28 April 2011

Ubuntu 11.04 is OUT!

Well, it’s been a crazy six months but Ubuntu’s latest Operating System (OS) is available today! It’s Ubuntu 11.04 (‘Natty Narwhal’) and it’s quite a change from the tradition look that people have come to expect from Ubuntu.

I have been testing this since the Alpha 1 release (I installed the Alpha 3 release as my everyday system) and, while it’s been a wild ride, the finished product is absolutely amazing to use and stunning to look at! One of the biggest changes is in the different versions. There is no longer a netbook version or a desktop version. There is just one interface - Unity - for all devices; desktops, netbooks, tablets, etc. Yes, you read that right, even tablets. Ubuntu 11.04 ships with the new uTouch technology that allows you to touch the screen to manipulate your system (if your system hardware has this feature).

I’m not going to write a long post about it but encourage you all to go over to OMG! Ubuntu to look their wonderful page dedicated Natty. It’s full of screenshots, videos and helpful tips for working with the latest version of Ubuntu.

So, if you are needing a new computer experience but can’t (or don’t want to) spend the money on a new computer, I highly recommend giving Ubutnu 11.04, the Natty Narwhal, a spin. You’ll be glad you did!

In the Love of the Three in One,

Jack+, LC

26 April 2011

Reflection: 04-11

Three monks walked slowly, meditatively, towards the huge oak tree in the center of the grove. They had just come from the Morning Office where the Gospel reading was the Sermon on the Mount. Without saying a word, they all sat in a circle under the mighty oak tree, an ancient symbol of Life. They sat in silence for a long time. Finally, the youngest monk asked, ‘What do you think it means?’

‘You don’t want my opinion,’ the oldest monk said.

‘I think that it is a goal, something that we try to achieve. But...’ the last monk paused. ‘But I don’t think it is something that we can obtain in this world’s realm.’

‘Then we will never try,’ the oldest monk replied.

‘What do you mean,’ the youngest monk asked.

‘I mean that if we think that we can’t achieve it, we will not try to achieve it.’

‘So, you think we can be perfect now?’ the last monk questioned.

‘There is no indication,’ the oldest monk said, ‘that our Saviour’s words were meant only as an unrealizable ideal. Do you really want my opinion?’

The youngest monk nodded his head.

‘These are the very words of Christ. This is what is expected of us who claim to follow him. God is not telling us to do things that we can not do.’

‘So you are saying we can be perfect now,’ the last monk exclaimed.

Not from human desire or will,’ the oldest monk gently replied, ‘but from God. We need the Wild Goose to strengthen us and guide us. And the love and support of the community to help us. On our own, we are too easily led back to our addictions of sin to arrive at that state. Nevertheless, my friends, we can do it. By the power of the Spirit, and the support of our sisters and brothers, we can be as Christ in the world.’


This is a (somewhat) fictional account of a conversation I had at a men’s Bible study group once. It was brought to my remembrance while reading The Peaceable Kingdom* by Stanley Hauerwas. With that little story in mind, I want to focus on a couple of things Hauerwas wrote.

In his section on Jesus and the Kingdom, he wrote:

[The] proclamation of the coming of the kingdom of God, its presence, and its future coming is a claim about how God rules and the establishment of that rule through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Thus the Gospels portray Jesus not only offering the possibility of achieving what were heretofore thought to be impossible ethical ideals. He actually proclaims and embodies a way of life that God has made possible here and now...In him we see that living a life of forgiveness and peace is not an impossible ideal but an opportunity now present...[This possibility] is based on our confidence that that kingdom has become a reality through the life and work of this man, Jesus of Nazareth (pgs. 83, 85; emphasis in the original).

There is quite a lot to gather from this small quote so let’s break it down a little bit.

