Sunday, July 25, 2010

Thoughts on Christianity and the Social Crisis in the 21st Century by Walter Rauschenbusch

The original Christianity and the Social Crisis was published in 1907, and the version I read was a 100 anniversary edition, with responses at the end of each chapter from popular religious/theological leaders of our day, such as Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, Cornel West, Stanley Hauerwas, etc.

While I certainly don't agree with everything Rauschenbusch had to say, I am amazed such a book was written over 100 years ago, and that such insight into social issues came from a minister, of all people. It was refreshing for me to read something so honestly critical, yet still hopeful, and there is so much it has given me to think about, but I'd like to highlight a few points, and if any of them seem interesting, you should read the book!

One of his most central points has clearly shaped the history of American theology ever since - that Christianity has greatly strayed from the message of Jesus by turning sin and salvation into something that is merely personal and private, and in doing so has neglected to acknowledge sin that is deeply embedded into our social structures, and the responsibility of repentant sinners to repent of social sin as well as personal sin, rather than just blindly accept and participate in oppressive and unjust functions of society. He points to the example of the Hebrew prophets, and Jesus' fulfillment of that example, to show what the role of the church in speaking out against injustice and defending the oppressed should be.

Back to the history of American theology, Rauschenbusch is known as the father of the Social Gospel movement, and in the last hundred years there has been a big split between mainline 'liberal' churches that focus on social works, and evangelical 'spiritual' churches that focus on evangelism and saving souls for the life to come. The history and tragedy of this split is acknowledged by Ron Sider in his Good News, Good Works, in which he argues that it should not be an either/or, but a both/and. My impression of Rauschenbusch was not that he was calling people to neglect the personal dimensions of salvation, but that he was asking them to realize that genuine regeneration should transform society as well.

Indeed, Rauschenbusch placed tremendous faith in the potential of the church to contribute to what he refers to as 'the' social movement. Much has changed since the time of writing, and while Rauschenbusch envisioned some kind of movement that would lead to common ownership of the means of production (as he saw private ownership to be the root of the class divide and the exploitation of the working class), he clearly did not envision the brand of socialism and communism that came to be in some places in the world the following century. He envisioned a system that would make use of industrial and technological advances, but that would distribute the profit among the workers rather than concentrating it in the hands of the few. He saw that inequality to not only be unjust, but as something that would inevitably lead to economic collapse as the masses would be left unable to purchase/consume, and the economy would fall flat on its face. His hope was that the church would intervene on behalf of the workers before this led to some cataclysmic event.

Rauschenbusch emphasized that nearly every other agent in society serves to defend the status quo and promote the interests of those who benefit from defending it. Basically, the media and various organizations serve to perpetuate what Marx would refer to as the ruling ideology. As long as people buy into that ideology, they will not question the social system. The only way to balance things out, according to Rauschenbusch, is to spend as much time in contact with those who are exploited as with organizations promoting the interests of the wealthy. In doing so, one can attain a more balanced perspective.

Rauschenbusch saw the social movement as being at hand, like buds on a tree ready to blossom. The church had the potential to act at a very crucial moment in history. In the afterward, Rauschenbusch's grandson, Richard Rorty, a secular humanist philosopher, asserts that the church failed to act when it had the chance, and now that crucial moment has passed, and Christianity has the smallest potential for social impact that it has ever had in history. I would have to disagree with Rorty, as his focus is narrowly on post-Christian Europe and the U.S. (which I do not believe to be less Christian as he asserts). Yet, looking to Latin America, Africa, and Asia, more Pentecostal, charismatic, and independent forms of Christianity are popping up all over the place.

The question is: what form of theology are they endorsing? These growing groups of Christians have tremendous potential to engage the social issues of our time, but they whether or not they do is largely dependent on their theology. Everywhere I went in Brazil, from the slum to the big city to the rural town, I encountered the theology of wealth and prosperity preached in evangelical churches, even (and especially) in poorer areas. Besides being almost a complete reversal of the gospel and setting mammon on the same level as Jesus, all that serves to do is to distract from social consciousness of the actual causes of poverty.

Another bad, and often related, theology I encountered is a fatalistic one - the idea that things are the way they are because that is God's will, and therefore, to try and change anything is like fighting against the will of God. Such a theology creates a blind acceptance of conditions as they are no matter how bad it is, and no matter who is responsible. It reinforces the status quo, when in fact God might be quite outraged with the unjust status quo and looking for someone to voice His heart on behalf of the marginalized.

