Thursday, November 29, 2007

Hillary Clinton at the Saddleback AIDS Conference

This afternoon Hillary Clinton spoke to the Global AIDS Conference at Saddleback Community church in Orange County. The audience of about 1,000 people from across the USA and 18 other nations greeted her very warmly (with a standing ovation). In fact, the greeting was much warmer than I had personally expected.

Rick and Kay Warren had invited ALL of the Republican and Democratic candidates for president to come to the conference. ONLY Hillary responded by appearing live. John Edwards, Barak O'Bama, John McCain, Mike Hukabee and Mitt Romney appeared via video.

Hillary was articulate and at times, passionate. She delineated a very clear plan about how she would deal with HIV/AIDS both in the USA and around the world. She obviously knew her audience, quoted Scripture with familiarity and impressed me and several of my friends who are not friends of Hillary.

Being a bit of a cynic, I wonder if she can be trusted. Hillary has reinvented herself several times over the years, and it makes me wonder if she just communicated what we wanted to hear (Bill was very good at that). BUT, if she really believes what she said, then I am on her side.

In would rate the video presentations in the following order (from best to worst):

John Edwards
John McCain (though he appeared extremely tired)
Barak O'Bama
Mike Hukabee and Mitt Romney tied for last

It was rather interesting to see what kind of background the candidates chose to make their video comments. Mitt Romney was dressed in a very expensive suit, sitting on a bench with an expensive painting in the background. He looked like an old style, highly sophisticated, aristocrat. Barak O'Bama had a background covered with his website address. His face filled the entire screen -- you could almost count his nose hairs. Mike Hukabee was video taped in what appeared to be his campaign office. People were moving around in the background. Came across like a nice, ordinary guy. He and Rick Warren went to seminary together, and Mike told us the best move Rick ever made was marrying Kay. He seemed like a genuinely nice guy.

I think that the candidates who didn't show up (that's all of them but Hillary) probably made a tactical error if they wanted to get a bit more of the evangelical vote. Lots of evangelical leaders at this conference -- would have been a good place to get support.

Other than this bit of excitement, the conference has been good -- just too many talking-heads, and not enough time to network or interact with others involved in the battle against HIV/AIDS.

Personally, it's been a good conference for me. God has been speaking to me about a number of things and is confirming some of what I have thought about in my heart - but more of that later.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Somethings Happenin Here, What It Is Ain't Exactly Clear

Over the past couple of months I have had numerous conversations -- in Africa, Canada, Indonesia, and in the USA -- with people ranging in age from their early 20's to their mid 70's -- and the conversations have all had a number of things in common. These conversations have had me thinking, and here I am, it is 1:00 am in the morning, the day after American Thanksgiving, and I can't sleep.

I am still seeing, "as in a mirror darkly", but I feel like some things are becoming clearer. Let me "freely associate" some about what I have been hearing in conversations and sensing in my heart. Some of you who read this will probably say "duh", others may think I had too much turkey, and perhaps for some of you these thoughts may spark further ideas.

1. I think there is almost universal agreement that we are either at the end of "modernism" or in the final stages of "modern" thought in North America and much of the western world. What there isn't agreement about is where we are going and what we are transitioning into. The changes in western thought and culture have come relatively quickly, affecting every part of society -- including the church. Lots of people are thinking, blogging, writing and talking about what the future may hold. It is becoming clear to me that in the evangelical world two streams are emerging in response to the changes in our culture, and that these two streams are moving side-by-side, but not necessarily intersecting. In fact, the sense I get is that these two streams are moving further apart.

2. I think there is growing disillusionment with the evangelical/charismatic church as it is exists in North America. This disillusionment is not just among those in their 20's and 30's -- but is increasingly widespread among all age groups. As a result, more and more people are either dropping out of church, and/or are becoming less and less engaged in their churches. Many of these people are desiring a deeper and more meaningful relationship with Jesus, are wanting their lives to make a difference in their communities and/or around the world, but are finding that the church is either in the way, or not helpful in their spiritual journey.

