31 October, 2008

Living the dream...

Those who have had the unfortunate experience of hearing me rant on about social policy will know that I love Sweden. It is my dream land of the model welfare state where everything is free and equal and democratic. It is a land of free education and healthcare and childcare, of 13 months parental leave, of generous pensions and of Ikea! Well, I am actually here! I have spent the last two, very full days touring social programs within Stockholm. So, do I still believe it to be a dream land? Yes and no. It is all that you read about, though the locals tell me some changes are on the way which makes me quite sad. But the reality has some unexpected side effects that I had not considered until now. Three things stand out.

1. No matter how good the system is, people still have problems! I have visited drug and alcohol facilities, homeless programs, domestic violence shelters, education facilities and family centers and I realise that no matter where you are or what you do, people still seem to find a way to need help from Frälsnings Armen (The Salvation Army). I like to think there are ways we can prevent people from breaking their lives. I know that there are, and I know it is our duty to try. But there may be some that still get trapped in the evil of this world and will need literal and spiritual salvation. So while I admire the social democratic welfare state, I am reminded that salvation lies not in a political regime, but in Jesus.

2. It seems that when the government is generous with its provisions, people inevitably rely on the government as their major source of support. For many salvationists, this leads to a feeling of complacency about our social mission on earth. There is a general feeling and expectation that everything should be free. Because of this, people tend to be a little slack in raising money for additional needs, or in volunteering to help fill the gaps of provision. When the government is generous, we become stingy. There are many things the government should provide for its citizens through the taxes of those who are privileged to hold a job. However, in addition to this, it is all our responsibility to tithe, to give in self-denial, to offer care and love and support within our social services and corps. The government, no matter how wonderfully socialist in endeavour, does not take the place of our Christian mission.

3. It seems an odd phenomena, but when people have it so good, they sometimes get depressed! Did you know that Sweden has one of the highest suicide rates in the world? They have arguably the best political and social system, and yet their people are still fatally unhappy! Why? Not sure. One theory is the lack of sunlight. But a more realistic theory is that people lose the value of their life when it is so easily attained and supported. Essentially the argument is that satisfaction comes when you have earned your security as opposed to being looked after by others without a challenge in sight. When hard times do come, people are lost and are unable to cope with the unexpected pressure and they give up. I´m not sure I agree with either theory, but I do know that everywhere I go I meet people that are searching for fullness. That fullness doesn't come from money, or food, or health or education.

So in your thoughts for justice this week, please consider the ultimate meaning of life and look to find a way to offer that to others. We need a social revolution, of course. But additionally, we need to remember to offer the broken world all that they need, and not just all that they think they want.

Have a great week. More blogging thoughts next week...from New York!

Good times,
Genevieve

24 October, 2008

Enough! Make youth violence history.

I am currently in London and went to the launch of a new campaign; 'Enough! Make Youth Violence History'. I attended with a fantastic and clearly much loved youth worker from the Oasis organisation and was blown away by a few things.

Firt, the concept. You know I am not certain we in Australia have really and truthfully grasped the concept of 'ending' things. There seems to be a feeling of acceptance rather than a real desire to change. Let's take for example the violence that occurs on our streets around nightclubs. The government solution? Curfews and bans in an attempt to distract or subdue, but not really to end violence. The Christian response??? I don't recall hearing one in the news reports so I assume that we are satisfied with the government response. There was little public social justice outrage that these young people were tearing each other apart, just an outrage that they were making our streets unsafe and unclean. The response I have observed around the fair trade issue is another example of our lack of desire to end things. End slavery! 'well, fair trade chocolate doesn't taste as nice and its very expensive'. I have had this response more than I can mentally compute. It's not good enough. To not passionatly desire the end of injustice and act on it is to condone the violence and sadness of the world. Why are we accepting the presence of evil?!?! But last night, I saw youth workers, kids, politicians, funding providers, all saying 'ENOUGH!' They passionately desire the end of violence...and more, they believe it is possible and are working to do so. Let's start believing that injustice CAN end.

Second, the issue. Youth violence is one I had just accepted as a reality. Adolescence are hot-headed, strong, immature and usually frustrated and angry which can lead to violent times when they clash. However I heard testimonies last night from people falling into this category who would just rather be safe. And what did they want? Some safe places to go. Wow, that sounds like something the church can offer. Except they don't just want to go and play your games at youth group. They want to dance, and sing, and play basketball and do all the safe and healthy things they would normally do on the street, but can't. And what do they find? A caring group of people they called their family waiting to look after them and get them off the street. The lesson for me is to listen and serve rather than prescribe and exclude. Youth violence will end when young people have enough support within the community and that means having safe places to go run by safe people. I know we can provide that! We have the solution!

