Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Discussion With Chuck Colson and Shane Claiborne

Hi folks.

Hats off to Marcia (Paparazzi) Erickson and Jen (Doc) Halverson for the outstanding summary they wrote about our vacation and my poor little toe. Do I not hang with the coolest tribe on the planet? I'd never had a chance to see Doctor Jen "in action," and while I wish the circumstances had been a bit different, it was quite an experience to see this young master at work. This doc rocks! When Jen was a student and T.A. of mine at Bethel, I recognized her exceptional giftedness and tried to steer her into theology. (The world needs more brilliant female theologians!). But on this night more than ever I thanked God she ignored my advice! Thank you Jen. The toe is healing nicely. (P.S. Jen, who is usually very calm, has a wild streak that comes out on the dance floor!)

Now onto current events.

I'm in San Diego attending the National Pastors Convention. (Mexico last week. San Diego this week. Tough life, heh?). My older brother Chris and his family live out here and last night I was able to get away from the convention and visit them. I hadn't seen them for years, so this was a real treat. Lisa (Chris' wife) is a lovely, environmentally-conscious vegetarian (yeh!). She served this incredible veggie dish with artichokes that led me into the sin of gluttony (I've since repented). I played drums with their 17 year old son Josh (who has great double pedal footwork!) and had a sweet conversation with their intellectually-inclined 15 year old daughter Lauren. And Chris and I had a chance to share a brew while reminiscing about the good-old-days (and the not so good-old-days) of growing up. It was a memorable evening.

Before that, I participated in a public debate with Chuck Colson and Shane Claiborne, moderated by Krista Tippett (who hosts the program Speaking of Faith on National Public Radio). The topic was Evangelicals and Politics and the ballroom was packed (they had to open an overflow room). I've read the works of both of these gentlemen but had never met them personally, so this was a real treat. The discussion may be aired on Speaking of Faith and/or shown on TV, depending on the decision of NPR's program directors. I'll let you know if and when this happens.

I'm planning on posting a review of Colson's book God & Government later on, so I won't go into the details of our discussion now. But here are a few quick reflections on the debate.

Shane Claiborne is awesome. I love this guy! I love his life (read his book The Irresistible Revolution) and adore his radical vision for the Kingdom. We fed off each other throughout the discussion. I'd often make a theological point and he'd illustrate it with a story -- and this kid (he's only about 30 years old) is a great story-teller! One person in the audience told me after the debate that he thought Shane and I were going to interrupt the debate by giving each other a bear hug. (We did, but only after the debate was over).

I also have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed dialoguing with Chuck Colson. I love his heart, profoundly respect his character and praise God for the way he has used Chuck to minister to prisoners around the world. But we have some profound disagreements on the issue of faith and politics. The exchanges between him and I were at times intense, though always respectful. (Shane is too winsome to debate intensely. He'd sometimes diffuse tension with a great story). Here are a few of the disagreements:

* Chuck believes Christians have a “dual allegiance” to God and country. I and Shane argued that the only allegiance followers of Jesus should have is to Jesus. We cannot “serve two masters.” (By the way, Shane is coming out with a book entitled Jesus for President. I think this is a brilliant title and said so in the debate. I pointed out that one of the reasons the confession "Jesus is Lord" is rather meaningless today is because we don't refer to those over us as "lords" any more. So it doesn't seem that the confession of Jesus as Lord rules out having other people or things rule us. But if we instead confessed "Jesus as President," it would immediately become clear that this confession rules out pledging allegiance to any other president, nation, the military, etc....Way to go Shane!)

* Chuck believes Christians have a duty to participate in government. I and Shane agreed that we are to obey laws and respect leaders, but nowhere in the New Testament are we told we have a duty to participate in government. In fact, the New Testament depicts governments as under the control of Satan. Shane and I argued that our only duty is to obey our one President, Jesus. This isn’t to say Christians are forbidden to participate in government. But it’s certainly not our duty to do so.

* Chuck believes there’s a rather unambiguous way Kingdom values translate into politics, at least on a number of matters (the ones he deems most important). He argued that our faith tells us that abortion is wrong, that homosexuality is sinful, that poverty is unjust and that all people, including criminals, deserve humane treatment. I responded by pointing out that Jim Wallis agrees with every value Chuck just mentioned, yet he espouses political positions that are on almost every point antithetical to Chuck’s (see Wallis' recent book The Great Awakening). This alone demonstrates that people who share the same faith and values can fundamentally disagree on politics -- which is fine, so long as they acknowledge that the Kingdom isn't about impacting politics in a certain way. Chuck’s response back to me was to say he respects Jim and doesn’t question the sincerity of his faith, but that his books are basically carte blanche endorsements of Democratic politics.

