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Strange Days

Today was a strange day. Chapel at school was a bit of a grim exercise, as we were reminded of some of the atrocious evils human beings are perpetrating against each other, and our responsibility to resist these evils and work toward the peace, harmony, and justice that we believe will ultimately characterize God’s redeemed world. Stories of murder and rape from Sudan and Rwanda, human trafficking from Eastern Europe, and drug addiction and prostitution in our own backyard here in Vancouver painted a pretty desperate and hopeless picture of what humanity is capable of. Our world is a sick, hurting, and evil place, and it was painful to be brought face to face with that fact again this morning.

Immediately following this chapel we were led downstairs to finally catch a glimpse of the brand new library that we have been anxiously waiting for. It was pretty spectacular, and it will certainly be a pleasure to study in this facility for the next year or so. Amazingly, it’s already paid for by a collection of extremely generous donors.

Those of you who know me will know what’s coming next…

The dissonance created by this morning’s experience was, at least initially, a bit much for me. Old questions returned as I began to think about how to put the two experiences together theologically. We see this new library as a blessing from God, and rightly so. I think.

It was just strange. I felt guilty thanking God for blessing us with a multi-million dollar sparkling new library where I—a privileged middle-class North American—can study in comfort while 11 year-old girls are being gang-raped in Sudan (to cite but one grisly example from this morning’s chapel). I felt guilty thinking about how much money I have spent, and will continue to spend on my education, while areas of the world are starved for the resources that could be used to combat some of these atrocious evils.

Sometimes I feel like telling God that he might want to think about directing his blessing elsewhere for a while. I mean, the library is wonderful and it really will provide a wonderful resource for students for so many years to come, but maybe we could have continued to “suffer” in our cramped quarters.

I know that the correct theological solution to the conundrum produced by this morning’s experience is to say that it is God’s prerogative to bless wherever, whenever and however he sees fit, and that we can’t always fathom God’s ways. I know that it is theologically problematic to associate suffering with God’s absence or lack of involvement, and to associate prosperity with his blessing. I know that we are all called to serve God and promote shalom in the contexts within which he has placed us. I know that God created us to love him with our minds and that Regent College is a place that is dedicated to providing people with the best possible tools to do so. I know that Regent’s graduates go on to do truly remarkable and praiseworthy things to bring healing, wholeness, justice—salvation!—all over the world. I know that the new library is an important tool toward this end.

I agree with all of the above.

But $14 million…

and 11 year-old girls…

Strange days indeed.

57 Comments Post a comment
  1. What troubles me is not just the guilt we wrestle with as we face contradictions in life and faith, but the widespread apathy (including my own) that so many are prone to when confronted with such tensions…

    January 31, 2007
  2. It troubles me too Dave… perhaps my own apathy is what accounts for the feelings of dissonance.

    January 31, 2007
  3. “Sometimes I feel like telling God that he might want to think about directing his blessing elsewhere for a while.”
    Sometimes I feel that way too. The thing that usually stops me from actually telling him to do so is my own selfish greed for the ‘blessing fix’ that I think I need in order to just ‘make it through’my life. And much like an addiction to some enslaving drug – I crave/need/and make excuses for my desire for God’s ‘blessing’. And this is where I have recognized that I must take my thoughts captive – admit that I have problem. Could it be that I ‘need’ God too much?

    January 31, 2007
  4. I don’t think it’s possible for us to need God too much – perhaps just to conceive of our need for him in problematic ways. The situation you describe – “selfish greed” for a “blessing fix” – could well be one of those ways. I think that I err on the other side, not really expecting anything from God and retreating into insular cynicism and abstract speculation. Both responses, I think, fail to take seriously the reality of a God whose response to suffering was to enter it and let it throw its worst at him. That kind of a God ought to bring us up short whenever we’re tempted in either of the directions discussed above.

    January 31, 2007
  5. jc #

    off topic but have you guys ever heard of geez magazine? i flipped through their latest issue at a friends house. it made me laugh a little. never heard of it before myself. http://www.geezmagazine.org/

    January 31, 2007
  6. I actually just came across a reference to this magazine a couple of days ago. Thanks for the link – I’ve already had a chuckle or two.

    February 1, 2007
  7. I guess I was reflecting on the priority that my immediate ‘needs’often take over my knowledge that my lifestyle needs to be adjusted so that I could help change the disparity between the numbers 11 and 14. If 14 million is excess and 11 years old is utter dispair – these realities should compell us to change. As a bear statement ica n see how silly it is to suggest that we could ever need God too much but like you said our perception of our own need of God’s work in our lives may be misplaced…

    February 1, 2007
  8. The difficult question is how do we measure disparity in the world and in our theology? This example appears obvious, but that is because the gap is so large that we intuitively feel that there is an injustice and we that we should perhaps accept our $14 million blessing a little more cautiously. The difficulty, however, is when the gap is not so obvious… I know in my life it is far too easy to just ignore the many small gaps of injustice, and either become apathetic, or simply continue to live in thanksgiving for my comfortable “blessed” life.

