The Kingdom

January 23, 2005

Indications of the Kingdom of God. This is from one of Anemona Hartocollis’ “Coping” columns from the Sunday Times (5-30-2004).

Some years back, Jonathan Kozol wrote a book called Ordinary Resurrections: Children in the Years of Hope. It’s about an elementary school in the South Bronx, the kind of school that Kozol had already written about in another book of journalism/propaganda called Savage Inequalities. That book, as you can imagine from the title, was dedicated to illuminating the disparities in funding between schools in poor neighborhoods and schools attended by upper-class children. An angry, angry book… a good book, but it inevitably left a vivid image of the residents of these disadvantaged neighborhoods as pathetic victims. Kozol’s follow-up, Ordinary Resurrection, from what I understand, flipped the script and looked at these schools from a perspective of hope: observing the beauty and joy of the children and the kindness and courage of their teachers.

Many people probably read that book and were moved. At least one person was moved to act. (I once read: “Is it possible that the loneliest book in the whole Bible is the book of Acts?”) She was a parent of a child attending a private school on the Upper East Side. She got a group of similar parents together to go to the elementary school in the South Bronx featured in Kozol’s book and serving as tutors.

The founder, Florence Rubenfeld, acknowledges the limited nature of their involvement. This is not what some missionaries would call an “incarnational” ministry. Some rich people from the Upper East Side visit the South Bronx, and some kids are supported, and maybe encouraged, in their efforts to learn to read (or to learn other things). As is often the case, the helpers benefit long before the helped do. “Instead of being terra incognita,” Ms. Rubenfeld said, “[the South Bronx] has become a place you can enter… If you’ve never entered a neighborhood like this, you think you’d be shot. What you don’t know is all the wonderful kids and dedicated teachers which you never could see otherwise.”

Now, of course, these tutors are going to be affected by their relationships with the students they meet. And many of the students will derive no small pleasure and educational benefit from the same. One volunteer was struck because a 5th-grade girl she was tutoring, when she assured the girl she’d return next week, said, “Oh, thank God.” Thank God indeed. Thank God as well for the healing power made available to these tutors as they step outside their circle of comfort. “Yes, we can be perceived as elitist,” Ms. Rubenfeld said, “but the alternative is to be isolated.”

May His will be done, and may all isolation be broken by individual and collective steps that lead us out beyond our circles of comfort and into the orbits of others.

bad news

January 21, 2005

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Recently, a number of livejournals have cited a story from ANI (Asian News International) that got picked up by Yahoo News India, called “Villagers Furious with Christian Missionaries.” It describes an incident in which Xian “nuns” withhold disaster relief from non-Xian victims of the tsunami – a crime so morally repugnant that it blackens the name of all Xians – if indeed it took place. Those who find the Xian evangelical imperative morally repugnant in the first place have no trouble giving credence to the story – those who know the difference between evangelism and thuggery, and rightly expect most Xians to know the same, have enormous trouble giving it credence.

Anyway, I think the project of observing how the Xian life is not lived out in practice is an interesting one, if one that has little bearing on the perennial question of why anyone should or should not convert to Xianity. In that spirit, I thought I'd bring this one to everyone's attention before others bring it to mine. Read the rest of this entry »

The Fifth Vow

January 9, 2005

Do you submit yourself to the government and discipline of the church, promising to promote its purity and peace? Read the rest of this entry »

The Fourth Vow

January 9, 2005

Do you promise to support the church in its worship and work to the best of your ability? Read the rest of this entry »

The Third Vow

January 8, 2005

Do you resolve and promise, in humble reliance upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, that you will endeavor to live as becomes a follower of Christ? Read the rest of this entry »

The Second Vow

January 8, 2005

Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of sinners, and do you receive and rest upon him alone for salvation as he is offered in the gospel? Read the rest of this entry »

The First Vow

January 7, 2005

This weekend I become a member of my church. This will be the first time I’ve ever joined a church. When I was thirteen, I was confirmed into my parents’ church, but in my own mind it was something I was doing for my parents. I was kind of uncomfortable with that rationale, but I didn’t have the guts to say, “You know, I just don’t believe in Jesus, and so I don’t think I should become a member,” so I went through with it. I’m not really sorry that I did. The First Congregational Church of Norwood, Massachusetts, has since been part of my extended family. For a small dose of hypocrisy I got a large dose of fellowship and support – and, I imagine, prayer, and who knows where I would be now if not for the prayers of my parents and the prayers of their friends in church. Still, you can see why I consider becoming part of Park Slope Presbyterian an unprecedented event in my life.

What’s going to happen this Sunday is that I’ll stand up before the congregation and give my assent to five vows. I’m going to write the vows here, followed by some of the stories that will be in the back of my mind as I take these vows. Read the rest of this entry »