Pursuing Justice Is Required Reading

UnknownI was given a .pdf of Pursuing Justice to read. As always, I am not required to write a positive review but only an honest one.

Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live and Die for Bigger Things by Ken Wytsma
First question who is Ken Wystma? According to his bio:
“Ken Wytsma is the founder of The Justice Conference, one of the largest international gatherings on biblical and social justice and the president of Kilns College in Bend, Oregon where he teaches classes on philosophy and justice. He is also a church planter and lead pastor of Antioch.” More here.

First Impressions: I found myself nodding my head from the beginning.
“One of our most important tasks in this book will be to hold up justice and examine it’s [Read more…]

Reflecting on Gary Haugen’s Message at Justice Conference – What I Loved, What I Pushed Back On

(Photo: Passion 2013 Conferences)

I’ve been blogging about my reflections on the Justice Conference in Philadelphia all month. I loved it. I hope what I gained and sharing with my wife shapes us, our family, our church, and our community. I know it sounds a bit lofty but in my mind this is the difference between consuming events/books/stories/practices/etc. and internalizing them.

So as I’ve been blogging about this and trying to filter out what actually is helpful and what is not, I’ve been critiquing as well. It’s easy to for critiquing to fall into splitting hairs and other unhelpful distractions. My hope is my push backs will point me (and perhaps you) to something deeper.

I felt this way during Gary Haugen’s message on Saturday morning.
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Reflecting on Eugene Cho’s “Water Your Own Grass” Idea From the Justice Conference

One of my favorite parts of the Justice Conference was listening to Eugene Cho’s seminar and message Saturday morning. He’s sharp, interesting and he is able to challenge his listener without them feeling guilty or frustrated.

I find there’s a good number of “justice” types who given their prophetic nature, frustrate their listeners. I’m some of it is meant in a well-intended provoking but some of it is likely unintended and I wonder how much of that speakers are actually aware of. While there is a significant population that needs to be confronted with the failures of apathy and inaction, there are a number of people who are already serving “almost the best the can.” When you push that latter group too hard, it starts to be counter-productive, especially if they are not in a life position to directly serve in say, a non-profit justice-seeking organization. So for the everyday person in the Church and the workforce, I think Eugene has a lot of wisdom to offer.

(Photo: From World Relief Responds)

Here were my notes:
1. Be generous.
2. Shut up and listen.
3. When you dehumanize the poor, you have no value in their redemption
He told a story of a man who shine shoes for a living. Over many years, he saved $200,000 in tips, then gave it to a kids’ home in Pittsburgh. If I heard the story right, the man himself was raised in an orphanage and never forgot either the pain of his childhood or those that were there to help.
4. Need to get deeper in the story
Study, Read, Search – Be informed, “Not enough to say I read it in Relevant, heard it on [Read more…]

Reflecting on Soong-Chan Rah’s Seminar at Justice Conference Post 2

You can read my previous post on Dr. Soong Chan Rah seminar at the Justice Conference in Philly (link below). In short, I was critiquing his main point when the Evangelical Church moves out of the city and into the suburbs, it trades its suffering and sacrifice narrative for one of triumphalism. I argue this is only a half true – as there is still much suffering and sacrifice in the Suburban Church.

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Reflecting on Soong-Chan Rah’s Seminar at Justice Conference

I love half of what Soong-Chan Rah says and I loathe the other half ;) Part of his “brand” is being a prophetic type which is needed in the Church and throughout our world. So I love him as a brother in the Lord but if he’s not careful, I’m going to look into trading him for a different prophet. I think Craigslist lets you do that now and if I understand Dr. Rah right, this is how he knows he’d doing his job.

I first heard Dr. Rah speak at a Youth Specialties Conference a few years ago. I remember nodding my head along to seeing the need for the Church to think more globally, more as the full body of Christ, not just the Western one. Then I read his well celebrated The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity.   To brutally summarize, I agreed with the main idea, would debate some of the finer nuances, but I admit I was distracted by the angry rhetoric. That line between passion/righteous anger/ and anger is thin.

BUT I can’t stay away from him – he feels like a needed voice in my life. I was excited to see that he was presenting at The Justice Conference. I liked  his material was new and since I called attention to the use of anger, his demeanor was cool, passionate at times (in the good way) and I’d say, he came across to me as pastoral. But still, I only agreed with half of what he said.

