The Blasphemy of Earthly Government


…but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights. [1 Samuel 8:7-9]

kingonthroneThe first thing we must recognize is that human government is not part of God’s original design. When the Israelites requested a King, “such that all the other nations have” [1 Samuel 8:5] it greatly grieved God. God’s chosen people were to be set apart from all the other nations, not conformed to their ways. God’s design involved priests and temple attendants but not a king. God was and still is the ultimate ruler. In this way the Israelites were to show submission to His rule and act as stewards of His creation. It is clear to me from a careful reading of 1 Samuel 8 that God granted Israel at King reluctantly and not without issuing a strong warning about what that could potentially mean for their future.

As Christ-followers and “new Kingdom” theists part of our mission is to help establish God’s Kingdom on earth. In many ways that would be a return to his original design where God is the King and we are his subjects. But because we are suspended here in the world of “promised but not yet”, how are we to live under the rule of a worldly government that does things we may not agree with, and how are we to influence the decisions of that government in a way that reflects God’s will for our lives and our society?

That’s the million dollar question, the answer to which I have come to call the “two kingdoms” mindset. We live in one kingdom, the worldly government and society we are a part of while serving another kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven.  Jesus said we cannot server two masters, we have to pick one and we should obviously pick his.

But how do we live that out?  It’s certainly not going to be easy.  Part of how we can start to do it is explained in Roman’s 13.

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. [Romans 13:1-5]

tanksI have to admit, this passage has given me more than one sleepless night. Taken out of context it appears as though Paul is saying that no matter what the governing authorities do they are doing so with God’s tacit approval and any type of civil disobedience or protest is sinful. It also appears as though Paul is giving God’s blessing to all sorts of violence and war mongering and oppression as long it is done by the government, they are his servants after all, right? But nothing could be further from the truth.

Thankfully, because I can count, I know that Romans 13 comes after Romans 12. So if we are reading scripture in its own context this passage follows in the heels of this:

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. [Romans 12:9-20]

Did you see it? Romans 12: 19, “leave room for God’s wrath, it is mine to avenge; I will repay.” After concluding his thought on what our role is, to live peacefully with everyone, Paul goes on in Romans 13 to talk about how God can use worldly governments and institutions to punish those who do wrong.

feedinghungrypeopleIn short, according to Romans 12, it is the role of the Christ-follower to sincerely Love one another, serve the Lord, share with those in need, bless those who persecute you, be willing to associate with those of low position, be careful to do what is right, live at peace with everyone, serve even your enemy and over-come evil with good. God’s role is to use whatever human construct he has at his disposal to exact punishment on the evil doer, he can even use worldly governments that do not serve him in any meaningful way.

The danger in reading Romans 13 in isolation is that we may begin to think that it is somehow our job to help God by working for or influencing the government for his purposes. Nowhere in Romans 13 does it say that Christ-followers are to be involved in government and serve the earthly kingdom in any way. On the contrary we are to be submitted to it, no matter how evil, because God may decided to use it for his purposes, but if we are doing what is right, as spelled out in Romans 12, we will have more than enough work to do without being involved in the earthly government and nothing to fear from what any evil or neutral government may do. That’s their business and God’s job.

In the end earthly kingdoms are in a sense blasphemy. Setting anyone or any system up as ruler in place of God is nothing more than blasphemy.

Right from the start, God made it clear to the Israelites that by asking for a king they were rejecting Him as their ruler. The first century Christians knew that in order to bring about the promised Kingdom of Heaven, all earthly kingdoms would one day have to pass away. There is no point in working for a dying institution. If you want to influence the world for God’s purposes and the Kingdom of Heaven, you don’t do it from within the early kingdom, you work to establish a new kingdom, a new heaven and a new earth. That’s what the church, at her best is called to be.  And that’s just one more reason why I believe the only true calling of the Christ-follower is the calling to live a life of pacifism.

 

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The Problem of Evil


I wrote this post on Thursday, and was about to post it this afternoon when I heard of the horrible attacks in Paris.  I debated whether or not I should wait and post it later, in honor of the dead but I feel the best way to honor them is to call for an end of violence in the physical realm.  Here is what I wrote.

