Friday, April 20, 2018

How Christians Should and Shouldn't Speak About Creation - Brian Zahnd

Instead of saying un-Christian things like, “This world is not my home,” “It’s all going to burn,” and “Environmentalism is idolatry,” listen to how wise Christians have always spoken about Creation.

This year Earth Day falls on a Sunday.

So I thought I’d say a few words about how Christians should and shouldn't speak about Creation.

First, Christians should never say…

"This world is not my home."
This world is our home! And it’s the locus of God’s saving work. The blessed hope is not “we’re going,” but “Christ is coming.” Our eschatological hope is resurrection, not evacuation. The risen Christ is not a ghost, he has flesh and bones; he eats fish and honeycomb.

"It’s all going to burn."
What a horrible, ghastly thing for a Christian to say! Especially when it’s given as an excuse for justifying environmental exploitation. In Christ we have a hopeful eschatology that says, “It’s all going to be renewed.” (And if you want to work from 2 Peter 3:10, say, “It’s all going to be refined.”)

"Environmentalism is idolatry."
Never say that. Instead say, “This is my Father’s world.” In giving humanity “dominion,” God made us park rangers of Planet Earth. Environmentalism isn’t idolatry — it’s the original vocation given to humanity. Environmentalism isn’t idolatry — but greed is! In Revelation we’re told that God will judge “those who destroy the earth.”

So ...

... instead of saying un-Christian things like, “This world is not my home,” “It’s all going to burn,” and “Environmentalism is idolatry,” listen to how wise Christians have always spoken about Creation.
  • The first step for a soul to come to know God is contemplation of nature.
    –Irenaeus (120–202)
  • The whole earth is a living icon of the face of God.
    –John of Damascus (675–749)
  • If we learn to love the earth, we will discover what it means to be truly alive.
    –Teresa of Avila (1515–1582)
  • A wrong attitude toward nature implies, somewhere, a wrong attitude toward God.
    –T.S. Eliot (1888–1965)
  • How we treat the earth defines the relationship that each of us has with God.
    –Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew (1940–)

The full article is available here

A Tribute To Jack Casey: One Of The Greatest Men I've Ever Known - by Jeff Wiersma

I’m far from the only person who has given this kind of tribute to Jack in the days since his passing. That speaks to the far-reaching impact he had and his legacy of being a humble, kind, and giving man. I will never forget how he always greeted me with his trademark, “Heeeey theeeere” and a handshake

A great man, Jack Casey, has completed his life’s work. This has caused me to reflect back on the 40 years that I was blessed enough to know Jack and be in community with his family.

I’m not sure that I can adequately express what Jack and the Casey family have meant to me in my life ... how they influenced who I am as a person, how they helped to shape my spirituality from my earliest years ... but I'm going to try.

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Jack specifically helped to shape my concept of how a man with integrity and emotional honesty served in leadership in a church (along with my dad of course, another old softy). He was kind, welcoming, authentic and accommodating.

He and Lois - along with my folks, the Van Dyke's, the Dykstra's, and several others - were brave enough to start a brand new church. Part of the reason they did this was so that people who weren’t churchgoers would have somewhere that they could feel comfortable attending; where broken people could be real and didn’t have to fit any mold - somewhere they could come as they were to find some acceptance, unconditional love, and hope. (If you know even the first thing about me, you know how deeply that example has been imprinted into my DNA).

Jack and Leo took on preaching in addition to their busy work and family lives. (Jack was always better at keeping sermons under 25 minutes. I take after my Dad I think).

So many benefited from that courage and vision that it can be easy to take it for granted, but it wasn’t a sure thing by any means. It was a definite risk in a community in which they and their young families were all deeply ingrained church and school-wise.

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The Casey family opened their home to me as a child and were a second home when my parents were off visiting my older siblings at college/etc when I was in grade school. Being the youngest and therefore closest in age to me (4 years my elder), Scott made me feel welcomed, included, and at ease. He clearly had that modeled for him by his parents.

The Casey family continued this kind of hospitality, opening their home as foster parents for Bethany Christian Services.

