WorldWide Wanderings

Friday, January 26, 2007

Perspectives is returning to New Mexico!

It's been quite a while since my last blog post. So long, in fact, that I don't know if anyone will even see this. Still, I wanted to wipe the dust off this blog, oil the rusty hinges, and turn the sign back over to "Open." I intend, over the next few weeks, to start posting here, on various and sundry topics.

One of the first things I want to let you all know about is the work I've been involved with over the last few months. I've been working with a team of people from several different churches in Albuquerque to bring the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement class back to New Mexico! This will be the first time in about 3 years that the class has been offered, and I'm really excited about it. If you're not excited yet, then keep reading to find out why you should be....

The Perspectives class is designed to give Christians a glimpse of God's work and world outside of their normal experience. It tells the story of God's work throughout human history, to rescue people from every "Nation, tribe, and tongue" and unite together into His church. That's why Jesus came to Earth, and that's what God is passionate about. The class also looks at how the church has spread the Gospel and made disciples over the last 2000 years (the good and the bad), and the task that remains for this generation. Finally, students learn how they are called, and how they fit into God's work to redeem all nations, and what they can do to be more faithful servants in their church and in the world.

The class has the potential to be life-changing and revolutionary, and I believe that every Christian who has the opportunity should take Perspectives. That's why I'm so excited that the class will be available in New Mexico again! We're offering a 5-week "Exposures" course starting February 5, that will give people an overview of the material, then we'll offer the full 12-week course this Fall. Classes are scheduled for Albuquerque and Socorro, and we're seeing some good involvement from a number of churches in both locations!

For more information about the Perspectives course, and how you can register, please visit www.PerspectivesNM.org. If you don't live in New Mexico but are still interested in the class, then visit Perspectives.org to find a class in your area!

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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Thoughts on the NASA initiative

Note: I know this is a significant change of direction for this blog, but I've been wanting to post this somewhere permanant for some time. I wrote this as a letter in January 2004, in response to the President's speech announcing a new mission for NASA. I thought, and still think, that this is a very important program for our country, and my reasons why are here. As a caveat, the first reason I list (National unity) is my weakest argument, so please keep reading, even if you disagree with that point. Comments are welcome!

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By now, I'm sure most of you have heard about President Bush's new space initiative that he announced on Wednesday. In short, he wants to re-focus NASA's mission. This would involve fulfilling our obligations to the International Space Station, then retiring the 30-year-old Space Shuttle fleet. At the same time, he wants to create a new spacecraft allowing us to return humans to the moon, establish a presence there, and then send a manned mission to the planet Mars. To accomplish these goals, he proposes a 5% per year increase in NASA's budget, up to 1% of the total federal budget. I've heard a lot of speculation on the news about whether these goals are feasible, and more importantly, whether they are cost-effective. There seems to be a considerable debate about whether it's really worth the billions of dollars of investment that this initiative will require. Critics of the plan argue that it's a wasteful use of the money, done only to send out thrill-seekers to plant a flag on a new planet's surface. I, however, couldn't disagree more. I believe that this is, in fact, a very worthwhile investment, and that this initiative is well worth supporting for a variety of reasons. Allow me to explain:

One reason I think going back to the moon would be good is that it will provide a common goal for the country again. Although I wasn't alive to see the Apollo program come to fruition, I've heard and read that it provided a rallying point for our nation: we were going to send a man to the Moon, and it would take everyone's support. Even now, I hear people from other countries talk about how exciting it was to learn that a human being--regardless of his country of origin--was walking on the Moon. I know that the space program didn't directly impact everyone's lives, but I would imagine that it did give Americans a certain sense of pride to be involved in such a grand endeavor. Right now though, the closest thing the U.S. has to a common goal is our "War on Terror." This still seems a troublingly Orwellian idea ("War is Peace"), and I don't think it's healthy for it to be the centerpiece of our nation's attitude or policies. I'd much rather be known as a citizen of the country that's pursuing peace, exploring new frontiers, and seeking greater understanding.

