Modern Slaveowners

Courtesy Kurt Willems, this is a cheery way to start off your week, but important to think about nonetheless: How Many Slaves Work for You?

Buying, selling and trafficking human beings?

If that’s happening, it must just be in wildly different cultures, far from my influence.

Actually, no. That smart phone. That t-shirt, computer, cup of coffee… That’s stuff we buy, and that’s stuff that comes from slaves. …

A free market should come from free people.

Among the more remarkable statistics in the survey: 1.4 million Uzbek children are forced to work in cotton fields – more children than attend New York City public schools.

Awareness is the first step to change. How many slaves work for you? For the record, my total is 32.

Jonah the Evangelist

I’ve never been a fan of evangelism, which is something of a problem if you come, as I do, from an evangelistic Protestant tradition.

Some of this is likely because my few attempts at witnessing when I was a child ended in horrible failure. Some if it is probably because I never felt strong enough in my own faith to go around sharing it with others. Some more of it is likely because I grew up surrounded by Christians and never had much opportunity beyond those first failed attempts.

There’s more to it, though. Because evangelism, as I’ve seen it modeled, has meant going door to door and asking people if they knew where they were going when they died, or leaving those cool/disturbing comic-book tracts on restaurant tables with the tip, or hoodwinking people with concerts or prizes or fun activities before – surprise! – springing the gospel on them.

So I’ve become content with simply averring on the subject of evangelism and saying, “Well, that’s not my gift.” And, truth be told, I don’t think it is, to the extent that people who are actual evangelists or preachers or missionaries have that gift. But Jesus calls us all to share his good news, right? So what is a recovering conservative to do?

Our reading for class this week was an article by Stephen B. Chapman and Laceye C. Warner of Duke Divinity School. Chapman is assistant professor of religion at Duke’s Center for Jewish Studies, and Warner is (deep breath) associate dean for Academic Formation and Programs and associate Professor of the practice of evangelism and Methodist studies.

Together they look at what the prophet Jonah can teach us about evangelism in an article titled, “Jonah and the Imitation of God: Rethinking Evangelism and the Old Testament.”

To be honest, it’s a slow read. It takes a while to get into it. They use big words like “centripetal” and “centrifugal,” only one of which I’ve ever heard before and certainly not in this context. For the first 15 pages, it’s absolutely what I would consider an example of why more people don’t read academic literature.

Then, on Page 17, bam!

To consider the book of Jonah as a narrative of evangelism is thus to expand beyond a simple focus on the figure of Jonah, his message and his actions, to consider the primary role of God as a character in the story. The book concerns God’s “missionary” overture to Nineveh and the need for Israel to imitate the divine mission in its own life. Jonah/Israel is still “necessary” as a messenger, however, for some reason that is assumed rather than explained. Apparently only through the agency of Israel can the Ninevites hear God’s message.

In this way, the book of Jonah can be very much about evangelism, so long as evangelism is understood more broadly. Evangelism in this broader sense is actually the imitation of God, an activity that entails a whole range of practices, habits, dispositions, activities, and choices. From this per- spective, evangelism cannot be reduced to the character of Jonah’s verbal proclamation. Evangelism must instead be expanded to include a thicker set of practices, all grounded in the notion of the missio dei: God’s mission to rescue humankind and all creation.

The authors ask these questions:

How does this interpretation of Jonah modify or even correct current understandings of evangelism? What specific evangelistic practices might the book of Jonah warrant or underwrite? What would evangelism look like if the OT were taken more seriously as Christian Scripture?

And they respond with seven answers, which I will summarize:

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Voice of the Prophets

In class we’re just wrapping up the prophets. This has probably been my favorite part of the class because it’s been so educational. I’d never given much thought to the prophets before and mostly considered them to be boring, but class has provided some fascinating historical and theological context to their existence.

Prophecy is something I grew up believing doesn’t exist anymore. But now I wonder if that comes more from a misunderstanding of what it means to prophesy. We have this idea of predicting events well in the future, but the prophets actually spent very little time predicting – and many of their predictions about the coming invasions of Assyria and Babylon didn’t take much supernatural power, given those powerful empires were already marching against and overwhelming Israel’s neighbors.

More often, the Old Testament prophets were simply called to tell hard truths to generally unreceptive audiences, trying to convict people to work harder to bring God’s kingdom into this world. Our professor emphasized this point by playing one of my favorite songs, the above-shown “Cash Cow” by Steve Taylor, a satirical exploration of commercialization and consumerism in modern American culture, tying it to the golden calf of Mount Sinai. Taylor, our professor noted, was a prophetic voice during his time as a recording artist – and he still fulfills that role in his current ventures, such as producing Blue Like Jazz.