Usually in any discussion of pacifism, after I’ve laid out my reasoning about the image of God in all of us and our role as care-taker I get my first real objection. It starts out with some crazy scenario about, what I would do if a man had a gun to my wife’s head and said if I didn’t kill him or somebody else he would kill her and then me. What do we do with the truly evil people in the world?

evilhappyfaceIn order to answer that question we first must understand the origins of evil.

Evil entered the world in Genesis 3.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” [Genesis 3:1]

Satan, (Hebrew for The Adversary) represented here as a snake begins by asking questions, seeding doubt and leading astray. So the first thing you must understand about evil is that it lies. The answer to the serpent’s question should quite simply have been no. No, God did not say you couldn’t eat from any tree in the garden, he warned not to eat from a specific tree. And that specific tree is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

It’s the one word and that very important distinction that many people miss. Good and evil exist there is nothing we can do about that. So, why is it that God does not want us to have any knowledge of good and evil?

Because we can’t handle it!

God is Love. He created us out of love. What parent wants their child to know anything other than pure love? To know good and evil is to know pain, shame and judgement. God didn’t want us to know any of that so out of love he forbade it. Satan came along and made it seem like Eve was missing out on some great mystery of life, that by learning about good and evil she would someone be greater and have a fuller life. That was a heinous lie.

Think back to your childhood, before you knew the world could be a harsh and nasty place. Life was a great idyllic utopia of perfection. You were safe in the knowledge that your parents loved you and only wanted the best for you. Then something happened, maybe you discovered a friend who didn’t have the same kind of you life you had, they couldn’t afford the after school program or didn’t have a dad at home. How did that make you feel? Shocked, confused, sad, betrayed somehow? I remember when it happened to me, and those were just some of the emotions I remember feeling.

nofairAs you went through school you eventually learned that life isn’t fair and the sooner you figured out how to deal with that the better off you were. The sooner you learned to play the game, and perpetrate a little evil of you own, the easier it got to live in this often cruel and unfair world of ours. Satan won a great victory the day you accepted his lies and decided that the world was full of evil people that you needed protection from. You started to isolate yourself and build walls to keep the bad people away.

We were created to have no knowledge of good or evil. We were created to know only God and gain our living and being solely from him. When we learned otherwise we lost everything, we lost our life in the garden and nothing has been the same since.

The apostle Paul once said that his goal was to know nothing except Christ. [1 Corinthians 2:2] Dietrich Bonehoeffer said:

Man, at his origin knows only one thing: God. It is only in the unity of his knowledge of God that he knows of other men, of things, and of himself. He knows all things only in God, and God in all things. The knowledge of good and evil shows that he is no longer at one with his origin.

But we do know that evil exists. The genie is out of the bottle. So what are we now to do with this knowledge?

If we accept it at face value Satan wins. We become afraid. Afraid of what could be lurking “out there” in strangers half way around the world or just up the block. We isolate ourselves from people who aren’t just like us we create segregated communities, spend thousands of dollars on security measures and buy guns for production. All because we know about evil.

But what if we didn’t know evil? How can we eradicate the damage it has done to our society? How can we rebuild our lost community with those who are just a little different from us?

Evil cannot exist, where love prevails. God is love and He cannot co-exist with evil.

Fear is mostly fear of the unknown. The best way to combat our knowledge of evil is with knowledge of another kind, knowledge of facts over rumors conjecture and innuendo, knowledge of individuals over people groups, community over cultures, specific teaching over long held and outdated tradition and knowledge of community over isolation.

The problem of evil is a problem of knowledge. What we know and what don’t know and even more sinister, what we think we know that is false.

Therefore a pacifist and a Christ-follower must confront the problem of evil people bent on violence with learning. First learn the truth, and then combat the lies that surround it. In this way we can avoid unnecessary conflict based on nothing more than misunderstanding, misrepresentation and distorted lies.

hijabwomanWhen we see ethnic minorities moving into our communities and influencing our culture don’t be afraid, get educated. Reach out, learn their stories and welcome them into our community. Those people, the ones we might consider evil people are just one conversation away from become our people. At the end of the day, we are all image bearers of God (see part 1).

But what about the really evil people, the ones bent on destruction. Shouldn’t we try to stop them by any means necessary? Yes – and No.

