October 20, 2008
This is originally the ending of part three of my series on “the Style of Subversion” to God’s Kingdom? I’m republishing it as a stand-alone piece because I want it to be more accessible to those looking for practical ways of embracing the Kingdom.
So…what does it actually LOOK like to embody an alternative? How do we lovingly resist the Powers as we invite people to move into God’s Kingdom? This is a big question. For all the books Brazos Press puts out, very few deal with practical realities. The recent books about New Monasticism and the works of folks like Shane Claiborne help scratch that itch, but still more work needs to be done in imagining tangible realities. Here’s an introductory list of practices/activities/experiments that help develop a communal life of loving resistance. If two or more people were to engage in the following sorts of things together as a regular practice, it would go much further than a mountain of rhetoric and challenge the status quo more than voting:
- proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ
- tithe relationally
- discerningly engage in civil disobedience
- confess your sins to one another, and proclaim forgiveness
- live communally
- establish regular rhythms of prayer with others (here’s a nifty and free resource)
- thoughtfully participate in the Lord’s Supper
- be family with people that are in a different socio-economic and/or ethnic situation than you
- get in the way of violence
- plant a garden (for extra credit, practice guerrilla gardening)
- spend less money
- spend justly
- or just don’t spend money at all
- ride a bicycle or take the bus
- draw attention to the sins of society
- lovingly challenge the sins of the Church
- invite strangers to dinner
- have a guest room open to those in need
- practice mutual submission
- read Scripture in community and struggle together to put it into practice
- practice communal discernment
- embrace a sense of place in ministry
- learn the stories of marginalized people…especially your brothers and sisters in the developing world
- pray for political authorities
- share good things with the poor
- give the wealthy (including yourself) an opportunity to divest of their wealth
- remember, in all things love
October 19, 2008
I wrote this missive after having watched the Oscar winning movie Gandhi. As you will read below, this story, documenting the journey of an extraordinary and beloved Indian, had the effect of awakening something passionate and emotional inside of me. With fatherhood approaching quickly (December 13th is the projected due date), I’ve been a bit troubled, wondering if I’ll ever be able to give feet to all those subversive and radical ideas I’ve mainly just dreamed of doing. The story of Gandhi, however, gave me hope and courage to believe my journey was just beginning. The context for writing this is that of an emerging father and a believer in radical things.
An Experiment in Truth
It is hard to grasp the enormity of a “global” economy, much less the nature of its inner workings. And yet it is almost a certainty that those who have been poor in our current economic system will continue on this way in spite of various optimisms I’ve seen. For example, one thing I have come to expect is that very little real or lasting help will come from the government. When Washington and Wall Street join hands (again and again!) for the sake of their own asses, the poorest among us will surely suffer the most unloving punch-in-the-face. Indeed, the God who protects those living in the ghettos of the global industrial dream cannot and should not be likened to a god who fattens (morally) bankrupt CEOs and/or politicians as they attempt to “fix our broken economy.”
As America continues the conversations about how to preserve a luxurious way of life, I know of both friends and family here and abroad who are in need of financial and neighborly assistance. They work just as hard as anyone else given the parameters of their households and responsibilities. Moreover, their hard work and acceptance of me as a brother and neighbor has prompted a little idea recently. This “idea” is actually more of an experiment and is meant to encourage the real economic bailout package. If all goes well, I intend to implement this plan in the company of family, neighbors, and friends. As important as we think the bill passed by congress and senate is, this “economic bail-out” has nothing to do with those fine women and men. In fact, it is in defiance of their logic and done without their permission.
The plan I have in mind is actually very easy for those want to participate. It has within it the kind of imagination that Jesus embodied when he instructed his disciples to “love one another,” as he washed their feet and surrendered himself to their enemies (John 13). The plan is so simple it might be mistaken for foolish. But here it is anyway: I am suggesting we sell our beds! Your comfortable bed (please, no!) is serving, unwittingly, as the barrier between you and your segregated but poor neighbor. Comfort is one our favorite and most expensive USAmerican habits/luxuries. Just the same, many places around the world (including in the US) there are individuals and families who do not have a bed to lie down their head. So, as an act of sacred disobedience: Sell your bed and then sleep on the floor (in solidarity with the “distressing disguise” of Jesus in world)!