I rest my case.

* The most intense exchange of the debate occurred between Chuck and I on the issue of voting pro-life. Chuck believes that Christians have a duty to vote for pro-life candidates. In fact, in his book God & Government he says that Christians who support candidates who aren’t pro-life “have taken themselves out of fellowship with us” (p.329). (Yet he said he regards Jim Wallis as a brother in Christ. Maybe I'm missing something). I tried to get Chuck to see that a person can be against abortion (which I am) and yet not vote for a pro-life candidate. There are other factors to consider, I argued.

For example, many believe the best way to fight abortion is not by criminalizing it, but by eradicating poverty. So, precisely because they're pro-life, they might support the candidate they think will do the most for the poor even if this candidate isn't a staunch anti-abortion candidate. Others believe that the main reason unborn children are being aborted in America is because the two camps are so polarized and unwilling to compromise. The vast majority of Americans agree that the fewer the abortions, the better. But we aren’t working together to make this happen because both camps feel that if they give in an inch, the other side will take a mile. The only reason many pro-choice people defend the barbaric practice of “partial birth abortions” is because they’re afraid that if they surrender this the other side will gain momentum in criminalizing the use of the morning after pill! If this assessment is correct, then the very refusal to compromise on one’s pro-life stance when voting is actually contributing to killing unborn babies!

I’m not saying Christians should necessarily agree with this assessment. Some may, some may not. But it once again demonstrates how sincere Christians can have differing views on how their pro-life values translate into politics. Vote your faith and conscience (as everyone of course does), but don't label it "the Christian way" to vote.

Chuck couldn’t see my point – which was a little surprising to me given that in his book God & Government he admits that participating in government usually requires compromise (e.g. he encourages Christians to aspire to governmental offices even though it may require them to tell lies when it's in a nation's best interest to do so).

* Finally, I have to say that the best lines of the debate went to Shane. Three times the crowd applauded after he spoke (Chuck and I got zero). The most insightful, I thought, was when he responded to Colson's citation of Bonhoeffer's attempt to assassinate Hitler as an example of how Christians need to participate in politics and sometimes resort to violence. Shane told a story (of course) of a film he watched that interviewed Hitler's chief secretary. She said that it was "miraculous" how Hitler escaped unharmed when the bomb Bonhoeffer's group planted exploded. This reinforced Hitler's sense of divine mission at a time when it was wavering and encouraged him to carry out his genocidal programs more enthusiastically. Shane said that as much as he respects Bonhoeffer, "the cross lost when that bomb went off." Wow.

Well, I've got to run and conduct a seminar. I'll discuss Chuck's book in a later post.


Sunday, February 24, 2008

work hard, play hard, sleep hard

I (Marcia), your paparazzi "lens truth master" found Greg last week in Mexico. He tried going incognito with a fierce bandanna look but it flopped as he was a dead giveaway with book and pen in hand.

Our small group and extended clan (26 people) spent a week taking in the WARM sun and soft ocean breeze far AWAY from Minnesota and its harsh winter COLD. We have been taking vacations together for 10 years and each trip lets us escape from our everyday lives...except for Greg--his everyday life is ENHANCED on vacation. We have all come to know that Greg works hard and plays hard and sometimes we can't tell which is which.

See how Greg works while others play...or is he playing and it just looks different for him?
Greg at the beach...playing hard or working hard?But, when evening comes and we go dancing Greg puts down the book and pen and he plays harder than ANYONE...or is he working at it because he's not reading and he has to have some interaction fun?
Greg and Shelley...singing and dancing hard
Greg loves 70s music and dancing. Didn't he have that Tower of Power t-shirt on when he played in the NDY gig last month?
Then came the sleeping hard part...Shelley was busy packing the last night as Greg snored in the same room. He woke up and tried to get out of bed while still half-asleep, and the next second all he knew was that he was on the floor and in excruciating pain, his right baby toe was sticking out at a completely unnatural angle, and there was blood everywhere. His cries of pain woke up Alisha & Tim (their daughter and son-in-law), and Tim became the paparazzi for the night.