Yes, try to stop them by educating them in a different path, but no do not try to destroy them in kind, you are not fighting physical humans but deceptive practices and the lies of Satan. Satan wants us to destroy one another, that is one of his favourite weapons to use against God. If we kill each other, he wins and when one deceived person dies there are a thousand more ready to take his place. Violence is a no win situation for humanity.

Make no mistake, there is a war going on all around us in the spiritual realm, but we can’t fight it with physical weapons. Some may die; it is a war after all. But dying for a cause is admirable. Killing for one only plays into the enemies hands. Far fewer die when we confront evil with truth than weapons of mass destruction. Pacifists know that and practice it while they actively pursue peace in the physical realm.

For more information on The Meekonomics Project and Pacifist Lamentations write to: themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com

Mercy, Mercy Me, (The Ecology) – Pacifist Lamentations Part 2


Woo ah, mercy mercy me
Ah things ain’t what they used to be, no no
Where did all the blue skies go?
Poison is the wind that blows from the north and south and east
Woo mercy, mercy me, mercy father
Ah things ain’t what they used to be, no no [Marvin Gaye, 1971]

earthonfireWhat is the role of mankind upon the earth?

According to Genesis Chapter one, mankind was made in the image of God. That’s all of us as I wrote about last week in the first installment of this series on why I am a pacifist and why I believe pacifism is the true calling of the Christ-Follower.

Continuing from where I left off in the scriptures we read this:

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” [Genesis 1:28]

If we stop there it becomes fairly easy to justify all of the ways in which mankind has been raping and pillaging the earth for the last hundred or so years. This is the mindset that is prevalent among most climate change deniers on the so called “Christian” right and the mindset that has permeated the corporate world, politics and average humans since the 1960s.

When Rachel Carson, an employee of the United States Department of Fish and Wildlife, first published her research into the disappearance of certain bird species in the book Silent Spring no one had even heard of Global Warming. That was 1962 but Carson had been studying bird populations in the US Mid-West for over a decade at that point.

The book documented the detrimental effects on the environment, caused by the indiscriminate use of pesticides and accused the chemical industry of spreading disinformation about the safety of their products. Not surprisingly the book drew fierce criticism from corporate America, specifically companies like DOW Chemical and Monsanto. But as a result of Carson’s undaunted pursuit of the truth and meticulous documentation she was eventually credited with starting the debate that resulted in the North America wide banning of DDT and many other similar pesticides.

But the work Rachel Carson started more than 50 years ago is far from done. And the naysayers have been far from silenced.

In 2013 it was widely reported that 97.2 percent of scientists believe that humans are playing a major role in climate change. Another way to say that is that is if you put 100 scientists in a room together, 97 of them would think the remaining 3 are idiots! But if that’s what the experts say then why is it that only 33 percent of people in the general public believe them?

smokestackAs a Christ-follower and a pacifist, I believe that part of the blame lies with our incomplete and misdirected understanding of the creation story from Genesis.  We have been taught that the role of mankind on the earth is to “rule over” and “subdue” our environment. In so doing we have inadvertently and irrevocably changed it. As Marvin Gaye sang so eloquently in 1971, a result of our ruler ship, “things ain’t what they used to be.” And we continually refuse to see the evidence that is right in front of our eyes. We caused this. And if we continue on this path we will continue to cause ever increasingly severe and irrevocable damage to our domain.

But there is another way to look at creation. You don’t even really have to read between the lines or change your interpretation of Genesis 1:28, you just have to keep reading and see what else God says about mankind’s role in creation.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. [Genesis 2:15]

Do you see it?

“Take care” of it!

Ruler ship from the perspective of a caretaker is very different from ruler ship from the perspective of a master. If mankind is the master of this world then we have no one to answer to but ourselves and there are no consequences for our actions. Many climate change deniers, when backed into a corner and forced to acknowledge the evidence will use as a last line of defense some variation of the notion that sure maybe there is something going on that we have caused but it will take so long for the ice caps to melt that we won’t be around to see it and future generations will have time to evolved and adapt.

