Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Plan Be

The War Cry (March 13, 2010, p.4) provided the following review of Dave Andrews’s book:
Why don’t the major world powers do something about all the injustices in the world: the wars, poverty and trafficking? This is the question Andrews posits to start, but he quickly segues by arguing the best thing we can do is to ourselves be the change we want to see. He uses the teaching of Jesus’ beatitudes to advocate living revolutionary lives of mercy, generosity, patient suffering and so on. It is a brief and often political book but a great starting place and a perfect resource for a youth study group.
The War Cry (June 5, 2010, p. 12-13) has provided small group study questions in the first of a series on the above book.

Dave Andrews is one of the speakers at The Salvation Army’s Just Action conference 29-30 September at the Telstra Clear Pacific Events Centre, Manukau.

In addition to the small group study questions, I had a few ideas for pondering in response to reading the book.

Dave Andrews’s Plan Be discusses The Sermon on the Mount.

Consider Andrews’s thoughts on meekness (pp. 22-30).

Andrews suggests that great things can happen as a result of a cumulative effect of lots of little people doing lots of little things to change the world. What are some social justice actions that provide examples of this principle?

What aspect of the “upside-down society” (Andrews, p. 12) changes the way we view the world?

What could be some implications of peacemaking using Andrews’s perspective (pp. 54-58).

Compare the differences and similarities in the mercy rule in major religions (Andrews, p.39).

How do the “transforming initiatives” (Andrews, pp. 50-51) relate to unresolved social issues today?

Andrews quotes Mahatma Gandhi, “We must be the change we want to see in the world” (p.69). Andrews suggests that when the Sermon on the Mount is “translated into action, the ideals become ideas that work; a divine agenda for radical – yet viable – personal growth and social change which enables us to work towards the realisation of our dreams for a better world” (p.67). Identify ways to be the change we want to see using the Sermon of the Mount as our realistic ideal.

Letter From The Author
Before he died, Kurt Vonnegut, the famous satirical American author, wrote: "For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the beatitudes. But - often with tears in their eyes - they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course that's Moses, not Jesus. I haven't heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the beatitudes, be posted anywhere." I think its time we took up Kurt’s challenge, and posted the Be-Attitudes up everywhere we can. I am mindful of how Luther’s nailing of his theses for reform to the door of his church led to the reformation of his times; and am of the mind that by posting a copy of the Be-Attitudes up not only in private spaces – like on the back of our bedroom door – but also in public spaces – like on the front of the door to our church, might lead to a new, more radical, reformation - which not only preaches grace as a precept but practices it as a process.
Imagine what could happen if, instead of merely reciting our creeds, which (by and large) have little ethical content, we began every week by reciting - and reflecting on - the Be-Attitudes, with a focus on Christlike ethical responses? Imagine what could happen if our churches, temples, synagogues, and mosques, were transformed into spirited support groups that were committed to helping people live out the Be-Attitudes as an integrated step program? What AA groups have done for our addiction to alcohol, Be groups could do for our addiction to status and violence. They could set us free to ‘love our neighbours as ourselves.’
Dave Andrews
Retrieved from

Monday, May 24, 2010

cycling with sally

The website below is about a couple's cycling trip in which they are helping out in Salvation Army centres across Pan America. The following blurb from the home page explains.

"We (Roland and Belinda) began our epic journey together in July 2009, when we started heading south on a tandem bike (Big Bird) from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. Our goal is to cycle approximately 30,000km through Pan-America and ultimately end up in Usuhuia, Argentina. We hope to complete it in one year or so. We have teamed up with the Salvation Army with the intention to donate our time and hands-on service to any current project they already have running in communities we are passing through. We are thrilled to have this opportunity to work alongside the Salvation Army and believe to will add a very unique and rewarding perspective to our journey."


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Thoughts to ponder

Below are some questions for pondering prompted by the book The insect and the buffalo by Allpress and Shamy.

“For what you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing; it also depends on what sort of person you are.” C.S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew.

