God is With Us if We Are With Them, Especially When Your New Neighbor is Drunk and Lost

(Arguably the best part of this clip begins at the 4:47 mark; so skip ahead if you’re short on time.)

My new neighbor was drunk on a warm Sunday afternoon. It was just weeks after we moved into the Beltrami neighborhood of NE Minneapolis. Kirsten was gone loving and serving her mom in Coon Rapids; so the boys and I walked the few blocks from our new home down to the corner store (we have a neighborhood corner store!) to buy cheap candy (’cause that’s what you do at a corner store) and then we started walking about a block in the other direction toward the park. There were lots of people out on this bright, warm, late spring afternoon, including more than a few whizzing by on bikes (our home is located along one of Minneapolis’ many urban bike routes).

For some reason, she picked Sam and Nathan and I. She was maybe just out of her teens, though I doubt it. She was young, and looked younger. More than that, she was, as I said, drunk (I could smell it), and scared, and alone.

She came up to me and said she couldn’t find her way home. She didn’t know where she lived. No doubt the alcohol had something to do with it, but she had also apparently just moved into the neighborhood herself. We weren’t much help as she asked for directions, but she also wasn’t even sure of her own new address. We committed to help her, however. She said she had a phone that was dead that if she could just charge would enable her to look up her address. I suggested walking back to the corner store and asking if they would let her plug her phone in for a minute (she said she had her charger with her). Kirsten, the boys, and I had been in the corner store enough since moving in that we knew the folks who run the corner store “are really nice,” and indeed the guy who was working agreed to let her plug her phone in (I never caught my drunk neighbor’s name; things were a little awkward). She plugged it in, but that was useless as the screen was so cracked you couldn’t see anything on the screen. She had asked me to look up her address (somehow) on my phone, but I don’t have a smartphone any more, and so could not.

I had asked her who she lived with, if it was her parents, given how young she looked. She said they hate her, and she did not live with them. Maybe that’s where she moved from. Even so, given the situation, she borrowed my flip phone to call her dad, whom she spoke with, along with her mom. There was arguing and cursing, but someone agreed to text her new address to my phone, which they did, and we agreed to walk her there. It was a block away. We got to her new place, and with obvious relief but not a word to us, she disappeared around back.

Did I help her, I wonder? No doubt she left a bad situation with her parents, but did she leave it for a worse one? And what responsibility do I have now? I don’t know her name, but I know where she lives, and I have access to her parents, I suppose. Would she even remember what happened if we saw her again? Perhaps I assume too much to think I even have some responsibility to “help.” What help could I offer? Obviously she might be a little better off if her life wasn’t such that she found herself drunk and lost a block from her new home in the middle of a Sunday afternoon. I can pray for her, to be sure. And perhaps as I and my family run, bike, and take walks in our new neighborhood we can be sure to go her way, just on the off-chance we might run into her again. This, I suppose, is part of the “art of neighboring.” It’s the next sermon series among the people of Mill City Church, and is based on the book of the same name. I’m praying it’s as useful as its promise portends.

I notice as I reflect and write about this experience that there’s something gratifying about it for me, and that troubles me. I wish that young woman hadn’t been drunk and lost, and therefore I wish I hadn’t had the opportunity to help her. I did, though, and I won’t deny that it brought a sense of confirmation that we were on the right path, the path my family and I have been on of late, as we try to follow Jesus more closely by getting “small” and hopefully getting just a little closer to being “under” vis-a-vis the powers that be rather than “over,” which is the position that our heritage and skin tone typically puts us in. I know this: while the ‘burb we came from likely has more than its fair share of drunk neighbors, there was something different about this experience in the city. I’ve written before, for example, about how much more densely populated our current neighborhood is compared to our old one. Thus, the streetscape here is simply much more conducive to precipitating the kind of interaction I write about above; whereas in our old suburban neighborhood the potential for such interaction is greatly diminished, if for no other reason than “white flight” motivated city planning.

My lack of altruism notwithstanding, I am glad that I was there to help her- however much “help” it really was- rather than someone else with less conflicted and more nefarious motives. And besides, if solidarity with the “least of these-” or in the case of this country- the “lesser of these” really does require proximity, as I keep learning it does, I’m glad to be just a little closer to the kind of folks Jesus spent most of his time with. That’s obviously a big part of why we made this move to NE Mpls. So here’s what we’re focusing on this summer:

Our Summer 2017 Family Focus: Trying to Go “Deep” as we “Get Small….”

If you can’t make it out very well, it says:

Phew! We’ve been learning about following Jesus, “that preacher of peace,” from “under,” not “over,” as we try to get “small.” Now it’s time to dig in and consolidate those gains. Let’s go deep and make these lessons ones that are learned and lived every day.

Learn: -Finish peacemaking books (I’ve read the first two of these: A Farewell to Mars, Free of Charge, The Politics of Jesus, & Nonviolent Action)  and complete the Mammon to Manna video series.

Pray: “God, you gave up your power and became small so that you could be close to the ‘least of these,’ our brothers and sisters. Help us to do the same so that we can meet you among them, and in ourselves as we become more like ‘them.’ Help us to decrease, so that you might increase. Amen.”

Do/Act: -Serve in the kitchen at Hope Ave. with our missional community and perfect “the art of neighboring.” Institute car sharing/biking to work.

Summer Family Memory Verse: “…Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.” -John 3:29b-30. Background: Some thought John the Baptist was “the Christ.” John alluded to the Church being the bride of Christ and said he was a “friend of the bridegroom” who took joy at hearing the bridegroom’s voice. He then said the above, saying he (John) must get small so that Jesus could take center stage. We rich “white” people, denizens of the “American” empire, are trying to do the same.

Meanwhile we keep learning just how not only political, but economic, the way of Jesus is as we try ever more fully to live as citizens of God’s kingdom rather than the “little kingdoms of this world” and participants in God’s economy rather than unmitigated consumer (late) capitalism. Thus we’re dreaming up ways to share resources and looking for partners to join us, and we’re hopeful that God the giver is positioning us just where we need to be so that we can more fully live into our calling to be givers too. For my just passed 42nd birthday, I was glad to be able to give clean water to 1 person in Africa for life via Team World Vision, for whom I am- Lord willing- running the Twin Cities Marathon (more on that later). I tried to resist wanting any other presents in the form of material goods, but Kirsten and I did pick up a few very cheap secondhand books to continue our learning, which I’m excited about. They are:

We still have a lot to learn via The Powers That Be, Jesus and the Disinherited, God of the Oppressed, and “Say to This Mountain.”

If you’re reading this, whether near or far, might you consider joining our bit of rabble-rousing “foolishness?” We’re cashing in retirement plans to pay off debt and so to be sure not to “store up treasure on earth.” We’re giving stuff away and looking for neighbors to share cars and lives with as we try to take care of God’s good earth and limit the extent to which we live as consumers rather than Jesus-followers. We’re re-imagining savings accounts as generosity funds and conjuring up folks to be generous to. I know there must be others like us out there. After all, my old acquaintance Glenn, whom I know from youth and would call a friend in Jesus, posted this on FB tonight:

Screenshot 2017-06-12 at 11.22.08 PM
Occasionally something good comes from Facebook.

 

God is on the side of the oppressed, indeed. So often we want God to be with us in what we do, and He may well be, as Bono helpfully reminds at the end of the clip that starts this post. But whatever we believe, again as Bono says, we can be sure that:

God is with the vulnerable and the poor. God is in the slums and the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us, if we are with them.

Amen.

 

I Thought I Was the Giver Here

Giving to whomever asks….(image HT)

I’ve written a lot lately about “giving to whomever asks,” and have been convicted that I need to do so. Reading Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s God’s Economy had a lot to do with that. Thankfully, I also read Miroslav Volf’s Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace around the same time. Wilson-Hartgrove challenged me to give to whomever asks “so that I might be a child of my Father in Heaven.” Volf reminded me that my Father is “God the giver,” and that I was made to be a giver too. Still, somehow I managed to place myself right at the center of all this giving that should be happening, when in fact I suspect I’m more rightly seen as a link in a long chain of giving that starts and ends with God.

So yesterday I was reading the day’s entry from Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, and it featured this bit of Scripture from Luke 11:

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

He said to them, “When you pray, say:

“‘Father,[a]
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.[b]
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
    for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.[c]
And lead us not into temptation.[d]’”

Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity[e] he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for[f] a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

There’s probably a lot to unpack there, but for now I’ll just highlight a few things that stood out for me as I encountered this passage again. First, obviously this is one of the places where we find the Lord’s Prayer. I’ll just note what I mentioned in another recent post, that after four decades of repeating this prayer, perhaps for the first time I understood, or was ready to understand, just how important the word daily is in the prayer. In asking for our daily bread- and only our daily bread- we are invited to trust in God’s provision and goodness over and over again, each and every day. In doing so we’re invited to share, to be givers ourselves. If somehow we wind up with more than enough bread for today, it’s important that we share it with someone who might lack today’s bread. I think I always thought of that part of the Lord’s prayer as being about recognizing where bread comes from. That’s important, to be sure, but as much as it may be about acknowledging the source of bread, I know now that it’s also about enacting a ritual of trust. We could acknowledge God the giver of bread once, ask for and receive enough to last us as long as a lifetime, and be done with it all. Somehow that just doesn’t seem right, does it? To turn to God each and every day for just enough bread for that day feels and is wholly different. By necessity such an arrangement requires relationship, which is kind of the point, and again it creates capacity for generosity to not only be received along with today’s bread, but to  be passed on should we again have more than enough bread for today.

Another thing I noticed in reading this passage yesterday was what appears to be the climax of it. After all that talk about how to pray and persistently ask God for what we need and after the reminder that even we know how to give our own children what they need, the writer of Luke says: “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” To go through all that language about asking God for what we need and then talk about the Father giving the Holy Spirit to those who ask him, seems to imply that the gift of the Holy Spirit must be pretty important. In other words, when the writer of Luke wants to hold up an example of God the giver giving a good gift, the gift of the Holy Spirit is his go-to example. I, for one, am inspired (no Biblical language pun intended) to try to be more attuned to the Holy Spirit’s presence and leading in my life.

Common Prayer usually adds a prayer that is informed by the Scripture for that day. Yesterday’s prayer was as follows:

A part of yesterday’s reading from Common Prayer

If you’ve been reading this blog of late, you may be able to guess that I was stunned by one little turn of phrase: “you promise to give to those who ask.” This wording may be no accident, as Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, author of God’s Economy, is a collaborator on Common Prayer. Still, it hit me hard. Over and over again, as I keep saying, I’ve been confronted of late by the notion that Jesus’ command to give to those who ask us is one we should be taking seriously, along with the rest of the Sermon on the Mount. Here it is from Matthew:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[a]39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

Love for Enemies

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[b] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

And here it is in Luke:

Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

And here is the bit from God’s Economy that I keep coming back to:

Whatever our political persuasion, we’re always tempted to blame our political enemies for the troubles in the world and think that real change will happen when the policies we endorse are put into practice. But whatever good we might effect on a national or global scale, we can be sure that it will come with unintended negative consequences. Not so with relational generosity, however. Jesus doesn’t teach us to practice relational generosity because it will “fix” the poor. He invites us to give to whoever asks so we might be children of our Father in heaven. Yes, God’s love transforms lives. We know this from our own experience and from the testimony of others. But God doesn’t ask us to change people- God asks us to love people. When we share with one who asks, we are changed. Little by little, we grow into the love of our Father, whose love is perfect.

It is indeed notable, as Wilson-Hartgrove points out in God’s Economy, that the command to give to the one who asks comes in the context of teaching about enemy love, which Jesus frames as a duty we perform “so that we might become children of our Father in heaven.” Isn’t it obvious that we “have’s” so often regard the “have-not’s” as our enemies out of fear that they might take what we think is ours? Loving them, and giving to them when and what they ask of us, enacts the reconciliation that we’re called to take part in; it tears down the wall of hostility between us. When we do so, we are indeed children of our Father in heaven, God the giver.

Yesterday morning I was reminded that it is not only we who are told to give to whomever asks, but that God himself is “wired” this way. In the Lord’s Prayer we are taught to ask God for our daily bread. In Jesus’ further teaching on prayer in that passage we are reminded that if even we, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to our children, surely God the giver, who is good, will give good gifts (namely, the Holy Spirit) to us. When I give, I am indeed my Father’s son. For that, I am grateful. Now I just need to make sure I don’t live a life that is so isolated from anyone who might ask anything of me that I deprive myself of the opportunity to act like my Father’s son, to be who I’m called to be. If true solidarity with those in need requires proximity, giving may as well. We’re trying to literally and figuratively “move” in that direction, but I know we still have a long way to go. Lord, help us.

For Memorial Day, “We Need Alternativity”

HT to this interesting post for the image.

 

At the end of Mill City Church‘s worship gathering yesterday, we sang one of my all-time favorite hymns, Be Thou My Vision. We sang something close to the version I’ve posted above. Give it a listen as you read. Here are the lyrics, which are important as they will inform the rest of this post:

“Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, put first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

Oh, God, be my everything, be my delight
Be, Jesus, my glory My soul’s satisfied
Oh, God, be my everything, be my delight
Be, Jesus, my glory My soul’s satisfied

My Jesus, You satisfy
My Jesus, You satisfy

High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, bright Heaven’s Sun
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

Oh, God, be my everything, be my delight
Be, Jesus, my glory my soul’s satisfied”

There’s a reason why this is an all time classic hymn with deeply resonant lyrics still today, and writing those words reminds me why I lament so much worship music being written today. How much of it has lyrics that will still matter a few decades from now, let alone a few centuries or even millenia? Yes, millenia. Wikipedia notes what became Be Thou My Vision began as a text that was part of a monastic tradition dating back to the 6th century. Like the Biblical text itself, it existed for centuries as an oral tradition before being written down. Wikipedia says:

The original Old Irish text, “Rop tú mo Baile” is often attributed to Saint Dallán Forgaill in the 6th century.[1] The text had been a part of Irish monastic tradition for centuries before its setting to music.[3] There are two manuscripts, one at the National Library of Ireland, and a second at the Royal Irish Academy. Both manuscripts date from about the 10th or 11th century.

