It’s about love, not about living in the right place, or having the right friends

Someone asked me how it all works the other day.

From what I know, here are the basics about Circle of Hope: we’re a circle of hope in Jesus. We are church that is made up of cells. You could say that the four congregations are expressions of the cells. The cells are positioned outward for transformation. They are incubators of revolution. They change us when we include others in them. And those people that are included are changed. Those seemingly “little” changes, change the whole world. As we do this incremental, we are doing our part in the new creation—bringing God’s kingdom right here, on earth as it is in heaven.

The cells are beautiful expressions of us, and out of them and out our church, we form compassion and mission teams that pull us into new directions. Underneath all of that is something of an infrastructure with which our capacity teams form and support us—they lead our common fund, site management, human resources, and technology areas.

People from all over town connect to our congregations, which have their main headquarters on corridors that intentionally invite people form everywhere. Two are on Broad St. in Philadelphia. Another is that a central intersection in South Jersey: where 70 and 130 meet. And another is on Frankford Ave., the main artery that runs from the Northeast all the way to Girard Ave.—spanning a populous and increasingly gentrifying area. We planted in these places so that we could be regional. One doesn’t have to be “in the neighborhood” to be a part of us. Some people choose to do that, but they are no more holy than those who live elsewhere. Moving closer is not a prerequisite.

The other day someone asked me if she could be a covenant member if she lived in a distant neighborhood—I exclaimed, “of course!” She had gotten the impression she needed to move to one of the hip neighborhoods many of our friends are moving into. She thought she wasn’t a “good” Christian because she had to travel 30 minutes to get to a PM. To live in a local neighborhood by the meeting site of the congregation, that’s a fine thing to do, but it doesn’t make you more committed or righteous, if you ask me.

Neither is being in the “in-group.” Sometimes I wish there was not an in-group (but humans will be humans). In my high school, I never seemed to be in the in-group (but I did tend to know someone in each of the cliques). In fact, as a Christian Arab, who is quite different in terms of thinking to many other Christians (many of whom seem to be lackeys for the G.O.P.) and other Arabs (most of whom are nominal Muslims), I have never really found an in-group. For me, the Body of Christ is my family, when the world made me other (literally, on the census form). So I am among the people that longed to be cool and never were. I think Jesus specialized in being friends with us.

The cells and the church aren’t about getting in—they are about getting out there! You haven’t made it once you are invited to all the parties. I think we’re really talking when you go to the parties to meet your next friend. Or, better, you invite everyone to your house and you help people meet Jesus that way! We are forming community and including the next person in it, not making sure we can relate to the most arbitrarily popular people. The concern is if the church is all about community and not mission, once you get your friends, you’ll be done. There are people who keep the friends and forget to extend the invitation and hospitality that they received when they got connected.

That invitation, and that hospitality is life-altering. That transformation happened in cells. They are like little communities led by pastors. Each of our cell leaders has the level of dignity and responsibility that we would assign any of our pastors. The cells form communities so that natural cliques in the church aren’t encouraged to form. They are porous so that people can get in and out easily. They are not like the store you keep getting Emails from ever since you bought that cardigan. They are not like the elite nightclub with a huge line and a big cover. They are inclusive, and filled with enough love to go around.

That’s the basic principle for Circle of Hope: there is enough love to go around. The love of Jesus is not better because it is scarce, giving to the popular people, or in the right neighborhood. It’s everywhere. It overflows out of us and straight to the margins and the ends of the earth.

What would you add? Comment below.

A song that changes the world, and doesn’t just get reviewed

These days musicians don’t revolutionize music—Spotify does. That’s the revolution we’re used to when it comes to music. But not a real revolution. Even the song “Imagine” by John Lennon, a song about a revolution, in the end taught us deconstruction, not how to build a better world.

theonionThat deconstruction is embodied in Pitchfork, a music blog, that impales musicians. Music becomes another item to evaluate and consume—it gets objectified with a number, as if a narcissistic 500-word essay wasn’t enough! It strips the humanity from the artist and positions the critic as more important. The Onion wrote a funny article about Pitchfork. The Onion declared that Pitchfork reviewed music as a whole and gave it a 6.8. Here’s the lead:

Music, a mode of creative expression consisting of sound and silence expressed through time, was given a 6.8 out of 10 rating in a review published Monday on Pitchfork Media, a well-known music-criticism website.

