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James Pedrick
11 November 2007 @ 02:02 pm
I am establishing a new home at http://www.jamespedrick.com
James Pedrick
04 October 2006 @ 02:58 pm
Upcoming AoA literature by yours truly...

We all know there are countless teachings throughout Scripture to care for the poor. The biblical mandate is so important that when a rich young man asks what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus tells him, “Go sell everything you have and give the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” And yet elsewhere Jesus tells us that the poor will always be with us – leaving some of us to question: “Why we should even try to eliminate poverty if it is so impossible?”

Through this lens, fighting poverty and injustice can often seem discouraging, fruitless, and even pointless. But I wonder how often we consider how giving to the poor and seeking justice for the oppressed actually enriches us and transforms our lives through the process.

Last year, I had the opportunity to visit a poor rural community in Swaziland, a country in southern Africa where more than 40 percent of the population lives with HIV. There, the average life expectancy is less than 33 years old and more than 70 percent of the people live on less than $1 per day. When I visited Swaziland, I expected to find a community of hopelessness – a community that I needed to fix. But what I found instead was a community of faith, solidarity, and hope with a strong leadership base capable of transforming their own community. All they needed was our support, friendship, and resources to help them meet their needs.

My faith was encouraged through their faith in the midst of extreme poverty. When I returned, I found that the U.S. was suffering its own epidemic of poverty. While this community in Swaziland suffered from economic poverty, I found that my community suffered from relational and spiritual poverty. We suffered from epidemics of apathy in culture and self-righteousness in attitude.

When Jesus told the rich young man to sell all his possessions and give to the poor, he left in shame because he was unwilling to give up his great wealth to follow Christ. Jesus then tells his disciples that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. You see, the rich young man determined that his own comfort and earthly treasures were more important than a life of service toward God and toward others.

I wonder how much our Western Christianity is reduced to a self-serving faith of earthly treasures and comforts. We accumulate a life that simply becomes too great to surrender to Christ. Jesus’ own life reveals an example of humble service and surrender for others--even to the point of death. Jesus says, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

There are several other accounts where Jesus asks people to follow him and they respond by leaving behind their old lives, careers or possessions, and even their families in order to enter into a full life of service with Christ. We are not told they were rewarded with earthy treasures or fortunes. In fact, many of them were persecuted or even died for their faith. But each entered into fullness of life, replacing selfish wants and possessions with greater intimacy and love for God and for others. Are we willing to become poor in order to serve the poor?

Just by living in the US, we are among the richest 10 percent of the world. How would our lives be transformed if we began seeing our service toward God and others as more important than our earthly possessions and desire? Could we also be transformed into a community of faith, solidarity, and hope like the one I visited in Swaziland?

In serving the poor, our goal is not to export our own culture of material things and possessions. Rather, our goal should be to befriend and support our brothers and sisters as they combat the poverty, disease, and injustices that affect their ability to experience fullness of life. In doing so, we may just uncover the poverty, disease, and injustices that affect our own fullness of life too.
James Pedrick
13 September 2006 @ 08:45 am
If we know how great is the love of Jesus for us we will never be afraid to go to Him in all our poverty, all our weakness, all our spiritual wretchedness and infirmity. Indeed, when we understand the true nature of His love for us, we will prefer to come to Him poor and helpless. We will never be ashamed of our distress. Distress is to our advantage when we have nothing to seek but mercy. We can be glad of our helplessness when we really believe that His power is made perfect in our infirmity.

The surest sign that we have received a spiritual understanding of God’s love for us is the appreciation of our own poverty in light of His infinite mercy.

We must love our own poverty as Jesus loves it. It is so valuable to Him that He died on the Cross to present our poverty to His Father, and endow us with the riches of His own infinite mercy.

We must love our own poverty as Jesus loves it. We must see them with the eyes of His own compassion. But we cannot have true compassion on others unless we are willing to accept pity and receive forgiveness for our own sins.

We do not really know how to forgive until we know what it is to be forgiven. Therefore we should be glad that we can be forgiven by our brothers. It is our forgiveness of one another that makes the love of Jesus for us manifest in our lives, for in forgiving one another we act towards one another as He has acted towards us.


My Lord, I have no hope but in Your Cross. You, by Your humility, and sufferings and death, have delivered me from all vain hope. You have killed the vanity of the present life in Yourself, and have given me all that is eternal in rising from the dead.

Why should I want to be rich, when You were poor? Why should I desire to be famous and powerful in the eyes of men, when the sons of those who exalted the false prophets and stoned the true rejected You and nailed You to the Cross? Why should I cherish in my heart a hope that devours me – the hope for perfect happiness in this life – when such hope, doomed to frustration, is nothing but despair?