The oral tradition was no doubt different from what was finally written down, and what was finally written down in the 10th or 11th century was different from English versions of the text recorded in the early 1900’s, and that too from the “English Methodist Version” that was produced in 1964, which is obviously still being adapted to this day. Nonetheless, at the heart of this song is something timeless, but I’ll have more to say on that later. So as I said, we sang this toward the end of our worship gathering yesterday. Towards the beginning of the worship gathering, as likely took place in thousands of worship gatherings across the country yesterday, a prayer was offered in honor of Memorial Day, to recognize those who have served in this nation’s military (or, more accurately according to the designated purpose of the holiday, to honor and recognize those who died while serving). In some such gatherings the conflation of following Jesus with following “American” civil religion was more over-than-top than in others. Here are a few examples from a cursory web search:

 

I found this picture at the page for the “Southeast Texas Church Guide.”

The image above begs a lot of questions. For starters, is the instrument of Jesus’ execution at the hands of the occupying empire of his day, operating in collusion with the church leaders of his day, to be understood here as a patriotic “American” symbol? The U.S.A. is the closest thing to the Roman Empire the world maybe has ever seen, complete with direct comparisons which can be made between the “Pax Romana” and the “Pax Americana.”  Perhaps then this makes perfect sense. It is in the nature of empires to co-opt whatever symbols- not of their making- that are necessary to maintain and extend their control. Often this takes the form of wholesale cultural (mis-)appropriation (see Cinco de Mayo or the recent controversy surrounding the short-lived new piece of art the Walker Art Gallery here in Minneapolis tried to display). Beyond this, what is the relationship between the patriotic executioner’s tool above (the cross is so ubiquitous and has been so domesticated that it might be more helpful to replace it in your mind with an electric chair, guillotine, or hangman’s noose) and gun-toting soldier, aside from the obvious, that both are instruments of death, tools of the state to violently enforce its will?

 

That same Southeast Texas Church Guide page features this graphic.

What then, of this graphic? Clearly the folks who run the Southeast TX Church Guide want to bless folks on this “American” holiday, but then they include some Scripture for good measure. There’s probably some good hermeneutical work that should be done about that particular verse from Proverbs, but for now let’s take it at “face value” (understanding, as I do, that all reading is interpretation, especially when it comes to the Bible). Is the point that all fallen U.S. soldiers are necessarily and automatically “righteous?” In what way? Who says? For those with ears to hear, there is a litany of abuses and atrocities committed by U.S. soldiers at the behest of our government, in the name of myself and every U.S. citizen, that could be recited, right up to and especially including the present day. Is this to be ignored? Does service and especially death while serving=righteousness, always and forever, no matter what?

Similarly, on what appears to be the United Methodist Church’s official site, they offer “12 Ways to Observe Memorial Day.” Idea #5 is to “Wave a flag:”

Youth of First United Methodist Church, Koppel, Pa., raised money to buy an American flag for all 225 residences in the little town. “I’m a flag-waver,” admitted the Rev. Donald A. Anderson. Quoted in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, he expressed hope that the flags would “bring Koppel a sense of pride in participating in this great holiday honoring those who fought to protect our freedoms.”

Thankfully, “Idea #12” is to:

Glorify Jesus as the Prince of Peace and reach out to those whom others may forget. On Memorial Day – as he does throughout the year – John Alexander, a member of East Lake United Methodist Church, Birmingham, Ala., will be involved with Kairos Prison Ministries. A Christian, lay-led, ecumenical, volunteer, international prison ministry, Kairos brings Christ’s love and forgiveness to incarcerated individuals and their families.

Still, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Most of the other ideas the United Methodist Church presents on the page, with a few notable exceptions, focus again on the conflation of following Jesus with following “American” civil religion. Under such an arrangement, the U.S. flag is a welcome partner to the “Christian” one, and in too many church buildings across the country the two are displayed in tandem, as if they belong together.

Lest there be any confusion about the point here, here’s another image, this one from a church in Georgia:

 

So here we have the cross again, used along with the flag, again, as the backdrop for what appears to be a veterans’ cemetery, and again we get some Scripture, this time from the gospel of John, in which we read: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Clearly the makers of the image above think this somehow applies to those who died as U.S. soldiers. In truth, nothing could be further from said truth. Here’s that verse in context, from John 15:

 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.

Do you really think what Jesus is saying here has anything to do with military belligerents dying sometimes to protect the “freedom” of U.S. citizens (lots to unpack there, but not now), but more often of late to protect U.S. “strategic interests” in the oil-rich Middle East? Take a look at the passage above again. Jesus is urging his followers to “remain in his love.” He says if they keep his commands they will do so; they will remain in his love. Then he tells them just what he wants them to do, what his command is: Love each other- as he has loved them. Then comes the misappropriated verse in the image above: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Notice what comes next, though. After talking about the love involved in laying one’s life down for one’s friends, he doubles down on just how they can remain in his love. He says: “You are my friends if you do what I command.” Remember that he’s just told them what his command is, that they would love one another as he has. Then he makes the point even more clear. He tells them that he no longer calls them servants, but instead has called them friends. They are his friends because they remain in his love by doing what he’s told them to do- by loving one another. And just how great is that love of his they are to remain in? It’s so great that he would lay down his life for them, which this passage is clearly foreshadowing. Thus Jesus is the one laying down his life for his friends- we who love as he has loved us.

A call to give the “ultimate sacrifice” on the battlefield- or to honor those who have- this is not. In fact, such sacrifices are not even “ultimate.” Responding violently to the threat of violence and thereby suffering the consequences of violence may be the way of the world, but it is not Jesus’ way. Jesus on the cross broke the cycle of the world’s violence by absorbing it without retaliating. As those who do indeed follow the Prince of Peace, we are likewise called to be peacemakers. Ironically, what comes next in John 15 is an admonition by Jesus, who tells his followers that they have been chosen out of the world, and so will likely be persecuted and hated by it, depending, I suppose, on how closely we follow him, how faithfully we love as he has loved us and remain in his love. If, as much as we possibly can, we live into this ministry of reconciliation and follow Jesus down the path of peace rather than violence, those who prefer violence (even/especially those who have subscribed to the myth of redemptive violence) may very well hate and persecute us indeed.

Going back to our part of John 15 above, in the last bit of the passage Jesus again reminds his followers that he chose them, not the other way around. He chose them so that they might “go and bear fruit,” and so that “whatever they ask” in his name, the Father will give them. Then, just to be sure they’ve gotten the message, he repeats his command that they love one another. It’s interesting that God the giver includes a reminder in this passage that he has chosen his followers not only so that they can bear fruit, but also so that they can receive from him whatever they would ask for in Jesus’ name. By so doing he reminds them of who- and whose- they are. They are children of their Father in heaven; they are the beloved of the Creator God, the one in whom “all things hold together.” Those who remember this know that they really don’t need to store up treasure on earth. They really can trust God each and every day for their daily bread, without worrying about tomorrow or the bread they’ll need then. Their Father, after all, is the keeper of the “cattle on a thousand hills,” and he knows what they need before they would even ask him. So then, if they are remaining in his love by faithfully following his command to love one another, they can ask their Father for anything, and he will give it to them. This is economic language that stands in stark contrast to the language of the world’s economies.

The “freedom” that we “Americans” of European descent enjoy most of all involves some basic human rights that ought be enjoyed by all- freedom of speech and of movement, religious freedom and the like, but a well-defended argument can be made that the most essential “freedom” “America” has been exporting for quite some time is an economic one- the freedom to consume as much as one’s hard work, credit, or inheritance will allow. It is, after all, a freedom that even the Chinese enjoy. But it does come at a literal “price,” and it’s often a violent one. There is a direct relationship between capitalism (aka our “economic freedom”) and violence. Don’t believe me? Watch this:

In contrast with “America’s” violent capitalism, Jesus tells us that we have only to ask our Father for “anything,” and he will give it to us. Why? How can this be so? Don’t those who peddle the so-called “prosperity gospel” use verses like this to justify their cheap grace? That may be. Be that as it may, if we who would follow Jesus are loving those around us like Jesus loved us (remembering that his love was so great that he laid down his life for us), isn’t it true that our heart’s desire won’t be for our own health, wellness, and prosperity, but for that of our neighbor near and far? Isn’t this what we’ll want to ask our Father for, knowing that he’s already got our own needs taken care of?

This is what I’m learning, slowly but surely, after lo these many years being so very focused on my own needs and wants. This is the vision that I find so captivating these days. It’s a vision placed in my heart by its Lord. It’s a vision so very captivating that all else is “naught” (nothing) to me.  “Be Thou My Vision” continues in the next verse:

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is our wisdom, our true Word, and because of the Holy Spirit we know that God is ever with us, and we with him. God’s Spirit within is the animating presence that continues to give us life from one moment to the next and enables us to remain in his love as we make our feeble efforts to love those around us like we’ve been loved by him. As true sons and daughters of the Father and those in whom his Spirit dwells, we experience unity with God, the most precious gift of all.

That’s what Mill City Church is “fighting” for these days in the current sermon series- unity. We’re being reminded that unity does not equal uniformity and that it’s okay to disagree so long as we do it well. We’re being reminded though that while uniformity is not required, unity is “non-negotiable.” As we sang that line from “Be Thou My Vision” yesterday morning, the one that goes, “Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one,” I was reminded that if we who would follow Jesus are indeed one with the Father, we are necessarily united with one another. We can’t be united with God and be separated from others who are also united with God. If we all are indeed united with the Father, it’s impossible to be separated from one another. This is convicting, as it means that to whatever extent we are experiencing disunity with one another, our unity with God is compromised.

Just what is it, then, that all too often divides us? The next verse of “Be Thou My Vision” offers our first clue:

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, put first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art

“Riches, I heed not,” this English version of the ancient hymn says, and shortly thereafter explains why, because “Thou” (are) mine inheritance, now and always.” This is what God has been calling I and my family to over and over an over again in 2017 (and no doubt before, if we had been paying attention). What does it mean to live in this culture as if these words were actually true? What does it mean to live as if our chief task on this earth is not to accumulate as much wealth as possible for myself and then leave it to my children as an inheritance, but rather to live as a conduit for God’s many good gifts, knowing that Jesus is our inheritance? What does it mean to live in this culture with the knowledge that our heart will be where our treasure is, and so as followers of Jesus that treasure must be in heaven, not on earth? I am convinced now more than ever that Jesus spends so much time talking about money (and that so much of that talk touches on the relationship between money and politics) because truly “the love of money is the root of all evil,” and it is that temptation- to love money and the economic and political systems that get us more of it- more than Jesus that we rich would-be “Christians” of European descent are faced with more than any other. A recent FB post I happened upon makes the point for me. It’s a video of “10 Rules You Will Never Learn in School.” It’s paired with a cartoon-ish picture of Bill Gates. There are layers upon layers of disingenuous misattribution that led to the video being produced and shared on FB (in other words, it’s “fake news”), but the bottom line is that it doesn’t come from Bill Gates, and the version I saw on FB isn’t even a thorough copy of the actual source, who definitely is NOT Bill Gates. Nonetheless, people, would be Jesus followers even, believe this stuff; so I’ll show you the last “rule:”

Bill Gates did NOT say this.

From “life isn’t fair” to (don’t expect to) “make $60,000 out of high school,” but do expect to “flip burgers” and do expect there to be “winners and losers” in life, and to have to “leave your coffee shop to go to work” (for a “nerd,” apparently), to the final coup de grace- “being born poor” is “not your mistake,” but “dying poor” is, apparently; every one of the “rules” or life lessons in the “fake” video have to do with our relationship to money, and every one of them, I would argue, encourages us to love and pursue it in place of loving and pursuing Jesus. No, life isn’t fair, but instead of investigating why and working to subvert whatever powers promote the injustice and unfairness of life, this video would have us accept this “fact” and use our good ol’ “American” ingenuity and Puritan work ethic to overcome it, perpetuating the myth that this country is the “land of opportunity” for those with the gumption to seize it. All the other “rules” play in to this narrative. The last one, though, is of course the one that really gets me. Being born “poor” is rightly understood to not be the “fault” of the one being born, but it is someone’s fault, and the makers of this video and those who would spread it around seem to have little interest in this.

Moreover, they double down on the injustice that leads to the inequality of some folks being born poor by telling the lie that it doesn’t matter, and that if they would just work hard enough they too, could get rich (by historical standards, as even the “poorest” of the U.S. “middle class” truly is). What, then, of generational poverty even here in the U.S.? What of the legacy of 4 centuries of slavery and Jim Crow era de facto slavery up to, including, and even after the Civil Rights era in the U.S.? When will rich males of European descent like myself stop pretending that there’s some other reason why people of color in this country remain disproportionately poor, uneducated, and incarcerated? And of course all of this says nothing about the rest of the world. Is it the fault of poor North Koreans that they die poor? What of the poorest child in the most desperate part of Africa, whose mother spends much of her day trudging to get dirty water for him, which may very well kill him anyway, thus greatly decreasing the time between that child’s poor birth and poor death?

Meanwhile, Jesus tells us to give to whomever asks of us, to lend without expecting repayment, and that the widow who gives her only mite gives far more than the one percent-er who gave a much greater amount, but much smaller percent- by orders of magnitude- of his available resources. I would argue again that it’s not your fault if you’re born poor, but it is someone’s. Likewise, there’s much to be said about dying poor. Remembering that you “can’t take it with you;” that there were no needy among the early church because they shared what they had; that likewise one of the chief lessons of Israel’s wilderness wanderings was that they had to trust God for their daily bread and share such that “he who gathered little did not gather too little” and “he who gathered much, not too much-” a lesson repeated and expanded on in Paul’s letters to the early church(es); remembering that Jesus challenged the “rich young ruler” to go and sell all he had and give it to the poor- in light of all of this and so much more, I would argue that as Jesus followers our goal actually should probably be to die poor. Doesn’t “every good gift come from the Lord?” If God the giver gives for our flourishing but just as much so that we too can be givers because we bear his image, then we are duty-bound to hold the resources we’re given access to lightly, even those we think we “earn” at a job, because we’re only able to “earn” them using the brain power, heart, will, and muscles- not to mention air, light, and raw materials- that God the giver gave us in the first place. If we hold those resources lightly, we will allow them to pass through our hands freely to those who need them, and if we do this well, we really ought not have any left when our first go-round on this earth is complete.