In the last week I have spent time with two small groups of believers who have a significant desire to impact the world -- one group was focused primarily on the community they lived in, the other on Africa. Both saw the church as a possible ally, but were focusing their efforts on creating other mechanisms to fulfill their God-given dreams because they realized that if they were going to accomplish what they believe God was calling them to, the church would probably make their lives much more complicated, and hinder their calling -- not help them fulfill it. Since I work in a church, this made me rather sad -- but I couldn't help but agree with their perspective. I know how they feel.

3. There is a growing "Jesus Movement". Christians want to know Jesus and be like Him. They are forming small groups, missional communities, loose associations, networks and all kinds of structures and mechanisms that they sense will help them become more like Christ, grow closer to Him, and enable them to fulfill God's calling on their lives. These alternative structures are usually being created outside of the structures of existing churches or religious institutions. They are informal and viral, committed to creating community with a purpose. Some are focused around local issues and causes. Others focus on global issues. BUT ALL of them are focused on Christ, and are relational within the context of a greater missional purpose. My sense is that these alternative structures and mechanisms will grow in number and influence. I wonder whether existing churches will embrace them unconditionally -- or only embrace them if they become part of the existing church structures and all that comes with that.

4. As is often the case in times of transition, the status quo, the existing power structures, when feeling threatened, have a tendency to strike out against those without power, who are on the edges of a movement, and who question the way things have been done. If you read history, Christian or secular, you quickly discover that change doesn't come from the centers of power or wealth -- it always comes from the edges. I sense this is happening today in the church on a variety of fronts. Those who have asked theological questions or have suggested new ways of "doing church" have at times been called heretics and/or had their character or relationship with God called into question. Sometimes the response from those on the edge has been in the same un-Christ-like spirit -- and so, instead of talking in meaningful ways that might provide some new insights into the Gospel and living like Jesus, only further division has resulted.

5. There is a movement toward a wholistic Gospel -- a Gospel, that like Jesus, is primarily about service -- about "power under" rather than "power over". This gives me hope for the church. I see this movement globally -- and now finally coming to North America.

6. The attractional model of church in North America is struggling and becoming increasingly ineffective. While some churches are trying hard to mix an attractional model of doing church with a semi-incarnational model (for example by becoming multi-site churches), I am not sure this will work. The church growth/seeker-sensitive model of the 70' - 90's will work less and less effectively in the years to come. But churches that have been built on the attractional model have buildings to pay for, and lots of emotional, psychological and physical investment in this approach. Change will be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, without enormous challenges and lots of risk.

The attractional model will most-likely make church increasingly irrelevant to the existing culture. Research indicates that in the USA this model of church is only interesting, at most, to about 33-40% of non-church-going people. That leaves at least 60% of unchurched America uninterested in church. I am beginning to become convinced -- more and more -- that churches need to become part of the "warp and woof" (using an old Francis Schaeffer term) of a community. In other words, churches need to truly be incarnational -- they need to be part of the life of a community -- not just located in a community. Only if we plant communities of Gods people that are committed to genuine community transformation will we see God's kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

7. More and more people are realizing that you cannot consume your way into a deeper relationship with God, and into deeper discipleship. This is a challenge for churches that have largely become dispensers of religious goods and services. Hot worship bands, multitudes of often excellent programs, etc. do not make disciples. Service in the context of Biblical community does -- and that is what people are looking for more and more. It is in service in the community and the world that we will find Jesus.

8. I am becoming convinced that everything must change. We need to question much. We need to read the Scriptures with an open mind and heart. We need to try and unlearn much of what we have been taught. We need to ask Jesus to take the blinders from our eyes and see His heart, His way of being and doing, and ask Him "how then shall we live"? If we continue the way we are we will die.

I want my life to count. God wants my life to count. While I am very grateful for those who have taught me much over the years I have followed Christ, I have a growing sense I need to relearn and sometimes unlearn what it means to follow Jesus. That will take faith and courage, lots of God's grace and friends who will encourage me to question, who will listen to me, who will agree with me, disagree with me, argue with me, challenge me and love me.