According to the review, authored by Pitchfork editor-in-chief Ryan Schreiber, the popular medium that predates the written word shows promise but nonetheless “leaves the listener wanting more.”

If music is really inspiring and uniting it is almost unratable. But then, again, how often does that happen? Contemporary musicians have created a product to be rated—whether it’s in a hipster’s critique of it, whether or not they can sell out a venue in a certain amount of time, earn a Grammy award, or get enough radio time to be recognized.

This season we are trying to see the poetry in the Bible as something we can relate to. It seems to me that when music is commoditized like this, analyzed and deconstructed, it only becomes relatable because the same thing happens to us on OK Cupid. For me the music of the Bible is meant to do many things, which we will explore this season at the PMs: celebrate, revolt, express longing, romance, power, transcendence, and hope.

This isn’t just a contemporary problem. In Europe, particularly, where aristocrats dominated the music landscape and only special, highly educated people were producing music, Hadyn / Mozart / Beethoven had something of a clique, even. And for the most part, these pieces were co-opted by the state (when I say “state” I mean government) and used for nationalistic purposes.

Even songs that changed the world are still used by the state. Here’s the perfect example of how this has happened. In 1792, this French song was written. It was the first European march song written and it literally lead the peasants, three years later, to overthrow the aristocracy in France and cause the French revolution. That song actually changed the world. The heads of state were so bent on that not happening again that after they created their republic, they made that song their National Anthem—completely stripping it of its power.

The state actually got something that the church didn’t get (I think the state has used music that could inspire us to bring the Kingdom of God here, for its own purposes), which is the unity that comes from a stadium singing the “National Anthem” or “God Bless America,” a unity unparalleled in the church. For the most part, we like to rate our worship music, like Pitchfork rates music. And why shouldn’t we, when it is produced, marketed, and sold in precisely the same way as pop music? People bring that same evaluative deconstruction to their relationships and as they “church shop” too.

That’s one of the reasons why writing songs is exciting for us—because it gets us to relate and connect to God personally and lead others to do the same, while still embracing it as a community. Singing songs in other languages, too, helps us to realize that our community isn’t just local. It actually is global and the Kingdom of God and the Body of Christ is alive and we’re bringing it.

I think that’s the reason that music has been so central to our faith—the songs of the Prophets, the psalms of David—they are important and guide us to worship God, among the ever-present Spirit, into what Jesus is doing next.

Music has been the hope of the captives. The Jews always found themselves in captivity in the Old Testament—most famously was when Pharaoh and the Ancient Egyptians held them captive. Under captivity, with God speaking through Moses, it’s easy to lose hope and to lose courage.

They probably felt like a lot of us do now. Under one of the worst empires of the day, with no way out, nothing practical to sustain us except for our faith in God. The Israelites were under Egyptian captivity, and after a long and arduous journey the Lord delivered them from Pharaoh’s Army when Moses parted the Red Sea.

They don’t know it at the time, but in Exodus 15, when they are singing the Song of Moses and Miriam, celebrating their freedom from the Egyptians, it would be that very song and story that would continue to keep their hope alive, as they fell into captivity again and again. The real freedom that Jesus offers us is what they were waiting for.

When our enemies do us wrong in the U.S., we are told to “never forget.” That song, unfortunately, isn’t one that keeps our hope alive, but keeps our anger boiling. How many wars can we fight based on that idea? How many people can die because of it?

I hope we sing for the liberation that Jesus has given us, the freedom that we have in Christ, the promise of total newness—I hope we don’t sulk in our anger, our rage, whether it is justified or not. I hope we don’t pervert the song of the revolution into a song about a love affair with a nation or a song that leads us into war.

The Israelites not only praised God for the great Exodus from Egypt, but longed for a Messiah that would deliver them, not just from political oppression, but from their own internal captivity.

We sing it every time we break bread and eat together—when we observe communion, drinking and eating the symbols of the body and blood of Jesus—we’re imagining and celebrating and remembering the radical, dangerous act of God not just parting the Red Sea and delivering his people from Pharaoh’s army. But God becoming human, entering humanity, and redeeming humanity by his life, death, and resurrection among us.

