Gods and Kings, Wealth and Power

This post originally appeared on: www.s.coop/nehemiah ——- Biblical blockbusters are a thing now. Last spring’s Noah was followed by Exodus: Gods and Kings. Spectacular computer-rendered miracles have helped a supposedly godless Hollywood to cautiously embrace scripture. But the latest shiny apocalypse has preserved little of the Bible’s warnings against wealth and power. Yes, flogging and starving slaves to build monuments is wrong. But our modern Empire does not feature pyramids built by slaves with flayed skin. Still the great towers of our world rest on the backs of exploited workers; despite significant but superficial improvements, we are still in Egypt. Exodus director Ridley Scott missed his source text’s moral about how not to be like those awful Egyptians. The film pays no attention paid to how the Israelites attempted to free themselves from the oppressive ways of Egypt, which is a major theme of the Book of Exodus. Evil is found not just in the horrific labor practices that made the Egyptian monuments. The problem is the very existence of grand platforms for worship by and of elites. It’s hardly surprising that Hollywood ignores the material’s deeper treatment of elites – our culture portrays revolutionary leaders as merely another type of elite. Even relatively subversive works like The Hunger Games default to a messianic hero(ine). We can’t wrap our head...

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Capitalism and the False God of Strength

Strength has been worshiped by various cultures throughout the history of mankind. The strong are elevated and the weak are subjected. We would like to think we have matured a bit past older barbarian habits, but the god of strength has found a new home in our hearts. That home is our zealous embrace of capitalism. Capitalism is NOT “Christian Economics” Capitalism is the best method of economic governance we have for found for producing wealth… so far. I want to make it clear that criticizing capitalism is not a default argument for communism. Besides, we are in a sad state if we think we only have those options. Instead, I am simply pointing out that there is no reason for capitalism to be so embraced by western Christians as to confuse the two. Just because it is “the best” doesn’t mean it is perfect, beyond criticism, or above reform. “You Will Succeed… If You Are Strong Enough” Just about every cry of social inequality today is countered by zealous capitalist anthem of, “If you work hard enough you will succeed.” No matter how disadvantaged you are, or far behind the curve, cries for empathy fall on the deaf ears of “just get a job.” Yes, it seems that every situation has the simple solution of working more, working...

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Seeds, Soils and Revivals

This post originally appeared on: www.s.coop/nehemiah ———————– What triggers a revival? What sustains it? What are the seeds and soil out of which transformative mass religious fervor springs? Large groups of excited people gathered to hear charismatic preachers can certainly spark change. But events end and leaders’ perceived shortcomings inevitably emerge. Ne believers are dragged back down from the heights of passion. Structures are needed to help the change really take root. Last Tuesday I helped lead a short interactive discussion for the Presbytery of San Francisco, on the subject of the most recent major American religious revival: the Jesus Movement – a.k.a. the Jesus People or Jesus Freaks. While the counterculture of that day (religious and otherwise) has mainly passed, some institutions created out of it have continued to the present. We watched a portion of the video biography “Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher, which has since been removed from the free Internet. It was about one of the key figures in the Jesus Movement, Lonnie Frisbee, whose ministry began with wilderness acid trips featuring Bible study and baptisms. The video made passing reference to a key legacy of the Jesus Movement as well as the broader counterculture of the day: Communes. Life Together Early in his ministry, Frisbee connected with the Big House, a...

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Deported: A View From the -Other- Side

I was recently sitting in a Tijuana shelter that houses men for 12 days after they have been deported from the United States. I was guiding a group of pastors and leaders from around California and Arizona who wanted to learn the human story of immigration first hand. With that goal in mind, we simply sat with Gilberto, the director of the shelter, and asked him to tell some of his story and the story of those he has given his life to over the past 30 years. Unimpressed by our glowing resumes, large church attendance or broad vocabulary, Gilberto humbly shared about the path Jesus led him on toward caring for society’s leftovers. With a glowing resume of his own, Gilberto intentionally chose to step off the path of comfort and “success” to step deeper into the reality of his brothers who needed his support. He shared about the man who had been deported at 51 years old after living in the US for 50 years. Because this man’s parents came to the US when he was 6 months old, he knew no other home than that of the US. When he landed in Tijuana, it not only felt like a foreign land, but he didn’t even know Spanish. He shared about the US military veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan but after serving his time in war zones,...

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Should Christians Live In the Suburbs?

Let me start with full disclosure here; I live in the suburbs. All around me are pristine sidewalks, manicured lawns, and SUVs. I live here for what are probably the same reasons as most people. First, I am raising a family. And secondly, because I could. However, I have begun to wonder if I am just another person contributing to the problem. More so, I am wondering if I can really follow Christ in the suburbs. White Flight Here in America, we have a phenomenon known as “white flight.” It is the somewhat obvious fact that whenever an area starts to have problems with poverty or social integration, the solution to those with resources is to, well, leave. This “flight out of harm’s way” removes the ability for money to flow across economic and social classes, making the poor even poorer. The suburbs are an unofficial “boundary” keeping out those without the money to afford the price of entry. Segregated Community While there aren’t any more laws keeping us apart, we are doing a great job of it on our own. Within 10 miles of my house are FIVE megachurches with huge university-like campuses, the parking lots of which are their own satire of suburban life, looking like a SUV dealership. Within the churches, are a sea of people...

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I hear the sharpening of pitchforks…

I stumbled upon this article on Politico.com a few weeks ago and it really caught my attention. Titled ‘The Pitchforks are coming for us Plutocrats’ it takes the form of an open letter from Seattle-based entrepreneur Nick Hanauer to his fellow 0.1% ‘proud and unapologetic capitalists.’ While it definitely applies to the super rich, I believe there is something there in principle for all of us who fall into the marginally rich [as in reading this article on a computer or phone] to take heed of. In the article, Nick shares a little of how he managed to get super rich by anticipating the success of the internet before it was huge and investing in one of his friends and a little idea that became Amazon.com and then he shares some of his observances about present times and circumstances: But let’s speak frankly to each other. I’m not the smartest guy you’ve ever met, or the hardest-working. I was a mediocre student. I’m not technical at all – I can’t write a word of code. What sets me apart, I think, is a tolerance for risk and an intuition about what will happen in the future. Seeing where things are headed is the essence of entrepreneurship. And what do I see in our future now? I see pitchforks. At the...

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