This is not only rude and callus, it’s just wrong on several fronts!

sewingseedsThe fact is there is a master and He is not us. We are merely caretakers of His creation. Caretakers have to take responsibility for their actions, maintain balance and submit to the authority of the master. They have to do their jobs and then hand over the garden to the next generation in as good or better shape than they found it. It’s not ours we don’t have the authority to alter it irrevocably. We are merely caretakers.

As a Christ-follower and a pacifist my role in all of this is to remain conscious and consciences about how I am altering the environment. And make no mistake; I am altering it, that’s unavoidable. I must be aware of the amounts of carbon and methane that I personally cause to be released into the air and do my part to control and mitigate the damage that I do. If I do my job well I can hand over the reins to my replacement, the next generation, without saddling them with an unmanageable problem that I caused.

God created me to rule over His creation, not as the ultimate master but in submission to His will and His design. God created me to be a caretaker for Him. And that is what I believe is the only proper response of a Christ-follower on questions of environmentalism and climate change.

For more information on The Meekonomics Project and my Pacifist Lamentations write to: themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com or go to Twitter and follow the hashtag #pacifistlaments.  Stay tuned to this space for the next installment of Pacifist Lamentations where I plan to discuss the problem of evil from the perspective of pacifism.

The Image of God – Pacifist Lamentations


I haven’t written about this for a while but I was recently challenged by a friend to clarify and explain my position. This is going to take a while and require more than one post so I’ve decided to start series that I’m calling Pacifist Lamentations.  Maybe there are other bloggers out there who want to join the conversation.  Comment below or write your own post with the hashtag #pacifistlaments and maybe we can start a healthy conversation about this important issue.

soldierfrombehindThe first thing everyone needs to know about living life as a pacifist is that it is a very difficult path to walk. I came to this position through years of struggle and holding onto it is a constant exercise is submission to what I believe to be the overarching will of God. It’s that point, in part that gives a lot of people fits. Many of the people I have discussed this idea with vehemently disagree with me that pacifism, even in part, could be God’s will. But before I attempt to explain my point here I need to back up a bit.

I was raised in a Mennonite church in Southern Ontario. Mennonites are perhaps the most visible minority group that publicly identifies as pacifist. As a kid I took that position at face value. It wasn’t until the first Gulf War, when I was just 18 years old that I really started to examine what it meant. My best friend at the time decided to join the army reserves as a summer job and as I started my own job search for the summer I said to my mother that as a Mennonite I didn’t have that option. She challenged me on that comment. She said that sometimes she felt that a lot of Mennonite teenagers hide behind the pacifist banner without ever really examining it, they don’t understand why they are pacifists they just used it as a convenient excuse not to make hard choices about what they stand for.

That stung a bit. It stung because it was coming from one of the most important people in my life. And it stung because it was true.

A few days later I told my mother that the reason pacifism made sense to me was that I believe all human life is sacred. That satisfied my mother and I filed it away as a catch all answer for anyone else who would question me on it.

And that worked for about 20 years.

Back in 2007 I moved and joined a new church. For the first time since I was seven years old I started to attend a church that isn’t connected to the Mennonite denomination. The church I now attend is a part of the Brethren in Christ denomination. If the Mennonites are in the minority within the Christian church, the B.I.C. are an even great (smaller?) minority. And I soon discovered that this particular church at least is even more committed to pacifism than my Mennonite brothers and sisters growing up. Once again I was forced to re-examine my position on the matter.

This time I embarked on a journey through scripture that is still unfolding eight years later. The deeper I go the more convinced I become that God’s will is for his people to remain on the side of pacifism and non-violence.

It all starts in Genesis 1.

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. [Genesis 1:27]

Just twenty-seven verses into the word of God it’s that one word “mankind” that brings me up short. It’s inclusive. There is no one, not one person on the face of the earth, in all of history or the future to come who is not, and will not be made in the image of God.

The implications of that realization are infinite.

What does it mean to be made in God’s image?

For one thing it means that you are made in the image of love. “God is Love” [1 John 4:16]. It means you possess within you the potential for infinite love. And it means you are infinitely valuable.

