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This winter the invasion has begun.  The motels are full indefinitely.  Buildings have quickly and mysteriously been bought up.  Hundreds of trucks from 10 different states roll around town.  They found oil in Harper County.

Natural Gas to be specific.  At first it was a rumble of a rumor, but sometime this winter it really became official as several oil companies began to set up shop here in town.  There has been all kinds of speculation as to what this will mean for our community.  Some of it is pretty wild (quadrupling the population of the county within five years) and some of it is worth thoughtfully considering (how can the churches reach out to this new group of people).

While I’ve had a couple of passing conversations about this changing dynamic, I have yet to say something in my official pastoral role.  Perhaps this is an attempt to begin to articulate what I’d like to say.

The place that I want to start is with the Bible.  Specifically with an understanding of Biblical Shalom that I will shamelessly steal from Marion Bontrager and Michelle Hershberger.  Essentially the idea is that God created the world to be in a particular harmony, order, or relationship.  This right relationship we call Shalom.  These right relationships can be described in four ways: being in right relationship between each of us and God, us and other people, us and ourselves, and us and the earth.  Sin, then, is when these relationships get broken, which is something that can happen both on an individual level and on a larger systemic scale.

As I reflect on the impact of the oil boom I can see that there are some benefits to be had.  The biggest of which is that Harper County has been on an economic and population decline for about 40 years, and yes, we can definitely use the income and jobs.  But this is only a surface benefit.  The questions I have are much bigger and much deeper.  Most of the large scale questions that I have can be framed in Marion and Michelle’s understanding of Shalom and what it means to break those relationships.

Between each of us and others – There are two main areas of concern for me here; 1) housing costs and 2) unequal income distribution.

1) Harper County just doesn’t have the infrastructure to support the influx of people that we are beginning to experience.  As a result, landlords can begin to raise the cost of rent quite drastically because they know that the higher price will be paid by someone, usually by the oil company.  I have already heard several stories, however, of landlords who have tripled someones rent, sometimes with less than a months notice.  Here’s the difficulty of sin: landlords are struggling too, and it seems pretty reasonable that if you could get a higher rent, you would charge a higher rent.  It’s an obvious choice.  The problem is that when a whole society does this, large populations of poor people who have been life long residents of Harper County are being pushed out on to the street for the sake of oil field workers who may not be here a year from now.  As individuals, it’s hard to fault a landlord, but as a whole, it’s definitely sin.

2) Yes, there is a tremendous amount of money flowing into Harper County because of the leasing contracts with the oil companies.  And yes, some of that money has begun to trickle down into some specific parts of the economy.  However, it is very important to note that this influx of money is not shared equally.  If you own land, you stand to make a tremendous amount of money.  However, the number of people who own land in the county is relatively small in comparison to the overall population.  This kind of massive inequality will, and already as begun to, breed resentment, hatred and injustice between neighbors.  Again, this is a difficult situation because I know many landowners do genuinely want to do the right thing, but what that is isn’t exactly clear.  Nevertheless, as a whole society, this is going to cause some problems.

Between each of us and the earth – I have jokingly said that yes, I think we need the economic boost in our county, but I also don’t want my water to light on fire.  Water is scarce enough already around here.  The damage that the hydraulic fracturing process does is irreparable and highly taxing on our already limited natural resources.  This is a major concern for me, and yes, I put the damage done to the earth in the category of Sin, not just politics.

Between each of us and ourselves – Money brings a lot of things with it, most of them aren’t particularly good.  I worry about what the greed and envy will do to each of us.  I worry about whether our hearts will be turned to stone or moved to compassion as the economic landscape changes.  Whether we are only peripherally connected to this change in our community or a direct recipient of it, it is going to change us.  The question is how.

Between each of us and God – Economics is always spiritual.  On on hand, these changes will affect our own personal spirituality, but they will also impact us as a church.  The impact on our church is coming.  Even in my own mind I’ve begun to think about new possibilities for additional programing or staff or buildings, all of which could be made possible because of the oil money floating around.  The question for me is yes, but at what cost?  Are we being bought off?  How will in change our church?  There’s at least one church in our area who was almost completely destroyed because they found oil under church land.  While I don’t know the answer, I feel like we need to ask the question whether or not our ideas for the future of the church are actually the leading of God or are they are something else.