Besides being a powerful image of USAmerican comfort, luxury (and perhaps excess), your bed is also worth some money. It can send a message to the hungry capitalist in us all, disturbing our steady diet of apathy, by saying, we won’t stand by and watch the poor merely survive in their circumstance. That is, especially while we, the relatively powerful and rich, justify our economic/political “freedom” with violence and greed. So, join me on Saturday to sell your “comfortably used beds” and then give your money away to those who are in need—whether they be someone or some-one(s) you know close by or very far away. Simply decide who could use a hand and then give it to them.
So, that’s the plan. I realize it isn’t quite as sexy as a politician’s speech or as reassuring as powerful men making promises but it’s the best idea I’ve come up with so far. I’d love to hear what other ideas might spring up from the particular situations we’re in as well? Imagine a 7-and-1/2-month pregnant lady (my wife!) sleeping on the ground in a make-shift bed. What on earth would motivate her to do such a thing? And how will the community respond to the love behind her descent (or dissent)? Will we hide behind the emperor’s shame and point to someone else as the one who should of or could of done something, or will we follow the way of Jesus and wash each other’s feet, offering our own sacrifices of luxury, for the sake of others and their well-being? You decide…
Unfortunately, as my wife clarified for me, we will not be selling our bed. I know what you’re thinking: why the impassioned plea for sacrificial giving if I wasn’t going to do it? Well, because it’s the way my brain thinks. I thought it would be fun (especially after watching the Ghandi movie), but as my wife said, our friend Erik would never stop harassing me if I suggested the pregnant lady sleep on the floor with her big ol’ pregnant belly. Don’t be alarmed, however, by my withdrawal. A different possibility arose in the midst of all this.
Julissa and I have wanted to offer my in-laws (from Lima, Peru) a way to travel and be here for our baby’s birth. Knowing they live month-to-month on a paycheck that won’t ever cover their basic living expenses, we thought it would be nice to pay for them to get to see us and our soon-to-be baby. Admittedly, this is a bit selfish, considering that they are our family. And yet, they are also literally the “poorest people we know” (as sad as that is). It only becomes all the more personal since they are family. So, instead of selling our bed, we decided to put on a yard sale (with pregnant wife and all). Julissa sent out an email to our church friends and beyond about making donations for our endeavor. And, boy, did we get donations! Our little one bedroom cottage was filled, inside and out, with other people’s stuff. It seems like we spent all last week getting the stuff ready.
After all was said and done, we made enough money to cover the expenses for my in-laws to come and probably worked harder as a small community since who knows when. Thank God that our friends came out to help, we needed it. And thank God that our experiment encouraged a di-vestment of at least some of the excess crap in our closets. We cooperated as a community (through giving of our stuff and energy) to make this happen. We certainly didn’t “end poverty,” but we did disturb the indifference and hopelessness of the so-called global economy. I hope our family members in Peru get to sense the courage and peace we felt as our “inalienable American rights” were subverted, as our consumption and greed were replaced with a more just and authentic community.
Author Bio:: Jason leads a small faith community in Chico, California and enjoys the art of writing down his thoughts and sharing them. His day job is as a social worker for late teens in the foster care system. He and his wife are expecting their first child very soon! You can read more from Jason at waysofresistance.com.
October 15, 2008
Through the past year and a half or so I’ve been drawn to the new monastic movement through connecting with some local communities and reading literature from Claiborne, Wilson-Hartgrove, Hauerwas, and Yoder. Combine that with the frequenting of the Jesus Manifesto site and reading the likes M. Van Steenwyk and B. Rhodes and the other brilliant contributing writers and I’ve begun to learn some new dance steps in interacting with scripture from hearing a new song of what it might mean to live the kingdom of God. As my convictions have begun to slowly reform in this way of knowing Jesus as a new kind of King offering good news of another way to live in the midst of the empire we find ourselves in, inevitably conversations on these topics have sprung up in my sphere of relationships.
More often then not the topic of non-violence comes up. I chimed in when talking with friends of my forming convictions regarding a pacifist stance and how as followers of Jesus we are called to love at all costs. A healthy debate would ensue with my friend, and the dialogue would help me process these convictions and more often than not lead to prayerful consideration of what following Jesus is. A fairly safe way of formation.
