest you check Wired Beans out, and as for me, I'll be heading back tomorrow morning for that omelet.

God's peace,

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Christian Response to Gov. Corbett's Plan to Asset Test Food-stamps

A article came out a couple of days ago in the Inquirer stating that Gov. Tom Corbett plans to reinstate asset testing for food-stamps in the state of Pennsylvania.  Anyone under sixty receiving food-stamps would be limited to having $2000 dollars in assets, excluding one's home, first car and retirement benefits.  Folks over sixty would would be limited to having $3,250 in assets.  While this measure is purportedly part of a larger effort to reduce waste, fraud and abuse across all state programs, it simply won't do so.  As the Inquirer article stated, Pennsylvania has received rewards for how efficient their food-stamp system is, with the program's fraud rated being an estimated one-tenth of one percent.  As food-stamps are federally funded, the only expense Pennsylvania incurs at all is in the program's administration.  While the state's asset test will reduce the number of food-stamp recipients by about two percent, thereby theoretically reducing administration costs, it will cost more money to add an expensive step to the approval process.  Furthermore, every dollar of federal funds spent on food-stamps adds $1.73 to the state's GDP.

As the asset test really won't reduce waste, fraud and abuse (but will hurt the state's economy), the Corbett administration's move simply isn't practical.  Instead, it is either a politically or ideologically motivated attack on the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians.  Young families on food stamps won't be able save up money to get out of poverty.  Poor elderly folks won't be able save up enough for proper funeral expenses.  The Corbett administration is using a $2000 limit that was set back in 1980.  At very least, the asset limit could be adjusted for inflation, which would put it close to $5500

As roughly a quarter of state food-stamp recipients reside in the city of Philadelphia, the local faith community needs to rally around encouraging Governor Corbett to drop the asset test plan, maintaining the circle of protection around our most vulnerable fellow parishioners and neighbors.  Besides everything Christ taught about caring for the poor, the Incarnation itself points to why Christians are called to feed the hungry.  The simple fact that God was fully incarnate in the person of Jesus points to a need for us to respect all humanity.  If God thought humanity was worth Christ being fully human and fully divine, shouldn't all humanity be worth being fed?

So what can you do?  Tell your friends and neighbors, write to the editor of your local newspaper about the issue.  Talk with your pastor to see how your congregation might engage in advocacy efforts against this attack on the poor.  Put a phone call into the governor's office or even plan a visit to Harrisburg with your congregation.  I just put a call in myself and I promise, the receptionist is friendly.  While the advocacy community is still figuring out how to work with the issue, Lutheran Advocacy Ministries of PA can help you get started as well.  Thanks so much for reading and your efforts to maintain the circle of protection around Pennsylvania's most vulnerable citizens.

God's peace,

Sunday, January 08, 2012

A Lutheran Theology of the Land

I've just begun research for an independent study I'm doing this winter at LTSP, studying how we collectively create identities for the places we live in and how those identities affect our faith.  You can find a more detailed proposal for the project here.  While I'm only just beginning my research, I figured it would be worthwhile to briefly share my initial observations, largely developed while reading The Land by Walter Brueggemann.

For quite a while now I've said that in a Lutheran perspective we care for God's creation "from a free and merry spirit."  The idea goes that we want to clean up our environment and cut down on waste not because we're guilt tripped into doing it but rather as a voluntary response to the sense of joy we experience in creation...  Simply put, the more we experience the beauty of nature, the better we want to take care of it.  At this point in my research (and mostly because of Brueggemann) I need to modify that idea.

In his book Brueggemann makes a distinction between the Biblical concepts of "earth/ creation" and "land," particularly in the Old Testament.  I'm only about halfway through the book, but basically "earth/ creation" is an idealization, something that's absolutely perfect, only existing in the Garden of Eden and thereby something outside of human history.  It's not that "earth/ creation" doesn't exist... it's not quite an abstraction, but simply something that is fleeting in its perfect potentiality.  We can only experience "earth/ creation" for a moment... think of beautiful mountaintops, pristine lakes and lush jungles... that sort of thing.  Those places exist, but pretty soon a storm blows over the mountain, the lake floods and a jungle monkey throws poop at you.  "Earth/ creation" is fleeting and is accordingly referred to in the Bible mainly in the initial creation stories.

"The land" however is something entirely different... it's not only a central character in human history, it is the central character through which God reaches God's people.  Land is something partially defined by our human relationship to it, and is therefore not just made up of perfect "natural" settings.  For instance, I'm currently moving out of my childhood home, and the place definitely has certain connotations for me... I grew up there, I experienced great joys there, my mother died there.  When a new family eventually moves in, they will develop a whole new conceptualization of place or "the land" for my old home. "The land" was always changing for the Israelites as well.  For folks like Abraham and Moses "the land" was a promise not yet fulfilled.  For folks like Deborah and King David, "the land" was both a gift and a set of responsibilities.  For Ezra and Nehemiah, "the land" represented a new covenant, another chance and hope for the future.

While "earth/creation" is a beautiful idea, and a gift I do believe we all can occasionally experience through the eyes of grace, it's also not something concrete... Even the few of us who live in absolutely pristine spaces cannot experience the perfection of "earth/ creation" all the time.  For me the most beautiful place in the world is Camp Calumet in New Hampshire, but what about black fly season or slipping and falling on the ice?  "The land" however is something we can all relate to all the time... it includes dirty city streets, upper class subdivisions and even the town dump.  I was a bit off when I formerly told folks that we care for the environment "out of a free and merry spirit" once we experience the beauty of the earth.  I was asking people to go out and try to experience something that is at best fleeting, and also pretty rare.  Rather, as we learn more about "the land" around us, learn about its history, its joys and sorrows, and the sense of gift and responsibility that goes with it, perhaps then we will be encouraged to better care for the planet.

