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I’m going to plant a flag on this issue.

Please hear me, I respect the opposing view. I just don’t share it.

The truth is, God gave the whole earth to the human race and told us to go forth, be fruitful, and multiply.

Even when he gave Israel to the children of Jacob, he warned them to treat the foreigners nicely; that they would be evaluated, as a nation, by their hospitality toward them. All through the Old Testament stories, there are prominent foreigners sharing the lives of Israelites (e.g. Uriah the Hittite) at a high level.

I have Scandinavian heritage, and you have the right, in my ancestral homeland (the Swedes call it “Allemansrätten”), to wander across anyone’s property, as long as you respect their privacy and leave everything the way you found it. And you can camp for free on anyone’s land, as long as you don’t disturb anyone or make noise, for up to two nights.

I believe in the right of every peaceful man or woman on Earth to be able, unhindered, to:

  • Travel anywhere on planet Earth he or she can afford to visit. As long as you pay your way and are not a burden.
  • Seek and take gainful and respectful employment anywhere it is legitimately offered.

I don’t believe in gated communities.

I don’t believe in national fences that keep people in (Berlin Wall) or keep people out (Mexican border at Tijuana).

All God’s people have access to all God’s world.

People of Western/Northern European ancestry have no greater right to staying in my California county than people of Latino ancestry.

And I believe that a mobile population is good for the economy. Anytime free labor can find its way to free capital, there is prosperity for all. That’s the free-market libertarian in me, talking.

Mobility is a basic human right.

The big question is: Do you see people as an asset or a liabilty?

Sure there are people who are one or the other. But on balance, how do you see the human race?

America was founded on the idea that people are, on the whole (and with some exceptions), an asset. Look at the Statue of Liberty. We saw the “huddled masses” of peasant Europe as an amazing asset. They built the farms that now feed us. Their blood now runs through our veins…

Overpopulation is a total myth. Europe and Russia are starting to decline in population. Most of America is empty (every spend much time looking down out of the window seat?). Our rural areas are depopulating. Detroit has thousands of acres of emptiness and some of it is returning to native forest. Sure there are areas of overcrowding, but Anglo North America could easily handle two billion people. (Currently 350 million). Our biggest challengers in this new century will be China and India, because they are blessed to have more people. More workers. More ideas.

We have to re-think transportation and energy–but that’s been done before and we can do it again.

People are not bad for the earth. People are beautiful and creative. We are the crown of creation. Made in the image of God.

I live in California. We are so blessed to have hard-working Latino and Asian immigrants in our midst. They have, together with us, built this state. I have driven all over our great state for the past ten years, and most of it is….empty. There is room for all–especially those willing to work.

You can’t have free markets (and I’m a free market guy) without freely mobile labor. We can’t put a fence around America.

My wealthiest California friends say “Unless we let inexpensive labor connect with our abundant domestic capital, we may as well ship all of our manufacturing to China.” Sobering.

Fences just accumulate and build up tensions, artificially. It’s where weapons tend to congregate. The barbed wire fence across Korea is a source of great tension right now.

Truth is, fences don’t work anyway. The Great Wall of China was a colossal failure. And the “Iron” Curtain rusted in one generation. Walls will always be breached, just like in medieval warfare. Eventually, European towns just quit building them because they were ineffective.

We have to learn to live together. It won’t be easy. There will be huge challenges.

We may have to get rid of the welfare state altogether to make for a workable world.

But building more fences is not the answer.

They won’t last.

They won’t work.

This essay is going to be a bit jarring for some of you.

There are a lot of things we do at churches that would be foreign to the church Jesus started:

  • Youth Groups
  • Choirs and Bell Choirs
  • Men’s Ministry
  • Receptionists and Offices
  • Robes and Liturgy
  • Ordination
  • Christian Counseling
  • Christian Schools
  • Cantatas
  • Full-time Ministry People

Now please hear me; all of these things can be good things. They’re just not essential to what church is, or Jesus would have at least mentioned that we might try them.

The problem is, glance at that list again and you’ll see that these “markers” have become the very distinctives of church life. We assume that church is about doing them and promoting them.

So here’s a question: Does Jesus want our churches to have food banks?

It seems assumed by all, that charity work is the essential work of the church. But is that true?

Now, before you think that I’m some kind of anti-poor-people wingnut, let me go on record by saying that I believe that it is the responsibility of any society to feed its:

  • Widows and Orphans
  • Disabled Veterans

I would add children to that list, since children are poor through no fault of their own.

I would also add that there are times of famine throughout the world, and that the Christians have been and should be at the point of the spear in responding. The Apostle Paul gathered an offering for the upcoming famine in Jerusalem.