So as a pacifist I lament the loss of this realization in my fellow Christians. We have become isolated from one another and we have forgotten that we are all intended to be family.  The image of God is broken.  War, indeed all violence seeks to dehumanize the “enemy”. But I can’t support that position with scripture.

kidonabusWhen I see pictures and videos of men, women and children committing violence to one another my heart breaks, and I am convinced that it breaks the heart of God. When I see images of refugees wandering in the wilderness, hungry and cold, I see God. When I hear my fellow men and women complain that there are too many of “those” people in our neighborhoods and how we need to protect ourselves from anyone who is different, I mourn the loss of community and connectedness.

We are all image bearers of God. We may be broken and distorted images of Him. Many of us may have forgotten our divine connection to another. But we are all made in the image of love and I for one cannot justify violence toward anyone in whom I see the face of God.  And in case you haven’t been paying attention, that’s everyone.

“To love another person is the see the face of God.” Victor Hugo

For more #pacifistlaments or information on The Meekonomics Project write to:  themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com

 

An Ambassador Votes


I voted today in the Canadian Federal Election.

ivoted

The actual Election Day is next Monday, Oct 19 but my wife and I are decided and even though I will be around next Monday I am going to be away at a conference for most of the week.  Our time will be limited on election day, so we went to the advanced polls today.

Voting for me this time was a bit of a surreal experience. You see, for the past few years, since the last election actually, I have become increasingly distant from the goings on in worldly politics. I can’t really put my finger on when it all started but as I have studied and written about economics and ethics I have gradually taken on a worldview that could be characterized as what many Anabaptists call Two Kingdom Theology.

The basic tenants of Two Kingdom Theology stem in part from 2 Corinthians 5:20:

We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

As a Christ-follower I first and foremost must put my trust in him and allow him to take lordship over my life. It is as if I have died and been reborn anew in his image. Another verse that drives this home is Galatians 2:20:

 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Lordship is an interesting concept. In the societal context in which these words were written the lord of the land was the be all and end all of government and decision making. Many people forget that democracy was a foreign concept to the authors of the Bible. By saying Jesus is Lord we are giving him political and ethical sway over everything we say and do. We are also aligning ourselves with his kingdom over and above all earthly kingdoms, even democratically elected ones like Canada.

So as an ambassador of God’s kingdom to the kingdom of Canada it is my duty to further the interests of God here on earth. That, in a nutshell, is Two Kingdom Theology. My primary citizenship is not earthly and therefore my earthly concerns must be surrendered to the Lordship of Christ.

How that gets worked out in life is a whole other discussion and one that I have spent a lot of time tackling and wrestling with through my writing for several years now. I don’t have time to get into it in detail today, that’s what my books are for. The question at hand is what does this look like on Election Day?

The ambassadors of the United States, England, Germany or any other worldly kingdom don’t get to vote in Canada, but I do. How does that work?

Well, part of my decision must be based on discerning the way Jesus would vote if he were here to cast a ballot himself. To answer that question we need to look at some of the things he talked about both publicly and privately. In his first public appearance Jesus said these words:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. [Luke 4:18,19]

All throughout his life and ministry Jesus embodied these ideals. He modeled for his disciples a life of service and gave hope to those who were forced to live under a system of oppression. He was a voice for the voiceless, a healer and giver of life. The Old Testament prophets spoke of a God who wanted nothing more than a people who “act justly and love mercy” (Micah 6:8), who “loosen the chains of injustice, feed the hungry, and clothe the naked” (Isaiah 58:6-8). Jesus himself said that the things you do for the least of these, you do for me (Matthew 25:40).

So I voted today, as ambassador of Christ to the kingdom of Canada.

I cast my vote on behalf of those without a voice because my voice no longer speaks on behalf of just myself. I voted on behalf of single moms with no daycare, and refugees with nothing. I voted on behalf of the disabled with no place to live and the terminally ill with no place to die.

I voted to give hope to the poor, freedom for the oppressed, healing to the sick and comfort for those in despair.

But most importantly of all, I voted as an ambassador of my Lord.

For more information on Two Kingdom Theology and how I live “in the world but not of the world”, write to: themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com or send a comment below.

 

Let’s be Rad!


Remember when to call something “Rad” was hip slang? Back in the early 90s, when I was in senior high-school just about everything we said or did was met in some way with the assertion of being “rad”.

