Category Archives: good works

Loving Neighbors in an Era of Internment

On this day in 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed  an order which authorized the internment of Americans who had Japanese ancestry.  Families were rounded up, taken away from their homes, put in camps for the duration of the war with Japan.

Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor the previous December.  Outrage was high and so was fear.  Submarines had been spotted off the coast of California. People were afraid and suspicious.  Sure, they thought, many have been here for generations, but some were newer immigrants. How can we know who to trust?

Panic set in and those in charge responded to the panic by making a sweeping gesture.

Panic does that, after all.  We lose the ability to rationally respond to particulars. We make sweeping gestures.  We make excuses for our sweeping gestures based on the possibility of something bad happening.  Other people are made to bear the weight for our sense of peace.

In the midst of hearing about injustice and trauma in so many directions it is easy to become overwhelmed.  We aren’t made to absorb a world’s worth of news, after all, and it is human nature to break complexities down into general categories.

It’s not personal, we say.  Only of course it is.  It’s always personal. Because our responses affect real people.

So the US put people into camps, pulling them away from their homes and livelihoods, for the sake of an assumption of security.

A lot more can and should be said about this, which is why it’s worth spending time listening to the experiences of those who were forced to live in these camps.

I’m thankful for the voices we can listen to now about what happened, that they weren’t silenced.  I wonder who fought for their voice in 1942.

I wonder because I think about the responsibility of the church in such times of crises, to help people avoid navigating by panic and help orient them in light of their responsibilities to loving God and loving neighbor.

The problem is that in a time when everyone had problems, it’s hard to think about helping others with problems, to fight for their benefit, to give them voice, to bear the weight for them.  I think that’s the way of Christ. We don’t make other bear the weight for our peace but instead are willing to bear the weight so they can experience peace.

I don’t know what most of America did in response, or what the general response was when everyone heard news of this Presidential order.  It seemed most either supported this or ignored it.  Not everyone did, though.

I do know the response of a couple men, and, on this day, I want to make mention of their part.

Merle McBride
Merle McBride

My dad’s grandfather came to California when he was a young man, riding the rails from Texas, starting a new life out on the West coast, working as a laborer and then a farmer in southern California. My mom’s dad came to southern California when he was young, a family of farmers from Oklahoma (but not Okies, as the later depression era immigrants from that state were called) . He became a farmer himself.

They were friendly with their neighbors, most of whom were also farmers.  As was common, many were of Japanese descent, families who had come east rather than west, sometimes generations earlier, finding a shared celebration of the bounty of California soil.

These families were arrested and put in camps.  Some people took advantage of the situation, foreclosing on loans, buying out property for significantly less than what it was worth.  Some people see other people’s problems as an opportunity for gain. Some people see other people’s problems as their own problems, and work to alleviate some of the pain.

My great-grandfather Willis Oden and my grandpa Merle McBride were of this latter sort, I’m proud to say.  They took on the burden of their neighbors farms, working them as if they were their own.  They didn’t take them over, they took care of their neighbors property. They kept the farms going, paying debts and maintaining profit.

Their neighbors lost years and lost freedom in interment camps, but they did not lose their farms or livelihood.  When they came back home, everything was as they had left it, and they were able to settle back into to their lives on their land.

Willis T. Oden and Etta Oden

I’m not proud of that Presidential order but I’m proud of my great-grandpa and grandpa, how they responded. I come from families that were willing to shoulder the burden of their neighbors in a time of crisis, even when they had family members who were fighting, and sometimes dying, in the fight against Japan.

They weren’t alone, and I imagine there are many stories like this. Americans sharing each other’s burdens no matter what their national origin.

It’s far too easy to generalize the idea of loving one’s neighbors, but sometimes the best way to show love to neighbor is really to help one’s actual neighbors.