Here are some of the notes I took:

Name of seminar was “Lamenting our Story”

What is it about American Christianity that desires to focus on success that actually diminishes Christianity’s theology of sacrifice?
Story of hearing a mega-church pastor talking like a Christian motivational speaker and saying stuff like this in sermons, “The sky is the limit, reach for the stars!”
Triumph narrative of Christianity instead of the Christian narrative of suffering and sacrifice.
3 Potential Responses
1. Disengage with surrounding culture
2. Idolatry (magic formulas)
3. Lament (Yahweh’s sovereignty)

“Arkitecture” illustration – my iPhone picture didn’t turn out but he showed a picture of a gothic church santuary that was turned upside down.  When seen this way, the domed ceilings resemble the bottom or a boat – an ark, a Biblical symbol of God’s rescue and deliverance. (It was clever – I’ve never saw that before).

Then, Dr. Rah said this:
Something happens when you move all the churches out of the city to the suburbs.
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TOMS Shoes Are Bad, Fair Trade Isn’t Enough, & Shane Claiborne Cut His Hair & Now I Don’t Know What to Believe/Consume

Depending on how long you have been a part of the social justice/sustainability/fair-trade conversation, you know that it can be wrought with complication and various perspectives on what is actually just.

For example, when TOMS Shoes first came out there was a surge of praise.  Blake Mosloskie founded a for-profit company whose “One to One” model allowed for consumer purchases to directly help those in poverty.  Blake, the story, The shoes, were everywhere and before you knew it, TOMS were being sold in stores like Nordstroms. Then a bit later, some were down on them. “They’re being made in China,” “Why shoes and why not food?,” “They’re not ethically made or distributed” and some dismissed them as another bad example of good intention. Likely, there are some holes in their model, likely some of the criticism are warranted and needed and likely the good people of TOMS are aware of even more of their faults than their critics realize. It seems they have been trying to function with better practices from the beginning and you should read more at their Corporate Responsibility page.  I’m optimistic for them.

Another complaint I hear are the limitations of fair trade products. Have you ever heard this – “It’s technically fair-trade [Read more…]

Gen Xer’s and Millennials on Church & Social Justice Post 2 – The Word “Trendy”

I have been thinking about some of the trends I’ve seen between the respective generations, especially in the Church and Social Justice scene. But it seems helpful to actually talk about the word “trends.” We tend to dismiss this word as something that is shallow and lacks quality thought – thus it is temporary and not worthwhile. To me it seems that’s how some are dismissing the need for Christina engagement in the world of justice – some are calling it a trend. So here’s another way to see trends.

You could make the case that 100 years ago after the Wright brothers (and other flight pioneers) were successful that the resulting boom with further experimentation was trendy. What you generally get in these moments is some talented daredevils who jump on this bandwagon. They are normally unemployed, jumping from career to cause, they may even be college drop-outs who have stressed out their parents and left a trail of disappointment along the way. They are not lazy, many have simply not found their purpose, their niche, maybe even their calling. And while some research would be helpful right now, I bet you this is part of the story of those who would pave the way for commerce, military, aeronautical aviation and whose faces and fill the walls at the Smithsonian Air and Space museum. Sometimes it seems we need to thank God for trends.

The previous post discussed the rise of NGO’s versus the traditional missions organizations founded in the last century. Now, I’m not interested in defending every t-shirt company but I do think organizations like To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) are so precious to the Kingdom of God. We were just discussing this at our most recent Reading Circle and here’s why. To have a shirt sold at Hot Topic and now so many stores in so many malls in the country that tells their story when you turn it inside out, and an organization with a great online presence that tours across the country with bands and whatever else that allow for a message of hope to be carried to those who desperately need it – well, that’s amazing (And not to mention so much of the financial profits have gone to rehabilitation and counseling programs.  Makes me wonder about all the other shirts I got).

I’ve heard stories of people diving deeper in wanting to stop cutting themselves, in removing whatever that is hurting their minds and bodies, and committed to finding identity. Some find hope in Jesus, and become part of the Church – a “place” they never [Read more…]

Awkward Rubio Sips, Triumph’s Failure, Blade Runner’s VDay Murder & Handling the Sensational News Media

As mentioned in the previous post, we’re visiting family in Florida this week. Susan’s side is meeting Janelle for the first time and it’s been a while since seeing the boys. Speaking of whom, the boys are having a blast as my in-laws have an awesome two-story tree house with a trap-door, a sandbox, and tire swing. This summer is attaching a rock-wall to it – I’m not kidding. I’ve always loved living in the Northeast but I do miss seeing our kids playing outside again.

