Josh j Smith


people of God
June 26, 2008, 2:27 pm
Filed under: theology | Tags: , , ,


The perception I get from the conversations I have with some of the Kmer people, is that America is the “land of opportunity” still.  It seems as though they gaze upon me similar to how I gaze upon an iPhone.  I guess this is what it means to covet.  But my goal here is not to convict the Kmer people of coveting, but to express the tension between a person’s desire for gospel against their desire for a western lifestyle.  This tension is worth our time because it has implications for how we are missionaries to foreign countries.    

I am not one to judge another’s salvation, but I feel it is wrong to ignore the implications of my citizenship upon people and the gospel.  when a group of white middle class Americans decide to join forces and inhabit a country, similar to Cambodia’s conditions, for the sake of planting churches and spreading the gospel, I question whether the native people become Christians for the kingdom of God or the empire of western civilization.  Thus, their commitment to Christianity is merely a means to becoming American.     

My problem with being American is from a global context.  We are one of the most feared and powerful nations.  As far as land size and resources, we are an extremely blessed country, but extremely under populated for how much land we have and how much resources we consume (waste).  In a global context, I think America are the rich who are getting richer, and countries like Cambodia are the poor who are getting poorer.  And we all know what it feels like to be poor (even when we are not) we gaze upon the rich as though they have found life.  At the same time we all know what it is like to be rich.  We all have those possessions that we want only for ourselves and we will do anything to make sure it stays that way.  We develop individual defense programs.   

I began to soften my blow toward American by comparing westernization with ancient Israel’s invasions when they were moving into the land of Canon, the Promise Land.  I thought about God’s missional prerogative to reveal himself as the God of gods through the language of war.  I remembered Rehab’s faith and commitment to Israel and their God because she heard not what Israel did to the other nations, but what Israel’s God did to the other nations; the other gods. 

I began to think that maybe God has a missional prerogative with westernization.  While   people might become christian to be more western, God can easily change our means to achieve personal glory to become his means for his glory.  In other words, God is not too small to transform the desire for the people to be western into people of his kingdom.  

After this epiphany, I still felt uncomfortable with my citizenship.  I also realized that the western movement is not a good comparison with Israel’s entrance into the Promise Land because Israel was a nation of slaves, nomads, refugees, they were a bunch of no-namers shaming the strong, wealthy, and proud.  So,I have decided that it is impossible to be an American Christian (or whatever you want to call someone who follows and has faith in Jesus).  The problem is whatever I do it is still from an American perspective.  

In the midst of this tension where I think the beauty and mystery of the kingdom of God resides.  I think this is what Jesus meant when he said you cannot see the kingdom.  The kingdom is within.  When Jesus prayed that his disciples would be in the world, but not of it – I think it might have been this issue.  

Since I belong to Christ and am part of his kingdom.  God’s kingdom allows me to observe my context from a distance in order to engage it with gospel in a language that resonates with my neighbor.  I am of Christ, but in America.  I am of the kingdom of God, but in Baltimore MD.   

 

 



beauty
June 23, 2008, 2:35 pm
Filed under: religion | Tags: , , ,

 

Beauty is mysterious.  The question of what makes something beautiful is always answered, but never really understood.  Beauty is achieved when it emerges from ugliness.  In other words beauty is order out of chaos.  

What is beautiful about the creation story is that we encounter the God of beauty.  How that beauty came about is not as important as who.  In the creation story we see God separating water from sky, land from water, sky animals from land animals, land animals from sea animals, and humans from all the other creatures. From this story, beauty emerges from nothing, chaos, ugliness.  In essence, it is God’s first act of redemption.  

Beauty then defines what it means to be human.  From the beginning God’s has given humans a creational mandate to subdue and have dominion over the earth.  Therefore, God gave us the responsibility of taking what he has created, and continue to make it beautiful.  The human ability to separate, organize the elements of creation for the betterment of life provides a glimpse of God’s desire for creating humans in his image. 