I think that the most concerning thing about how our county has reacted to this industry moving into town is that there has been (or it feels like) little to no critical reflection on the deeper impacts on our community, our relationships and our faith.  The most telling example of this to me was an article in a local paper last fall that was talking about the economic growth in our county.  They outlined two major industries moving into the county.  One was the oil companies and the other was the large wind farm going in on the west side of the county.  In the article the only discussion was that of jobs and economic opportunities.  There was no reflection about the environmental or social impact of either of them, let alone the idea that they are two opposing industries in the energy industry.

I’m aware that right now I don’t have all the answers, but I’m hoping to start to identify some of the issues.  Now if I can just figure out how to start the conversation in church and in the community.

 

 

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This video says, pretty succinctly, some key things to understanding the world of teens looks like.  Especially from the perspective of parents and the church, this should be some pretty good motivation to renew our efforts of living out and articulating our faith in a meaningful way.

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Be very afraid, or be really afraid!  “Elevated” or “Imminent” are the two new levels of the new National Terror Advisory System being unveiled today by Janet Napolitano, the director of Homeland Security.

The old system featured five different levels that were supposed to communicate how likely we were to be attacked by a terrorist.  Out of the five levels (severe, high, elevated, guarded, and low) it’s worth noting that since its implementation is 2003, we have never been at either of the two lowest levels.  Combined with little to no specific information about any situation, this warning system only produced confusion and fear.

The new system is intended to improve the communication of information about specific situations to the general public through the means of social networking like Facebook and Twitter.  In addition, they will only issue warnings in relation to specific events rather than maintaining a constant terror level.

But will the new “Terror Advisory System” actually address the core issues?  While it is all done under the guise of safety, and implemented by an organization whose job is to make the homeland secure, one has to ask if Facebook messages about impending terrorist attacks really makes us safer or more secure.

Both of these advisory systems share the same fundamental problem: they tell us that we should be afraid of something, yet there is no real way for any of us to do anything about it.  In  the book “How the News Makes Us Dumb”, C. John Sommerville talks about the effect of having relatively short news stories on tragic and violent events.  He makes the argument that in order to truly understand any given situation or event to the point where you feel empowered to actually do something about it, you have to spend exponentially more time learning about it that what the evening news provides.  The news merely gives us enough information to know that we should be afraid of something, yet not enough information to truly understand it.  In the same way, both of these terror alert systems leave us knowing that we should be afraid, yet still feeling helpless to do anything meaningful about it.

In a culture where fear is a skillfully wielded tool of manipulation, it is worth remembering I John 4:16, 18.

“God is love…There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love”

The Security Advisory Systems bring to light one of our deepest human desires, and the great failing of government.  We desire to be safe and secure.  It’s a basic human need.  However, we’ve confused security with the desire to avoid all difficulty or tragedy.  What’s more, we’ve turned to the U.S. government to provide this false sense of safety by any means necessary.

Ultimately, security is really only something that God can provide.  What’s more, living with security and peace has less to do with the terror alert level and more to do with how we chose to live in this world. Living with God’s peace and security means resting in the knowledge that God’s kingdom will eventually win out.  Living with God’s security is rooted in the resurrection of Jesus.  The resurrection shows us that it’s not so much about preventing the tragedy as it is about knowing that God has the final say.  As we turn toward Easter, let us remember where our security comes from and truly live without fear.

Update: Here’s the link for the version on the MWR website.

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This post is a followup to my thoughts on the controversy that preceded the release of this book.  You can read those thought on the wandering road  here, and on YAR  here.  This post is also on the MWR blog here.

An artist is, first and foremost, someone who sees the world differently than other people and helps others to see the world in that way.

Rob Bell is not a theologian; he’s an artist.

Bell’s new book Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell and the Fate of every person who ever lived should be first and foremost understood as a work of art. From the vivid imagery and stories that he uses, down to the careful arrangement of words on the page for visual effect, Bell does a masterful job of evoking questions, providing insights and causing the reader to see age-old questions in new ways.

That said, Love Wins contains theology, most of which isn’t particularly new. Bell even says as much in the preface. The theology that is included, while worded differently, often resonates with many Anabaptist understandings of faith.

One of Rob’s central theses is that heaven and hell are real, but that they are more of a state of being than a physical place — heaven and hell are not reserved for some time in the future but have already begun.