    February 1, 2007
  9. J #

    Looking at this from something of a communications perspective, I wonder if part of the problem we have concerning guilt, apathy and helplessness is related to the chapel experience itself. It seems to me that Christian audiences are not given any appropriate “tools” with which to “consume” an experience like you describe. I’m thinking along the lines of Neil Postman here: you could not respond in any tangible way to the “news” you were given; in that way it’s “irrelevant.” This is not to say that we shouldn’t hear about these things, and that we shouldn’t respond to them. My point is that the way in which information like that is presented in Christian contexts turns it into a consumption experience of a spiritual Buckley’s that leaves a bitter taste in your mouth and a sick feeling in your stomach. In other words, Christian leaders need to think much more carefully about why they are presenting that material, and what purpose it is to serve. Am I making sense?

    February 1, 2007
  10. J, they actually did provide an opportunity to respond. They provided chalk for people to go outside and write/draw on the sidewalk a representation of the injustices we see. It was a form of communal lament I suppose. Unfortunately, the jubilee over the new library left most people side-tracked to this proposal of active response.

    So in the end, I agree they could have thought this out better, but on the other hand, they left it up to us as the audience to respond (which even the perfect medium cannot force us to do). Most of us, however, preferred the comfort of the new facility as opposed to the time and effort it would take to participate in communal lament…

    February 1, 2007
  11. J #

    Chalk to write on the pavement? This is what I mean. It the chapel was designed as a communal lament, then I would expect there to have been (for example) appropriate psalms to read in order to express the legitimate emotions we have in facing overwhelming evil in the world. From what I understand, however, that wasn’t the intent of the chapel. To tell the types of stories that were told, with deeply compelling (and graphic) content, is to imply that we should DO something NOW! Offering chalk to write slogans on a sidewalk seems…well…useless. No wonder Ryan felt the way he did. No wonder people wanted to stay in the library.

    Second, as Christian communicators we have to remember that we live in a TV/Internet culture. That means that people respond to our messaging with particular expectations. As communicators we need to take responsibility for crafting our messages in appropriate ways. Even though people are free to respond to our communicative efforts as they wish does not let us off the hook to communicate well. Otherwise, we end up exploiting and using the suffering of others in a voyeuristic kind of way, or we end up making people feel guilty for things they shouldn’t (which amounts to emotional manipulation).

    February 1, 2007
  12. naomi #

    Question…Do you think it would be better not to share stories like the ones shared in chapel (11 year old girl gang raped)? As J put it…”we end up exploiting and using the suffering of others in a voyeuristic kind of way, or we end up making people feel guilty for things they shouldn’t (which amounts to emotional manipulation).” So how do you wrestle with the reality of these horrific things happening on the other side of this world with the “blessings” of a fully paid for $14 million dollar library? I guess that is the question being asked isn’t it? Does having the resources to know about these atrocities mean we should know about them? I wonder what the age of information has done to our sense of injustice, what has it really accomplished?

    February 1, 2007
  13. Gil #

    I resonate a lot with what you’re saying J. I often feel like Christian speakers are guilty of what you call emotional manipulation (just think of the classic ‘the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few’ missions speech)because we are bombarded with the problems of the world in ways that leave us either paralysed with because of their ‘irrelevance’ to us or motivated by guilt. I don’t think either are appropriate responses to suffering and I agree that it is a responsibility of a speaker to think about what purpose is behind the communication. We seem to be the most well-informed society in history yet we seem completely unable to cope with suffering, either here or ‘out there’.

    Naomi’s question: “I wonder what the age of information has done to our sense of injustice, what has it really accomplished?” seems to hit it on the head for me.

    February 1, 2007
  14. Dave Chow #

    Sunday Bloody Sunday – U2

    I can’t believe the news today
    Oh, I can’t close my eyes and make it go away
    How long…
    How long must we sing this song?
    How long? how long…

    And its true we are immune
    When fact is fiction and tv reality
    And today the millions cry
    We eat and drink while tomorrow they die

    The real battle yet begun (sunday, bloody sunday)
    To claim the victory jesus won (sunday, bloody sunday)
    On…

    Sunday bloody sunday
    Sunday bloody sunday…

    The question is, how do we claim the victory Jesus won?
    Is it through, word or deed, or a balance of both?

    Part of the solution is recognizing that the images on the tv are real people, beings. Not just news clips.

    Part of the reason I don’t really like the news in a sixty seconds on CBC’s The Hour with George Stroumboulopoulos. Aside from the manic form it takes, it just really de-humanizes the “stories” and turns them into vivid images intended to be sensationalist or illicit a guffaw.

    Let’s recognize that horrors do happen, our part in the whole can be to be made aware of the world around us, and pray – and recognize that the media is portraying stories of real people.

    February 1, 2007
  15. J #

    I agree Gil/Naomi. I did not choose to be born into a middle-class, Canadian family. In fact, the reason I am where I am is because my grandparents managed to escape a situation like that of Rwanda and Darfur (Communist Russia/Nazi Germany). My point: I don’t think it’s right for Christian speakers to make us feel guilty for God’s providential movement in our lives.

