This morning as I drove to work, I heard the voices on the radio discussing an idea from Smith Magazine called the six-word memoir. It’s pretty self explanatory: tell your life in six words. The American haiku. We condense everything else important into as little amount of time as possible, so why not squeeze our life story into six words, right? But there is something to be said for putting restrictions onto how a story is told. The forced careful contemplation of poetry creates something incomparable to daily ramblings. The words become teachers themselves.

I read through some of the six-word memoirs posted on their website (it doesn’t take too long). Some are a little bogus since they are only six words because the creators slash some articles and verbs from a sentence. Others, however, struck me with how much they say. Here are some of the highlights:

Suddenly life was suprisingly, imperfectly beautiful.

Regretted tomorrow’s inaction before it passed.

Started off kosher. Then, discovered bacon.

My rise to fame went unnoticed.

Obvious tip of iceberg. Titanic repercussions

Degree in English. I sell furniture.

Living in the perpetual “almost there.”

“It’s twins,” he said. Oh Crap.

As this is reminiscent of the haiku, another website of interest is Heartbreak Haiku, where the creators encourage people to condense their heartbreaks into 17 syllables and post them rather than bother their friends by endlessly whining about them—or I suppose you could do both.

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the kingdom question

June 28, 2008

I read and enjoyed Jesus for President (by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw) over the past week. Its stories and theological thoughts encourage ideas about Christianity that seem more in line with what I see in Christ than what I see in much of the church today. It is a book that encourages us to fully follow Jesus in a radical way (as the subtitle “Politics for Ordinary Radicals” declares). And it has pretty pictures.

The book ends by discussing the issue of the American presidential election—after having thoroughly established the idea that Jesus would never run for president. This idea was stirring in my mind as I was invited by my cousin to attend an “Obama for change” meeting. Although I’ve been all-but-brainwashed to support the democrats, and I’ve been quite the democratic party supporter, I’ve recently begun feeling somewhat uncomfortable about endorsing a presidential candidate at all.

I have discussed the election with Christians who strongly support the democratic party, and those who are devoted to the republican party, and both have come across as if their political affiliation is an aspect of their Christianity. I, most likely, have been one of those people.

But I have recently decided that as a peace-lover, I must not commit too much support to anyone willing to waste millions of dollars on election campaigns so they can then assume the role of Commander in Chief of the armed forces in a country that wastes an astronomical amount of money on the military and seems to constantly involve itself in wars.

Jesus for President offers this insightful passage:

The distinctly kingdom question is not about how we should vote but about how we should live . . . We vote every day with our feet, our hands, our lips, and our wallets. We are to vote for the poor. We are to vote for the peacemakers. We are to vote for the marginalized, the oppressed, the more vulnerable of our society. These are the ones Jesus voted for, those whom every empire had left behind, those whom no millionaire politician will represent. (pg. 334)

So while I have an educated and instinctive urge to promote Obama in the upcoming election, I will continue to place my hope elsewhere, realizing that even Obama, with his slogan for “Change,” is willing to wage war on other people if he thinks it’s in the best interest of the United States. The inherent difficulty is that whoever fills the role of president is willing to elevate the maintenance of this country’s strength and power (this empire) above all other allegiances.

We never see an empire that makes itself lowly and humble and allows the world to abuse it and put it to death while practicing love and nonviolence all along. But there is a savior who did just that, and his kingdom beckons us away from the power and violence of the empires of this world. It invites us to live in a radically different way.

One of my favorite quotes is from Lee Camp’s book Mere Discipleship:

It is not through the power brokers of human history that God will effect God’s purposes, but through the little minority band of peoples committed to walking in the way of Jesus of Nazareth, bearing witness to the new reality, the new creation, the kingdom of God. And all this, besides, requires great trust: that it is not our task to make things turn out right, but instead to be faithful witnesses. We will have to trust that God will be God, and do what God promised.

make affluence history

June 27, 2008

Today as I folded and set out towels for the club swimmers, a girl about seven years old walked up to the table and confidently informed me that she needed four towels, and she began counting them out. This is nothing out of the ordinary; we always cringe at the high amount of towels people take because that means more work for us.

But looking up at the girl from reading Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw’s book Jesus for President, I couldn’t help but think that there is no need for one to over-use something—even something as small as towels—and create unnecessary laundry that would take more energy to clean. So I explained to the girl that one towel was plenty for one person.