The last verse of “Be Thou My Vision” goes:

High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, bright Heaven’s Sun
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

What does it mean to be subjects of the “High King of Heaven” and to acknowledge that he has won our “victory?” What victory could this be? Is it merely some “pie in the sky” triumph over “sin and death” that has nothing to do with our lives here and now? Quite the opposite, it seems to me more and more these days. Some will use the occasion of this day- “Memorial Day” here in the U.S.- to again conflate following Jesus with following “American” civil religion, and the fact that so many uncritically do so is a devastating testament to the seeming triumph of the “powers” over that very High King of Heaven. This, by the way, is as intentional as it is insidious. The Wikipedia Memorial Day page notes:

Scholars, following the lead of sociologist Robert Bellah, often make the argument that the United States has a secular “civil religion” – one with no association with any religious denomination or viewpoint – that has incorporated Memorial Day as a sacred event. With the Civil War, a new theme of death, sacrifice and rebirth enters the civil religion. Memorial Day gave ritual expression to these themes, integrating the local community into a sense of nationalism. The American civil religion, in contrast to that of France, was never anticlerical or militantly secular; in contrast to Britain, it was not tied to a specific denomination, such as the Church of England. The Americans borrowed from different religious traditions so that the average American saw no conflict between the two, and deep levels of personal motivation were aligned with attaining national goals.

Memorial Day has been called a “modern cult of the dead“. It incorporates Christian themes of sacrifice while uniting citizens of various faiths.[61]

Did you catch that? “American civil religion….was never anticlerical or militantly secular” and “was not tied to a specific denomination.” Here’s the kicker: “The Americans borrowed from different religious traditions so that the average American saw no conflict between the two.” In other words, the “average American” is blinded to the fact that there is, indeed, a conflict between following Jesus and following the president, whatever party is in power. There’s a conflict between unmitigated consumer capitalism and God’s economy. There’s a conflict between the use of violent military force by this or any other government and the peacemaking ways of Jesus. Many of us in this country sadly just don’t see it.

Being a subject of the High King of Heaven means you can swear no allegiance to any earthly king, or president, or flag. Following Jesus as your Lord, Savior, and Leader means no other leader ought hold sway over you. Participating in God’s economy marks you as being in rebellion to and only a reluctant participant in the economies of this world. What we are called to and what we must live into is alternativity. We’re supposed to be different, so different that we get persecuted and hated for it. While I’m grateful my church didn’t embrace the worst excesses of “American” civil religion in the passing allusion to Memorial Day yesterday, what I didn’t hear was anything that called me to alternativity. I didn’t feel challenged to acknowledge that the U.S.’ soldiers are probably honored best when the Church holds the government to account for its oil wars, for its military drift, for its exploitation of the poorest among us as canon fodder, and for its call not to sacrifice for the common good but to shop more. We can do better than this. Lord willing, we will.

So by all means, honor those who have died while serving as soldiers, but do so as a Christian. Maybe hug a soldier today, sure. Then call your congressperson and argue for more spending on healthcare for veterans and less spending on new guns, bombs, and missiles- tools which beg to be used. Lobby for the winding down of the many wars the U.S. is fighting right now and the ending of current deployments so no more soldiers on either side have to die, let alone the many civilians our soldiers keep killing as “collateral damage.” Then do something even more radical. Go find an enemy soldier, and hug him or her too. Honor the fallen sons and daughters in Iraq, or Vietnam, or Korea. Or, if that proves difficult, sign up for Christian Peacemaker Teams. Find a way to do your duty as a subject of the Prince of Peace and sojourner in the world’s latest empire, the U.S.A. March for peace. Write letters to the editor of your local paper. Consider engaging in war tax resistance. Don’t worry about your life, or the bread you’ll need tomorrow, or the danger of standing between two warring parties. Your Father has the cattle on a thousand hills, and the High King of Heaven has already won your victory. Live like it. I and my family are going to try to. Won’t you help us?

Why Am I Still So Rich? Why Are You?

Our new place in NE Mpls. We have the 2nd floor unit.
It’s been over a month since my last post, an uncharacteristic drought for me, at least of late. I’ll chalk it up to the incredible busy-ness surrounding our move from the ‘burbs into the Beltrami neighborhood in NE Mpls.

That’s an attribution I could get away with, but I’ll confess that there’s a little more to it. Forcing myself to be honest, I think I’ve experienced our arrival here and the aftermath as a bit anti-climactic. Of course, that’s only possible because clearly I had built this move up in my own head to entail something of a climax. In the space of a month I’ve found myself with a new place to live, a new job, and even a new bank, and with all that change has come all the disruption you might expect. I didn’t quite plan it this way, obviously.

As we began to, I hope and believe, really listen to what God might be saying to us in new ways and with a new willingness to literally follow where we were being led, we found ourselves open to new possibilities as they began to present themselves, and present themselves they did. While we knew we probably weren’t long for the ‘burbs, this move to Mpls. only came about because we were talking to some folks from our church about what we were learning and our sense that our calling to get “small,” coupled with our realization that solidarity (with the “least of these”) requires proximity, would likely mean moving. Out of that conversation the opportunity arose to move into the space we’re living in now. There was a little more intentionality behind my job change, though not in regard to the timing. As my former employer, a for-profit social service agency which had recently given its CEO job to a former investment banker/pharmaceutical industry type, began making ever more changes under that new CEO’s leadership that reflected the priorities of the Mammon-serving industries from which he came, it became ever more clear that I would need to find another job soon. It just so happened that the opportunity arose to work for a faith-based non-profit I’ve long respected and have some familiarity with, and it just so happened that this opportunity included working less than 2 miles from our new home. Thus, as I’ve been so grateful for of late, the “rare trifecta” has been achieved in which I live, work, and worship within the same community- all within a 2 mile radius of our new home.

Is this “Overdraft?” HT to this page for the pic.

We had been planning to change banks too, though again hadn’t quite planned to do it just yet. Our soon to be former bank began locally but now has a footprint in a number of states, and its former CEO infamously has a boat named “Overdraft” after all the $ collected from charging fees when overdrafts occur. When we learned that there was a much smaller, “certified B corp.” bank whose mission is to give financial access to under-served communities, we knew we had to bank with them as soon as we could. When it became clear that we were not only moving but I was changing jobs at the same time (and therefore our direct deposits would be disrupted due to the job change anyway), it made sense to just make all the changes all at once. So we did.

Still, we’re not just doing all this because we felt like it. We truly have experienced a profound sense of calling to again get as “small” as we can, and this move represents a significant step of faith in that direction. Though our place in the ‘burbs was not huge (by rich Western USAmerican standards) and represented downward movement (in terms of space) from what I still describe as our “modest” home in OH, we’ve now cut our space down by probably a third again with this latest move. We share a garage in our new space, and our side is relatively full, and sadly we do have some stuff in storage at Kirsten’s mom’s; nonetheless, we got rid of a lot of stuff as we moved here, and I’m grateful. As I keep saying, we shouldn’t have more stuff than can fit in our current space.

We went from a street on which the houses/townhomes were widely spaced out and one could really go a long while if one desired without interacting with or even hearing one’s neighbors, to a neighborhood in which the houses are tightly packed together with some so close to each other that you could literally pass items through open windows from one house to another. Many of the houses on our current street aren’t all that much smaller than those in the ‘burbs we came from, but many of them here in the city have been converted into multi-family homes with several rental units in each, including ours. That, plus the much greater density of the housing stock means that there is much greater density of people to go with it. Our street is busy with frequent foot and bicycle traffic, and we often interact with our neighbors (well, some of them anyway). There’s a real sense of community here- desired or not- that was designed away in the ‘burbs from which we came. We’re glad for that.

NE Mpls. is a haven for artists and is the setting for the just completed Art-A-Whirl, an annual open house of all the local galleries packed into this part of the city that showcases local art. It’s the largest event of its kind in the country. One of those galleries is at the end of our street. Right across from that gallery, also at the end of our street, is what we already know to be a delicious Asian food restaurant from which we had take-out last weekend. Across the street from our house, a few houses up, is a house at which folks frequently come to the stoop to smoke. Whenever they do, they almost always sing- loudly, beautifully, and in harmony. I don’t know if all the singers live there or if they sing vocationally or if they just can’t help themselves, but they do it well, and I always appreciate it and try to listen. It’s less than a mile from our new place to the only vegan “butcher” in the country, which is very close to a taco chain from TX that has some good vegan options and one of our favorite running stores. While this particular section of Minneapolis is still fairly Caucasian, there’s much, much more diversity than there ever was in the neighborhood from which we came. Both of the new schools the boys go to are very diverse, and Samuel is in fact a minority at his. We can see some of the landmark skyscrapers of downtown Mpls. just over the tops of the trees from the windows on one side of our new place. The ‘burbs this is not.

Of course, it’s not exactly the “ghetto” either. Like many urban settings, NE Mpls. is gentrifying, and it gave us pause to consider that we would be contributing to that phenomenon by moving here. We only hope that on balance our presence does more good than harm. Obviously, it remains to be seen if that will be the case. Nonetheless, being here, especially taken with all the other changes in our lives, is a step in the direction of much more consistently and with integrity living into our values. Our rent here will be cheaper than in the ‘burbs, and as we moved here we made many, many changes to try to live more simply and more consistently act as if we really believe that everything belongs to God, that everything is a gift from God, including the money we “earn” using the gifts God has given us. As has been well documented on this blog, prior to moving here we gave up our  smartphones and “cut the cord” again. We quit contributing to our retirement plans because of all the unjust ways in which those funds were being used and because we’re supposed to be storing up treasure in heaven, not on earth.  We gave away a lot of the stuff we had accumulated and sold some other things, and we pray that this purge represents changes to our way of life that we will be able to sustain. Doing all this has freed up a lot of money in our budget, and with it we’re more rapidly paying down debt than we ever could have imagined just a few short months ago. We’re building capacity into our lives, both financial and otherwise, to much more faithfully be who we feel called to be.

We know we’re called to be generous, for starters, that this is something God the giver wants for us, not from us. We know we’re called to tread lightly on God’s good earth and to be present to our neighbors, let alone to one another in our own immediate family. We know, as I’ve been saying, that we’re called to get as “small” as we can, to live as citizens of God’s kingdom from “under,” not “over” the kingdom(s) of this world, especially the kingdom which is the U.S.A. and the unmitigated consumer capitalism and war-making empire for which it stands. All of this means that we’re more keenly aware perhaps than we ever have been of the degree to which we’re called to swim upstream in the culture(s) we’re immersed in. We’re immersed in the culture of consumer capitalism, for example, but we now know more clearly than ever before that we can’t follow Jesus and the dictates of that culture. We can’t serve Jesus and Mammon, and that actually means something. It means we have to act in contradistinction to what most consider to be wise and prudent financial behavior. Many think it wise if possible to not be in debt (though few seem to live this out). On this point, we agree, and we’re grateful that all the other financial choices we’ve made of late to help us get “small” have built up capacity in our budget to enable us to rapidly pay off some debt we’ve been accumulating for many years (not counting student loan debt, which we’ll continue to carry for quite some time, sadly).

Image HT
That said, most would say it’s wise, prudent, and faithful to not only not carry debt but also to save- preferably up to three months’ worth of salary or more to help provide in the event of illness, injury, or job loss. Most say it’s wise to save for retirement and to plan for it someday. Most say it’s wise to own a home and take advantage of the chance to build equity and maximize tax savings. I could go on, but on these points we’re just not so sure anymore, and again we must consider: what if Jesus really meant what he said? He said, after all, that our hearts will be where our treasure is, and that we should store up for ourselves treasure in heaven, not on earth. The hard truth is that every savings account, IRA, and disability insurance policy is a tool meant to do just the opposite of what Jesus called us to. They’re tools meant for no other purpose than to literally store up treasure on earth, however virtuous one’s intentions might be regarding that earthly stored-up treasure. Though we’re still figuring (all) this out, we’re not even sure of the logic of home-ownership any more. I wouldn’t suggest that every home purchase represents something less than what God wants for us. Buying a house certainly helps one be rooted in a community, and that is a good thing. However, I’ll say again that when we gave up the home we had owned for 10 years to come here in part, but certainly not solely, to help Kirsten’s mom, we readily accepted the frequently used and seemingly Scriptural logic that “…no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age.” I’ve written a lot about this passage from Mark 10 and the stunning realization I had about it as I heard it used in several Mill City Church sermons and especially in Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s seminal book, God’s Economy. I’ll give you the verse again, with a little more context. Just after Jesus has said to “let the little children come to him,” thereby radically giving prestige and status to those whose socioeconomic position in the household economy of the day was lower even than that of slaves, and then after the “rich young ruler” has “gone away sad” because Jesus has told him to go and sell all he has and give it to the poor because this is the “one thing he lacked,” after all this, this is what happens next:
 

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is[e] to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”

27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

28 Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”

29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

 
I’ve written a fair bit already about my stunning realization that after learning, I thought, so well that so many of the “you’s” in the New Testament that talk about how to live the Christian life and follow Jesus were plural, addressed to you, the church; somehow I still managed to think this particular passage was about me (the individual). Of course it’s not. Jesus isn’t saying that I and my family will be rewarded handsomely with material goods if in fact we have given any up for his sake. He’s saying we don’t need them. He’s saying that we’re part of a community that collectively has so much more than any one of us or any one family among us could ever want or need. So, thanks be to God and still, Lord willing, I and my family are doubling down on our “downsizing” ways. Thus, we find ourselves here in our new space in the Beltrami neighborhood.
Our daily “bread?” Image HT.

Interestingly, I had yet another of those stunning Scriptural revelations within the last couple of weeks. As someone who supposedly has been trying to follow Jesus for most of his life, I’ve probably said the Lord Prayer’s thousands of times- without ever fully realizing what I was really asking for. As I’ve also written about recently related to all this, in the desert God rained down manna from heaven daily (except on the Sabbath), and he who gathered much never “gathered too much,” and he who gathered little “never too little,” because they shared. And those who tried to hoard and save some for the next day found it spoiled the next day (except on the Sabbath). Thus, each and every day they had to trust God for their “daily bread.” In the prayer Jesus taught us, he invokes this bit of Israel’s collective history and invites his followers to continue to trust God for their daily bread with the simple words: “Give us this day our daily bread.” Again after 41 years on this earth and 20 of them as an adult trying to follow Jesus, I realized that Jesus doesn’t say to ask God for our weekly bread, or our monthly or yearly bread, or enough bread to hide some away so that some day we can retire and stop collecting bread. Jesus doesn’t say any of that. He invites us to trust God every day for just what we need for that day. Capitalism and good, common sense financial wisdom- even what most consider good stewardship- this is not. This is utter nonsense, utter foolishness in the eyes of the world and I would argue in the eyes of most “Christians,” but this is the life Jesus invites us into.