But there are far better reasons to support NASA than nationalistic pride. Economically, this initiative will provide a significant economic boost at a time when it's sorely needed. It's important to remember that the ??? billion dollars spent by NASA will not simply disappear or evaporate: They'll be paid to companies that will build everything required to send people into space. With the huge contracts gained by these companies, they'll require more workers, and will themselves farm out more work to smaller contractors. Even if some of the orders are filled by overseas factories (and some will), one thing I can assure you: building a new fleet of spacecraft will require loads of high-grade metallic alloys and extremely-fine-tolerance machined parts, which are still strong points of American industry. A new manned moon mission could add thousands of jobs across the metals, machining, aerospace, and chemical sectors of the U.S. economy.

As a sub-point, I'd also like to point out that one of the largest sectors of the U.S. economy right now is the so-called Military-Industrial Complex. The companies that build weapons, and the sub-contractors they hire employ a vast number of scientists, engineers, technicians, and blue-collar workers, directly or indirectly. The DOD has a budget tens of times larger than the proposed NASA budget, and simply reducing the military budget is not a viable option: the money must be spent in some other industry, or we'll decimate our own economy. I realize that in this world, war will always be with us, and the military will always be in demand. But at the same time, a large investment in the space program could change the face of engineering and industry, as larger numbers of people turn their creative and technical skills toward peaceful causes instead of building instruments of death.

Next, the technologies that are likely to come out of this program are likely to benefit people worldwide. This is one point the critics often concede, but I don't think the true importance of this concept is appreciated. Lots of people talk about wanting to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and developing alternative sources of energy, but the paltry sums of money actually invested in these technologies are not likely to provide a breakthrough anytime soon. However, there is no oil, gas, or coal on the Moon. This means our spaceships, engines, and moon bases will have to run on a completely different source of fuel, or we simply won't be able to go. If necessity is the mother of invention, then the space program is likely to be the catalyst we need to develop some alternative power sources and begin reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. Without such an immediate challenge, there is far less reason to do anything but talk about the problem.

As another example, a manned Mars mission is likely to take between 2 and 4 years, round-trip. All food, air, and water will have to be carried, as there will be no chance of re-supply en route. Extremely robust and long-lasting air and water purification and filtration systems, then, will have to be perfected if our astronauts are to survive. Waste minimization and recycling will also be of vital importance. These technologies will have an almost immediate application right here on Earth, where millions of people around the world are without access to clean water, and where hyper-urbanization leads to tons of waste being generated every day. There are likely to be many other technologies to come out of the space program that we can only dream about now, but it's obvious that an investment in space technology is ultimately an investment in earthbound technology.

Another impact of these manned Moon and Mars mission may be the development of new scientists and engineers. When the railroad was developed (actually, throughout the industrial revolution), the "engineering" profession became a respectable career, as people began to understand the importance of technology on their lives. Again, when the U.S. undertook the Apollo missions, an entire generation of young people was introduced to the sciences or engineering as viable and exciting careers. Now we're on the threshold of a new call for astronauts and the engineers who will send them on their way. Who knows how many kids now in school will be inspired to become engineers or scientists once it again becomes "cool" to be "smart?" These men and women may not end up working on the space program per se, but the contributions they make to technology and scientific progress are likely to be significant.

Which leads me to the last reason I think the President's space initiative is worth supporting: it's difficult to put a price tag on scientific understanding. Even when the things we discover don't immediately impact our life or society, I believe it's still worthwhile to support the pursuit of knowledge. Just as art provides an outlet for our God-given desire to create, science provides an outlet for our desire to explore and understand the world around us. And just as it's easy to cut art and music programs because they don't immediately enrich our lives, it's easy to dismiss scientific research that we don't understand. But in both cases, I believe that in the long run, we will miss their influence in our society. Don't misunderstand me: I don't believe science will ever be our saviour: Only the Gospel will truly transform our lives and society, and at the end of the day, if I have to choose, I'll cast my lot with Jesus. But I still believe exploration and knowledge are worth supporting, if not for ourselves, then for the generations to come.