1. “We look at the world through the lens of our assumptions and we interpret what we see according to those assumptions” (Allpress & Shamy, p.9). Can you identify a time when you lacked a sense of perspective and mistook an “insect” for a “buffalo”?

2. “Everybody has a worldview, and that worldview is complex and constantly open to revision by the world around us….all worldviews are embedded in stories….Our very identities are caught up in these stories” (Allpress & Shamy, p.10). In the context of chapter two and the idea of the “true story,” what does it mean that “once you learn to read, you will be forever free?”

3. “…this tapestry of stories comes together in cultures…smaller stories piecing together into large, overarching narratives” (Allpress & Shamy, p.11). What “echoes and surprises” have you encountered as you have formed a larger picture from smaller stories?

4. “True stories teach us to see the world differently. And great stories, the ones that claim to tell the true story of the world, compel us to enter in, to become part of the story, and in doing so, they change the way we view the world” (Allpress & Shamy, pp. 19-20). What do you think it means to become part of the story?

5. “How a story begins is always important. The beginning introduces the audience to the main characters, the scene and the main themes of the plot” (Allpress & Sharmy, p.25). How does the beginning represent the rest of the elements of the Narrative such as the theme, the plot, the characters and the scene?

6. “There are two ways to tell the story of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz…the Wizard will solve all their problems… (or) the difficulties along the yellow brick road were the means by which the characters achieved their quest. The same story has to be told more than once – forwards from the start and backwards from the end – in order to discover its full meaning” (Allpress & Sharmy, pp.34-35). How does reading “backwards from the end” affect our reading of the story?

7. “The best way to keep an audience waiting at the end of a story is with a cliffhanger. Leave something unresolved. Leave a question hanging. The higher the stakes the longer the audience will wait” (Allpress & Sharmy, p. 54). What question do you think is left hanging?

8. “Now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story…in which every chapter is better than the one before” (C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle). “Narrators who tell stories with two ends do so to drive home the reality that the two ends are more than compatible, they are the same… The end looks both similar to and different from the beginning” (Allpress & Sharmy, p.66). Chapter six is entitled “Peering through a crack in time and space”. What would you think is similar and different about the endings?

9. Allpress and Sharmy invite readers to imagine themselves as part of the story (p. 76). Chapter seven begins with a quote suggesting we may not have gone where we intended, but we end up where we needed to be (Adams). How does this relate to your experience of your life’s journey?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Bla, Bla, Bla: Part III

I discovered this "marriage" of the Word with action-orientated words from Martin Luther King:

"It's all right to talk about "long white robes over yonder," in all of its symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here! It's all right to talk about "streets flowing with milk and honey," but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can't eat three square meals a day. It's all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God's preacher must talk about the new New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee [or a new New Zealand]. This is what we have to do."
MLK, 3 April, 1968.

Imagine the impact of hearing (and doing) these words every Sunday or every time we gathered in community for worship.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Book club: The Insect and the Buffalo

by Roshan Allpress and Andrew Shamy
Do we see an insect or a buffalo - our worldview determines what we see. Allpress and Shamy’s book creates a framework for approaching Narrative Text. It invites the reader to consider issues such as perspective, overarching narratives, themes, plot and cliff-hangers – thereby providing opportunity to revise our understanding of what we see. The first chapter can be downloaded from the following site.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Blah, Blah, Blah:2

Jesus Christ, is, in the imagery of John 1.14, the Word of God incarnated in human flesh. He is the Revealed Word who moved into a Galilean neighbourhood and learned to speak Galilean, the Word embodied, reframed and translated into publicly intelligible words.

There is our challenge, our hope and what we should be doing with our time!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Blah Blah Blah

"When words lose their meaning, people lose their freedom" - Confucius

Meaning is the extent to which words are embodied.

So what of a blog on social justice? Words are cheap in cyberspace: they are disembodied ideals that float through pixels on anonymous screens without real authors or readers.

