11 August 2005

Give a man a cliché...

Last week I wrote about the Lamb's war against evil, and about what the worldwide body of Christ could do to be more vigilant and (with apologies, I've never before actually used this word!) proactive in meeting the challenges of militarism and oppression.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I thought I remembered a Justo González article that seemed to apply. Today I remembered the article: I had reprinted it in an issue of Right Sharing News back in 1987, with permission from Seeds magazine, where I had found it. Today in my efforts to get permission to quote from that article again, I Googled the magazine, couldn't find it but found its former editor, Gary Gunderson, and with help from him and his colleague Glenis Archer at the Emory University-based Interfaith Health Program, I was able to contact Justo González himself. In fact, I decided to phone him, and had a delightful conversation.

The title of his article is "Of Fishes and Wishes," and it opens provocatively:
Teaching how to fish: a false truism Probably no dictum about hunger and development is quoted more often than “Give a person a fish and feed them for a day. Teach them to fish and feed them for a lifetime.”
Yet these words, quoted so often to show our enlightenment, are wrong! They are not wrong because they are untrue, but because they are not the whole truth. They oversimplify the causes of hunger and, therefore, make it more difficult to tackle those causes. We have quoted these words for 30 years, and rather than show how enlightened we are, they show how little we have sharpened our analysis.
He goes on to point out that the problem usually isn't whether people know how to fish, it is whether they have the equipment and access to the water, whether the water is polluted and who's doing the polluting, and so on. The whole article is here (page one) and here (page two, graphic form, reminding me of my first desktop-publishing efforts). It's here in text form.

Now here is the part of Justo González's article that I was remembering in connection with the call to organize the church around a constant Lamb's war (so we're not always caught short and late when the bullets start flying):
We must learn how to trust the church — unfortunately, this is the weakest link in the chain. By this I mean the church universal that hungers with the dispossessed in Ethiopia and with the uprooted in El Salvador. What was happening in the Philippines was known and decried for over two decades by Christian leaders all over the world. Yet most church people did not come to believe it until they saw it in the network news. By then, thousands of Filipinos had died as a result of our disbelief! If we are to combat the causes of hunger in Mozambique, in Korea and in Chile, we have to begin by listening to our brothers and sisters in those countries who know what hunger is all about.
What would it take for us to "learn how to trust the church"? Here are a few thoughts just to get the discussion going:
  • Stop letting the "evangelical" and "liberal" labels get in the way. They are often useful, but not for building trust.
  • Recognize that different obstacles exist in different places; for some of us, the corruption of power is a huge barrier to trust; for others, corruption and confusion arise from individualism and affluence. To risk a generalization, we find more of the former in Africa, for example, and more of the latter in North America. And BOTH factors make communication BETWEEN the USA and Africa very problematic.
  • Differences in age, sex, language, rural vs urban experience, economic security or distress, etc., all play roles in building or blocking trust, roles that we can face openly because they're not issues of blame or shame.
  • Encourage our bridge-builders.
  • Ask each other more about our experiences with the Bible, with prayer, with miracles; trade less in gossip, reputations, doctrinal hairsplitting, and one-upping each other.
  • Learn to fight fair; learn to debate important issues with humor and affection as well as passion.


Martin Kelley said...

Wow, that's neat that you pulled that old article and then found the author.

It should be a truism that our labels ("liberal," "evangelical," etc.) are just superficial differences in our way of reaching the same God. As we get closer to the right path, the labels should dissolve and we should see each other as simple brothers and sisters, pilgrims all together.

I wonder if labels are obstacles (put down by the Tempter?) that keep us from recognizing the church universal. There are certainly many people who profess God but who run from Him or their role in His Kingdom but these folks fly the banners of all of our labeled and categorized identities (I'm certainly guilty of this myself too much of the time!) Perhaps this is why I want to share the good news in my own tribe (liberal Friends) while building the bridges with the other seekers throughout the Church.

I'm starting to babble. Let me just say I do appreciate the idea that "different obstacles exist in different places." I realize that the way I live out my religion is certainly situational. Thanks for the post!

PS: WFMU rocks! My favorite DJ there is Bill Kelly (no relation). I download all his shows and almost always listen to them on my Palm Pilot the following week.

Johan Maurer said...

Although I agree that as we get closer to the right path, our labels should dissolve, I'm not ready to dispense with them yet.

Given a prior commitment to goodwill and each other's well-being, those labels (applied carefully and not combatively) are very useful. Being "evangelical" has substantial meaning for me, although I'm never excused from the maintenance work of staying in a conversation that clarifies its meaning, and living in a discipleship that keeps it real.

Being "evangelical" means that Jesus is real and alive, not a cosmic metaphor, that he is the Christ, that the Bible has unique value for discernment and community life, and that I am obligated to present the Gospel challenge/invitation to the world, whether or not I have every issue of pluralism figured out.

All of these issues are too important to let them dissolve in undiscriminating, abstract good feelings. However, evangelical distinctives need never prevent honest dialogue and cooperation on shared concerns.

I've been trying to work out how we could develop a clearing house of information on long-term threats to peace and justice to help mobilize the church. Such a clearing house that would actually cross all these lines that divide believers, particularly our cultural lines (these usually trump theological lines!), would be a real but worthwhile challenge to put together.

One idea I had would be an organization that might be called the Leadership Network for Strategic Prayer. (This title is deliberately chosen to cross cultural lines within North American Christianity, and Google doesn't reveal any existing org with that name.) It might operate similarly to the U.S. Church Leaders gatherings but would have a permanent secretariat to coordinate and monitor things. The U.S. Church Leaders, originally organized by, among others, a Quaker named Everett Cattell, bring together an amazing variety of denominational leaders from mainstream to evangelical to Pentecostal, Orthodox, Anabaptist, historically black, and Catholic constituencies.

Its secret for success was that it doesn't seek publicity; it has no political pretensions; it's basically an educational retreat to help these leaders survive their otherwise very pressured ministries. A Leadership Network for Strategic Prayer would likewise not become a huge ecumenical bureaucracy but a fellowship to help leaders inform and empower their own constituencies through messages that would be appropriate within those constituencies, but would have enough staff support to do the necessary information collection and filtering.

Another part of the vision is my experience with social exorcisms here in Oregon, which were organized by a diverse and informal group of pastors led by Gabrielle Chavez, a UCC pastor. I may say more about that later on, and even include some photos, but we got together at various times for public prayer actions linked both with the "war" in Iraq and the state budget process.

Amnesty International, Christian Peacemaker Teams, Compass Direct, and other organizations would be solicited for their capacity to contribute data. So would organizations of Christian accountants, anthropologists, journalists, missionaries, development workers, and so on. I also fantasize that good working relationships would be developed with representatives of other faiths, not to muddy the identity or mission of the Leadership Network, but to develop mutually beneficial information channels and to head off situations where politicians play different religions against each other.

Chris M. said...

Somehow this post came up in my bloglines reader as new, soooo... a bit late and all, but I'd just like to say, this is really interesting, especially two years further into the Quaker blog phenomenon!

To have a clear and precise sense of identity, and yet be able to move beyond the obstacles, labels, and the hairsplitting into honest conversation.... That's a good and achievable goal!

I really liked the beginning of your post with Justo Gonzalez' point about the need for sharper analysis: water access, water pollution, adequate stock left in the fishery are all critical issues.

Finally, I must point out that WFMU is in East Orange, New Jersey, on the campus of Upsala College, and not in New York City. Just a hair to split for this N.J. native. (I'm sure Martin was too polite to point this out back in 2005!)

Keep up the fine work, Johan.

In peace and friendship,

-- Chris M.