Jen is our go-to person for everything from upset stomachs to things like this, so it was Jen who got woken up to fix Greg's toe in the middle of our last night in Mexico. How do you like the makeshift ER they put together? Nice lamps and towels! At least she's wearing gloves!! I'll let Jen take over to tell the rest of the story.

(consider this your fair warning that some pretty gross pictures are coming up!)

Hey this is Jen. I was super tired our last night in Mexico so I went to bed early and was looking forward to a nice long sleep. Yeah...that didn't happen. Shelley and Alisha came to wake me up around 1:30.
I found Greg lying in bed, moaning in pain, with a seriously deformed bloody toe (it kinda looked like it was ready to fall off). It's definitely one of the grosser things I've ever seen.

I'm a pediatrician but I see this kind of stuff in kids all the time, so it was no big deal to fix it up. And whenever I'm traveling with a big group of people I bring supplies with me so I can take care of things like this, so I had almost everything I needed, and Alisha and Shelley tracked down everything else I didn't have.

I have to say--I'm super impressed with how badly Greg messed up his toe without even knowing how he managed to do it--that takes skill. I'm guessing he stepped on glass (we found that piece in the above picture on the floor) which cut the toe, then caused him
to freak out and step wrongly on the toe...and the end result is that he had a big, deep laceration between his toes and a dislocated toe. I also thought he might have broken his toe too.

Talk about a not-fun place to have to place stitches. It's actually kind of good that the toe was dislocated, because it made it a little easier to stitch up the cut.

Seven stitches later the cut actually looked pretty good and Greg's toe no longer looked like it was going to fall off, but it still looked completely deformed.

I carefully started to push the toe back where it was supposed to be...and it popped right back into place. Shelley and Tim even heard it pop back in. Lovely.

By now it was almost 4 much for getting that nice long sleep! Greg you owe me!!! ;)

(For all you medical people out there, I understand that you might think that using a hotel room as an ER in the middle of the night in Mexico is a little stupid, so here's my disclaimers--I put Greg on prophylactic antibiotics in case he had an open fracture, and I made Greg go to the ER once he got back to Minnesota to make sure there wasn't any glass in the cut and to see if the toe was fractured. He went yesterday and there's no glass in the cut. I guess there's a little bone chip that might be a small fracture, which is no big deal).

2 pictures up: stitches done but still dislocated
Above picture: everything back in place!

Mexico 2008!!! A hard place to be! ;-)

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Compassionate Dominion and Factory Farms

“The question is not ‘Can they reason?’ nor, ‘Can they talk?’ but, ‘Can they suffer?’”
Jeremy Bentham

"A man can live and be healthy without killing animals for food; therefore, if he eats meat, he participates in taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite."
Leo Tolstoy

"The righteous care for the needs of their animals.."
Prov. 12:10

In the previous two blogs I've offered four reasons I became and remain a vegetarian. (By the way, there are many other arguments that others give to support vegetarianism --- such as its health benefits. I think some of these arguments are plausible, but I'm omitting them since they don't honestly affect my own decision one way or the other). I now want to share my fifth and final reason why I'm a vegetarian. It concerns the fact that we're called to reflect God's love and mercy by how we exercise dominion over the animal kingdom (Gen. 1:26-28).

5. Compassionate Dominion and the Factory Farm Industry

Because we've been conditioned to see them as products for consumption, few western Christians seem to appreciate just how much dignity and value God ascribes to animals. It was to animals, not humans, that God gave the first command recorded in the Bible (Gen. 1:22). Every animal was created by him, belongs to him, and is sustained and cared for by him (e.g. Ps. 50:10-11; Job 12:10). The Lord is often depicted as a compassionate care-giver affectionately tending to the needs of his pets. “All creatures look to you,” the Psalmist says, “to give them their food at the proper time” (Ps. 104:27 cf. vs. 11; 147:9). Jesus depicts his Father as personally attending to the needs of sparrows (Mt 6:26; 10:29; Lk 12:6).

The Lord’s heart is to preserve “both people and animals” (Ps 36:6), and he shows compassion on every living thing that he has made (Ps 145:9). For example, one of the reasons he gave to Jonah for wanting to have mercy on Nineveh was that it was home to so many animals (Jon 4:11). Clearly, God has a tender heart toward animals.

