Jeff Haanen

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Jeff Haanen

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Theology

Mixing Faith and Work

every_good_endeavor_sm2_thumbAmericans spend more hours working per week than any other developed nation. Work defines many of us. Yet it’s rare that churches will intentionally talk about work on Sunday. Tim Keller wrote a new book on this topic that I recently reviewed for Comment Magazine. Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work (Dutton, 2012) is theologically rich and philosophically informed, yet accessible and filled with practical wisdom. Here’s the first section of my review:

When British missionary Lesslie Newbigin returned from the mission field in 1974, he was often asked, “What is the greatest difficulty you face in moving from India to England?” He always responded, “The disappearance of hope.” During the forty years he spent in India, the West had lost a sense of direction. The idea of progress, so strong in the 1930s, now seemed cliché. Adrift in a sea of pluralism, many youth became little more than isolated individuals pursuing personal gain. Ministers and academics began to question how to address this hope-starved generation. American sociologist Robert Bellah proposed a humble remedy: “To make a real difference . . . [there would have to be] a reappropriation of the idea of vocation or calling, a return to the idea of work as a contribution to the good of all and not merely as a means to one’s own advancement.”

Today a renaissance of the idea of vocation has planted seeds of hope throughout Western cities. There have been few more integral to this movement than Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. Since 1989, Keller’s writing, preaching, and teaching have impacted thousands. Now Keller, arguably the most culturally influential evangelical alive, has published his masterwork on faith, work, and culture. Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work is theologically rich and philosophically informed, yet accessible and filled with practical wisdom. Drawing on decades of study and ministry, Every Good Endeavor may soon become one of the most important contemporary books on faith and work. Continue reading…

Politics

Review: Migration Miracle

ImageWho doesn’t love a good adventure story? In my opinion, there are few contemporary stories filled with more hope and tragedy than those of Central Americans and Mexicans taking their chances and migrating north to America. I recently published a review of Jacqueline Maria Hagan’s Migration Miracle: Faith, Hope and Meaning on the Undocumented Journey (Harvard Press, 2012, paperback) in The Review of Faith and International Affairs. Here it is:

Suffocating from the sweltering heat, Cecelia, a migrant from Puebla, Mexico, crammed into the back seat of a sealed van. She and a dozen other women and children dared not speak, despite the lack of oxygen, because their coyote insisted immigration officials were close behind. During the seemingly eternal trip across the U.S. Border, in tears Cecelia remembered, “I prayed in silence to God and pleaded with him to let me live.”

Compelled by stories like Cecilia’s, sociologist Jacqueline Maria Hagan tells the harrowing tales of undocumented migrants traveling from Central America and Mexico to the United States in Migration Miracle: Faith, Hope and Meaning on the Undocumented Journey (Harvard University Press, 2008). In contrast to books that explain immigration solely in social or economic terms, Hagan sets out to investigate the central role of religion in migration. From Pentecostal ayunos (fasts) in the Guatemalan highlands to the shrines of Catholics saints checkered along the desert journey, Hagan gives voice to stories of faith among these “desperate and dignified people,” and so attempts to put a human face on the immigration debate.

Hope on the Border

Drawing on interviews with over 300 migrants from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, Migration Miracle elucidates the importance of religion from making the decision to migrate through arrival.  Margot, an evangelical from Guatemala, fasted and read her Bible for a “sign” from God as she agonized over whether to leave her family. She prayed that if a local coyote (a guide who transports migrants across the border for money) would accept the $1500 payment after she arrived in the U.S., she would accept it as a divine sign. When the coyote agreed, and Margot’s pastor confirmed the sign, she decided to leave. Though sociologists tend to bristle at attributing human behavior to the supernatural, Hagan rightly notes signs are “powerful agents of action” that are “real in their consequences.”  Migrants like Margot not only look for divine signs but also pray, fast, consult clergy and even make pledges of reciprocity (called la promesa) to saints in exchange for safe travels. The study found that 9 out 10 migrants sought spiritual guidance from God before making the final decision to journey north.

To ward off danger, many migrants turn to shrines and images, such as Guatemala’s popular El Cristo Negro (Black Christ) de Esquilipas, a darkened wood image revered for its miraculous powers. Miguel, who left Honduras in 2001, purchased a medallion of El Cristo Negro and promised not to remove it until it fell off his neck. He credits his safe arrival in the U.S. to the image.  Nearly 90% of Mexicans self-identify as Catholic, and devotion to saints and icons deeply shapes their migration experience.

