Thursday, June 28, 2007

Wasn't he a suspect in Clue?

Gordon Brown? Hmmm... Who is that? Wasn't he one of the characters in the Milton Bradley board game Clue? I believe he committed the murder in the ballroom with the candlestick...what's that? Oh... he's the new prime minister of Great Britain? And I should care about that because...?

That's basically been my reaction to the news that the UK has a new PM. then I got the latest e-mail from Jim Wallis at Sojourners and according to Jim (isn't that a TV show?) Brown is somebody Chritians in the West should get to know. He's the son of a minister who is deeply informed by scripture and its calls for justice, especially when it concerns economic justice between the richest nations and the poorest ones. Here's an excerpt from a recent speech:

... let me say also that in the fourth richest country in the world it is simply wrong – wrong that any child should grow up in poverty. To address this poverty of income and to address also the poverty of aspirations by better parenting, better schools, and more one-to-one support, I want to bring together all the forces of compassion – charities, voluntary sector, local councils, so that at the heart of building a better Britain is the cause of ending child poverty.

And here's another...

Because we all want to address the roots of injustice, I can tell you today that we will strengthen and enhance the work of the department of international development and align aid, debt relief and trade policies to wage an unremitting battle against the poverty, illiteracy, disease and environmental degradation that it has fallen to our generation to eradicate.

Wow, what would it be like for a chief executive of a rich and powerful western nation to operate from a faith perspective that truly believes in using his nation's vast political and material capital to benefit people outside of its own borders? I guess we'll just have to wait and see if faith can actually trump nationalism in the political arena.

Grace and Peace,


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Lessons of Royal Family Kids Camp

Wasn’t it wonderful this past Sunday to look around our sanctuary at the excited volunteers who are leading Royal Family Kids Camp this year? It was just as exciting on Monday morning to see the children getting ready to head for camp. I told the camp staff on Sunday night when I and former FCC minister and RFKC staff member Tom Russell led communion for them, “I am really proud to be the minister of a church that does this kind of important ministry. One of the reasons I came to First Christian was because I read about Royal Family Kids Camp. I figured that any church that would carry out Jesus’ command to care for those whom society considers to be “the least of these” in such a tangible way would be a church that I would want to be a part of.”

We have much to be proud of as a church in regards to Royal Family Kids Camp. For fifteen years, our church has organized this ministry to abused and neglected children. As a faith community, we need to celebrate this good work, and we must especially appreciate the work of Sandy Hamlin who has served as camp director throughout RFKC’s history at our church. In addition to Sandy’s hard work, there are many others who deserve gratitude for making this camp a reality over the years.

I told Sandy that I was very happy that she took the time in yesterday’s worship service to recognize so many of the folks who have made the camp happen in its past and present versions. As a newcomer to FCC, it was wonderful for me to see that Chuck and Carol Mullican and Janet Pullen were apart of the original conversations about the camp. Likewise, it was nice to know about the work of longtime volunteers like Ken Hamlin, Ray Bililey, Marion Kearnes, Bernard and Marilyn McMillen, Tom and Annamarie Alden and so many others. How exciting it was to see different church members using their own particular talents to help the effort, such as Reva Fields working to get the word out about the camp to social workers and Lynn Tushaus coordinating meals for the week. Also, I found myself wishing that I had been around to watch each year as young people like Kristen White and Will Tushaus have matured and taken on greater leadership roles each year. Add to these folks past volunteers who cannot participate this year and the many church members who have contributed financially and materially and you get what really is a total church effort.

(The trouble with naming names of people who have helped with such a large undertaking like RFKC is that you inevitable leave someone out who has made an important contribution. I am sure that I have done so here. Please chalk such an omission up to the fact that I am new to RFKC and don’t take my mistake personally. You know the good work you have done and so does the rest of the church. I’ll catch on eventually.)

