Check out the first chapter of True Religion by Palmer Chinchen
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Palmer Chinchen has served as pastor of The Grove in Chandler, Arizona, for the past seven years. He grew up in Liberia, West Africa, and as an adult has led many people on numerous mission trips around the world. He has served in college ministries in Wheaton, IL, and southern California and has taught Spiritual Formation at African Bible College. Chinchen is passionate about Christians responding to affliction and injustice in the world. He holds a PhD from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Illinois and a BA and MA from Biola University in California. He lives with his wife and four children in Chandler, Arizona.
Visit the author's website.
List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook (June 1, 2010)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
I believe God wants us all to live bothered by things around us that are not right. The world is a broken place, and He has put you and me here to make it whole. Possibly the most important indicator of true religion is the desire to love and care for people who hurt.
Some friends told me about a brand of jeans that are popular with the Hollywood crowd and the fabulously rich; they’re called True Religion. I stopped and looked at them in a store the other day—the
price tag read $348. That might become your religion if you spent so much on jeans, but that certainly is not true religion.
Jesus’ brother James said it like this: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless [true religion] is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.”
Can I just say if I were to ever spend $348 on a pair of jeans, then I’ve lost all bearing on life? Seriously, if children in Malawi are being chained to trees because there’s not enough food to go around, or if Africa is filled with children living bare naked because they have no clothes … then how on earth could I make any sense of spending $348 on jeans?
True religion is more about others and less about me. Living out true religion means I’ve stopped being so concerned about what I want and what I get, and I spend my days caring about what others don’t have and what others need. The Christian life is meant to be that way.
Jesus explained true religion like this: “Whenever you feed the hungry, clothe the poor, give water to the thirsty, visit the imprisoned, or loved the unloved—you love Me!”
My favorite introspective writer, Brennan Manning, observes, “Jesus spent a disproportionate amount of time with people described in the gospels as: the poor, the blind, the lame, the lepers, the hungry,
sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors, the persecuted, the downtrodden, the captives, those possessed by unclean spirits, all who labor and are heavy burdened, the rabble who know nothing of the law, the
crowds, the little ones, the least, the last, and the lost sheep of the house of Israel…. In short, Jesus hung out with ragamuffins.”
So, in the name of Jesus, give your life away to love people who hurt! God wants everyday people like you and me to be His hands and feet. So go! Love the marginalized, free the oppressed, show mercy to the hurting, give to the poor, feed the hungry, love the orphans and the widows, and take good news to the lost.
Jesus always seemed to notice when people were pushed into the margins. They are still there today. But too often they are the invisible ones. We pass them and don’t know their names. We don’t stop to ask about their pain. They are the forgotten ones.
Jesus lived bothered by abuse, injustice, and oppression.
On one occasion He happened upon a crowd of men planning the stoning of a woman accused of adultery. Jesus’ eyes pierced the men surrounding the shamed woman. She stood guilty of adultery and infidelity. But Christ stood close. His fists were clenched, His words were curt: “Let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone.”
The silence was deafening. He slowly bent down and wrote with his finger. Were they words of compassion he wrote? Was it a line from the Torah? Theologians have debated the words in the sand for centuries. Personally, I believe he wrote this: “The first one of you who dares to throw a rock at this beautiful woman … I will personally beat you down!” Okay, I’m probably wrong, but I like the thought, and I might be close. I feel this way because His attitude toward injustice was always—NO WAY! Not on my watch; not as long as I am here.
This must be our attitude as well. We must develop a moral conscience. Injustice should gnaw at our soul. Begin to be bothered by situations that are not right. Start speaking up when things are not right. This is what the Lord requires of His followers.
We all need to live a bit more bothered when something is wrong with this world.
Christians talk much about conversion and change. An important aspect of the change that must take place in the believer’s life is moral transformation. All people are created with a moral dimension to their human personality. In much the same way we grow and change physically, we also develop morally.
Donal Dorr, who writes extensively on the need for a balanced faith, one that addresses issues of justice, says we need a moral conversion. Because sometimes Christians have a conversion of the intellect, but their soul remains calloused to what is not right in this world.
Harvard University professor Lawrence Kohlberg developed the idea of Stages of Moral Development. He explains that people develop morally in stages.5 For example, children do not understand or comprehend justice the way adults should; that’s why two-year old always say, “Mine!” We’re supposed to outgrow that.
The problem is that as Christians we often only teach moral knowledge. But unfortunately, moral knowledge does not always lead to moral action. The moral conscience can be scarred, callused, or ignored. For example, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day knew the Hebrew Bible inside and out, yet Jesus said if they were to see a bleeding man on the side of the road they would walk on by. Their spirituality was not true religion.