Perhaps the keynote of the discordant migrant song is an undying hope. One group of migrants sought a priestly blessing before crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.  Apprehended by U.S. Border patrol officials, they were brought back to Mexico. They promptly returned to the priest for another blessing. With a touch of irony, the priest asked “So the blessing didn’t help you that much, did it?” One of the young men responded with genuine devotion: “Father forgive me if I contradict you, but with that blessing we arrived as far as Houston. If we had not had your blessing, who knows how far we might have gone? Probably not even to the border.”

Religion is not only important on a personal level, but institutions also help to pave the migrant trail. Churches, nonprofits and humanitarian organizations form a transnational network of advocacy and aid. Among the most notable are the Scalabrianian Missionaries, a Roman Catholic order of priests and nuns whose primary mission is to provide pastoral care to migrants and refugees. Their international network bandages wounds, provides water and food, and gives spiritual guidance to thousands – their Casa del Migrante in Tapachula, Mexico sees as many as 500 migrants a day. The Scalabrianian missionaries stand squarely in the camp of Catholic social theology which practices a theology of solidarity, advocacy and hospitality, defending migration as a fundamental human right for those those who cannot find employment in their own countries to support their families.

Even smaller Protestant organizations contribute to the international aid network.  Humane Borders, Inc., has placed dozens of water tanks in the arid Arizona desert for migrants on foot suffering from dehydration. Father Bob Carney, founder of the interfaith organization Healing Our Borders, commented, “The gospel demands that we act…We must respond to what we are witnessing along the border. If not, one day our Savior will ask why we didn’t do anything in the face of death.” Many Protestant and Catholic leaders view the vulnerable migrant as a stranger they are commanded to serve as if he was Christ himself (Matthew 25:44; cf. Luke 25:15-16).

A Humane Sociology

Jacqueline Maria Hagan’s panoply of first-hand testimonies successfully brings a human face to immigration. One mother prayed for her child’s forgiveness for leaving without first waking him to say good-bye.  Another migrant remembered the soul-convulsing guilt of leaving a teenage girl behind because she could not keep up with the group. The stories are heart-wrenching.  Even the surprising anecdotes of hope—like the virtuous coyote who took his human cargo to an Arizona emergency room to be treated for dehydration—have a way of humanizing an otherwise political issue. It is difficult to read this book and remain detached from the harsh realities of immigration.

Yet the book also succeeds sociologically; her depiction of migrant religious practice is both fascinating if not bizarre. For example, legend has it that Juan Castillo Morales, a private in the Mexican army wrongly accused of murder, was told he would be freed if he could run across a marked line. Although he was killed by his commanding officer, he came to represent immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, seen by outsiders as a criminal, but by the faithful as a saint. Today Juan Soldado (as he’s known) is revered in Tijuana among migrants. As such, travelers stock up on Juan Soldado trinkets, beseeching his favor before crossing over to California. Similarly, thousands flock to the shrine of St. Toribio in Jalisco, Mexico each year. Known as the “coyote saint,” St. Toribio is worshiped for the reported miracles he has granted to migrants in peril. Hagan’s religious survey manages to strike a balance between compassion for migrants and objective sociological research – it’s no wonder Migration Miracle won a prestigious award in 2010 from the American Sociological Association for distinguished research.

Some may criticize Hagan for not offering policy solutions to the perplexing debates surrounding immigration reform (many of which were discussed in the Spring 2011 Issue of The Review of Faith and International Affairs). Issues like security, the American labor force, and social integration won’t be resolved by this book. But that wasn’t her purpose. Migration Miracle delivers readers a vision of both human suffering and dignity by not so much speaking for or against migrants as speaking to them. Their stories of struggle, hardship and faith make readers ask a simple question: “What if I was in their place?” It wasn’t long ago that European migrants to the U.S. (my ancestors included) were telling similar tales of woe and hope.

Recently a young Mexican man was apprehended by INS in southern Arizona. After being kicked by border patrol agents and attacked by dogs, the crouching migrant was turned over and revealed a Bible pressed desperately to his chest. After seeing the faith of these travelers, perhaps those who set immigration policy, like the border patrol agent, might consider calling off the dogs.

This is an Author’s Original Manuscript of an article submitted for consideration in the The Review of Faith and International Affairs [copyright Institute for Global Engagement]; The Review of Faith and International Affairs  is available online at http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/XnwEFgYNhsDjb4W73WrH/

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Theology

Made in the Image of the Maker

Dorothy Sayers, one of the 20th century’s most profound thinkers on the topic of theology and work, once wrote: “Man is a maker, who makes things because he wants to, because he cannot fulfill his true nature if he is prevented from making things for the love of the job. He is made in the image of the Maker, and he himself must create or become something less than man.”