And in reading about social ideas and needs, in writing articles that discuss and evaluate, we are given the illusion that we are doing good. But my neighbour is still a bitter cat lady, I still seek value and identity in buying CDs and books, and thousands of kids are still going to die today of starvation.

"A protest is no longer an act of defiance but a confirmation that one’s democracy is functional. Everyone’s political appetite is satisfied – hawks fight a futile war overseas while liberals fight a futile war against that war from the comfort of their laptops."

We protest against social injustice 'here', along with countless others who are a mere click away (to the column on your right for instance). Is this just a cultural placebo to keep us quiet, for both myself as author and you as reader?

At the end of the day, you probably don't know me, and I probably don't know who you are, or if you read this. There is no accountability to real meaning in action.

Maybe we need to pursue more face to face conversation, where our words will be made meaningful through real relational encounters. Where we won't be 'free' to write esoteric and romantic rants that we don't believe in (and therefore don't act upon) because we will be challenged by those we share our lives with, who know us.

So who knows you, and who will recognise the meaning in your words?

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Empire

Social justice is about the formation and reconciliation of healthy relationships.

Slavery is where relationships have become broken and distorted to the extreme - where the essence of the personhood of 'the other' is neglected, and they become ruled or dominated by someone else. So we care and we fight against sex slavery, child trafficking, forced labour etc.

But what about in our western context? Yes, unfortunately we do hear of sex slaves and those horrors normally associated with the concept of slavery, but what else is slavery in our culture?

Economic poverty?

Substance, sex, entertainment addiction?


And so who are our slave masters?
Apple, Women's Weekly, ASB bank?
Or in naming them as such are we ascribing them too much power?
Should we care enough to fight them, and if so, how?

Do we know who we are without them?

And what about a slavery of our own self-centeredness?

In the first century Mediterranean world, Caesar was Lord. The stories of his power and peace brought by his sword dominated the minds and imaginations of the Roman Empire. The world was "held captive" by this picture. Until Jesus, who defeated the last weapon of the Empire, so that we could be truly free for others:

"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind... Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment..." - Romans 12

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Raising of New Public Stories?

David Tacey in Re-Enchantment (2000, p.242) comments:
"We are witnessing the death of one public story and the birth of another story, and no part of society can be immune from such a transformation. We have outgrown the narrative that used to contain our lives and provide meaning, because it is too narrow and we have matured. We no longer want life to revolve around the rational mind or ego and its wishes and desires... We desperately require a larger story, one which allows us to shed the illusions of the separate ego and join together in celebration of our spiritual unity."

A host of social commentators, some religious, some secular, have since Sept. 11 joined David Tacey and argued that we're now entering a "para secular or post-secular era", that there is a new place for religious discussion in the public domain.

Have you heard this in your conversations? What does this sound like where you're at? How could The Salvation Army enter into this new public discussion? Where are the possibilities? Are there dangers?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

practising values

Last weekend (April 10-11) a number of New Zealanders undertook a 36 hour 100 km walk around Lake Taupo. They put up with blisters and cold for the long term focus on raising funds to support Oxfam NZ’s “humanitarian, development and advocacy work to lift some of the world’s poorest people out of poverty” (Oxfam NZ, 2010). As a contrast with “greed is good”, “it’s all about me” and “I want it now”, the goal was to put up with short term pain, discomfort, and tiredness to fundraise to help the poor. These walks have taken place since 2006 and New Zealanders are continuing to support this cause. This year there were 350 teams taking part (about 1500 participants). This is part of an international fundraising effort that has raised more than $70 million internationally. (See
There are all kinds of social justice activities in New Zealand that give us the chance to practise positive values by contributing to global needs. Another is Oxfam’s Biggest Coffee Break May 1 – 16 to raise awareness of Fair Trade. (See )

Friday, April 9, 2010

Capitalism vs. Grace

Here's just a few random thoughts after our focus on Jim Wallis...

Our whole western society seems to be built around the idea that humanity is self-centered and independent.

