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Thursday, January 28, 2010
UPDATE: I do not know all of the details yet, but Pastor Oseme is free! Thank God and thank you all for praying.
I received a message from one of the leaders in my church family last night asking for urgent prayer for one of our Haitian pastors. He has been kidnapped and is being held for ransom under the threat of death and is urgently in need of prayer. The message I received is below. Please pray immediately and continuously for Pastor Oseme until you know that he is free.
"Pastor Raquens called me a few minutes ago with this message: Today Pastor Oseme of Haiti went into Port Au Prince to meet with the American Consulate. While he was there he was kidnapped. He is now being held for ransom. Unless $1500 US is paid in ransom by tomorrow, Pastor Oseme will be killed. It would appear that the logic here is that beings Pastor Oseme went to the American Consulate that he has contacts in the US who would pay. Otherwise, Haitians would not kidnap another Haitian. Pastor Raquens and I agreed that right now we need to bathe the situation in prayer and pray for his release. Remember Peter was released from prison by the power of prayer. If the Lord shows us something else to do, we will do it. But for now we need to generate as much prayer toward pastor Oseme, his captors and his family as possible. We will give updates as we get them. Please seriously pray and get the word out to other intercessors at this hour. Blessings."
Posted by Sam at 5:10 AM
Thursday, December 3, 2009
In his excellent work, The Devil Reads Derrida, James K.A. Smith shares a brief essay concerning the ways in which architectural attributes of a house can contribute to or deteriorate the experience of community within a neighborhood. There was, undoubtedly, a time when I would have rejected that sort of an idea, After all, I would have thought, only a person of weak moral fortitude would allow their relationships with others to be impacted by a house. Things have changed, however, and I now benefit from a slightly more robust understanding of the ways in which we humans are bodied beings. The old understanding of souls stuck in bodies was never a Christian idea, although it has proven to be a particularly infectious belief within the Church. The truth of the matter is that we are, in our wholeness, body and soul so united that the two cannot be separated from one another in a meaningful way. We were created good with our bodies and we hope for the day when we will live in our resurrected and perfected bodies in a physical New Jerusalem. Most importantly, we worship the God Who took on flesh and joined Himself to a body in the person of Jesus Christ.
With that being said, it is hard to deny the truth that our physical environment has a very real impact upon us. Smith points out a particular point in which contemporary American home architecture has been tainted by consumerism and individualism and, in response, encourages us to be consumers and individualists. His example is that of the disappearance of the front porch. It was not all that long ago that front porches were a staple in home construction, which moved the home's center of gravity toward the street and increased the likelihood that those living in a given house would interact with, know, and love their neighbors. Why is it that the front porch has suddenly disappeared? The answer is surprisingly obvious: the increasing importance of the garage. We treasure our cars and want to protect them from the elements and so we allow the garage to encroach upon the porch's allotment. As we buy more cars, we need more space in which to put them and so the garage expands to fit two or even three cars, leaving no space for a front porch. It becomes possible to drive home, open the garage door with a remote control, park, close the garage door and enter the home without ever being exposed to the threat of encountering one's neighbors.
Smith's example of the front porch leads me to consider what other architectural elements might encourage us to know and love our neighbors. The first to spring to my mind is the guest room. A guest room serves in several ways to encourage us to be hospitable. (I recommend this short article of Smith's concerning the loss of hospitality and the growth of the hotel industry). When friends and family, a missionary on furlough, or even a perfect stranger needs a place to stay, having a guest room prepared allows us to meet their need and to extend the hospitality and welcoming love of Christ and His Church. A guest room is, of course, a burden in a way. Having a place for someone to stay dismantles many of the comforting arguments we use to convince ourselves that we are excused from extending hospitality. Often, though, we need to remove our excuses in advance so that we might more readily live like Christ. Even during the majority of days when our guest rooms are empty, they will serve as a symbolic reminder that we have an empty place in our house yearning for a life to fill it. Not only does a guest room provide us with the means of hospitality, but also with a constant reminder of the virtue of hospitality.
The dining room must also be mentioned, as the breaking of bread and sharing of a meal is of key importance to Christians in particular. Although I am not sure what sort of a dining room design would most encourage us to actually have our neighbors over for dinner instead of meaning to have them over (and would appreciate your ideas in the comments section), I have a few ideas. The table should be big enough to accommodate at least two more people than there are in your family, so that, once again, you remove your excuses in advance. Furthermore, the table should not be allowed to become a collecting place for every loose item in your house (a tendency that afflicts me in particular), nor should it be decorated so extravagantly that it seems a crime to eat at it. Beautiful centerpieces are great, but if they ever begin to impede upon the table's intended purpose, fellowship, they must go.
Finally, one must consider the living room. It is now expected that the seating of a living room will be arranged around the television (our apartment is generally situated in this way, as well). I do not expect this to change completely, but we cannot allow our furniture to be directed toward the television in such a way that it inhibits our ability to have conversation. This, of course, rules out stadium seating, but also means that from any given seat on a chair or couch we should be able to easily make eye contact with a person in any other seat. Most of the seats should also enjoy healthy amounts of available light (for reading) and close access to a side or coffee table so that we can enjoy coffee with one another.