My hope is in what the eye has never seen. Therefore, let me not trust in visible rewards. My hope is in what the heart cannot feel. Therefore let me not trust in the feelings of my heart. My hope is in what the hand of man has never touched. Do not let me trust what I can grasp between my fingers. Death will loosen my grasp and my vain hope will be gone.

Let my trust be in Your mercy, not in myself. Let my hope be in Your love, not in health, or strength, or ability or human resources.

If I trust You, everything else will become, for me, strength, health, and support. Everything will bring me to heaven. If I do not trust you, everything will be my destruction.
James Pedrick
11 September 2006 @ 09:19 am
I started reading Nehemiah, beginning with chapters 1 and 2. I thought it was good how Nehemiah pleads the case of his nation before God. It's interesting how Nehemiah's concern and identification with his nation and people is even revealed through his face and sadness of heart. I felt convicted of my individualism, which prompts me to quickly flee the case of my nation, my church, and my family - focusing more on God's supposed justice than pleading for his mercy. The Faith in Action Bible commentary says, "How easy it would have been for Nehemiah, serving in the Persian court at Susa, to separate himself from the guilt of the returnees in his intercessory prayer. Yet he made it a point not to exclude himself or his family members (whether in Judah or Persia) in his confession of national sins."

This, coupled with having a responsive heart but not necessarily a self-made agenda, demonstrates Nehemiah's humility. He doesn't view himself better than his people. And though he grieves over their present condition, he does not try to take matters into his own hands but waits for how God might ask him to respond. He actually waits 4 months until the king asks him what is saddening him. And even when asked, Nehemiah prays to God before answering the king.

In Thoughts of Solitude, Thomas Merton describes humility:

"Humility is a virtue, not a neurosis.

"It sets us free to act virtuously, to serve God and to know Him. Therefore true humility can never inhibit any really virtuous action, nor can it prevent us from fulfilling ourselves by doing the will of God.

"Humility sets us free to do what is really good, by showing us our illusions and withdrawing our will from what was only an apparent good.

"A humility that freezes our being and frustrates all healthy activity is not humility at all, but a disguised form of pride. It dries up the roots of the spiritual life and makes it impossible for us to give ourselves to God."

For some humility is really apathy. Rather than taking decisive action or even following faith, the "humble" do not pursue justice and righteousness, because they are content with their lowly position. In reality, they do not care enough to risk humiliation and in doing so they lay in pride. Similarly, without faith and submission before God, any service of our own will only result in pride and a following of our own zealous agendas.

But true humility will result in identifying with others, interceding for AND with others, and submitting to God's plans and purposes.
James Pedrick
09 September 2006 @ 07:39 pm
I am addicted to the show Lost. I recently finished season 1 for the first time, in preparation for season 2 on DVD. Now I am trying to race through season 2 on DVD in preparation for season 3, premiering next month.

Though I am not very far into season 2, a recent moment reminded me of my favorite episode in season 1, when John Locke helped Charlie “quit” his addiction to heroine. For those of you not in the know, Lost is about some people who are lost on a strange island after their plane crashed. Charlie is a has-been rock-in-roll star addicted to heroin. Locke is best described as a “man of faith.” He is perhaps the strangest character on the show, as his legs miraculously were healed once they crashed on to the island – a fact no one else knows. He is convinced that everyone is on the island for a reason and puts a lot of faith in destiny.

In my favorite episode, Locke discovers that Charlie is addicted to heroin. Charlie also doesn’t have much heroine left. Locke helps him out by taking the heroine from Charlie but then offers to give it back to Charlie after he asks three times. This, of course, frustrates Charlie, who asks him why he doesn’t simply throw away the heroin. Locke replies, “If I did that, you wouldn't have a choice, Charlie. And having choices, making decisions based on more than instinct is the only thing that separates you from an animal.”

Locke helps Charlie overcome his addiction, so that Charlie is the one who finally destroys his remaining heroin.

In season 2, we have a very different encounter between Charlie and Locke. Charlie has gotten into the habit of caring for a girl he likes named Claire and her newborn baby. He makes a judgment that she isn’t very good at taking care of the baby and begins taking more responsibility from her and lecturing her over things she does wrong. In talking with Locke, he recalls that she was going to put the baby up for adoption and adds, “She's got a bit to learn about being a mom. Responsibility, y'know.” Locke responds, “Hmm. Now that's an interesting thing to say for a heroin addict.”