But God is funny.
Not to long after a series of these conversations with friends and roommates and discovering that I really believe this stuff, I had the reluctant privilege of walking through a few different scenarios to test these convictions out…
I’ve been skateboarding off and on since my early teen years, and these days its fewer and far between, but with the surge of excellent skate parks in the Portland area it’s a “must” to roll around on the many flawless concrete transitions. After one such session with a friend of mine, we noticed an inclined bank behind a shoe store that we thought should be shredded on our skateboards for a few minutes. The inclined bank was next to a little driveway launch that we ollied off a few times. Well that driveway ollie got us into a little trouble. The owner of the driveway came out a minute later throwing a tirade of profanity our way. ‘You no good pieces of skateboarding slime,’ is a loose translation of vocabulary choice. I apologized looked at her and simply said, “peace “. Well that kind of sent her into round two of her fury and she started to come towards me with an increasing pace. Thinking I could diffuse her anger, I walked towards her a bit, but before I could say my peace and humbly explain we’re not some punk skaters looking to destroy property, she had both of her hands around my neck. Hmmmmmm…
Her choke hold was pretty weak and a fingernail scratch was my only wound as I stepped out of her grip. I was so taken aback I don’t think I even had time to have any angry or violent thoughts. My friend and I made our departure and after the shock wore off I laughed about the whole scenario, as we asked ourselves if that really just happened.
I processed and prayed about the situation with my friends and two days later I found myself with my heart pounding and hand knocking on her door wanting to give her an apology card I made to express my heart posture. Not knowing how she would react but I knew I had to take this step of faith. After fighting my fear, her daughter answered the door and promised to give her mom the card. I departed with ambivalent feelings which I still have. Joyful for making a step of faith in peaceful Jesus following manner, but still unsure and uncertain of how to live that vulnerable life consistently.
I don’t want to paint myself as a saint by any means, for a couple of weeks later I rode my bike right by her and with my headphones on gave her a smile and head nod unwilling to take a minute of time to talk to her. I received a glare in return. I retreated back to Egypt’s slavery of being unwilling to live in the promise land of love motivated conversation. I regretted my fearful behavior rearing its ugly head once again. Lord have mercy on me, a sinner. I semi-hope that we will run into each other in the future. God is comical and gracious to give us opportunities to put our faith where our mouths are.
Does anyone else have any stories of fleshing out their non-violent convictions? How did you deal with an unexpected outburst of violence? How can we practice peace and embed ourselves in the way of Jesus to consistently live in that vulnerable position of faith, hope and love?
Author Bio:: J. Gardner lives in ne portland, makes an income as a youth advocate, is connected at the Bridge Christian Church, and likes to hip hop music and rappy raps his little heart out.
October 10, 2008
The first line in Charles Dickens classic novel A Tale of Two Cities seems appropriate for what’s likely to come in the days ahead. “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” Unless you’ve been living in a cave (sorry Geico man) you’ve probably been affected by the current fiasco on Wall Street and Capitol Hill. Within the past week 401K’s have evaporated into thin air, life savings have slipped through the cracks of who knows where, and now that it’s clear that even a $700 billion dollar bailout from Uncle Sam can’t save the stock market, some financial gurus in the media are now using the dreaded “D” word signifying in no uncertain terms that the next president is going to inherit a financial depression. The prognosis is in. These are scary times indeed.
In times like these it’s very easy to become fixated on venting our frustrations against—take your pick—the Republican party, the Democratic party, Wall Street fat cats, predatory lenders, gullible first time home buyers, low income minorities that took advantage of sub-prime lending rates. There’s plenty of blame to pass around. We all know we’re in a mess. The question is what do we do now?
As for what Moses recommended in terms of an economic bailout—debt cancellation and land redistribution—I’ll let the economists and the theologians duke it out over whether that applies today. The Bible may not be an economic textbook—as much as Secretary Paulson could use one right about now—but it is a message from God to humanity and when you read it from cover to cover there’s an underlying message that speaks loud and clear. God is the defender of the poor.