    I’m tempted to think that there should be a moratorium on the types of Chapels Ryan describes because I think questions of appropriate stewardship and appropriate responses to poverty are quite specific to each individual/family, and can only be sorted out in a more intimate (and accountable) setting like small groups. In other words, I’m not sure messages like that are suitable for a mass audience, or if they are, they need to be communicated much more sensitively than they generally are.

    February 1, 2007
  16. Ok, I’ll admit, regardless of the library announcment I would not have participated in the “useless” chalk exercise…

    However, is there a place for simply letting something powerful resonate, even if this involves emotions such as guilt or sadness?

    Perhaps a lament service as we experienced, can be a “tool” to respond? I guess I am suggesting that lament can be one tangible way to respond and maintain relevance. Out of this lament, then, we are able to consider other relevant responses. In this situation, the chapel on tueday becomes only one part of a larger process…

    Naomi, in regards to your question, I would rather be informed and uncomfortable then ignorant and blissful…

    February 1, 2007
  17. I made the last post prior to J an Gil’s…

    Just to clarify, I am not proposing a free for all bombardment of every major injustice in the world. I just worry that my own uncomfortable attitude towards a chapel like we are discussing will result in swinging to the other extreme of not being informed at all.

    And I know this is not what you guys are suggesting…

    I just hope our critique of these type of experiences can also be constructive towards creating alternatives, not just bemoaning the continous negative examples we all can cite.

    I guess I am asking if you have solutions for your critique?

    February 1, 2007
  18. Dave (W), you’re right – we were given an opportunity to respond to what we had heard and many of us (myself included) simply did not do so. I guess the idea of writing a lament in chalk on the sidewalk seemed grossly inadequate to me. Whenever I hear stories like we heard in chapel, I cannot help but imagine how I would feel if it was my own daughter… When I do this, the only appropriate response seems to be to hop on a plane to Sudan and throw myself in front of these girls and somehow divert the wrath of their attackers, or to simply exercise raw vengeance upon anyone who could commit such horrific deeds against these little girls. A lament on a sidewalk, written by someone who has never suffered seems almost insulting when I am in this head-space… These girls don’t need words; they need someone strong to protect them…

    Having said that, I know that we are taught – even commanded – that lament is an appropriate biblical response to a suffering world. I certainly don’t think the chalk exercise was “useless” because I can’t speak to what it may or may not have accomplished in any one individual. I recognize that the bitterness created by this experience should spur action, not paralysis – it could well be that I’m just making excuses for my own lack of engagement. Sometimes it’s just overwhelming… Maybe it’s supposed to be. As you and Dale both gestured toward, we tend to feel this way only when the dissonance between a God who blesses AND allows incomprehensible suffering becomes too much to bear. What happens when the “gap becomes less obvious?” Are we supposed to feel this way all the time? Can we? Could we even live if we did? I don’t know….

    February 1, 2007
  19. J #

    My “useless” comment did what I had hoped!

    I would suggest that if a story does not turn us to God in some way, or if it does not enable us to respond to the very concrete realities of our localized experience, then (particularly in our culture) it tends to become abstracted and either ignored, or susceptible to individualistic manipulation in which “I do with it what I want.” The experience therefore becomes “useless.”

    (I’m sensitive to this whole area of using stories of poverty/abuse appropriately b/c of my work in media. My Latin American friends, in particular, always hated it when pictures and stories from their countries were used to raise money for N. American ministries. But I digress here…)

    In other words, what I’m suggesting is that Christians need to be concerned that “stories of evil” should lead us to God and/or appropriate action as a COMMUNITY. Otherwise, it’s just another thing that I ignore or simply choose to “deal with as I wish.”

    That’s why I suggested earlier that a message needs to be communicated to the proper target audience (read: communicated in the proper context/size of community).

    Am I making sense?

    February 1, 2007
  20. J #

    I was thinking about this more as I walked home for lunch, and here’s what I’m trying to get at: the danger is that a story like this Sudanese girl being gang-raped becomes all about me. It becomes all about me feeling guilty for having life so good. It becomes all about me feeling guilty for not doing something/anything/enough. It becomes all about me needing to change my life.

    Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t change our lives and that we shouldn’t do something. What I’m critiquing is how quickly this becomes an individualistic thing (particularly in our N. American setting). We tend to forget that we need to change communities. We also tend to forget to ask the people we’re trying to help what THEY would like us to do.

    Again, the need for stories like these to be properly rooted in community and context.

    Sorry about all the preaching…

    February 1, 2007
  21. Community and context… I couldn’t agree more!

    Perhaps what we have with the chapel this week was a bit of an overestimation of the nature of Regent’s community. While the word “community” is championed so extensively, just saying it over and over doesn’t necessarily create the context to properly respond to the issues we were presented with.

    Thank goodness we have this super-personal blog on which we can communally explore the implications of that chapel and perhaps motivate an appropriate response (I’m kinda joking, but also appreciative of the dialogue so far…)

    February 1, 2007
  22. jc #

    it seems like you all feel as though the injustice in this world deserves some sort of response that would go beyond chalk on a sidewalk. what are those actions that you would propose to stop this injustice?

    February 1, 2007
  23. jc,

    Do you have any suggestions for us? What have you found effective?