“Let’s skip school and go to the beach.” “That’ll be so Rad!”

spongebobletsgotothebeach

We declared things “rad” so much that the term lost almost all meaning.

“Are you ready for the math test?”, “Yah it’ll be Rad!”

Today on his blog (here) Seth Godin reminded his readers of the need to (re)Radical their lives. He’s talking about institutions and companies that used to stand for something but are now so mainstream that they have lost almost all of their cultural influence. Godin is calling his readers to remember their radical roots.

It used to be that to be called Radical meant something.

Webster defines Radical as an adjective meaning:

  • Very new and different from what is traditional and ordinary
  • Very basic and important
  • Having extreme political or social views that are not shared by most people

 

I hate to break it to my 17 year old self but skipping school to go the beach with your buddies might be rebellious but it’s not in the least bit “rad”.

Radical thinking is new, it’s different, it is usually quite simple while at the time carrying significant weight. Being radical means going against the grain and influencing change. But radical thinking has also been confused with anarchy which I must be quick to point out – it is not.

The first Christians were radicals. So were the first Protestants and the first Reformationists. Democracy was at one time radical. So was electricity, indoor plumbing and the horseless carriage. The internet, while in many ways has become mainstream, in many other ways it is still radical.

Peace, social-justice and pacifism in the face of violence and oppression? Now that’s radical!

peaceful protest

Radicals change the world. Not just because their views are different or extreme but because they are basic and of great importance.

Radicals build tribes of like minded followers and then something shifts. What was once radical becomes common place. As Godin puts it:

“The question each of us has to answer about the institution we care about is: Does this place exist to maintain and perpetuate the status quo, or am I here to do the work that the radical founder had in mind when we started?”

One of my favorite radicals was a man named Saul Alinsky. Alinsky is widely recognized as the founder of the modern community organization. Throughout the 1950s and 60s he lead the organization of grass roots movements to improve the lives of the inner city poor in his home town of Chicago and then moved on to Los Angeles, Detroit and New York City. Alinsky was a radical in every sense of the term. His ideas were new and different, to some they were extreme but most importantly they were simple and they addressed the important issues of the day.

In 1971, one year before he died, Saul Alinsky published what has become a manifesto of sorts for those of us who wish to change the world. The opening lines of “Rules for Radicals” reads:

What follows is for those who want to change the world from what it is to what they believe it should be. The Prince was written by Machiavelli for the Haves on how to hold power. Rules for Radicals is written for the Have-Nots on how to take it away.

But my favorite line from that book is far more subtle and speaks of a different kind of radical, the quite humble kind that I promote and strive to be.

The human spirit glows from that small inner light of doubt whether we are right, while those who believe in complete certainty that they possess the right are dark inside and darken the world outside with cruelty, pain, and injustice.

 

You see, radicals don’t have to be arrogant, violent, loud or even certain. Doubt in the mind of the radical leads to humility and openness. It leads to democracy and eventually change.

 

If you want to change the world you must be radical, but also humble and hold your vision of a better future in an open hand so that others can come along side you a help shape it, direct it and when the time is right, even take it from you and make it better than anything you could have ever imagined.

 

A world run by people like that sounds pretty Rad if you ask me.

 

Carefully Taught


You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught! [Oscar Hammerstein; South Pacific]

south pacific

South Pacific first appeared on Broadway in 1949 and ran for 1,925 performances. The Broadway musical and subsequent movie by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein is loosely based on a collection of short stories by James A. Michener called Tales of the South Pacific, published in 1947. I first saw the Broadway version performed at a summer theater in a converted barn near my home town in the 1980s but I was already familiar with many of the songs because my father, who I have mentioned before had been a very progressive Baptist pastor, owned a copy of the movie soundtrack.

Peppered among the upbeat songs and flashy dancing of the musical, one number even features a cross dressing sailor, is a strong and controversial (at least for the 1940s), message on racism.

The story is set on a remote island in the South Pacific during the Second World War and centers on the inter-generational romance between a young American nurse and a middle aged French plantation owner. Tensions arise between the nurse and the plantation owner’s inter-racial children from a previous marriage and she must come to terms with her personal prejudice. The song above is the most poignant moment in the entire play sung, when in a secondary plot, a naval lieutenant by the name of Cable falls in love with a native Tonkinese girl and comes face to face with the prejudices of his American military brethren.

