Friday, October 23, 2009

The Way Out of Poverty

"Productivity growth and, hence, the way out of poverty, is not simply a matter of throwing resources at the problem. More important, it is a matter of using resources well."

In other words, countries grow out of poverty not only when they manage their fiscal and monetary policies responsibly from above, i.e., reform wholesale. In recent years, a lot of attention and moral concern has been devoted to the roblem of persistent poverty, particularly in Africa. That is a good thing. But persistent poverty is a practical problem as well as a moral one, and we do ourelves no good to focus on our moral failings and not the practical shortcomings of the countries and governments involved.

Poor people grow out of poverty when their governments create an envioronment in which educated workers and capitalists have the physical and legal infrastructure that makes it easy to start businesses, raise capital, and become entrepreneurs, and when they subject their people to at least some competition from beyond - because companies and countries with competitors always innovate more, better, and faster. pg 402

...if you change the regulatory and business environment for the poor, and give them the tools to collaborate, the will do the rest. pg 403
~ Thomas L. Friedman, The World is Flat

In my work to better understand the causes of poverty as well as the way out of poverty, most of my research has been done using religious-based sources. It's also helpful to read and discover what non-religious sources have to say about the reality of poverty. If a church is going to help lift its neighborhood out of poverty, we need to understand some of the bigger forces at work. If a church is going to bring a full-orbed Good News to the poor, it had better understand how to be realistically helpful, intentional, resourceful, creative, and persistent.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody

So you think you know all there is to know about people like Nero and Cleopatra, Lady Godiva and Lucrezia Borgia?

How terribly, terribly wrong you are.

For here are the immortals of history in a delightful new light, irreverently stripped of the aura of time and revealed (in none of their glory) as the human beings they really were - the foolish, fallible, fascinating, famous, so very much our own common ancestors. (from the back cover...)

Interested in history as I am, this book immediately caught my attention. My Mum said I could borrow it, she was quite pleased that I had discovered it on her bookshelf, and she was eager for me to read it. What a Mum!

Now that I'm finished with it (regrettably), I'm afraid that I will never look at a famous person the same again. And that may be a good thing. Below are some quotes from some of the different characters that get roasted by this smart-alec author Will Cuppy.

Queen Elizabeth had a quick temper because her endocrine balance was all upset. She hated dentists, long sermons, Lettice Knollys, and the Countess of Shrewsbury. She liked presents, flattery, dancing, swearing, prevaricating, bear-baiting, succory pottage, ale, beer, and the Masters of the Horse. p168

Henry VIII was married six times and was called the Defender of the Faith or Old Pudding-Face. He was passionately fond of sweets. He would also eat roast bustard, barbecued porpoises, quince preserves, and boiled carp.
Either you like Henry VIII or you don't. He has been much criticized for beheading two of his wives. In a way, he has only himself to blame. Any man who beheads two of his wives must expect a little talk. He shouldn't have done it, but you know how things are. As a matter of fact, Henry merely let the law take its course, but some people feel that a really thoughtful husband would have done something about it.Besides, he let some of them live, for those were the days of chivalry, when knighthood was in flower. p 161

William [the Conqueror] was born in 1027 or 1028 and showed early signs of his future greatness. He was a manly little fellow, always fighting and wrangling and knocking the other children down. After his father died near Jerusalem, he became more independent and took to putting out people's eyes. He also spread a little poison around where it would do the most good. p154-155

Frederick the Great was the founder of what used to be modern Germany. When he was a little old man he had a hook nose. He wore old uniforms covered with snuff and said very funny but very nasty things to his neighbors.
Frederick the Great died in 1786, at the age of seventy-four, alone but for a single servant and his faithful dogs, whom he loved better than human beings, because, as he said, "they were never ungrateful, and remained true to their friends." Besides, they couldn't see through him. pg 151, 152

Catherine the Great had been in Russia eighteen years and was getting into a rut. But look what happened. The Empress Elizabeth died of her cherry brandy, and Peter succeeded her as Peter III. Six months later Catherine dethroned and imprisoned him and had herself proclaimed Empress, with the aid of Gregory Orlov and his brothers. In the excitement the Russians forgot that she was a total outsider with no rights to the crown, so there they were with a German lady ruling them, somewhat to their surprise.
It was pretty sad about Peter. A few days after his arrest he died suddenly at Ropsha while Alexis Orlov and some friends of the Empress were with him. Catherine announced that he died of hemorrhoidal colic, and people who went to the funeral wondered why, in taht case, the large bandage was tied around his neck. And that, gentle reader, is what comes of playing with dolls at the wrong time. At first glance the pastime may seem as safe as the next one. It just doesn't work out in actual practice. pg 141-143

