First World Problems

February 6, 2013 in Mark, Justice, Mission

The following video, made by Everyone Matters, is entitled “First World Problems read by Third World People”. Personally I don’t like the terms First and Third World, but I think the video does a good job of juxtaposing the very different realities of day to day life in different parts of our world. Read the rest of this entry →

Economic Crisis?

June 14, 2012 in Mark, Africa, Justice, Tanzania, Theology

News of economic bailouts and financial crises in Europe seem a little strange to me here in rural Tanzania. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there is something incongruous about extremely rich people dressed in nice clothes discussing how to preserve the banking system and stave off financial collapse, when our friends around us here in Mpanda are blissfully unaware as they work hard to harvest their crops and earn money to buy a plot of land and build a small house for their family.

So what exactly is the crisis? Is it that people are starving, or being persecuted, or being denied access to basic healthcare? Not generally, no. Maybe it is the shock of individuals losing their jobs, and families having to adapt to a different way of life. I think this is a big part of the crisis.

And yet these kinds of issues are faced by people around the world every day, with no talk of a crisis. A couple of days ago Zitto Kabwe blogged about The bottom 30 million, a reference to the majority of Tanzanians who rely mainly on agriculture and are not benefiting from the overall economic growth in the country. Many of these 30 million have limited access to healthcare and have no formal employment, so could be said to be in a much worse economic situation than many of those struggling in Europe. And yet there is no talk of an economic crisis in rural Tanzania. In fact, if anything there is often an unspoken acceptance that this is the natural way of things, that European countries have a right to be wealthier than African countries, as evidenced by the Spanish Prime Minister’s comment that “Spain is not Uganda”. Read the rest of this entry →

Giving Up Everything?

May 23, 2012 in Mark, Africa, Front, Mission, Theology

When a cross-cultural worker moves to a different country and a very different culture, as well as experiencing many benefits, they will also inevitably give up a great deal to do so. The things that they have to give up may be financial (a well-paying job), relational (family and friends) or just simply the comfort of knowing what to expect when living in one’s own culture and speaking one’s own language.

When moving overseas it can be easy to focus on the things one has given up, feeling like we are suffering a great deal for God and his work. “We had to give up so much in order to move to this country”, or “my life is difficult but God needs me here” can be common sentiments among cross-cultural mission workers. In this situation I can also deceive myself that I am vitally important to God’s work, and that I deserve to be in charge and making the strategic decisions since I have invested “so much”. Read the rest of this entry →

Newbigin on the Gospel and Western Economics

August 20, 2011 in Mark, Books, Justice, Mission, Theology

My leisure reading at the moment is Lesslie Newbigin’s thought-provoking Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture. Newbigin looks at the distinctives of Western culture, particularly the dichotomy between private and public spheres, with science and “facts” ruling the supposedly objective public space and religion confined to the subjective private realm of life.

He then examines many of the assumed foundations of Western culture, questioning whether they stand up to their own claims and logic, and asks the question of how a community convinced of the truth of the gospel can and should interact with this culture.

The whole book has given me much to think about, but I was particularly interested by this long-ish quote on free market economics:

The autonomous science of economics [developed] on the basis of the assumption that self-interest is a universal, natural, and calculable force analogous in this realm to the forces of gravity and inertia in the realm of physics, and that consequently it is possible to develop a science of economics that will be as mathematical and as independent of theology as is the physics of Newton. And since, for the eighteenth century, nature has taken the place of God and has inherited his benevolent character, it follows that the pursuit of self-interest will coincide with the purpose of God. …

Traditional Christian ethics had attacked covetousness as a deadly sin, and Paul had equated it with idolatry: the putting of something that is not God in the place belonging to God (Col. 3:5). The eighteenth century, by a remarkable inversion, found in covetousness not only a law of nature but the engine of progress by which the purpose of nature and nature’s God was to be carried out.

The enormous consequences that have followed from this reversal of traditional values are familiar to us. It has shattered the age-long assumption that the world we inhabit is basically stable and finite and that consequently economics is mainly about the sharing of limited resources. It has shifted the focus of attention from distribution to production. It has made us familiar with the idea of ceaseless and limitless growth, of unending possibilities of increased mastery over nature that provides increased resources of food, materials, and energy. This is a world in which economics is mainly about increasing production, and it is assumed that if everyone pursues his rational self-interest, production will grow and distribution will take care of itself. Two hundred years after the Enlightenment, we live in a world in which millions of people enjoy a standard of material wealth that few kings and queens would have matches then, but in which the gulf between the rich minority and the abjectly poor majority is vast and growing, a world therefore threatened as never before by destructive violence.

Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks, pp109-110.

It seems curious to me that in church we talk about giving, sacrifice and denying oneself, but in our view of economics we can believe that if everyone looks after themselves then all will be happy. It seems to me that this view of economics is no more than a kind of social Darwinism, a survival of the wealthiest, whereby the greater good of society depends on the unimpeded right of all to pursue unlimited personal wealth and happiness at any cost. This is not only completely foreign to the themes of the Bible and the revelation of God’s character contained therein, but in a world of finite resources is bound to lead to exploitation of both the environment and of the majority of people who are unable to achieve this goal.

Before anyone accuses him (or me) of being a Communist, I should point out that Newbigin is equally clear that extreme socialism, which values equality over freedom (in contrast to capitalism which extols freedom over equality), is not the answer either, and proposes that we should rather adopt a relational view of society, politics and economics.

What are your thoughts?

Money and World

Which parts of the Bible would Jesus leave out in your church?

March 21, 2011 in Mark, Bible, Church, Mission, Theology

Many Christians rightly emphasise the importance of reading the whole Bible, not leaving out any parts or skipping over sections that we don’t like. But how good are we at this in practice? Do we actually end up focusing only on the parts that suit us, that reinforce our own views, and that show that we are right and others are wrong?

I think it’s highly ironic that Luke tells us in 4:16-30 that Jesus went to the synagogue in Nazareth and started reading from the prophet Isaiah as follows:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” (Luke 4:18-19)

Luke then tells us that Jesus rolled up the scroll and sat down, while everyone’s eyes were fixed on him… Why? Because he’d missed out the most important part! The next sentence in Isaiah 61 that he was quoting from was

and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies. (Isaiah 61:2)

Why does Jesus leave out the part about God’s anger?! Why do you think?

I think maybe the next few verses in Luke give us a clue, as Jesus tells the people gathered that in addition to being a righteous God of judgment, God also cares for and deeply loves those outside of Israel, as he proved by pouring out blessing and healing on the widow at Sidon and Naaman the Syrian. This isn’t popular with the crowd who want him to talk about the destruction of their enemies, and leads to Jesus being taken out of the town and almost thrown down from the top of a cliff!

Why did Jesus choose to be so controversial by deliberately omitting the part about judgment? I don’t for a minute think that Jesus disagreed with Isaiah, or thought that what he had written wasn’t legitimate or wasn’t from God.

I think maybe Jesus saw that the Jews of his day had become so obsessed with the judgment of the nations that they had missed the bigger picture of what God was doing. They had become so focused on their own security, and the destruction of others, that they had missed the role that they were supposed to be playing in blessing the nations.

I wonder if Jesus read the Bible in our churches today, would he leave out any parts, and if so, how would we react…?