    February 1, 2007
  24. Great question JC! Here’s what came to my mind…

    -Lament! (Yes, this involves crying out to God about injustice, even if we know we won’t get an answer)
    -Little things (eye contact with homeless people, yes it makes a difference to acknowledge humanity!
    -Volunteer where your skills/gifts are appropriate used to promote justice
    -Pray
    -Donate $$$ (and actually evaluate the cause to which you are donating!)
    -Slow down… (It’s not a contest to see who can save the world first, or who can blog about the most important issues)
    -Use the $14 million library to benefit others (don’t just consume knowledge for your own personal benefit)
    -Go into politics!
    -Sell your truck/SUV
    -Adopt a child
    -Write letters
    -Join the staff of a homeless shelter
    -Keep encouraging Mike Todd to do enough things for the rest of us (that’s a joke!)
    -Pray some more
    -Become a pastor of an evangelical church without compromising your views that Christianity means looking beyond one’s personal salvation (warning: this one may be very challenging and is not recommended for those without much patience)
    -Stop shopping at Wal-Mart

    Now, I know this list was done as a bit of comic relief in a rather serious discussion, but I also want to show that the possibilites really are endless. In order to provide a correct response I would recommend being a part of a faith community. One that can love and encourage us in the call to promote Shalom in the world through loving God and others. Without this connection we really do just end up becoming dwarfed by the monster named injustice

    February 1, 2007
  25. J #

    I think those are more or less good suggestions Dave. Here are a few other ideas I have:
    -talk/listen to your neighbour
    -live together with a few other families for shared resources, fellowship and worship for the purposes of “glocal mission”
    -de-technologize your life
    -use public transportation
    -don’t eat at McDonald’s (this has multiple benefits)

    February 1, 2007
  26. jc #

    my suggestions are.
    -spread capitalism.
    -buy more stuff
    -vote for more free trade
    -think about possible ways to use the military to free people of dictatorship.

    the free economy is helping move china and india out of poverty. it is the most effective way to lift people out of poverty in the history of mankind. we have given trillions of dollars to africa and the people there are just as poor forty years ago. socialism and communism never brought anybody out of poverty except for its leaders. the world needs more capitalism.

    February 1, 2007
  27. Mark Dyck #

    JC you are a sh*t disturber. There are some merits to capitalism. For instance, giving jobs to people would may not have jobs, however, in the long run has that been the answer? I would say there are better ways to use the money sent to thiese countries, perpetuating dependency isn’t the best way to go about donating money. I have heard that you give a man a fish, feed them for a day teach the man to fish and feed him for a life time. There are ways to use money more effectively with long range results. Spending more money may not be the answer.

    February 1, 2007
  28. J #

    JC,

    What kind of economics background do you have?

    February 1, 2007
  29. Mark Dyck #

    Sorry I forgot you are so educated with regards to econmics??(you read the money section of the paper?)HEHE!! My knowledge is minimal but I do understand enough to hear what you are saying.
    My basic point is there are better ways to rectify injustice than spend more money and spread capitalism.

    February 1, 2007
  30. jc #

    J,
    My econonmics background. Well I am not schooled in economics but as Mark says I read the money section of the paper. i have been influenced by milton friedman, friedrich hayek and ayn rand. i listen to cato institute podcasts. why?

    February 1, 2007
  31. J #

    I ask b/c your suggestions seemed overly simplistic, and I wasn’t sure how serious you were being, especially considering the fact that free market capitalism has been criticized by atheists (John Gray, Joseph Shumpeter, John Keynes, Karl Marx) as well as Christians (Donald Hay, Pope Leo). Even Alan Greenspan and the World Bank have acknowledged that capitalism isn’t the only solution.

    February 1, 2007
  32. jc #

    i am quite serious. if my argument is overly simplistic then maybe you could point out what makes it so. what does it matter if atheists and christians have criticized it or not or that alan greenspan said whatever he did? do you disagree that capitalism as a system has provided men with political and economic freedom beyond any other system in history? what is your opinion? how does not eating at mcdonalds, lamenting, listening to your neighbor, praying for people create wealth and oppurtunity?

    as for my points i do see that the more country is capitalistic the more economically well off they are. if you buy things then you are basically paying money to a company that provides jobs for people. i can see how less taxes and less government intervention means that man is more free in his choices and more responsible for them as well.

    February 1, 2007
  33. Dave Chow #

    I see the logic in what jc is saying, but isn’t part of the problem in Africa, the problem of distribution? It’s not all about the amount of aid or even $ going over there. It’s who’s getting the aid and $, isn’t it? (comments from an economically ignorant consumer.)

    I do wonder about using the military to free dictatorships…sheesh, this sounds awfully similar to something we’ve seen before…if only we humans were perfect…

    just on the side, jc, you’d make a great american…are you?! (want some fries with that?)

    February 1, 2007
  34. J #

    It’s over simplistic in the fact that you haven’t acknowledged the shortcomings of free-market capitalism. Here are 5 examples:
    1. Capitalism has a surprising tendency to drift towards oligopolistic and monopolistic practices (a decidedly un-capitalist thing, no?).
    2. Capitalism has not (or doesn’t care to) pay for external costs (e.g. pollution, traffic noise, etc.).
    3. Capitalism has not been able to solve the problem of unemployment (despite 200+ years of theorizing).
    4. Capitalism tends to alienate its workers.
    5. There are no constraints in place that prevent the rich from consuming all resources.