There are many important lessons that we as a church can learn from reflecting upon such an exciting ministry, but here are two I’d like to highlight;

1. The many different ways church members contribute to RFKC each year demonstrates the truth of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians about the body of Christ. In his anatomical metaphor, Paul notes how each part of the body is necessary to the whole body’s health. He notes also that Christ is the head of the body. When we allow Christ to truly lead us in caring for others in need, each one of us, no matter our limitations, can contribute our part to making the grace of God a reality in our world. The success of RFKC should be a microcosm of the church as a whole in terms of how we work together towards a common goal.

2. Royal Family Kids Camp began at First Christian when a few people had a vision for making it happen. Instead of merely voicing a good idea and then letting that idea float away, they chose to act upon it and make it happen. This is also true in the case of other exciting ministries of our church, such as the Jamaica mission trip. These ministries stand as proof that God can speak to ordinary people about a way of changing the world around them through their church.

Obviously, there are plenty of other hurting people in our community and world, and just as obvious is the fact that God is still ready to speak to others about how to address those needs. What is God trying to say to you?

May God bless Royal Family Kids Camp and all of the ministries of First Christian Church.

Grace and Peace,


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

First Christian Church along with our friends at First Lutheran Church are hosting a screening of the documentary, The Lost Boys of Sudan. This screening came about just last week when Roger Lenander, First Lutheran’s minister, and I were having coffee together. Each of us had thought separately that a screening of this powerful documentary should happen in our community, because we have a growing Sudanese community here, among whom are young men who experienced the events depicted in this film. When we realized we had the same idea, we thought God might be telling us something, so we moved quickly to set a date to show the film.

In last week’s, Dialogue, I wrote about discovering that Daniel Mapur, the spiritual leader of our local Sudanese community, is himself a “Lost Boy,” one of the hundreds, if not thousands, of boys from southern Sudan who were forced to flee their homes after their villages were attacked and who fled over a thousand miles to find safety in refugee camps. I had seen news stories on TV several years ago about the “Lost Boys” when so many of them came to the United States under the status of special refugees. They were amazing stories about these young men who had survived horrible events, grew up in refugee camps and came to a foreign culture to make a new life for themselves. I was shocked to discover that in Daniel, a piece of living history was sitting across the room from me. I knew that people in our church and community needed to hear his story and the stories of others like him.

I believe that Sunday, July 15 will be an important day not only for our church but also for our community and the Sudanese among us. Here are a few reasons why:

1. Getting to know our Sudanese neighbors and hearing their stories reminds us how connected we are on a global level. Even in America’s heartland, we are not removed from violence occurring on the other side of the world. What happens there affects our community. If there is any doubt that Christ’s command for us to love our neighbors includes people all over the world, that doubt should disappear as we open the doors of our community to refugees from Sudan.
2. How St. Joseph welcomes the Sudanese not only demonstrates our community’s character but it determines what our future identity will be. If we, as citizens of St. Joseph, welcome the Sudanese we demonstrate that we are a community that welcomes diversity and cares for those in need. If we exclude them and even demonize them, we reveal that we are a community of people with stiff necks and hard hearts—a community that cannot make room for anyone different, especially those without the blessings we take for granted.
3. When we learn about real people in places like Sudan, we discover how our nation’s policies can all too often contribute to the suffering of people around the world. In the case of Sudan, the United States has failed to take a decisive stand against its government, not only concerning the brutalities committed in southern Sudan during the civil war but also the genocide in the Darfur region, because the Sudanese government has marginally cooperated in the “war on terror.” That same government has been accused of committing war crimes and genocide against its own people, but it is propped up by the oil it sells to China. Thus far, our government has put no real pressure on China to influence events in Sudan. Also, thousands of Sudanese live in refugee camps, so every time our government cuts funding for aid agencies, those cuts have real effects upon whether people live or die. Whether we like it or not, we are guilty of not asking our political leaders to address these situations.
4. As we learn about suffering around the world, we can be renewed in our determination as Christians to work to eliminate suffering right here in our own corner of the world.

I hope you will mark July 15 on your calendar and make plans to attend. Not only that, but I hope you will invite friends from outside the church to come too.