The difference between Circle of Hope and the School District of Philadelphia

One of the reasons my stomach churned when I read about the School Reform Commission and its recent decision was because, for my adult life in Circle of Hope, I’ve been trained to do something totally different and in a totally different way. The SRC is the group that runs the School District of Philadelphia. It is a five-member board, three of whom are appointed Pennsylvania’s governor, and two of which Philadelphia’s mayor. Alone, in its structure, we see the difference between leadership through a team effort and leadership through fear. In Circle of Hope, we don’t have much of a “structure,” we don’t work through imposition based on titles–we work through a dialogue of mutual love.

Recently, the SRC decided to cancel the hard-fought teachers’ contracts. The contract itself was seriously negotiated for months and took a lot of hard work to create. In a poorly-announced public meeting the SRC agreed to cancel the contract, without any real input from the PFT. Though teachers won’t get any pay cuts (but the pay has been frozen for two years), they need to pay a large percentage (up to 13 percent). The SRC’s argument is that this change will cause no layoffs to occur so schools can use the money to “hire a full-time counselor and nurse, perhaps, or to pay for more supplies or after-school programs.” The politics might be right here, but I think another key difference is that in Circle of Hope our agreements are based on a covenant of love, not a legally-binding contract. Relationships cannot be replaced by pieces of paper.

Naturally, the teachers who are being abused here are enraged. Some other education advocates also share their rage. Will Bunch is particularly upset—I loved his columnAl Dia wrote brilliantly too. Many of friends also cried foul. But when the rubber hits the road—do we actually care enough to do something? I actually think the people in Circle of Hope care. Here’s why:

  1. It is in our backyard. We realize that every Philadelphian, and every person, is God’s beloved created. Their education matters because their pressing trouble sometimes makes something like participating in a cell seem esoteric. It is not, and God heals the troubled through our love. I think the people in Circle of Hope know that and want to help meet the needs of the least among us.
  2. We have goals, but those goals are not met if we violate our trust relationships. Our agenda is Jesus. Our goal is to help people follow Him. In this world, we find trouble, but Jesus overcomes that trouble. The relationships we have and the way we have them is just an important to the end result. For the SRC, this decision was all about Tom Corbett and his dismal effort at getting re-elected. It was done in a secret meeting that wasn’t advertised very well, in contrast, we’d be hard-pressed to have a meeting that everyone wasn’t invited to and everyone didn’t know about! And if we did, we might consider that a problem. We want to communicate well, not shroud our communication in secrecy because we can’t get along. Unlike the SRC and how it thinks about teachers, I want to offer the people that are gifted to lead around me the dignity, not mistrust.
  3. The body of Christ is protected by the Risen Lord, not a coalition. We don’t have unions in Circe of Hope because we are developing trust. We have a dialogue that connects us, and we don’t need representatives to speak for us. I understand why unions exist—teachers are accused on having cushy jobs, and only working ten months a year, and they’ll retire with great benefits. I think that mentality is totally not Christian, because it is based on a stereotype, which, when living in community, is harder to develop.
  4. We have not lost a sense of public good. In a world filled with are individualized people, right down to how we are educated, Circle of Hope is the alternative. We have public meetings. We want to be known and we want to include everyone. The idea of educating our community or improving our neighborhood schools is not just a nice thought, it is important to us. Jesus transcends the debate between public and private. Everyone among us is his child, and his will is discerned in community.
  5. Jesus’ love is more bigger than the evil in the world is overwhelming. The SRC’s decision adds to a laundry list of evil in the world: income inequality, mass incarceration, systemic racism, perpetual war, and so on. That can be overwhelming. But Jesus’ love is bigger than it. And our expression of His love in community is an expression that helps us overcome all of the evil in the world.

It is easy to get discouraged. It is easy to lose faith. It is easy to become indifferent. But Jesus gives us another way.

Here are some things we can do: Be a part of an alternative to how the SRC works. Engage a dialogue. Volunteer at a local school can be helpful. Consider meeting with your local principal and asking how the school needs help (Megan did, and she formed NICE and For the Love of Childs); ask the principal how you can be like Jesus to her! Love your neighborhood as yourself–some of us even want to get our kids to struggling schools to invest in them and our neighborhoods are stakeholders. Don’t discount the power of praying for the school. Action is important, but I think we need to pray as much.

