Jan01

My Brother’s Keeper :: The Weekend Reading List

If we cause a tree to be chopped down in a forest—but the forest is on the other side of the world, so we won’t necessarily hear it—will we care? This is the cultural way to ask the biblical question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Another way yet; are we responsible for the pain inflicted on others because of our emotions and desires?

Up until 1979 the city of Shenzhen, which links Hong Kong to mainland China, was home to 15,000 people. Today it has exploded to a population of 15 million—almost twice the size of New York City. The growth has primarily been driven by its designation as a “Special Economic Zone,” allowing corporations to operate outside of Communist business restrictions.

The now-smog-covered metropolis is home to hundreds of electronic manufacturing companies. Chances are, if you use a smartphone, television, camera, copy machine, or computer on a regular basis you carry with you the fingerprints of the citizens of Shenzhen.

The cause and effect of consumerism is rarely as clear as in Joseph Bernstein’s piece for BuzzFeed on the connection between western consumer whims and the quality of life of Chinese assembly workers in Shenzhen.

The story of manufacturing the ever-changing wishes of westerners is the story of eking out a living. “When we see a demand, we change our business direction; it is about survival.” a general manager at a factory in Shenzhen said. A young saleswoman echoed his sentiment: “Last year the selfie stick was very popular… But we need to change with the market or we’ll die.”

Bernstein examines one of the most popular electronic toys this Christmas: the hoverboard—a two-wheel, self-balancing device made popular by celebrities and social media.

The hoverboard industry that has unfurled (in China) hands us the playthings of social-media-driven seasonal diversion. It is the funhouse mirror reflection of the viral internet, the metal-and-cement consequence of our equally flexible commercial hype machine. It happened before with selfie sticks, and before that with drones. It may soon happen with virtual reality headsets and body-worn police cameras. — Joseph Bernstein

The average assembly worker at Foxconn and Pegatron (who manufacture for Apple, Samsung, Amazon, Dell, HP, Blackberry, and many more) works a 60-hour workweek, lives in a dorm with seven other people, and makes $3,800/year.

BBC undercover report of Apple’s iPhone 6 production uncovered 12-hour work days and documented workers regularly falling asleep on the assembly line. The Hong Kong Free Press also reported a major factory closing on Christmas day: over 2,000 workers lost their jobs last week, all of whom are owed back wages.

Memeufacturing is proof that our never-ending digital output, our tweets and Vines and Instagrams and Facebook posts, has the power to shape the lives of people on the other side of the world. — Joseph Bernstein

“Memeufacturing,” a term Bernstein coined, is the production of electronics in response to their success online. On the western side of the equation we consume without regard to consequence. “It is understood that hoverboards come from China in the same way it is understood that Spam comes from pigs: vaguely and glibly,” Bernstein quips.

The role of faith in such a world cannot be understated. If we are people who believe prayer has power we would find ourselves interceding for the millions of people marginalized by unfettered consumerism. If we believe part of Christ’s path is sacrifice we would curtail the desires the social web and advertising arouse in our souls. Most importantly, as faith communities, we would work out how to love our global-neighbors as we love ourselves—we would become our brother’s keeper.

Today’s Reading
Ezra 1 (Listen – 2:03)
Acts1 (Listen – 3:58)

This Weekend’s Readings
Ezra 2 (Listen – 5:25) Acts 2 (Listen – 6:35)
Ezra 3 (Listen – 3:01) Acts 3 (Listen – 3:33)

The Weekend Reading List

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Feb17

A Vocation Hostile to Faith

Genesis 50.26
So Joseph died at the age of a hundred and ten. And after they embalmed him, he was placed in a coffin in Egypt.

The earliest dated Egyptian mummies happened naturally, preserved by the relentless heat and arid climate of the ancient Near East. Around 2,600 B.C.E, long before Joseph’s time, Egypt formalized a mummification process.

The Greek historian Herodotus was among the first outsiders to document mummification. “The embalmers [first] took out the brains and entrails and washed them in palm wine… they began to anoint the body with the oil of cedar, myrrh, cinnamon, and cassia.” 