Third, the agencies. Last night had umpteen agencies and politicians and kids from the one community that came to the event run by young people with about five weeks notice. The event was packed! And the clear message coming through was that they all had the same goal and wanted to work together to achieve it. The level of cooperation was amazing, and something I have never witnessed in Australia. We have got to reach out to the agencies and centers who are striving for the same goals. A divided kingdom will never succeed. We must get into the community and learn to support one another! We must learn to say 'enough!' and then work together to fill the gaps so many people are falling through. Cooperation is vital!

Well, that's probably enough ranting for one day. Have a great weekend everybody. I will because I am going to see a castle!

Genevieve

23 October, 2008

Heart Life VOICE

worship and justice from Micah Challenge featuring 3 salvo artists... Phil Leager, Nathan Rowe and Michelle Kay.
God's Kingdom come!
posted by Danielle

Corporate Reform = Community Renewal

In light of the great financial meltdown the world has been witnessing these last few weeks, wouldn’t it be fantastic if instead of financial reform for the purposes of attaining a greater profit margin, we saw financial reform for the purposes of abolishing slave-labor and/or sweatshops? For the last 6-8 months, an idea has been rattling around in my brain that I haven’t shared with too many people. I’m not sure why I haven’t shared this idea with more people, frankly. But today, I’m ready to share it with the world…

First, let me start by saying that perhaps the Christian community shouldn’t be on the front lines of those who are battering the major American corporations who employ (a term used rather loosely) cheap labor in small, developing countries. We know that it’s not ethical; we know that it is most definitely a form of slave-labor, but perhaps we can alter our tactics. In an article posted in June 2008 on the Christian Vision Project website, author Fleming Rutledge suggests that “the bosses of workers in unjust situations are not evil in themselves. They are in bondage to the desire for profit, so that they think of their workers as means to an end, if they think of them at all. Who can loosen such bonds? God alone. Therefore, social action undertaken in the sight of God has the potential to liberate not only the workers but also the bosses, not to mention the activists themselves!”

So, here’s my idea: If The Salvation Army is “America’s Favorite Charity,” and if we are included in the top ten of “The World’s Most Enduring Institutions,” and if we’re “Doing the Most Good,” and “Giving Hope Today,” then we ought to be able to wield some clout in corporate America when it comes to corporate ethics and social justice. We could leverage the influence of our Advisory Boards to gain access to the corporate boardrooms so that they’ll listen to what we have to say.

And what would we tell them?

Let’s not begin by beating them up over their capitalistic strategies. Let’s suggest that we could help improve their bottom line. We would ask for access to their workforce for the purposes of health and education. We would ask them to build us a health clinic and an education center on their property, and we would provide education and health professionals, in addition to our ministry personnel to ensure those employees and their families were getting better than adequate health care and education. Again, with the assistance of our Advisory Boards, we could get equipment and supplies sent to furnish such places. With healthy and educated workers, productivity would increase. By providing basic health and education, morale would increase. By providing basic human needs in his name without discrimination, God’s Kingdom would increase!

This theory would help such corporations see the value of all human life to the extent that when profits increase, then wages could rise to match. With wages increasing, quality of life would improve in the surrounding communities. With morale being lifted, dignity would be restored – or in many cases, arrive for the very first time – and people who were once on the fringes of society would begin to feel like they belonged to the human race as full-fledged members and participants.

I’m sure there are flaws in what I’ve suggested as written. But, I’m also sure that with some modifications, this could actually work and succeed. Care to offer you opinions and/or suggestions?


~ Rob

22 October, 2008

Let me introduce myself...

Greetings!

As Danielle mentioned, I'll be joining in on the conversation here. I'm excited to share what I can with you from a North American perspective. I am currently living and serving in the Washington, DC area, but I was born in Toronto and have lived in a few places within the United States. Along with my wife, I am an officer currently serving at the USA National Headquarters. I love Jesus with all my being and desperately want to see his kingdom reign here on planet earth.

Having said all that, I want to assure you that I am no expert in the field of justice - social or otherwise. I simply know that there's not enough of it going around these days. More ought to be done for the least and the lost. To sit back and watch the world spin out of control is out of the question for believers. I don't believe that we should be waiting for the government to lead the charge, the church needs to be out front rallying the troops to action.

Throughout my posts here, my prayer is that you'll hear my heart's cry for those that need us. That cry can be summed up in Lamentations 2:19:

Arise, cry out in the night,
as the watches of the night begin;
pour out your heart like water
in the presence of the Lord.
Lift up your hands to him
for the lives of your children,
who faint from hunger
at every street corner.


~ Rob

21 October, 2008

New Bloggers...