We are made in the image of God the Creator, and we share a creative impulse, the desire to work and ‘make things,’ with God himself.

Most theologies of work tend to focus on  the three “e”s: excellence, ethics, and evangelism. But the heart of work is not any of these: it is creativity. At least that’s what I argue in a recent sermon at my friend Mike Wright’s church in Littleton. Here’s a link to my sermon.

PoliticsTheology

Strangers Next Door

ImageWhat’s the best mission strategy to reach the nations for Christ? J.D. Payne, a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says your best bet is to reach migrants. I recently reviewed his book Strangers Next Door: Immigration, Migration and Mission for the October print issue of Christianity Today. Here’s an excerpt:

David Boyd, a pastor from the suburbs of Sydney, sat on the floor of a smoke-filled room in rural Nepal, and spoke to the village elders through his interpreter and friend Gam. Peppered with questions about the “Jesus way,” he marveled at the opportunity to share the gospel with this unreached people group, a privilege denied to previous missionaries. How was this unlikely door opened? It wasn’t through a short-term missions trip or a Western missionary, but through Gam, a Nepalese migrant who became a Christian at Boyd’s church in Sydney.

J. D. Payne, professor of evangelism at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wants to show the West that God is orchestrating the movements of migrants like Gam to help fulfill the Great Commission. Whereas other recent books about immigration have focused on political or ethical debates, Strangers Next Door: Immigration, Migration, and Mission (InterVarsity) instead seeks to educate Westerners about the tidal wave of migrants coming to the West, and so challenge them to reach one of the world’s most important (and overlooked) mission fields.

The statistics of migration alone are enough to give pause for reflection…(more)

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Politics

Endowed By Our Creator

 
Here’s my latest book review for Christianity Today: Michael Meyerson’s Endowed by Our Creator: The Birth of Religious Freedom in America (Yale, 2012).
The line between religion and government may be vague, but Americans revolt when they sense it’s being crossed. Take the current controversy surrounding the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare. In April, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released a statement, “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty,” warning against unprecedented threats to religious freedom from the government. Evangelicals and Catholics Together—an ecumenical group of pastors, theologians, and educators—published its own manifesto in First Things, calling for the renewal of religious freedom “in the greatest period of persecution in the history of Christianity.” Of course, several women’s rights groups responded by accusing the church of conducting a war on women. In case we needed a reminder, the culture wars continue to blaze.
 
But occasionally in times of war, peacemakers emerge. Michael Meyerson, a legal scholar at the University of Baltimore School of Law, is just such a peacemaker… (Read the rest of the review.)
Politics

The American Bible

Check out my latest book review for The Gospel Coalition of Stephen Prothero’s The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation. (New York: Harper One, 20).  Here’s an excerpt:

America is not just a country; it’s a religion. The faithful sing her praises at baseball games, pay homage to her heroes in Washington, D.C., and recite her pledge of loyalty in schools. They remember the tale of her exodus from England, and fancy themselves as a chosen people. They chide themselves for the original sin of slavery, and praise redeemers like Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. who shed their blood in atonement for the sins of a nation. They spread the gospel of freedom, equality, and democracy, and when doubts arise, they return to America’s most hallowed center to define themselves: their holy scriptures.

Stephen Prothero, professor of religion at Boston University, has done us the favor of compiling these “holy scriptures” of American public life in his latest book, The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide and Define a Nation. This book is not a translation of the Bible, nor is it even about American religion per se. It is an anthology of classic American texts—legal documents, songs, books, speeches, and letters—that form what Prothero calls “The American Bible.” From the Constitution and “The Star-Spangled Banner” to Atlas Shrugged and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Prothero aims to assemble America’s “canonical works” in order to bring civil conversation back into a Washington characterized by caustic partisan bickering. But as one of America’s leading religion scholars, Prothero has given us much deeper insights than mere political wisdom. In unveiling America’s sacred texts, Prothero sheds light on an uncomfortable truth: America has indeed become a religion. (More...)

Theology

Book Review of Forsaken: The Trinity and the Cross, and Why It Matters

I recently published a short book review in Christianity Today of Thomas McCall’s Forsaken: The Trinity and the Cross, and Why It Matters (IVP Academic).

ImageJesus’ lonely cry on the cross—”My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”—has bewildered Christians for centuries. Does this mean the Trinity was broken at Calvary? Or worse, did God kill his own Son? Tackling tough topics ranging from determinism to divine wrath, Thomas McCall denounces contemporary theologies that pit God against God in favor of solidly biblical and Trinitarian views of the Atonement. As a collection of systematic theology essays, the book doesn’t dazzle, but its brevity, clarity, and balanced perspective make Forsaken worth reading.

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