Well, it is 2:00 am, and I am running out of steam. As I read this post over, I realize that I have not said everything I want to say, and much of what I have said I have said poorly. I will probably come back to these ideas several times over the next few months. As my Facebook profile says, my views on religion are emerging, changing, developing and growing. I trust that is a good thing.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Las Vegas Democratic Debate on November 15, 2007

Last night I watched about 30 minutes of the Las Vegas Democratic Debate on CNN on my computer (since we don't have cable TV). I have really been rather disinterested in the race for president so far, and outside of Barak Obama and John McCain, there hasn't been anyone remotely interesting to me. On the Republican side I don't think John McCain has any potential for winning the primaries. He has alienated the Republican establishment so much, there is no way they would let him win. And, since I am registered as an "Independent", I'm not sure I can vote in any of the primaries anyway.

Last night one of the questions asked of the candidates was -- which was more important -- human rights or protecting American national security? Now, I may be quite naive -- but I was very disappointed that all the major candidates said "American national security". Some like Obama seemed to indicate that there was no conflict between the two. That simply is false.

Perhaps these candidates have not really thought about this very much, but it would seem to me that human rights are a fundamental value. If you say that protecting American national security is fundamental, then the protection of human rights becomes secondary and all kinds of things are possible -- eavesdropping on your own citizens without cause, torturing prisoners of war to get information that will protect our security, indiscriminate killing of innocent people; and the list goes on and on and on. If American national security is #1, then almost anything can be done and explained away in those terms. Kind of reminds me of some of the things have crept into our politics and philosophy here in the USA since 2001.

If I had to vote today for president, I don't know what I would do. Today the front-runners are Clinton and
Giuliani. I wouldn't vote for Clinton. I don't trust her as far as I can throw her. Unlike her husband who is simply a people-pleaser, Hillary has principles but unfortunately it appears to me that her bottom-line principle is power. People who lust after power are dangerous people. I wouldn't vote for Giuliani. There just seems to be a bit of a smell around him. If he is the candidate, Republicans certainly can't claim any kind of family values banner. Hillary could actually claim that banner because she stood by her man while he behaved like Giuliani. If Rudy's only value is that he might beat Hillary -- that isn't good enough for me.

Perhaps the solution is to move back to Canada. Universal healthcare, budget surpluses for the past 10 years, falling taxes, and a currency that is worth more than the US$!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Reflections from Malawi

Over the past 24 months I have been in Malawi five times. Whenever I come back, Katie my co-worker tells me I am cranky for a couple of weeks. That's probably because I am processing all the stuff that has happened. Some of it is simply the shock of leaving a country where the per-capita income is US$180 a YEAR, life expectancy is 37, and in some communities people are so poor that there is no garbage. You know you are poor when there is nothing to throw away.

BUT, despite the grinding poverty, the spiritual warfare, the injustice, the feeling of being overwhelmed by all the challeng
es, I always meet God in Malawi. In fact, I often see Jesus more clearly than I see Him in my comfortable home and pleasant surroundings.

There are 3 people in particular in whom I saw Jesus this time around. Let me tell you a bit about them.

Harriet the GoGo

Harriet is a GoGo -- a grandmother who takes care of 16 grandchildren. Harriet has one remaining child -- the rest have all died, so she is left taking care of her grandchildren. She lives in a mud house with a dirt floor. She has no running water, no electricity and the closest borehole/well is over a kilometre away from her humble home. The first time I met Harriet she came running across the field to our van. She greeted us with great excitement and started speaking of the goodness of God in her life. A few days later we stopped by Harriet's home again. This time we prayed for her sick daughter. As we walked back to our van she told us that until she saw us that morning she was sad, tired and depressed. Who wouldn't be at the age of 72, taking care of 16 grandchildren, and having to work in the garden all day to simply get some food. She cannot read or write, yet that day she quoted Psalm 27:13:

I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; Be strong, and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord.

She told us that when she saw us, she saw the goodness of God -- and she worshiped Him. The reality is that when
we saw her, and her response to God working in our life -- we saw Jesus in the land of the living.

I intend to visit Harriet every time I am in Malawi.

Two other people made an impression on me this time. Lucious is a "Zone Leader" with Somebody Cares Malawi. As a Zone Leader and a pastor Lucious works with volunteers who visit widows, orphans and vulnerable children and those suffering from HIV/AIDS in their communities. Lucious ov
ersees 15 volunteers who together have 75 patients in their community. In addition Lucious also organizes and supervises a feeding program in his community for over 250 orphans and vulnerable children. He does all of this as a volunteer -- and while he farms his two acres of land and takes care of his wife and 8 children.