Deconstructing with David Bazan on Twitter

When my friend Jeremy retweeted David Bazan this week, I had to respond. David Bazan, a favorite of mine in the disillusioned days of college, is a post-Christian singer/songwriter who has captivated many of my friends in and around Circle of Hope because he’s making his career off of deconstructing his childhood faith. He’s made the rounds on this blog more than once (here, here, and here).

I followed him down his path of broken faith and really fell in love with some of his music, but I kept my faith through it. I remember a few years ago singing along to every word of Control when he was playing through the whole thing at the First Unitarian Church. I’m glad I did, too. In fact, his politics, original views on faith, and earnestness was important in my spiritual formation.

This summer when I was repainting one of our rooms after it was reinsulated, I had his two most recent records on repeat, so I kind of fell in love with him again. I was really glad when I was listening to Bazan that I had not only a faith that endured deconstruction, but that I had also built something else in return. I’m a little late with commentary on this, but my interest is piqued, so maybe you’ll indulge me. Bazan’s lyrics are so clever and charismatic, it’s hard to look away. Curse Your Branches might be the centerpiece of his cynicism toward faith. He is not just a hater, so I appreciate his honesty, at least. “Hard To Be” is a song all about losing faith because the creation story doesn’t make sense. In fact, in “Heavy Breath” he talks about whether or not getting created really matters: “If no heavy breath blew up these lungs / While dirt and wet spit hung a ghost in the air / Well, we’re still here.”

Bazan is really working with something too. In the final song on the record, he is actually trying to dialogue with God about his lack of disillusionment. The “You” in the song is God! So you could even think of it as a prayer—I stretch it that far anyway. Here’s the part that stung me:

“When Job asked you question / You responded, ‘Who are you / To challenge your creator?’ / Well, if that one part is true / It makes you sound defensive / Like you had not thought it through / Enough to have an answer / Like you might have bit off / More than you could chew.”

I think God likes those kinds of questions, when they aren’t rhetorical. I hope that David hears back from God, because the story of Job is a little wild. That level of questioning and deconstruction can actually help our faith—it did mine!—but I want to note, that not everyone can keep their faith through their David Bazan fandom. Not everyone can reconstruct something else. Sometimes we’re just left in the rubble. So when David tweeted this, I was happy to dialogue with him:

The church needs to be disassembled, but I think we need to reassemble something better in return. We need to create an alternative. We can’t just pillage and destroy. David is right, it needs to be real, slow even, and gradual. But it needs to be right too. Not everything that’s institutional is wrong, and not everything that’s anti-establishment is right. We have true selves and false selves, and getting to our true self will take some deconstruction—but clearly, it takes a lot more work than that. I think the same goes for all of creation.

I was glad David and I were able to have a civil conversation and actually get to the same page. In fact, in his original tweet he writes “I have faith…” It probably does take some faith to make deconstruction work for Jesus. But we need to be conscious because if we are bulls in china shops we might be hurt by something—obviously God, truth, and reality aren’t those things—and we might hurt something that needs to be hurt (my examples were racism, militarism, and materialism). But we also might hurt a person and drag them down a path that we needed to take, but not one that they need to. When I talked about hell and my view of it last week, it took at least one person down a darker path than they started. It’s important for us to be conscious about who we influence. We might “still be here” at the end of it, with God, reality, and truth—but I want to be more than just here.

I suppose that’s the biggest difference between living in community and isolation. In community, we are interdependent, responsible for each other, but also responsible for ourselves. The institution of individualism might be the first one that needs to be deconstructed. As leaders, we need to mind our influence and realize that we are influential. David Bazan’s music stimulates me and works for me, but I have a strong faith community that helps me not only contextualize it, but also helps me reconstruct something after we’ve taken it apart.

How we’ve thought about sin throughout the ages

I offered a speech on this subject last night at our public meeting; a lot of it is based on what I’m learning in Dr. Francesca Nuzzolese’s Spiritual Formation class at Palmer Theological Seminary.

