The Common Good

God's Politics

The View from Africa

“There is nothing quite like the African bush to sooth and rejuvenate.” That experience was conveyed to me by a South African church leader who has been helping plan the speaking tour I just arrived for here in this beloved country.

My wife, Joy, and I decided to use this wonderful speaking invitation to South Africa as an opportunity to take our annual August family vacation here. We arrived for a week of rest before the tour began and spent a few beautiful days on the lovely beaches of the Indian Ocean, still warm even for this end-of-winter period. But then the last two days, our Washington, D.C.-based family did something we have never done before — visited the game park and wetland reserve to see some of God’s most extraordinary creatures. Of course we’ve seen these animals in zoos before, but we now had the opportunity to see them roam freely in their natural habitat. For a bunch of city kids like us, it was truly amazing.

In Hluhluwe Game Reserve, beautiful zebras slowly grazed with a South African sunset behind them over the mountains. There are no more graceful creatures than giraffes, elegantly tasting the leaves on the tallest trees as they wander together at peace. Buffalos with great horns shared the terrain with antelopes that showed us their speed when they decided to run. And hyenas really do laugh off in the distance.

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'Praise God, All Creatures Here Below'

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise [God], all creatures here below;
Praise [God] above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, Amen.

Words by Thomas Ken (1674)

The Doxology was my favorite hymn growing up. We would sing it every Sunday in church at the end of the service, mostly a cappella. I was amazed at the different harmonies and range in which the hymn could be sung. I loved how simple the words were. But I did not understand the words fully until well into my adult life. As a kid, I immediately disregarded things like animals, plants, insects, and fish as creatures that could praise God. Surely the act of praising God is only reserved for the sentient beings, with a conscience and the ability to say in words “praise God.” No way would God receive the praises of a mosquito, or fern or cat or pig.

It took the glory of creation itself for me to fully understand the words of the Doxology. A year out of college, I was sitting on a kayak in the middle of Doubtful Sound, New Zealand surrounded by snowcapped peaks that dropped right into the water. The sun was shining, dolphins were swimming nearby, and the birds were chirping. Then the song hit me “Praise God, all creatures here below.” I could hear the songs of praise from his non-human creatures. It finally dawned on me that my songs of praise paled in comparison to the winds that touch the peaks of mountains, the perfect songs of birds and the language of dolphins. They are all songs of praise!

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The Biblical Case Against the Death Penalty, From a Former Supporter

“Capital punishment is against the best judgment of modern criminology and, above all, against the highest expression of love in the nature of God” (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.)

I despise labels, but I guess you can’t get away from them. For example, I am called an American (a label). I would prefer to be called a United States Citizen because the term “American” is ethnocentristicThe term should mean I am part of the American continents, but it is never used that way. “American” is almost always used to refer to a person who lives in the United States. However, Canadians and Mexicans are also Americans; and so are Hondurans and Brazilians.

I wish I could simply be called “Christian.” But that label necessitates the need for additional labels. Am I Protestant or Catholic? Am I orthodox or neo-orthodox? Am I a fundamentalist, an evangelical, or main-line? Am I emergent, traditional, liberal, progressive, or contemporary? To which denomination do I belong, or am I non-denominational? Maybe I am inter-denominational? Am I charismatic or cessastionist?

It’s maddening!

My preference would be to be called a follower of Jesus. But what does that mean?

Then there are political labels … and they are the worst!

Am I conservative or liberal? Am I a Republican or Democrat or Independent or Libertarian or something else? Am I pro-life or pro-choice? Am I a patriot or and antagonizer? Am I a capitalist, socialist, or communist? Where do I stand on gun rights? What about human rights, or same-sex marriage, or LBGT issues, or immigration, or Obamacare, etc., etc., etc … blah, blah, blah …

Why can’t I just be me?

It’s a lost cause. No matter how hard I try not to be boxed in, people label me. So, let me give you my best shot at who I am based on labels. (Of course, if your definition of the labels is not the same as my definition, then we will have a hard time communicating.) Here goes:

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Why I Accept Mark Driscoll's Apology ... And You Should Too

Well, we’ve just concluded another week in American evangelicalism. Which is to say, we’ve witnessed another Mark Driscoll blunder.

This has for sure been a rough year for the Seattle-based mega-church preacher. He was accused of plagiarizing in multiple books, which resulted in a tepid but public apology. He embarrassed himself by crashing a conference hosted by another pastor, John MacArthur. And former staff and church members spoke out about the oppressive environment at Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church. These gaffes join a legion of others. After the flood of criticism he received, Driscoll quit social media and has retreated from the public eye.

But another shoe dropped last week when Christian author Matthew Paul Turner posted a series of discussion board comments by Driscoll under the alias “William Wallace II” in 2000. Driscoll’s opinions, though 14 years old, were nothing short of vile. In addition to being expletive-laden, they were misogynistic and homophobic (and I do not use either term lightly).

In response to the furor his comments created, Pastor Driscoll apologized yet again, saying his statements were “plain wrong” and he “remains embarrassed” by them. His apology was predictably rejected by the growing gaggle of Driscoll critics, a group that has become evermore vampirical in their thirst for Driscoll’s blood. But I accept Driscoll’s apology and other Christians should too.