So what’s the upside to an economic disaster? The upside to economic disasters is that economic disasters spur moral reflection. They serve as a wake-up call to remind us that the economic decisions we make every day really do affect other people. They serve to remind us that a day of judgment is coming and that God takes very seriously how our lives affect the poor. And I’m not just talking about how much we give in the offering plate on Sunday mornings or how much we give to our favorite charitable organizations. Sure it’s nice that we tip God with our tithes (or spare change depending on our level of piety), but how many of us think about how we earn our money and whether our jobs and our investments coincide with the values of Jesus?
I’ve heard a lot of Christian leaders use the bully pulpit to decry private morality issues like homosexuality and abortion, but few and far between are the voices that call us to repent from social morality issues. As a life-long member of the Pentecostal/charismatic tradition, most of the teaching I’ve received about money is “God wants you to have a lot of it, as long as you’re generous and use it for charity or to advance the gospel.” Big houses, nice cars, bank account surpluses are all signs of God’s approval in this vein of thinking. With the exception of pimping and drug-dealing, the question of how to attain this money, and the morality associated with it has been left to a fairly generous interpretation. Questions like “Should I really be investing in weapons manufacturers when I don’t know who those weapons are being sold to?” or “Is the oil company in my 401K propping up the military dictatorship in Burma?” rarely make it to the surface.
I invite you to join me in a moment of reflection over the words penned by James the brother of the Lord Jesus Christ:
Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days. Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury, you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter. You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you (James 5:1-6).
In an age where CEO’s make 400 times the wage of what the average worker makes in a day, I wonder if James might be talking about some of the companies I’ve invested in the past. Even worse. I wonder if he could be talking about me?
Author Bio:: Aaron D. Taylor is the founder of Great Commission Society and the author of “Alone with a Jihadist” a book scheduled to be released in January 2009. Aaron is also featured in an upcoming feature length documentary called “Holy Wars.” To contact Aaron, go to www.greatcommissionsociety.com
September 29, 2008
“Round wheels? Who needs round wheels?”
“Horses? Why are we bothering with those, what is wrong with our oxen?”
And it is the role of every young oik to smile and with a glint in his eye proceed to trounce everyone else with the new technology.
So, dusting off my old-fart jacket and adorning myself with oik-repellent, I prepare myself for the onslaught: Why are we so addicted to new things?
Did you know, for example, that the new Ipod can hold up to 40,000 songs? Does anyone even own 40,000 songs?
A while ago our washing machine broke down. It had multiple programmes and a lifespan of less than 8 years.
We have been living without a washing machine for six months, and experiencing a little of what it is like to live without something we take for granted. It is possible, just difficult and annoying. Not so long ago the same thing happened with our fridge, which is even more difficult to live without.
My grandparents had an two tub model which lasted 30 years and never broke down. There were no programme controls, it was either on or off. What have we really gained by the extra complexity?
Ten years ago, constant access to the internet was barely conceivable for most people. Today it is everywhere.
The Luddites were a radical movement in England in the 18 century. Faced with rapid industrialisation of the textile industry, they saw their livelihoods destroyed, so rebelled and broke the new machinery. The owners and the state reacted fiercely and executed many of the leaders of the movement.
Since then the term has entered the language as a relatively mild form of abuse.
But surely they had a point - if our new technologies adversely affect the weakest of society, they are worthless however much we appreciate and lust after them. If they so insulate us from the realities of life for the poor, to the extent that we cannot really contemplate how we might live without a fridge or a washing machine, something is seriously wrong.
Maybe as well as new-monasticism and emerging church theology, we need Luddite theology. Maybe we need a few less conferences with a few less star attractions who jet from one to the next. Maybe we don’t need to go to worship events to hear what new thing God is planning. Maybe we don’t need more efficient cars - maybe we don’t need cars, period. Maybe we don’t need to try to make the lot of poor producers marginally better by offering them very small subsidies for crops they would never eat - maybe we need to help them learn how to grow the things they actually need and learn to become more satisfied with what we can grow ourselves. Maybe we need to move away from our flickering screens and do more to communicate with people who don’t know how to use a keyboard.
Maybe being radical and prophetic has less to do with new things and ideas and more to do with redeeming and reclaiming old things.