One of the clearest signs of the dignity and value God ascribes to animals is that he sometimes makes covenants with them. When God forged a new covenant with Noah after the flood, for example, he included animals. The Lord said the rainbow was “the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you [Noah] and every living creature with you…” (Gen. 9:12, cf. 16-17, emphasis added). So too, as we saw in the last blog, the covenant of non-violence God says he’ll make in the coming Kingdom epoch includes the animal kingdom (Hos. 2:18).

Now, the final act of creation, according to the Genesis narrative, was the creation of humans who were created to be God’s co-workers (I Cor 3:9; 2 Cor. 6:1) and co-rulers (2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 5:10) carrying out his will “on earth as it is in heaven" (Mt 6:10). Our original mandate in the Bible centered on carrying out God’s loving dominion over the earth and the animal kingdom (Gen. 1:26-28; Psl. 8:4-8). We are entrusted and commissioned to reflect God's care for animals by how we ourselves care for them.

This original commission was never retracted by God. Carrying for animals is still one of our most fundamental benchmarks for how we’re doing as a species. And by that benchmark, I think it's obvious we're failing pretty miserably.

Over the last century we have reduced farm animals to commercialized commodities whose only value is found in how efficiently we can produce and slaughter them for profit. Consequently, we now have a situation where more than 26 billion animals each year are forced to live in miserable, over-crowded warehouses where there is absolute nothing natural about their existence and where they are subjected to barbaric, painful, industrial procedures. (I encourage readers to view the film Farm to Fridge [click here to watch] and read Matthew Scully's marvelous book Dominion to be informed on these matters).

Here are just a few examples of the typical treatment animals receive in our factory farms to satisfy our appetite for meat.

* Up to a dozen chickens are squeezed into sixteen inch cages, stacked four or five high, in which they cannot so much as spread a wing. This is how they spend their entire miserable lives.

* These over-crowded, over-stressed conditions produce hostile behavior. To prevent chickens from plucking each other to death and thus lose profits for the factory farm industry, these poor creatures are “debeaked” (as are turkeys and sometimes ducks). This involves using a searing hot blade to cut through the bone, cartilage, soft tissue and nerves of the beaks of these abused birds.

* Cattle are routinely castrated, have their horns cut off and are branded with a searing hot iron, all without the use of pain killers. During auction and shipping their movement is controlled by electric prods (called “hotshots”) that send painful, high-voltage shocks through the cow’s body.

* Because of the speed with which it must be carried out, the slaughtering of cattle is not always efficient. Some are consequently still conscious when they’re dismembered.

* Dairy cows spend the bulk of their existence in crammed quarters, hooked up to a milk machine. They are impregnated each year to keep milk production going and have their young taken from them almost immediately after birth, an act that is unnatural and traumatizing to both the calf and its mother.

* Once taken from their mothers, calves are frequently kept in tiny crates in which they cannot turn around or even lay down comfortably. To produce veal, male calves are fed an unnatural diet to keep them borderline anemic. This keeps their meat white and tender. When they’re just several months old, they’re slaughtered.

* The worst victims of the factory farm industry, in my estimation, are pigs. Gene research has recently revealed that pigs are one of our closest cousins in the animal kingdom. These poor beasts are routinely castrated, have their ears and tails cut and have their teeth yanked out all without the use of any anesthesia. The shrieks of pain heard throughout these ordeals are gut wrenching (see the film Farm to Fridge).

* Pigs are customarily kept in narrow stalls that allow them to do nothing more than stare ahead their entire lives. Because pigs are extremely intelligent creatures – more so than most breeds of dog – they often go insane in this confinement, sometimes gnawing at their own limbs (which is why many factory farms yank out their teeth). They are pumped full of hormones to stimulate unnatural growth, and many get to the point where their legs won’t support their body weight any longer. These must then be dragged to slaughter.

* Pigs are commonly packed so tightly into transportation trucks that many are crushed to death in the process. As with cattle, the slaughtering process is far from perfect, and some are yet conscious when they are scalded in boiling water to have their hair removed.

If you saw your neighbor torturing their dog the way factory farms torture pigs and other animals, you'd immediately call the police and the man would be prosecuted for cruelty to animals. If your neighbor did this to numerous animals over time, he'd eventually be locked up (despite how pathetic our laws against animal cruelty are). Yet when billions of animals are treated in this barbaric way on factory farms, we not only look the other way, we actually support it and fund it -- if, in fact, we consume the beasts these farms torture! And the only reason we do this is because we like the way they taste.