Stay tuned for some new and fresh bloggers...adding to the cyber agitators for justice will be some friends from around the Salvation Army world who are able/willing to feature justice issues from their geographical and cultural perspectives.
Because social justice is really a global issue I believe hearing from different voices around the world will be helpful to our discussion. So, I'm introducing Captain Robert Reardon (Washington, DC, USA) who from America's capital will help us navigate through the American perspectives on social justice issues... welcome Rob to our Blog.

Can we be the fence?

Thanks Gen for your challenging blogs on simple living. With the financial crisis constantly in our faces and still the need to consume being an ongoing drive in western culture I fear we will only get into more debt.

Recently we have seen the government increase money that is available to groups deemed disadvantage, including those looking at buying their first homes. But with that will we see banks willing to lend more, recently one bank (who I won’t name) are offering mortgages to people who can use the first home owners grant as their whole deposit. I am not against what seems to be a generous idea, but people continue to be driven to have the goods and by institutions offering this type of finance, will we create an even bigger credit debt? Will people being given money but not given the skills to know how to budget and live accordingly to their income only generate more chaos and disadvantage them further?

I do recognise that there are those whose income is not enough to live on and this we want to call the government, the church and people into action to do something about. Do we need to be speaking out more against credit debt and financial lending, offering people the knowledge, education and skills to understand and deal with these big institutions?

If we remain quiet and continue to be at the bottom of the cliff, we will only be overrun with the people needing assistance to live, we need to be the fence at the top, stopping people before they fall. Most of all as Christians we need to be a good example of stewardship and love so that those who are falling, hurting and getting into debt are received with grace and provided a hope.

18 October, 2008

House

We talk a lot about doing justice and mission on this site, and here is an opportunity for you to consider doing more than just reading. The Reservoir Salvation Army in Melbourne is reintroducing the HOUSE Programme in 2009. It involves a year-long commitment of intense Christian living.

The house is an opportunity to experience:
• Significant Mission – hands on experience in a community where you will learn to care for people, make disciples and transform a neighbourhood.
• Incarnational life – You don’t just “do ministry” and then go home at the end of the day. Incarnational living involves making Reservoir your home, caring about your neighbours and sharing your life with them. Living incarnationally isn’t just about living in a certain location it’s about being a part of that neighbourhood and living the life that others around you live. The house is not a free ride, it’s an experience of knowing what it’s like to have to pay the rent and bills, to experience some of the pressures people in our neighbourhood experience and sharing the journey with them.
• Community living – sharing a home with other Christians and supporting one another in life and ministry living with and learning how to work as a team
• Simplicity -Learning to live more simply is a little-practiced biblical principle. Sharing what you have, taking only what you need, being a good steward of what you have received - all are important keys to living a simpler lifestyle.
• Authentic Discipleship – A year of continual challenge to grow in their relationship with God and learn what it means to really follow Jesus.
• Teaching – Salvation Army mission, holiness, justice, leadership and personal development.
• Mentoring – each team member will have a mentor

If you are interested in this difficult but fun and life-changing programme you should pray and then contact Adam Peterson (adam.peterson@ aus.salvationarmy.org).

“More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water, and be known as someone who wants to live with them. It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems. My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups, and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets. It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause, and not to feel that you are working directly for social progress.
But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them.”
-Henri Nouwen

Genevieve Peterson

11 October, 2008

The bubble popped...

What else can be written about this week but the financial crisis? Panic has spread throughout the world, and everybody watches for the images which inevitably follow at such times...the picture of a distressed man in a suit intensely watching a screen of coloured figures. Few of us publicans understand what the screen says, we do however know what it means. It means tough times ahead for most. Yes, the giant bubble of debt finally burst and spewed out a hideous mess of anxiety and uncertainty.

So what are we to make of it all, and what are we to do?

Well, I am no economist, so I cannot answer that question with any authority. I can however agree that it is partly a result of our excess. The debt throughout the western world has been built largely on a combination of excess and childish ambition. We want the world because we think it is all so pretty and we gamble our future on it. We take what we think we need. I think in the coming years many will start to re-evaluate the definition of need.

I think it is also partly a result of living for ourselves. It amazes me that so many Christians will be affected. We have stored up so much wealth here on Earth and we will most definitely cry when it is taken away from us. Let's learn the lesson, repent, and never make the same mistakes again. Sure, you will lose something tomorrow, but you will lose something that you possibly never needed at the expense of someone else who has been waiting patiently for your wealth to trickle down.

Which brings us to the third point. The real losers in all of this are still the poorest among us. Tough financial times could prove disastrous for its effect upon donations. So while we feel the pinch, we must recognise that it is that much worse for those below us. We must continue to give a portion of what we have, whether we feel we can or not. This is essential, and the antidote for the culture that brought us to the economic downturn in the first place.

Perhaps it won't be so bad, or at least not in Australia. I am assured our surplus will carry us through the worst of it. My concern is not that we won't survive. My concern is that we will, having missed the lesson inherent in every trying time.

