Friday, February 06, 2009

Midwinter Closing Breakfast

My experience of of Midwinter began and ended with the issue of contemporary slavery. As I noted in an earlier post my first Workshop was Dr. Boaz Johnson's seminary on Global Slavery. Today at the closing breakfast, Gary Haugen president and founder of International Justice Mission (IJM) spoke to us. The organization works to protect victims of injustice and oppression around the world and to restrain and bring the laws to bear on oppressors. His take and message overlaped and also contrasted with Boaz Johnson's. His message was to us pastors and for us to take home to our churches was that we the church were to be involved in what he called the adventure of working for justice and against injustice. He has seen that so many Christians in the states are like he was at 10 when his father and brothers climbed up Mt. Ranier but he fearful claimed that such a hike seemed boring and that he'd rather stay in the visitor's center while. Many Christians are like he at ten in the visitors center of the Christian life, while Jesus is going out into the world. On the other hand after he told some stories of slavery he admitted that it was easy to get overwhelmed and full of despair as the job seems to big. He then brought to bare on this the story of the feeding the five thousand. First, Jesus tels them that they should feed the enormous crowd, and then tells them to bring what they have to him. God doesn't expect us to perform the miracle but to be willing to bring to God what we have so that through us and what we have God can perform the miracle and transform the world and bring an end to injustice.

He gave us intensely personal message and largely telling of Gary Haugen's own story and journey in a sense and was impactfing. He did have to do what the head of any activist organization has to do is speak of action of the hearers and encourage participation in the politics portion of the activist organization and support the cause. Nothing wrong with this but it did strike me as a contrast to most of his message. It did the opposite of what Boaz Johnson's presentation did which was to connect our stories to the stories of the oppressed and to see how we were connected and to look for oppression and slavery in our midst as opposed to that which was out there and over there. On some level this was an invitation to the powerful not to step away from their power but to use their power and influence the more powerful to alleviate the wrong. And certainly not something to be dismissed, or rejected and yet it retains some of the power structure and form of the oppression and injustice being resisted, and it doesn't ask us to see how we are part of the problem that even our systems of economy, law, and organization of political power is bound up in the issue. Our story stays seperate in a sense from these other stories.

Clearly what Gary Haugen had to bring to Jesus Christ in facing the evil of slavery was his training and practice in Law and the Justice department and international law. And bringing that along with other also brining this an organization has been crated that is doing the work of alleviating the oppression of slavery and rescuing slaves. Yet, his presentation ignores that part of the disciples problem in being asked to feed the five thousand is that as people who had answered the call to follow Jesus closely as that group that simply followed Jesus around in his itinerant ministry, had given up their abilities to even pool together enough cash or resources to feed five thousand people. They no longer had jobs or careers that they could use to address the situation before them they had accepted a chosen poverty in accepting the call to Jesus. They brought the resources of a boy because they themselves as people who once had supported themselves with "jobs" no longer did. So the message here to a wealthy and powerful people may not just be bring what you have but are you asked to give up the power and resources that would allow you to help in the first place. Not to say that all are called to this, there are instances and hints that not all of Jesus disciples were called to this chosen poverty, the one who provided Jesus' tomb and some of the women around Jesus are such examples, and yet we have just read the stories in the common lectionary of Jesus calling people away from what could provide resources to alleviate pain. Jesus does not tell the Rich young ruler put your power and money at my disposal and dole it out over time, but to give up that position of power and influence and come follow me. I don't think this is an either or, but a both/and. And I think Gary Haugen could not have preached both messages today, and his story is of bringing his power and influence to Jesus and to bear upon this overwhelming reality of contemporary slavery. But I was aware that without the witness of chosen poverty and relinquishing completely of ones power Gary Haugen's witness and story distances us from those it creates a division, the helper and the helpless. Where as if Gary's story is just one option, one way and there is this other very radical and counterintuitive way of relinquishing the resources of the world to alleviate the pains of the world then there is no critique of the existing power structures that both work for and against justice, and alleviate and perpetuate these things simultaneously often.