[The] proclamation of the coming of the kingdom of God, its presence, and its future coming is a claim about how God rules and the establishment of that rule through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Notice that ‘how God rules’ is seen and ‘established’ ‘through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus’. In other words, as St Paul wrote, ‘Christ is the visible image of the invisible God’ (Colossians 1.15). To see what God is actually like, all one needs to do is look at Jesus; at the way Jesus lived; at the way Jesus loved. This is the Creator God that loves the entire world. This is how the Creator God reigns. Not, as is stated over and over from our churches, by slaughtering our enemies or torturing them eternally in hell. No. The God of Creation loves our enemies, prays for them, turns the other cheek when mocked or spat upon or slapped. The Creator God does not repay violence and hatred and evil with divinely sanctioned violence, hatred, and evil. God repays with peace, love, and forgiveness. We see this quite clearly in a couple of stories from Jesus life.

All four Gospels tell the story of Jesus betrayal and arrest (Matthew 26.47-56; Mark 14:43-50; Luke22.47-53; John 18:3-11; CEB**). In all four stories, ‘one of those with him’ (Peter), took out a sword and cut off Malchus’ ear while trying to defend Jesus. And, in three of the stories, Jesus rebukes the action stating that he will not allow this to continue. In that story, instead of retaliating and answering violence with more violence, Jesus goes the way of non-violence knowing that this action will bring about the change to the world that it so desperately needs.

And later on in the story, as Jesus is dying on the cross, he actually prays for those killing him, [Loving God], forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing’ (Luke 23.34, CEB).

In both of these stories, we see how God acts and reacts to those who oppose God’s love. God has mercy upon them and forgives them. In fact, at one point, Jesus states that he could summon legions of angels to slaughter his ‘enemies’. But he doesn’t. That’s the way things are done in this worlds realm, but that’s not the way of the Realm of God.

But this way of peace and forgiveness is not limited to God. It is the way the followers of God are to be, not some time in the (distant) future, but right now. Continuing with Hauerwas:

Thus the Gospels portray Jesus not only offering the possibility of achieving what were heretofore thought to be impossible ethical ideals. He actually proclaims and embodies a way of life that God has made possible here and now...In him we see that living a life of forgiveness and peace is not an impossible ideal but an opportunity now present (emphasis added).

This has been our downfall for years in the church. In fact, God has used those some consider ‘outside’ the church to lead this campaign of peace and forgiveness and non-violence. Sadly, we are a lot like the ‘last monk’ in the opening story. We think that this way of living can never be achieved now. And I would challenge us, really challenge us, to see if, because of this attitude, we actually try and live this way now. I would wager that we do not. If something is out of our reach, nay, if it’s impossible, why would we waste our time on trying to reach it? We won’t. Family, we have been told a lie. Maybe not intentionally, but nonetheless it’s a stinking lie. Jesus claimed that he came so we could ‘have life—indeed, so that [we] could live life to the fullest’ (John 10.10, CEB). That is, a life filled with the Life of God. And it’s that life that Jesus showed us how to live. He told us in the Sermon on the Mount what is expected. But he didn’t leave us to try and make it on our own. The Holy Spirit was sent to ‘lead and guide us’ to ‘dwell within’ us.

In the world view of first century Judaism, the Temple was seen as the place where heaven and earth over-lapped and interlocked. Then Jesus comes on the scene and states that he is the Temple; that he is the place where heaven and earth over-lap and interlock. To sharpen the point a little more, like Jesus, we are the Temple of God (see 1Corinthians 3.16; 2Corinthians 6.16). We have been given the power to live this life right now. I’m not saying it’s easy. Not by a long shot. But it is doable.

[This possibility] is based on our confidence that that kingdom has become a reality through the life and work of this man, Jesus of Nazareth.

In this last section, Hauerwas hits the nail on the head regarding our excuses. Simply stated, if we don’t think it’s possible to live a life of peace and non-violence now, then we really don’t believe that God’s realm is a present reality.

From time to time, when I’m having a conversation along these lines, people are quick to point out that they believe these things ‘but’ (there’s always a ‘but), ‘but not right now. In the future these things will happen.’ Really? But what if we’re supposed to live this way now? What if we are supposed to work to bring these types of change today? Right this moment? I think we were given just such a task. If we look at Mark’s gospel, we read Jesus saying, ‘Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!’ According to Jesus, the ‘good news’ is that God’s realm has come - not in the distant future but - right now! Again, it’s one of those things that if we think it only comes in the future, that is, we understand that it’s impossible for us to make these changes now, then we really don’t believe that Gods realm is a reality now and we won’t even try. And that is exactly what we have done.