I think that’s what Jesus was getting at. Imagine if everyone did that, each reaching out within their own circle to bear the real burdens of others. That would resonate deeply and broadly indeed, maybe even transform our neighborhoods and our society in ways that reflect the Kingdom of God.

We have a choice each day. Do we depersonalize and take advantage of our supposed enemies, who are categorized based on general categories? Or do we put in the work to help those around us, recognizing each other as persons and responding in helpful love?

On a day in which there’s sadness and shame, it’s worth noting that there can be a better way.  It gives me hope and it gives me an example of the kind of person I want to be.

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Running After those Who Have Run Away

One of the key perspectives Moltmann has helped me consider more thoroughly is that of the perspective of God. We tend to think about theology, and law, and all the other religious concepts from our perspective. Which makes sense because its ours, and so we naturally view the world this way.

But Scripture gives us insight into God’s perspective, and if you get that it’s doing that, you have to re-interpret religious experiences, sin, and everything else from this more complete understanding. That’s what Jesus was about, living among us and exhibiting in words and in actions how God views people, and how God views this whole world. Most people, I think it can be said, didn’t get what Jesus was up to.

I suspect that most people still don’t. I’m not going to say, “I get it” in a way that others don’t, but I am trying to become more and more the sort of person who does get it. Moltmann said, at one point, that “We shouldn’t take an atheist more serious than Christ who died for them.” We shouldn’t take the expressions of religious belief, or lack of them, as being weightier than God. The question isn’t, Moltmann said, what god people might believe in, the question is who God believes in. Who does God believe in? He sent his son to die for all, and more than this, he sent his son to die and be resurrected so that death–of faith, of relationships, of hope, of identity, of meaning, of finances, of contribution–isn’t the end, but even as death, real and literal death, has been overcome, so too has all these other forms of death.

Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. Some men brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”

At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!”

Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” 7 Then the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to man.

We’re pretty good with people who are experiencing problems they didn’t cause. We’re pretty good with accepting people’s faults when they make the claim that they’re seeking God’s forgiveness. But what about people who cause their own problems? What about people who have rejected the faith of their youth. We tend to take their rejection more seriously than the God who continues to believe in them, who continues to seek them.

That’s probably why I really like this story about the Apostle John, told by his own followers, and shared first in writing by Clement of Alexandria in the late 2nd century.

I like to share it every so often because it’s a good reminder to me and to others, not to give up even on people who have given up on themselves, on God, or on us.

When he had come to one of the cities not far away (the name of which is given by some ), and had consoled the brethren in other matters, he finally turned to the bishop that had been appointed, and seeing a youth of powerful physique, of pleasing appearance, and of ardent temperament, he said, `This one I commit to you in all earnestness in the presence of the Church and with Christ as witness.’ And when the bishop had accepted the Charge and had promised all, he repeated the same injunction with an appeal to the same witnesses, and then departed for Ephesus.

But the presbyter taking home the youth committed to him, reared, kept, cherished, and finally baptized him. After this he relaxed his stricter care and watchfulness, with the idea that in putting upon him the seal of the Lord he had given him a perfect protection.

But some youths of his own age, idle and dissolute, and accustomed to evil practices, corrupted him when he was thus prematurely freed from restraint. At first they enticed him by costly entertainments; then, when they went forth at night for robbery, they took him with them, and finally they demanded that he should unite with them in some greater crime.

He gradually became accustomed to such practices, and on account of the positiveness of his character, leaving the right path, and taking the bit in his teeth like a hard-mouthed and powerful horse, he rushed the more violently down into the depths.

And finally despairing of salvation in God, he no longer meditated what was insignificant, but having committed some great crime, since he was now lost once for all, he expected to suffer a like fate with the rest. Taking them, therefore, and forming a band of robbers, he became a bold bandit-chief, the most violent, most bloody, most cruel of them all.

Time passed, and some necessity having arisen, they sent for John. But he, when he had set in order the other matters on account of which he had come, said, `Come, O bishop, restore us the deposit which both I and Christ committed to you, the church, over which you preside, being witness.’