Peter [the Great] became Tsar in 1682, when he was only ten. He spent the next few years playing practical jokes. He was very fond of wit and humor, such as knocking out people's teeth with a pickax and blowing their heads off with fireworks. He knew what the public wanted.
Meanwhile, Russia was run by Peter's half-sister, Sophia. Sophia was very homely and believed in the women's rights movement. She tried to have Peter murdered, and he imprisoned her so that she could think it over.
One Thursday morning Peter suddenly decided to reform Russia and give it all the advantages of Western civilization. This was afterwards called Black Thursday. He thought that the more morons talked to about this the more he would know, so he went abroad. pg 131-132

Louis XIV was born rather suddenly in 1638. His parents... were married for twenty-two years without having a baby. Because of the long delay, the infant was called Louis Dieu-Donne, or Louis the God-Given. He was afterwards known as Louis le Roi Soleil, or Louis the Show-Off. Extremely dull as a child, he gradually developed this characteristic into a system. In later life he knew a good deal about a wide range of subjects but nothing definite about any one subject.
Some scholars explain Louis's dullness by his royal position, kings being more or less out of touch, but this would hardly account for the symptoms. Others say he was deliberately kept in a state of ignorance by his teachers when he was a boy. No professors, however, could have turned out so perfect a job unless the pupil showed a natural aptitude of no mean order. They would have slipped up somewhere. Sometimes Louis showed a brief glimmer of intelligence. Then everything would return to normal again. pg 112-113

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Suburban Captivity of the Churches - 8

If you are interested in learning more about how the forces of a metropolis affect the ministry of local churches, let me know and I'll take you out for coffee at my Starbucks to talk. And if you really want to learn more, I suggest Gibson Winter's book. Very illuminating and disturbing.

The churches have had notable successes in the growing suburbs; they have suffered dismal failures in the central areas of the metropolis.

Religiousness or irreligiousness in the United States will depend upon the development of ministries in the metropolitan areas. This is where the masses of the population of the United States will work out their destinies in the coming generation; this is where the destiny of the nation will be decided for better or worse.
-- The Suburban Captivity of the Churches, Gibson Winter, pg 15

A whole new vista has opened up to me concerning the cultural context of Anchor's facility location in the central area of Fort Wayne. Does the location of a church facility affect the capacity of your ministry, of who will be part of that ministry? Yes. What is the significance of thriving suburban churches and struggling urban churches? A matter of leadership and maturity? God's blessing and wise moral choices? What are the dangers of being a prosperous suburban church? What are the riptides tearing away at urban churches?

These are all significant questions that have surfaced for me as I worked my way through Winters immensely insightful book on the "trenchant dilemma of American Protestantism - its severance from the urgent needs and challenges of the metropolis - and a program for its revitalization."

Sunday marks eleven years as pastor of Anchor; our facility is located about ten blocks from Main Street Fort Wayne. It's a deteriorating neighborhood. How does a church be for the neighborhood while also resisting the deteriorating trend of its location? What are the forces at work in our neighborhood (and throughout the city) that shape the lives of its citizens? And what are churches to do about it?

Winters contends that the core ministry of the church is one of reconciliation (taking a cue from St. Paul in a letter of his to the Christ-followers in the totally fractured city of Corinth). I resonate with that theme of reconciliation as being a crucial element of what constitutes the worth of a church in its neighborhood. But how deep and how far does the reconciliation need to go? Reconciliation not only with God and other Christians, but reconciliation with other races, with those in a different class of society, with those of a different colored collar?

The metropolis, where the masses of Americans now live, dominates the life and culture of the United States. Dr. Winter's analysis shows that Protestantism has not shaped itself to meet the challenges. The inner city, deserted by the churches, grows more desperate under pressure of poverty, crime, and racial discrimination. Suburban churches, preoccupied by the concerns of middle-class domesticity, fail to deal with the total context of their constiuents' lives.

"The choice confronting the churches today is whether to continue ministering to fragments of a society or to reform their ministry in order to participate in the whole life of the metropolis."