There’s no question that this calloused treatment of animals on factory farms is an efficient way of processing meat that helps keep its price down. But there's also no question that this represents the antithesis of the loving and compassionate dominion God intended humans to exercise over animals. We're called to reflect God's loving and compassionate character in the way we treat animals. There's nothing -- nothing -- loving and compassionate about the way animals are treated on factory farms. Their lives on these farms are a living hell.

As a follower of Jesus Christ, I am called to manifest the reign of God in every area of my life. Since torturing animals is not consistent with the reign of God, I feel I cannot help fund an institution that does this.

Undoubtedly, someone will respond; “What practical difference will it make for one individual to refuse to benefit from the butchery of the slaughter houses? They're going to continue to operate regardless of what you or any other individual does.” The same argument was used to justify Northern Americans reaping benefits from slavery before the civil war. For all their protesting, few Northerners boycotted the South's slave-driven cotton industry. This argument is simply a poor, morally vacuous argument.

But even if we grant that refusing to benefit from animal torture on factory farms doesn't make any practical difference, this shouldn't affect the behavior of followers of Jesus in the least. We are called to do what we do not because its practically expedient, but simply because we are called to do it. Faithfulness, not pragmatism, is our motivation. Our call is not to pragmatically fix the world, but to simply be the Kingdom.

At the same time, we have to remember that every Kingdom act we engage in, including our refusal to participate in unnecessary violence toward animals, is an act of resistance against the Principalities and Powers and helps weaken their stronghold on the earth. While we may not be able to empirically measure the impact our revolt against violence has on the world, we can trust that our loving revolt is, in fact, making a significant difference. (My forthcoming book Revolting Beauty will explore this idea in depth).

If you're a person committed to seeking first the Kingdom of God (Mt 6:33), please take God's mandate to care for animals seriously. Prayerfully reflect on your own treatment of animals and the treatment you support by your lifestyle choices. If you choose to eat meat (which, as I've repeatedly said, is not prohibited in Scripture), I encourage you to purchase it from free range farms that at least allow farm animals to enjoy a natural life in the open air. (By the way, this also applies to the consumption of all dairy products).

Yes, food from free range farms is more expensive. But consider the enormous price you force animals to pay when you insist on buying it a little cheaper.

Eat well.
Eat responsibly.
Eat under the reign of God.

Further Reading
For those who want to go further with this topic, here are a few good books.

Linsey, A. Animal Theology (University of Illinois Press, 1995). A hard hitting book that shows how the Christian tradition has tended to neglect God’s call to extend merciful care to animals. The book includes a great, biblically based, polemic against the modern “commodification” of animals, as demonstrated most poignantly by the creation of industrial farms.

Scully, M. Dominion (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2003). An eloquent, compelling book that offers the best single expose I know of on how cruel humans tend to treat animals. A real eye-opening book! (Warning: This book may make you a vegetarian!)

Webb, S. On God and Dogs (Oxford University Press, 2001). If you’re willing to read only one book on the topic of the biblical view of the treatment of animals, read this one. Webb presents a balanced but compelling case that Christians have a responsibility to extend God’s grace to animals.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The First Fruit of the Coming Non-Violent Creation

“A society’s moral progress is best judged by its treatment of animals.”
- Gandhi

More and more people are asking me the question, "Why are you a vegetarian?" So I've decided to write a couple blogs explaining my position. I want to remind bloggers that I am not trying to convince anyone that eating meat is sinful, for the Bible clearly allows for it. Nor am I trying to suggest that a person is in any sense more "righteous" for abstaining from eating meat. For reasons that I'll give in this and a subsequent blog, I do believe that refraining from eating meat whenever possible is most consistent with our call to manifest the Kingdom and to extend God's loving dominion over animals (Gen. 1:26-28). But Scripture explicitly forbids making this a litmus test for how righteous a person is. This is a matter that each person must wrestle with on their own, and no one is allowed to judge another.

In the last blog I shared that I'm a vegetarian because (1) God led me to make a pledge to refrain from all unnecessary violence to any living creature. This in turn has increased my capacity to (2) love and (3) experience the intrinsic worth of all living things. I now want to share a theological reason that I feel supports my pledge to refrain from all unnecessary violence.