And it kind of makes sense, if we’re also invited to “give to whomever asks.” Especially in this society and especially for people of my gender, location in history, and skin tone, I have access to more “bread” than I could ever possibly need. Thus a life of radical generosity is not only possible but clearly demanded of me. What other reason could there be for the unimaginable bounty I’ve been given? So then why am I still so rich?

That question- why am I still so rich?- has been haunting me of late in terms of my own life of course but also as I’ve wrestled with the ideas and thinking of Bob Lupton in his much talked about (at least in the circles I’m a part of these days) book, Toxic Charity. Let the reader of this post beware that I myself have not read Toxic Charity. Naturally, I’m not in the habit of commenting much on books I haven’t read, but obviously I’m about to. The book has generated enough “buzz” since it came out a few years back that there’s a lot of discussion of it to be found online. It also seems to be well-esteemed among the leadership of my faith community; so I’ve found myself repeatedly encountering some of the ideas Bob and his book(s) present, and am feeling more and more compelled to respond to them even as I continue to learn about them (learning which, I assure you, will include reading the book in the near future!). At first glance, Bob should be someone that I would be inclined to like, respect, and esteem myself. He’s a Christian Community Development practitioner and has spoken at the CCDA conference. He’s a Jesus-follower who was himself compelled to respond to the “good news for the poor” by moving his family from the ‘burbs to the “inner city” to live among, love, and serve his neighbors there, thus enacting one of the “three R’s” of Christian Community Development- “relocation.” As is often said about this principle, “Jesus didn’t commute from heaven every day when he walked the earth and loved and served us.” There’s a lesson there. Bob took it to heart and has lived in “inner city” Atlanta for 40 years, and for that I do indeed think well of him. Moreover, he’s calling the church to “do no harm” in its efforts to love the poor and wants to see all God’s children realize their full potential and not be dependent on government entitlement programs for their sustenance and well-being. This, I suppose, is what he says is often “toxic” about charity, that by indiscriminately giving “handouts” to the poor- apparently whether it’s the church doing so or the government- the “have’s” create dependency in and “destroy the work ethic of” the “have-not’s.” There’s a lot to be said about that, which I’ll get to shortly.

 
All that said, it’s precisely because of Lupton’s history and associations (with CCDA, with many church leaders who think well of his message, including the leaders of my own faith community) that should incline me to want to agree with him or at least give him the benefit of the doubt that I find myself struggling so mightily because I just can’t. The more I learn and reflect on what Lupton’s message seems to be, the more I discover that I simply don’t agree with him, and this has bugged me enough that I’ve been compelled to research, think, pray, and now write about it all. Lupton seems supremely interested in the results of charity work, while Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and Miroslav Volf might say that the act of giving to whomever asks is as much about us as givers and therefore image-bearers of God the giver, as it is about those to whom we give or the “results” of said giving. Nevertheless, Lupton wants to center the conversation on “results-” what lifts people out of poverty- but is overly critical of the poor along the way. One reviewer wrote:
One criticism is that Lupton moves uncritically between uplifting the capacity and creativity of the poor and degrading them as lazy and dishonest.  “Most [panhandlers] are scammers,” he states (45).  Most poor people in the United States “assume that their subsistence is guaranteed” and so lack any kind of work ethic, he claims (121).  I won’t dignify his words with the verb “argues” because Lupton doesn’t argue his points; he simply states them.  I would be concerned that statements like this, when coupled with his criticisms of charity, would motivate more people to avoid service work in the first place than to engage in the community development he suggests.
Another reviewer of his follow-up book, Charity Detox, which builds on the ideas presented in Toxic Charity, said:
…the author seems unwilling to address (or even admit) that some of the root causes of and root solutions for poverty are related to social policy. It is hard not to sniff ideology. The author talks more about the rich than the poor, telling story after story of rich entrepreneurs whose faith and business acumen change impoverished communities. Meanwhile, too often “the poor” are mostly faceless, nameless, and never described as “low-income communities” or even “our sisters and brothers.” It makes for uncomfortable reading.

Interestingly, when Jesus tells stories, he seems to take the opposite approach. In the story of the “rich man and Lazarus,” for example, it’s the “rich man” who lacks a name while the poor man is named- Lazarus- and known. Indeed it is the poor man who is “carried to Abraham’s side” when he dies, while the rich man is “in torment” “in Hades.” This is a subject for another post, one I’ve already written. Meanwhile, Lupton seems to want to say to the rich two things, one of which I wholeheartedly agree with. On the one hand, he encourages rich folk to live alongside poor folk (he did it, and again I respect him greatly for it). He seems to think that by doing so rich folk will “see” (and hopefully “hear” through meaningful relationships with their neighbors) what poor folk “really need.” By virtue of proximity with poor folk, rich folk will then on the other hand be better able to invest in “good” charity. Meanwhile, the effective message he seems to have for the poor is essentially to ask, “why aren’t you less poor yet?” There’s a corollary question that goes unasked, that might be asked of the rich, “why aren’t you less rich yet?” Lupton seems silent on this subject, but it’s a question I can’t avoid, especially as I direct it at myself.

What bothers me most about Lupton’s “argument(s)” is just how firmly they seem to be rooted in the economy of this world- capitalism, specifically, and thus just how firmly they are out of place in God’s economy. Lupton’s ideas for helping poor folks pull themselves up by their own bootstraps so that they can better participate in consumer capitalism simply have no place in an economy where everyone shares everything because every good thing is an unearned gift from God the giver. They have no place in a world in which we give to whomever asks, without judgment. They have no place in a world that lacks only one thing- scarcity. In God’s economy, there is more than enough for all and since all share freely there finally “are no poor among us;” neither are there any rich. This is the world I want to live in, and as for me and my house, we will be living as if we do.

Our challenge is to find partners who want to live in such a world too. I suspect that may be why our move to our new place and everything it represents for us may feel a little anti-climactic now that we’re here. We’re excited to get to know our neighbors here, and some- though not all- of our new neighbors seem to feel likewise. Still, while we’re so very grateful to now be leaning into the life we feel called to much more than we have in a very long time, it still feels a little…lonely. We remain convinced we simply can’t live this life alone, and we believe that this is not what Jesus wants for us either. So then perhaps our biggest challenge is simply to be patient. It took us 20 years to finally be “ready” to follow Jesus like we should have all along. Lord willing, there are partners who will join us- or whom we can join- along this way with Jesus; I only pray they learn a little faster than we do.

“Oh Lord, Bless This Thy Holy Hand Grenade, That With It Thou Mayest Blow Thine Enemies To Tiny Bits, In Thy Mercy.”

I can’t help but think that everyone’s been reading from The Book of Armaments rather than the Bible.

Yesterday I heard a Christian say, in response to the comment of a co-worker that was in some way related to the election (still!), “you lost!” Later I read about a church that is so afraid that it has asked its state legislature for (and may well get) permission to form its own police force. This morning I saw a headline about a Republican legislator using the Bible to justify withdrawing food stamps from welfare recipients, and then I saw a person online wanting to re-hash Vietnam (still!) by arguing that the U.S. bombing campaign was successful and the war was only “lost” because Democrats who were swept into power on the heels of Watergate stopped funding the shipment of arms to South Vietnam.

Is this what Jesus died for? Is this the best we can do? All of this occurred just after Jesus, just a few days ago as we follow him through Holy Week on his way to the cross, wept over Jerusalem because she “did not know the things that made for peace.” She still doesn’t. Neither, apparently, do we.

Doesn’t that vindictive Christian so ready to shout “you lost!” realize that we all lost with the election of Trump, and would have just as surely if Hillary had been elected too? (I saw something else online recently describing the surreal world we live in, in which Clinton argues for the bombing of Syria, Trump goes ahead and does it, and both blame Obama.)

Doesn’t that fearful “church” know that violence begets violence, that those who live by the sword will die by it? Doesn’t that fearful “church” know that Jesus sets us free from fear, that if God is for us no one can stand against us, no matter how many guns and bullets they have?

Doesn’t that stingy, heartless Republican know that there is enough, enough food for all, enough resources to meet everyone’s needs, if only “he who gathers much does not gather too much, and he who gathers little does not gather too little,” if only we would “give to whomever asks” and stop treating the poor as our enemies, as Jesus commands?

Doesn’t that warmonger who’s still bitter about Vietnam know that the same “successful” U.S. bombing campaign involved dropping more bombs per capita on Laos (not Vietnam) than on any other country on earth, in part simply because U.S. bomber pilots sometimes had their mission changed in-flight or didn’t drop their bombs on Vietnam for some reason, but didn’t feel safe landing their planes with bombs still onboard, and so dropped them on Laos indiscriminately on their way home, never mind the people below?

Screenshot 2017-04-12 at 4.16.48 PM
Unexploded ordnance dropped on Laos. HT to this great site for the image.

In a couple of days our violent ways will culminate in violence against God himself as the state executes Jesus on the cross, and Jesus will interrupt this and every cycle of violence by receiving it without retaliating and praying “Father, forgive them, for they know what they do.”

Father, forgive us. We still don’t know what we’re doing. Teach us to follow you, the Prince of Peace. Amen.

Trampling the Flag on Palm Sunday: A Word to the Irrelevant “Powers-” Freedom Is Coming

HT to this site for this Palm Sunday art by Bill Hemmerling

I woke up primed for Holy Week, which begins today with Palm Sunday and the remembrance of Jesus’ “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem. The crowds were ready to anoint him king in their hope that he was the Messiah, the one who would violently overthrow Rome’s occupying power and “make Israel great again.” Of course, once they realized that his “kingdom” was simultaneously “upon us” but also “not of this world-” and that therefore he would not overthrow the Roman occupiers violently- the crowd quickly turned on Jesus and would soon join in encouraging that same foreign occupying power and the complicit religious leaders of Israel in their plan to execute Jesus. Usually we rich would-be “Christians” of European descent spiritualize all this, taking it to mean that the kingdom Jesus inaugurated, the love revolution he began, is a strictly a matter for the heart in the present age as we await the age to come “in the sweet by and by.” But as with so many things, this is more of a “both/and” than an “either/or.” We cannot take the inauguration of Jesus’ kingdom- symbolized in the inauguration of Jesus’ ministry as he announced the fulfillment of “good news to the poor,” the proclamation of “freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind,” the setting free of “the oppressed,” and the proclamation of “the year of the Lord’s favor”- to mean simply that God wants to save us from personal immorality so that we can enjoy a heavenly retirement plan. Nor, on the other hand, can we take it to mean that God has nothing to say about spiritual realities and our own broken spirits.

Surely Jesus wants to save us from the “sin that so easily entangles” so that we can “run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” This “salvation” is very “personal,” indeed. Likewise, it is very communal, and very, very political. This is the tension we must always keep before us, and it was with that tension in mind that I read Circle of Hope‘s daily prayer this morning, which focuses, rightly, on Jesus’ “triumphal entry” to Jerusalem that we remember on Palm Sunday. The post is good enough to join the featured poet, Malcolm Guite, in envisioning the…”final leg of the journey of Lent” and reminding us “that Holy Week is both about the Lord’s outward, visible, historical entry into Jerusalem for Passover Week and what he did there; but it is also is about his entry into the city in each of us where God claims his residence and what he will do there.” The post…

…lets the outer story of Palm Sunday present some questions to our inner lives. Will I welcome Jesus to be the King in my heart? Is my inner city occupied and governed by a foreign power? Are inoffensive rituals practiced in my temple that do not offend the rulers? Has buying and selling colonized the space where there should be prayer? Are there crowds in me who are swayed this way and that by whoever seems most compelling or powerful? Can I welcome Jesus into all of that?

Something powerful is happening here. The tension I spoke of above is held and allowed to speak to us all the more powerfully because it is maintained. Yes, we must welcome Jesus to be “King” in our “heart,” but to do so requires us to wonder if our “inner city” is “occupied and governed by a foreign power,” if “inoffensive rituals” practiced in our temple “do not offend the rulers,” and if “buying and selling” has “colonized the space where there should be prayer.” These are terribly communal, political realities.

Then, of course, the post ended by reminding us that it’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer day over at the Transhistorical Body of Christ blog that Circle of Hope maintains. Being a Bonhoeffer “fan” and appreciating the witness of the “great cloud of witnesses” that Circle reminds us of through this blog, I clicked over to read about Bonhoeffer, again. Guess what the “Bible reading and excerpt” that most of these Circle of Hope devotional posts start with was? I can’t make this stuff up; it was:

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Matthew 5:38-42

Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

If you’ve been reading this blog for the past few months, you’ll know that I can’t turn around these days without bumping into this passage. It forms the basis of probably the most memorable part, for me, from God’s Economy: Redefining the Health and Wealth Gospel, in which Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove said:

Whatever our political persuasion, we’re always tempted to blame our political enemies for the troubles in the world and think that real change will happen when the policies we endorse are put into practice. But whatever good we might effect on a national or global scale, we can be sure that it will come with unintended negative consequences. Not so with relational generosity, however. Jesus doesn’t teach us to practice relational generosity because it will “fix” the poor. He invites us to give to whoever asks so we might be children of our Father in heaven. Yes, God’s love transforms lives. We know this from our own experience and from the testimony of others. But God doesn’t ask us to change people- God asks us to love people. When we share with one who asks, we are changed. Little by little, we grow into the love of our Father, whose love is perfect.

Here’s Jonathan talking about this, in a little video about, of all things, Lent:

Jonathan’s good to remind us that the passage from Matthew in which Jesus tells us to give to the one who asks comes in the midst of Jesus talking about enemy love. He says this is a “cue” to those of us who have money that in some way the poor are our enemies. I have felt this to be true in my own life, to my great shame. I may not want to think of the poor as enemies, but because like the rich young ruler I have so much (worldly wealth) to lose, I see the poor and am afraid, afraid that they may in some way take what I have (illicitly) gotten. Sharing with those in need invites me to have my imagination renewed and my mind transformed so that I can see that I have something to learn, to see that I am in my own way just as impoverished as those who lack the basic resources I so readily take for granted. I like the quote Jonathan speaks of in the video above as well, that “People come to Christian community because they want to help the poor; they stay in Christian community because they realize that they are the poor.” We are, indeed.