“No,” she corrected me in her all-knowing manner. “I need four. Maggie has four.”

As I watched the small child hurry away with her four towels, more than she could comfortably carry, and join her friend who also had four towels, I was reminded of a poverty illustration that I recently watched on Volume II: Poverty of a DVD series called Another World is Possible. To demonstrate the reality that 20% of the people in the world own 80% of the stuff, Shane Claiborne has two kids stand on one side of a room to represent the wealthy 20%, and he gives them an overwhelming amount of stuff. Meanwhile, the eight kids representing the less fortunate 80% stand on the other side of the room and receive a few small things to share between all of them. This is the reality that exists in a world where there are more empty and abandoned homes than there are homeless people, and there is plenty of food and basic needs for everyone, but it’s distributed in unfair proportions.

I imagine the little girl and her friend sitting together at the pool with their eight towels while eight people who have no towels stand next to them dripping wet. It’s a simple representation of the way the world has come to be. Although, in real life the wet/homeless/hungry people are far removed from the sight of those who abound in comfort, shelter, and food. And the little girl’s justification that Maggie, too, indulges in her wealth provides a faulty sense that it is then okay.

There’s a line in the book Jesus for President that caught my eye (they credit the tagline to the lovely Geez Magazine): “The call to ‘Make poverty history’ needs a partner: ‘Make affluence history.'” As I read this sitting alongside the country club pool, I felt both convicted and powerless. What does this mean for my life? And will an idea like this ever come to fruition in the world?

As for now, I will dwell in the questions and work on praying and hoping for contentment with sufficiency:

“Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.” (Proverbs 30:8-9)

If we pray these things for ourselves and others, we can hope that it will move our hearts in such a way that we begin to live them.

educating us all

June 25, 2008

I must admit that at first I was slightly impatient with reading Three Cups of Tea—the bestselling true story of a man building schools in Pakistan and Afganistan by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin— because of how heavily bogged down it gets with unnecessary details. However, I recently finished it and decided it was well worth the read for several reasons.

One good aspect was the recounting of Greg Mortenson’s money struggles. While he was doing everything he knew to work toward fulfilling his promise to build a school in the middle-of-nowhere town of Korphe, Pakistan, he slept in and lived out of his car because he couldn’t think of spending more money than necessary on rent or a place to live. He knew his money could provide a greater good than his personal comfort. I find it difficult to ever really know when it’s okay to indulge in my own comfort and satisfaction. Mortenson draws a line that initially leaves out the option of a comfortable place to live, but that line, which everyone must create for themselves, is such a difficult one to draw.

Mortenson’s story goes on to show the good that radiated out of his efforts to provide people with access to education as a way to create peace. About 250 pages into the book, 9/11 takes place while Greg Mortenson is in Pakistan having already spent years building positive relationships with a large network of people there, and from that point on, I found the book so interesting that I was a little sad when it ended.

A Pakistani man named Bashir offers a comment to Mortenson that comprises a pertinent passage of the book:

The enemy is ignorance. The only way to defeat it is to build relationships with these people . . . Otherwise the fight will go on forever” (310).

Ignorance is what creates the mentality of viewing others as enemies in the first place. It’s a force that is and has been all too present in our lives. As Americans, we have a high standard of living, and to allow large portions of the rest of the world to go on struggling through lives that lack sufficient access to education and basic needs is to turn our backs in the face of the poor. If we keep our vision glued to a safe frame that fails to include images of people in third world countries or disadvantaged people in our very own country, then we allow ourselves to wallow in ignorance. We would do well to spend our lives working against this type of ignorance

I found it interesting in the “Acknowledgments” section at the end of the book that Mortenson thanks his editor for giving in after multiple requests to change the subtitle of the book from “One Man’s Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations … One School at a Time” to the subtitle that’s printed on the front of my book: “One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace … One School at a Time.” This book has been passed all around my peace-loving family, and I’m willing to bet it never would have appealed to any of us with the earlier subtitle. After all the talk of terror and war that has been floating in the air of our country, it’s a relief to hear the whisper of peace drift into our ears.

In summary, Three Cups of Tea is a great story in a decent book and we can never talk too much about peace.