4. The First Fruits of the Coming Non-Violent (and thus, non-carnivorous) Creation

Scripture teaches that God originally gave vegetation and fruit to “everything that has the breath of life in it” – including humans, “the beasts of the earth,” the “birds in the sky and all the creatures that move on the ground” (Gen 1:29-30). People often fail to notice that the only food God originally intended humans and all other creatures to eat was vegetation. The fact that humans now eat animals and many animals eat each other was not part of God's original plan for creation. It's rather the result of the fall.

This is confirmed when we compare God’s post-flood covenant with Noah with the Genesis 1 creation account. To Noah and his sons the Lord says:

Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything. But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it (Gen. 9: 1-4).

The command to Noah is very close to the command given to Adam and Eve in Genesis 1. But now the animal kingdom has “fear and dread” towards humans and humans are for the first time allowed to eat animals instead of “green plants” alone. This implies that the fear, dread and violence that presently permeates creation was not part of the original creation that God pronounced “good” (Gen 1:31).

What also confirms this perspective is that when the Kingdom comes in fullness at the end of the age, God's original vision for a non-violent creation will be restored. In that day, Isaiah says,

The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. Infants will play near the hole of the cobra; young children will put their hands into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea (Isa 11:6-9).

Along the same lines, Hosea paints a picture of a future era when God will make a covenant of non-violence that includes the animal Kingdom:

In that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky and the creatures that move along the ground. Bow and sword and battle I will abolish from the land, so that all may lie down in safety (Hosea 2:18)

There was no violence in the beginning and there will be no violence in the end. There is violence now only because humans, the landlords of the earth, rebelled against God and allowed the Powers of evil to corrupt the creation.

Now, the most fundamental job of followers of Jesus is to manifest the reign of God. I take this to mean that we're called to put on display now what the world will look like when God fully reigns over it in the future. In theological terms we're to be "the eschatological community."

One way the New Testament expresses this truth is by referring to Kingdom people as the “first fruits” of a coming harvest (2 Thess 2:13; Ja 1:18; Rev. 14:4). The “first fruits” referred to fruit that ripened and was picked before others. In the Old Testament, first fruits were consecrated (set apart) to God and were a sign that God will faithfully bring the remainder of the harvest to fruition (e.g. Ex. 23:19). In the same way, Kingdom people are consecrated to God as a sign that God will faithfully bring his Kingdom to complete fruition.

As the “first fruits” of the Kingdom, our call is to be in the present what the entire world will be in the future, when the Kingdom is fully manifested. In a world that is yet under bondage to the rebel Powers, we're to display what it looks like to live in the reign of God. Our lives are to reflect God's will being done "on earth as it is in heaven" (Mt 6:10). We're to be, as much as possible, heaven on earth and thus a window through which people can see the future into which God is leading the world.

If God's original ideal of a creation free of violence will be achieved in the future, it seems to me that the job of Kingdom people is to manifest this ideal now, as much as possible. Which to me suggests that since humans won't be killing animals and eating them in heaven, we shouldn't be killing them and eating them now.

Think about it as you enjoy a nice tasty head of lettuce. :-)


Sunday, February 10, 2008

Why I’m a Vegetarian

For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love.
Pythagoras (6th century BC)

I used to be a carnivore. I especially used to love rare steak. When I’d order meat in a restaurant I’d tell them to cook it “as little as possible.” Well, I’ve now gone four and half years without consuming any meat or fish (my policy is, if it has parents and could bear offspring, I won’t eat it). This wasn’t easy for me, especially at first. But I’ve never regretted my decision.

I often get asked why I became and remain a vegetarian, so in the next couple of blogs I’m going to explain myself. My goal is not to convert anyone to vegetarianism. In the New Testament this is considered a personal decision that cannot be made into a doctrine (Rom 14:6). At the same time, I hope my reflections are a catalyst for thought on our call as Kingdom people and our responsibility to animals.

In this blog I'll give the primary reason I became a vegetarian and two reasons why I remain a vegetarian (which are really just two benefits I've discovered since becoming a vegetarian). In the next blog I'll give a couple of theological and philosophical arguments that I think support abstaining from meat.

1. God Told Me To
The most fundamental reason I became a vegetarian is simply that I felt God told me to. It’s that simple. God has the right to forbid for one what he allows for others, and he just told me, very clearly, I wasn’t supposed to eat meat. It's not that the Bible forbids it. It doesn't. It's just that God forbids it for me. In fact, I felt very strongly the Lord wanted me to enter into a covenant of complete non-violence with him.

