Nathan George is the founder of an amazing organization named Trade as One. They focus on equipping people and alleviating world poverty through trade instead of aid. They work with a lot of churches to raise Christians awareness of how their spending affects people all around the world and they even connect people to specific entrepreneurs all around the world. As it says on their website, Trade As One is “A way for us to tell stories of lives redeemed and hope restored, all because people choose to spend their money the right way. People keep choosing to buy the things they need in a way that makes sure that people on the other side of the world have the things they need.” I had the chance to catch up with Nathan for an Off the Record interview and hear his perspective on life and his faith.
Jeremy: Tell us something odd/unique about you.
Nathan: I was a missionary kid (MK) and grew up in India, Iran and all over the Middle East. My Mom hails from Denver and my Dad from London so I grew up with a confused sense of nationality and identity which is not uncommon for missionary kids. My friends in Iran were either MKs or military kids. One of their fathers was the CIA station chief and had to fight his way out of Iran after getting all his people out at the time of the revolution. James Bond stuff, only for real. He and I (the kid, not the James Bond character) remain good friends, swapping bizarre voicemails occasionally in foreign accents, pretending to be irate landlords or tenants. I have no idea how we got into this loop but the voicemails always make me nearly weep with laughter.
Jeremy: What was it that first sparked your attention on the topic of fair trade?
Nathan: I was determined to explore the intersection between business, the kingdom, and good news to the poor. It took me on a trip back to India where I visited about 15 businesses and ate and talked with people released from trafficking, women escaping commercial sex work, and untouchables who now had dignity and respect. I was completely blown away by the simple power of job creation to transform whole communities. It was Christians who were on the front lines of poverty alleviation in this innovative way, and I wanted to get the church engaged on the other end of the chain in the West.
Jeremy: Do you think people are born leaders or develop into leaders?
Nathan: Some are definitely born with extraordinary gifts of being able to inspire, convince, organize and direct people to a goal. It is an incredible thing to see God use people with these gifts. But that’s not the whole story, or even the most common story, according to the biblical narratives. More often God seems to choose the weak, the scared, the wimps, and the seemingly unsuited to achieve his purposes and to lead his people – Gideon, Deborah, Peter, Thomas. Then there are those with the incredible natural leadership gifts that God seems to have to crush before he uses them – Moses, David, Nehemiah, Paul. The common thread appears to be an innate sense of the leader’s utter dependence upon God in order to achieve what they believe they are called to do. When we lose that, we lose our mandate to lead and overconfidence leads to disastrous consequences.
Jeremy: How can people put themselves into a position to influence culture?
Nathan: The starting point has to be a profoundly biblical understanding of our message for today’s culture. We need humility because the gospel demands more respect and is more powerful than we can imagine. We think we have it all sewn up and that we understand the obvious applications for our culture. I wish we spent more time searching it out like the lost coin, like the treasure in the field. Those stories demand that we let go of everything we have in our search. People who have done this searching always have God-inspired and unique missions to their culture. Once you have done the hard work of searching, God himself moves you to application.
Jeremy: Why are you a follower of Jesus Christ?
Nathan: There are several answers to that question that I believe in – it’s because I see a God who is not big, distant, angry, petulant or unapproachable. It’s because in Jesus the almighty God enters our world of confusion, paradoxes, pain and messiness. It’s because the enduring image of his work is that of a scape goat who bears and takes away the sins of the world. In so doing and coming back to us from death, he has called into being the new creation that our hearts long for. But the answer that is closest to my soul is because he won’t let me go. Maybe it’s like crossing the event horizon to a black hole from which there is no escape. God’s love for me has drawn me irresistibly to him. Keith Green expressed it – ‘like a moth to a flame, whenever I hear your name’.
Jeremy: What do you do personally to fuel your spiritual life?