Evangelical eschatology is often similarly fatalistic, especially when it comes to those with dispensationalist tendencies. If people believe that things must get worse, and everything bad that happens is an unavoidable sign of the times, and nothing can make it better until Jesus returns, it creates a certain indifference to tragedy, or even worse almost an excitement about it. Why work for peace if wars are just a sign the end is near? Just let things go the way they must because we can't stop it anyway and Jesus will fix it all in the end, and if we try to intervene we might actually delay Jesus' coming. When actually the same signs have been going on since the birth of Christianity, and the only biblical condition given to precede Jesus' second coming is that the gospel be preached in every nation. Needless to say, despite my disagreement with Rorty's conclusion that the church has lost its chance to play a part in the social movement, I certainly agreed with his assessment of how Rauschenbusch would feel about the Left Behind series! Anytime people learn their theology from fiction novels or study notes (e.g. Scofield Reference Bible) rather than the Bible itself, things can take a turn for the worse.

Bad theologies and theologies that do not go beyond reinforcing the status quo are what have kept Christianity from being a larger force for social transformation. Of course, some good has come, such as the biblical basis for the Civil Rights movement in the U.S. (apparently King was influenced by Rauschenbusch). Yet, I believe much more is possible. Thankfully, if the church doesn't respond, God will find another way to act, but if the church were to actually commit to following Christ at the cost of forsaking comfort, to live among, seek to understand, and be solidary with the marginalized rather than ignore them or blame them for their own condition, and to be willing to let go of all of her precious preconceptions and engage in a process of thorough self-examination to determine what is from God and what is from our culture, then the church could once again be a tremendous force for positive social transformation.

Finally, one last thing that left me with a glimmer of hope was Rauschenbusch's hope in the social sciences. He had great faith in what they could become over time, as they were only in their infancy when he was writing. He hoped they would help shine more light on the complexities of society, because he understood that social issues had to be addressed by addressing their causes, yet we cannot address what we do not understand. As someone who majored in sociology in college and is currently applying to PhD programs, I found a bit of encouragement in the hope Rauschenbusch had in what sociology could become and what it should be. One of my biggest frustrations as a sociology major was that I felt I was learning about how all of these forces in society work to perpetuate inequality and injustice, yet merely to understand how it worked. What is the point of understanding how much the world sucks and exactly how it sucks unless there is something that can be done to change it? And Rauschenbusch's answer is that something can be done to change it, the church has a role to play in that as it is called to continue ushering in the kingdom of God as Jesus began, and sociological study is needed to inform the understanding of what can be done.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Accutane and Ulcerative Colitis

It's hard to miss the ads now calling on previous Accutane users who have developed ulcerative colitis to go to court. I never took Accutane (though my dermatologist recommended it at one point as Differin and Benzomycin didn't totally clear up my acne, but being forced to sign a form saying I would have an abortion if I became pregnant while on the drug was enough to clue me into the fact that it had dangerous side effects not worth risking over mild-moderate acne). Yet, seeing the ads on TV aroused in me a certain indignation over the fact that a drug causing chronic, life-destroying diseases could be on the market for so long (thankfully, thanks to paying out millions to victims, Accutane is now off the market, but the generic makers of isotretinoin have yet to follow suit). I can only imagine how those with ulcerative colitis or Crohn's who took Accutane must feel knowning that a drug they took to clear up acne caused them to have a serious "autoimmune" bowel disorder that they will have to live with the rest of their lives. Even for those who have already won and have yet to win multi-million dollar settlements, no amount of money can take away the pain, the dependency on expensive medical treatment, the hospitalization, the surgeries, the frequent bowel movements, etc. that they will have to deal with the rest of their lives.

Even for those with ulcerative colitis, who have the option to get "curative" surgery by having their colon removed, their lives will never be the same. As someone who had a successful "j-pouch" surgery three years ago, I can say it is better than living with severe ulcerative colitis, but it is nothing like going back to normal (unless you consider 6-8 bowel movements per day normal). While it is amazing that the body can function without a large intestine, and that the j-pouch presents a relatively normal alternative to an ostomy, a body without a colon is not the same. From small things like increased sweating to increased susceptibility to dehydration, to more bothersome things like a host of foods that don't get completely digested (and itch, burn, or poke on the way out) to having to make sure you are near and free to use a bathroom at all times (not to mention being self-conscious about it) to waking up at night to use the restroom, life never goes back to what it was like before the disease.