I am never to harm anything if I don’t have to -- not even a bug. And I'm never to harm humans even if it seems (by normal standards) that I "have to".

2. Increasing the Capacity to Love
Almost immediately after making this pledge I began to understand why the Lord had wanted me to make it. Scripture says a little yeast leavens all the dough (1 Cor 5:6). Well, I discovered that the little yeast of my willingness to engage in violence towards animals and other creatures for self-serving reasons (e.g. appetite, convenience) was polluting my heart and to some degree compromising my capacity to love. It felt like – and still feels like – my commitment to total non-violence has had, and is yet having, a purifying effect on my heart.

Along the same lines, my commitment to purge violence completely from my life has increased my sensitivity to the ugliness of violence, both in my own heart and in the world. Jesus taught that harboring hostile thoughts towards others and speaking hostile words towards others is a form of violence. In fact, he says it’s equivalent to murder (Mt. 5:1-26)! Numerous other passages in the New Testament instruct Kingdom people to purge all hatred, bitterness, anger, unforgiveness, judgment and malice from our minds as well as our speech. All these things are forms of violence and are antithetical to love. I have found that my commitment to non-violence has helped me wake up to all of the violence I have in my thoughts and speech, which in turn has helped me get free from this ugly violence. And this, in turn, has deepened my capacity for love.

Five years ago I never dreamed there was a connection between eating meat, anger in the heart and my ability to love. But for me at least, there definitely was. A little yeast leavens all the dough.

3. Seeing the Sacred Beauty in All Living Things
Along the same lines, I discovered that the little yeast of my willingness to participate in violence towards animals and other creatures for self-serving reasons had been leavening my capacity to see their intrinsic worth. My pledge not to harm creatures raised their value in my mind and this in turn allowed me to see their intrinsic value.

Animals are not just food, and insects are not just inconveniences. They are works of art by the eternal Creator and they have their own intrinsic, sacred worth. But I couldn’t see this worth very clearly when I thought of them primarily as food and inconveniences. Becoming a vegetarian and committing to complete non-violence has significantly deepened my capacity to experience the sacred beauty of God’s creation. This experience brings with it a new dimension of delight and joy over creation.

Genius that he was, Pythagoras saw all this. There's a connection between violence towards animals and violence towards people, and a connection between violence in general and our capacity for love and joy.

I’ll share other reasons why I became and remain a vegetarian in the next blog. Until then,

go enjoy a nice carrot! :-)


Friday, February 8, 2008

A Bono Looking Church?

Hello blogg'n buds,

Well, I got a little flack from a few of you for claiming that the Product (RED) Campaign is a powerful Kingdom movement. Several wondered how something intertwined with consumerism could be called "Kingdom." One worried that I was subtly endorsing consumerism by endorsing Product (RED). And someone suggested that the Product (RED) Campaign would be more authentically Kingdom if people were encouraged to simply sacrifice for those in need, without getting clothing or other merchandise out of the deal.

Okay, let me explain.

Of course
it would be much more Christ-like if people sacrificially gave money to help people in need without getting anything in return. But most western people aren't going to do that. And besides, there's already plenty of venues available for people who are willing to do this.

What most western people are going to do is continue to buy lots of stuff. At the same time, most western people on some level would like to help out people in misery. Bono ingeniously thought of a way to combine these motives, cash in on his celebrity status, and relieve a lot of suffering in the world. He didn't rely on government to address these issues. He just did it.

What would happen if the Church, as a whole, approached issues with Bono's mindset? What if we just did what Jesus called us and empowered us to do? What would happen if Jesus followers around the world were willing to live outrageously generous self-sacrificial lives? What would happen if a majority of Christians asked the question of how they could use whatever advantages they have to benefit disadvantaged people? And what would happen if the global Church were united enough to pool its ingenuity and resources to help impoverished and afflicted people, for the glory of God, without having to rely on government?

I submit we would do a thousand times more than all the governments of the world combined could do. This is how we are to advance God's will "on earth as it is in heaven" and advance the Kingdom of God.

Sadly, it seems insanely naive to entertain this vision of the Church even for a moment. While there are beautiful examples of Jesus-looking individuals and movements throughout history and yet today, the Church on the whole has for centuries been fragmented, impotent, uncreative and self-indulgent. The Church has not often transformed its surrounding culture by doing what Jesus commanded and empowered it to do, namely, manifesting his servant love to hurting people.