God's peace,

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Mayor Nutter Raps with the Roots @ His 2nd Inaugural

While I already loved Philly a lot, this video made me love it even a little more:

Mayor Nutter Raps At His 2nd Term Inauguration Party With The Legendary Roots Band from Identity ink on Vimeo.

Could Mayor Nutter do a better job of supporting the city's poor, unemployed and hungry?  Yup.  Could Mayor Nutter be working more positively with the POWER movement?  Yup.  Could Mayor Nutter have dealt more fairly with Occupy Philly?  Absolutely.  Still, it's great to see this more "humanized" portrait of him... and besides, it makes him kind of cool, right?

God's peace,

Monday, January 02, 2012

Millenials Rising: The Arab Spring, Russia, Occupy... and Rick Perry

After a couple weeks of celebrating Molly and I's engagement while also recovering from a tough semester at seminary, I sat down today and read through Time's 2011 Person of the Year article with great interest.  Unlike some of the listed runners up like Kate Middleton and Paul Ryan, "The Protestor" seemed like a pretty appropriate choice, and I thought the piece as a whole was pretty well done.  The article aptly characterized 2011 as the greatest year of global protest since at least 1968, and on this go around it wasn't just part of "counter-cultural pageant."  Sure, I still saw plenty of the typical lefties (which I'm probably one of) at Occupy Philly, but there were a lot of other folks involved as well.  Not only at Occupy but throughout the world, young, educated and solidly middle-class folks flooded the streets throughout 2011, protesting against economic injustice and in some places, political oppression.  Most of those protestors were getting politically active for the first time.  Credit also must be given to folks from all generations and backgrounds who fought and continue to fight for democracy and economic fairness.  While it was therefore appropriate for Time to declare "The Protestor" as Person of the Year, 2011 wasn't just a year of protest... 2011 was the year millennials woke up.

Millennials, a group which could perhaps most simply be defined as those born from 1985 to 2000, have already been defined in countless ways, both good and bad.  While many of us millennials have overly relied on Mom and Dad, and some of us might care a little too much about our iPhones, we've also come of age in a world that strikes us as profoundly disappointing and 2011 was the first year we really got some skin in the game trying to change it.  Sure, a majority of us voted for Barack Obama in the last election, and will probably do so again, but it was only in 2011 when many of us slept on cold concrete for months, faced government snipers or were humble enough to learn how to protest from our sisters and brothers around the world.  Unlike in some other seasons of protest, we as a whole were either humble (or perhaps reliant) enough to want to learn from previous generations... we're largely close with our parents and haven't experienced a generation gap.  Perhaps most importantly, we've learned how to make the most of all those camera phones and laptops we tote around... the Arab Spring, Occupy and the now escalating protests in Russia would not have sparked without such technology.  Not only have we learned from our sisters and brothers around the world online, we've also been able to stand in solidarity with them.  One reason for this sense of solidarity is largely because we don't get our news from talking heads on TV, but rather from each other.  Just look at some of the power images we've experienced in the last year:

Remember this video from the Egyptian protests last February?  In English it's titled "The Sound of Freedom," and it's by Moustafa Fahmy, Mohamed Khalifa, and Mohamed Shaker.  Here's a translation of some of the lyrics:

I went down and I said I am not coming back, and I wrote on every street wall that I am not coming back.
All barriers have been broken down, our weapon was our dream, and the future is crystal clear to us, we have been waiting for a long time, we are still searching for our place, we keep searching for a place we belong too, in every corner in our country.

That's some pretty powerful stuff for sure.  Here's some similarly inspiring footage from the ongoing protests in Russia:

It's so interesting (and I think very millennial) that young protestors are exclaiming things like "We just wanted truth, we just wanted the law to work" and as reported they're calling for political evolution, not revolution.  It's been my experience that millennials are idealist, but not overly so... Tempered by difficult experiences over the last decade, most seem to know that complete anarchy probably wouldn't result in anything good.  Rather, in Egypt, Russia, the US and many other countries most folks seem willing to peacefully evolve rather than completely throw out traditional systems.  Even in Egypt, protestors were initially willing to work with army officials.  The only instances where this hasn't been the case is when protestors have experienced very violent retribution, such as in Libya and Syria.  There's been a great deal of criticism leveled at those who took to the streets in 2011, mostly arguing that the protestors only know what they're against instead of what they're actually for.  I think that observation is partially true, but that's also a good thing.  As I experienced at Occupy, it wasn't just a protest, but more importantly a diverse community in conversation about how to make a better world.  Supported by cellphones and the internet, millennials brought in countless others who couldn't be physically present to join in the conversation.

This idea that millennials aren't only about protest but more importantly about conversation is why I included Rick Perry in the title of this post.  Check out this example of how two millennials contributed to a conversation about Perry's hateful campaign ad a few weeks back:

After Perry's "Strong" ad came out, Millennials made many powerful videos like this one, and the ad itself became one of the most disliked videos on YouTube within hours.  Without a doubt, 2011 was the year the millennial generation woke up, and I'm greatly looking forward to seeing where the conversation brings us in 2012.

God's peace,