    Now, I mentioned the various quarters from which criticism has come simply to point out that capitalists themselves (like Keynes and Schumpeter) have critiqued the system. Its not just communists and the pinkos that have done the complaining. Greenspan and the World Bank effectively admitted in 1997 that they were naive about the system, and that government intervention was necessary for the stability of capitalism.

    I agree that capitalism has, more or less, provided political and economic freedom in remarkable ways. In fact, I like capitalism. Capitalists didn’t try to kill my grandparents (the Communists did). Capitalism allowed my grandpa to eat (he just about starved under socialism).

    On the other hand, if it wasn’t for some pink eye, my family would have been on the outside looking in. We wouldn’t be in the rich one-sixth of the world’s population that disposes of nearly four-fifths of its income.

    The upshot is that as good as capitalism is, it is not a perfect system, nor is it THE solution to our problems.

    Finally, how does not eating at McDs, or lamenting, or listening to one’s neighour, or praying create wealth and opportunity…

    Am I right in guessing that behind that question you’re suggesting that our responses are overly simplistic?

    Well, in a sense they are. But they also point to some larger issues that have already been discussed in this blog. First, Dave and I offered them as possible steps, not comprehensive solutions. Second, they attempt to serve as effective measures against the utilitarianism that drives most economic theory. In other words, they remind us that life is not all about me and what I can get out of it. Third, they acknowledge that our actions impact those around us. For example, my friend in Guatemala, who lost his job b/c American capitalism forced his store out of business, wishes someone would have listened to him.

    All of this is to say that advocating more capitalism as THE solution to the complex issue of poverty doesn’t add up. But maybe you had some other ideas in mind?

    February 2, 2007
  35. Gil #

    It seems to me that the common denominator of all the suggestions so far is the appearance of futility. Whether that be the Christian efforts of resistance or protest or the advocacy of the spread of global capitalism, the bottom line is that we’re basically powerless to do much about problems of the magnitude discussed here. Either we’re restricted to well-intentioned local efforts or grandiose theories about ‘spreading’ a particular economic theory (as if any of us had the power to do that).

    It seems to me that the only ‘answer’ is eschatological (whether that involves the triumph of global capitalism or the kingdom of God). As a Christian, I’m wondering if the problem of evil does not force us to at least reconsider the now unfashionable idea that the sufferings of this life are compensated for in the life to come.

    February 2, 2007
  36. jc,

    I’m curious, if capitalism represents THE main solution to the problem of injustice, then we should expect to see the LEAST injustice in those societies where capitalism is given the most freedom to operate without governmental constraints. A world that is more and more being shaped and directed by the principles of capitalism ought to be exhibiting unmistakable moral progress. I think that would be a difficult argument to make…

    February 2, 2007
  37. I think you’re right Gil. The evil that has to be accounted for is not just the stuff that we see or are familiar with, but ALL the evil and suffering that has taken down throughout the millennia. Even if global capitalism represented the answer, it wouldn’t justify all the suffering that had taken place to get to this stage of history. One window of human history enjoying the benefits of a developmental process characterized by incalculable centuries of unimaginable pain and misery is hardly an adequate theodicy. Only an eschatological answer can ultimately be morally satisfying.

    February 2, 2007
  38. Well, I’m late to the party as usual…

    I’m no no longer so sure of the whole “God’s blessing” thing. Last Sunday was a rarity – I was in church. During the course of the service we were introduced as the team traveling to Kenya in May, and we each had an opportunity to say a few words. One of my team mates made reference to the notion that we live in one of the “most blessed” countries in the world.

    Most blessed?

    That would imply that there are others that are “not so blessed”, or even “least blessed”. Its not such a leap to go from there to “not blessed at all”. And, whats the opposite of blessed… cursed? Apparently it’s a sliding scale.

    I don’t think I’m buying that any more.

    Here’s another thought. “To whom much is given, much is required.” Maybe we’re not blessed. Maybe we’re cursed.

    Part of my issue of course is with language. We say things in churchianity without really considering the meaning. But I think there’s more to it than that.

    February 2, 2007
  39. I have the same difficulties with how we use language Mike. The problem is that the Bible is full of ‘blessing’ language and not infrequently it is linked with prosperity. I really don’t know what to do with this. The picture we get in the Psalms of praise for blessing side by side with lament seems good and proper to me, but some days neither one seems adequate…

    February 2, 2007
  40. Ah, well now we’re getting into the whole inerrancy/authority thing, and perhaps that conversation is better left for another day!

    February 2, 2007
  41. Don’t go there Mike! You know how conservative Ryan is!

    All kidding aside, you make a good point by raising that issue (which I don’t want to address now!).