I cut my teeth as a church leader (both band and generally) under the leadership of Jack’s oldest son John, who led me with the same empowering and enabling qualities that his father lived out. 

While getting my feet under me leadership-wise, Jack always made sure to seek me out to encourage me and tell me "nice work" and "good job."

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I’m far from the only person who has given this kind of tribute to Jack in the days since his passing. That speaks to the far-reaching impact he had and his legacy of being a humble, kind, and giving man.

As Mike O'Brien once said, “No one gets extra points for loving Jack Casey, bc EVERYONE loves Jack Casey.”

I will never forget how he always greeted me with his trademark, “Heeeey theeeere” and a handshake.

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“May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields
and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.”

- traditional Gaelic blessing

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Disconcerting Rise Of Self-Proclaimed Megachurch Apostles - Jeff Wiersma

A group of mostly self-proclaimed “apostles,” leading ministries from North Carolina to California, has attracted millions of followers with promises of direct access to God through alleged "signs and wonders."

In August 2017, Christianity Today's Bob Smietana interviewed authors Brad Christerson and Richard Flory about their book, The Rise Of Network Christianity.

Their book is about the group of mostly self-proclaimed “apostles,” leading ministries from North Carolina to California, has attracted millions of followers with promises of direct access to God through alleged "signs and wonders."

The following are some insightful, albeit disconcerting, excerpts that resonate with what I have perceived and discerned.  To me, these observations are disconcerting to me - because it always concerns me when emotionalism, devotion to a “chosen” leader, and financialization are driving forces in a movement.

I've seen first-hand the abuses of power that often result from the lack of oversight and accountability and celebrity-leader dynamism.  I've observed the kind of misguided teaching and psychologically damaging cultures that result from it.

I know many people who have suffered long-term emotional and relational trauma from attending these types of churches. 

Multi-level marketing reaps millions 
Many of these "apostles" run megachurches, among them Bethel Church in Redding, California. But their real power lies in their innovative approach to selling faith. They’ve combined multi-level marketing and Pentecostal style alleged signs and wonders to connect directly with millions of spiritual customers. That allows them to reap millions in donations, conference fees, and book, MP3, worship cd and DVD sales.

Trickle-down spirituality, devotion to the leader
The leaders of this movement don't have the same "priesthood of all believers" theology as the Protestant Reformers, because their power flows down from particular "apostles," and then others who are "under them" can access it.   
Despite being similar to established prosperity gospel preachers, this group is unique in that they really think God has put these "apostles" on earth to transform the world.  It's a sort of trickle-down Christianity, which spreads its ideas through marketing and media production.

No oversight and accountability, lots of hype. 
They consciously avoid any kind of formal organization or denomination (aka "oversight and accountability").  They can just go straight to the market activities.
Between social media, the internet, and conferences, they have figured out ways to leverage big, hyped-up, (emotionally-manipulative) experiences.  It is a completely different discipleship than the weekly rhythm of church life in community.   
These leaders don't engage in a lot of self-reflection about the dangers of holding major power without any oversight.  We haven't seen a lot of self-awareness on their part.  They think they are an instrument of God - and that's all they need.  There's a suspicion of accountability structures. 

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Why Do Many Everyday Republican Christians Still Support Trump? - Jeff Wiersma

Even though many everyday Republican Christians may identify themselves as “values voters,” in reality they’ve been groomed to be as partisan as any other special interest group.

In light of the fact that a solid majority everyday Republican Christians continue to support the amoral Donald Trump, my longtime suspicion - that many everyday Republican Christians have been conditioned to not ACTUALLY care as much about “values” in the political/social realm as they’ve claimed that they do - appears to be confirmed.

Rather, it appears that they’ve been quite poorly-discipled in ways that serve the Religious Right’s pursuit of authoritarian political power. (But there’s good news too, so please read through till the end).

Trump's continued support among many everyday Republican Christians has not been eroded by the recent revelation that Trump cheated on his 3rd wife just after she had given birth to their son. Were that not enough, he committed adultery with numerous porn stars, who he then paid hush money to, including physically threatening one if she wouldn’t keep quiet about the entire affair.