But the bishop was at first confounded, thinking that he was falsely charged in regard to money which he had not received, and he could neither believe the accusation respecting what he had not, nor could he disbelieve John. But when he said, `I demand the young man and the soul of the brother,’ the old man, groaning deeply and at the same time bursting into tears, said, `He is dead.’ `How and what kind of death?’ `He is dead to God,’ he said; `for he turned wicked and abandoned, and at last a robber. And now, instead of the church, he haunts the mountain with a band like himself.’

But the Apostle rent his clothes, and beating his head with great lamentation, he said, `A fine guard I left for a brother’s soul! But let a horse be brought me, and let some one show me the way.’ He rode away from the church just as he was, and coming to the place, he was taken prisoner by the robbers’ outpost.

He, however, neither fled nor made entreaty, but cried out, `For this did I come; lead me to your captain.’

The latter, meanwhile, was waiting, armed as he was. But when he recognized John approaching, he turned in shame to flee.

But John, forgetting his age, pursued him with all his might, crying out, `Why, my son, do you flee from me, your own father, unarmed, aged? Pity me, my son; fear not; you still have hope of life. I will give account to Christ for you. If need be, I will willingly endure your death as the Lord suffered death for us. For you will I give up my life. Stand, believe; Christ has sent me.’

And he, when he heard, first stopped and looked down; then he threw away his arms, and then trembled and wept bitterly. And when the old man approached, he embraced him, making confession with lamentations as he was able, baptizing himself a second time with tears, and concealing only his right hand.

But John, pledging himself, and assuring him on oath that he would find forgiveness with the Savior, besought him, fell upon his knees, kissed his right hand itself as if now purified by repentance, and led him back to the church. And making intercession for him with copious prayers, and struggling together with him in continual fastings, and subduing his mind by various utterances, he did not depart, as they say, until he had restored him to the church, furnishing a great example of true repentance and a great proof of regeneration, a trophy of a visible resurrection.”

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Charity in truth

In view of the complexity of the issues, it is obvious that the various disciplines have to work together through an orderly interdisciplinary exchange. Charity does not exclude knowledge, but rather requires, promotes, and animates it from within. Knowledge is never purely the work of the intellect. It can certainly be reduced to calculation and experiment, but if it aspires to be wisdom capable of directing man in the light of his first beginnings and his final ends, it must be “seasoned” with the “salt” of charity. Deeds without knowledge are blind, and knowledge without love is sterile. Indeed, “the individual who is animated by true charity labours skilfully to discover the causes of misery, to find the means to combat it, to overcome it resolutely”. Faced with the phenomena that lie before us, charity in truth requires first of all that we know and understand, acknowledging and respecting the specific competence of every level of knowledge. Charity is not an added extra, like an appendix to work already concluded in each of the various disciplines: it engages them in dialogue from the very beginning. The demands of love do not contradict those of reason. Human knowledge is insufficient and the conclusions of science cannot indicate by themselves the path towards integral human development. There is always a need to push further ahead: this is what is required by charity in truth. Going beyond, however, never means prescinding from the conclusions of reason, nor contradicting its results. Intelligence and love are not in separate compartments: love is rich in intelligence and intelligence is full of love.

~Pope Benedict XVI, from his new encyclical “Caritas in veritate”

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Blame and Temptation

Do not say: “I do not know what is right, therefore I am not to blame when I fail to do it.” For if you did all the good which you do know, what you should do would then become clear to you, as if you were passing through a house from one room to another. It is not helpful to know what comes later before you have done what comes first. For knowledge without action ‘puffs up’, but ‘love edifies’, because it ‘patiently accepts all things.’ (1 Cor 8:1; 13:7).

I always want to know what comes next so that I have a good basis to do what comes first. Learning how to just go ahead and do that first thing has been quite freeing. When I do it. Truth be told, it’s sometimes exhausting to step without seeing. But, we’re not called to see the giants as wee or weak. We’re called to attack them anyhow, even if they’re huge and strong.

