Monthly Archives: July 2006

The past two weeks have been packed for Eileen and me, hence the lack of new posts during that time. Everything that has happened, however, is significant, so here’s a quick overview of what God’s been doing in our lives:

1) Moving. As of July 22, we no longer live in the Seminary’s apartments. That day, with the help of a few friends from the Open Door and from the Seminary, as well as with a U-Haul truck four times bigger than necessary, we moved into a house in Garfield, a neighborhood just a few blocks away. The owners of the house are Kendall and Jen Pelling, and we are renting a bedroom from them while sharing a kitchen, living room, and dining room. The house is over a hundred years old but feels almost brand-new thanks to Kendall’s remodeling expertise. There are two reasons why we’re doing this: a) It’s a chance to live in Christian community, sharing possessions and space with each other the way the early church did. There are many other Christian communities doing this in America’s cities and inner-cities today (Simple Way), and while the house probably won’t take on the monastic flavor that others have, it will be an amazing experience. I don’t know how God will change us during this time, but as our lives together take shape, I pray that Christ will be glorified and that we will all become more like Him through this time. b) This is the first time Eileen and I have lived in a mostly African-American neighborhood. A distinctive mark of similar Christian communities which I mentioned above is a passion for racial reconciliation, manifest in moving into neighborhoods that other white folks might not. This will also be a new experience, but priceless, I am sure. Praise God that now after talking/blogging here and there about problems of racism in Pittsburgh, I get to walk the walk.

2) Yesterday was our first anniversary! Praise God for a year of love, growth, and joy. Of course there were rough spots, but Eileen and I would both surely say we’ve grown through them. To celebrate, Eileen and I took off to Faith Mountain, a retreat center for pastors in the middle of rural West Virginia. Our weekend there was amazing as we enjoyed the beautiful mountains of WV, hiked, explored the small towns nearby, and spent time reconnecting with God and each other. Once we have pictures available, I may post a bit more about that trip, especially the bizarre looking turtle we stumbled upon while hiking.

3) Right after we returned from WV yesterday, we went to the Open Door where we participated in a special prayer time for Amara and Emilee, two young women whom we were blessed by every Wednesday in our weekly Bible study at the Open Door. They are each leaving Pittsburgh, both to New York state, though for different callings. Saying goodbye to them at the Creasys’ house last night made me think about how the composition of the Open Door will change this year. Even as Eileen and I become a bit less involved there so that I can pursue field education at Northmont United Presbyterian Church, I know part of my heart will always be with the folks at Open Door. I have encountered no community like it who as a church embodies what it means to be followers of Jesus. I’m grateful for all the encouragement they’ve given me this year and look forward to seeing what God will do in the future there.

So with moving, church busy-ness, and the celebration of our first anniversary, it’s obvious that a lot is happening in life. I hope to post more about the insights and lessons that I learn in the coming months. Praise God for his faithfulness and life in Christ!

To Backwoods Presbyterian: Thank you for your willingness to share your own experiences of poverty in rural West Virginia. You have some great ideas and I appreciate the perspective your travels around the world brings, but there are two things I must clarify.

One: Your comments seem to accuse me of just wanting to “throw money” at the problem of poverty. First, I’ve been addressing the attitudes of wealthy Christians, not suggesting particular political agendas or proposed solutions to poverty. I certainly realize it’s not that simple and recognize that much has to change in the mindsets and attitudes of some people living in poverty. Being new to Pittsburgh and new to urban environments myself (I come from a small town where homelessness is unheard of), I don’t have the experience or vision yet to know how to change the people affected by poverty. What I do know, however, and what I hope to convey in my blogs about this subject is that as followers of Jesus Christ we are called to avoid greed like the plague. I believe that a great deal of poverty is in fact caused by greed (i.e. the stealing of aid-funds by governments in countries you mentioned). However, if we are followers of Christ, we too must watch out for greed in every aspect of our lives. That America has become an icon for the idolatrous religion of the wealthy is what I mean when I say we are complicit in the problem. Would Jesus be pleased by business people making millions upon millions of dollars in unjust ways? Of course not, and yet some churches are filled with those very people. If I may be bold, I will say it is inexcusable for a person who claims to be a Christian to become wealthy. Why? Because Jesus told his followers, not just the rich young man, to sell their possessions and give to the poor. Because our material comforts lull us into a spiritual sleep (think of Christ’s words to Laodicea in Rev. 3:14-21 – they’re wealth distracted them from worshipping God). And because God cares about economic justice (all the Prophets).