The ancient Jewish prophet Micah wrote about true religion, religion that makes the heart of God smile: “He has shown you all people what is good, and what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.”
Jesus described his own purpose and mission as this: “He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed.”
I would argue then that moral transformation often comes when we are willing to step outside our places of comfort and safety and not just think morally but do morally. When you give yourself away to the world, when you live out your religion as God intended, you open your life to being stunned by God and having your moral character transformed.
The world is filled with places and actions that are unjust and oppressive. A primary Christian duty is to put an end to these practices. Live convinced that you can change what is wrong in this world and make it just a little bit more beautiful.
My friend Scott Erickson, who paints the images that are branded on his heart from his travels to Cameroon, says he paints so that his art becomes a voice for all in Africa who have been silenced.
Part of our Christian duty is to become a prophetic voice. By this I mean you and I speaking out, as did the ancient Jewish prophets, against practices that are not right.
The work of Brazilian educator Paulo Freire has revolutionized the way Christian educators talk about our moral duty. Frustrated with Brazil’s oppressive educational system, Freire began promoting the idea of conscientization.
Conscientization is the process by which people become aware of practices around them that are dehumanizing. People must first realize their oppression before they can confront it and overcome it.
Liberation comes through conscientization. The more people understand their oppression, the more they become human. And once the marginalized can name and verbalize the oppression, they become empowered to take part in confronting, speaking out against, and reshaping that reality.
But you don’t have to go to the Democratic Republic of Congo or Sudan to see oppressive practices that need your voice.
The first time I passed a sheriff’s chain gang in Arizona, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Women in prison-striped uniforms hoeing weeds … chained at the ankles, with shotgun-toting deputies standing watch. I was shocked. It looked like a scene from 1950s rural America.
My soul ached to the gut. Yes, these women may have committed crimes that deserve incarceration—but not this dehumanizing humiliation. I hurt for them. I wanted to cry for them. My thought was, “Palmer, you must do something …” So I hung a U and got out. I approached the deputy and asked if he would give a message to the sheriff. He listened patiently as I said, “Please tell your sheriff that in Chandler, we do not want women humiliated. In Chandler, we believe that every person should be treated with dignity and respect. In Chandler, we want this practice stopped.” He was kind enough to say he would pass my message along.
All human beings have great worth. Regardless of race, gender, ability, wealth, religion, or nationality, all people deserve dignity and respect. This is not only a Christian argument or position. This is a
moral position. To publicly humiliate another person is immoral and unjust. It’s wrong at every level.
Who among us would stand idly by while a person maliciously scarred da Vinci’s Mona Lisa with graffiti? We would scream NO! Stop!—we would take action because this painting is deemed beautiful and priceless. How much more beautiful and priceless is the life of a woman—even one in chains!
The Christian today must be aware of the pain that society, consciously or unconsciously, imposes on people. The suffering is real, it hurts, and it’s time to stop it.
Solomon, in his great wisdom, explained that empathizing with those who hurt is not enough: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
About twenty of us Chinchens were standing under the shade of a giant tree at Disneyworld trying to decide where to head next when just a few feet away I noticed a young couple arguing loudly. I turned just in time to watch him raise his hand high and slap her hard across the face.
I couldn’t believe what I just witnessed. Without thinking, I reacted by grabbing him from behind.… Okay, I realize this was not a pastoral response, but I’ve got some Scotch-Irish in my blood.
“What are you thinking?! You can’t hit her,” I blurted out.
“She was asking for it,” he mumbled, still in my grip.
“Well, not here,” I stated with conviction. “Never, ever again will you hit her. Is that clear?”
I’m not sure if it was the headlock or my convincing words, but he agreed.
Anywhere in the world, slapping a woman is despicable … especially at the happiest place on earth!
As I said earlier, Christian morality is not simply about having good judgment on issues of right and wrong; it’s more about moral action—doing what it right.
In the late 1960s, John Darley and Bibb Latane were the first researchers to do extensive studies on the psychological phenomenon of noninvolvement, or why people fail to help when someone is in distress.
Darley and Latane found several reasons why bystanders will simply watch a person drown, for example, and do nothing. One is stage fright: “I may appear foolish if they really do not need help.” Another reason is risk: “They may pull me under, and I may drown with them.” Still another reason is deferred involvement: “If others are not helping, I guess I don’t need to help.”
Here’s what’s most bizarre. The more people present, the less likely it becomes that someone will help! Researchers have put children on the streets of both cities and small towns and had them say to passing strangers, “I’m lost. Can you help me?” People in cities like New York kept walking. I’m not kidding. People in small towns were far more likely to help. Their finding was that it’s better to be desperate in a small town with fewer people than in a city, especially New York, with many passersby.