I'm really quite excited by the President's proposal, and I really hope that it will come to fruition. It will require public support, however, and I fear people may not look beyond the simple politics of the speech. If any of these arguments resonate with you, I would encourage you to contact your Senator or Representative and ask them to support the increase in NASA's budget. I'd also be interested in hearing from you if you disagree, or if you think there are holes in my logic. It will be interesting to see what comes out of all of this. I hope and pray that it will be good, and not ill.

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Monday, April 25, 2005

Where are we going?

When I started this blog, I had great intentions of posting articles regularly: weekly at a minimum. Well, as you can tell, I'm not doing so well. It seems that life keeps getting in the way of blogging: funny how that works...

In any case, I still have lots of things I want to write about, so this will be something of a posting schedule. Think of it as a "Coming Attractions" trailer. If you have comments on some of these topics that you think are of interest, you can post them now, and maybe I'll incorporate your ideas into my articles as well (credit where credit is due, of course!)

Coming soon to WorldWide Wanderings:
1. Biblical Teachings on Poverty, part II: the New Testament
2. How do the Biblical texts on poverty translate to our modern world?
3. What is "Poverty?"
4. How does our view of the world affect Development?
5. What is the connection between Poverty and the Environment? (for a preview, listen to my pastor's latest sermon on this topic, Here)
6. Why are the Poor Poor? An overview of theories.
7. The role of the Church, vs. the role of the State in alleviating poverty.

World Malaria Day

Brandon over at Bad Christian just informed me of the fact that today is World Malaria Day. Malaria kills 1.1 million people every year, even though it is quite treatable, and has been virtually eradicated in the West. I would encourage you to take a moment today to say a prayer for the victims of this epidemic, then educate yourself about what you can do to help eliminate this scourge.

Brandon has also laid down a challenge to everyone to get involved. His full post is here, but basically it boils down to:
1. Educate yourself
2. Educate others
3. Sign a commitment to help (see my link to the ONE.org petition)

And I'm going to one-up him and add one more point to the action list:
4. Commit to pray for those affected by poverty (whether in terms of malaria, hunger, AIDS, disenfranchisement, oppression, or spiritual poverty) regularly. God does repspond to prayer, and as Christians, it should be the first (though not the only) point of action on serious issues.

Lots more to write about; hopefully I'll do some more serious blogging soon.

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Sunday, April 03, 2005

Biblical Teachings on the Poor, Pt. 1

The place to begin when looking at any serious issue from a Christian perspective is, of course, the Bible. There are hundreds of references to the poor in the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament. I've not yet had the opportunity to study them all, but we've looked at a number of passages, and some distinct themes seem to be emerging. In this post, I'll try to summarize our initial discoveries about Poverty from our study of Old Testament passages.

(Note: The numbering for these points isn't really significant, it just helps separate ideas. )

A. God's view of the Poor
1. God made both the rich man and the poor man—we were created alike (Job 31:15)
2. God does not wish us to keep our food to ourselves, but to share with the needy (Job 31:17)
3. God, as the eternal King, is a champion of the poor, needy, afflicted, and those who have no helper. He will deliver them and save them from violence and harm. (Psalm 72:12-13; 140:12)
4. God is despised when the poor are mistreated (Proverbs 14:21, 31)
5. Showing ill will toward the needy is a sin (Deuteronomy 15:9)
6. There will always be poor in the land (Deuteronomy 15:11)
7. There should not be needy among you (among the Israelites) (Deuteronomy 15:4)