Grace and Peace,


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The "Lost Boy" in My Office--Dialogue Column 6.12.07

This past week, I sat down to talk with Daniel Mapur, one of the leaders of the Sudanese community in St. Joseph. You may remember Daniel from his visit to our church on Pentecost Sunday when he offered a greeting from his congregation and one of his members read from Acts 2 in their native Dinka language.. He leads the Sudanese worship service at First Lutheran Church each Sunday afternoon. During his years living in a refugee camp in Uganda, Daniel was trained as an evangelist and a deacon by Anglican church workers. He is currently pursuing ordination here in America. Daniel is a soft-spoken and thoughtful young man who smiles easily, but his spare words reveal a depth of wisdom gained from years of hardship that exceed what most Americans will ever know.

During our conversation, Daniel shared with me a bit about the journey that led him from southern Sudan to St. Joseph. Sudan was rent by an over 20 year civil war between the largely Muslim and Arab north and the largely Christian and Black south. Daniel and his people come from southern Sudan, but they were forced out of their ancestral homes by the fighting and most fled to refugee camps in neighboring countries. Daniel’s wife remains in a Ugandan refugee camp awaiting a visa to travel to America and join him. She has been waiting for several years.

I asked Daniel if he had heard of the so-called “Lost Boys of Sudan.” He smiled and said something that surprised me, “Yes, I am one of them.” I heard of the “Lost Boys” in media reports over the last several years and was shocked that part of that amazing story was sitting in front of me. Called “Lost Boys” after the characters in Peter Pan, Daniel and hundreds of young men like him were separated from their families during the war. Some saw their families killed in front of them; others were out tending herds when villages were attacked. The girls were usually taken away to be sex slaves. The “Lost Boys,”—they were mere children at the time, Daniel was 7—joined into groups and fled first to neighboring Ethiopia until they were forced out and then back to Sudan where they were again forced out and then to Kenya and Uganda. How does a child survive such a journey? Hundreds of boys died along the way.

Daniel and boys like him grew up in refugee camps, and many of them were allowed by special provision to emigrate to the United States. Daniel and some of the others were brought to Fargo, North Dakota (what a change from arid Sudan!) where they found jobs in manufacturing. Daniel began leading a worship service for the Sudanese at First Lutheran Church in Fargo, so when he and his colleagues came to St. Joseph seeking better jobs, they naturally went to this town’s First Lutheran Church for space to worship in. First Lutheran Church and its pastor Roger Lenander deserve special credit for the warm welcome they have given the Sudanese.

I spoke with Daniel about how First Christian could also help him and his people. He said that there is a need for furniture and household items, along with clothing for adults and children. Having limited incomes, the Sudanese came to St. Joseph with what they could carry in the few cars people in the community possess. Things like furniture and extra clothing were left with other Sudanese in their previous towns. Daniel also requested a computer (new or gently used), so he could learn how to type and use the internet. If you have any of these items, please contact me and we can make arrangements to get them to Daniel and his folks.

When I left New York to come to St. Joseph, I wondered how it would be to move away from the vibrant immigrant communities of that city and their connections to the world outside our borders. Upon arriving here, I was joyfully surprised to discover that an amazing immigrant community was already here and growing on a daily basis. It truly is an amazing world we live in, when the events in a far off African nation can impact our lives here in America’s heartland. The bonds of God’s love truly know no borders.

Grace and Peace,


Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Democrats Go for the Faith Vote

Although I pushed it here on my blog on Monday, I goofed setting my DVR and missed the Democratic presidential candidates talking about faith on CNN Monday evening. I got to see Hillary Clinton share a bit but missed Obama, Edwards and the rest. If anybody saw it, I'd love to hear your thoughts about it.

I was able to read the transcript on the CNN site and reading their words is different from watching the candidates, but here are my thoughts:

Edwards completely fumbled the gay marriage question. I guess he was aaying that he is personally opposed to calling a union between homosexuals "marriage," but would be open to something like civil unions if he were president. It was a lame answer that smacks of cowardice on this issue--i.e. give them the rights but not the name. When asked about poverty, he answered very well, but from the beginning of his campaign this time around he has made dealing with poverty a major priority.

