The Line: What Matters

Last night, I was privileged to be at the premiere of The Line, a documentary film by Emmy Award-winning producer Linda Midgett and Sojourners, in partnership with World Vision, Bread for the World, Oxfam America, and the Christian Community Development Association.

The ‘line’ of the title is the poverty line, which currently stands at about $23,000 per year for a family of four; and the film delves into the stories of four people faced with poverty.

It is the poor that are mentioned throughout the Bible as of unique concern–these are the vulnerable and marginalized, these are the ones often oppressed and kept down by the systems in place, these are “the least of these.”

As Aaron said a few weeks ago at The District Church, “The test of true, biblical justice is how we treat the poor.”

Please take some time to watch the film and learn the stories and faces of just a few of the almost 50 million Americans living in poverty–they are our brothers and sisters, and we are called to be their keepers, to be their neighbors.

Don’t just be aware; do something, even something as simple as raising your voice.

You can find more info and action steps that you can take at

Words of Wisdom from the Legend, Bob Sabath

Bob Sabath (photo: Sojourners)

Bob Sabath is a wise, wise man. I had the privilege of working with him and getting to know him a little bit when I interned at Sojourners a couple years back, and I’ve always appreciated his groundedness–and his grounded spirituality. So it’s without reservation that I tell you to go read his latest piece–“Poorer, Poorer. Slower, Slower. Smaller, Smaller”–as he shares his thoughts on a journey of forty years engaged in the work of justice. Here are some clips:

In Bill Plotkin’s model of the eight stages of human development in Nature and the Human Soul, institutions can, at most, be stage four, which in his view is still an adolescent level. In his opinion, only 15 percent of Americans have crossed into mature, initiated adulthood, and in general we are stuck in a pathological-adolescent culture that lacks the wisdom of initiated men and women elders.

An institution’s job is to encase the renewal insight in a preserving shell that can carry the renewal seed to a future generation — and not to die to their organizational identity, which is required to begin Plotkin’s stage five.

If we are lucky, we outgrow the organizations that we ourselves give birth to and become “joyfully disillusioned” with the very institutions that we help to create. And if we are wise, some of us will grow by staying within the very organizations that we ourselves have outgrown.

It takes a contemplative mind to see one’s own inner contradictions, the failures and inherent betrayals within our own lives and the institutions that we help to create. Those who take this journey of descent into their own sacred wound understand that what is flawed in them is somehow intimately connected to the unique gift that they have to offer to a broken world.

Full article here.

Obama and me: a common journey

[Official White House Photo: Pete Souza]

Yesterday morning, I tuned in to watch the National Prayer Breakfast online. I managed to catch the end of author Eric Metaxas’ keynote, and then the President’s address. I’ve always resonated with President Obama’s expressions of his faith, even from when he was a Senator, and before he ran for president–from his keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention to the passages in Dreams from my Father. Yesterday, he drew upon several verses that form the foundation of my own engagement in politics, advocacy, and public life:

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

“To those whom much is given, much will be required.”

“Speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.”

He continued:

Treating others as you want to be treated.  Requiring much from those who have been given so much.  Living by the principle that we are our brother’s keeper.  Caring for the poor and those in need.  These values are old.  They can be found in many denominations and many faiths, among many believers and among many non-believers.  And they are values that have always made this country great — when we live up to them; when we don’t just give lip service to them; when we don’t just talk about them one day a year.  And they’re the ones that have defined my own faith journey.

They’re the ones that have defined my faith journey as well, which I shared when I graduated from Fuller Theological Seminary. I got to be one of the speakers at Commencement, and shared a little bit of my own journey:


Meanwhile, over at the Sojourners blog, Wes Granberg-Michaelson, former General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America, shares his thoughts in a great response. Notably:

Money controls who gets elected and controls how laws and policies are made, I think, in utterly dangerous ways. More than ever, for those who gathered in prayer Thursday morning, money is power. And it’s the power of money in politics today that must be confronted — by people of faith — as a moral issue.

So I wondered (and prayed), where is the William Wilberforce of today, a leader who will take the message of the Bible to heart, rise up to confront the ways in which money enslaves our modern political life, lead a movement to end it, and then, one day, be celebrated for his or her courage and faithfulness to the gospel at a future prayer breakfast?

Even as we celebrate a common faith and shared values, we need to continue working to see these worked out in the world we inhabit.