After fulfilling a commandment expect to be tempted; for love of Christ is tested by adversity.

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A Persistent Peace. An Autohagiography.

Throughout Christian history there has been quite an interest in men and women who did great things, whether in this world or within their soul. These men and women weren’t seeking self-satisfaction. Rather, they were truly seeking God and his work in them and in this world. The interest in such people often insisted they be viewed as saints, objects of devotion if not worship. Biographies written were often filled with stories of great victories, moral pronouncements, heroic stands. Little was said that would suggest these people had real personal histories or daily struggles or lived in complex times.

Glossing over the negatives, and thus the whole truth, these biographies were meant more as inspiration than history–inspiration for those already walking in their footsteps, devoted to the cause and method.

A Persistent Peace: One Man’s Struggle for a Nonviolent World is such a book, though oddly enough not one written by a later disciple but rather written by the man himself, John Dear. This fact makes the book curious to review. I do not share his views on pacifism, yet I am sympathetic to them, and was very open to being convinced, enlightened and taught. I was curious how he formed his views, how he wrestled with the Catholic Church’s official teaching, and in general the overall story of a man who has been on the frontlines of peace protests for the last thirty years.

I was disappointed, however. A Persistent Peace is a history of the icon, John Dear S.J, and even more the story of the names and places involved in the Peace movement since Reagan.

But we never really get to know the man, John Dear. The gift of an autobiography is that we can see not only the events, but also the internal perspective, wrestling, frustrations, development of the subject. John Dear seems to open up, but often only in ways that bolster the sense of his superiority. People around him don’t understand him. They are bored or angry or confused. Dialogue is pontifications of his teaching to the ignorant, even hateful, opponents or less ignorant friends. This is coupled with a hero worship of sorts, in which Dear seems to reveal himself most by talking about the people he wants to be like. But, all throughout it seems a lot of the real John Dear remains hidden, hidden because it seems he is still unwilling to be truly transparent about who he is and where he came from.

In the foreword, Martin Sheen writes, “I suspect that much of John’s character was formed, as it is for all of us, during adolescence, that critical period when every level of physical, emotional, physiological, sexual, and spiritual development begins to emerge.”

I suspect this too. Only A Persistent Peace gives nothing of this. We begin with John in college at Duke. We are given only the barest glimpse of his family life, which is decidedly upper class and filled with powerful influences. Indeed, he mentions his father and mother only in passing again and again, often as sources of introductions for people he proceeded to lecture about peace issues.
A Persistent Peace
So, we don’t really ever get to see the man, only the image of the peace activist seeking the way of Jesus in this world as he sees it, fighting against the benighted masses who disagree, not only with the goal but also the method–public protest and nuisance. This is not a review to argue such tactics, however, I can’t help but think that being empowered because of arrests for public behavior is entirely different than the martyrs arrested for their message. Speaking the message is perfectly fine and accepted, a fact I think grates against those who seek to find identity within a pampered martyrdom.

Because of this I was disappointed with the book. We are left with more of a polemic than a story, again and again told rather than shown. Which places me outside of the target audience, to be sure, which is almost certainly the choir of people who already celebrate the message, goals, and tactics of John Dear as being the true expression of a “faith that does justice”.

Giving this a star rating was difficult even still, because I realize for many this is precisely what they want and need. Hagiographies were popular, and still are, because people need heroes presented in a certain light and need the empowerment that comes from seeing their causes as black and white, good versus evil. I give it three stars because I do not share the initial assumptions and was seeking a history of the man rather than a story of places, and celebrities, and events that make up the Peace movement. I wanted to learn about the man, not the symbol.

Here is a quote that I think would best help readers to determine the worth of this book. John Dear upon arriving at the Pentagon says, “it was the center of death for the whole planet, its prime purpose to organize the empire’s killing sprees at the behest of the multinational corporations and their politicians.”