How we think about God affects us in how we relate to him and how we tell people about him.

When it comes to the question of sin, I think it is important to think about it so that we can help people understand what it means to follow God. People have been thinking about sin, or maybe overemphasizing it, for a long time so it might be a bit hard to get started.

Sin is a complicated subject because when Jesus refers to it, it’s almost like it is a given. He doesn’t spend much time defining it. Much of the time he says things like he’ll forgive our sins, he’s come to save the lost, “go and sin no more,” and so on. So we are often puzzled at what sin exactly means.

Some have come up with the idea that “sin” means to miss the mark. The Greek word is hamartia (ha-mar-tee-a) which means “missing the mark.” That mark is God’s “ideal” mark, and we can debate all day about that. And Paul knows that people will. So in Romans 14, he writes about it.

Paul is taking about purity laws. He and Jesus spent a lot of their ministry talking about what is pure and what is not. At this point, they are both observing Jewish people who are so strict with the rules that they are missing the point. The rules were set up so they wouldn’t miss the mark, but they have missed it.

One of those rules surrounded purity of diet. For the most part, these rules were set up for health reasons—sometimes food was literally unclean and dangerous to eat. Other times, it was set up for environmental reasons—a camel was more useful as a beast of burden than as a burger. But ultimately, the reason that Jewish people observed “kosher” laws was because the Torah, the law of the Jewish people, said so.

Paul didn’t want these strict rules to miss the point of Jesus’ redeeming work and that’s what he is talking about in Romans 14. Paul thinks that some new Christians will still follow the dietary law. And for him, that’s OK, and he might even do it with them if not doing it causes them to stumble. He develops an attitude of hospitality and accommodation for the “weaker” people, but he warns them not to judge harshly. His basic rule for life is “peace and mutual edification.” He concludes the passage with this definition of sin: “everything that does not come from faith is sin.”

Paul is connecting sin with faith, and even that word is automatically connected to the idea of God. The dictionary definition of sin is “An immoral act considered to be a transgression against the divine law.”

The inevitability of sin was made clearer to us by St. Augustine who wrote, sin is “a word, deed, or desire in opposition to the eternal law of God.” Both the dictionary and the person who basically came up with the dictionary definition, Augustine, are coming to the conclusion that it is about a violation of God’s law. That creates a troubling relationship with God. God is essentially defined by a set of rules, not his being, and we react to him based on following them or not.

Wesley made it less inevitable when he said it was a “willful transgression.” It’s not inevitable, but for us, it is a matter of our personal choices. Thomas Aquinas came up with the idea of “mortal sins,” a sort of standard for Christians. You’ve heard of the seven deadly sins before, I’m sure (or you’ve at least watched Se7en). Aquinas said that sin isn’t the “wrong product” of God’s creation, it’s not all about the devil’s temptation, but it’s about humans trying to just survive in the world. “A human-creating reality contingently present in particularly living contexts.” We combat the deadly sins with their virtues. You can see how endless this struggle can be, but also how helpful these choices can sometimes be.

Another popular idea, mainly developed by Paul Tillich, is that sin causes us to be separate from God. As we sin we are estranged from God. And we suffer a kind of dread or angst in the places where we are distant from our creator. As we move away from God, we literally become less human. We suffer. We try to cope. We don’t get more virtuous, we just become more complicatedly evil. This is why it’s so hard to figure out how we are sinning and what it means.

That’s why I love Julian of Norwich’s definition and why I’m going to end there. Julian of Norwich: “Sin itself does not have any substance of any form of being, nor can it be known except by the pain it causes.”

We can endlessly debate about what God’s law is and how to follow it. But if we really take Paul’s definition when he utters “Everything is permitted, but everything isn’t beneficial. Everything is permitted, but everything doesn’t build others up” we are getting closer to knowing why we don’t want to sin and why we want to pursue this virtuous life.

What is building me up? And what isn’t? As I dwelled on my pain, I saw things more clearly this week. Much of how I have been sinned against by others has left me with a tattered self-image. It has worn me out, making me feel so often incomplete and empty. The content of my character was so abused, I didn’t think I had anything left inside of me.

The false image that I developed, the personality that I worked out, was an artificially confident one that was defined by what others thought of me. Rather than healing my injured interior, I developed a coping strategy and mechanism that simply pushed away intimacy. That makes thinking about sin even harder because I don’t want to admit where I’m wrong since that makes me vulnerable to an attack. The same kinds of attacks that formed my false self.

What pain are we feeling? And where does the sin of others lead us to sin? That abuse I received isn’t the end of the story. I did something in return that didn’t build up either. In the process I may have forfeited my whole soul.

I keep sinning, keep patching up my wounds because I don’t believe the other thing Julian says, famously: “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”

Do I really believe that? That was a question haunting me this week. If I do, what is with all of my sinful behaviors? Do we really believe that all things work together for good? That all will be well? What do we do when we don’t believe? How do we sin?

The question of pain might be a better question than sin. How do we move away from God? How are we separate from him?

Jesus has overcome the whole world. We don’t have to fear. We don’t have to protect ourselves, or defend ourselves, or ignore our pain.

What do we do with our sin? With our pain? Just a few recommendations.

Know your pain. Become aware of how you have been hurt and how you are hurting yourself. Know it enough to know what you do to deal with it. If they aren’t of faith and of God, our coping mechanisms could very well be sins.

Confess your sin. Tell someone about it! That’s a hard step for me. I don’t want to admit it. I’m afraid of being judged. But it is freeing. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says the truth will set you free.

Be forgiven. Let go of the pain and let God fill you up. The point of forgiveness is that you are no longer guilty. Guilt is really nowhere near this—maybe just as an indicator.

Get transformed. The story doesn’t end with your forgiveness. It just begins there. We need to be transformed into new creations. This is a process, but it’s possible on earth right now.

This isn’t a linear cycle, nor do we do it once, but I hope it is helpful in overcoming your sin. In doing so we become our true selves. We no longer suffer that separation. That against. That less-than-humanness that our sin causes us to be. Our sin makes us less human. Jesus’ transformation makes us more human and more our true selves.

Comfort isn’t the point, being comforted is.

“I hope you feel better by the time this is over.”

That’s how I started the PM a few weeks ago. We led people to worship God through music, reflection, prayer, teaching, and dialogue. It was not perfect, sometimes even rough around the edges, but it was great. It was full of meaning. We touched people and connected them to God. It was authentic, even if it needed some improvement. It was human. Just like our community is human. Just like Jesus.

I’ve been inspired lately by the ecstasy that I’ve witnessed in the Pentecostal YouTube videos I have been watching. I think of all of Richard Foster’s streams of faith, the one I am most distant from is the Charismatic Stream that’s so experiential and so often emotional that it attempts fulfill our whole spiritual appetite so that we don’t have to “go to church” again that week (it may just infantilize our faith though). But I love it and I long for it. As an intuitive person, I rarely use my body to worship. I’m emotional when I do it, but I’m perfect happy just singing from my seat. Robert Mulholland tells me I need to embody my worship and prayer-life more.

When the pastors’ retreated the other week, I tried to take Mulholland’s advice. We swam across a lake. I didn’t really feel like I could do it and I didn’t want to try. I stood on the dock for a few minutes, and a familiar voice yelled out, “Come on, Rashid!” Well, here goes nothing, I thought. So I did it. And it was tough, but it worked. It was a good embodied exercise. I felt better after, too. I was glad that I did it without expecting that feeling. I suppose I did it because other guys did, but I also did because we discerned it would be good to do. I trust the community. The discipline is sometimes better than the assurance that it will just feel better when I am done. I cannot guarantee that. But I can work toward knowing God more through my disciplines, which I think will ultimately lead to comfort.

It’s OK to consume something just to feel better. I think God wants us to feel good. But I’m not sure it’s OK to be entitled to that feeling. And I’m not sure we can just consume “church,” as opposed to being the church, in order to feel better. The PM isn’t just an uplifting movie or a cupcake or something.

What do we bring to God and what do we expect him to do for us? He is the great comforter, but I think we have to get uncomfortable before we find that true comfort. If we are already filled up with all of the things that sedate us and protect us from pain, there isn’t much room left for God.