Similarly, as my Lenten journey has been about, in part, learning better to follow “that preacher of peace” so that I may be discipled in the ways of nonviolence and peacemaking, I’ve found that there is an inextricable connection between peacemaking/enemy love and the call to participate in God’s economy that so much of the Sermon on the Mount deals with. This has come up over and over again in the books I’ve been reading for Lent: A Farewell to Mars and Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace and now as I’ve started The Politics of Jesus. It came up in Circle of Hope’s Transhistorical Body of Christ post about Bonhoeffer today too. They note that we remember Bonhoeffer today because he “was executed on this day in 1945, two weeks before US soldiers liberated his prison camp.  He is largely considered a martyr for the faith, for peace, and as a Nazi resister.  Among two of his most influential works are Life Together and The Cost of Discipleship.” This takes a little teasing out, but bear with me. The post also says the following in speaking of Bonhoeffer’s response to the rise of the Nazi party:

Bonhoeffer was overtly critical of the regime and a resister from the beginning.  While Hitler and the Nazis infiltrated and found a stronghold in the German church, Bonhoeffer was building something new in Germany through the Confessing Church.  After only a few months under Nazi control, Bonhoeffer moved to London to work on international ecumenical work, highly frustrated with the state of the German church.

Two years later, rather than going to study non-violent civil disobedience under Ghandi he returned to Germany at the repeated pleading and demanding of Swiss theologian…Karl Barth.  The Confessing Church was under fire by the Nazis.  Barth was sent back to Switzerland. Bonhoeffer soon lost his credentials to teach because he was a “pacifist and enemy of the state.”   He began underground seminaries and further resisted the state.

Bonhoeffer became more involved in direct resistance and was arrested in 1943.  He was part of a group that was responsible both for attempts at liberating Jews and attempting to assassinate Hitler. His pacifism has been widely written about, especially in light of this glaring contradiction.

Bonhoeffer’s whole life was pointed in the direction of nonviolent resistance to state power, precisely because of the way in which Jesus had “saved” him. Obviously, there was a notable exception to this direction in which his life pointed, and responding to that is beyond the scope of this particular post. But I do want to highlight the link between Bonhoeffer’s life of peacemaking/enemy love, and the “life together” which is a necessary component of it. As the Transhistorical Body of Christ post from Circle of Hope noted, Bonhoeffer’s short and powerful book Life Together is one of the two that he is most known for, and I suspect that Christian community was so important to him because Bonhoeffer knew, as I keep saying, that we just can’t do this alone. Following Jesus means continuing to resist “the powers” that he has already defeated. To do so without resorting to “cheap grace” quite simply “takes a village.” As Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove reminded us in the quote he spoke of in the clip above, “we stay in Christian community” when we realize that “we are the poor.” Participating in God’s economy requires us to pass on the many good gifts God has given us, and as Miroslav Volf reminds us, this is a communal act. And it is an act that is as hard for we rich as peacemaking and enemy love are for we who have been brought up in a culture as violent as the U.S.’ Isn’t it clear that we need a Savior?

The writer(s) of the “Transhistorical” post about Bonhoeffer end it with the following “suggestions for action:”

Bonhoeffer applied himself to unmasking the lies of his culture and the ideologies that took God’s place. It was not easy, since the church was generally in line with them. In spite of state threat and lack of support from the church, he took risks to teach the truth, even moving back to Germany when it was not safe and he would have been safer elsewhere.

That kind of courage is demonstrated in the Bible repeatedly by people whose loves (lives?) are trained on God. What threat do you feel from those you know and from the great “other” of the powers that be when it comes to expressing your faith in word and deed? Pray for courage.

All these thoughts were again swimming in my head as I did a little more reading and research about Palm Sunday this morning. While doing so, I came across this amazing post, “Palm Sunday is the Most Political Sunday,” from Trip Fuller’s blog. It’s short and worth a read, in fact so short and so worth the read that I give you most of it here, in which the author, Bo Sanders, begins by discussing the “politics of Palm Sunday:”

The Jewish people were under occupation. Roman occupation was especially repressive and brutal.IMG_0332.JPG (2)

The last time that the Jewish people had been free and self-governed also meant that they had their own currency. On their big coin, a palm branch was prominently displayed.

Laying down palm branches ahead of a man riding a colt/donkey was an act of defiance and an aggressive political statement…

(like saying)… “We want to be free. This guy is going to change things and restore what was lost.”

 

Having children wave palm branches in the equivalent to teaching a child to stick up her middle finger in anger… only more political. kid_soccer_fan

 

I am troubled by the lack of context regarding the palms of Palm Sunday. It reeks of both willful ignorance and religious disconnect.

In so many ways we have sanitized, sterilized and compartmentalized the teaching of scriptures. We proudly and loudly defend the Bible – all the while neglecting the actual reality talked about in that Bible.

We complain that Christmas and Easter have been commercialized and secularized all the while partaking of the consumerism and cultural complacency that those two celebrations are meant to challenge!

Palm Sunday might be the most flagrant example of this ignorance and misappropriation. Palm Sunday is call for revolution against the powers of oppression, the systems and institutions that occupy foreign lands and repress its citizens with unjust practices and economic policies.

 

Palm Sunday is the most political Sunday of the year – but in our more therapeutic approach that assumes empire and concedes political realities in favor of spiritual ones, the meaning is lost.

This is not just symbolic but emblematic of our watered-down, imperial, and impotent brand of christianity.

We do this with everything. Cornell West and Tavis Smiley are talking about how we will do it with the Dr. King celebrations this coming year. They are calling it the Santa-Clause-ification of MLK. He will be a man with dream but little else … and his politics will be lost in the focus on children not being judged by the color of their skin but on the content of their character.

Just think about this: what would it take for us next year, to teach our children to drop the palm-branches and lift their middle fingers? What would we have to believe about oppression and empire to reclaim the original intent of the palms on Palm Sunday?

I’m not saying that we should do that – I am trying to utilize it to get at how much we have assumed, conceded and ignored about the political realities that we find ourselves caught up in.

What conversations would we have to have with our kids about:

  • foreign occupation
  • injustice
  • politics of empire
  • economic policies

in order to explain why they were laying down palm branches or raising their middle fingers to the powers that be?

There seems to be a theme here, doesn’t there, in the all these Palm Sunday musings? Do you want to continue participating in a “watered-down, imperial, and impotent brand of christianity” that “assumes empire and concedes political realities in favor of spiritual ones?” I, for one, can’t and won’t, and so was compelled to share on Facebook (again, God help me for even being on FB again at all) that post from Trip Fuller’s blog and say about it:

Palm Sunday is the most political Sunday. If only the palms our kids will wave were understood to be middle fingers waved at the powers-that-be…Of course, it bears noting that the U.S. is an occupying force not just in countries around the world, but in North “America.” To really understand the political implications of Palm Sunday, we’d have to imagine a charismatic Indigenous leader processing into Washington, D.C. over trampled U.S. flags, or something like it. This might help us understand what was expected of Jesus, and how he defied those expectations with a revolution that was no less “real” or significant because it was non-violent.

As Kirsten and I discussed this on the way to Mill City Church‘s worship gathering, I noted that whether the power in question is Rome or “America,” Jesus has defeated them through the inauguration of his kingdom and especially through his death on the cross and resurrection which we look forward to in the coming Holy Week. Their reign is at an end. Jesus is Lord; Caesar/Obama/Clinton/Trump/Wells Fargo/Google are not. Jesus is “one like a son of God;” Caesar/the U.S. are not.  Again as I said above, Jesus defied the expectations of those who hoped during the triumphal entry that he would violently overthrow Rome with a revolution that was no less “real” or significant because it was non-violent. In fact, because it is non-violent it is all the more powerful. If you live by or secure your “power” by the sword, you can die by it and lose your “power” in the same way. But if you are a citizen of God’s kingdom, a subject of the one true King and so have been “freed from the need to be freed from what humans do to you” and so are “a grateful slave to the salvation that Jesus is working into us,” then “the powers” have suffered a fate worse than military defeat. They have been made irrelevant.

Those who have been so freed will indeed have the courage of Bonhoeffer, or a MLK, Jr., etc. They will have the courage to “get small” because “solidarity requires proximity” as I and my family have been learning. They will have the courage to give to whomever asks and see the poor as their teachers and friends because those so freed have been so faithfully sharing what God gives them that they don’t have so many material goods to “lose” anyway. They will have the courage to see that capitalism is just another ‘ism Jesus wants to save us from (like socialism and all the others you might name). If the Son has set them free, they will be free indeed. It’s why I’ve been thinking a lot about this old song from the Circle of Hope community that they were good enough to put online. Give it a listen, will you? Freedom is coming. Thanks be to God.

 

Capitalism Has Me Feeling Sad and Depressed Because of My Illicit Taking and Greedy Cheating

Do me a favor and give a watch to the short video of Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove above. As anyone who’s been reading this blog of late knows, I’ve been profoundly influenced by his book God’s Economy: Redefining the Health and Wealth Gospel, and my family and I have been struggling with how to live in light of the truth it revealed. I’ve recounted that journey so far here, here, and here. As I said recently on Facebook (God help me, we’re back- sort of- on Facebook): “This book changed my life and that of my family in ways that are just beginning to unfold. I probably became a ‘Christian’ when I was 5 years old. I don’t think I really started following Jesus, however, until a few months ago, and that was after 20 years as an adult of really, really trying to do so.” Part of that “really, really trying” before involved forays and flirtations into alternativity. I’ve been marginally “woke” to the world’s injustice, pain, and suffering at least since the summer of 1995, when loyal readers know I did Kingdomworks, that then summer program that had me on a team of other college students in inner-city Philly where we partnered with a local congregation to reach out to its neighborhood youth. Along the way, I became somewhat aware that I was swimming in a capitalist stream or perhaps better said living in a capitalist ocean that atomized relationships and reduced us all to consumers motivated by our own self-interest. Having this marginal awareness, Kirsten and I over the years have experimented with community living and a few halting shared economic relationships. These attempts were good in their own place and time, but never amounted to much. ←Look at that sentence I just wrote; do you notice the language, as I do, of quantification? Economics are everywhere, and God’s economy matters.

So last night, courtesy of Facebook (again, God help me), I came across a recent piece, provocatively entitled “It’s Basically Just Immoral to be Rich.” The author, A.Q. Smith, is careful to argue that he’s not addressing how one acquires wealth, which quickly sidetracks most such conversations. Instead, he’s speaking to what happens once you get it. He says:

I therefore think there is a sort of deflection that goes on with defenses of wealth. If we find it appalling that there are so many rich people in a time of need, we are asked to consider questions of acquisition rather than questions of retention. The retention question, after all, is much harder for a wealthy person to answer. It’s one thing to argue that you got rich legitimately. It’s another to explain why you feel justified in spending your wealth upon houses and sculptures rather than helping some struggling people pay their rent or paying off a bunch of student loans or saving thousands of people from dying of malaria.

 It’s a salient point, one the author makes perhaps most cogently, and more controversially, here:

To take a U.S. example: white families in America have 16 times as much wealth on average as black families. This is indisputably because of slavery, which was very recent (there are people alive today who met people who were once slaves). Larry Ellison of Oracle could put his $55 billion in a fund that could be used to just give houses to black families, not quite as direct “reparations” but simply as a means of addressing the fact that the average white family has a house while the average black family does not. But instead of doing this, Larry Ellison bought the island of Lanai. (It’s kind of extraordinary that a single human being can just own the sixth-largest Hawaiian island, but that’s what concentrated wealth leads to.) Because every dollar you have is a dollar you’re not giving to somebody else, the decision to retain wealth is a decision to deprive others.

Do you find this as challenging as I do? Notice something, though. The author speaks of “buying houses and sculptures” instead of helping those struggling to pay rent, or in the case of Larry Ellison, of buying a whole island rather than answering the legacy of white privilege, slavery, and racism with an effort to provide housing to people of color who have encountered institutional barriers to acquiring good housing all their lives- and all the lives of their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents and on back through the generations. Clearly it seems to me he’s speaking of the excesses, of the conspicuous consumption of the “1%,” while so many of us, even privileged males of European descent like myself, think of ourselves as the “99%.” Truth be told, however, nothing could be further from said truth. People like Larry Ellison are the ultra or “super-” rich who truly could be counted among the very few whose wealth puts them orders of magnitude above people like you and I, if you’re anything like me. However, there’s a little more to be said there. Wikipedia says of Ellison: “As of February 2017, he was listed by Forbes magazine as the fifth-wealthiest person in America and as the seventh-wealthiest in the world, with a fortune of $55 billion.” Plug those numbers into the ever helpful Global Rich List, and it looks like this:

Clearly you and I aren’t Larry Ellisons, right? Are we really “the 99%,” though? I put in the combined income of Kirsten and I into that same ever helpful Global Rich List tool, and this is what came out:

The “99%” we are not. We may not be the “0.0001%,” but we most certainly are the “1%.” A.Q. Smith above wants to blame the Larry Ellisons of the world for holding onto their wealth instead of distributing it to the poor, and he may be right to do so, the efforts of the Bill Gates and J.K. Rowling‘s of the world notwithstanding (seriously, click on the Bill Gates link; he literally can’t give his money away fast enough, or can he?). But A.Q. Smith, like the rest of us, is swimming in the sea of capitalism. He’s immersed in our shared consumer culture, and does not seem to yet be self-aware enough to realize that to whatever extent he has two coats or pants or pairs of shoes while there are people in the world, his would-be neighbors, who lack such things, they do so because he holds on to too many. Of course, no doubt part of his lack of awareness of this has everything to do with the fact that our atomizing individualistic capitalist consumer culture does everything within its power to prevent those on the margins from actually being our neighbors.

