stripped naked tree

A person lived under a tree in a lot around the corner from my house.

It was a giant pine tree with bushy branches that stretched all the way down to the ground and formed thick walls around its base.

We only saw signs of someone living there because a shopping cart filled with odds and ends rested outside the enclosed area. There was something scandalous about it—a person using branches as a house right on the corner of a heavily trafficked street. Average people have houses built with so-altered nature that it’s no longer recognizable, but here a man had altered himself to coexist with a tree’s needs instead of the other way around. Then there was something majestic about it—breaking conventional boundaries blatantly and romantically before our eyes.

It didn’t last long. People talked. City organizations were contacted. People with power waltzed under the tree and took pictures which displayed makeshift walls and roof shielding the treed space from rain, clothes hanging neatly from branches, cushioned chairs seated gently inside, belongings arranged around the bark’s base.

Yesterday as I passed the tree, some people with power had trimmed the branches up to at least my height. All the contents of the occupant’s stay stood exposed. The temporary house was violated and cheapened into the neatly defined purpose that we make for trees in empty lots: decoration, perhaps. Oxygen only an excuse.

This deconstruction stated that we disproved of this person’s submitted housing purpose of an otherwise unused tree. Branches were judged insufficient at their attempted task of hiding the homeless from our sight as well as we’re accustomed. When we saw the cart parked outside the tree perimeters, it forced contemplation of the circumstances of someone who lives that way, and those seconds of thought intrude too greatly on some’s comfort.

Today all the belongings are gone. The evidence of human life is cleared away and the tree looks as though it stood in that lot by itself indefinately.

The only reminder of the person who lived there is an empty shopping cart resting near the curb.

July 26, 2008

The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is concerned for the whole person. When people were hungry, Jesus didn’t say, “Is that social or political?” He said, “I feed you.” Because the good news to a hungry person is bread.”

(desmond tutu)

As we reach the end of George W.’s presidency, I realize that there’s one thing about the past 8 years that I’m really going to miss: David Letterman’s “Great Moments in Presidential Speeches.” I just can’t help but enjoy watching Bush’s latest blunder whenever I watch The Late Show:

My favorite might be his comments about Iran… “I mean Iraq.” I watch this in contrast to the “Yes We Can” video based on one of Obama’s speeches. Will.i.am of The Black Eyed Peas did an impressive job making Obama’s “Yes We Can” speech into a song with the help of a handful of celebrities :

The words of Obama’s speech are so poetic and inspiring (especially when sung by John Legend and the girl who played Ashley on the Fresh Prince of Belair), and the song is so well done, that it has all kinds of people singing it—like this acapella group that label themselves Barackapella.

I can’t help but include the link to a spoof of the Obama “Yes We Can” video that someone made about John McCain. It cites the humorous line: McCain 2008: Like hope, but different.

Obama voices a sense that many of us have that things have repeatedly gone too wrong in the past, but we have the choice to do things differently. I think there is surge of eagerness for making drastic changes to the way we live and the way we regard the world within my generation. The difficulty arises here when we put too much hope in our government to change the world, and we forget to recognize that the most important change for each of us must spring out of the way that we daily lead our own lives.

I’ll miss chuckling at the terribly misspoken words of George W. I have concluded he would make a friendly and funny grandpa even though he made a pretty bad president. I always have to shy away from nationalism and putting too much hope in the capabilities of this empire when led by any person, but I can’t help but hope to repair this world.

This morning my wise grandpa offered a phrase about pacifism that evoked several chuckles and is just too good to forget. He said,

Becoming a pacifist is like becoming a vegetarian. You know it’s good for you, but it’s too hard to give up the baloney.

People often dismiss pacifists as idealistic radicals who are out of touch with reality. But the fact is that we (pacifists) recognize the failure of redemptive violence to create peace, and we see that violent methods only instill hatred and beget more violence. It takes frustrating patience and effort to discover creative peaceful methods, but this is necessary to practice the Christian ethic of peace.

The pacifist goes further than believing in imaginative, peaceful responses to violence. The path toward war is often one that nations take in order to build and secure their empires. As a pacifist, I not only reject the use of violence, but I reject the empire mentality and instead choose to follow the peaceful kingdom of the sacrificial lamb. In this alternative kingdom, worldly power and security are meaningless in comparison to humility, love, and eternal life.

My favorite national holiday might be Martin Luther King Jr. Day (partly because it’s usually the same day as my birthday and mostly because of the pertinent wisdom of MLK’s words), and I find it somewhat ironic that the U.S. can recognize the good he contributed to society and yet fail to heed the majority of his messages that condemn war and encourage people toward efforts that will end poverty. He has some really good stuff to say about pacifism:

True pacifism is not unrealistic submission to an evil power… It is rather a courageous confrontation with evil by the power of love, in the faith that it is better to be the recipient of violence than the inflicter of it, since the latter only multiplies the existence of violence and bitterness in the universe, while the former may develop a sense of shame in the opponent, and thereby bring about a transformation and change of heart.

The word “pacifism” immediately turns some people off, and thus we might do better to create new ways of referring to our hunger for peace. Instead of calling himself a pacifist, my uncle refers to himself as a peacemaker. I also noticed that in the entire book Jesus for President, there is a clear call to promote peace and refuse to participate in violent actions (supported with careful Biblical study), and yet the word “pacifist” is not used once. Dorothy Day might refer to pacifists as willing cross-carriers:

You just have to look at what the gospel asks, and what war does. The gospel asks that we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the homeless, visit the prisoner, and perform works of mercy. War does all the opposite. It makes my neighbor hungry, thirsty, homeless, a prisoner and sick. The gospel asks us to take up our cross. War asks us to lay the cross of suffering on others.

An organization that I have the utmost respect for is Christian Peacemaker Teams. Their mission is based on the foundational question, What would happen if Christians devoted the same discipline and self-sacrifice to nonviolent peacemaking that armies devote to war?

It’s quite the question to consider. Especially if you’re sick of baloney.

[T-shirts with this logo are sold by Irregular Apparel at SKREENED: Ethical Custom Apparel. All their stuff is made in the U.S with no sweatshop labor. They also have a commitment to environmental sustainability, and they donate a percentage of their income to charity. Sounds great to me. They have a bunch of other cool logos to choose from or you can create your own.]

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.