In the meantime, please pray for those affected, that hope will remain in their hearts and that God's glory will be revealed.

Have a great week,
Genevieve

04 October, 2008

Beneficial or just brutal?

Those of you who know me know that on occasion I don’t hold back from speaking my opinions. Some times it’s beneficial, and sometimes it’s just brutal. The latter came just a few days ago while speaking to a group of young leaders. I had suggested that the poor were bound by oppression and that often that bondage came about via, not simply the very rich and the very greedy, but in fact those of us who hold even just a little wealth. I was suggesting that it was our obsession with making sure our lives were neat, tidy and comfortable that prevented the kind of revolutionary transformation Jesus talks about…and instructs. I think we often feel that this world will be transformed politically and economically when we oust the fat and wealthy oppressive land owners. The proletariat will rise in triumph over injustice when they break through the privileged few. The problem as I see it is that it’s not a privileged few, it is about 80% of the western world who refuse to believe that they are not entitled to everything they reap, just because they happen to reap these rewards legally. The system is skewed and it is our responsibility as a middle class to stop the cycles of injustice that continue our current cycles of poverty.

The question was then posed, are we supposed to make ourselves poor? It’s a good question, perhaps a little elementary in its ‘cause and effect’ conclusion, but none the less I feel it is a common conception and in fact, was the second time I had heard it that week. And of course the answer is no. I am not calling us to live in poverty. (If this were the case, there would just be more of you to liberate, and I don’t have the time, sorry!) No, I am not calling us to be poor, rather I am calling us to live simply. Evaluate what is an essential, and then throw the rest of the fat to the hungry. And it’s not all about possessions and money. Freedom is going to be far more costly than that. I am calling good teachers into poorly performing schools. I am calling good doctors into Bulk Billing clinics. I am calling nurses out of the private system. I am calling students into welfare degrees instead of commerce degrees, and those that have commerce degrees into jobs that will alter our poorly weighted economy. I am calling employers to take a chance on an unemployed youth, even though you know you will lose a little capital. I am calling good parents to volunteer in small, disadvantaged schools instead of to a school that runs like clock-work with the 50 intelligent parents that force it to be so for the sake of their child’s future. Of course, it is about wealth too. I am calling all of us to spend our money at justgifts instead of buying more junk we don’t need that will only serve as a reminder of your greed and excess instead of the love and care that was intended from the gift. I am calling us to give away our tax rebate, given you probably didn’t miss it during the year…or have you already spent it on that new DVD player you didn’t need or the credit card you filled in anticipation?

I guess I am saying that we need to be aware and active if we are going to make a difference. I sometimes get the feeling those who have wealth are tired of feeling guilty for being wealthy. I get the feeling that they are being asked to do and give a huge amount just because they happen to be comfortable. And it is this aspersion that offends and upsets many of the wealthy Christians I know. Well, get used to it! Or do you think you ‘deserve’ your wealth and privileged position?

Feel free to be offended,

Gen

03 October, 2008

The NIMBY Syndrome

I have been thinking over the last couple of weeks about the NIMBY syndrome. I suppose the thing that got me thinking about this was the image of a woman being arrested and then escorted off her own property. Her crime? Preventing surveyors from a water company entering her property to survey a controversial water pipeline the state government wants to run through her property.

NIMBY stands for Not In My Backyard. Here was a woman who was literally being arrested for saying ‘Not in my backyard’. Now I am not thinking specifically about the issue of that water pipeline, although that was the catalyst.

NIMBY can be a powerful influence in social justice.
The phrase ‘tree huggers’ comes from a group of women in India. They did not like the idea that logging companies were going to move in and cut down the trees in their neighbourhood. These poor women were going to be the most affected by the logging and so they decided to take action. They surrounded the trees earmarked for being felled, literally hugging them, to prevent the bulldozers from pushing them over.
I think too of other social reforms like Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jnr, Mother Theresa and many others who stood up and said that injustice would not happen in their back yards.

But there is another side to the coin.
The NIMBY syndrome can be one of the greatest barriers to real justice in our society.
One example immediately springs to mind.
Most people I know think that the state should provide public housing to those who are extremely disadvantaged in our country.
However most of the people I know would not like to live next door to a public housing estate.
I don’t want public housing and all the issues that come along with it in my back yard.
This form of NIMBY syndrome prevents positive change from happening. It occurs because we seek short term personal comfort over long term effective change.

I want to contend that this NIMBY syndrome is a disease of the middle and upper classes in our country. Those that have the power to choose what goes on in their backyard. It is a disease of the comfortable.

We all suffer from NIMBY syndrome. Either we stand up to injustice and say that this will not happen in my back yard. Or we are silent, or worse still we speak out against positive change and say “Not in my back yard”.

So how is your back yard looking? Are you in need of a handyman?