As a contrast, when Bill Clinton committed adultery with an intern, the Religious Right called for his impeachment and deemed him wholly unfit morally to serve as President.

I agreed then - and I feel the same way now about the current POTUS. But as for the current POTUS, the Religious Right has argued many different rationalizations and justifications for the immoral behavior.

(As an aside - many of them who I interact with have rationalized voting against Hillary because Trump is “pro-life.” (1) The narrow, inadequate definition of the term “pro-life” by the Religious Right leaves much to be desired when compared to the Consistent Ethic of Life Christian teaching. (2) Actual abortion rates tend to increase under Republican presidencies because the economy performs worse and social program funding is often cut. (3) Roe v Wade was made law by a conservative-majority Supreme Court.  Subsequent conservative-majority Supreme Courts have not overturned it.  (4) A man who threatens nuclear holocaust isn’t pro-life, so this entire rationalization - unfounded and spurious as it was based on the 3 previous points - doesn’t even hold water given Trump’s threats to wipe out North Korea with nuclear weapons).
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So, what does this ethical inconsistency demonstrate? In my assessment, it demonstrates that even though many everyday Republican Christians may identify themselves as “values voters,” in reality they’ve been groomed to be as partisan as any other special interest group.

They don’t emulate Trump’s behavior in their own lives (thank goodness, or society would be an unmitigated disaster), but they’ve found ways to justify or rationalize all kinds of behaviors of Trump’s that they cited as disqualifying in previous political leaders.

These everyday Republican Christians are the people who, in my youth, taught that values and morals were the most crucial issues in the political and social spheres; they were the baseline criteria upon which all political and social decisions should be made.

But in light of their continued support of Trump, many us of are asking ...

  • Were those teachings and beliefs ever really”fundamental?”
  • Or - perhaps - were these everyday Republican Christians simply unquestioningly passing along the franchised propaganda that Religious Right leaders provided/said to?
  • When the opportunity for authoritarian political power presented itself in the golden calf of Trump, did they SUDDENLY change what they really believed and cave to a novel temptation, or did it confirm what - all along - Religious Right leaders have groomed them to be?

I believe it to the 2 latter possibilities and not the former. It sure appears to confirm the conclusions I reached 19 years ago when I shed what I've taken to calling the "Fundacostagelical" bondage and converted to actual Christianity.

Sadly, this ethical inconsistency has discredited my faith to onlookers outside of the evangelical cloister. This has only worsened as Religious Right leaders have defended neo-Nazis and pedophiles.

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The good news = it’s possible break free of the Religious Right’s spiritual bondage and wholly inadequate theology/moral vision.

Trust me, I did it - and you can too! I can’t even put into words how free it feels to live free of that oppression. I have lived in both worlds and there's no comparison; life after Fundacostagelicalism is better by far.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Muslim Leaders Are Speaking Out Against Terrorism — Is Anyone Listening? - CRC Network

With the rise of anti-Muslim bigotry and hate crimes in the U.S., coverage of events where Jews, Christians, and Muslims gather to talk about how they can work together to seek peace is critically important.

More than 400 leaders — Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Sikh, Hindu — convened in Washington D.C. last week for an event coordinated by Rabbi David Sapperstein, Pastor Bob Roberts, and Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyeh. While the Christians at the event were mostly from Evangelical communities, there were also Catholic, Orthodox, and Mainline representatives participating in the event, known as the Alliance of Virtue.

The Alliance of Virtue was born in January 2016 with the drafting of the Marrakesh Declaration in Morocco; a document signed by more than 350 leaders which stated that the persecution of religious minorities is contradictory to Islam, and called for an end to acts of terrorism in the name of the religion.

With the rise of anti-Muslim bigotry and hate crimes in the U.S., coverage of events where Jews, Christians, and Muslims gather to talk about how they can work together to seek peace is critically important.

According to a survey by the Pew Forum last year, just 35% of white evangelicals know a Muslim personally. This lack of connection is reflected in the perspectives of white evangelicals. According to the Pew survey, 72% of white evangelicals see a natural conflict between Islam and democracy, while only 44% of the general population shares this perspective.