    What’s interesting is the interconnectedness of theology and ethics and how one’s view on particular theological issues immediately places implications for how we live. It’s almost as if theology is meant to have practical outcomes…

    It’s kind of daunting actually…

    So in the context of this current discussion on how to respond to the world’s disparities, I hope we all, as you have alerted us to, realize the importance of connecting our rational explication of ideas to the lives we live. So I close with a rhyme:

    It’s far too easy to just blog away,
    Forgetting the implications of what we say!

    February 2, 2007
  42. jc #

    well i have a job so i can’t keep up with you guys in the week. so i will just respond to a few things. one thing is clear and that is there is no purely capitalistic system functioning in the world right now. the united states and canada are mixed economies. just thought i would mention that because most people think the united states is a capitalistic country.

    a couple things j mentioned

    1. Capitalism has a surprising tendency to drift towards oligopolistic and monopolistic practices (a decidedly un-capitalist thing, no?).

    coercive monopolies are not capitalist… that is true. but i have never heard of a monopoly that was not government caused. if you can name one go ahead. but the monopolies i have heard of like the telephone companies, railroads, health care in canada, car insurance in bc, education, and the list goes on. monopolies under a capitalist system would be sustained on a voluntary basis. people would make a choice to buy the product and they would not be coerced in to doing so they could choose whether they wanted to buy the product or not. if such a monopoly existed and they decided to raise the price to high people could choose not to pay it. more likely still is that an alternative means would be developed to compete with that monopoly and lower those high prices. for example, if a monopoly of railroads raise the price to high for shipping products people might consider trucking their goods or shipping them. most of the people who make this criticism of capitalism ironically do not mind if the government is the one running the monopoly.
    2. Capitalism has not (or doesn’t care to) pay for external costs (e.g. pollution, traffic noise, etc.)
    capitalism protects peoples property rights. if a company pollution can be shown to harm someone or someones property then it may be found that the company is liable for the damage.
    3. Capitalism has not been able to solve the problem of unemployment (despite 200+ years of theorizing).
    a job is not an entitlement under a capitalistic system. men are free to seek employment or start a company to earn a living. capitalism holds that no man should be enslaved to another. if you would say that a job is an entitlement for every man then at expense of whom will this job be provided?
    4. Capitalism tends to alienate its workers.
    i am not sure really how this claim is supported. i know this was a claim developed by karl marx in das kapital. i think it goes something like this… a man used to build the entire wagon himself. under capitalism he has becomed so specialized he only builds the washer for the wheel. because he doesn’t know how to build the whole wagon anymore he has been disconnected from his work and feels alienated. but specialization in the work force has made us much more productive and created much more wealth then in old days when had people building entire wagons. it also provides lower skilled entry level jobs.

    ryan, of course i agree that the more capitalistic a society is the more likely it is to be a moral society. but then i agree with the moral system underlying capitalism. you imply that capitalism is doing harm around the world and that because of this capitalism is not moral. i would obviously respond that it is not capitalism that is doing harm but various forms of statism, tribalism, and communism.

    with all due respect i am not sure many of you have actually studied or know what a system of capitalism entails. i know i did not receive that education in highschool or even university. i would suggest picking up ayn rand’s ‘capitalism the unknown ideal’ at a used bookstore for 3 dollars. then you can either agree with it or start criticizing capitalism on some of its claims.

    when i was still trying to find a compromise the ethics of capitalism and the ethics of the new testament i thought that the church ought to be more involved with providing care for the less advantaged. i thought that new testament ethics of caring for the poor, the sick, widows and so on… would obviously be in line with communism or at least the welfare state. these systems seem to be failing badly so i thought maybe it would be best if we had a capitalist system. i thought it would be better if the government did less caring for the disadvantaged and the church ought to take this up more. i thought maybe the church ought to take over social programs such as caring for the ederly, giving the poor food and shelter, and providing homes for orphans. this would make government programs obsolete and the government could do less of these programs thereby lowering taxes and letting us spend more money on these causes.

    … but it seems that christians who are inclined to help the disadvantaged are more apt to have the government do the job they have been called to do in scripture. this is much easier than mobilizing your church to do these jobs.

    well i hope this post has been entertaining to someone.

    February 2, 2007
  43. J #

    JC,

    Are you serious? I get the sense that you think we’re uninformed, and even unintelligent?

    February 2, 2007
  44. jc #

    well i don’t think you are unintelligent or why else would i come here to discuss things? if you must know my iq is only 134 according to an internet iq test. i am sure that most of you would do better on those tests. i think maybe you are informed on some issues and also uninformed on other issues… so am i. i like to make arguments without pretenses and sometimes bluntly to see how people respond to them, see how easily or not easily people can dismantle my arguments, and i try and get at the core of the argument. i am not that good at things but i am working on it. possibly i have offended you and if so i am sorry for doing so. i will leave you alone now.

    February 3, 2007
  45. jc,

    I think you need to be careful in your assessment of what the church is or is not doing to fight injustice in the world. There are plenty of Christians out there who are not relying on the government to “do the job they have been called to do in scripture.” For one example, have a look at the “Letters” section in last months “Walrus” magazine (http://www.walrusmagazine.com/articles/letters-february-2007/3/).