Mummification is not simply a medical practice, but a spiritual rite. Archaeologists have unearthed amulets believed to provide blessing, and canopic jars which pair individual organs to gods for protection. Many mummies held a papyrus scroll containing spells from the Book of the Dead.

The Bible makes a point to show that Joseph asked for his father to be embalmed by doctors. Egyptian priests would have been normative, and Joseph’s maneuver likely exempted Jacob from some of the spiritual murkiness of mummification. But as a ruling official under Pharaoh, Joseph would have had a full Egyptian burial ceremony.

This isn’t the only place in scripture where faith creates tension with vocation. The Syrian army commander Naaman, after placing his trust in God, had to sort out his job requirement of assisting his leader in bowing before Baal’s idol.

God abhors idolatry. (Great reward is given to Daniel, as well as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego for purity in worship in pagan lands.) Yet, after hearing Naaman’s case, Elijah tells the commander to, “go in peace.” He is to carry the tensions of his faith into his workplace.

God knows the true resting place of our hearts. There is not only tension, but great purpose in a person wholly submitted to God yet embedded in a foreign culture. How else will the nations be reached? How will each vocation be redeemed?

The inaugural book of the Bible ends with two of Israel’s patriarchs in Egyptian sarcophagi. The author seems unconcerned by this point. He knows it’s the end of a book, not the end of the story. More importantly, his faith wasn’t in men for redemption, but in the coming Messiah.

Prayer
Lord, we long to see our vocations redeemed, but daily life in them can be inhospitable to your word. Be the resting place of our hearts. Be the center of our aspirations and desires. Give us your peace as we live in this tension as an act of faith.

Quiet Trust in an Anxious World
Part 2 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

Today’s Readings
Genesis 50 (Listen – 4:54)
Luke 2 (Listen – 6:11)

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Coming Home

Genesis 49.33
When Jacob had finished giving instructions to his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed, breathed his last and was gathered to his people.

There is a brutal reality to death that cannot be softened. When his father Jacob dies we read that, “Joseph threw himself on his father and wept over him and kissed him.” Old age may make death more expected, but nothing makes it less heartbreaking.

Joseph had been robbed of his best years with his father, reconnecting only as an adult. When he first heard Jacob was nearing Egypt, Joseph raced out in his chariot to meet him along the way. 

Reunions are meant to be joyous occasions. At their best, they are times when loved ones gather to reminisce, laugh, and feast. In this case, the beloved was restored to his family. Jacob and Joseph’s reunion was filled with the triumph of a father and son, once separated by what seemed like forever, reunited.

The revelation at Jacob’s death, that he, “was gathered to his people” is not simply a Hebrew euphemism. This is one of the first images scripture reveals about the afterlife. Like Joseph’s feelings when he fell headlong into his father’s arms, death, for the faithful, is a reunion of inexpressible joy. 

Death may be a present reality, but time is not eternity. 2 Corinthians observes that Christians are, “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” Now death; soon life. 

Even Jesus wept at a funeral — yet death did not get the last word. He called Lazarus from the grave. Resurrection is a fundamentally relational concept in the scriptures. It not only brings life to body and soul, it restores the community of believers. In resurrection a fractured world is brought to integrity through the embrace of God.

No wonder the prophets of the New Testament would rejoice at the image of the resurrection as the great banquet of heaven. Together we shall delight in new life. Moreover, whatever joy we experience as we reunite with friends and family shall be fully eclipsed by the triumph of living in harmony with our Father.

Prayers from the Past
Thanks be to you, Lord Jesus Christ: in all my trials and sufferings you have given me the strength to stand firm; in your mercy you have granted me a share of eternal glory.

— Irenaeus of Sirmium prior to his martyrdom under Diocletian c. 304 C.E.

Quiet Trust in an Anxious World
Part 1 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

Today’s Readings
Genesis 49 (Listen – 4:07)
Luke 3 (Listen – 5:24)

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Collateral Blessing

Genesis 46.29
Joseph had his chariot made ready and went to Goshen to meet his father Israel. As soon as Joseph appeared before him, he threw his arms around his father and wept for a long time.

