The Wealth in our Wallets instead of the Well-being of the World

This afternoon I watched the United States join two nations… Syria and Nicaragua… in being the only three nations in the entire world that are no longer signers of the Paris Climate Accord.

As I listened to the justifications, what I heard over and over again was the mention of a few economic sectors that will be impacted negatively and are disadvantaged because we are choosing to prioritize a different future for the world.  Our President spoke about a drastic and unfair “redistribution of wealth” through the International Green Fund and how instead we need to put America First. His focus is solely on the wealth and wallets of the few, instead of the well-being of the many.

Well, if we are really going to put Americans first, perhaps we should think about all of these ways that Americans will be impacted if we do not make drastic changes to halt climate change.  The link is the official report of the National Climate Assessment and includes data from thirteen different U.S. government agencies.  The impacts include health, agriculture, energy, coastal migration, extreme weather, and are broken down by sector, region, and show the risks if we do nothing.

One of the most disheartening aspects of the argument to withdraw is that we need to stop worrying about other people and focus only on ourselves and what is best for ourselves. And yet, as I understand the Christian faith and my calling to live our the love of Jesus Christ in the world, my duty is to love my neighbor and to set free the oppressed and to care more for the well-being of others than I do myself.  Even if we stick with the idea that we, as Americans, are leaders in protecting the environment, the thought that we can just take care of ourselves without helping to bring others along doesn’t even find a home in scripture.  For as Jesus teaches the disciples in the gospel of Luke, we have been given this world as a gift and we are called to be its stewards.  “Much will be demanded from everyone who has been given much, and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48)

In this chapter filled with parables, we are called to remember the worth of even the sparrows, to guard ourselves against all greed, to sell our possessions and give to those in need, and to make wallets that won’t wear out.  And then, ironically, Jesus lifts up the fact that the crowds “know how to interpret conditions on earth and in the sky” (12:56).  We know when its going to rain or when a heat wave is coming.  Except, it appears that our government can’t see the conditions on the earth and in the sky.  We refuse to acknowledge our impact on the world around us.  We are willing to put our own personal gain above the well-being of the world.

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be too.” – Luke 12:34

Lord, have mercy on us.

More than we can ASK or IMAGINE

On the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, a lot of people are talking about dreams today.
Dreams for racial equality.  Dreams for unity.  Dreams for access to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Dreams for our children.  Dreams for reconciliation.  Dreams for a future with hope and freedom, love and peace.
As I read Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech again today, I was struck by how focused on the American experience it was.  Never before in my reading had I noticed how every word is intertwined with a sense of national identity and a prophetic reality check on our history and at the time, present conditions.  Or rather, I had always taken that piece of the address for granted.  The American experience encompassed my worldview.  This country is my country.  It is the place of my hopes and dreams.  This is the place where they are realized.
martin-luther-kingOnly, in the last year, my eyes have grown wider.
I’m dreaming different dreams.
I’m looking beyond borders to the needs of my brothers and sisters half a world away.
And so I read those words in a new way today.
Today, I’m thinking about the injustices of a world in which WHERE here we live determines IF we live.
In my work with Imagine No Malaria, I’m constantly trying to figure out how to get my friends and colleagues and brothers and sisters in Iowa and the United States to think about the lives of folks who do not live in this place.
I am trying to help them understand the “fierce urgency of Now” – the need for action, the need to take the momentum in our global fight and step on the accelerator so we can truly overcome this global disease that is taking so many lives.
Our fight is not necessarily against racial injustice, but we are battling a disease of poverty. We are working desperately to overcome systemic problems of access to care and education and resources.  We are working with those whose very fight with the disease keeps them trapped in the poverty that puts them most at risk.
In our work with Imagine No Malaria, we have placed our feet firmly in the promises of Ephesians 3:20… that God will do far more than we can ask or imagine by his power at work within us.
So we are raising our voices and dreaming prophetic dreams, too.
We imagine a world in which WHERE you live doesn’t determine IF you live.
We imagine a world where mothers tuck their …children in at night under bed nets and no longer worry for their safety.
We imagine a world where 655,000 deaths a year are prevented because we have taken action against malaria.
We imagine a world where illness and death do not keep families from fulfilling their dreams for education and work and stability.
We imagine a world where United Methodists from every nation stand together, united, to overcome disease by putting God’s abundant resources into the places where they are needed most.
Our work does not end with our imagination any more than the dream of Dr. King ended with the words said on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
God works through us… in us… God accomplishes great things because we stand up and speak out and choose to turn our words into actions.
Just as his speech was a call to action and solidarity, a call to “never be satisfied” until the dream is fulfilled, I am spurred on to keep going, to keep preaching and speaking and working until we watch those deaths from malaria diminish to zero.
The work of the United Methodist Church in Imagine No Malaria is not the same challenge as overcoming oppression and injustice.  It will not lead us into clashes of power  and the resistance we find will not be water hoses and dogs and hatred… but we still have to work together.  We still have to be willing to step out of the comforts of our position in order to give sacrificially to make the dream a reality.
We still have a kingdom dream, a dream of brothers and sisters of all hues living full and abundant lives, working together, praying together, struggling together.
We dream not of a nation, but a world, united by God’s love and sustained by God’s redeeming power.

GC04: The Call to Action for the US Church?

Taylor Burton-Edwards reminded me a few weeks ago that there needs to be a distinction made by the Call to Action and all of the proposals that have been issued forth.  It think that it is helpful to see the CtA as a sort of vision that has been cast but that does not necessarily include specific proposals.

In fact, when our Iowa Annual Conference delegation read the Council of Bishop’s statement on the Call to Action, we endorsed the document for conversation because it does challenge us to think in new and creative and transformative ways about what it would mean to be the church in a new time and place.  I think that this video put out by the Call to Action team also does this: 

We See A New Church from Call to Action on Vimeo.

When I saw the video, I was mostly inspired and felt like I could find agreement with about 95% of what we were being called to live into.  The vision put forth here is of United Methodists out in the world, sharing the good news, working for transformative change in our communities, and the call is to do something bold NOW… I agree.

BUT… that doesn’t mean we can’t have serious conversation about whether some of these proposals are the best possible solutions for us to live out that vision. I actually am beginning to worry they aren’t bold enough, that we won’t have the courage to really make changes that will transform our church and the world.

There is also a larger question that I started pondering after seeing this particular video.  If we are doing something right globally… if we are making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world in places like Nigeria and Indonesia and Russia… then how will these proposals affect that work? Are we really talking about a problem with the UMC in the USA and parts of Eurpoe? And will a focus on American lackluster Christianity actually harm our global impact as a church?

What I see around me is not necessarily a problem only with United Methodism, but a problem with how American Christianity has been watered down and has lost its ability to truly claim a space in the world.  Many young people my age have no interest in the church and do not believe it has any value or meaning for their lives.  They can change the world without us.  We have not articulated how we have something to offer… we have not connected with people in our country in a way that shares the true transformative power of a relationship with the church and with Jesus Christ.  But that doesn’t mean that what we are doing is necessarily wrong for other parts of the world.

Maybe underlying this problem is another question: how can we contextualize the ministry of the church without losing our global unity?  How can we continue to resource and support the amazing work we are doing on the African and Asian continents and at the same time make adjustments to our engagement with the American and European dechurched and unchurched? And will our current proposals hold up one at the expense of the other? Will our focus on vital congregations drift us towards congregationalism and isolationism?  Or will it inspire us to learn from one another and from what is working in other parts of the world in a way that makes our connectionalism that much stronger?