When I was growing up in the faith, I was taught (and believed) the relatively new idea of the Rapture. This is the doctrine that ‘at any moment’ Jesus will come back for his church and those are alive will be transformed ‘in the twinkling of an eye’ and teleported to heaven with Jesus. In fact, one can still see the bumper stickers saying ‘Beam me up, Jesus!’ And in my early twenties, I remember very clearly having a conversation with my Mom about ecological issues. My argument was along the lines of, ‘Why do anything about the planet if it’s all going to burn anyway?’ In other words, if things are going to get worse, why try and make them better? It is this thinking that is so prevalent within the Christian world in my corner of the world. It makes thinking about (and actually working toward) ending the arms race an almost unthinkable absurdity.

But that’s not what Jesus said. He said, ‘Now is the time!’ Not sometime in the distant future, but right now. Now is the time to work toward ending poverty and injustice. Now is the time to work toward the end of sexism and racism (and all of the other *isms). Now is the time to work toward sustainable living. And, yes, now is the time to work toward stopping violence of any kind. It’s not going to be easy. And we can’t do it on our own. These types of change can only come by the power of the Spirit working through God’s people. During this season of Resurrection, may God bring to life new ways of implementing God’s realm today.

Right now.

In the Love of the Three in One,
Jack+, LC

* Or you can get it here.
** Common English Bible. This is an exciting new translation that I have been reading from for a little while. According to the website, ‘To avoid sectarian bias, more than 500 persons from 22 faith traditions participated in the development of the CEB translation, which includes 118 translators, 10 editors, and 77 reading group leaders.’

01 April 2011

Reflection: 03-11

Over several years now, my wife and I have had an ongoing conversation regarding ways to help those in need. But, like a lot of us, the need is overwhelming. The more we see, the more we want to help. But the reality is, we just don’t have the resources—whether that’s time, talent, or treasure (and in our case, it’s usually all of the above!). We squeeze some room in here and there, but for the most part, we just don’t know where to turn. And, let’s be honest, how much change can one or two people make? Whether it’s devastation in Japan, or the enormous issues plaguing Africa, or the child slave trade, it’s just too much.

Or is it?

What if there were ways that our everyday decisions could impact people on a global scale? What if there was a chance that just, say, buying a shirt, could help reduce the exploitation of people around the world? The good news is that there is! I just read a book that helps ordinary people work for change in everyday ways. It’s called Everyday Justice by Julie Clawson.

I “discovered” this book by checking out Brian McLaren’s blog. Every so often he has links to people and/or activities that he thinks his readers would like. When I clicked on Clawson’s blog, she had a link to her book. When I read the cover, I bought it. The subtitle states, “The Global Impact of our Daily Choices”.

I found Clawson to be very approachable and authentic. On more than one occasion she admits to her own failures regarding everyday justice. And that’s so helpful. Too often we can let guilt get the better of us and just give up. But I think Clawson’s message would be, “Don’t give up! Pick yourself up and start again. Every little bit helps in huge ways.” That’s what I got from her book. And actually, it’s made me more hopeful regarding global justice issues. But where does one begin? Clawson covers coffee (“Fair Trade and the Daily Latte”), chocolate (“Modern-Day Slavery Exposed”), cars (“The Global and Local Impact of Oil Consumption”), food (“Choosing to Eat Ethically”), clothes (“The Story Behind What We Wear”), waste (“The High Price of Our Dirty Little Habits”), and debt (“Proclaiming Jubilee to the Nations”) and each has its own chapter. At the beginning of each chapter, she tells a somewhat fictional little story about the issue being raised. She then gives some helpful (but sometimes alarming and frightening) information. Next she gives some ways to make changes in those areas. And lastly, she finishes each chapter with additional resources—books, movies, and websites. All in all, it’s a very helpful and practical book. I won’t go over each chapter, but I will hit on a couple of points.

