Many of us social justice-minded, environmentally conscious folks spend a fair bit of time making choices that are in line with our beliefs. I know that if I say I care about these types of issues, my choices in life must reflect the things that are important to me. Often, it’s small choices, like sorting my garbage and recycling, or trying to consume less and shop more ethically.
In my early twenties, I tried to go a year not buying anything made in China because I didn’t like the Chinese government’s human rights record. I knew my tiny buying power wasn’t going to have any measurable impact at all, but it was important to me to try my best to literally put my money where my mouth was – if I said I human rights and environmental impact were important to me, I didn’t want my purchases supporting questionable practices.
Where do you come up with your most creative insights? For me, it’s when I’m moving — walking, running, cycling, you get the picture. At the end of October, I was out on a walk, traipsing through the forest, and venting internally about how my finances had gotten out of hand. I had said yes to too many things and realized I could no longer say yes to the people who mattered more. In a moment of humility, I asked the Lord how I could re-partner with Him in my finances. He offered, “How about a No Shop November?” The simple brilliance of the challenge awakened in me fresh hope that maybe I could reimagine my finances. What I didn’t expect was how it would renovate my heart and relationship with God. Continue reading
In our blogs we have often talked about how the reason for poverty lies in the brokenness of relationships. As a human being we find ourselves in a multitude of relationships. We are deeply relational creatures. In the western world we have forgotten how important healthy relationships are to flourish as a person. We have mistaken individuality and independence as freedom. After all, we value personal success more than the flourishing of our community. Our standard of living and our longing for convenience is built on the expense of others around the world. The root to poverty and injustice lies in our brokenness, the brokenness of our humanity. But there is hope. God promises restoration of all things. Yes, He invites us into the journey of restoration and reconstruction. A key to making a difference in our lives, communities and our world is reconstructing those relationships.
Theology of Reconstruction
As much as we humans have already achieved with the help of humanism, we also need to remember the wrongs of it and that without God, there is nothing truly good in this world. In 2017 I was introduced to reconstruction as a theological concept during a two week class on African Theology in Nairobi. Theology of Reconstruction is concerned with social, economic and political structures. Reconstruction is a struggle for “the ‘renewal’ of churches and religions and for the ‘transformation’ of societies. Considering the past, the present and the future of a society, reconstruction theology facilitates principles and actions that sustain and support life in this society in the most positive way. Continue reading
It seems to me that proximity is an important concept for justice seekers. In fact, the more I grapple with it, the more important is becomes. I view justice in the world in terms of movement towards restoration or reconciliation. In wider, theological terms, God’s story of justice and reconciliation involved Him getting close to us. He became one of us in order to restore us to Himself. But in our search for justice, we are often so far removed from the things that are “broken” that reconciliation is not only out of sight, but also out of mind.
Photo by Nina Strehl on Unsplash
Take for instance the plight of many of the world’s most materially poor. It is easy for those of us who do not live in those situations to ignore those who do, because they are not in proximity to us. Often, they are not near in space, time, or relationship. Even with the materially poor in our own cities and neighborhoods, while they may be near in space and time, they can be distant in relationship; we sometimes unintentionally maintain that distance by ignoring them or averting our eyes as we walk by. Yet, even if we are in true proximity (near in space, time and relationship) to those who experience material poverty, we feel distant from the causes of their situation – large economic and trade systems, entrenched racism, broken social or family systems, etc. This lack of proximity frequently leads to a lack of justice; economic and social justice.
A few weeks ago I found myself in a school in Rubavu, a district of Rwanda, right on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. I was there because of a letter.
I received it from a group of parents who represented schools in the area. It was signed by 74 of them though it had been written by a parent of this school, GS Muhato. It’s a public school in one of the poorest parts of Rwanda, an area that among other issues, is struggling with sky high school dropout rates, high levels of gender-based violence and incidences of human trafficking. The school has over 1,300 students and is trying hard to provide an education with a lack of resources, in a system that to say the least, isn’t as functional as it should be.