B. Laws Set up to protect the poor
1. Laws exist to protect slaves (Exodus 21:1-11)
2. Murder of slaves is condemned (Exodus 21:20-21)
-this indicates that slaves were human too, and deserved protection and respect.
3. Restitution required if property is stolen or damaged (Exodus 22:1-15)
- private property affirmed
4. Israel ordered to protect the right of foreigners & aliens (Exodus 22:21, 23:9, Lev. 19:33)
5. Do not afflict Widows & orphans (Exodus 22:22)
- God will execute vengeance on those who afflict widows and orphans (Exodus 22:23-24)
6. Do not charge interest to the needy (Exodus 22:25-27)
7. Do not deny justice to the needy or to the innocent (Exodus 23:6-7)
8. Let both the poor and the alien gather from the fields (Leviticus 19:9-10, 23:22)
-This enabled the poor to sustain themselves even if they were without land or good crops
- This indicated that the rights of landowners were not absolute.
9. Blood relatives were to have the right of redemption for slaves (Leviticus 25: 47-49)
- This would protect the poor Hebrews and keep responsibility and help in the family
10. Blood relatives were to have the right of redemption for land (Leviticus 25: 25-28)
-this would protect the poor Hebrews & keep responsibility & help in the family
11. Hebrew slaves were to go free in the year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:40-42)
12. The land was to have a Sabbath rest during which anyone could gather from what it produced naturally(Leviticus 25:1-7)
-this showed that God was the true landowner, not man
- when both rich and poor had to gather together, it reaffirmed their common identity
13. Hebrew slaves were to go free in the year of Jubilee--every 50 years. (Leviticus 25:40-42)
13. There is a difference in how you treat your “brother” versus a foreigner (Deuteronomy 15:3) - Foreigners, although treated kindly and justly, were not recipients of all of the laws
- This has implications for who we should help first: i.e. our "brother", then others.

C. The Expected response of God’s people toward the poor
1. God orders us to be generous toward the poor (Deuteronomy 15:7-8)
2. Job rescued the poor, the abandoned orphan, the widow, the blind, the lame, and the stranger (Job 29:12-16)
3. Job's involvement was generous and he was personally involved. (Job 29:12-16)
4. Our righteousness is linked with our help for the poor & needy and executing Justice for them. (Job 29:12-16)
5. Job sought justice for his slaves (Job 31:13) that God might treat him justly (v 14)
6. Be just in your dealings with all—honest weights & measures (Leviticus19:35-36)
7. You should stand up and defend the rights of the poor, afflicted, and needy. (Proverbs 31:9)
8. Job wished to be treated by God as he treated others (Job 31:13-23)
9. True fasting should help the needy, not ourselves (Isaiah 58:3-10)
- fasting (spritual sacrifice) is not to enhance our own spirituality alone.
10. Fasting should provide the hungry with food, the wanderer with shelter, the naked with clothing, and release captives & slaves (Isaiah 58:6-7)
11. Spiritual growth and revival are linked with our treatment of the poor (Isaiah 58: 2-3, 9-10)
12. Urban renewal goes with honoring God and helping the poor (Isaiah 58:12)
13 If a brother becomes poor, you are to help him in any way possible (Leviticus 25: 35-37)
14. Protect the right of foreigners & aliens (Exodus 22:21, 23:9, Lev. 19:33)
-Not simply those who are israelites/citizens
15. Do not afflict Widows & orphans (Exodus 22:22)
16. Do not deny justice to the needy or to the innocent (Exodus 23:6-7)
17. Let both the poor and the alien gather from the fields (Leviticus 19:9-10, 23:22)

D. Blessings & curses associated with our treatment of the Poor
1. God promises to bless those that help the poor cheerfully (Deuteronomy 15:9-10)
2. God will execute vengeance on those who afflict widows and orphans (Exodus 22:23-24)
3. If we do not treat others with compassion & justice, God will judge us (Job 31:14, 22-23)
4. Sodom's main sin was being "arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy." That is why they were destroyed. (Ezekiel 16:48-50)
5. He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD (Proverbs 14:31, 17:5, 19:17)


This is hardly an exhaustive list: there are tens, if not hundreds of passages that could also be cited for these points, and specific injunctions that could be added. If you think this list is incomplete, please leave me a comment with passages you think are relevant.