Locke’s response to Claire is quite different. When he notices her discouragement, he helps her learn new ways to be a better mother. He empowers her and has faith in her ability to succeed. He equips her to take more responsibility rather than taking responsibility away.

Locke’s perspective is very different than Charlie’s. Charlie fears defeat and failure, which seem inevitable. With his heroin addiction, he would rather someone come in and take responsibility from him rather than being trusted with it himself. The struggle seems too difficult to bear or overcome. Similarly, when he sees Claire struggling, his response is to take responsibility away from her, even though it means overstepping boundaries. He judges Claire and her ability to succeed, just as he judges himself. Interestingly, though, when he judges Claire, he does so with pride in himself. And when he judges himself, he does so with a low comparison of himself toward others.

But Locke does not fear struggle. Instead he sees the value of it. And he has faith that one cannot only success but will be better because of it. Back when he is helping Charlie with his addiction, he uses a moth as a metaphor: “You see this little hole? This moth's just about to emerge. It's in there right now, struggling. It's digging its way through the thick hide of the cocoon. Now, I could help it - take my knife, gently widen the opening, and the moth would be free - but it would be too weak to survive. Struggle is nature's way of strengthening it.”

Luckily, we don’t have to struggle alone, but we do have to struggle. And as followers of Christ, our strength is not in ourselves, but in the power and work of Jesus Christ. Perhaps we, too, can then see struggle as good – as God’s way of strengthening us. And perhaps then we can allow it and even encourage it to take place, both in our lives and the lives of those around us.

Galatians 6:1-5
Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load.”
James Pedrick
06 September 2006 @ 09:09 am
I wrote this for the latest Acting on AIDS newsletter

Read Matthew 8:1-4 and Luke 5:27-32

There was tremendous stigma around leprosy during gospel times. Lepers were required to identify themselves with mourning clothes and by crying, “Unclean! Unclean!” when approaching others. Worst of all, they were isolated from community and required to live apart from others.

Who would be called “unclean” in today’s world? Many would point to those affected by HIV or AIDS. Motivated by fear, ignorance, or even self-righteousness, many people still stigmatize those living with HIV and their families, constructing walls to separate themselves from those who are deemed “unclean.”

Throughout his ministry, however, Jesus Christ tore down walls that separate. Whether healing the sick, talking to a Samaritan woman, or eating with sinners, Jesus ignored boundaries to invite others into communities. In fact, when Jesus ate with sinners and tax collectors in Luke 5, it is the Pharisees and religious leaders who criticized Him. Jesus’ ministry threatened their power and authority. If God saw them as equal to these sinners, what will then separate them?

But it is not by our personal righteousness that we are measured as equal but in our need for reconciliation with God. In Luke 5, Jesus answers the Pharisees by saying: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

Today, it is easy to fall into the same temptation as the Pharisees. HIV-positive persons are often viewed as a modern-day leper – unclean and defined by physical, relational, or spiritual brokenness. We can choose either to ignore or to serve society’s outcasts, but either choice often keeps them in the margins when we choose not to identify with them. Like the Pharisees, it is easier to live in our own numbness when we keep others on the outside, so that even our good works, when coupled with self-righteousness, hide our own brokenness and ultimate need to surrender all to God.

God calls us to be with our brothers and sisters in need, without ignoring our own need for reconciliation with Him. We are all unclean, and we are all in need of Christ’s love, forgiveness, and healing. It is through this mutual need that we may learn to serve one another and find God the most. Consider what this means for your own life. How might this separation keep those the world or religion call “unclean” out of community? What are our personal areas of brokenness and how might we hand those over to Jesus?
James Pedrick
05 September 2006 @ 09:10 am
The phrase self-conquest can come to sound odious because very often it can mean not by the conquest of ourselves but a conquest by ourselves. A victory we have won by our own power. Over what? Precisely over what is other than ourself.

Real self-conquest is the conquest of ourselves not by ourselves but by the Holy Spirit. Self-conquest is really self surrender.

Yet before we can surrender ourselves we must become ourselves. For no one can give up what he does not possess.

More precisely – we have to have enough mastery of ourselves to renounce our own will into the hands of Christ – so that he may conquer what we cannot reach by our own efforts.
James Pedrick
29 August 2006 @ 10:11 pm
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think that I am following
your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this
you will lead me by the right road
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always
though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear,
for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

-Thomas Merton
James Pedrick
27 August 2006 @ 09:17 pm
Yesterday I finished yet another theological book. This one I read in just two days, suggesting that (at least in regards to interest and reading ability) I am ready to go back to school. The book I finished was “The Last Word and the Word After That,” the last in Brian McLaren’s “A New Kind of Christian” trilogy. It was perhaps the most controversial, but also presented a lot of good new questions and ideas.