But why had I received the letter?
Nearly two years ago the Wellspring Foundation, who I have the privilege to lead, had started working in the school to help them develop what we call a vibrant school community, one where no child is left behind in the quest for a quality education. As part of our work, we know we have to work with parents and engage them in their children’s schooling. Yet, in a place where there is a daily struggle to survive, this isn’t easy to do. Continue reading
Greta Thunberg, a 16-year old teenager, carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders for the adults who refuse to. A 16-year old girl, addressing the UN. In a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos she said:
“I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act…I want you to act as if your house is on fire. Because it is.”
When I look out at this frightening global landscape, I desperately want to see change. But when I see the incredible people who are stepping up to the plate, dedicating their lives to taking on the world, sometimes it’s hard for me to see how I can even be a part of that. I don’t feel like I’m that strong, or smart, or eloquent, or dedicated. Sometimes, when I think about it all too much, I feel like I can barely get out of bed in the morning. It’s overwhelming. What can one person really do?
To conclude our series on Poverty & Justice, we now celebrate that God’s Kingdom extends to us, and through us, to powerfully address global issues. As we consider how we can be part of the change, Romans 12:1-2 provides some practical steps to live out what we’ve learned. It says,
“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it.” (MSG).
When we get to the heart of the matter, we discover that being part of the change requires a posture of humility. When Paul says to “take your everyday, ordinary life…and place it before God as an offering,” He is calling us to surrender. Humility is birthed when we come to God with empty hands. Change can’t begin with us. It has to begin with God. We can only offer ourselves up to God and allow Him to transform our hearts, minds, and everyday lives. And then, from this inner renewal, we can begin to be part of the change. Continue reading
Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the call for justice and reconciliation? Have you ever felt swept away by the multitude of opportunities to act for the Kingdom of God? Don’t worry. You are not the only one. Working towards the Kingdom of God, acting for justice, and raising awareness for the marginalized can seem like a mountain impossible to move. Simultaneously, it is easy to fall into an activism that is fueled by self-righteousness. Don’t get me wrong. It is good to be active and fight the injustice that is happening all around us. However, it is important to realize that we are not working for our own cause. We cannot establish the Kingdom of God out of our own strength. God is building His kingdom. God is the one who is inviting us to join the kingdom work. Furthermore, God entrusts us with the mission to make disciples and become ambassadors of Christ. Continue reading
Where do our ideas on poverty and justice come from?
As we’ve discussed in our last few posts, addressing and engaging in a problem all begins with how we define the problem in the first place. So, when we talk about tackling poverty, we have to begin by pondering what poverty means to us and to the rest of the world. In the western world, our ideas of poverty largely stem from the media. The picture of poverty portrayed, both local and global, is often oversimplified and inaccurate. When we fail to think critically, we can easily end up with unhelpful and even damaging solutions.
I touched on this in a past blog entry, The Stories We Tell:
The perception that many people have of developing nations, especially in Africa, is extremely inaccurate, and has been for most of history. The narrative that is commonly communicated about the developing world is horribly misleading, and sometimes blatantly false. Most people are genuinely ignorant about the realities of life in developing nations, and see them only through the narrative of poverty and instability. Continue reading
During my time at Seminary I took quite a few courses on missions. There is a saying that “Missions is the mother of Theology”. It all starts with God’s love for us humans and his invitation to participate in his mission of reconciling the world. The questions and challenges around how to communicate the Gospel in the context of a global world excited me. How do you share the good news of the fullness of life found in Christ with business people in Manhattan? And, how do you work for justice and peace in a society that is shape by the cast system? How do we share the freedom in Christ with people who live in constant fear of being punished by evil spirits? Honestly, I learned more just as much about my own beliefs and views on the world as I learned about different worldviews. However, what I also learned is that one key to effective communication of the gospel and poverty alleviation is understanding worldviews.
Everyone Sees The World With Their Own Eyes.
So what is worldview? In our video series we talked about how worldview is like a set of glasses through which we see the world. Continue reading