A White Lotus is a gorgeous flower.  But the beauty of this flower is not merely explained in its intricate design and bright color.  I think the beauty of the white lotus is found in its roots, in its story.  The white Lotus is a flower that grows out of swamp like conditions and blossoms right above the water.  What ends up happening is the the flower redeems surrounding murky water.  

White Lotus is not only a flower, it is a mission that exists in Phenom Pehn Cambodia, that provides a safe place for young girls who have been forced into the prostitute industry.  

Extreme poverty forces families and individuals to make extreme choices to keep their families or them self from dying of hunger or disease.  One choice for a family is to sell their daughter to the prostitute industry to get a substantial amount of money.  The younger the better because that means th more virgin they are.  Once the girl is sold to a brothel, then she is oxygen off to highest bidder (most likely a foreign man).  

International Justice Mission and White Lotus work hard to make sure that these girls are rescued from the brothels and put into a safe place.  In addition, make sure that the brothels are properly prosecuted.  The organization then provides job training and reconnects the girl with her family if possilble.  

That is beautiful because IJM, White Lotus, and these young girls are able to demonstrate an alternative story from the murky nature of people’s lost identity in the creational mandate.  

 

I began to think about gospel and realized that gospel does not bring beauty it is beauty.  Gospel is not Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in our NIV bible.  Gospel is beauty.  Gospel is IJM and White Lotus where they are living an alternative story, the story of Jesus who emerged from death to bring life.  

In the same way, Jesus followers are called to separate death from life where ever we can though the love of God.  The challenge is that we have to get murky, we have to encounter death so that we can be agents of restoration and reconciliation.

 



Opportunity | Oppressed
June 3, 2008, 7:27 am
Filed under: religion | Tags: , , , , , ,

 

The beauty of visiting another culture is not merely seeing the different colors and facs of a culture.  It is not only experiencing the night-life and tasting the food.  Much of the beauty lies in the subtle change that emerges in my own thinking that occurs as a natural part of engaging another culture.  

From my western/American point of view, life is acquired through opportunity.  Depending on what kind of family, neighborhood, or school, opportunity is either given or it has to be taken.  Thus, opportunity is simply a choice for me to capitalize  on to make my life what I want it to be.  

My understanding of opportunity became obvious to me when I engaged the Kmer people.  It became even more noticeable when I walked through the Killing Fields Museum where deep graves with articles of clothing still remain from the genocide that happened only 30 years ago.  Just like every other museum, it tells a story, but it is not a great story… yet.  

The implications of genocide are deep and cannot be resolved through a couple of political programs or foreign support.  In addition, the genocide that happened in Cambodia was not generational or racial.  In attempt to make the country completely communist the Kmer Rouge thought it was only fair to eliminate all the educated leaders in the society.  All doctors, leaders of the group who was trying to bring in democracy, teachers, university teachers, etc.  Once the Kmer Rouge was neutralized, Cambodia had already been paralyzed developmentally.  

The sad thing about this story is that all the people living in poverty and the families who have been torn apart had no choice in the matter.  The awkward thing about it is that when I engage Cambodia I am disturbed by the fact I had no choice in my extreme wealth.  But in my extreme wealth I have a choice to do something about their poverty.  

All this to say, I don’t it comes down to choice for everyone to improve their living situation.  The story goes deeper.  It is not simply a story of economics and choices.  It is a story of oppressed and blessed.  It is a story of being truly human.  It is a story of living imago dei (in the image of God).

The genocide is over, but the oppression is not.  The wake of the genocide is visible when I see extreme poverty and extreme wealth.  The line between rich and poor is so bold that the rich keep getting richer and poor get poorer.  And when I think about gospel, all I ask is, “How can the church bring heaven to earth for the Kmer people?”

 When Jesus brought the kingdom of God, he rescued the poor and challenged the rich; he forgave the repentant and challenged the righteous.  I think he did this because the gospel is not supposed to eliminate social classes, but challenged the rich and righteous to bless the poor and oppressed.  Also, the gospel forces me to question whether I am the poor or the rich, the repentant or the righteous. Regardless of income, social status, and number years as Christian, I think Jesus challenges us to be poor, to be repentant.  Finally, the gospel challenges me to think when I need Jesus, or when I need to be Jesus.