This new knowledge is going to take a while to work its way through me, but already there are some important implications that come to mind for Anchor's future ministry:
* first - connect with as many other churches as possible within our neighborhood and in the suburbs.
* second - push the work of reconciliation further, not just for marriages and in parenting, but between races, between classes of people, for criminals, for the impoverished, the mentally disabled, the elderly.
* third - daily trust God as we walk in the Same Spirit as Jesus to do and be good news to the deteriorating city - both downtown and in the suburbs.
* fourth - research, research, research; get wisdom; deal with reality of situation for people, individuals, churches, cities, economic forces, cultural powers, metropolitan currents.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Ireland: A Story...

Ireland holds a certain kind of fascination for me. Like a lot of my friends, it's one of those countries on my list I want to journey through someday. Plus, it's the homeland of U2! With an interest in the nation, I read the novel Trinity by Leon Uris about Ireland's struggle for freedom in the years leading up to 1916.

It's not a short novel - 894 pages; and it doesn't read quickly - because it so thought-provoking and disturbing. It's taken about nine months to work my way through the story. I doubt I'll look at politics, religion, economics, war, and poverty in the same way again.

Some thoughts:
The British disdain for the Irish is indefensible.
The hatred fueled by the religious fervor of Protestants and Catholics was disillusioning.
The capitulation of Catholic hierarchy to the unjust policies of the Protestant British politicians was disgraceful.
The poverty of Ireland - a situation sustained by the calculating policies of entrenched British Protestant industrialists was demeaning.
With the failure of peaceful political process, with the irrelevance of religious authority, with the lack of profitable labor, what other recourse was there than violence?
Conservative politics was leveraged to protect the interests of those already in power, of the industrialists, those with land and titles, those with military and government authority.
Liberal politics was resistance to the abuse of conservative politics, it was insistence on justice and freedom for all people - especially the poor, the disenfranchised, the abused, the neglected, the oppressed.
And the Church was often a defender of conservative politics.
Without the Church insisting and working to work out a way for peace to prevail, the myth of redemptive violence gains strength.

U2's yearning for peace in Ireland, so hauntingly captured in Sunday Bloody Sunday came to my mind many times as I worked my way through this story of Ireland. And "40".

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

What is the Greatest Threat to Christianity?

You would think that atheism is the greatest threat to Christianity. It's not a threat at all.
What about secular humanism? No threat whatsoever.
Agnosticism? Nope.

A materialistic/scientific worldview? Not a threat to Christianity.
Surely socialism is the greatest threat to Christianity! No it is not.
How about Communism? No.
Capitalism? No...
How about evil dictators? No.
Not even corrupt constitutional republican democracies are a threat to Christianity.

If you think that any of these are grave threats to Christianity, then you may have too-low view of Christ's creative capabilities to further his redemptive work in the world.

However, as one observes the world, particularly America, there are two things that currently seem to be the greatest global threat to Christianity. Political power and material wealth. Christ was regularly rejected the most by those with vested interest in either maintaining or gaining political power. Actually, they ended up killing him because he wouldn't shut up. And Jesus went out of his way to point out the obstacle that material wealth would become to those who wanted to follow his Way.

World history will usually show that where there are great centers of political power, Christianity will quickly be co-opted and become a force for oppression and reinforcement elitist rules. And where Christianity becomes a tool for accumulating material wealth, that kind of Christianity will become impotent and useless to resist injustice towards widows and mercy towards sinners.

In light of what Jesus says about himself, about his Way, about his Work in his world, he kind of goes out of his way to emphasize the role of servanthood and salvation, blessing and binding up the wounds.

Jesus knew all about hardwork, being a craftsman he was familiar with the daily exertion of shaping stone, of carving wood, of chiseling marble, of drawing the plumb line. He worked in collaboration with his family to care for each other and their neighbors. And when he walked away from his life as a craftsman to fulfill his role as a prophet - he drew around him people of wealth who were inspired to become generous to the poor, the widow, the crippled, the prisoner. At one point gives assurance: you'll know heaven is your home, you'll know you trust me for salvation if you're giving fresh water to the weary.

So, for all the Christians in America who live in fear of indoctrination, of fear that socialism will ruin our country, in fear of what gay-marriage will do to the institution of marriage, in fear of how we are losing our way morally. I say this: Fear Not. God is still with us.

Jesus is present - the Same Spirit that came upon Him in his day is the Same Spirit that is upon us in our day. It matters not how politically corrupt our country is - it is no obstacle for Christianity unless Christianity has wedded itself to political power as a means to further its work. Material wealth is no obstacle for Christianity unless Christianity has become a means to attain more material wealth at the expense of being a servant of God like Jesus, a healer like Jesus, a rescuer like Jesus, a wisdom-teacher like Jesus, a rebel like Jesus, a kingdom-come kind of believer like Jesus.