We can live a lifetime that way. We can see pictures of women chained to trees as slaves in Sudan and say, “That’s sad. I’m sure the U.N. will put a stop to that.” Or we can watch CNN and see men eating dirt out of cans in Malawi to ease their hunger pangs and think, “That’s not good. I’m sure World Vision will ship in some rice.” We do this never realizing the responsibility may be ours!
I was glad to be getting out of Kenya. The county had been going through months of civil unrest. For the first time in decades, Kenya had become a place of violence. Neighbors who had lived for years peacefully next door to one another were now turning on each other because of tribal differences. The mood of the country surprised even Kenyans.
I woke up early to catch my flight to Monrovia and left my hotel by six thirty. But as my taxi driver went past Nairobi’s central park, it was already filling with riot police and water-cannon trucks. In spite of the government’s objections, a new political party was planning demonstrations for this day, and no one expected them to be peaceful. I was really glad to be getting out of Kenya.
We made our way onto the four-lane road that leads to the Nairobi airport and were doing about sixty when suddenly the minivan in front of us abruptly changed lanes, striking the rear quarter panel of a minibus to its left. The minibus was packed full of passengers, at least a dozen. The minibus swerved left, then right, then violently flipped onto its side. It skidded before rolling up onto its roof, which immediately collapsed.
I have to be honest—when I saw the minibus full of people crash onto its roof, my first thought was, “Let’s get out of Kenya. Riots are coming. If you stop you may miss your flight. The road is busy with cars; of course others will stop to help. Palmer, you don’t have to get involved.”
But of all thoughts, in that nano-moment, my mind raced back twenty-plus years to the memory of Mike driving past the upsidedown taxi. And I remembered my promise: I will live differently.
“Driver, stop the car!” I shouted with urgency. We both jumped out running. He was a Christian too; we had been listening to praise songs in Swahili.
The collapsed roof had smashed every window in the van. The openings were now barely wide enough to pull people out. Others joined as we took people by their arms or legs and eased them through the shattered glass. Within just a couple of minutes everyone was out. Some had minor cuts or bruises to their heads, but miraculously no one appeared critically injured.
Just as I was feeling relieved, my driver shouted, “They’re beating the other driver.” I turned to see a mob attacking the driver who had caused the accident. Some were kicking him in the head, others
punching, some throwing huge stones.
In Africa they call it mob justice. If you hit a pedestrian with your car, the mob will beat you to death. If you steal a shirt off a neighbor’s clothesline, the mob will chase you and beat you to death. It’s become a senseless form of law enforcement that, unfortunately, unemployed young men seem to take pleasure in.
With my driver shouting at the mob in Swahili, I ran into the midst. Pushing to the middle I dropped to my knees and bent over the man to protect him from the blows. A thought flashed through my head—“I hope they don’t turn on me.” Strangely, I did not feel afraid. I sensed that a man was dying and I had to do whatever I could to save his life.
I looked up as one man buried his foot in the man’s side and clasped my hands together, a sign of pleading, and yelled, “Palebe, palebe!” (In Chechewa, the national language of Malawi, where
I had just been the day before, this means please. But now I was in Kenya where they speak Swahili.) They seemed to know what I meant. Their faces were still filled with rage, but the kicking and punching stopped. The stones were dropped.
The angry men continued to argue with my driver in Swahili (he later translated): “We want to kill him. He’s a fool. He deserves to die!”
My driver was adamant in return, “No, you will not.”
The man had been struck hard on the back of the head by a cement block. He was unconscious when I first bent over him. I held his head and began to say, “You have to get up, you can’t stay here, they want to kill you.” He regained consciousness, and I helped him sit up. I rubbed the debris from the back of his head and finally helped him to his feet. I waited till the mob dispersed.
Just the day before I had been feeling sorry for myself because during this particular trip to Africa I had missed my wedding anniversary, I had missed my son’s eighteenth birthday, and I had missed a large weeklong event at my church. But as we drove the rest of the way to the Nairobi Airport the thought hit me that maybe this was the only place God wanted me. Because if God used me to save just one man’s life, then it was worth everything I had left behind.
I’m not a hero, just a Christ-follower trying to do what I encourage others to do.
Give your life away.
Pour it into people.
Souls last forever.
Ideas for Becoming the Expatriate
Rent more movies with subtitles. France, India, and Japan, for example, are producing an increasing number of good films that rarely make it into American theatres.
©2010 Cook Communications Ministries. True Religion by Palmer Chinchen. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.