I'll try to revisit this study with more Old Testament scripture, and in my next post, I'll discuss New Testament teachings on poverty, particularly the Early Church's response.

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Thursday, March 31, 2005

Direction for Wanderings

I've been doing a lot of thinking about why I have a blog, why I would want one, and what kinds of things I should blog about. There seem to be a couple different types of blogs out there: One is a personal journal, where authors talk about their personal life, thoughts, events, and people. These can be interesting if you know the author--kind of like reading an online letter--but tend to be painfully boring otherwise. The next type of blog centers around ideas and events: Politics and Religion tend to be the main themes of these blogs. If well written, these blogs can be very insightful, and serve either to give you an idea of what people are thinking about, or to spark ideas in your own mind. The last type of blog is the specialty knowledge blog. This site serves as a repository of information about something the blogger knows a great deal about. This could be a hobby, a profession, or a field of study, but it's a good place to learn about specific aspects of the topic at hand.

So, what kind of blog will mine be? Obviously, given the nature of the blogging medium, any blog will be a combination of all 3, but I think I've finally hit upon a "raison d'etre" for "WorldWide Wanderings," and that will be to discuss issues of poverty, relief & development, and social justice, with a (hopefully) distinctively Biblical view. I'll probably also try to highlight some of the more insightful blogs that I see on the web, and post from time to time about other matters of life, faith, marriage, and culture, but right now I want to focus on "R&D" in my postings.

As many of you know, I'm quite interested in the field of Relief & Development. Particularly because of my faith in Jesus, I believe helping the poor & oppressed is an incredibly important undertaking. I'll be the first to admit that I don't know a lot: I come from a reasonably priviledged background, and I don't have a lot of contact with the truly poor in my day-to-day life. But I do belong to a strong community of Faith that is trying to be obedient to Jesus, and I believe God is calling me to be more involved in His work among the Least-reached and Least-advantaged in the world.

To that end, Corrie and I are taking a class through our church called "A Biblical Theology of Relief & Development." It's proving to be an extremely challenging class, but also a very interesting class. We're working hard to explore what the Bible teaches us about God's view of poverty and riches, what He is doing among people, and what models the Church has been given for doing holistic ministry among the poor. It's a fascinating class, and I plan in the future to post articles on this blog about specific things we're learning. My hope is that by doing so, I will be better able to think through the issues we're studying and discussing, gain insight from other's studies of and experiences with serving the poor, and assist others in exploring what God has to say about the way we treat the disadvantaged, the widow, and the orphan. You'll no doubt hear my thoughts about other topics and my life experiences that may or may not be totally applicable, but I hope this blog will serve as a good resource for me and for others to pursue obedience in this area of our lives.

Watch this space for more articles, and please respond with lots of comments, good or bad--I welcome your input!

Friday, March 25, 2005

Thoughts on modern Worship music

I just ran across a rather insightful posting that mirrors some of my developing thoughts on "praise and worship" songs in the church. I hate to sound like the people who complain about how rock music is of the devil and has no place in Church, but I do have concerns about the lyrical content of many of the songs we sing at our church. It seems like too often we sacrifice theological depth and truth for emotional worship euphoria. Please read the article, then come back and let me know what you think!

http://homepage.mac.com/bdebow/iblog/C395363060/E1490202620/index.html

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First Post

Okay, so I finally set up a blog at a "Real" blogsite. I've been using the www.xanga.com/ngirdner blog since December, but I'm not very impressed by Xanga. On the other hand, most of the blogs I find myself reading seem to be hosted by Blogspot, so maybe I can join the "elite." :-) I'll think about migrating my old posts over to this site when I get some spare time.....

In the meantime, hang tight--I'll have some more interesting articles here before long.....