In the beginning … rest

On New Year’s Day, I preached at The District Church (and I did the same yesterday at Sojourners chapel) about sabbath and rest. Here are some excerpts:

This message is as much for me and a result of what God’s been doing in me as anyone. For much of 2011, when I saw something that needed doing, I did it; when I saw a need that needed to be met, I met it. There wasn’t a cohesive structure to it, and there wasn’t an intentionality to it. And so it shouldn’t have been a great surprise to me that by last month, having worked two at-least-30-hour-a-week jobs for 10 months and running from one need to the next, from one campaign to the next, from one person to the next, I was absolutely exhausted. I remember thinking that I’d actually never been more physically drained. Spiritually, I was ecstatic because I was in the place God wanted me to be and doing what I knew God had made me to do; but physically and mentally, I was exhausted because I wasn’t practicing sabbath. I wasn’t stopping, I wasn’t resting, I wasn’t recovering, and that led me to do those very things I felt called to do, poorly.

Can you imagine what it would be like for your work, your activity, your productivity to be your identity, your worth, your value, and for you to know nothing else?

Well, yes, of course we can. It’s not hard. We see it all around us. Maybe we even see it in our own lives. For us here in Washington, DC, in the twenty-first century, this same commandment can be a freedom. Maybe not from a life of actual bricks and chains. But from the bricks and chains of perpetual activity, from feeling as if changing the world depends on us and us alone, from feeling as if you are the only one who cares about this cause, or the only one who can make a difference in this person’s life. It is the freedom of God’s world.

If we’re to live lives of integrity in a world that tells us all sorts of messages that are contrary to the gospel and the kingdom of God, we need to be immersing ourselves, constantly and consistently, in what God says to us and about us: even before you did anything of value, even before you were ever productive in any sense of the word, even before you were born, I loved you, I accepted you, and I called you my own.

Jesus, the Lord of the sabbath, said, in John 10:10, “I came that they might have life, and life to the full.” Living life to the full isn’t the same as filling life to the full. A fulfilled life is not the same as a filled life. A fulfilled life is not saying yes to everything. It’s learning what God has called us to, saying yes to that, and saying no to other things. Not because we don’t want to do them—they’re probably great and wonderful and attractive things, otherwise it’d be easy to say no—but because we can trust in what God has called us to, and trust that God has things in hand.

And in living out the sabbath from one day into the rest of the week, we live out an alternative story for the world to see. It is the gospel story—the good news!—where our worth is not determined by our activity or our productivity, where we are not judged—by others or by ourselves—on the basis of what we do or how well we do it; but where the grace of God comes to us in the person of Jesus Christ and liberates us from being enslaved to the stressed out, high strung, anxious, reactionary, workaholic lives that we see all around us, and maybe even in ourselves.

You can listen to the full sermon here.

Shooting, Seahawks, and Sudan

Happy New Year to you all! This year’s started pretty busy for me, but I’m gonna say at the outset that I intend to write a little more this year. (Note the use of words that set the bar incredibly low: “intend” and “a little”. ☺)

Anyway, this weekend was a very eventful one, full of emotion and occasion. On Saturday morning, there was the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabby Giffords in Tucson, AZ. On Saturday afternoon, my Seattle Seahawks (the biggest home underdogs in playoff history) defeated the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints in a shoot out. And yesterday, the country of Sudan went to vote on a supremely important and momentous referendum, one which will decide the future of the country and impact the prospects of peace in a region that has seen decades of civil war and countless lives lost.

My bundling of those three may seem a little trite, a little impolitic perhaps. But they’re the three events that highlighted my weekend and while they are from different spheres, in different places, involving different hopes and dreams and fears and emotions, they all took place in the one world we inhabit, amidst the one humanity that we are all part of, broken and redeemed, shattered and saved. And somehow, one God reigns over all.

I could write a lot on each topic. But many words have already been spoken and written, almost all more articulate and eloquent and thorough than I could produce. So instead I’ll point you to some of those better thoughts:

First, Jim Wallis writes on the shooting in Arizona:

In the midst of tragedy and violence, I believe this means every Christian must ask themselves: “How am I responsible?”

Second, this 67-yard run by Marshawn Lynch that put the game away is the greatest rumble I’ve ever seen in six years of following professional football. You can see highlights of the tremendous upset (that had me as excited as a kid in a candy shop—possibly more, actually) here.

And third, here’s a good concise summary blog from Sojourners on the elections in Sudan. Please be praying.