But God is greater than our suspicions. God is larger than our formulas.

The full article is available here

Monday, February 5, 2018

Reflection and Renewal: The Still Small Voice Among Many Noisy Voices

God, in our lives there are many voices which ask for our attention.

There is a voice that says, "Prove that you are a good person."
Another voice says, "You’d better be ashamed of yourself."

There are also voices that say, "Nobody really cares about you,"
that say, "Be sure to become successful and powerful,"
and that say, “buying this product will make you happy
and will win the approval of others.”

But underneath all these often very noisy voices
is a still, small voice that says, "Rejoice, you are loved,
simply because you are a part of the universe
that God created and called ‘good.’”

God, that’s the voice we need most of all to hear.

Sometimes we are so hurried and distracted
that we forget that this voice is even speaking at all.

Sometimes we resist making the effort to listen for that voice -
to listen for you.

So as we pray now and going forward - gives us ears to hear
the voice that calls us "loved” and to take joy in it.

Amen

Call To Worship: God, The Life-Giving Trinity

The words God speaks are the life
and sustenance of all that exists.

The life Jesus gives is the re-creation and
renewed birth of all that is broken and worn.

The Spirit’s stirring in our souls is the inspiration
for creativity, compassion, joy, and community.

Life-giving, life-restoring, life-fulfilling God;
may our whole lives be worship.
In all things, may we seek to connect with
and to reflect your love and your hope.

Friday, February 2, 2018

We Choose Love Over Fear - CRC Office of Social Justice

"The Bible is clear that there is no fear in love. They are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Fear has to do with punishment. Love has to do with seeing Christ in all, especially the distressed."

Love versus fear.

We are living in a time, in a world, in which fear rules our hearts. Fear that has been woven into the very fabric of our society; fear that we carry around as a heavy burden in our bodies, and in our souls.

The Bible is clear that there is no fear in love. They are at opposite ends of the spectrum.  Fear has to do with punishment. Love has to do with seeing Christ in all, especially the distressed.

Now is the time as Christ followers to choose: do we want to live in the spirit of fear, or do we want to embody the perfect love of God in this world? We cannot choose both.

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It can be all too easy to be swallowed up by fear.

It's acceptable, in the eyes of many, to continue putting up walls, turning back boats, not saving those in distress in the middle of the sea, imprisoning those who dared try to cross a man-made border “illegally”.

Many justify these acts by saying that they are not our brothers and our sisters, they are not our neighbors, they are not aliens living in our land…they are others.

It can be all too easy to say, “Well, many of them are Muslims…” and deny the love of Christ to those who are believers of different religions (or of no religion).

We choose love. It is not always easy. It does not always feel safe. It takes work. But we choose love.

The full article is available here

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Some Celebrity Preachers Still Defending/Justiftying Trump Despite Adultery - Jeff Wiersma

Those celebrity pastors who have chosen the role of Trump apologists aren’t distinguishing themselves.

It’s still hard to figure out why Trump, of all people, is the hill they are choosing to die on - but power is seductive. Jesus' example of refusing the temptation of it and very intentionally eschewing it are instructive.

There’s a middle ground to be found between apathy towards politics and being so beholden to partisanship that ends are deemed to be justifying of means.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Ways U.S. Churches Can Welcome Immigrants - Christian Reformed Church of North America

In the Bible, strangers are often used by God to bring blessing. Immigrants today are a blessing to our congregations, communities, families, economy, and country. They are created in the image of God.

And God expressly, and repeatedly, commands us to welcome the stranger. This resource shares ten ideas for showing hospitality and experiencing the blessings immigrants bring.

You can preview and download the resource here

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

It Was Not A Silent Night - Rewrite by Jeff Wiersma

It was not a silent night
there was pain, and joy, and fright
You could hear a women's cries
in the alleyway that night
by Joseph's family, shut out
that night in King David's town

It was not a silent night
the barn floor cold, the cattle and flies
A first time mother in labor and pain
sweat and fear upon her face
with blood and tears on the ground
that night in King David's town

It was not a silent night
as Joseph watched with worried eyes
Held Mary's hand as he knelt on the floor
joy at the screams of the newborn
Love incarnate came down
that night in King David's town

Love incarnate came down
that night in King David's town

Friday, December 22, 2017

White US Christianity Is It's Own Greatest Threat - Charles Mathewes, professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia

Fear moves us away from the core of Christianity — love.