(Also, I was pleasantly suprised to see that Rev. Sharon Watkins, General Minister and President of our denomination, Christian Church, Disciples of Christ was one of the questioners. Nice to have some national exposure for the denomination!)

I also t hought Edwards answered the question of what he would do about post-Katrina New Orleans. In my mind, he has credibility on this issue, because he began his campaign there and has continued to visit the Gulf region and mention it in speeches. I would have liked, however to hear a broader perspective here on what the plight of New Orleans says about race in America.

(I really like Soledad O'brien a whole lot and liked her performance on Monday, but asking Edwards about what is the biggest sin he ever committed was a bit naive. He dodged it, as he should. Nobody wants a repeat of Carter's interview in Playboy where he confessed to "lusting in my heart" after women.)

Obama hit a home run in my book in his answer to the very good question from O'brien about whether God takea a side in a war. He led with Lincoln's quote about not asking if God is on our side but whether or not we are on God's side--always a good one. Then he noted that even if we are engaged in a just struggle--say, against terrorism--our actions can be unjust--like, for instance, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, etc. It was nice just to have a candidate declare such things are unjust, unlike those on the Republican side who pledged to increase the size of Guantanamo--shameful!

On the Israel-Palestine question, Obama was insightful in speaking of the best interests of both sides rather than a blanket support of Israel, but short on specifics.

Obama was at his best speaking about MLK's remarks on getting rid of the either/or mentality in favor of the both/and mentality. We can have both an emphasis upon individual responsibiity and social or mutual responsibility--they do not have to be mutually exclusive. I thought his discussion of early childhood education at this point was prophetic: "Early childhood education, we know that if we invest a dollar in early childhood education, we get seven dollars back in reduced dropout rates, improved reading scores, reduced delinquency, increased graduation rates. The reason we don't make those investments is not because they don't work; it's because we lack the political will. We don't think those children are deserving of a good education, although we won't say that explicitly. Our actions indicate it." That'll preach.

Clinton, when asked about her husband's infidelity, talked in generalities about faith sustaining her, but what can you expect when someone asks you about such a personal subject--which was dragged out into the public eye in such outlandish ways? Where I felt she was moving was when she talked about meeting a Congolese refugee at a Methodist church in Iowa, and how she spent the service praying for him and his people in Congo. I appreciated her discussion of working to make abortions "safe, legal, and rare." I also appreciated her remarks about seeking some kind of political consensus on issues like healthcare and renewable energy, because it is true that most people would believe it is a good thing for everyone to have healthcare or for us to use renewable energy, making the sacrifices for such things to happen is less popular. How exactly a politician could convince Americans to sacrifice for the common I don't know, but I appreciate the fact that at least she's aware it needs to happen.

Sojourners, who helped sponsor the forum, has links to video clips of the program as well.


Ruth Marcus at The Washington Post has a column today talking about the Democrats trying to attract religious voters. It's not particularly enlightening, just the same point that has been made in numerous articles and columns about attempts from the left end of the religious spectrum to prove that the Religious Right does not speak for all people of faith. I'm waiting for the day when somebody from the mainstream media spends some time actually discussing the issues being raised by folks on the religious left (e.g. poverty, war, the environment, health care, etc.) rather than just taking the shallow way out of saying the only story here is whether or not the religious left can match its counterpart on the right.

Here are some more links to what bloggers had to say about Monday night's forum.

Grace and Peace,


Monday, June 4, 2007

Tonight: Presidential Candidate Forum on Faith

Today at 7 PM Eastern Standard Time on CNN, there will be a special forum with the Democratic presidential candidates dealing with issues of faith and politics. Sojourners is sponsoring the event along with CNN and religious leaders will be asking the candidates about a variety of issues and how their faith relate to those issues. I'm planning on taping it, I hope that it will have more substance than the calculated answers offered by the Democratic candidates at last night's debate.

Grace and Peace