That song has been running through my head all week.

Last Saturday, as I drove in my car I heard the disturbing news that a Japanese citizen had been executed by ISIS followed a few days later with confirmation that a Jordanian pilot had been burned alive by the same terror group. Our immediate response in the face of such brutality is to recoil from the horror and exclaim; “What evil? How could someone do such a thing?” But what Oscar Hammerstein taught us in 1949 and has become painfully clear over the last 70 years is that prejudice, racism and what those fighting terrorism have more recently dubbed ‘evil’ are all manifestations of things each and every one of us have learned from an early age.

A close friend of mine recently exclaimed that the terrorist must know that what they are doing is wrong, that they are making a choice to do it for the shock value and to incite our rage. We have to stamp them out by any means necessary.

While it may be true that they are choosing tactics to get our attention, I believe that the entire notion of choice in this regard has to be re-examined. I no more chose to be born in Canada, son of a progressive Baptist pastor, who taught me to look at the world through Jesus colored glasses as a broken shadow of its potential, than the members of ISIS chose to be born in the time and place they were born and taught to see the world as a corrupted version of their ideal full of infidels.

Children, no matter their nationality or religion are carefully taught to become reflections of the home and society in which they were born.  There is very little in the way of choice presented to any of us until it is too late. The terrorists we see on the nightly news may be making a conscious choice about the way in which they are waging war but their overarching worldview and motivation has been shaped by a lifetime of education at the hands and feet of generations that have gone before them.

So the next time you’re tempted to judge the actions of terrorists on the news or even the dark skinned clerk at your local convenience store remember:

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

Oscar Hammerstein knew as early as 1949 that we will not win the war on prejudice, racism and terror until we wage war on education. Whether you want to admit it or not, we have all been carefully taught.

 

The Value of Work


Sam Cooke released the song “Chain Gain” in 1960. It’s a simple song with a catchy beat but it gives us a sad image of the way in which a lot of the American infrastructure was built during the post war era of the late 1940s, 50s and early 60s.  Listen here;

 

 

President Dwight D. Eisenhower enacted the Interstate Highways Act in 1956 which committed America to build over 41,000 miles of highways linking every major city and state within 10 years. Eisenhower, a former WWII general believed that building a strong highway system was a matter of national defense, as it would provide a quick and efficient way to move people, goods and military hardware around the country. But true to form for most American federal politicians he left the actual construction up to the individual states, the federal government provided the money while the states issued the construction contracts and provided the labor.

The next time you drive through the American south, think about this, most of the highways you are driving on were originally constructed by convicts working on chain gains, most of them were black and forced to work at wages far below the going rate for their services. Take away the catchy beat and the happy-go-lucky sound of Sam Cooke’s voice and that’s the story that is being told in “Chain Gain.”

Now it’s not all doom and gloom. The last verse of “Chain Gain” actually talks about hope and the value of honest work. Sam Cooke sings “I’m going home one of these days, I’m going home, see my woman, whom I love so dear.”  But overall, this is not a happy song.

I was reminded of these lyrics the other day when I was reading the 1930s classic “The Richest Man in Babylon.” At the height of the depression author George S. Clason wrote a series of parables about money and work set in ancient Babylon. At one point the hero of the story is sold into slavery and learns from a fellow slave that hard work is the only way to survive and one day earn your freedom. Indeed the only way to be given the opportunity to build wealth of your own is to love the work.

Remember, work, well-done, does good to the man who does it. It makes him a better man. – George S. Clason; The Richest Man in Babylon

The story goes on to tell how this slave earned the respect of his master through hard work enough to begin earning some money of his own, which he saved and was able to buy his freedom. Once a free man the former slave went on to become the richest man in Babylon. But it all started with work.

I’m not saying that it was okay for a government to build highways with slave, “forced” labor. But I am saying that when you have a job to do, do it well. Do it with a sense of purpose and vision for what that work could bring and it will make you a better person even if the work itself is not your ideal. Save a portion of your wages and you will eventually be afforded the freedom to do what you want.