Perhaps it is not enough to stop the violence, to be aware of the pain. Maybe we have to start to deconstruct ourselves, to turn our swords into ploughshares.
Author Bio:: Joe is wondering why.
September 24, 2008
September 22, 2008
Everything was new and beautiful. We were free and unattached. A vague itinerary had us wandering through the forests and dunes and lakes of Michigan and Canada, with ice cream shops and backwoods bars as reference points. A half-gallon of organic milk in the cooler, a borrowed tent, and deflating party balloons in the backseat.
We had planned to amble along the coast a few hours at a time, alternating between campgrounds and hotels, taking in the idiosyncrasies of small-towns and the slow-paced beauty of state parks and wildlife refuges. We had just bounced off another roadside farmer’s market (you can grow anything in Michigan) and started north on highway 37 towards Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. My Michigander-of-a-wife was graciously putting up with my Hoosier delight in such an abundance of sand and open water.
Someone was walking north on the road. I measured her up quickly – not getting her mail, no flat tire, disheveled, frustrated.
Of course, I maintained my speed. My wife and I both passed a “sorry-mate-if-we-had-a-truck-you-could-ride-in-the-back” look and then stared straight ahead. Gospel swirled through my head. I thought about my God, the one who takes on in the most distressing disguises – the crazy veteran, the poor kid with a swollen belly, the gay high schooler who is everyone’s favorite target. I thought about all those words that slice straight through the layers of excuses, self-protection, and “rational” thought that I cocoon myself inside. An orange sign. Slowing traffic. The urge arose and… a moment of decision.
I explained, “Well, dear, I just thought, ‘Ya know, I’m sick of always living for the next big thing. Waiting for tomorrow. Putting things off. What if we just…”
“I know,” my wife replied. “I was thinking the same thing. Let’s do it.”
Our target was still disheveled, still frustrated. I had a moment of hesitation and thought about the worst-case scenario. But upon seeing her again, I relaxed a little. I don’t remember ever seeing a “Suzanna” on the FBI’s Most Wanted list.
She crawled into the backseat amongst clumsily packed belongings. A real live hitchhiker; this weekend was just full of surprises.
“Sorry about the balloons on the floor,” I apologized. “We just got married.”
For the first time in my life, I was given responsibility for another human being, a petite female goddess I was crazy in love with. What was I thinking? I hadn’t even been hitched for 100 hours. The painted reminder was still fresh on my window - “Keep your hands on the wheel!”.
Introductions and a pause. I teed off first. “Our religious teachings say that you can find God in people in distress, people in need, so we thought we’d help you out.” Jeez, Adam. You don’t have to be a freak about it. I’ve often tried (unsuccessfully and awkwardly) to bridge the gap between Old Time Religion and the New Age, offering something sufficiently orthodox yet still relevant and comprehendible to post-modern man (and woman). My beautifully simple wife cuts through all the crap. She urges me, “Honey, just tell people you’re a Christian. They’ll understand.” That’s what I’m afraid of. I usually settle for something in between, like “follower of Jesus”.
For a few dozen miles I played out knife-attack scenarios in my mind (dodge blade! swerve car! detain while stunned!) while my wife craned her neck around to attempt eye contact, listening politely. We heard tales of failed automobiles, knife-happy doctors, and unpaid bills - basically drawing of the short straw day after day for an entire lifetime. Who knew that Michiganders were so self-righteous and inhospitable? Not like those humble folk in the Southwest. Our traveler ensured us that hitching a ride in Flagstaff was as easy as ordering lunch. You’d be hard-pressed to get a ride in Michigan, that was for dang sure.