Twenty-five years after he finished the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo returned to begin work on The Last Judgment. The painting covers the expansive, 1,700 square-foot, altar wall and depicts Christ’s return, the resurrection of the dead, heaven, and hell.

The work, which would be among Michelangelo’s last, was controversial even before it was completed. Detractors were disquieted by the amount of nudity in the painting. Papal Master of Ceremonies Biagio da Cesena joined others in critiquing Michelangelo, calling the master artist’s work, “a very disgraceful thing.”

To strike back at da Cesena, Michelangelo painted him into the corner of the wall. The critic’s head appears atop the body of Meno, the Greek god of the underworld, who greets the damned as they enter hell.

“Of the seven deadly sins, anger is the most fun,” writes Frederick Buechner. “To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor the last toothsome morsel of the pain you’re giving back to them, in many ways, is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down at this feast is yourself.”

Most people can imagine what forgiveness might cost. Where we struggle is imagining what the costs of un-forgiveness will run us and what benefits forgiveness might bear.

Michelangelo’s bitterness is enshrined in history. (There are even teams of artists dedicated to preserving it.) Un-forgiveness always works that way. Entire nations rage against one another for the grievances of prior lifetimes. 

Although it rarely feels grand, forgiveness has its own way of stretching beyond the moment. 

Because Joseph forgave, a family was preserved from starvation; from that family a nation was born.

More importantly to Joseph, he had a restored relationship with his father. Their joy-filled reunion was an effect of his forgiveness of his brothers. The meaningful things we long for are found only in the fruit of sacrifice.

Prayer
Father, we have wronged you above all others. In your gracious love you have forgiven us, restored us to your family, and welcomed us back with joy and tears. Help us to forgive others, absorbing their debts with the riches of your Kingdom.

Faith in Forgiveness
Part 5 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

Today’s Readings
Genesis 46 (Listen – 4:47)
Mark 16 (Listen – 2:34)

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This Weekend’s Readings

Saturday: Genesis 47 (Listen – 5:03); Luke 1.1-38 (Listen – 9:26)
Sunday: Genesis 48 (Listen – 3:43); Luke 1.39-80 (Listen – 9:26)

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TBT: Jesus and His Brothers

Genesis 45.4
Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt!”

Jesus and His Brothers | by C.H. Spurgeon (October 4, 1885)

Notice that, when Joseph revealed himself to his brothers, he did not say more until he had put away all their offenses against him. They had been troubled because they knew that they had sold him into Egypt; but he said to them, “Now be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that you sold me here.” That was a blessed way of saying, “I freely and fully forgive you.” 

So Jesus says to his loved ones, who have grieved him by their evil deeds, “Be not grieved, for, ‘I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, your transgressions, and, as a cloud, your sins.’ Be not angry with yourselves, for I will receive you graciously, and love you freely. 

Be not angry with yourselves, for your sins, which are many, are all forgiven; go, and sin no more. For my name’s sake, will I defer mine anger; ‘Come now, and let us reason together: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.’ ” 

Many of you know the way our Savior talks; I pray that he may make every believer sure that there is not a sin against him in God’s Book of remembrance. 

May you, dear friends, be clear in your conscience from all dead works! May you have the peace of God, which passes all understanding, to keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus, and in the clear white light of your Savior’s glorious presence, may you see the wounds he endured when suffering for your sins! 

Then will you sing with the disciple whom Jesus loved, “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and has made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” [1]

Prayers from the Past
With one voice we offer you praise and thanksgiving… You bought us back with the pure and precious blood of your only Son, freed us from lies and error, from bitter enslavement, released us from the Devil’s clutches and gave us the glory of freedom. We were dead and you renewed the life of our bodies in the Spirit. We were soiled and you made us quite spotless again.

— From a prayer of thanksgiving c. 200-500 C.E.

Faith and Forgiveness
Part 4 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

Today’s Readings
Genesis 45 (Listen – 4:10)
Mark 15 (Listen – 5:16)

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Footnotes

[1] Spurgeon, C. H. (1897). The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons (Vol. 43, p. 224). London: Passmore & Alabaster. Language updated.