So it seems obvious to me, now anyway, that the modest accumulation of wealth and “stuff” (modest in comparison to that of the “0.0001%-ers”) that I and my family have been engaged in for so long is just as reprehensible as the wealthy behavior of people like Larry Ellison. However, I am reminded that this is nothing new. Some would-be Jesus followers have known this for a very, very long time, and have been calling us to do better. The great (ha!) 4th century Greek Bishop Basil the Great is reported to have once preached:

Naked did you not drop from the womb? Shall you not return again naked to the earth? Where have the things you now possess come from? If you say they just spontaneously appeared, then you are an atheist, not acknowledging the Creator, nor showing any gratitude towards the one who gave them. But if you say that they are from God, declare to us the reason why you received them. Is God unjust, who divided to us the things of this life unequally? Why are you wealthy while that other man is poor? Is it, perhaps, in order that you may receive wages for kindheartedness and faithful stewardship, and in order that he may be honored with great prizes for his endurance? But, as for you, when you hoard all these things in the insatiable bosom of greed, do you suppose you do no wrong in cheating so many people? Who is a man of greed? Someone who does not rest content with what is sufficient. Who is a cheater? Someone who takes away what belongs to others. And are you not a man of greed? are you not a cheater? taking those things which you received for the sake of stewardship, and making them your very own? Now, someone who takes a man who is clothed and renders him naked would be termed a robber; but when someone fails to clothe the naked, while he is able to do this, is such a man deserving of any other appellation? The bread which you hold back belongs to the hungry; the coat, which you guard in your locked storage-chests, belongs to the naked; the footwear mouldering in your closet belongs to those without shoes. The silver that you keep hidden in a safe place belongs to the one in need. Thus, however many are those whom you could have provided for, so many are those whom you wrong.

 This is the essential challenge that God’s economy poses to we rich (yes, WE rich)- to remember that everything belongs to God and that we who both gather and keep much are therefore greedy cheaters. This language of gathering and keeping comes, of course, from Scripture, and I was reminded of it as I recently finished Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace by Miroslav Volf. As the loyal reader knows, I read Economy of Love and then God’s Economy and then Sabbath Economics: Household Practices in January, and my life was changed. As Lent began further change came as I felt the call to not only begin participating in God’s economy but also to remember that I follow the Prince of Peace. Thus I read Farewell to Mars and then Free of Charge, while next up is The Politics of Jesus. I chose, as I’ve previously mentioned, Free of Charge because I knew that radical forgiveness would be crucial to life as a peacemaker. What I did not anticipate was just how much Free of Charge would also have to say about participating in God’s economy.

Volf has a lot to say that I found again truly challenging and transformative, but I’ll try very imperfectly to sum up some of what I learned below. Volf argues God exists primarily as love, of course, and so exists essentially as a giver. Many years ago I came to the understanding that God is love in God’s self because God exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and that it was this love that overflowed to creation and in the very act of creation, and so we were made, I’ve been saying, “in and for love.” Volf says something like this too, and I wouldn’t dare say that he stands on my shoulders in doing so, but I don’t mind standing on his and I’m comforted to know that we came to the same conclusion. Of course, Volf does much more with this than I ever have. Volf says that just as love flows among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and from God to us, so does giving. Volf goes on to argue that just therefore as God is “God the giver” (and later he argues that God is also God the for-giver), so too were we made to be givers too. Volf says that God gives to us for our benefit, and so should we. Thus giving is as essential to our nature as love (and flows from it), and we stifle who we were made to be when we keep what was given to us for ourselves only instead of passing it on as was intended. He also reminds us that everything belongs to God, even our very breath. Thus we can’t argue that we’ve really earned anything (and therefore shouldn’t have to give it) since whatever we’ve acquired through our efforts to get a salary, for example, only came to us because of the gifts we were given that enabled us to acquire that salary. If life itself is a gift and with it our minds and arms and ability to do anything at all, we misunderstand ourselves and our place in the world if we think we deserve anything we have or somehow “pulled ourselves up by our own bootstraps.” For those with ears to hear there are clear implications for how we think about “charity” and the social safety net, but I digress.

Volf is careful to argue that while some may have some special calling to give all, even their very lives, for the sake of others so that there is little left even for their own sustenance and well-being (think Mother Teresa, for example), in most cases we do well to remember that God gives for our benefit and so he wants us to be have enough to sustain ourselves and even flourish, but such “flourishing” may look very different from how most good consumer capitalists might think of it, however. This brings me back to the language of “gathering” and “keeping” in Scripture that I alluded to above. This can be found in several places. In Exodus 16 the Israelites wandered in the desert and grumbled about the lack of food, and God responded:

11 The Lord said to Moses, 12 “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”

13 That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was.

Moses said to them, “It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat.16 This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Everyone is to gather as much as they need. Take an omer[a] for each person you have in your tent.’”

17 The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little.18 And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed.

19 Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.”

God himself provided the food they needed each day, and though some gathered (acquired) much and some little, once they “measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.” Indeed, “everyone had gathered just as much as they needed.” Why? Because they shared. Moreover, it was clear that they were not to keep getting for getting’s sake, as if they did try to keep any of this bread from heaven, this manna, until morning, it rotted. They were required to trust God for what they needed each and every day. We would do well to do likewise.

Paul touches on this in one of his letters to the Corinthians:

And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able,and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. So we urged Titus, just as he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you[a]—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

10 And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. 11 Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means.12 For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.

13 Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14 At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, 15 as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.”[b]

Notice what’s happening in this passage. The Macedonian churches, despite “their extreme poverty,” found that said poverty “welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.” Think of the widow’s mite. Paul is urging the church in Corinth to do likewise, to give what they’ve been given so that all may share in the abundance God gives to all. Volf discusses this passage of Scripture in Free of Charge. In my last post I quoted Volf from Free of Charge in which he discussed why it would make little sense for God to give us more so that we could in turn give to the needy, thereby ending their neediness. Volf argues this makes little sense because it’s clear that God has already given us more than enough and we have thus far been negligent in sharing what we’ve already been given. Volf goes on in that same part of the book to say this:

We want God to multiply the loaves and fish to feed the multitudes, as Jesus did in the Gospels. But the Apostle suggested that we’ll be able to feed the multitudes if we’d let God change how we think about the loaves and fish we already have. Consider the extraordinary claim he made about Macedonian believers: Their “extreme poverty…overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part” (2 Corinthinas 8:2). The Apostle knew, of course, that you can’t give what you don’t have. They gave “according to their means, and even beyond their means” (v. 3), no more than that. But he also believed that we don’t have to have an excess of goods in order to give.

Here’s the coup de grace from Volf:

We can be poor and afflicted- indeed, we can be extremely poor and severely afflicted- and still give. We can be affluent and secure- indeed, we can be opulent and bursting with power- and still not give. Wealth doesn’t make us givers; poverty can’t prevent us from being givers. The poor can give a kind word, a sympathetic ear, or a helping hand. But they can also share food, clothing, shelter, and money- and they generally do it in greater proportion to their means than the wealthy do.

 And here I thought I was reading a book that would help me forgive better so that I could better live into the way of peace Jesus calls us to. (By the way, it does that too.)

As I’ve become convicted of the extent to which I and my family have been “illicit takers” to use Volf’s language, or “greedy cheaters” to use Basil the Great’s, we’ve felt called to get as “small” as we can. We’ve been giving stuff away or otherwise purging quite a bit of our possessions and, thanks be to God, look forward to moving into a fair bit smaller (and somewhat cheaper) place in NE Minneapolis in the next month where we can be more closely integrated into the life that Mill City Church is trying to have together there. Still, I wonder if what we’re doing is enough. How can it be, really, when I remain among the “1%,” living on something like $300/day (together among Kirsten, the boys, and I) while much of the world lives on less than $1/day? Volf speaks to this too, and I alluded to it above. He says:

The world’s needs are larger than any one person’s capacities, though they are not larger than our collective capacities! Our resources are limited, and needs cry to us from all sides. And they all need to be met. But is meeting all needs a responsibility of each person?…God is the primoridal and infinite giver, and it is God’s responsibility, not mine, to give to everyone. Each of us is only a single channel, one of many through which God’s gifts flow. Our responsibility is to meet needs as we encounter them, as they come to us in the course of our lives, whether they are close at hand, as in the case of the Good Samaritan, or far away, as when the Corinthians helped the Jerusalem poor.

He adds, again as I alluded to above: “God doesn’t give only for us to pass it on; God gives so that we ourselves can exist and indeed flourish- and so that we can be flourishing rather than languishing givers.” Still, if “generosity is something God wants for,” not from, me, just how to live such a life in light of what I’ve learned about my heretofore illicit taking and greedy cheating remains elusive, and hard. I hear Volf’s admonition to meet needs as I encounter them, but what if capitalist consumer culture has so shaped my life that I can go all day, if I want to, without ever encountering a person in need, without ever having to think about my privilege as a historically wealthy person, let alone a “white” person?

I’ve been struggling with these questions a lot recently. I have some vague sense of how shaped I am, how compelled I am to be a good capitalist consumer who will do his part to keep feeding the consumption based machine. So we gave up our smartphones and got rid of one of our big TV’s. I still spend a lot of time in front of a screen being programmed to want more and more and keep doing my part for the world’s (not God’s) economy, but amazingly I do so less now than I did before. Yet I still spend some of that screen time feeding my consumptive habit. As a loyal Amazon customer, my “cart” is ever filled. It used to be filled with gadgets and thingamajigs, but I’m a much better person now (that’s sarcasm). Now it’s filled with books by Ched Myers and Walter Wink (I’m eager to read the “powers” series which I know will help me better live in opposition to those powers that Jesus has already defeated, including all the ‘isms, of which capitalism is just one of many). This makes me a better person as I’ve said, right? Doesn’t it?

Providentially, it was on one of those screens this morning that I read Rod White’s latest post. I sat there reading it, simply stunned. As I’ve said, the call to follow Jesus instead of Mammon, to participate in God’s economy of abundance rather than the world’s economy of scarcity and hoarding, is one that rings with crystal clarity for me right now, but as I’ve also said, it feels so very hard. It feels like swimming upstream, like trying to extricate oneself from the ocean one usually isn’t even aware of. Then Rod said this, which I give to you in its entirety:

What does it mean to love in an era when people have been reduced to “human resources?” I wish it seemed obvious to state that the culture of capitalism dramatically affects how people understand themselves and one another. But I don’t think it is obvious; thus, this blog post.

Is Capitalism the best system?

Not long ago I was watching one of the news channels and tuned in to an interview of a 90-year-old billionaire. He interrupted his young interviewer at one point so he could make sure to say what he wanted to teach. He said, “There is one thing everyone needs to understand. Capitalism is the best system. We tried communism, or at least some did, and it failed. We tried socialism and that does not work.”

The interviewer did not say, “What do you mean by ‘working?’ Are you talking about ‘achieving the most profit with as little expenditure as possible for the shareholders or owners of an enterprise?’” Instead, she just moved on, either swallowing what everyone has been taught or being afraid to contradict it.

I think 90% of the people who enter a Sunday meeting  react about the same way as the interviewer every day. They spend the week moving along with capitalism and the billionaires who run it — and preparing their children to do the same. But are the goals of capitalism and the 1% the goals of Jesus? You can already tell that I am going to say “No.” But do I have a leg to stand on?

The secret philosophy that runs us all

Last April George Monbiot summarized his book for the Guardian. He identified the secret philosophy that drives what most of us do all week and infects what we do on Sunday, too. He says, Today’s capitalism

  • sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations.
  • redefines citizens as “consumers“ whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling.
  • teaches that buying and selling has its own morality that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency.
  • maintains that “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning.

People are fighting about how to apply this philosophy in Congress right now. Will a generous version of today’s capitalism (like Obamacare) rule our healthcare or will a radical version rule (like in Trump/Ryan care)?

Monbiot says today’s capitalism fights any attempts to limit competition and labels any question of limits an assault on freedom. It teaches:

  • Taxes and regulations should be minimized, public services should be privatized.
  • The organization oflabor and collective bargaining by trade unions are are market distortions that impede the formation of a natural hierarchy of winners and losers.
  • Inequality is virtuous: a reward for being effective and a generating wealth, which trickles down to enrich everyone.
  • Efforts to create a more equal society are both counterproductive and morally corrosive. The market ensures that everyone gets what they deserve.

You may have heard those last four bullet points preached from a pulpit somewhere (other than Circle of Hope). Or maybe you just know the viewpoint is assumed, a moot point, in your evangelical church. I have experienced both the preaching and the assumption. For instance, if a variant viewpoint is raised on the BIC-List (our denomination’s listserve), men will come out of the woodwork to reinforce those bullets, as if they were a 90-year-old billionaire interrupting some foolish youngster. They will even marshal the Bible to help make their point, even though everyone knows neoliberalism was not invented by Christians.

Last summer the pope explained this while on a flight from Krakow to Vatican City. He surprised journalists when he told them Muslim attacks on a priest in France were basically caused by neoliberalism. He said, “Terrorism grows when there is no other option, and as long as the world economy has at its center the god of money and not the person…This is fundamental terrorism, against all humanity.” At the time, Americans were in the middle of an election campaign, so they probably did not hear the Pope over all the hubbub about Trump’s tweets. Evangelical Christians were about to overwhelmingly vote for Donald Trump, the epitome of what neoliberal capitalism created since Ronald Reagan.

Are we actually pawns in the philosophy’s system?

What if we Christians, we who are bound and determined to follow Jesus in his suffering and transform humanity, become the unwitting pawns of capitalist deformation of humanity in the image of neoliberal capitalism? Our lives teach. The content of our dialogue sets the contours of the culture are always building!

Can a Christian merely exist in the pluralistic, postmodern capitalist landscape? Does capitalism offer a home for Christians? No. Without Christians creating an alternative, capitalism subjects everyone to its will. We still fundamentally believe, don’t we, that one cannot serve two masters? We might normally think about not serving Mammon within the framework of capitalism and consider how to allow Jesus to be the Lord of how we do capitalism. But what if capitalism is, in effect, the alternative god?

Capitalism makes desire an end in itself and diverts our desire from communion with God. That sin causes us to stray from God’s will and design for us. God’s design for us is to desire God and our true selves. Unfortunately, the economic modalities around us pervert that desire. We cannot serve both our capitalism-perverted desire and God’s desire. We must go back to God, which means rejecting the capitalist way. The two are incompatible.