I have to say that the chapter on chocolate was extremely troubling. She writes,

“The majority of the world’s cocoa beans grows in West Africa...Farmers sell these beans...to Hershey’s, Nestle, and Mars. So the beans from these countries are the source of most of the chocolate those of us in the Western countries consume...[Reports] indicate that there are high numbers of children working to harvest cocoa beans...these children typically aren’t family, or even local, but instead have been trafficked in from neighboring countries. These children face starvation and beatings, and many are forced to work for little to no pay” (pgs. 55, 56).

And then she brings this information home by writing,

“Much of the chocolate we consume has its roots in child labor, often forced or slave labor....[Most] of us are guilty of aiding criminal behavior, even slavery, every time we indulge in a chocolaty treat...No parent would request the kidnapping, beating and starving of other children so that they could serve chocolate cupcakes at their child’s birthday party, but nonetheless, this is essentially what happens” (pg 57).

Her point is, once we’ve been made aware about the origins of the average chocolate bar and yet we continue to purchase them, we’re knowingly participating in the exploitation of children. Clawson sees slavery (as well as other issues) as not “loving our neighbors as ourselves.” Therefore, we need to look past our local communities as our neighbors and look at the global community of humanity and beyond.

A friend offered me a chocolate treat recently. I asked her if it was slave-free. She didn’t understand the question. I explained to her the issues with most chocolate purchased in this country. “Really? Man, it’s always something. There’s always some cause or injustice about whatever we do. I’m just tired of it all and I don’t care anymore.” I was shocked. She has a small son. I’m just floored that we’re too busy or over-burdened to be concerned with injustices, especially when it pertains to children.

I’m sure we don’t need to go over the importance of children in the life and ministry of Jesus. Just one example will suffice: “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to people like these children” (Matthew 19.14). The importance of this verse is simply that Jesus (as was his custom) sees the “outcast” as equal to everyone else. They’re human beings that deserve our love and respect for the simple fact that they’re image-bearers of God.

It’s at this point that you may suspect that Clawson would suggest that we abstain from chocolate. But she doesn’t, thank goodness! Clawson offers some great advice in this regard, too. First, she makes certain that she doesn’t offend her friends (I didn’t offend my friend) or family by questioning them about the origins of the chocolate treats offered to her (she mentioned this a couple of different times regarding different issues). Furthermore, she talks about slave-free chocolate as the alternative.

Now, granted, we won’t be able to find slave-free chocolate at the local convenient store. We’ll have to do some searching to find it in our local areas (or we can purchase it online). Furthermore, once we find it, slave-free chocolate will cost more than conventional chocolate, “[Because] workers actually get paid for their work” Clawson writes.  “As is often the case, our savings usually comes out of someone else’s pocket” (pg 46).

The next thing I want to touch on is Clawson’s final chapter—“Debt: Proclaiming Jubilee to the Nations” (pg. 165ff.) Debt relief is a huge thing (literally). I don’t think most of us can even grasp the enormous amount of debt by most of the countries in the world. Like our own personal or familial debt, a lot of the time, the essentials get cut so that we can pay off debt. Or, as the old saying goes, we often have to “rob Peter to pay Paul.” The difference, however, is that (for the most part) our debt is just that—ours. Most of the time, we’re in the financial mess we’re in because of our own doing. This isn’t the case for 2/3rds of the world. In those cases, the poorest nations on the planet are actually paying off the debt of their forefathers or corrupt government officials that ran the counties in the ground. And to sharpen the point a little more, the poorest countries of the world are paying the richest countries of the world, including the US.

On page 167, Clawson writes:

“[Some] countries have to use up the 80 percent of their national budgets to repay [loans that were ‘either irresponsibly given, acquired (and squandered) illegally by dictators, or are the remains of colonialism and the Cold War’] and their insane interest rates. To repay debts these countries have cut public education and health services, and stopped hiring doctors, nurses, and teachers…Nigeria has borrowed five billions dollars, and to date, it has paid back sixteen billion dollars, but it still owes thirty-two billion dollars…[Some] nations in Africa spend four times as much on debt repayment than on health care. To put numbers to it, some estimate that Africa needs $15 billion annually to fight HIV/AIDS, yet African nations pay $13.5 billion in debt repayment each year” (pgs 167, 170).