Christianity is not about comfort. It is about being comforted. In order to really achieve that comfort, we need to know about our suffering and our injuries. Jesus sure did. The Gospel of Mark is a dramatic exposition of the suffering of Jesus. The Gospel of John gets us so personal with Jesus, as he cries, and protests, and utters that “in this world we will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Being a Christian is all about knowing our wounds and letting the wounded savior save us. If we have nothing from which to be saved—Jesus can’t transform us. It’s not just about dumbing down our symptoms and operating in the right way so that we don’t feel pain. Expect conflict, we are all addicted to sin. Expect trouble. But do not fear.

Come to Jesus and his church with your pain and your brokenness and let Jesus transform you into a healing agent, despite your pain. Life in Christ isn’t just about feeling good. But it will bring you comfort, maybe just through a new lens by which to see the world and yourself. Let’s open ourselves up and suffer with the suffering servant, so that he come complete us and overcomes the world with us.

Amidst the War in Iraq and the Koch bros, it is a great time to follow Jesus

Barack Obama used the phrase “network of death” last week to describe his new enemies, and I wasn’t the only one who thought it sounded eerily familiar to George W. Bush’s “axis of evil.” After hearing it, my stomach turned. It turned like it did when Barry the Bomber made his argument for attacking Syria the first time. It turned again when he started bombing Iraq. Then tried to convince us, again, to bomb Syria, this time not because of Assad’s brutality but because of the Islamic State (IS) and how it wants to control the area formerly known as the Levant. The administration uses the term “ISIL” because it wants to expose the imperial intentions of IS. It’s a good fear-mongering tactic, of course. If they are going to take over the Levant, what’s next? Europe? The United States?

Barack Obama is using the same fear-mongering that his extremist detractors use when they accuse him of being born in Kenya, or worse, that he is a radical Islamist. The drone president has been such a let-down and has a foreign policy is so similar to Bush’s, our eyes should be open to the fact that it doesn’t really matter what puppet we have on stage, the U.S.’s foreign policy is influenced by bigger forces that the tantrum-throwing Congress and this floundering administration.

One friend of mine thinks that the CIA has exacerbated the situation in Northern Iraq to provoke the war it failed to start a few months ago. The Saudi Prince thinks that the U.S.’s campaign is really about removing Assad from power—and he says that so matter-of-factly, it’s painful.

The situation is even worse when we look at the landscape of U.S. income inequality—look at this chart about the distribution of average income during periods of economic expansion. Check out what the Koch Brothers and their secret empire are doing and, rightfully so, we should be a little frightened. Couple that with the less-than-secret empire of Jeff Bezos and we can really see how the landscape of the U.S. and the world is heinous.

I am distressed at the state of affairs and sometimes I am helpless to respond to them in a way that is quite practical. I was teaching a class on radical Christianity at Koinos and it isn’t just me that doesn’t know how to respond to the “network of freedom” that Barack Obama is perpetrating right now.

It can be so overwhelming when we think of all the evil that is happening in the world. But my story of faith in Jesus is uplifting for me and gives me hope.

I remember feeling very isolated as a Christian when the War in Iraq started in 2003. All of the Christians I knew in my hometown were vehement supporters of the conflict. So I really thought that Christians, in general, were war hawks and if I was going to be a peacemaker, I just wouldn’t be a Christian. Even though I thought Jesus was calling me to make peace and advocate for peace in the world, because I didn’t know any like-minded followers of Jesus, I was ready to bow out.

Circle of Hope and the people there saved my faith. I finally found Christians that saw Jesus how I saw Him. They responded to what Jesus was saying and actually answered the question, “What if Jesus really meant what he said?” I’m thankful to be in this community of peace makers and justice lovers. We make a difference.

Christians need community to function. They need community to ‘stay hot,’ just like a burning coal needs other burning coals to stay hot. Christians also need community to change the world. We need to do it together; because it is so hard to look at the prospect of the war president and the overlords of capitalism and actually do something that can tangibly help. I think we need to start small and not think we need to be in the once percent of world changers, just because we are fighting the one percent.

In some sense, making a big deal of the crisis is important because it is a great time to become a Christian and join the resistance. Jesus is leading the greatest mutiny ever, so I think we can help people follow him by showing them the alternative he creates amid the chaos. And not only that, we can help people follow him because of the antidote to chaos his hope is.