This book was about the forth I’ve finished in the last week, albeit the only I both started and finished in the last week, but the reading certainly leaves me wondering if perhaps this reading is doing any good. I definitely seeing my beliefs being changed, but how much is my life and faith practically changing for the better? Perhaps all this reading and thinking is really a distraction, or worse?

As I was finished “The Last Word…,” I was also watching “The Scout,” a 1994 film starring Albert Brooks and Brendan Fraser. Here’s the quick IMDB synopsis: “Al Percolo is a major league baseball scout sent to scout in Mexico as a punishment. However, he eventually stumbles across Steve Nebraska, a young American who can pitch AND hit better than anyone else can do either. He signs Steve and returns home in glory. It soon becomes obvious, though, that Steve is immature and possibly unstable, and Al turns to psychiatrist Doctor H. Aaron, whom he picks for her name, for help.”

By the end of “The Scout,” young Steve Nebraska is expected to pitch his first major league baseball game, but he freaks out. He is afraid of making a fool of himself or that people may make fun of him, despite his promising abilities. The player and his scout/surrogate father get in a standoff, which finally ends when the scout gives the kid freedom to do whatever he wishes: to play ball or avoid the limelight. In doing so, the kid’s fear subsides and he then realizes the choices and consequences beforehand. If he takes a step of faith and pitches the game, the worst that can happen is he loses. “Well, half those guys lose everyday.” With freedom comes clarity and understanding.

In the end, Steve Nebraska chooses to pitch the game and wins. Ironically, by remaining on the fence, his worst fear would come true: he’d make a fool of himself.

I am not really sure where my current pursuit of truth will take me in the end, but I do believe it is laying the foundations for me to have freedom and make choices. Through deconstruction and reconstruction, my understanding of God and His purposes for me is beginning to change. Practical changes? Maybe not yet, but hopefully forming good soil for new fruit.
James Pedrick
It has been a while since I have blogged my thoughts, and I have had quite a few good ones today, so here we go…

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I am watching Capote right now. The movie makes me feel a bit uncomfortable because I often feel that some of my closest friends look at me the way that Harper Lee looks at Capote. He will be saying something that will seem brilliant or charismatic or caring but she will see right through it, into his heart and motives, and look upon it with pity – and yet she accepts him anyway.

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At church, we have recently been going through various stories throughout the Book of Matthew. We’ve been going through three stories each week, but it sometimes seems a bit much when each one digs up so much. Today’s seemed especially sobering and insightful. The stories were from Matthew 8-9 (I won’t recount them so look them up if need be). But I especially reflected on three things:

1. Jesus’ ministry to the “unclean” and marginalized.
2. A sick man asking to be healed if Jesus was “willing”
3. God often choosing to work through the unlikely

I’m only going to reflect on one of these, which is Jesus’ ministry to the unclean and marginalized. Our church services have been very interactive lately, and the pastor asked us to think of ways that we are unclean and marginalized to the outskirts of community with God and others. Someone then mentioned drug addicts and homeless as modern-day outcasts, but the other pastor rightly pointed out that that is too often a copout.

We often choose to either ignore or serve the outcasts of our society. But either choice often keeps outcasts in the margins when we choose not to identify with them. The truth is: there was no difference between the lepers, the poor, the prostitutes, and the religious leaders. All of them were in need of reconciliation with God, and yet those more wealthy or powerful or pious could ignore their need as long as they had a scapegoat in the outskirts. In reality, they were living in numbness. It’s safer there. And so today, it is easier to live in our own numbness when we keep others on the outside, so that even our good works, when coupled with self-righteousness, hide our true depraved nature and ultimate need for total surrender to God.

I recently heard that the Church in China prays for our persecution. Despite being oppressed and impoverished, they realize that our noise keeps us numb to our true reality and potential.

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This is a scary thought, but I think my new favorite drug of numbness is Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. Larry David is the co-creator of Seinfeld. George Costanza was based a bit off his real life persona, though Larry doesn’t seem nearly so self-conscious. I’ve enjoyed watching the show, but realized it’s a bit like someone who lusts and whistles after women going home and watching porn – it only feeds my sarcasm, cynicism, and bitterness. I’ve actually begun asking my self, “What would Larry do?” I don’t know if I can just stop watching the show, so I think I’ll just have to do a few nights and weekends rushing through all four seasons…

…I guess that means there’ll be a few more Harper Lee looks over the next couple weeks.