When it comes to keeping us away from the core truths of our faith, I suspect this one error is key: many Evangelical and Fundamentalists Christians today seem governed by fear. (The celebrity fundamentalist Christians who have built their fortunes selling fear have discipled their adherents incredibly poorly).

Theologians as well as psychologists will tell you that there is a spiritual peril in acting out of fear and a sense of danger. Fear drives us into patterns of “reasoning” that are far from reasonable, but more akin to reactionary patterns of cause-and-effect.

And fear moves us away from the core of Christianity — love. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love,” says the first epistle of John.

The tyranny of fear in US Christian life is especially visible among white evangelicals, who stand out in their opposition to pluralism in the United States.

The full article is available here

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Christian Zionism's Problematic Interpretation of Scripture - Stephen Sizer

Any suggestion that the Jewish people continue to have a special status before God is biblical anathema. The exalted Christ rules from the heavenly Jerusalem with sovereignty over the entire world. A regression to the limited form of the Old Covenant that Jesus fulfilled is not sound Christian teaching.

The Rise of Biblical Literalism vs Christian Tradition

The rise of biblical literalism in the early 18th century was central to Christian Zionism. In the 1830's, John Nelson Darby substituted the traditional Christian view of the Revelation for his own literalist hermeneutic, claiming that God had revealed it to him by special revelation.

In place of all main Christian tradition, Darby concocted a "dispensationalist" view; the belief that God was about to destroy the world and inaugurate a "whole new dispensation" on earth. This led to speculative interpretations of apocalyptic writings, especially Daniel and Revelation.

Lewis Chafer defines the literal hermeneutic upon which which dispensationalism and Christian Zionism is based in the following way: "The dispensationalist believes every statement of the Bible has only the plain, natural meaning its words imply." Additionally, dispensationalists believe prophecy must be taken literally, despite Christian tradition having interpreted the Bible's future predictions as symbolic.

Unfortunately, this absolutist commitment to literalism does not place any emphasis on the historical context of passages or the way scripture interprets scripture.

Take for example the blessings made to Abraham in Genesis 12. Though these promises were made to the patriarch personally, Christian Zionists applies to the current nation state of Israel.


Biblical Prophecy Removed From Its Covenant Context

Christian Zionists - working from a flawed literalist hermeneutic - believe prophecy is pre-written history. In doing so, they detach the words of the prophets in scripture from the covenental contexts in which they were originally given.

This speculative endeavor is at odds with the prophets themselves, who consistently stressed that it was their intention to call God's people back to the terms of their covenental relationship. Their role was not to reveal arbitrary and otherwise hidden facts about predestined future events thousands of years later.

This is the most basic hermeneutical error which Christian Zionists consistently repeat. Biblical prophecy is invariably conditional rather than fatalistic and is ALWAYS given within the context of the covenant relationship between God and his chosen people.

But Christian Zionists treat scriptures as a "frozen text." Based on highly selective texts, they erroneously focus on a restored Jewish kingdom rather than the Body of Christ, upon the contemporary State of Israel rather than the cross of Christ. Their selective hermeneutic leads to them ignore how Jesus and the Apostles reinterpreted the Old Testament.

The Christian Zionist's misguided reading of both history and contemporary events, determined by the dubios exegesis of highly selective texts, is essentially fatalistic, polarised and dualistic. It sets Israel and the Jewish people apart from and above all other people; despite what Jesus and Paul taught.

Any suggestion that the Jewish people continue to have a special status before God is biblical anathema. The exalted Christ rules from the heavenly Jerusalem with sovereignty over the entire world. A regression to the limited form of the Old Covenant that Jesus fulfilled is not sound Christian teaching and ignores the ways that Jesus and the Apostles reinterpreted the Old Testament.