As I read this, I couldn’t help but think of the Anabaptist understanding of the kingdom of heaven — that the kingdom of heaven has already begun in the death and resurrection of Jesus, but that it has not yet fully been completed. Bell’s understanding and the Anabaptist understanding necessitate participation on the part of humans. Overall, many of the core theological concepts that Bell raises or alludes to can be found within various Anabaptist scholars and leaders and have, at some point, been taught at all of our church colleges.

Controversy has surrounded this book, even before it was released, and has mainly centered on the doctrine of hell. However, what seemed more challenging to me was the chapter on different biblical images of atonement.

Bell describes the plethora of images found in the New Testament to describe and understand Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Bell challenges the idea that there is one clean, simple way to understand the atonement of Jesus. This seems far more controversial and important than whether or not we have a precise understanding of hell — yet it feels as though this has been overshadowed in the controversy about the book.

Ultimately, Bell provides a provocative book that is adding fuel to an age-old fire. So if you’re looking for a well-footnoted, systematic theological treatise, this isn’t it. It is, however, biblically-based and rooted in scripture.

The book challenges certain understandings of the doctrine of hell, heaven and atonement. But I think these doctrines are more human constructs than biblical truth and rightly should be questioned. Even if Bell challenges beliefs that are seen as “orthodox,” this should not scare off Anabaptists. If it were not for challenging the orthodox doctrines of infant baptism, church and state relationships and faith-based violence, we Anabaptists would not be here today.

For those of us who grew up singing I John 4:7-8 at a church camp, and have grown to have a deep, tested, and sincere belief that these words are true, then Love Wins should be familiar territory for us. At the very least, it raises deeply important questions to our existence as humans and causes us to see ourselves and God in a new way. But then again, great art always does that.

For the first and best response to his critics, see Bell’s interview from March 14 here.  P.S.  Nothing happens until about 10 minutes in so skip ahead.

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Last night we took the youth group to big Christian rock concert in Wichita called Winter Jam.  After a very long day I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about the event.

It was really quite a spectacle to behold.  The day started by camping out in line for about 3 hours, and then being in the arena for another 6.  There were 7 different bands that were very good and polished.  The theatrics of the event was impressive.  Everything was produced and orchestrated to an unbelievably high degree.  The set design was top notch, creating impressive and unique visuals for each band.  I was also impressed at the variety of bands that they had.  There were hard rock, pop, indi, and even the David Crowder band which is mainly a worship band but even threw in a bit of bluegrass.  Overall, the music was enjoyable and the show was breathtaking.

That being said, I was fairly overwhelmed by many other elements of the show.  And I do mean “show”.  The fact that it most certainly was a show including all of the “ministry times”, might be my first issue.  What’s more, I don’t go to many rock concerts, mainly because they exist to sell me stuff.  From minute one, it was obvious that the reason they were there was to sell me stuff at Winter Jam.  The only difference was that they heaped on Jesus-guilt along with the product pitch.  These things however, were relatively superficial issues.

After the warm up band, the next sequence of events begins to describe where my difficulties really began.  After the warm up band, one of the artists came out and promoted a cruise where there would be a whole number of Christian musicians performing.  Next, he brought up people from the three local Christian radio stations to promote them.  Then he brought up the tour pastor.  The pastor began by saying,  “Before we start by reading some scripture I want to recognize that there are a lot of armed forces personnel here and I want to remind us to thank them for defending our freedoms and bringing peace.”  Then, finally, he read the psalm 149, which has to do with making music to God with various instruments.  It also include a bit about God taking out some enemies, which he also mentioned with the note that this is about God making peace through war.   His main point with this scripture, however, was that we were justified in being at the concert because God commanded us to worship this way.

If I hadn’t been with 30 youth group kids I would have walked out then and there.

The rest of the concert had a quasi-generic Christian, but distinctly conservative feel.  It was a mix of patriotism, evangelism and commercialism.  Perhaps the point at which I was most offended was when the pastor, at several different points, appealed to people to either sponsor a child from an overseas orphanage or to give money in the freewill offering.  What was offensive was not that he appealed for these things in the first place.  What was offensive was when he said, “now some of you are hearing this and thinking, ‘oh I don’t have the money or I don’t think I can or I’d rather not’.  That’s the devil talking in your ear because the devil would like nothing more than for you to walk out of here without giving.”  I don’t think I even have to explain how theologically manipulative that is.