Our science says "Survival of the fittest."
Our advertising says "You only get out what you put in."
Our religion says "What you reap is what you sow."

We operate out of our idea of 'justice' - that a person gets what they deserve, whether that be through good actions that leads to reward or through bad actions that lead to punishment. We're responsible for our own skins. Individualism.

So our identity was in what we produced (what we do), and now is more in what we consume (our rewards for what we do). At a party, we ask "What do you do?" and "Have you seen that movie/read that book/been to that place?". That is how we identify ourselves. Do we have inherent worth?

Church plays this game as much as anyone. Religion is about individual performance ("Am I sinning?") and consumption (entertainment-driven church services and youth groups etc.). We are plagued by guilt and fear over whether we're "good enough" to have God's forgiveness...

We are too self-obsessed.

So what is grace? What does it look like in our society?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Business as usual?

The economic crisis is for Jim Wallis a learning opportunity. What have you learned? Do you think things will change or will it simply be the same old same?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

sustainability of the land

Wallis spoke about the 7th generation mind-set of the Native Americans and the value of a sustainable economy. I found it interesting to read about the Māori value of land. For example, for Maori, the land is linked to all the ancestors of the past. It’s also linked to all the generations of the future. In the present, it’s cared for by guardians or stewards who make sure the life source of the land and its resources aren’t adversely affected or weakened through human activity. The sustainability of the ecosystem is important as each generation is required to leave to the next generation an inheritance at least as plentiful as that received. The land is on loan in the present for the grandchildren of the future.
This belief in the value of the land as a gift on loan requiring our careful guardianship rings true to me. It seems wise to leave our future generations an inheritance of a plentiful sustainable land.
Williams, J. (2004). Papa-tūā-nuku. Attitudes to land. In Ki Te Whaiao. An introduction to Māori culture and society. Ka’ai, T., Moorfield, J., Reilly, M. & Mosely, S. (Eds.). New Zealand: Pearson Education.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

more on values

This is a photo from Greg Williams, Oxfam, from an Oxfam article Make Trade Fair The Issue, 2005.

Wallis in his Values book mentioned that Bono, lead singer of U2, donated two autographed T-shirts to Wallis’s wife for an auction (p.166).
Again, I came across reference to Bono on the Sojourner’s site, where he had commented on Wallis’s book God’s Politics.
"The Left mocks the Right. The Right knows it's right. Two ugly traits. How far should we go to try to understand each other's point of view? Maybe the distance grace covered on the cross is a clue."
It made me reflect on the concept of values as a moral compass. It is the worth we place on something. If we value something we hold it in respect and treasure it. We put a price on it. Wallis’s book shows us social justice is to be respected, treasured, invested in, and practised.

For example, when I went on Bono’s web page I saw the value he places on social justice. He travels to Third World countries, connects with aid agencies doing relief work (World Vision), performs benefit concerts for Amnesty International work, campaigns for Greenpeace, promotes Fair Trade products, raises money to fight AIDS, TB and malaria, and lobbies to reduce Third World Debt in the poorest nations. See more information by following this link

In the book U2 on U2 Bono speaks of his heart being “broken” by the everyday tragedy in Africa – the “waste of lives and opportunity”. He speaks of the large amounts of money loaned to African nations during the Cold War by the richest nations. “We were keeping entire countries in debtors’ prisons. The injustice of it really struck a chord with me. It wasn’t a charity-based idea, it was a justice-based idea. .. dropping debts…an historic act of grace that would provide a fresh start for a billion people living on less than a dollar a day.”

My thinking about actions Bono is taking in social justice is helping me frame my own response to Jacob’s question. What are values? They are the things we do. Where do they come from? They come from conscious choices. Who decides what values are important? We do in our everyday decisions. This is on one level. There are also macro levels where other people’s decisions govern our lives, such as Africa. The concept of “historic acts of grace” being shown at an international level is a powerful one.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Further reading on values

The issue of moral values is discussed in Chapter One of Wallis’s book God’s politics which is available for downloading on the Sojourner’s Special Features site. This site also provides biographical information on the author, reviews, and featured links.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


What are they? Where do they come from?