    The following quote, where CBC foreign correspondent Brian Stewart responds to the notion that the evangelical church doesn’t do enough to fight injustice in Africa, is noteworthy:

    “For many years, I’ve been struck by the rather blithe notion, spread in many circles including the media and taken up by a large section of our younger population, that organized, mainstream Christianity has been reduced to a musty, dimly lit backwater of contemporary life . . . . From what I’ve seen in my ringside seat at events over the decades, there is nothing further from the truth . . . . I’ve never reached a war zone, famine, or crisis anywhere that some church organization was not at long before me.”

    February 3, 2007
  46. J #

    JC,

    I’m not offended. I just needed to clarify where you were coming from (which you have done) so that I could respond appropriately. Thanks.

    I think you make a good point: our strengths lie in different areas. Some of us know more about certain things; others are more perceptive at seeing the logical inconsistencies in an argument (Ryan is good at this); others are better at simply interpreting the material; etc.

    I think this is an important distinction to keep in mind. I think it’s dangerous for us to begin seeing one person as “smarter” than the others. In other words, I begin by assuming that you’re an intelligent person, and that I have something to learn from you and your perspective.

    I also appreciate your desire to get to the core of an argument. I’ll admit, I’m not convinced that’s the best goal. In my experience in talk radio (and church), the core argument is almost always elusive b/c of competing interests and various perspectives. The conversation then tends to degenerate into who can try and tear the other person’s argument apart. People very quickly forget that they don’t know as much as they’d like to think they do, and soon, no one’s listening to each other. They’re just talking past one another.

    My approach is to say, “In light of this complex issue, what wisdom can we discover within the group so that we think about it well, and then respond to it appropriately?” The question then is, “Am I ready to change my mind/life about things?” I see this as more constructive and proactive, b/c it allows for people to ask tough questions, it allows for people to change their minds, and it allows for honest and thoughtful reflection. It’s a nice counter-measure (when I’ve experienced it) to the dogmatic, bigoted and arrogant bickering I’ve seen amongst Christians and non-Christians alike.

    February 3, 2007
  47. J #

    (Sorry, I accidently hit the submit comment thing).

    Just to finish up, that’s why I’ve challenged a few of your statements as “oversimplified.” It’s not to say that you’re completely wrong or unintelligent. (Sorry if you’ve gotten that sense.) I agree with you that capitalism is remarkably good in many respects. However, I’m wary of simply baptizing it as the solution. I think there are a number of legitimate concerns about capitalism, and so I was trying (perhaps not that effectively) to draw them to your attention. I was doing so in the hope that we might all have a more robust understanding.

    OK. I’m done now.

    February 3, 2007
  48. jc #

    i am a little confused then ryan. are you saying that christians are doing an adequate job of fighting injustice and its just the non-christians who ought to come along side christians? i thought i understood your post to be argueing that christians are not doing enough because at least some of them are satisfying themselves by building libraries and drawing with chalk on the sidewalk. could you clarify your position for me?

    February 3, 2007
  49. I’m surprised that this is causing confusion… My initial post had to do with the theological tensions produced in my mind between a God who blesses and a God who allows suffering. It was a reflection upon what I found to be a jarring experience. I explicitly acknowledged in one of my subsequent responses that I did not mean to disparage the idea of drawing with chalk on the sidewalk, and I explicitly stated that I understood there to be good reasons for building the library.

    I was not meaning to address whether Christians or non-Christians were doing a better job of fighting injustice – you are the one who introduced this element by claiming that Christians relied on government to do what their scriptures commanded them. My last entry was simply a response to what I felt to be an unfair charge that you leveled against the church.

    February 3, 2007
  50. jc #

    “I felt guilty thinking about how much money I have spent, and will continue to spend on my education, while areas of the world are starved for the resources that could be used to combat some of these atrocious evils.”

    “A lament on a sidewalk, written by someone who has never suffered seems almost insulting when I am in this head-space… These girls don’t need words; they need someone strong to protect them…”

    i realize you followed this last quote by submitting the possibility that it was appropriate to lament the atrocities in the sudan by writing with chalk on the sidewalk. i still think that this second quote is a quite valid feeling that is not fully negated by what you said afterward. and the first quote implies you feeling guilty for possibly spending the money God has blessed you with on your own education while others in the world are going without. i also felt you were trying to relay that is possibility that 14 million dollars that had been blessed on the donors had been mis-spent… affording students at regent a new library while once again others were doing with much less.

    if it your understanding that people are blessed with this money and then they were told by God how to spend this money i could see your point. do you believe that these folks and yourself were told explicitly by God in which way to spend there ‘blessing.’ if it is the case they received the blessing and they were not told by God what to do with it then maybe it is still God’s fault because He did not entrust His blessing to the right hands? i don’t mean to bore you here but i am trying to understand the logic of your arguments.

    February 3, 2007
  51. Dad "H" #

    For some reason I have to quote something from the Forrest Gump movie, “My mama always said life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get”

    So doesn’t that mean you have to take the good with the bad in life.

    I realize I am the least qualified to speak about god but sometimes don’t you think when you hear and see some of the bad things that happen in the world it’s his way of planting the seed in your mind to stay on course with his teachings and to be able to pray for others less fortunate.