We need to talk about this, because everyone who comes to our Sunday meeting is feeling desire. Assuming that their desires, dominated by capitalism, are healthy and not a cause of their general illness is wrong. If a person is constantly making a deal and can’t make a covenant with God’s people, if they are trained for desiring what they don’t yet have, if they protect their autonomy and freedom at the expense of their faith, should they not learn that comes from neoliberalism and not God, not even from themselves?

Image result for homo economicus

Capitalism creates homo economicus in its image. That being, by its nature, is:

  • Not in community, not collective.
  • Free to choose. Amidst millions of consumer options, we are free to choose what to do (of course, within the confines of capitalism)
  • Self-interested
  • Driven by Insatiable Desire.
  • Competitive.
  • Reduced to thinking Justice is only about fair exchange regulated by contracts and laws. In capitalism, social justice doesn’t exist because the market is beyond justice.

I think most people who read this far are probably trying to figure out how to be the alternative to what is killing humanity. When people come to the Sunday meeting they come as people condemned to being homo economicus. Is there a way out? If we force them to perform within that bondage, aren’t we preparing them to be consumed consumers? Couldn’t we condemn our children in the name of helping them?

Somehow, we need to risk acting according to the Lord’s economy that is

  • Spirit formed
  • Communal
  • Self-giving
  • Generous out of eternal abundance

After all this theoretical sounding writing, it may seem difficult to think about how to apply it. So will we just go back to being led around by the invisible hand and letting our faith be invisibilized by living under its shelter? Obviously, I hope not. Let’s keep exposing the powers for who they are in the spirit of today’s image of the atonement: Christus Victor. Jesus is our leader in that, present with us, every day.

Did you read that? For some, this may feel like a punch in the gut, so challenging as it is to how most of us live our lives every day without ever thinking, let alone talking, about it. For me, it came as an “aha!” moment as Rod so clearly articulated exactly what I have been struggling with since reading God’s Economy. “We need to talk about this,” indeed, and some of it bears repeating:

Can a Christian merely exist in the pluralistic, postmodern capitalist landscape? Does capitalism offer a home for Christians? No. Without Christians creating an alternative, capitalism subjects everyone to its will. We still fundamentally believe, don’t we, that one cannot serve two masters? We might normally think about not serving Mammon within the framework of capitalism and consider how to allow Jesus to be the Lord of how we do capitalism. But what if capitalism is, in effect, the alternative god?

Capitalism makes desire an end in itself and diverts our desire from communion with God. That sin causes us to stray from God’s will and design for us. God’s design for us is to desire God and our true selves. Unfortunately, the economic modalities around us pervert that desire. We cannot serve both our capitalism-perverted desire and God’s desire. We must go back to God, which means rejecting the capitalist way. The two are incompatible.

How can I stop serving my capitalism-perverted, Amazon-enabled desire and start serving God’s desire instead? How can I stop trying to follow Jesus within the world’s (capitalist) system and instead step out of it and into the kingdom, the economy, that he intends for us? As with so many things, I know that I can’t do this alone. I need people. Kirsten and I need partners who will be willing to share budgets and checking account registers, let alone money itself. We need folks who will be brave enough to see the abundance that God has given us, who will remember that we are children of he who owns the “cattle on a thousand hills.”  We need folks who will help us listen to God in all this and who will then help us join in with what he’s already up to. We pray we might find some such folks among the people of Mill City Church. Maybe we will. Maybe we won’t.

Maybe you’re one of them. Are you?

On Mad Farmers and Mindless Scurrying, or Why I’m Not (So) Afraid Any More

HT to this site for the image.

The people that are Mill City Church have been talking about “What’s So Great About Easter.” We’ve been focusing on one of our “mission priorities” for 2017, “Gospel and Neighbor.” Specifically we’ve been working our way through a series of questions that might come up in a conversation with a neighbor about the gospel. Last week one of our pastors, Michael, wrestled with theodicy as he sought to answer the question, “Why Is There So Much Pain and Hurt in the World?” Something that stood out from that sermon which I live-streamed while sitting flu-ridden on the couch was his use of Hebrews 2:14-15:

14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

If you read my last post, you’ll recognize the ongoing theme, slavery (and freedom). Michael went on to say something  very compelling about living “in slavery” because of the fear of death. He said:

“When we live our lives afraid of what might happen to us, afraid of what ultimately may come whether it’s today or next week or next month or next year or at the end of our lives, we live different lives than the lives God intended for us. So the Christian perspective on this is Jesus makes it possible for us to not be afraid all the time. Jesus makes it possible for us to not even be afraid of dying because we know that the God that we serve, that we love, that created us… will bring us back to life, and that means you can live your life way differently than you otherwise would. That means that today matters in a really different way than it otherwise would.”

Thinking about this today I was reminded of something Eugene Peterson said that I saw on the Twitter account dedicated to quoting him:

In this season of Lent, as we focus on following Jesus to the cross so that in some mystical sense we can participate with him in both his death and his resurrection, it’s fitting to focus on how we should “practice resurrection” now. Practicing resurrection is what Peterson was alluding to, and I think it’s what Michael from Mill City was talking about too. As he said, because “God…will bring us back to life…today matters in a really different way than it otherwise would.” Indeed, it matters precisely in a resurrected way. This too has been a theme running through many of my recent posts, because it has been a theme running through my life. Again as N.T. Wright alludes to, Jesus didn’t “have to die” so that we could secure our heavenly retirement plan and leave earth in order to get to heaven. What God promises is that in some way we can’t quite yet understand, heaven will come to earth. So the earth matters, and what we do each and every day on the earth matters.

That little phrase, practice resurrection, is one that is common among the likes of some of my heroes, Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. As far as I know, though, it comes from another hero, Wendell Berry, who wrote in his Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front:

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

It goes on for a bit, and then concludes:

As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Powerful, prophetic, and, frankly, damning, isn’t it? He starts by offering one way to live: “Love the quick profit…vacation with pay…Be afraid to know your neighbors, and to die.” This indeed has been the only way to live for those who have been “held in slavery by their fear of death” as Hebrews spoke of above. I’m afraid to admit that for much of my adult life, I have been just such a person. Kirsten and I talked about it recently. It’s hard to know just when it started. It may have been when Samuel was born, so premature, so fragile, so subject to death which could come at any moment, from the slightest fluttering of his fledgling heart, from the slightest infection that slipped past all the sterile precautions we religiously observed when visiting him in the NICU. It may have started when my Dad’s life ended, an event which I feared and expected to come for so very many years, and which finally did. However and whenever it began, for the better part of a decade, and maybe longer, I have in fact been quite afraid of dying. My first foray as an adult into a healthy lifestyle and running came in 2009 as the swine flu pandemic raged and I knew it seemed to have a worse impact on “fat people.” Some health issues along the way including a few bouts with various stomach bugs only moved this fear more deeply into the core of my being.

Whatever the cause, fear became a part of me. I experienced it as recently as with this latest bout with influenza, as I read about young, otherwise healthy people who lost their lives to flu this year. Thus, hearing Michael’s message and being reminded of that Scripture about being enslaved by the fear of death was a very timely word for me. It is indeed gospel, good news, to know that I have been set free from this fear, and need not live in subjugation to it. Of course, it’s never as simple as all that, and to my credit, I suppose, I sometimes make forays in quite the opposite direction. Take, for example, my recent post that explored the Rich Mullins song, Elijah. In that song, as I’ve said, Rich talks about just how he wants to “go” (like Elijah) and just how, in some sense, ready to do so he was (“my heart is aging, I can tell,” he wrote). I wrote in that post that I could tell how my heart was aging too, and I expressed my acceptance of this fact. It is a fact, no matter how fearful I sometimes feel. I only pray for the strength to more faithfully and consistently live into that truth.

Returning to Berry’s poem, he seems to have a lot to say to USAmerican consumer/war-making culture, doesn’t he? “Not even your future will be a mystery any more. Your mind will be punched in a card and shut away in a little drawer. When they want you to buy something they will call you. When they want you to die for profit they will let you know,” he writes. Against this possibility of how life can be, he offers another one:

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

“Take all that you have and be poor.” This is a direction our family has felt called to move in as we’ve worked to “get small.” It’s unlikely, of course, that we will ever be truly materially poor given our education and status as people of European descent, but that is only all the more reason why we have been so terribly convicted about how faithfully we’ve been serving Mammon all these years, rather than God. As we’ve put our trust in banks and business and retirement plans and college savings funds, we have failed to put our trust in he who clothes the birds and the flowers of the field. All the while, we’ve cast our judging eyes on the conspicuous consumption of some…

HT to this site for the picture of the now “First” family.

…while somehow justifying our own conspicuous consumption…

Those are my feet. That used to be “my” TV. Thank God, I came to see it as one of the chains I continued to allow myself to be enslaved by, and I have since cast it off.

…because we were focused only on the orders-of-magnitude-more-conspicuous consumption of the very, very few (the Trumps, above). Meanwhile, our own consumption is just as conspicuous to the very, very many in the world who live like this:

This picture came from this article, which is probably worth a quick read.

Wendell Berry is sure a sage for our times, is he not? Meanwhile, having worked through all the “God’s Economy” related books that helped move us in the direction of “getting small” in January, I’ve moved on to peacemaking as a topic for Lent. I finished A Farewell to Mars by Brian Zahnd, and am now well into Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace by Miroslav Volf.

I knew Free of Charge wasn’t about peacemaking per se, but I also knew that radical forgiveness will be a necessary component to peacemaking as a way of life on the way with Jesus; so I’ve been glad to dive into this book. The book is divided into two parts, with the first three chapters having to do with giving and the last three having to do with forgiving. Ironically, I’m not even to the “forgiving” part of the book yet, and already I’ve been radically challenged, again. If I could sum up in a few words what I keep running into in the first half of the book, about God as giver and consequently how we were made to be givers too, with little eloquence or precision I would say that Volf argues that, like Israel, we are “blessed to be a blessing.” God gives to us because fundamentally it is in God’s nature to do so, and also because his gifts are meant for our benefit and flourishing. Crucially, though, God also gives to us because it is likewise fundamental to our nature, the nature God gifted us with, to be givers too. The people of Mill City Church touch on this whenever they say, “Generosity isn’t something God wants from you; it’s something God wants for you.”

Volf, for example, touches in passing on the problem of food scarcity and abject poverty in the world, and has this to say:

The relationship between God as giver and the growing poverty in the world is a complicated one that lies beyond the scope of this book. We should keep two things in mind, however. First, God doesn’t just give so that we can have and enjoy but so that we can pass gifts along to others. As we have seen in previous chapters, we are given to so we can be givers, not just recipients. Second, what’s primarily at issue is not why God doesn’t just give more, but why we don’t pass on to the needy what we already have. At the current levels of economic productivity, there is enough “stuff” around that no one need go hungry and everyone’s basic needs can be met. Yet they are not. We pass too little on. If Christians in the United States alone gave 10 percent of their income, the problem of world hunger could be solved. But those of us who have tend to squander or hoard, and what we do pass on is often misappropriated by middlemen. No, it’s not clear that increasing the amount of things given by God would actually help.

He goes on to challenge us to remember that everything belongs to God, and we must therefore fundamentally redefine our relationship with everything. All that we “earn” is a gift from God, who made our lungs and filled them with the breath of life. Thus we are to hold every single thing that comes across our path loosely, and pass it on as often as we can for the benefit of others. Instead, I’ve spent my adult life squandering and hoarding. God, forgive me.

Having recently read that bit from Volf, as you might imagine my ears were ready to hear when Pastor Michael from Mill City preached again this morning, this time talking about “why Jesus had to die.” He said a lot that was very helpful, but again what stood out was when he talked about Jesus’ work on the cross being less about saving me from the never-ending checklist of all my sins and moral failings, and being more about satisfying God’s original covenant(s) with Israel and thereby fulfilling Israel’s mandate to be a blessing for all the world. In failing to do so, in failing to receive God’s blessing for the sake of the world and then passing it on to the world, Israel became, borrowing a term from Volf, an “illegitimate taker” where it was supposed to be a giver. Do you see, again, the theme I keep running into at every turn? Would it surprise you to hear that it was reinforced from yet another direction today, again in a poem? Circle of Hope, our former and still very formative church in Philly, puts out a lot of great resources for following Jesus from “under, not over,” as I keep mentioning. One of them is one of their two (as far as I know) daily prayer blogs. In yesterday’s post, they included this poem:

Catch Me In My Scurrying, by Ted Loder

Catch me in my anxious scurrying, Lord,
and hold me in this Lenten season:
hold my feet to the fire of your grace
and make me attentive to my mortality
that I may begin to die now
to those things that keep me
from living with you
and my neighbors on this Earth;
to grudges and indifference,
to certainties that smother possibilities,
to my fascination with false securities,
to my addiction to sweatless dreams
to my arrogant insistence on how it has to be;
to my corrosive fear of dying someday
which eats away the wonder of living this day,
and the adventure of losing my life
in order to find it in you.

Catch me in my aimless scurrying, Lord,
and hold me in this Lenten season:
hold my heart to the beat of your grace
and create in me a resting place,
a kneeling place,
a tip-toe place
where I can recover from the dis-ease of my grandiosities
which fill my mind and calendar with busy self-importance,
that I may become vulnerable enough
to dare intimacy with the familiar,
to listen cup-eared for your summons,
and to watch squint-eyed for your crooked finger
in the crying child,
in the hunger of the street people
in the fear of the contagion of terrorism in all people,
in the rage of those oppressed because of sex or race,
in the smoldering resentments of exploited third world nations,
in the sullen apathy of the poor and ghetto-strangled people,
in my lonely doubt and limping ambivalence;
and somehow,
during this season of sacrifice,
enable me to sacrifice time
and possessions
and securities,
to do something…
something about what I see,
something to turn the water of my words
into the wine of will and risk,
into the bread of blood and blisters,
into the blessedness of deed,
of a cross picked up,
a savior followed.

Catch me in my mindless scurrying, Lord,
and hold me in this Lenten season:
hold my spirit to the beacon of your grace
and grant me light enough to walk boldly,
to feel passionately,
to love aggressively;
grant me peace enough to want more,
to work for more
and to submit to nothing less,
and to fear only you…
only you!