Who decides which values are important? Is there only one "moral compass"?

Are we suffering from a lack of values, or a lack of morality? Or because of some particular values and systems of morality?

"Who gets to narrate the world?" - Robert E. Webber

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Book club discussion questions for "Rediscovering Values".

Jim Wallis starts his book with the statement that the 2008-2009 economic crisis presented us with an enormous opportunity to rediscover our values as people, as families, as communities of faith and as a nation. He says we can’t sustain a true economic recovery without a moral recovery and a moral compass (p.1). What is this “moral compass” that enables us to stop repeating the same economic blunders?

Wallis suggests for some time we have asked the wrong questions such as: what’s the fastest way to make money? Ads suggest dubious answers to our needs. Instead of the question when will this crisis be over? the question to ask is how will this crisis change me? (p. 2-3). Can you identify any priorities, successes measures, ways of conducting business, and self-regulation that changed as a result of the economic crisis – nationally, locally or in your household? Can you identify any signs of social change or personal change that you feel has come out of the crisis?

Wallis refers to Gandhi’s Seven Deadly Social Sins (p.4) as diagnostic of our current crisis. One of these is wealth without work. How do you interpret this in your social context? What does this mean? Can you give an example?

On page 16 and 17 there is reference to two markets, one of which is the “real market occurring in the back room … this weird Wall Street side bet”. This is compared with the concept “wealth is work” (Stewart, cited on p. 17). Does this value go far enough in your opinion?

Roosevelt is quoted as saying “the measure of restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit” (page 18). What specific social values do you think could help to restore society?

What do you think of the concept that our good is tied up in the common good? Wallis argues that “caring for the poor is not just a moral duty but part of our own enlightened self-interest” (p.23). Provide an argument in support of or in opposition to this view.

“When good people are in a bad system those good people start making bad decisions” (p.136) is a quote from the book. Economically, those trusted with other people’s savings were not thinking about decades later but about the next day’s trade. This short term thinking is contrasted with Native American thinking that considers the impact of decisions for the people and the land for the next seven generations. Identify some “seven generations” thinking and some “next day’s trade” thinking and compare the effect.

What is your response to the idea on page 139 that love for our neighbours and love for the planet on which our neighbours live cannot be separated?

Wallis says that who children admire is important because it affirms and shapes a particular set of value. Celebrities are role models for good or ill and therefore we need more of them to be heroes (p.144-145). Who are the celebrities and the social heroes that you and your family members admire and why?

Detroit is written as a parable of urban depression and economic suffering resulting from broken and unsustainable social contracts (pp. 201-215). However, it also shows community restoration. What meaning can you find in this parable? How relevant is this city to your city? What parallels can you draw?

There are twenty moral exercises given in the final chapter (pp. 227-240). Select twenty ideas to practise over twenty days to deliberately apply the principles of this book. Tell about what worked for you and what was challenging.

For further book club questions, and an interview with Jim Wallis go to the following website:

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Book club - Rediscovering values

Cut, cut, cut, cut, cut. The scissors created what Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, referred to as “an incomplete document”.

Jim Wallis’ book challenges the reader to consider social areas edited out of our lives. They are bits of biblical text about responsibility to the poor, and doing what is right based on moral values.

The book highlights these neglected bits of text in context of the present economic crisis. The author uses the city of Detroit as a parable and discusses the concept of “recovering the Commons”.

The author has twenty “moral exercises” which I thought useful for any reader wishing to engage in a practical response of inserting the text back into the “incomplete document”. Individuals or study groups could pick twenty actions to perform as a practical response. I liked the way the book did not leave the readers at Wall Street, but took them back into considering their own street. As a result, it is highly relevant to everyone.