If you agree with this, then you will see this as a five star book, speaking truth to power, and modeling heroic activism. If you disagree, you will find this book likely confirming what you like least about the Peace movement, even if you happen to agree with many of their ideals.

This is not particularly an interesting or insightful autobiography. It compares poorly as such to the recent works by Jurgen Moltmann about his life in theology, A Broad Place: An Autobiography, or Billy Graham about his life in evangelism Just As I Am: The Autobiography of Billy Graham. Both were significantly more open and self-aware, maybe because both of these were written much later in their lives, after retirement and after perspective had given them added insights. Nor does this come near the masterpieces that are The Long Loneliness or The Seven Storey Mountain.

This is a book for the choir. If you’re wearing the robes then have at it, enjoy it, for it is certainly written with passion. It is also a good history of the last decades of the Peace movement. In fact, I wish Dear had not styled this a story of one man’s struggle and instead more honestly made this a book of many people’s participation.

As such, I’m left thinking Dear is trying to impose himself as a major figure, seeking the identity of his heroes Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Bobby Kennedy, but falling flat despite his many arrests and popularity within a certain segment of particular activists. He wants to be seen and applauded and affirmed.

Which makes me wonder what his life was like before Duke and with his family. Which makes me also wonder if maybe he really should have become a Franciscan after all.

Posted in books, church, education, from the vine, good works, Jesus, missional, politics, religion, reviews, society, theology | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Emerging/missional and the OS

In an earlier post I asked if I could still be allowed in emerging circles even though I’m not voting for Obama (and didn’t) and I use Microsoft Windows. Anyone who has followed this blog for a while can understand why I’m not voting for Obama (can agree on goals while disagreeing with methods). The choice of operating system is a little more rigid. Emerging people use Apple. They have Apple parties, are caught up in Mac momentum, and otherwise live the Apple OS lifestyle.

This raises a curious question. Given the emphasis on poverty and justice issues, as well as a dissatisfaction with so much typical Evangelical Christian Right politicking I get why there’s a trend towards Obama. Even if I disagree on core issues, I look at the foundational traits of the emerging church and can see why the balance of issues might swing someone that way (even as I get very strong admonitions on other issues that say someone should never consider a Democrat at this point in their platform).

I don’t, honestly, understand the Apple enthusiasm. Or change that. I understand the Apple enthusiasm entirely. Only it’s the same kind of enthusiasm that helps me understand why someone would choose a mega-Church. Apple is proprietary, elitist, expensive, judgmental, and almost entirely run by a single man who founded, then saved, the company. Yes, there are less errors, often run faster, have better multimedia support, much better included software, and are more stylish.

How is that reflective of emerging principles in any way, that seem to be so important in other categories of life? Indeed, I might be willing to say that Apple is a betrayal of everything the emerging/missional church stands for and those that use such computers are technological hypocrites.

Now, of course, that would be a fair bit of hyperbole to say that. I don’t really care what computer anyone uses, and probably if part of my work didn’t involve working with education and their funded windows computers, then I might consider a Mac myself. But, I’m not sure that’s because of my principles, or because I’m already feeling a fair bit of an outsider in emerging circles for various reasons and wouldn’t mind at least a little conforming.

But if I was really emerging/missional in a way that influenced all my decisions I’d have to go with Linux. Not least because I could save money, use the same hardware I have, and not pour more money into the technological envy-trap.

I’m curious now. Because, even though I’m being a fair bit silly in my forceful opinions here I’m wondering how owning a Mac computer could be justified using solely emerging/missional principles. I’d love to hear serious or funny responses. Make me think. Make me laugh. Maybe you’ll even make me change my mind.

Posted in church, education, emerging church, entertainment, good works, Holy Spirit, Jesus, ministry, missional, personal, religion, science, silliness, sins, spirituality | 8 Comments