After seeing the Accutane ads, I began to wonder if other related retonid drugs may have a connection to ulcerative colitis as well, as I started using Differin shortly before developing UC. If there is a connection, even if it is a weaker one due to it being a topical drug, hopefully it will come to light as such drugs are much more widely used than Accutane ever was.

Of course it also causes one to wonder how such a destructive drug even got on the market, and to wonder regarding the potential yet unknown or unproven side effects of other drugs that have been FDA approved.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I'm back ;)

Okay, so I've gotten a bit of flack for 1) only blogging once every six months, and 2) calling Philadelphia spiritually dead. So I hope to remedy both of those with this post.

1) I love writing, but it was a lot easier to blog regularly when it was the only writing I got to do. Now that I am writing for work and for school I feel like it is all I do, which leaves less energy to blog.

2) Apparently I have just been to the wrong churches in Philadelphia. I live in the "Main Line" area so perhaps what I am experiencing is more "death by suburbia" than anything else. We did attend a church last Sunday (on the Main Line) that struck me as very alive, welcoming, and committed to social justice. The service was a bit traditional for my taste, but the sense of community I felt, even though it was my first time there, is what the church is supposed to be. I still have yet to experience more of the emerging church movement...but from what I've heard that is alive and well in Philly, and I hope to experience more of that during my time here.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Spiritual impressions of Philadelphia

I am from Oregon - which I've heard is the most "unchurched" state in the US.

I worked as a missionary in a large slum in Brazil, where we sought to bring the gospel to residents in a way that would bring profound spiritual and social change.

But I have never been somewhere that feels as spiritually dead as Philadelphia.

Perhaps part of what gives it that "feel" is the cold climate culture and people being rude and mean in general. But it goes beyond that.

The rich and poor live side by side, well not literally, because they are in their own neighborhoods of course. But within the greater Philadelphia area, there is great economic disparity - on one end those struggling to make it on minimum wage jobs (I don't know how anyone could afford to live in this city on minimum wage), and on the other those who are so well off they don't have to think twice about spending money. These two different worlds, though so geographically close, don't often intersect. They generally have their own churches, shopping centres, and modes of transportation. They can usually live in their own bubble without bumping into the other too much.

It makes me ask, what would the coming kingdom of God look like in this city? How would things start to change? I had hoped to find glimpses of the kingdom in churches here - but instead, for the most part, I found churches modeled after the already existing social patterns - and even worse churches fighting to maintain their own tradition rather than usher in the kingdom of God.

Since arriving here in late August, I have been to Presbyterian, Baptist, Mennonite, and Quaker churches, as well as an independent charismatic African-American church. Some of these churches preached a solid biblical message, others a somewhat watered-down message with occasional scriptural references, others you wouldn't even know you were in a Christian church. The majority of churches in the city seem to be smaller, somewhat enclosed communities simply seeking to maintain their existence and the way they have always done things. Most (not all I have been to) seem to have strayed from the gospel, from the good news of the kingdom, and the feel when you walk in is just "dead" - no delight or rejoicing in worshiping God. It's like the spiritual death that hovers over the city has engulfed the churches as well, whatever light is left has been covered with a basket. Surely a church that is different, that practices genuine fellowship and openly proclaims the gospel in all its fullness would shine forth as a city on a hill, a light in such a dark place? I still have yet to find such a church here...a church that is alive in a place of death. But I'll keep looking.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

This year, I am thankful for:
My family, even though I can't be with them
My new friends here at Palmer
My friends and YWAM family from Brazil
Skype, email, facebook, and internet in general which makes keeping in touch across continents possible and easy
God's creativity and faithfulness even when we can't anticipate or understand all that He is doing
The opportunity to study here at Palmer and be fed in my passion and vision for holistic ministry and Missio Dei
The chance to work with and study under Ron Sider and other like-minded professors
My Sider and Wilberforce scholarships, which cover almost all of my tuition
My subsidized loans which cover the rest
Health insurance, even if I have to pay for it by taking out loans
Having a President in office who is actually trying to do something to start to change our country's biggest problems
Coffee and the coffee-maker my friend is letting me borrow so I can make my own now, and even more for my friend who let me borrow it
People who love God in a way that is evident, radiating, encouraging, and contagious
People who are courageous enough to trust God with everything, even if that means sacrificing their comfortable and "secure" American life
God's heart and character and that He desires to reveal Himself to us
The freedom that comes from being in the center of God's will regardless of what circumstances are

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Por qué que eu saí do base

Eu sei que minha saída não foi bem avisada no base afora da Luzeiro, então como tem pessoas perguntando por qué que eu fui embora, eu traduzi parte da minha carta informativa de Julho deste ano para português. Então aqui tem a explicação oficial, que com certeza não é a explicação completa, mas é a explicação principal. Eu sei que meu português não é perfeito (e está piorando mais com cada dia que eu não falo) mas espero que dé para entender. Sente-se livre de me perguntar sobre qualquer dúvida. Não mais sou JOCUMeira mas ainda acredito no valor de transparência. ;) Beijos e saudades pessoal do base!

