Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Monday Through Saturday Resurrection

This Sunday, March 31, Christians throughout the Western world will celebrate Easter (Orthodox Christians will celebrate it on May 5 this year). Most American Christians will celebrate Easter with family, attending religious services (for many it is one of two times a year they do this), eating ham and chocolate bunnies, and hiding plastic eggs from the kids. But somewhere, in spite of the pagan name, there is a deeper purpose to Easter. It signifies the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and for those who believe, this one event changes everything about every other day of the year.

Why do I anchor my life around the teachings of Jesus? What is so great about him that I should want to hang on to every word he says? There are a lot of great moral philosophers and religious leaders.  I can find a lot of wisdom in the teachings of Confucius, Buddha, Solomon, and Kant. I can even piece together the best parts of all of them, leave out the parts I don't like and live very comfortably in that moral standard. If Jesus was just another great moral philosopher, I could do the same with him.  I could keep the warm fuzzy parts like, "neither do I condemn you" and "blessed are the peacemakers." Then I could throw out the parts I do not think should apply to me like "go and sell all you have and give it to the poor," and "deny yourself, take up your cross daily and follow me."  

The Resurrection says that trying to follow some of  Jesus teachings,even all of them is insufficient - missing the point. Resurrection begins in death. You can't fix dead. You can't improve upon it with moral teachings. The only cure for death is resurrection. It is not an easy thing to admit you are dead. It is not an easy thing to say you are helpless. This is the offense of the cross. If Jesus died for me, if I really need him, then I am not capable of making it on my own. But the Resurrection is useless to me unless I realize I am, in fact, dead.

When I look at myself and the world around me, I can not but help see the death we all live in. Death comes to us all, despite the goodness or badness of our lives. Without the Resurrection, death brings only more death. It's not just the final death I see. The world is full of death, of evil that can never be redeemed. The sins of the fathers do come back to haunt their children, and their children after them. None of us can escape it, we only pass it along. We kill each other daily, if not with guns and bombs, with words, with selfish decisions, with hate. 

The Resurrection says that dying can lead to life.  It did for a man 2000 years ago, and it can for us too. The Resurrection gives me the freedom to give up my life willingly, not to fear death, whether it is that final breath, or the death I die daily, as I deny myself to follow Jesus. The Resurrection promises life more abundant than anything I can give myself. The Resurrection frees me to pursue the life of following Jesus every day of the year.

While I believe the Resurrection of Jesus is a real historical event, the Resurrection is not a one-time thing. The Resurrection is the promise of a new life every day. It is real redemption. A real do-over. Because of the Resurrection I can put to death the ghosts of my ancestors, the ghosts of my years of rebellion and struggle, the ghosts of yesterday.  Today I can start anew. Today I can follow Jesus, the Resurrected. The Resurrection is both the motive and the power for me to even try to follow Jesus Monday through Saturday.

Because I live, you also will live. - John 14:19

What does the resurrection mean to you? Leave a comment and share how the Resurrection of Jesus impacts your everyday life.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Edge of Your Coffee Field

"When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the Lord your God.” - Exodus23:22

What an obscure quote for an industrialized society. I don't have any fields. I don't reap them. And if I did, the poor would not come out and pick up the gleanings. But buried in this ancient text is the heart of God toward the poor.

Although people would classify me as poor, according to American standards, I am not poor. I have seen poor people, and they are nothing like me.  The poor literally don't know where their next meal will come from. Many live in crumbling dirty housing, the best they can afford. They don't get to put on a clean set of clothes every day. They only have one. They don't own a car. They don't have a computer or an iphone. They work hard for much less than minimum wage. The most shocking thing about the poor, is how many there are. Half the world's people live on less than $2.50 a day.

I think we have to face the fact that we Americans are the rich people in all the stories. The rich young ruler, told to give away all his possessions - that's us. "Woe to you who are rich" - that is a woe upon us. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than an American to enter the kingdom of God. And so all those verses about the rich providing for the poor, those are for us too. (I don't have the space or time to begin to unpack Deuteronomy 24:10-15, Isaiah 58, and Luke 12:13-21)

I was raised to be frugal. You get the best deal you can, and make your dollar stretch as far as possible. But God tells the Israelite farmers not to be as frugal as possible. We would call it wasteful. He calls it generous. I never stopped to think about how my frugality could effect the poor workers around the world. When I saw myself as poor, I needed that money for other things (like new clothes and a vacation). But when I began to see myself as rich, all that changed. I can no longer glean to the edge of my field, saving every last penny on a cheaper product when the people who made it barely scrape by.

I have a responsibility to the earth's poor.  They are my neighbors. I have been buying coffee from large corporations that exploit the poor by forcing them to sell their harvest for a lower price than they need to survive. I'm sure I have been doing the same thing with a number of other products I buy. I can not possibly learn the origin story of every product I buy, but I can start with what I know.  I know coffee.  I have decided it is worth a dollar or two extra for a bag of coffee that is Fair Trade certified.  In the end, I might have to slightly decrease my consumer spending to offset the difference.  A sacrifice well worth making.

Fair Trade is an internationally recognized supply line certification that guarantees certain prices to farmers, works to improve working conditions, environmental conditions and  living conditions among the poor who produce so many of goods we consume. (See Fair trade is not the only way to ensure we are buying goods that do not exploit the poor, it is just an easy way find goods that meet these standards.

It doesn't have to end with coffee. I can look at other products I consume a lot of and switch to fair trade options for those as well. The more we buy of these products, the more they appear in the stores we frequent.  As they become more available, others can choose them too. I don't know if we can end poverty, but we can reverse the trend of exploiting the world's poor. We can leave a little grain on the edge of our fields by purchasing products that leave a little extra money in the hands of the poor workers of the world.

Coffee-lovers, check out this award winning coffee produced by some friends of mine in Laos.  While not yet Fair Trade Certified, it is bought at fair prices with a high regard for the workers and their communities.