    Why is it that a person that drinks and smokes all his/her life can live a long life and someone who has lead a healthy life can die of cancer or another sickness. Some things in life are just not fair and can’t be explained.

    We are blessed to live in a country that offers us the opportunity to grow healthy minds and body. Yes someone will be killed tonight, a couple will separate, a child will be left homeless but again don’t feel guilty for that but be thankful you are where you are.

    And finally a JC quote “OK, I’m done now”

    February 3, 2007
  52. Thanks dad – wise and gracious words.

    February 3, 2007
  53. jc,

    To be honest, the thought of who told whom to do what with which blessing hadn’t really crossed my mind. As I said, this was a reflection based on an experience not a systematic argument about the nature of God’s providence.

    February 3, 2007
  54. marcomundo #

    Hey Ryan,

    My friend Mike Todd told me about your blog and I came across this post. I hope you don’t mind me butting into your blog.

    Found your post interesting as I represent one of those major donors that gave $1.2m to Regent over a three year term for the library which is included in the $14.8m total pricetag for the recently concluded capital campaign. As well, a couple of years ago a previous grant of ours paid for the automation of the library system (so materials are available to reserve online, checkout is done by bar code, etc).

    I can totally understand the dilemma and jarring lack of congruence between hearing of the needs of the Sudan in chapel and then viewing a new facility. This is something I live with everyday. It was especially true as being from a wealthy family, my wife and I chose to live and work in the developing world for several years.

    But just so you have a better idea of at least the context of one of Regent’s donors (and this is not a justification, just an attempt at giving more understanding of what’s behind the giving) … we direct about half of our annual giving to situations in the developing world where people are empowered to move out of their despair, while half remains in Canada for projects such as Regent’s library, but also for inner city work, education, etc.

    How many could have been helped at the grassroots if we had directed our funds south, rather than kept them in Canada?

    We have come to the decision that we must be involved overseas to assist in horrible situations. A recent grant of ours was just directed towards medical aid for Afghans. I guess I view just about everyone as ‘my neighbour’!! But we also sense a deep calling to create environments where learning happens effectively, and where people – like you – are mobilized and empowered to make a difference in the world. We need Canadians who are equipped to do so.

    There is a reason why our funding isn’t channelled into UBC but instead into Regent. And it is because we know those who commit to studying at Regent are committed to introducing their communities to the transformation that only Christ can bring.

    So, peace. Enjoy that great new library facility. Utilize it to the fullest. It is evidence of God’s grace on you and the Regent community. But use it to be nurtured, and to research and to strategize for ways to channel your life into serving others. I’m glad you’re there to use it!!

    February 5, 2007
  55. ajt #

    Ryan,
    Wow…when you said the post generated a bit of conversation, you weren’t kidding.

    You can imagine that when I realized the Library would open the same day as the Micah 6:8 chapel, I wondered how we would possibly hold those things together. (visions of whiplash ensued)

    But then I started thinking that maybe it was okay. That maybe we NEED to feel those tensions. That we are completely capable of taking things like 14 million dollar libraries for granted. And that maybe if God can provide funds like that (which to a group of students seems impossible) then maybe God can also use us to change impossible-looking situations around the world. That maybe we need reminding of what this place is here for…namely to be about the kingdom.

    And the Kingdom shows up sometimes in the most unlikely places.

    To the needy, it might show up in the face of one who is generous and lends freely to the poor. (Psalm 112)

    To the pacifist, it might show up in the faces of soldiers come to free them from an oppressor.

    To the communist, it might show up in the face of a capitalist. (or maybe vice versa!?) 🙂

    To the woman brought here under false pretenses, it can show up in the face and presence of a Regent grad working in the downtown eastside.

    And it might show up in a McDonald’s restaurant, involving someone who drives an SUV even. You just can’t limit the Kingdom.

    Back to that Chapel… It would NEVER have been planned to coincide with the library opening. And I think that lament is a difficult thing to pull off in a corporate worship setting. It’s difficult because we haven’t done it much and so we’re terribly uncomfortable participating in it and terribly worried when we’re leading it that people won’t feel it’s genuine and connected. The chalk thing was actually a bit of a misunderstanding…I thought it had been dropped and the group putting the chapel together didn’t realize we’d be invited to go down into the new library and sing the doxology… Welcome to the messy life of a community. 🙂

    Anyway, I should shush now…but I can’t resist throwing this out there if it’s not FAR too late to ask…how COULD we lament here in this community?

    March 12, 2007
  56. Thanks for your response Andrea. I certainly never meant this post to be an accusation against those involved in planning the chapel. I fully agree with your assessment of the value of lament in a corporate community, and the inevitability of the tension this will create/reveal. Looking back, I think that the dissonance I felt that morning is likely just an honest reflection of the normal tension of a life of faith. The fact that these two experiences occurred in such close chronological proximity to one another shouldn’t, in a sense, change anything. Life contains both pain and blessing, and we all live with both (although maybe not always so close together…).

    March 13, 2007
  57. ajt #

    Nothing makes me feel better about my work at Regent than when people actually THINK about worship. 🙂

    So thanks to YOU! And keep reflecting…

    March 13, 2007

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