Friday, February 26, 2010

A new direction

The Just Comment Blog is going in a new direction and having something of a rethink. We’re changing the direction of the current page from a random drop-by-and-dump-your-comments-kind-of-place to a new kind of Blog that involves more community interaction and shared learning. There will be two immediate changes. Starting in March we’re going to create a conversational book-club that will for a month at a time engage with a chosen book to see what it can say to our movement. You're invited to read along with us and drop in your comments - reflections on what we're saying or thoughts the book might have stirred in you. A small group might want to consider the conversational book-club as something good to frame and fuel discussion. Throughout the alternative months we will be posting interviews of people involved at the coal-face, stories of people who have committed themselves to the pursuit of social justice. We’re hoping that these new directions will serve you better, prove to be deepening and sustaining and make it possible for even more people to become involved in our conversations.

The book of March is…

Jim Wallis, 2010, Rediscovering Values – A Moral Compass for the New Economy.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Road to Recovery

The latest State of the Nation report from the Social Policy and Parliamentary Unit is available online at It is entitled A Road to Recovery and continues to track some of where our nation is and is not progressing.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Relational Time

Racing down the motor way (faithfully keeping my speed at 100 km, the legacy of my mother who taught me that at 101 km God left the car, thanks mum), I changed lanes frequently, ducking and diving only to arrive at the same red light at the same time as the cars I had passed.... A familiar thought entered my headspace.... what's the hurry? why the rush?

I sit on a committee (the evidence of hell on earth) that sponsors a campaign to "End Poverty Now" and at donning the hip new bracelet (every campaign needs a bracelet, a catchy slogan and celebrity endorsement), I had that same strange thought... what's the hurry? why the rush? I can think of many good reasons why to hurry up and end poverty... the 24 000 kids who die everyday from poverty-fueled and preventable diseases... or what of the 800 million people who go to bed hungry every night... there's some good reasons why... And then I entertained the thought a little longer, what if poverty only continues to exist because we're continually looking for a fast fix? The quick solution?... A done deal by tea time?... what if we were to take the time needed to really close the gap, to form real relationships with the poor?... There is no doubt that it would take longer, but wouldn't the time spent in reciprocal relationships mean a more dignified and sustainable lessening of poverty?... And wouldn't that lead to a change in us?... The change we desperately need, that I definitely need, the deep change that is missed when we're hurrying and rushing...

Stanley Hauerwas has this to say on time (it is deceptively deep):
"We have all the time we need to do what needs to be done... The alleged democracies in which we live run on speed, necessitating technologies designed to help us become the sort of people who do not need anyone. It seems to me that democracies want to produce people who do not need to rely on trusting one another" (Living Gently in a Violent World).

The eradication of poverty will only happen when we become trustworthy... when we can be depended on and trusted to deliver on our grand promises... when we take the time to consistently and faithfully be there for and with others.... when we honestly embrace the poverty of our relationships.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Standing for and with

The alternative we've inherited from Scripture and from the early days of The Salvation Army compel our movement and our faith to be framed by what we stand for and, dare I say it, more importantly, who we stand with. What could this mean for where you're at? What could this mean for the people who you share a neighborhood with? What does it really mean to be in solidarity with the poor? Is that still how we think of ourselves? Is that what people actually see in us?

Share your story...

Monday, January 25, 2010

The NEXT 365

A couple of disquieting and hopeful little thoughts that I'm going to carry with me wherever I go in 2010:

"When a poor person dies of hunger, it has not happened because God did not take care of him or her. It has happened because neither you nor I wanted to give that person what he or she needed" (Mother Teresa).

Isn't that the real plight of Haiti...?

“Contemporary Christians have an enormous opportunity to use politics to shape a better world. A few basic facts underline this truth. More than a third of the world’s people claim to be Christians. That one-third of the global population controls two-thirds of the world’s wealth. If even a quarter of the world’s Christians truly followed biblical norms in their politics, we would fundamentally change history” (Ronald J. Snider, 2008, The Scandal of Evangelical Politics).

Isn't that our real struggle? How will you frame the next 12 months? What thoughts will you make your companion story this year?