27 Million…

…That’s the number of people who are estimated to be in slavery today.  According to research done by Free the Slaves, there are more people enslaved today than at any other time in history.  Noted anti-slavery organization, the Polaris Project, estimates that there are currently over 100,000 U.S. citizen minors who are vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation. 

Those numbers sometimes keep me awake at night.

Those numbers are far too large, in a world where technology and progress have brought us further than any of our ancestors’ generations before us. 

Even one person in slavery would be too many.

Last night, a group of about 20 people watched a film in the Chapel,  called “Not Today.”  The film tells the story of Caden, a young man who comes from a privileged lifestyle (the watch he wears costs approximately 1/5 of what my house is worth!), who winds up with some friends on a holiday trip to India.  While there, he encounters Kiran, a Dalit (“Untouchable”) man who has had to sell his daughter to human traffickers in an effort to try to keep himself, and the girl, alive.  Kiran does not understand that his actions have put his daughter at risk for exploitation–the film hints that she has been used both in the commercial sex trade and in sweatshop labor–and he is devastated when he discovers the conditions that the girls he encounters are kept in.  At one point, Kiran and Caden are able to free two small girls from a brothel, only to discover the next day that the girls have run back to their “owners,” because they have been led to believe that their compliance with the pimps and Johns will somehow create a better life for themselves and their families.  It’s a heart-wrenching film that has the ability of being able to make one feel both inspired and completely depressed at the very same time. 

The story of “Not Today” is but one example of the horrors faced by those who are held in slavery today.  The chains of modern slavery may not be made of the iron of the old days, but the mental and physical strictures on trafficked persons are just as strong, and just as devastating, as the restraints of the past.  It is time for those of us who live freely, and who enjoy the privileges of Western decadence, to stand up and make our voices heard.  Slavery exists not only in India and in other developing countries, but in the United States and most of the rest of the world.  Everyone, everywhere is affected by this tragedy.  No one is truly free as long as anyone is enslaved. 

In his inaugural sermon, in his own hometown (Luke 4:16-21), Jesus preached the words of Isaiah 61:

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
   because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
   to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
   and release to the prisoners;
 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,

The call of Christ rings in my ears today as I reflect on the tragedy of human trafficking.  As I ponder the enormity of the number 27 Million, I wonder, “What can I do?  I’m just one man!”  But I know that what I can do–what we can all do–is learn more, educate others, advocate for freedom, and work to end slavery once and for all–even if it means working one person at a time.  Who knows, maybe we can get that number down to 26,999,999, and then 26,999,998, then all the way down to 0.

Pray for the freedom of all, but most of all, act up for freedom every day.




Thoughts on Worship (Part 1): What Worship Is Not.

Worship has been on my mind a lot lately, as I spend these first few quiet (lonely) days in my new office.  No one seems to be on campus, other than the many wonderful behind-the-scenes folks who keep ONU’s campus looking so beautiful, and a few classes that are in session.  So, I’ve been spending some time thinking about the coming school year, and specifically Thursday morning chapel worship.  Since the time I was offered this position, I’ve done a lot of listening to people on campus, asking what they think about the chapel.  And the one topic that has come up, time and time again, is worship.  Something is “missing,” or something is “off,” or something needs to be done.  The numbers tell part of the story—like many ministries and churches, chapel has seen a decrease in attendance over the last few years.  Part of that is because of a wider trend in American religion, and among emerging adults, to be sure.  But there is a sense that a truly dynamic chapel worship would appeal to more students, and would increase those ever-elusive numbers.  In order to understand a thing, sometimes we have to understand what it is not.  So I want to spend some time thinking today about what worship isn’t.  (Later, I’ll write about what it is.)

One question that keeps coming up in my mind is this—What can we do in worship that will increase attendance?  The answer is—Absolutely nothing!  Worship isn’t meant as the solution to the crisis of dwindling numbers.  The way we worship is an integral part of who we are, and it will certain nurture and grow our members spiritually, but it is not meant—it never was meant—to be our sole means of discipleship and spiritual formation.  Discipleship and spiritual formation, along with outreach and evangelism, are what will help grow our worship attendance.  (More about those topics at another time!)  So, I would disagree with those who say that one “style” of worship or another is the key to growing a worshiping community.  I have known churches that worship in a very traditional, almost ancient, style, that have grown by leaps and bounds, and I have known just as many churches that worship in a totally cool, contemporary and down-to-earth style that are doing the same.  Worship “style” doesn’t determine growth.

Another thought that often attaches itself to worship is that worship “feeds” the congregation.  When people leave a church, they often say that it was because the worship wasn’t “feeding” them.  I have seen a lot of people come and go from worshiping communities in the course of my ministry (I’ve even helped some of them go in a manner that was healthier for both them and the community).  A few times, people have said to me that worship in the community which they were leaving was not “feeding” them.  Then, as we dug deeper into their story, they revealed that the real issue was that they had a conflict with another congregant, or with the pastor, and that worship wasn’t “feeding” because they couldn’t go to worship without focusing on the conflict they were having.  Worship isn’t meant to “feed” us, and when we do think that worship is our main (or only) source of being “fed,” then we have a very poor spiritual diet!  Imagine only eating once a week, and then only on fatty and sugary foods that satisfied you for an hour and then quickly left your system.  If you’re going to worship only to be “fed,” you’ll never be filled with the Spirit of God—at least not completely.

A third thing that worship isn’t is entertainment.  If you’ve been a part of the Christian community  through any part of the last few decades, you’ll be at least somewhat familiar with what have been called “the worship wars.”  Each side on this battle (there are more sides than the false contemporary/traditional, by the way) sees the other sides as promoting worship that is merely “entertainment.”  And I can see where those arguments could be valid.  I’ve been to high masses and Eucharistic worship during which people talked through the whole service, until the bells were rung at the consecration.  And, I’ve been to more than my fair share of “worship experiences” that were more about the worship band’s latest album than about worshiping the living God.  So, let’s all admit that all sides have transgressed in this manner, and let’s move on.  Worship isn’t entertainment.  It isn’t meant to be entertaining.  Although there may be enjoyable moments within worship, those moments are not the reason we worship.  John Wesley addressed this way of thinking in his sermon “The Duty of Constant Communion.”  Writing of the sacrament, he said:

Reverence for the sacrament may be of two sorts:  either such as is owing purely to the newness of the thing, such as men naturally have for anything they are not used to; or such as is owing to the love or fear of God.  Now the former of these is not properly a religious reverence, but purely natural.  And this sort of reverence for the Lord’s Supper the constantly receiving of it must lessen.  But it will not lessen the true religious reverence, but rather confirm and increase it.

Applied to worship, the above passage points out that our feelings about worship—whether or not we are “entertained”—don’t matter as much as the fact that we are worshiping the God of creation, the Holy and Divine Trinity, Three in One.  That alone should be the focus of our worship, not whether or not the choir was in top form or the worship band’s lighting was effective.  Those elements of worship are important—more on that  later, too—but they are not the main purpose of worship.

Check back again soon to see some thoughts on what worship is. But for now, in the comments section below, or on Facebook or Twitter, let me know what you think—is there something you’ve come across in your experience that worship is not?