Crumbs From Your Table…

Last night I was part of a crowd that raised its hands toward the stage while we clapped and sang along to songs about faith and conviction. The music was interspersed with stories, passionate calls to live a life of service to others, warm reflections on the strengths of the heartland, encouragement to support Africa and other poor countries through advocacy and aid, and acoustic versions of ditties like “Father Abraham,” “Old Man River,” and “Johnny Came Marching Home.”

No, this was not an evangelical gathering of youth pastors – it was U2’s Vertigo concert! And it was simply amazing. They put on a great show; Bono danced with a girl from the audience whose sign read “I lost 75 #s to dance wth Bono,” and admidst a flag show, swirling lights, and a circle catwalk, they introduced social justice issues like a Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Coexist (peace between the Abrahamic faiths – Christian, Jewish, and Muslim), and the ONE Campaign (my job!! see link at right). Four encores, a song dedicated to the Mayo Clinic, and music by Dashboard Confessional were also packed in there. Mix in a little Miller Lite and sweatshop-free t-shirts – Target Center presents a night of fun for the whole family!

I was struck with so many aspects of the evening: the song lyrics, the pastor-like qualities of Bono in his lead role, the way all four band members were in the spotlight and shared attention, the balance of simple six-string guitar after pounding drums with inundating electric bass, and the responsiveness of the audience to the whole experience. And while its not meant to be a worship event, per se, or a community of faith engaging in confession and ritual to remember our role as the church, I felt many of those things as I swayed and sang. (FYI, there are many sites that examine U2 and their journey through faith, rock ‘n roll, politics, and the US – but check out @U2, U2 sermons, or my friend Adam’s site for some great places to start getting more info.)

The CD is called “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” and has some classics like the upbeat “City of Blinding Lights” (opening song), and the spinning “Vertigo.” It also has convicting lyrics in “Love and Peace or Else” and “Crumbs From Your Table” – which was debuted for the first time live in Minneapolis last night, I later learned. (Excerpted lyrics: ‘You speak of signs and wonders, But I need something other, I would believe if I was able, But I’m waiting on the crumbs from your table. Where you live should not decide, Whether you live or whether you die, Three to a bed, Sister Ann, she said, Dignity passes by…’)

And my favorite song from the CD, played acoustically by The Edge as Bono sang, is “Yahweh.” More excerpts from lyrics:

‘Take this shirt, polyester white trash made in nowhere, take this shirt, and make it clean.
Take this soul, stranded in some skin and bones, take this soul, and make it sing.
Yahweh, Yahweh, always pain before a child is born… Still I’m waiting for the dawn.

Take these hands, teach them what to carry, take these hands, don’t make a fist.
Take this mouth, so quick to criticize, take this mouth, give it a kiss.
Yahweh, Yahweh, always pain before a child is born.. Still I’m waiting for the dawn.

Take this city, a city should be shining on a hill, take this city, if it be your will.
What no man can own, no man can take, take this heart, take this heart, take this heart, and make it break.’

For All Workaholics…

In C.S. Lewis’s novel Perelandra, one of the angels says that humans are both “infinitely necessary and infinitely superfluous in God’s eyes,” reflecting the paradox of humanity’s need to be active and to rest.

On the one hand, we are called and created to be active alongside God, to be the hands and feet of Christ on earth and to work out the passions and frustrations we have. To respond, to love others and love God, to be moved by anothers’ suffering and by our own joys is to be human – its necessary. On the other hand, we alone cannot really do anything. We are part of a larger picture that is dependent not on us fixing or saving the world but on God’s work and activity. To think that we can never break from , or rest from that work, or that it is up to us to get it all right or help everyone or minister to everyone, is faulty. God is fully able to accomplish his work without us – although our work is necessary and part of our call.

This paradox is one I wrestle with and find great joy in – thanks Clive Staples!

Whose Justice?

Of major interest to me are the areas of compassion and justice – how these concepts are rooted biblically and theologically, how they are lived out in community and in local ministry, and how acts like these can actually transform the church (as well as the world), as they help us understand and embody God’s call to discipleship.

My understanding of “justice” as an idea, action, and goal has meandered for some time – and I’m grateful for both my “in the trenches” experience with injustice in urban cities and through relationships, and my more academic studies pulling apart various “ology-s” that deal with justice. Its helped me not just react or label “justice,” but feel it and live it and wrestle with it and think it over. I am in no way done with that journey – but it of course can affect daily life and choices we make, from the smallest way we choose to treat another person, to the largest sense of how we participate in society.

Below is an excerpt from a talk Scot McKnight (former Prof of mine), gave on “Social Justice” at North Park. He brings up many of the issues I’ve studied in the last few years, including what is justice, whose justice, what is the telos (or end goal), of justice, and he writes some of how this interacts with the U.S. political sphere and its notion of “justice.” One of my strongest critiques of both “leftist” and “right” Christians doing political speak since the last election is their over-reliance on party lines while mis-using words to speak of issues like faith, values, life, freedom, etc. Ultimately, as much as I believe in and am engaged in redeeming social life through the political stuctures, my motivation for this work and my ultimate definition is “Christian”, not American citizen, nor Liberal, not Conservative nor Democrat. I’m first and last a citizen of the kingdom of God – whose borders aren’t totally open for new residents yet. Of course what this means for current political debates that affect the welfare of millions, and the way we use our biblical language to talk with people of other (or no) faiths is important to reflect on. McKnight helps me think through this (so does Stanley Hauerwas and Miroslav Volf, for very different reasons, and so does John Perkins and Delores Williams.)

What we are facing in the retributive and reparative debate about justice then is a sense of justice that has almost nothing to do with the biblical sense of justice. The reason there is such a disparity concerns the ontology of the public square and the ontology of the Christian ethical system. In the Bible, the operative words are not equality or freedom or rights. The operative words, in their place, are “image of God,” “love,” and “grace.” I could explore all of this through the lens of one word of Jesus – kingdom – but I won’t in this context. But, let it be said that for Jesus the “condition” he was bringing was called “kingdom,” and kingdom is always about community, about society, and about relationships – and it was not about personal freedoms and individual rights. It was about an alternative society in which relationship to God and others discovered shalom.

rest of “Social Justice”