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Dispute Over Israel Funding Has Jewish Film Festival in London Looking for New Home

A London theater is refusing to host the UK Jewish Film Festival because it receives partial funding from the Israeli Embassy.

The Tricycle Theatre has hosted the film festival for the last eight years and was scheduled to screen 26 films in November.

But the theater’s artistic director, Indhu Rubasingham, the English-born daughter of Sri Lankan parents, issued a statement Tuesday saying that because of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the theater’s board decided not to host the festival under its current sponsorship arrangement.

“The festival receives funding from the Israeli embassy and given the current conflict in Israel and Gaza, we feel it inappropriate to accept financial support from any government agency involved,” she said in a statement. “We offered to provide alternative funding to cover the loss of the contribution from the Israeli embassy. However, the UKJFF decided it was not willing to decline sponsorship from the Israeli embassy and, to our regret, withdrew the festival from The Tricycle.”

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Five Reasons Progressive Christians Secretly Love Mark Driscoll

Anyone who reads my stuff with some regularity probably already knows that Mars Hill pastor Mark Driscoll isn’t exactly on my speed dial list, and I’m probably not in his. From his misogynistic quips to his hellfire hyper-Calvinist rants, he and I see almost all social and theological issues as differently as two people could and still call themselves Christians.

Add to that the recent plagiarism scandal, compounded by the fact that he effectively bought his way onto the New York Times bestseller list (and it turns out he may have used church money to do it), and I question the man’s fitness for ministry.

Having said that, I actually kind of love the guy—and you do too, if you’re being honest. No, I don’t mean in the “I love him because Jesus said I have to” kind of way. I mean you really kind of have a thing for him. Here’s why.

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Joyful Responsibility of the Commons

Many years ago, I sat in a church that resembled nothing like the church that I barely frequented while growing up. As the overhead lights dimmed in preparation for opening song, a blue-ish red hue washed over the stage to what felt like a concert opening and the following lyrics for “Indescribable” emerged on two oversized screens flanking the worship team:

From the highest of heights to the depths of the sea

Creation’s revealing Your majesty

From the colors of fall to the fragrance of spring

Every creature unique in the song that it sings

All exclaiming …

These song lyrics stuck with me because they remind me of how God is manifest in our natural world, where grace and interconnectedness are reflected in species that are intricately dependent on one another, and where the sheer beauty of our earth often becomes more apparent when we are able to step away from our industrialized lives and behold a starry night or a hike in the woods.

These lyrics also remind me of the part in Genesis where Adam is first put in charge of taking care of Eden and then gets to name all the animals, implying that he is responsible for them too:

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it … Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals …” (Gen 2:15; 19-20).

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What Congress Can Learn from a Town Dump

I went to the town dump today, and I found it open, functioning, filled with people doing the right thing in the right way, giving useful advice to a novice, and able to drive in and out without mayhem, all under the watchful eye of a single employee.

Its no-nonsense efficiency reminded me of church suppers, where everything seems to work because people are helping, not managing. Imagine Congress being that capable.

I suppose we should be thankful that Congress scampered out of town for five weeks. If they’re going to do nothing, at least they should do nothing out where the constituents who elected them can take their measure.

I suppose we should also be thankful that July 2014 only had 31 days. Imagine a longer month for suicidal conflicts and epidemics.

We should be thankful, too, that the world’s three great religions — wealth, technology, and the Abrahamic faiths — are getting on people’s nerves. Irritation might lead us to expect better.

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Second American Ebola Patient Arrives in US

A small plane carrying Nancy Writebol, the second American Ebola patient from Liberia, arrived in the United States on Tuesday, making a brief refueling stop in Bangor, Maine, en route to Atlanta and Emory University Hospital.

The same plane, a Gulfstream jet specially outfitted with an isolation pod, brought the first American patient, 33-year-old physician Kent Brantly, to the medical center from Liberia on Saturday, WLBZ-TV reports. The plane was on the ground in Bangor for less than an hour.

Brantly, with Samaritan’s Purse, and Writebol, with Service in Mission, are medical missionaries who were infected with Ebola while working with patients in Liberia.

SIM USA said on Monday that the 59-year-old Writebol was in serious condition.

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Sayeeda Warsi, First Muslim in British Cabinet, Resigns Over 'Indefensible' Gaza Policy

The first Muslim to serve in a British Cabinet resigned Tuesday over her government’s “morally indefensible” policies in Gaza and its role in the Middle East peace process.

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, who served as senior Foreign Office minister for faith and communities, announced her decision on Twitter, saying: “With deep regret I have this morning written to the Prime Minister & tendered my resignation. I can no longer support Govt policy on #Gaza.”

In her resignation letter, Warsi wrote: “I believe our approach in relation to the current conflict is neither consistent with our values, specifically our commitment to the rule of law and our long history of support for International Justice.”

Labour leaders and human rights groups have criticized Britain’s Conservative government, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, in recent weeks for not unequivocally condemning Israel’s handling of the Gaza crisis.

Conservative leaders expressed disappointment over Warsi’s “unnecessary” resignation on Tuesday, while Labour opposition leader Ed Miliband said Warsi had acted with “principle and integrity” in deciding to step down.

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