As I thought about other people I might consider prophetic voices – if not prophets, per se – I realized many of them are musicians or other artists. Maybe I’m wrong, but there seems to be something about the artist’s brain that makes them more receptive to hearing and transmitting God’s message. Certainly Jeremiah, a performance artist if there ever was one, fits that bill.

So what artists and songs do you think capture the prophetic voice in today’s culture?

Here are a few I’ve come up with:

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Abortion and Shades of Gray

I got a song stuck in my head this morning. Strange enough, it was a song I wrote.

Back in high school, I was quite the “song” writer, though in truth they were more like poems since I didn’t write any music to them and kept the tunes in my head. I wrote hundreds of them, and each was of course awesome and destined for greatness in the tiny world of Christian-themed thrash metal.

They were very high-school – angsty and self-assured. I knew what was wrong with the world, and I knew how to fix it, Metallica-style. It may not surprise you to learn they were intensely political and judgmental. Only two of them ever got set to real music. We had a little garage band (in truth, a church-sanctuary band because that’s where the sound system and drums were) called Distortion X, and our big song, other than the copious Metallica and Creed (yes, Creed) covers, was “I’m Not an American,” words by … me.

I’m not going to regale you with the whole song, but the chorus can give you an idea of what it was like:

An American I’m not
‘Cause America’s forgot
Where she came from
In God we trust
Not anymore she must
‘Cause it’s politically incorrect
An America with equality for all men
Even for those who haven’t been born yet
That’s the U.S. to which I am a citizen
So for now I’m not an American

Hello, Grammys!

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We Interrupt This Program …

You might have noticed I try to post at least three times a week – Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays – but sometimes life intervenes. In this case, I couldn’t find my glasses for an hour this morning, which might be the most ridiculous, embarrassing thing that can happen to a person. So no post today, but I’ll make up for it with the rare Tuesday post instead.

Friday Psalm V: 137

Well, not the most uplifting psalm today; in fact, it contains one of the most disturbing verses in the entire Bible:

1 Alongside Babylon’s streams, there we sat down,
crying because we remembered Zion.
2 We hung our lyres up
in the trees there
3 because that’s where our captors asked us to sing;
our tormentors requested songs of joy:
“Sing us a song about Zion!” they said.
4 But how could we possibly sing
the LORD’s song on foreign soil?

5 Jerusalem! If I forget you,
let my strong hand wither!
6 Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth
if I don’t remember you,
if I don’t make Jerusalem
my greatest joy.

7 LORD, remember what the Edomites did
on Jerusalem’s dark day:
“Rip it down, rip it down!
All the way to its foundations!” they yelled.
8 Daughter Babylon, you destroyer,
a blessing on the one who pays you back
the very deed you did to us!
9 A blessing on the one who seizes your children
and smashes them against the rock!

Well, that’s wonderful. The NIV has Verse 9 as: “he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.”

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‘Keep Making Money’

If you haven’t been keeping up with the latest twists in the personal life of Kim Kardashian (it’s OK to admit it), she and her husband of less than three months, Kris Humphries, have filed for divorce.

This isn’t normally a topic worthy of consideration for this blog – although Kardashian does sound like the name of an ancient Near Eastern ruler, come to think of it – but reading stories like this one about the insane amount of money thrown around Kardashian’s ultimately meaningless wedding is sobering:

Kardashian’s divorce could be good for her “business”, which for the uninitiated precious few includes multiple TV shows, clothing lines, and brand endorsements of products ranging from perfume to booze.

Well, she certainly made her wedding work for her: while it is said to have cost $10 million, it was all paid for by sponsorships and tie-ins, from freebie $20,000 Vera Wang gowns (she wore three) to a deeply discounted $2 million Lorraine Schwartz ring. …

As for Kim Kardashian herself, she’s laughing all the way to the proverbial bank. The New York post pinned her earnings from the wedding at $17.9 million, a figure derived from adding up her various sponsorship deals and freebies. That’s overly simplistic, given the amount she’d have had to shell out to Jenner and various agents for their cuts. But this is a woman who made $12 million the year before her wedding extravaganza and charged $2,500 entry to her birthday party, so we can’t underestimate her money-making abilities. Using the $17.9 million figure as a crude estimate, Kim raked in just under $250,000 a day, and over $10,000 an hour, for her 72-day marriage.

And her brand won’t suffer either. Her next E! series on life as a married woman is already in the can, and as executive producer, she has the ability to go back and edit that footage to cast herself in a positive light. “Kris Humphries will look like a complete jerk,” Piazza predicts. “That’s what will end up saving her brand. It doesn’t matter; she’ll keep making money.

Is there anything that screams, “America!” more than that last sentence?

A couple of somewhat related thoughts came to my mind while reading this article.

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