Lucious and his Wife in their Cornfield

Lucious is also a pastor and helps to lead the pastors association in his community. Recently there was an opportunity to get some leadership training near Lilongwe. So, every morning Lucious got up at 5:00 am and rode his bicycle for 3 hours to the "pick-up point" where a flatbed truck came by to pick him up. Then after another 30-45 minutes on the back of the truck he reached his destination. After four hours of training, Lucious got back on the truck and then rode his bicycle for another 3 hours home. He did this every day for 6 days! I think Lucious could be my hero.

Lucious is a fortunate man in rural Malawi -- he can read and write, he speaks some English and he owns something very precious -- a Bible. I have seen him carefully unwrap his Bible, read it during church, and the gently and lovingly wrap it back up to keep it safe. He is a precious man, filled with Jesus.

Finally, I want to tell you about another man -- similar to Lucious. I don't remember his name, but I first heard about him about a year ago. This man lives in a rural community called Chikudzulire. A year ago he rode his bicycle more than 4 hours into town so he could ask Theresa Malila of Somebody Cares if they could help their community develop. They knew they needed help, they
just didn't know what to do. So after 4 hours on his bike, and then a brief conversation with Theresa, he rode another 4 hours home -- with the hope that someday help would come.

The Man from Chikudzulire

God has honored this man's faith. In the year since he took the 4 hour bike ride to ask for help his community has been "adopted" by a church in Arizona, a new borehole/well has been dug, a feeding center for the more than 900 orphans and vulnerable children is under construction and the community has come together to work towards their own transformation.

I see Jesus in these 3 people -- Harriet the GoGo, Lucious the Pastor and the Man from Chikudzulire. Each of them is living under what we would consider difficult or impossible circumstances. We would look at their lives as hopeless -- yet God has given them hope, has answered their prayer, and they are seeing Jesus alive in their communities.

God is at work in Malawi. I look forward to going back and seeing Jesus there.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Global Leaders Forum -- October 11-12, 2007

On October 11-12, 2007 I had the privilege of participating in the Global Leaders Forum that was sponsored by the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), the Micah Challenge and the United Nations. About 220 evangelical leaders from the USA and around the world met for one-and-a-half days. The meetings began with a reception and dinner where the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon was the guest speaker. This was the first time a UN Secretary General had ever spoken to a group of evangelical leaders.

Much of the focus of the time was devoted to seeing how evangelicals can work together to see the fulfillment of the UN Millenium Development Goals (MDGs). If you are not aware of what the MDG's are, here is a brief description. The MDG's are 8 goals that the 192 member states of the United Nations agreed to achieve by 2015. The goals are as follows:

1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger by reducing by half the proportion of people living on less than US$1 a day, and by reducing by half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger around the world.

2. Achieve universal primary education for all children through at least primary school.

3. Promote gender equality and empower women at all levels by 2015.

4. Reduce child mortality among children under the age of five by two thirds.

5. Improve maternal health by reducing by three quarters the maternal mortality ratio.

6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases by beginning to halt and reverse the spread of AIDS, malaria and other major diseases.

7. Ensure environmental sustainability by focusing on sustainable development, reversing the loss of environmental resources, reducing by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water, and achieve significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million urban slum dwellers by 2020.

8. Develop a global partnership for development.

On the 2nd day of the Global Leaders Forum attendees participated in small groups that focused on strategic issues related to evangelicals in the Global North and Global South working together with government, the UN, business and NGO's on achieving these goals -- many of which are fully in-line with "Kingdom" goals.

The 36 hours I spent at this forum were very encouraging to me for a number of reasons. I saw well known people from both the political left and the political right discussing the issues -- wondering how they can work together. I saw well- known evangelical leaders interacting with people from the United Nations, the Peace Corps and from various NGO's both Christian and secular -- talking about how to work together.

Finally, I saw hope for the words "evangelical" and "Christian". I saw hope, because I believe that if we as evangelicals and Christians work together and serve together to reach these goals -- many of which are Kingdom goals -- the name of Christ will be honored and the words "Christian" and "Evangelical" may no longer be dirty words.