Consequently, the only kind of power most Christians see making an actual difference in the world is political power, which is why so many Christians think it's their job to grab as much of this kind of power as possible. And so we find ourselves in the tragically ironic position of being a profoundly broken Church, doing little of what Jesus did and little of what he told us to do, while being obsessed with fixing government, which is something Jesus never did or told us to do.

Maybe shooting to be like Jesus is too much of a stretch for us right now. But perhaps we could set our sites on Bono?

"Lord, fix us, for we are profoundly broken."


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Be Bono-fide

Thank you Ms. Paparazzi on that delightful expose of my Bono-fide Icee-drinking fun night out with friends.

We really did have fun seeing U2 3D. I'm frankly not crazy about their music (I'm more of a funk R & B man), but their message makes a U2 concert (and now a movie) one of a kind. While most rock bands sing about -- well, you know, crap -- this is a band with a subtle Kingdom message. It seems to me that the unprecedented crowd investment is mostly due to the lyrics and the spiritual meaning behind them. The crowd was caught up in a message.

Which leads me to this reflection. It seems to me that the One Campaign, which includes Product (RED), is one of the most beautiful and powerful Kingdom movements being carried out right now. In response to the massive AIDS epidemic in Africa, Bono asked the question: "What can I do?" Bono used his celebrity status (a status he admits is silly) with the help of others to launch this campaign with the hope that profits would generate money to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and Malaria.

And it's just like God to use a believer (Bono confesses Christ as Lord) who is very much on the "fringe" of the Church to illustrate what the Church should be doing. Our job is to manifest God's love by using our God-given time, talent and resources to serve the world. See a need and meet it with your gifts.

I'm also tempted to say that Bono's music, with its sometimes-profound message, is "anointed." Of course, we weren't in worship of Bono in those pictures Ms. Fancy Pants Paparazzi took...we were simply a part of the 3D experience and being silly with it.

But, I do know God is using U2 and their gifts. Let their example challenge us to do the same.



Sunday, February 3, 2008

cvm paparazzi (marcia) at work

Greg posted that the launch date for the new CVM site has been delayed a couple months. I thought (as Greg's "lens truth master") I'd give you insight into the delay and what Greg's been busy doing.

He's been BONO-fide!

Here he is with his lovely wife, Shelley, getting ready to see U2 3D with his small group.

Honestly, who drinks an ICEE at 50-years-old?
Is that Julie (the mastermind behind the new site) sitting behind Greg and Shelley in worship?

Dave, take a breath!! have a lot of explaining to do!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Where's the new Christus Victor website?

Some time ago I mentioned that we were going to launch our new, improved, super easy and super informative website "very soon." "Soon" has come and gone, so where's the new site?

May I remind you that while sequence is absolute, "time" (the measurement of sequence) is relative? The New Testament tells us to expect Jesus' return "soon," for example.

I hope our new website is up a little "sooner" than that. But I'm beginning to wonder.

As many of you who have launched websites can testify, there's a gazillion and three things that can stall a launch date. Let's just say we've hit a good percentage of these. We're still working out the bugs. We know how irritating it is to try and navigate a site that only partly works!

To be perfectly realistic, it now looks like it'll be late April before we're ready to go.

I apologize to the several dozen e-mailers who wrote me questions and received the answer: "I address this question in depth on my new website which should be up and running in the near future." At the time, I thought that "near future" meant a couple days. It now looks like it's going to be a couple months.

Like I said, time is relative.

But I think you'll find the new site very helpful and worth waiting for. For example, on this site you'll be able to easily locate every verse (that I know of) that supports the Open View of the Future, along with my commentary on it, as well as every verse (that I know of) that is used to refute the Open View, along with my commentary on it. There's a huge (and ever growing) Q and A Section in which I respond to hundreds of questions people have raised over the years on a wide range of topics (from politics to eschatology to demons to sex to ... whatever). There's also a huge Essay Section where I address a wide (and ever growing) variety of topics. Philosophical types will find my reflections on Hexagonic Logic, Neo-Molinism and other esoteric matters on the site. Marcia, the Paparazzi of the small group I'm a part of, is putting together a photo gallery.

But the thing I like most about this new site is that it is profoundly simple. For techno-challenged people like myself, this is huge. The site is amazing without being a maze!

So, I beg your patience for a few more months. In the meantime, keep tuning in to the blog and get what you can from our current (but somewhat obsolete) site.