Able bodied men (and women) should be working. And families should be the first line of defense. Solve the family problem and you solve the hunger problem. Divorce shreds the fabric of extended families and real people fall through the cracks.

It seems obvious to me, also, that most of the panhandlers in our midst (at least in the US) are mentally ill. We used to institutionalize them. I still think we should. For their own good, and out of love for our neighbors who can’t make their own good decisions.

I think it’d be a great idea for you to have a food bank at your church, especially if you feel led by the Lord to do so. We don’t have one. Not out of principle, but because we don’t feel led by God to do so, at least at this point. We work hard to empower single women who were considering abortions, usually because of poverty, to make a path toward sustainable life: http://hisnestingplace.org It’s what we feel called to do and we hope it’s helping.

The truth is, however, that much charity work (giving a man a fish) actually reinforces poverty, rather than teaching a man to fish. Giving to a panhandler (which I sometimes do and can’t explain why) rewards begging. And we all know that begging and more giving to beggars is not the answer to the problem of poverty, so why reinforce it?

I am struck and saddened by the level of obesity of those waiting in food lines in the USA. Many going back home to cable TV. Many of whom smoke while in line. There is a food bank across the street from my house, behind the library, and a bus stop just feet from my door. Much food gets left behind at the bus stop (stuff they decided not to keep). More than you think, as you picture it.

Let’s discuss, as responses to this essay, ways to end poverty. I believe that it is possible. Jesus said “the poor will always be with you,” but not that the poor would always be with us, 20 centuries later. There has been much progress against poverty in my lifetime. Breathtaking progress, to speak the truth.

But it doesn’t come through:

  • Wealth redistribution (left wing answer). It ends up being forced, and then fails.
  • Rugged individualism (right wing answer). The strong just get stronger and the weak can’t keep up.

It comes through great creativity, the Spirit of God, and relational solutions.

The truth is, poverty is a curse. And people need to be taught out of it. Here are some suggestions, meant to help. Some may work. Some maybe not.

  • Teaching children out of poverty mentality and into abundance mentality. Not reinforcing victim mentality. In schools and in churches.
  • Providing better public transportation so those who can’t afford cars can get to work.
  • Making it harder to get divorced. Divorce compounds poverty. Encouraging people to have babies IN marriages. Not just in church, but in all of our schools.
  • Abolishing welfare “as a way of life” for able bodied adults.
  • Strengthening extended families and teaching them to care for the “least of these” in their midst.
  • Trying to focus your help on those with whom you are willing to go the distance (e.g. the Good Samaritan). You can’t do this with everyone. Quality of aid over quantity.
  • Re-establishing public healthy living communities for the mentally ill. Homelessness is expensive! In Canada, it costs $110,000 per year per person (money spent on homeless divided by number of homeless) to care for these people (homeless) who are moving targets. Not sure what the American number is, but it can’t be too different.
  • Stop selling lottery tickets, 40 oz beers, etc. in underclass neighborhoods. Redline them if you have to.
  • Re-establishing Christian mutual aid (common in NT times). Church members would receive from the offerings when there was need. This kept the giving relational. The Mormons are the only ones still doing it well.
  • Incentivize entrepreneurial immigrants (e.g. South Asians) to settle in underclass neighborhoods. This may have done more to help blighted US neighborhood economic development than anything else.

There is great reason for optimism. Poverty is much less a curse than it was a couple of generations ago.

What are some of your ideas?

If you have a food bank, great. But let’s think beyond the foodbank.

Waiting to hear from you…

My novel is finished.

A breathtaking treasure hunt across two continents and the landscape of your soul.

It’s in proofreading and typesetting now.

Coming out June 1, 2011 through Summerside Press/Guideposts.

Some random thoughts:

  • Two separate continents. Two unfinished stories. One shared destiny?
  • A global treasure hunt for a shared backstory…
  • The human condition: Broken Responses to Impossible Demands
  • Time to replace Catcher in the Rye, don’t you think?
  • What if you could balance “balance itself?” Could you walk on water?
  • A coming-of-age story that re-tells, in a way, your story.
  • Where were you when the Berlin Wall fell? When the World Trade Towers came down?
  • Why can relationships with grandparents be so very special?
  • Great for book clubs and classes. Includes a study guide.
  • Isn’t there a splendid randomness to the way your day is coming together?
  • God is subtle; yet relentless…
  • Are we in the presence of a God who still speaks?
  • A book for everyone who loves reading, but especially for “intelligent young adults.” They will relate to the characters, generationally. Great for AP English Classes and University Literature and Religion courses.

Check out the FACEBOOK FAN PAGE. Click “like” and “share” if you’d be so kind.

Check out the AMAZON PAGE (pre-orders, etc.). Will also be available on Kindle.

Get a copy for your local library.

What if it’s the little things that happen today that determine your destiny?

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