What I will give the pastor credit for was his pro-life rant.  To promote the orphanage project he asked the crowd if they were pro-life.  The place went wild with cheers.  Then he quoted James 1:27 which talks about pure and faultless religion is one that takes care of widow and orphans.  He flat out said that you’re really pro-life then you need to be there to care for a baby when a mother chooses to have the child instead of abort the child.  He even said that you’re not really a Christian if you don’t care for widows and orphans, and called out many Christians for only saying that they’re pro-life and not backing it up.  Needless to say, the crowd was considerably more quiet in their response to this part of his speech.  I was a little shocked, because this was the first time that I’ve heard someone at a very conservative event basically say that being pro-life means more than being pro-birth.  Now, that would have held more water for me if he hadn’t started the concert by elevating the military.

Overall, I have mixed feelings about the event.  On one hand, the kids loved it and had a great time.  It’s not often that they get a chance to go to that big of an event.  I have no doubt that it hit a number of the kids very well and strengthened many of them in their faith.  Personally I enjoyed most of the music and even found a couple of bands I need to (re)discover.  On the other hand, there were key elements of this event that were the total embodiment of everything that I hate about American pop-Christianity.  Would I condone my youth group going in the future?  Probably.  Would I ever intentionally go again if it was just me?  Depends on who was playing and what my tolerance for bad theology was at that moment.  Will I wind up going again as a leader of a youth group? Probably.  But that’s the nature of the beast.

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As I was standing in the shower this morning, pondering the latest news story about the new Travel Safety Administration (TSA) search procedures, I came up with an interesting, Biblically based, idea about how one might go about resisting these new invasive search procedures.

Strip for the TSA

Follow me for a second and I’ll tell you what I mean.

Background

The TSA has now upped the game when it comes to air travel. They are introducing new full body scanners which virtually remove all of your clothes and allow the TSA agents to see everything.  And I mean everything.  If you don’t want to submit to this scan then you can opt for the new enhanced pat down which involves, among other things, actually touching your genitals.  Here’s the catch.  Once you have gotten yourself into this situation and didn’t want to do either one, one would assume that you would be able to simply say, ‘no thanks, I’ll walk to California’ and leave the airport.  Not so fast.  It’s against federal law to leave the security screening process one you have started it, therefore if you choose to refuse both of these methods of search, you are subject to a $10,000 fine and/or a civil lawsuit   (All of this was brought to a head by the experience of John Tyner) So what that means, is that anyone who is traveling through a major city, has the chance of being stuck in a situation where you two apparent options are 1) be violated or 2) face fines and lawsuits.

Or are there really only two options?

Bible story time

One of the scriptures that popped into my head while thinking about this situation is from the Sermon on the Mount.  Specifically Matthew 5:38-42.

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.[1]

In the book “Engaging the Powers” Walter Wink has an interesting interpretation of this passage in which he argues that each one of these things is actually a creative way to find a third way of creative non-violent resistance.[2] I was most drawn to his interpretation of the part about giving your cloak as well. Wink says that if someone became naked in the Biblical culture that the shame rested not on the naked person, but rather on the person who made them naked.  Therefore, if someone is suing you to take the clothes off of your back, give them all of your clothes and walk out of the courtroom naked with your head held high.  In a situation where the only two apparent options are to fight or be victimized, Jesus presents a third way that resists the abuse and places the shame back on the abuser, all while complying with the letter of the law.

So here’s my proposal.

When you find yourself in a situation of being scanned, you should voluntarily, in public,

strip down naked.

This act would not be disobeying the command of the TSA but rather it would be going the ‘second mile’, if you will.  While on one hand it is submitting to the invasiveness of the screenings it is also doing it in such a way that takes control and power back in the situation.  And I would also venture to say that if such an act were done in front of all of the other passengers waiting in line, it would expose the true invasiveness of the procedure and thus place the ultimate shame on the TSA, not on the individual.

Creative.  Non-violent.  Resisting.


[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Mt 5:38-42). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[2] Wink, Walter, Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination. 1992 Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress. 75-84

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1) This is actually real.  www.carlashes.com

2) If this exists, the next thing has to be truck mustaches.  That’s all I’m sayin’.

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