I don’t know about you, but this turns my stomach. When I read this chapter (and it has some really harsh things in it—especially the role the US has had in the debt of the world’s poorest nations), it dawned on me—a lot of the issues plaguing 2/3rds of the world would all but be erased if they were released from their debt. And that’s the focus of this chapter.

The Jewish Scriptures have a tradition about debt relief called the Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25). In that passage, Yahweh’s very clear about what’s expected during the holy year of  Jubilee—debt cancellation, release of all servants and slaves, the return of lands, etc. Some scholars believe that Jesus claimed this very thing about his ministry:

Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been raised. On the Sabbath he went to the synagogue as he normally did and stood up to read. The synagogue assistant gave him the scroll from the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

The Spirit of the [Yahweh] is upon me,
because the [Yahweh] has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to liberate the oppressed,
and to proclaim the year of the [Yahweh’s] favor.

He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the synagogue assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the synagogue was fixed on him. He began to explain to them, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it” (Luke 4.16-21; adapted).

Scholars hold that “the year of the Yahweh’s favor” is another way of saying Jubilee. Furthermore, according to Clawson, “In the familiar words of the Lord’s Prayer, where Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he told them to ask for God’s kingdom to be made known on earth and for debts to be forgiven. While some translations refer to ‘debts’ as ‘sins’ or ‘trespasses,’ the Greek word used there refers specifically to monetary debt, strengthening the call to cancel debts as the jubilee year required’ (pgs 175-176).

The ramifications of Jesus’ statement (“Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it”) are far reaching. What this says to me is that God’s New Creation is, itself, Jubilee. And isn’t that what we find in our own lives? We were all slaves, St Paul reminds us in Romans 6, but we have been set free by Christ’s death and resurrection. And since we’ve been freed, we should be about extending Jubilee to the rest of creation, especially our neighbors who are suffering the most from debt.

It was just because of this understanding that a “worldwide jubilee movement” began to gain momentum in the mid-1990s by “establishing the year of 2000 as a year of Jubilee” (pg 176). Furthermore:

“The campaign ‘gained clout from the 24 million signatures on its petitions, and endorsements from Pope John Paul II, the Dalai Lama, and U2 lead singer Bono,’ achieving spectacular results…World leaders made promises in 1998, 2000, and 2005 regarding partial debt cancellation, and even these partial cancellations have resulted in significant change. After the relief of their debt, Tanzania was able to eliminate school fees, and 1.5 million children returned to school almost overnight. In Mozambique, nearly 500,000 children received vaccinations (ibid.).”

So where does the average person fit in this global crisis? Well, this is where it gets sticky. Small change is needed and helps in a number of ways, but some things need large scale attention and solutions. And canceling world debt is just such an issue.

Clawson tells the story of two everyday “soccer moms” who hosted a hunger banquet when they became aware of world debt. They invited their congressman, Spencer Bachus, to the banquet. And he came. After the banquet, Representative Bachus called the women:

“‘I doubt that this will win me many votes, but I don’t want to be responsible for even one more child going hungry.’ So he began to speak out for justice…Bachus, a devout Southern Baptist, had his eyes opened to justice issues because of the involvement of ‘church people’ back home. He introduced bipartisan legislation like the Jubilee Act in June 2007, and he committed to using his political career to help end suffering in the world’’ (pg 180-181).

So, for us to make these types of changes, we must speak to our family and friends about the injustice in the world. Perhaps we, too, could hold a hunger banquet and get others involved. Furthermore, “political involvement is a necessary step in some situations. And it’s something the ordinary person can easily do” (pg 182). To echo the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “[Shall] we let the children of Africa and Asia die of curable disease, prevent them from going to school and limit their opportunities for meaningful work—all to pay off unjust and illegitimate loans made to their forefathers?” (pg 177). No friends. We can not. We must speak out against these things and say, with Jesus, that now is the time to release the prisoners. Now is the time to recover the sight of the blind. Now is the time to liberate the oppressed. And now is the time of the [Yahweh’s] favor.

In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC