Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas 2008?

As I write this, I am in Cairo, Egypt, celebrating Christmas in a Muslim country. Our son is teaching here. He is working for a Jesuit prep school.

There are nearly 2 million Christians in the Cairo area is what my son tells me. Tonight we met for a Christmas Eve carol service at the Maadi Community Church, which is made up of mostly American, European ex-patriots, and African refugees and immigrants. It was a candlelight service. We were surrounded by police protection in this country to guard against any kind of sectarian attack that could happen, even though the chances of that are slim.

What has struck me here so far is the extremes of poverty and wealth. Social status difference is unbelievable. Wealthy Egyptians are very wealthy. As we walked through part of Coptic Cairo today, we watched as children scavenged from a garbage heap for their existence.

Tonight, I am overwhelmed that the Christmas message still needs to reach millions, who have no clue. They are bound by poverty, religious restriction and despair.

Yet, as I commented tonight to Janet and Chris, this is the weirdest Christmas Eve ever. There were no presents, no lights, only a couple of trees and yes, the wobbly singing of a few carols. Yet, without the commercialism, Christmas means more this year. I have been blessed today to know how much Christ loves all through the words of carols and scripture.

Many of you will exchange lots of presents, eat big meals and think very little of the non-Christian world. Yet there is so much more.

As you celebrate the nativity today I want you to ask yourself a couple of questions. Would I celebrate Christmas even if it was not commercialized, really? What is the greatest Christmas memory you have? Finally, do we really as the church celebrate Christmas and the advent or are we just along for the secular ride?

I hope to blog some more on this two week journey. So Merry Christmas. As with all my posts, I wonder if you have a comment.

What do you think about Merry Christmas 2008?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Commodity or Cared For?

The statistics are staggering. The job loss rate in the US is the highest it has been in three decades. People who once had security in their jobs now find themselves shoved to the side as a useless commodity. All the while a lame duck president suggests he he has not made a decision on whether or not to loan money to the auto industry. Certainly, mismanagement caused this mess, but to let millions of jobs evaporate while you "decide" what to do is irresponsible, especially when you are still "deciding" with an inept team of advisers what to do with the banking bailout money.

Yesterday, I witnessed, first-hand, what poverty causes. I stood at the Christmas distribution for a large metropolitan city and watched hundreds walk through a line for toys, coats and some assistance with food. Many of them were the working poor. They are proud people, with what used to be decent incomes who just can't make ends meet. They find themselves losing homes, cars, and other things they have worked very hard to have. Corporate greed continues to be the bully. Lay-offs and short call backs are a frustration to them. They have lost health benefits. They have seemingly no hope of climbing out of poverty. They are the commodity of the wealthy. Their corporations care for them only if they can make money for them.

I have reflected over the past several weeks on the plight of people and the relationships with them. Often, I feel as if we treat them as a commodity when it comes to our Christian witness. We want to witness, enroll and indoctrinate. These goals in themselves are not bad things. In fact, they can be good. Unfortunately, I tend to think that we often see people as another notch in our evangelism belt or in the terms of some of my mega church buddies see how many we are "runnin'" at worship on Sunday. Often the term mission is applied to sometimes make it holy.

As Christmas comes around, I wonder how much we really value relationship in our movement and in the church in general. While there needs to be a sense of urgency about advancing the Kingdom, I wonder just whose Kingdom we advance. As I reflect on the Advent season, I am convinced that God is not about a commodities game, but the caring ministry of healing and value. If we were really honest, I wonder if we would value people enough to go without or to sacrifice as Jesus did. Unfortunately, in this world of commodity driven economics and relationship, I see the church in the West sacrificing very little. I point the finger at myself in this regard too.

Commodities and their trading mean one thing; consumerism. I wonder if God really recognizes his bride or if we too have become the management by objective, commodity driven people who really don't value people, but our success.

I know I may have been a bit harsh in this post. But I wonder, if we care for people enough to die for them.

I think at Christmas that is the type of message God sent in Jesus. I am not convinced always that it is the type of lives we lead.

Are we too much about the commodity and not enough about caring? Am I just wrong in thinking that we have driven down the wrong road when it comes to this way of being the church? Can our motives ever be truly pure as flawed human beings?

I will have one more post around Christmas. Yet as with all my posts, I wonder...

What do you think?