If you have any thoughts or ideas concerning how we can better design our houses for community, please share them below.
Posted by Sam at 7:46 AM
Thursday, June 11, 2009
A few days ago, I overhead a conversation that caught my attention. Three affable thirty-somethings, who were obviously Christians given much of their conversation, ended up discussing Mexico. This in and of itself is far from noteworthy, but it was what they had to say about Mexico that really struck me. One of the women said something along the lines of,
"They had that earthquake in Mexico City, they have these drug wars, and now the swine flu. It really kind of makes you wonder if they aren't being punished for something?"
The other two nodded their heads and made remarks of agreement.
This line of thought is not foreign to me, and I understand what they meant all too well. The fact of the matter is that I, too, am often quick to mentally label grave suffering as a form of punishment dealt out by the hand of God. It seems to make sense to us: Mexico must be caught up in some awful sin to be given an earthquake, a drug war, and a (newly labeled by the WHO) pandemic. In the same way, many people were quick to label Hurricane Katrina as God's judgment on New Orleans, and the 2004 Tsunami as an unmistakable act of God. If we are honest with ourselves, it is not only the disasters of such great proportions that cause us to think of God's wrath against sin, but also individual diseases and disabilities, financial setbacks, and untimely deaths. We can put the pieces together: people who are suffering (and usually who aren't us) are most likely being punished for some sin, whether flagrant or hidden. The problem with this line of reasoning for Christians is that it is expressly condemned in the Bible.
Please allow me to retell a story found in John chapter 9. One day while Jesus was travelling, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. His disciples, being religious people like ourselves, asked Jesus, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" What a reasonable question they must have thought that was, and open-minded too as they allowed for the possibility that either the man or his parents had sinned to cause his blindness. Jesus' answer refused to bend to the predetermined nature of the disciples' question however,
"Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life." Jesus then spit on the ground, made mud with his saliva, put it on the man's eyes and told him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam. When this man did so, he went home seeing.
One man's blindness, which was so obviously the result of sin to so many, was actually meant to be the occasion for God to do an outstanding miracle. This man would actually become an outspoken evangelist for Jesus later on in chapter 9, and the Pharisees who claimed to be able to see were blinded to the work of God because of their understanding that the man's disability must have been a divine punishment (verse 34).
This story does not stand alone in teaching this lesson. In Luke chapter 13, Jesus made a similar point while talking about Siloam once again. Some of the people accompanying Jesus told him about some people of Galilee whose blood Pilate (the Roman Ruler over Israel's region) had mixed with pagan sacrifices. Such a fate would have been horrific to the Jews, not only because of the implied murder of those people, but because the blood of those who only worshiped the one true God was offered to an idol. Hearing about these people, Jesus knew immediately what the tale-bearers were implying with the news and answered their unasked question,
"Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them--do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish."
Here, Jesus is not emphasizing the point made with the man born blind that his disability was a gift from God meant to show God's glory, but is instead teaching that those who make judgments about the sin of others in order to explain their catastrophes need to recognize that they are just as sinful as those they are judging. Yes, there are times when suffering comes as a judgment (such as the sacking of Jerusalem foretold by the prophet Jeremiah), but there are times when it does not, and we are incapable of judging which is the case without a word on the matter direct from God. If we are to learn any lesson concerning sin from the disaster that befalls others, it is that we are just as much sinners as they are and that the possibility of imminent death should lead us all to repent of our sins and turn to the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
At this point, it is possible that some readers might think I am saying that the New Testament differs from the Old Testament in its understanding of suffering, but the Bible is in harmony with itself as God's inspired word and this is not the case. The Old Testament, like the New, teaches that we cannot simply understand the workings of the world as bad things happening to bad people and good things rewarding good people.
The Book of Job deals with this issue at length as the godly and righteous man Job suffers incredible loss (losing his children, his immense fortune, his health, his high status in his community, and the respect of his wife and friends) with God's permission. Over the course of the book, Job's friends and supposed comforters becoming increasingly dogmatic and aggressive in their understanding that Job's suffering is the result of his incredible sins. Job, however, remains steadfast in his confession of innocence and his claim that he has done nothing warranting the torment he suffers. Although God eventually silences Job by leading him to understand that he is not fit to question God's wisdom and power, He also says that Job has spoken what is right of Him whereas the comforters have not. This reiterates the point made once by the narrator, and twice by God that Job truly was blameless and upright. If Job could suffer more greatly than most humans who have ever lived while remaining blameless and upright, surely we cannot use suffering alone to judge the righteousness of others. This seems to line up quite well with the prophet Isaiah's understanding of the coming Messiah, who in perfect righteousness would suffer more than any human on a cross in order to bring salvation to sinners.
The Teacher in Ecclesiastes bore witness to a righteous man who perished in his righteousness and a wicked man who lived long in his wickedness. The Psalmist admitted envying the arrogant when he saw the prosperity of the wicked. The examples are plentiful throughout Scripture and it is clear that we are not to judge to judge individuals, cities, or nations by the calamities that befall them. Instead of judgment, we are to imitate our Lord by offering comfort to those who suffer. This lesson is well taught by Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians (chapter 1, verses 3 to 7):
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
Posted by Sam at 12:16 PM