After spending a full day outside Wednesday, it rained all afternoon Thursday so I caught up on some cable news. You may know that I don’t take cable news too seriously as I think it’s mostly hype and advertising with sprinkles of truth. Still, I like to know what people are talking about. If you’re new to the blog, I consider Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death to be one of the most important books I’ve ever read – can’t recommend it enough.

So in case you were at work, out enjoying Valentines’, reading or doing something better than watching television, here’s what you missed:
Police did confirm that Christopher Dorner is dead.
People are making a big deal of people making a big deal of Marco Rubio’s awkward sip during his response to the President’s State of the Union address.
Carnival’s Triumph cruise ship has finally made it to Mobile, AL. Thank God no one died or was seriously injured. That said, hoping the 3000+ passengers are able to put this terrible vacation behind them and that we don’t have to hear about anymore.
and the story that really got me is this one:
Oscar Pistorius, the beloved South African Olympian known as the “Blade Runner,” was charged with the murder of his girlfriend.

With the exception of the Pistorius story, I found the news to be very sensationalized. It always is. We all know countless news stories that get drug out for more pubic consumption and that’s how 24 hour cable news works. This Pistorius story will undoubtedly follow the same pattern. Soon, there will be avalanche of coverage, commentary and interviews as the details emerge. I am not complaining that it’s not newsworthy – it is and as mentioned, I am genuinely saddened by this tragedy. My frustration is that with any event of massive coverage, we end up objectifying everyone involved. Gossip will likely be uncovered, sides will be created, there will some type of controversy and the families involved will go through an even more difficult time. May God be with them.

I turn on the news hoping to hear more about what’s going on in places like Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Iran. It’s not just because I am Egyptian but also because I am concerned for persecuted and hurting people here and there. I want to hear more about what’s going on in India. Every day there are new developments of the rape debate and we know this because of the various internet news outlets like the Wall Street Journal online. Come on CNN, keep up.  (Seriously don’t know what we do without the internet.  I know it’s suffers from similar flaws and biases but there is good in it too).  More so, I want Piers Morgan to talk less about gun control, an important issue but also talk about human trafficking, also an important issue. Frankly, I can’t believe people are talking about Rubio taking a sip of water, no matter how awkward he looked. This is this week’s version of Beyonce lip-syncing the National Anthem.

So I’ll admit this could be attached to my Gen-X angst and suspicion of all things (some of which is good & needed btw). When I watch the news, I don’t feel “that informed.” But what I feel even more is my guard being up. I know people feel this in all sorts of moments and places including their schools, their homes, even in their churches. Which brings up questions concerning truth, authority, corruption, subversiveness, the need for redemption.

I realize not everything can be covered. I realize that no one person can keep up with all the ongoings of the world. But I know this week is just like every other news week. The names have changed, the stories have changed but the pattern is the same. I’m supposed to be outraged, provoked and then hopefully, I’ll respond by purchasing something from the advertisers.

As is my habit, after everyone went to bed, I stayed up a little more, turned off the tv, and did some thinking and praying. I’ve also been rereading John Perkins’ With Justice For All as I hope to attend the Justice Conference in Philadelphia next week and he is among the speakers. I prayed that I would care less about the news media, that I would not allow sensationalism to bother me as much, and instead that I would care more for the hurting and injustice that we see.  Further, I prayed God would strengthen me and my community to act in a way that helps people and honors Him. Which is one of the few helpful parts of cable news: though they do a terrible job of “informing us” – they are helpful in showing us the hurting world.

Feel free to offer your thoughts on the news media, handling sensationalism and what your’e seeing in your corner of the world – thanks for reading.

Check Out the Justice Conference, Feb. 22-23 in Philly

Hey Justice Seekers, in case you haven’t heard, the Justice Conference is taking place in Philly February 22-23.  At the moment, I’m looking for solutions that will allow me to attend but if you go, I would love for you to guest post here. Let me know.

For now, here’s the 101:

About – “The Justice Conference is a two-day annual event to promote dialogue around justice related issues such as human trafficking, slavery, poverty, HIV/AIDS and human rights, featuring internationally acclaimed speakers, hundreds of humanitarian organizations and dozens of pre-conference workshops.” [Read more…]