I began to probe a little deeper, wondering where she actually needed to be taken. It turned out that she needed to get to “Traveler’s City” to get money wired from her step-brother-in-law (once removed). I looked at the green highway sign: “Traverse City: 43″. I figured that we could drop her there and leave before she realized that she had not indeed arrived at Traveler’s City. I also figured out that it was about 30 miles out of my way and that I had an appointment with the dunes. But the voices wouldn’t leave me alone: If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you. Oh, God - why? But then I looked at her in the rear view mirror and realized that she really might not get another ride today and that modern humans survive much better in the city than in the woods. I tried to calm my breathing. Don’t think of gas, don’t think of time, don’t think of honeymoon…
As we approached our destination, it turned out that she wanted to visit the hospital for her sore hips, which explained her constant shifting in the backseat. Those blue “H” signs along the road that you never really think about actually do lead you to a hospital. At her insistence, we arrived at the door labeled “emergency”, another first for me and what I assumed to be a weekly ritual for her. A young man emerged with a wheel chair before I even put the car into park. Our guest exited the car after requesting some money to hold her over and, after a bargaining session, settling for a few pieces from our food cache. I drove away before medical personnel could ask any questions or mystery lady could change her mind. The Parable of the Good Samaritan knocked: Look after him, and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have. I sighed, my muscles relaxed, and I pointed the car toward the shoreline.
I hadn’t planned on any meaningful interactions with strangers on my honeymoon. I didn’t particularly like our visitor or care to hear her tall tales, and she probably didn’t enjoy traveling through Michigan. But we did share a few miles together - spontaneous, nervous, and new. It made my flawless vacation a little dirty, but also a little more real. I probably won’t ever see her again, but if I ever do find Traveler’s City, I’ll be sure to look her up.
Author Bio:: Adam and his wife are currently funemployed and are hunkered down with a few brave Word Made Flesh gringos in El Alto, Bolivia. They generally steer clear of hitchhikers, gringo or otherwise.
September 11, 2008
I’m very sympathetic to the house church or “simple church” model. As far as structures and models go, it is a great ecclesial starting point. I think every would-be church planter should start with simple and move towards complexity after honest and thoughtful logistical and theological reflection.
Conventional wisdom used to be that house churches and simple churches were the domain for pissed off anti-intellectuals who don’t know how to play well with others. But with the success of folks like Neil Cole, Frank Viola, Alan Hirsch, Robert Banks, etc., simple churches have gained respectability.
From time to time I get emails from people or run into people who assume that I am something of a primitivist. A primitivist is someone who believes that we ought to get back to doing church the way it was done in Acts. They read Acts 2 and 4 and see a decentralized house church movement and think that we ought to do house churches because it was what they did. I disagree.
The early church “did” church a certain way for a number of reasons. I think a lot of it was driven by cultural assumptions and logistical necessity. The truth is, there weren’t lots of buildings that one could rent for large gatherings. It makes complete sense to meet in homes during their day.
However, I believe that they did church a certain way out of theological reasons as well. They believed that “church” = “family.” Kinship language is used frequently when expressing the reality of the Church. Church is commonly refered to as the oikos (household), we are brothers and sisters in Christ. Christ is the firstborn. God is our abba, etc.
They also did church a certain way because they seemed to be of the impression that there was only one high priest (Jesus) and the rest of us are all priests. There is no strict hierarchy of any sort in the New Testament. Every form of leadership was decentralized. There were plural elders, plural deacons, plural apostles, and none of these embodied a “lordly” sort of authority. Instead, the authority was that of charism (Spirit-gifting for ministry). The Holy Spirit directed and led through the people, who were to consider themselves a temple of flesh and blood. And in such a scenario, some may be called to lead, and some may have a stronger hand in decision making, but we never see any one person vested with the authority to make determinative decisions on behalf of an entire congregation.
Our church forms communicate theological assumptions. It is a beautiful thing when a community shares decision making and acts like a family of priests who are willing to adopt others into the family. It is a beautiful thing when they practice hospitality and share good things with those in need.
Unfortunately, the temptation with church forms–including house churches–is that folks sometimes get so focused on the form of church that they forget the important things like being Spirit-led, loving, hospitable, and gracious. Rather, they become focused on propagating an agenda.
When we started Missio Dei, we had a house church agenda…the form mattered more than the quality of our relationships. Because of that, Missio Dei had to die twice in order to be reborn into a group of people who don’t sweat the structure so much as long as what we do is determined thoughfully, lovingly, and prayerfully. As Missio Dei comes up on its 5th Anniversary, my thoughts reach back. I’m reminded of how naive I was, how insistent I was that things had to be a certain way, and how much pressure I felt to perform.