For more information on financial coaching and how to live the life you want write to: themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com

“It’s Only Business”


Don’t be afraid, it’s only business
The alien prophet sighed [Roger Waters]

whatgodwants

I bought my first CD player in the fall of 1993. The first CD I bought was Roger Waters, Amused to Death. It’s still without a doubt my number one favourite album of all time.

I’m an audiophile, not only was the production quality of Amused to Death light-years ahead of anything I had ever heard before or since, but this is Waters, former front man of Pink Floyd at his poetic, prophetic best.   In the era of 24 hour cable news, political scandal, economic turmoil, war and terrorism the socio-political commentary made has stood up remarkably well for over 20 years. I don’t want this blog entry to be a review of my favourite album however. Go get a copy of if you’re interested, you won’t regret it, but I want to talk about the sentiment that Waters brings out in a track called “What God Wants, Part III”.

It’s not personal it’s only business, is a cliché spoken by just about everyone in business at least once in their career. But they usually say that after they have hurt someone or been hurt personally by a business decision they or someone else made. Mario Puzo wrote The Godfather at one point the hero of the story, Don Corleone says; “It’s all personal, every bit of business. Every piece of shit every man has to eat every day of his life is personal. They call it business. OK. But it’s personal as hell.” When I first started in business I heard an A&R (Artists and Repertoire) executive at a major record company say that the music business was a simple business about selling plastics discs containing audio recordings that are pleasing to the ear, but it gets complicated because there are people behind it all, people with dreams, obligations and egos. International sales trainer Brian Tracy says that “All Business is People Business.”

I hurt someone yesterday. I hurt them because, as much as the decision I made was a business decision, it was a decision the effected them personally. The decision was made to protect one person from paying too much for something they could get for less money elsewhere but it affected the bottom line of the other person trying to sell the higher priced product.

“It’s only business”, I sighed. But I know it’s a lot more than that, maybe it means the difference between hiring someone or not. At the end of the day it’s always personal to someone. I only hope the pain is temporary.

Have you ever made a business decision that hurt someone personally?

Underneath My Clothes I am Naked and Unashamed!


“Don’t tell people you’re a Christian and don’t do business with Christians.”

That was the advice I got from a member of my church when I was making the career transition into the financial services industry. At the time I understood it to mean that wearing the label of Christian in the secular business world puts you under a microscope that no human could ever withstand, so I took it heart. Flying under the radar is easier. Good deeds done in secret are rewarded in secret and all that. But it was the second part of that advice that bothered me the most. Why wouldn’t a Christian want to do business with other Christians?

I think what he meant, or at least what it comes down to for me is best summed up in the words of William Blake.

“Both read the scriptures day and night but thou seeist black where I seeist white”

Christianity is one of the most factioned and fractured movements on earth. When you put two Christians in a room it doesn’t take long before they are arguing over some obscure point of scripture. When two Christians start doing business together a simple dispute over service delivery or payment schedules can take on a whole new dimension when they start quoting scripture to one another. Arguments get ugly fast and the non-believers looking on can be quick to write the whole thing off as just another example of corrupt and greedy business people in a dispute over a trivial matter. “If that’s how Christians treat each other I want nothing to do with it.” Your life, including the way you run your business, is a witness for Jesus and if two professing Christians can’t get along the entire kingdom is damaged.

But lately I have been struggling with this advice as a whole. I want to be a witness, an ambassador as the apostle Paul put it, in life and in business. How can I not let people know I am a Christian or do business with other Christians?

“…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” [Matthew 5:16]

oil lamp

Will I be held to a different standard that others? Maybe. Will I lose credibility when I fail? Probably. Will I end up in a dispute over some point of business with a fellow believer? I sure hope not.

The point is that as a Christ follower I cannot be ashamed of the life I lead, the hope I have or the Lord I serve. At the very beginning, just after the world and all that is in it was created God declared it good and there was no shame to be found in anything.

“Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” [Genesis 2:25]

Shame entered the world with sin. Hiding your salvation, is also a shameful sin.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” [Matthew 7:21]

As I have been developing the concepts contained here at The Meekonomics Project I have been increasingly convicted that it is time for me to be more transparent about my faith and my motivation. It’s time to be naked and unashamed!

How is God challenging you in your nakedness?