Uma mudança radical nos meus planos

Dois meses atrás, nunca teria imaginado que me encontraria onde estou hoje. Sabia que Deus me chamou vir para Casa Luzeiro, e eu antecipei ficar por pelo menos dois anos. Contudo, através de uma sequência de eventos, oportunidades, re-direcções, Deus tem confirmado que já chegou o tempo de tomar outros passos em busca do chamado que Ele tem mostrado que Ele tem para mim. Espero que através de compartilhar com vocês a história de como Ele tem estado me guiando nessa nova direcção que vocês, meus amigos, minha família, e meus sustentadores, possam entender por qué meus planos mudaram de repente.

Em Maio, assisti um treinamento de duas semanas para administradores para me equipar para o trabalho com a contabilidade da Luzeiro. No primeiro dia de treinamento, o professor falou sobre a Parábola dos Talentos e nós desafiou para não só pensar sobre aquilo em relação ao dinheiro, mas em relação a como estamos investindo e usando os dons e os talentos que Deus tem nós dado. Reflecti muito sobre isso nos dias seguintes. Fiz uma lista no meu caderno de todos os dons, talentos, e habilidades que tenho que eu não estava usando ou não estava realizando plenamente. Ao lado desta lista, fiz outra lista de todas as coisas que eu podia mudar ou fazer de uma maneira diferente para que esses dons fossem mais realizados. No entanto, houve algumas coisas que sobressaíram que não podiam ser completamente realizadas aqui – coisas que começaram me lembrar de e me levar de volta para o chamado maior que Deus já tinha estado me mostrando para minha vida.

Quando cheguei no Brasil pela primeira vez, durante meu tempo trabalhando como voluntária antes de começar a ETED, Deus começou falar comigo muito em relação a meu chamado maior como profeta. No Antigo Testamento, as profetas funcionaram como a portavoz de Deus e como a portavoz das pessoas marginalizadas, as quais de outra forma não teriam tido uma voz própria. Deus me mostrou que Ele queria que eu fosse esse tipo de portavoz, para falar e criar consciência na igreja em relação às questões de justiça social para mobilizar a igreja para acção. Ele também me mostrou que Ele queria que eu usasse meu talento de escrever como um meio de realizar isso, para alcançar qualquer público que eu podia.

Alguns dias depois durante o semanário de administradores, alguém distribuiu algumas informações sobre uma conferência que ia acontecer no Rio sobre questões de justiça social. Eu estava empolgada quando vi o nome do palestraste – Ron Sider. Eu tinha assistido uma presentação dele em Portland e estava lendo seu livro, Cristãos Ricos num Tempo de Fome, e ele era um dos meus heróis. No meio da minha empolgação sobre a conferência, eu pensei, Ron Sider é professor em alguma universidade – não seria interessante estudar debaixo dele? Busquei algumas informações no internet e aprendi que ele e professor no Palmer Theological Seminary em Pennsylvania. Também descobri que cada ano tem bolsas que incluem, além de dinheiro para estudar, a oportunidade de trabalhar no Sider Center on Public Policy e ser mentorado por Ron Sider. Além de tudo isso, aprendi que não era tarde demais para candidatar-se para esse ano.

Começei orar muito sobre essa oportunidade, e senti que eu deveria começar o processo de solicitação porque eu podia decidir depois. Originalmente, eu queria candidatar para começar no Fevereiro 2010, para poder terminar o ano com as meninas do meu grupo. Mas depois descobri duas coisas: 1) bolsas, incluindo a bolsa que envolve ser mentorado por Ron Sider, somente estão disponíveis para alunos que começam no Setembro, e 2) meu co-líder tinha decidido voltar para a Holanda no Setembro. Reuni com meus lideres do Luzeiro para conversar sobre a possibilidade de voltar para estudar, e a minha surpresa, eles me apoiaram e me encorajaram nisso. Meu líder também sugeriu que aún se eu ficasse até o final do ano, ainda deveria cancelar meu grupo, como grupos sempre tem dois lideres e é fortemente avisado não tentar liderar um grupo sozinho. Em resposta a esses factores, decidi mudar minha solicitação para Setembro desse ano.