If I had it to do all over again, I would simply to gather friends together in our house to pray and dream–to not have expectations or agendas except only to listen to the Spirit about what he wanted to do among us. The hard part of that, of course, is that when the Spirit speaks into our listening ears, we have to decide whether or not we will obey. When we come into things with a rigid agenda–even one as basic as primitivism–it can stiffle the move of the Spirit.
September 10, 2008
September 9, 2008
One of my online friends, responding to the sickening contrast between the “country first” patriotic spectacle that went on at the Republican National Convention and the brutal reality of repression and violence in which the very same “greatest nation in the world” is embedded, made a stirring statement today, concluding that “If we are the best country in the world, it is only because all the other countries are so much worse.”
My friend wants to change the world. He wants to change the church. He wants “the true God, the true Christ of compassion and love and justice and goodness to have a true place here, instead of the lip service He is paid in order to receive votes.” At the end of his outpouring of passion, he says he is desperate to change the church - but admits he doesn’t know how.
I will be the first to admit that I do not have a comprehensive solution to the question. I don’t think any one person does or can, and God doesn’t seem to be in any big hurry to lay out a step-by-step process.
Then again, why should we expect that of God - of the God whose way of fixing the immense problems of sin, death, and injustice in the world did not begin with annihilation of enemies or the laying down of a 12-step plan, but with instructing a faithful man to leave his home, his country, to sojourn in a land where he would be a stranger, with commissioning a people to live justly and practice mercy, and finally with sending the Son who did not work according to the ways of the world but rather instructed us to love our enemies, pray for those who hurt us, and embodied his instruction by going to the cross, instructing his disciples to do likewise? Why should we expect this God, who has never been especially constrained by human understanding and expectations to lay us down a point-by-point explanation of how to fix things? The God whose mode of operation has always been relational, has always been dynamic, has always had to do not as much with “getting things done” as being faithful to who God is and who we have been created to be?
I could have replied in any number of ways trying to relate his right desire to see the church be faithful to the way of Jesus. I’ve written elsewhere about worship as formative of an alternative imagination leading to new ways of living. One of my own favorite things is to start a Bible study and look at the Sermon on the Mount, or a passage from the Prophets, or the economic instructions to Israel (such as the Jubilee), or Colossians in its context as a subversion of Roman political propaganda. But in reply to my friend, I sensed that none of these would-be solutions would really touch his heart to see meaningful change within the church
How to change the church? Pray. Pray with people, and pray for people. But especially pray with them, and pray for the victims of violence. Pray for them by name, pray for specific situations, and especially pray for people in whose deaths and injuries and injustices we are complicit. By name. In the presence of flesh-and-blood people.
Not only that, but pray for those who are enemies. Pray for Osama bin Ladin, not just to have “salvation” but to truly find peace and joy in life, to experience the fullness of the life God created him to experience. Pray for the leaders of Iran, Hamas, China, and other places that are perceived as America’s enemies.
Pray for our leaders, not just that they would be wise or strong or good, but that they would see the world through Jesus’ eyes, that they would heed Jesus’ instruction to love neighbor, love enemy, feed the hungry, care for the poor, sick, and needy - that they would use their power and authority not to stockpile more power, or money, or whatever, but that they would use it to ensure that God’s will is done, that justice is a reality, that no one goes hungry in a world where we produce enough food for everyone to have enough to eat more than twice over.
These are eye-opening prayers, both for the one speaking and the one listening (in human terms).
Some friends and I once operated a 24-7 prayer room here in Evansville, and one of our stated goals was to challenge people to pray for missions, not just in the usual sense, but in an “expanded sense” including God’s heart for justice as a part of missions. We prayed prayers very much like this, and did in fact see several people have changes of heart - not just because we prayed FOR them, but also WITH them, so they could hear the words coming out of our mouths that we believed reflected God’s heart. There is power in that kind of prayer.
What kind of prayers do you pray for people, with people? Is there an opportunity for you to pray this kind of prayer where you are? If not, how can you create spaces where this kind of prayer can take place? I don’t ask simply because I want to hear about where you are, but also because I long to create this kind of space again and need a booster shot in my own imagination. How are you doing it? How could you do it? What might this look like? Let’s imagine together.