Perhaps the story that impacted me the most in this regard was that of Geoff Tunnicliffe the International Director of the World Evangelical Alliance. He was recently in Germany speaking with Chancellor Merkel. He offered her help on behalf of the German Church and the global evangelical church in helping Germany do its part towards achieving the MDG's. Chancellor Merkel said something like the following to Geoff Tunnicliffe -- "Everyday I have people coming into my office telling me what I am doing wrong. Rarely, if ever, do I have someone coming to me offering me their help and assistance. Thank you so very much. You have an open door to my office."

This is the power of servanthood! This is the power of the Kingdom. This is what Greg Boyd talks about when he says that Christians should be characterized by "power under" not "power over".

I am encouraged that perhaps the day is coming when Evangelical Churches will be the "Mother Theresa's" of our time and the Church will be the greatest threat to injustice the world has ever seen.

"To plead the cause of the poor, afflicated and needy; . . .
Is that not what it means to know Me?" says the Lord.
- Jeremiah 22:16

GIVING -- How Each of Us Can Change the World -- Bill Clinton

I purchased this book not because I am a big fan of Bill Clinton, but because I wanted to hear what he had to say about giving.

Frankly, I was quite disappointed. The book has a good introduction, excellent first and second chapters and a decent last chapter -- but most everything in-between is rather uninteresting; unless you want to hear about what Bill did (while president) and is doing -- and what his famous and wealthy friends have done and are doing.

While I would not recommend spending the money on this book, there were several things in the book that made me think or were fairly interesting. Let me mention a few.

1. Everyone can be great because everyone can serve.
- Martin Luther King

Great statement by a great man.

2. In every corner of America and all over the world, intelligence and energy are evenly distributed, but opportunity, investment and effective organizations aren't. As a result, billions of people are denied the chance to live their lives to the fullest, and millions die needlessly every year.

Because we live in an interdependent world, we cannot escape each other's problems.

Clinton identifies the three major reasons why people give to charities. I think these are quite interesting and should give those working to fund charitable organizations some food for thought.
  1. About 1/3 of all giving is directed towards places of worship and their affiliated activities.
  2. Another 1/3 is given towards local, national or global needs that are publicized in the media. Katrina, the Indonesian Tsunami and children in a local community needing medical help are examples.
  3. The final third of all giving is in response to local fund-raising activities by a group in which the donor is involved, or to which the donor is asked to give by a friend or family member.
4. Perhaps the most profound statements in the book are taken from a speech made by Bill Gates at Harvard University in June of 2007. Let me quote some of that speech here.

If you believe that every life has equal value, it's revolting to learn that some lives are seen as worth saving and others are not. . . . How can we let children die? The answer is simple, and harsh. The market did not reward saving the lives of these children, and governments did not subsidize it. So the children died because their mothers and fathers had no power in the market and no voice in the system. . . . If we can find approaches that meet the needs of the poor in ways that generate profits for business and votes for politicians, we will have found a sustainable way to reduce inequity in the world.

It is this last sentence that I find particularly sad. I think it is true -- but it is really very sad. What Bill Gates is saying is simply this -- the only way we can get the job done is if we can convince businesses that they can make more money by appearing to be concerned for the poor, and if we can convince politicians that being on the side of the poor will help them get elected.

I read this statement and I realized this is an indictment of the western world. If we can cater to the greed of corporations and politicians, then we can help the poor.

Perhaps this is what Bono has realized and why he started the "red" campaign. He convinced corporations to give a small percentage of their profits on some "red" items. It looked like this was good for business -- so corporations did this. No altruism here -- simply another way to make money.

Sad -- but unfortunately true.

Now I know that there are a small minority of business people who have a genuine concern for the poor (I've actually met some), and I know that there are some politicians who have a good heart and at least start out wanting to do what is right and just for everyone in our society. But, I think one would be hard-pressed to say that what Bill Gates said is not true. The good businesses and politicians out there are definitely in the minority.

5. Ideas are what change the world.
- Chris Stamos

6. We live in an interdependent world in which our survival depends upon an understanding that our common humanity is more important than our interesting and inevitable differences and that everyone matters.
- Bill Clinton