O último mês tem sido um tempo de esperar para mim. Tem sido difícil num mundo de “se”, não sabendo se meu tempo na Luzeiro está chegando ao fim ou se está apenas começando. Contudo, tem sido um ótimo para eu buscar a Deus, e no meio de incerteza, tenho sido capaz de descansar na confiança que Ele sabe os planos que Ele tem para mim. Eu tinha feito minha parte em completar os materiais de solicitação e os ensaios, e agora tudo estava nas Suas mãos. Se Ele queria que eu fosse, Ele podia abrir essa porta para mim. Também cheguei ao ponto onde eu tinha paz sobre qualquer possibilidade. Parte de mim gosta muito daqui e sinto tão em casa aqui que eu teria sido perfeitamente contenta ficando mais um ano (ou mais). Mas a outra parte de mim sabia a direcção onde Deus estava me chamando, e também sabia que não seria algo melhor para me preparar por isso do que essa oportunidade de estudar com Ron Sider, se eu fosse receber a bolsa se ser mentorada por ele.

Minha incerteza chegou ao fim essa semana passada quando recebi um email dizendo que eu ganhei não apenas uma bolsa, mas duas bolsas – uma que pagava a metade da tuição e incluía trabalhando no Sider Center e sendo mentorado por Ron Sider, e a outra que pagava mais $4000 USD por ano, reduzindo minha tuição a apenas $1000 USD por ano! Ao ler esse email, não sabia se deveria saltar e gritar de alegria ou se deveria chorar porque isso queria dizer saindo do meu novo hogar (eu fiz ambos). Enquanto esperei essa decisão, tinha confiança que se Deus queria que eu tomasse esse passo, Ele abriria a porta, e se Ele abrisse a porta, eu entraria. Nunca imaginei ganhar duas bolsas – mas isto foi mais confirmação que eu tinha esperado. Aceitei o convite e vou voltar para Portland o dia 12 de Ag0sto antes de viajar para Filadélfia no final de Agosto.

A quarta onda

Compartilhei essas noticias com o equipe do Luzeiro sexta-feira passada. Foi bem recebido, não porque as pessoas queiram que eu vá embora (pelo menos espero que não!), mas porque elas também podem ver e entender a direcção onde Deus está me levando. Alguns missionários conversaram comigo depois de meu aviso para me encorajar que a direcção em que Deus está me guiando tem muito que ver com a quarta onda de missões, um tema muito popular na JOCUM e em nosso base.

A quarta onda basicamente envolve estendendo nossa influencia cristã até todos os sectores da sociedade e vivendo nossa fé de uma maneira que traz transformação social. As sete áreas de influência nas quais JOCUM em foca são educação/o mundo académico, a política, a ciência/tecnologia, a igreja, famílias, a media, e as artes. A ideia é que Deus está chamando cristãos para entrar nestas áreas, para exercer sua influência no mundo chamado secular. O evangélio não deve trazer transformação somente no nível individual, mas também no nível da sociedade.

Enquanto eu estou saindo de missões no exterior no presente, não estou saindo do campo missionário. Deus está me chamando para as linhas de frente da quarta onda. Não sei exactamente onde Deus vai me levar no futuro, mas eu sinto que esse programa de dois anos de Mestrado em Estudos Teológicos e Política Pública vai ajudar equipar-me melhor para ter esse tipo de influência através de me dar a oportunidade de crescer em conhecimento e me capacitar para ampliar minha voz. Neste momento, eu acho que vou fazer doutorado em sociologia de uma universidade prestigiosa secular depois de terminar meu mestrado, para ampliar mais meu conhecimento, influência, e voz no mundo académico e na igreja, para falar sobre questões sociais e chamar cristãos para acção.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Sinto falta de:

o amarelinho
o pessoal da Luzeiro!
Rambo também
o pão da Ivanete
Tres Corações
os cultos da JOCUM
morar em comunidade
pão de queijo
louvores em português
falar em português
ouvir holandês (e tentar entender)
CRIANÇAS!!! (não tem por aqui)
o sol
as meninas do meu grupo
inglês europeo
comer com outras pessoas
ter amigos por perto
toque físico
meditar na churrascaria
asistir filmes num notebook com tres ou quatro pessoas numa cama