The Unfortunate Results

These problematic practices and understandings only serve to perpetuate, exacerbate, and the policies of right-wing Israelis who resist negotiating land for peace. It reinforces Israel's apartheid policies and the illegal settlement and absorption of Occupied Palestinian Territories into the State of Israel.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

5 Of The Most Problematic Christmas Carols - Bob Hiller

All I want for Christmas is you … to think critically about the songs you sing in church, even during Advent and Christmas.

This is the time of year where some of our weakest, most heterodox, and downright strange church songs get lots of attention. It is rather frustrating that these songs tend to be quite popular!

It's likely these songs will be sung in your church this season, despite the fact that they contain some significant flaws. Sentimentality and nostalgia are powerful emotions.

But why are sentimentality and nostalgia an issue?

Because a vital component of the story of Jesus' birth is that it wasn't all warm and fuzzy. It took place in the midst of real life pain, blood, poverty, imperial oppression, and discomfort. Jesus was fully human. Attempting to sanitize that or crafting cloying fictional stories about it can obscure this crucial understanding.

All I want for Christmas is you…to think critically about the songs you sing in church, even during Advent and Christmas.

5. Do You Hear What I Hear? Here’s a song that is just trying too hard to be profound. Instead of propounding some penetrating spiritual insight, it merely recounts a game of telephone taking place on the night Jesus was born.

4. Away In A Manger. This song exemplifies one perpetual problem we find plaguing Christmas hymns: sentimental Gnosticism. There is something inside of us that doesn’t want to think of our Lord as being fully human. We want to clean him up. We think it impious and crass to speak of the holy infant as a baby who fills his holy diaper and keeps his parents up at night crying for milk.

3. We Three Kings of Orient Are. Liturgically, this song doesn’t belong to Christmas either. The magi are men of Epiphany. In light of this, I am recommending that my church do an Epiphany Living Nativity. Only, in this one, instead of everyone standing around, reverently gazing at the baby Jesus doll, we’ll have six or seven overly costumed magicians chasing my two year old around our parking lot while Mary cooks dinner and Joseph has bad dreams.

2. Little Drummer Boy. The story isn’t true, it's fiction. It also puts forth some works righteousness (do your best and then the baby Jesus will smile at you). But most crucially, it doesn't seem plausible that an exhausted, sore, and still pain-addled mother would let a drummer bang a snare drum for her newborn baby.

1. Silent Night. The main idea of this hymn is not…well…true. The night when Jesus was born was not a silent or quiet one. Mary gave birth to a baby next to a feeding trough. Far from the Gnostic, sentimentalized picture of Jesus with glorious beams of light shooting from his face, our Lord was born into a loud, sinful, messy world in a loud, painful, bloody way.

Mary, The Magnificat, and an Unsentimental Advent - Rachel Held Evans

The incarnation isn’t about desperately grasping at the threads of power and privilege. It’s not about making some civic holiday "bigger and better." It’s about surrendering power, setting aside privilege, and finding God in the smallness and vulnerability of a baby in a womb.

We like to paint Mary in the softer hues—her robes clean, hair combed and covered, body poised in prayerful surrender—but this young woman was a fierce one, full of strength and fury. When she accepts the dangerous charge before her, (every birth was risky in those days, this one especially so), rather than reciting a maternal blessing, Mary offers a prophecy, called the Magnificat.

With the Magnificat, Mary not only announces a birth, she announces the inauguration of a new kingdom, one that stands in stark contrast to every other kingdom—past, present, and future—that relies on violence and exploitation to achieve "greatness."

This is the stunning claim of the incarnation: God has made a home among the very people the world casts aside. And in her defiant prayer, Mary— an unwed, un-believed teenage girl in an occupied land—names this reality.

The incarnation isn’t about desperately grasping at the threads of power and privilege. It’s not about making some civic holiday "bigger and better." It’s about surrendering power, setting aside privilege, and finding God in the smallness and vulnerability of a baby in a womb.

The full article is available here

Advent: Labor Pains In The Birth Of A New World - Shane Claiborne



Compassion For The Poor - Father Greg Boyle