Nathan: I walk my dog every day by the ocean. Seeing dolphins play, sea otters crack open mollusks on their bellies, watching the majesty of the Pacific waves or an outrageously beautiful sunset – my soul aches with gratitude and wonder at the beauty and lavish generosity of God. I will sometimes recite one of my favorite hymns – ‘Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small. Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.’ If there was one discipline that we need to learn that could denude our narcissistic, selfish, greedy culture of its hold on us it must be gratitude. I learned a lot from studying and implementing Brother Lawrence’s book, The Practice of the Presence of God.. On a daily basis I have for a couple of years now used a wonderful little book that guides me through scripture, reflection and prayer called A Guide to Prayer for all who Seek God. In church I have to confess to missing the depth of liturgy and the treasures in some old hymns. Sheesh – I’m starting to sound like my grandfather now.
Jeremy: What is your hope for the future of the Church in America?
Nathan: This gets back to a follow on from my answer to your question about culture. The particular challenge in America, a country that sees itself as a Christian nation and (depending on where you live) as a Christian culture, is that it interprets its riches and pre-eminence as a nation in world affairs as a sign of God’s blessing and approval. I’m uneasy with that. My hope would be that the church would spend more time drawing upon the exilic writings than the stories of possessing the promised land. It would then have a prophetic voice, it would be salt, light, yeast. I think it has become too co-opted by the idolatrous aspects of America’s consumer culture.
Jeremy: Should we abandon the use of the word “Christian” for a better term? If so, what?
Nathan: Not sure. I’d rather see us take the term back and import into it more of Jesus but it may be too corrupted now. Others would be better placed than me to answer that one. I wish we could find a term for people who show us more of Jesus – some of the people who do that to me in my life would not call themselves Christian. There was one last night who stood up at a meeting at my son’s high school. It was a meeting for our community who just four days ago lost a 16 year old student to a gang stabbing just 300 yards from my house. In a meeting charged with emotion, this black, disheveled, limping Rasta-looking man stood up and spoke of how he has saved lives standing between rival gangs wielding weapons and implored us all to find a different way to deal with the problem in our community. I think Jesus showed up and he looked like an old black guy with dreadlocks. What do we call that?
Jeremy: What blogs/websites do you regularly check?
Nathan: If you look at my Google Chrome home page you will see that the BBC is number one. We don’t have TV in our house so I get all my news from the radio and internet. Number two is Surfline. We live in Santa Cruz, CA and I need to know when the swell hits – I like Patagonia’s founder’s book ‘Let my People Go Surfing’. My sons have usually beaten me to it, but at least this old boy can catch the scraps of what’s left after running a startup business and holding down a second job to put rice on the table. Surfing is a strangely mystical experience that I have neither fully understood or mastered quite yet! It feels like I sense God’s pleasure though. I have to confess that I don’t read a lot of blogs – Guy Kawasaki’s is always interesting.
Jeremy: Which books have shaped your thinking?
Nathan: The two books ‘The Crucified God’ and ‘Jesus Christ for Today’s World’ by Jurgen Moltmann, ‘Prophetic Voices in Exile’ by Walter Brueggeman, NT Wright’s trilogy, ‘Let my People go Surfing’ by Yvonne Chouinard, ‘Visioneering’ and ‘Choosing to Cheat’ by Andy Stanley.
Jeremy: What music moves you?
Nathan: Esbjorn Svensson Trio – a modern jazz trio out of Sweden who tragically lost Svensson in a diving accident last year. When I listen to their track ‘Behind the Yashmak’ I always imagine all of creation joyously trying to express the wonder and worship of God. Sacred Music by James McMillan, a young Scottish composer doing innovative things with ancient music. Everything by Radiohead – the most important band to have emerged in the last two decades. Thom Yorke has a deeply sensitive spirit.
Jeremy: Any other thoughts or advice?
Nathan: Let’s take more risks. He is big enough to rescue us from our own foolishness if the risks we take are for his glory. The trouble is that we prefer the safety of the boat to the insane notion that we could actually walk to where Jesus is calling us. God is no man’s debtor – he will provide, protect and guide us but we have to take the first steps.
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