Two: You seem also to assume that racism does not exist in America today and is not at least somewhat to blame for the problems facing inner-city minorities and immigrant communities. This winter, an incoming student here at PTS told me about an encounter she had with a local realtor: Moving here from another state, she contacted this man to look at houses in the area of the seminary. When she told him her price range, he responded with “Oh, if you have that money then you don’t want to live down near all those black people.” Little did he know that she was African-American. It’s not a violent example, so it would never get in the newspapers, but it shows how this subtle racism works. The man automatically assumed that a woman with that much money could not be black. It’s that same attitude that allowed white anglo-saxon protestants (yes, I think we are partially to blame because of our failure to follow Christ) moved out to the suburbs of Pittsburgh fifty years ago to escape the minorities living in the city. So much for listening to Galatians 3:28.

That’s all for now. Thank you again for your comments and ideas and may God use both of us to glorify Him on this earth today!!

To: Backwoods Presbyterian : Thanks for your comments and for being willing to engage in discussion about this issue. Your citations from Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians, however, aren’t quite applicable to poverty as we see it in third world countries and in the inner-cities of America today. If you read quickly through the rest of Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians, the “idleness” he’s protesting is that of Christians who assumed Jesus was going to return in a matter of days. “If Christ is coming again, then why waste time working in this life?” Paul corrects that, though, by reminding them that no one knows when Christ will return (1 Thess 5:1-2). His point is not that everyone should work to be independent or even to produce income – it is that we should be about the work of the Kingdom and other work which supports it in this age because we do not know when Christ will return.

Unfortunately, many people who are privileged with a comfortable American life don’t realize how hard it is for others who live in poverty. I agree with you also that poverty does not mean “not having a tv”. Poverty is deeper than that. It’s not being able to feed your children because the man who got you pregnant at sixteen ran away and your own parents are drug addicts. Poverty is dropping out of school because you’re afraid of gang violence and then never being able to get a job that pays a living wage. Poverty is an African woman infected with AIDS because her husband visited a prostitute and their country doesn’t have the resources to teach people how to prevent or treat the disease. I don’t believe any of these people are “idle” by choice, and they certainly aren’t being idle for the reasons Paul is challenging in the letters to the Thessalonians. Rather, I think it is our ignorance and our own desire for personal comfort that stops us from helping them. Our ignorance and our complicity is the problem, not the laziness of others. Perhaps we’re better off citing James 5 in this discussion: “1 Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. 2 Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. 4 Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. 5 You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. 6You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.”

I just finished reading Brian McLaren’s book The Last Word and the Word After That. (No – not his newest book. I’m cheap, so I bought this one at 50% off and am waiting to read The Secret Message of Jesus until it’s on sale too.) On the surface the book is mostly about the doctrine of hell, its development and its perversions. Though McLaren admits that some of his scholarship about the historical development of the idea of hell is speculative, his real point is the book is rock solid: an obsession with hell as Western Christendom has portrayed it for centuries distracts us from Jesus’ message of the coming Kingdom of God.

Here’s how that works: When we view salvation as simply fire insurance, a way to escape hell and make it into heaven, we miss the ethical thrust of the Old Testament prophets and all of the New Testament. When we add to that our Protestant understanding of the means of salvation, we exclude our actions from the equation, allowing us to believe they are of no consequence. That leads, McLaren says, to a tacit approval of systemic injustice in our world. Assuming that we have the correct belief, we focus on the don’ts of the Bible’s commands and label all the do’s pejoratively as “works righteousness.” Hence we endorse agendas that overlook issues of social justice in today’s world, and even exacerbate it by promoting the commercialized Christianity that is so prevalent in America.

When I was back in Colorado in May, I had a conversation with my old high school Young Life leader about issues of poverty and the social gospel. Because of his own theological beliefs and his work’s emphasis on evangelism, he understandably sought to remind me that “poverty exists because of sin.” I agree with one reading of that phrase, but probably not the reading he intended.

Since I’ve been living in Pittsburgh, I’ve seen more of how the sin of oppression unfairly forces poverty and other ills upon the already poor, regardless of their own personal morality. I think my friend in Colorado meant that individuals sin and end up in poor circumstances as a result of their own sin. Theologically he’s more conservative than I am, and as McLaren suggests, I bet his doctrines of hell and salvation influence that interpretation of poverty. But I think geography has a factor as well.

In rural America, where I grew up, systemic discrimination and injustice occurs on a smaller scale than in big cities. Racism is present, but poverty is more often the lot of pregnant teenagers and single parents, making it too easy to blame their circumstance on individual sin, especially sexual sin. In that environment, people see individual sins more than systemic and corporate sin. The same is probably true in many suburbs.

But does that mean it that systemic sin and oppression do not exist in rural areas? To what extent do rural communities actually endorse sins of oppression by passively ignoring them because they do not perceive the effects? What about suburban areas? Does education play a role in these differences? What would Jesus have to say to the rural church about poverty, oppression, and sin?