Bequeath me not becalmed seas,
slack sails and premature benedictions,
but breathe into me a torment,
storm enough to make within myself
and from myself,
something…
something new,
something saving,
something true,
a gladness of heart,
a pitch for a song in the storm,
a word of praise lived,
a gratitude shared,
a cross dared,
a joy received.

I think I’m experiencing something like being “caught” and “held,” for I am beginning to die to those things that have kept me from living with Jesus and my neighbors on this earth. More than that, I’m beginning to recover from my dis-ease, and am listening “cup-eared” for Jesus’ summons, which I hear all around me, in every direction. Thankfully, “during this season of sacrifice” I have felt enabled to “sacrifice time and possessions and securities” and “to do something…something about what I see, something to turn the water of my words into the wine of will and risk, into the bread of blood and blisters, into the blessedness of deed, of a cross picked up, a savior followed.” Over the past two months we have purged probably thousands of dollars worth of “stuff” in our efforts to “get small,” and I couldn’t be more grateful. I perhaps have never felt more free. Thankfully, the “wine of will and risk” is becoming “the blessedness of deed” for us. Soon we’ll move into a smaller place in NE Minneapolis, the geographical community which Mill City Church is working so hard to love in Jesus’ name. This is an opportunity that we couldn’t have imagined just a while ago, and which is possible now only to the extent that we’re getting “small” enough to “fit” into this literal and metaphorical space. Thanks be to God for that.

The great Daniel Berrigan (a newly discovered hero and saint; God forgive my ignorance!) said, “If you want to follow Jesus….you better look good on wood.” As I dare to take up my cross and follow Jesus on his way to crucifixion in a few short weeks, I turn my mind again to just why Jesus “had” to die, to just what it is I need to be saved from. It was with those thoughts in mind that I wrote this:

Jesus save me from my fear of death; save me from clinging to your gift- life itself and every breath by which it continues- as if it were scarce, as if you, like me, were a stingy giver.

Jesus save me from my insatiable greed, which manufactures desire where there was none. Save me from thinking that the next trinket or shiny thing offered by the ad-man is finally that thing which will make me whole or complete.

Jesus save me from my own colonized mind, which is all too willing to do the work of the colonizers for them. Save me from the head games I play, from the elaborate justifications I concoct for why the thing which in principle I know is wrong is in practice okay, just for me, just this time.

Jesus save me from my captivated imagination, which refuses to consider that another world is possible.

Jesus save me from my blinded eyes which will not see when that other world draws near, as it is doing even now.

Jesus save me from my stopped up ears, which will not hear the cries of my oppressed neighbors far and near, let alone what your Spirit says to the churches.

Jesus save me from my tiny, selfish heart, ever hell-bent, literally, as I constantly seek to save my own life instead of losing it, which is the only way it can ever be found. Save me from thinking that salvation is primarily about me.

Amen.

On “Slavish Shoes” and Tired “Feets”

The other night we watched Amazing Grace again. It’s a powerful film about the Abolition movement in England, led in no small part by William Wilberforce. Wilberforce’s story is compelling, all the more so because his efforts to end the slave trade were very much rooted in his faith and desire to follow Jesus. Wilberforce began following Jesus in earnest after his political career began, and there’s a great scene in the movie between he and his butler that plays out like this:

William Wilberforce: It’s God. I have 10,000 engagements of state today but I would prefer to spend the day out here getting a wet arse, studying dandelions and marveling at… bloody spider’s webs.

Richard the Butler: You found God, sir?

William Wilberforce: I think He found me. You have any idea how inconvenient that is? How idiotic it will sound? I have a political career glittering ahead of me, and in my heart I want spider’s webs.

Richard the Butler: [sitting down next to WW] “It is a sad fate for a man to die too well known to everybody else and still unknown to himself.” Francis Bacon. I don’t just dust your books, sir.

Having been found by God, Wilberforce struggled with whether or not he should remain in politics, and in the movie version of his story, there were many voices in his life that came together to convince him to continue his political career in large measure so that he could work to end the slave trade. One of those voices was John Newton, a mentor of his, a pastor, and former slave ship captain who spent his days haunted by his former career. Newton, the reader may know, wrote the famous hymn “Amazing Grace,” from which the film takes its title. Knowing even just that much about Newton’s life puts the words of the hymn in a new light. Though Newton doesn’t have much screen time in the film, his scenes are powerful. For example, he is depicted in the film as saying: “Although my memory’s fading, I remember two things very clearly. I’m a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.” Newton was haunted by the “20,000 ghosts” of the slaves he was responsible for transporting either to death or into bondage, and so fiercely urged Wilberforce to remain steadfast in his efforts to bring an end to the slave trade. He again is depicted as saying:

I can’t help you. But do it, Wilber. Do it. Take them on. Blow their dirty, filthy ships out of the water. The planters, sugar barons, Alderman “Sugar Cane”, the Lord Mayor of London. Liverpool, Boston, Bristol, New York. All their streets running with blood, dysentery, puke! You won’t come away from those streets clean, Wilber. You’ll get filthy with it, you’ll dream it, see it in broad daylight. But do it. For God’s sake.

So Newton urged Wilberforce to remain in government because Wilberforce “had work to do.” Likewise, Wilberforce’s friend and compatriot who would became Prime Minister, William Pitt, is depicted as arranging a dinner meeting with anti-slave trade activists who told him: “We understand you’re having problems choosing whether to do the work of God or the work of a political activist. We humbly suggest you can do both.” Here’s that scene from the movie:

 

And so he did. Thus began a long effort to pass legislation that would end the slave trade. In fact, it took 16 years for Wilberforce and his allies to get a bill passed, and even then it required a bit of political “trickery” to do so. The final vote to end the slave trade did not end slavery outright, but it was a momentous and long-awaited step in the right direction, one which Wilberforce had given his life and health to help bring about. As Wikipedia notes:

Sensing a breakthrough that had been long anticipated, Charles Grey moved for a second reading in the Commons on 23 February 1807. As tributes were made to Wilberforce, whose face streamed with tears, the bill was carried by 283 votes to 16.

 Of course, this was not the end of Wilberforce’s story. He continued to advocate for steady progress toward the ultimate goal of ending slavery in England altogether, but it would take another 26 years for that to occur. Again, Wikipedia picks up the tale:

On 26 July 1833, Wilberforce heard of government concessions that guaranteed the passing of the Bill for the Abolition of Slavery.[224] The following day he grew much weaker, and he died early on the morning of 29 July at his cousin’s house in Cadogan Place, London.

Wikipedia adds that the bill passed a month after Wilberforce did. This steady, lifelong advocacy for the ending of slavery went hand-in-hand with Wilberforce’s faith. Such dedication over such a long time reminds me of the title of the Eugene Peterson book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, for surely that’s what Wilberforce’s life represented. Or, as Newton again is depicted as saying in the film: “God sometimes does His work with gentle drizzle, not storms. Drip. Drip. Drip.”

It’s interesting to revisit this pivotal moment in history amid the racial tensions of today and the disheartening realization that all the “progress” in the world over the past 50 years or so can’t come close to making right the injustice done over the 3+ centuries that came before. As important as bringing an end to the slave trade and then to slavery itself was, it is a decidedly unfinished business as people of color today represent a gravely disproportionate share of the economically and educationally disadvantaged and represent a gravely disproportionate share of the prison population, etc. Still, Wilberforce’s story is inspiring, and we were glad to have been reminded of it again.

 So it was with slavery on my mind that I was reviewing one of my recent posts about our efforts to get “small” and I again came across this language from Rod White that helped move us in this direction. He’s writing about Paul and encouraging us to remember that Paul was a person “on the margins” writing to other people “on the margins” of Empire (the Roman one, in Paul’s case, while today we live under the shadow of the “American” one). Rod says:

One of the first tasks in understanding him is to let go of any imperial outlook, the supposed privileges of being an American citizen, the protection of the huge military apparatus, etc., and become small enough to need a Savior, to act as a slave of Christ. Translators during the Reformation undermined our understanding when they decided that translating the common Greek word for “slave” as slave was too demeaning and tidied  things up by using the word servant  instead (which is a big difference). In Philippians 2:7, for instance, Paul describes Jesus as taking on the condition of a slave. It is much more realistic, isn’t it, to see how humankind oppresses Jesus than to see Jesus as serving up salvation to us as we decide whether we want it or not. In order to hear what Paul, the slave of Jesus, is teaching, we’ll have to get into his slavish shoes.

There’s that language of “becoming small” which has been so important in shaping the paradigm we’re working to live into. And obviously too there’s quite a paradigm shift in regard to thinking about slavery. Rod has a lot more to say about slavery than just what I’ve quoted above, and I would again encourage you to read the rest, which you can find here. For now, though, I should just add that Rod is careful to say that Paul “advises slaves to get free if they can. And he tells Philemon to treat his runaway slave as a brother, or to just charge him whatever it costs to set him free.” However, Rod’s point is that…

…there are no slaves in Christ. A slave in the world is God’s free person. A free person in the world is God’s slave. This is hard to translate for people who believe the delusion that law makes them free and rational rules and education will prevent suffering. Paul might respond to such ideas, as he did, and say, “Though I am blameless before the law, I am God’s prisoner, a lifelong felon freed by grace.” Similarly, no one works for human masters, we do whatever we do for the Lord. Even when oppressed, we experience the hope that we will have our reward and the oppressors will get theirs.

Again I want to be very clear about what Rod isn’t saying, as far as I can tell. He’s not saying that because “a slave in the world is God’s free person” we ought not work tirelessly as Wilberforce did to end slavery wherever we find it. What I do hear him saying is that whatever state or social position we find ourselves in, as Bob Dylan put it, you “gotta serve somebody.” Rod says, speaking of Paul: “His thoughts are a lot bigger than whether a person is going to gain social or political freedom. That achievement would be frosting on his hope cake. The cake is being freed from the need to be freed from what humans do to you and being a grateful slave to the salvation that Jesus is working into us.” I still love that “frosting on his hope cake” line.

The point, I think, is that salvation isn’t something we just look forward to after we die. Jesus offers us freedom now, whether you’re a rich male of European descent like myself or the lowliest refugee risking it all to get to this country which has (literally) afforded me so much. Having just watched Amazing Grace again I continued my reading for Lent. I mentioned in my last post that I’ve started reading Brian Zahnd’s important work, A Farewell to Mars:

Zahnd has something to say about slavery too, though it’s a side point in the larger argument he’s making for following the peacemaking way of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Zahnd says:

He’s drawing a direct line from life in the way of Jesus to efforts to end slavery wherever and whenever they’ve been found throughout the world. He adds:

And finally:

Indeed, precisely because we who not only follow Jesus but have been set free by him have therefore also “been freed from the need to be freed from what humans do to us,” we therefore are compelled to work against enslavement wherever we find it. I struggled with the word “compelled” in the line above, but it’s the right word, for I am a slave…of Christ. I gladly surrender my very body, mind, soul, and spirit to the One who has set me free. I am not just free, after all, from something, I am free for something. Zahnd above speaks prophetically against those who misunderstand Scripture, or worse, twist and misuse it for their own nefarious purposes, to “make” it mean that the big point of life with Jesus is to give us our heavenly retirement plan when we die while everything we leave behind here on earth burns. I’ve recently written about this too.

Zahnd says: “A secret (or not-so-secret) longing for the world’s violent destruction is grossly unbecoming to the followers of the Lamb. We are not hoping for Armageddon; we are helping build New Jerusalem.” I’m reminded again of N.T. Wright’s ever helpful work in calling us to remember that the point of the Christian life isn’t to escape the earth and get to heaven; rather, because of Jesus, heaven will come to earth some day and indeed is already coming, even now, wherever we who have been “saved” choose to live like Jesus is “already” our King.

All these thoughts were swimming in my head as we attended Mill City Church‘s worship gathering this morning. Today was the second in the sermon series for Lent: “What’s So Great About Easter?” We’re focusing during this series on one of our four “Mission Priorities” for 2017: “Gospel and Neighbor.” Today, one of our pastors, J.D., talked about what exactly it is we need to be saved “from.” He said that in part what we need to be saved from is a “cycle of captivity.” He gave some very vulnerable examples of this from his own life and then challenged us to be willing to be fully present with our neighbors, whoever they might be, as opportunities arise to discuss the things in our life that would have our allegiance, that in fact seek to enslave us and hold us captive. Do you see the theme running through my weekend, starting with our viewing of Amazing Grace on Friday night? At every turn God seems to be saying something to me about slavery.

For a long time I lamented that God seemed absent and hidden from me, that I could not find him in the places I expected to. There’s a lesson there that I’m still learning. Now, though, I seem to have entered a new season in my life in which I can’t help but find God everywhere I look. God seems to be waiting around every corner, lurking in every face, stowing away in the pages of every book, and leaping out at me from the melody of every song. I am grateful, to be sure, and will continue to treasure up all these things and ponder them in my heart. William Wilberforce, at least in the movie Amazing Grace, said he didn’t so much find God as was instead found by him. I believe this is something of what I’m experiencing now. In Wilberforce’s case, God found him and led him to see Jesus in his enslaved brothers and sisters from Africa, and therefore he was led to do everything within his power to overturn the laws that enabled their enslavement. Paul speaks of slavery and calls us to realize that even if we happen to find ourselves enslaved in the world, if Christ has set us free, we are free indeed. Likewise, if we happen to find ourselves in positions of power in the world, Christ has still set us free from the trappings of that power, and we are still free, indeed, to stand and work in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who find themselves in earthly chains.

We do indeed need to be saved from a cycle of captivity. Whatever keeps us from experiencing the freedom Jesus offers are chains no less constricting than the bonds that brought black bodies from Africa to work on plantations on the continent I call my (earthly) home. For many people who look like and have the privilege that I do, that which captivates us keeps us from knowing the freedom we have to fully love, serve, and learn from our brother and sisters of color. This must change. It is beginning to change in me, and I am grateful. But we must not only ask what it is we need to be saved from, but just what it is we need to be saved for. Moreover, we need to fully embrace the experience of being saved. It’s hard for a privileged person of European descent like myself, but I need to imagine how it must feel to have literal chains removed from my ankles, wrists, and neck. As I imagine those bonds being loosed, I do well to remember that this freedom comes at a price, but I do not have to pay it. As Rod again said, “In Philippians 2:7…Paul describes Jesus as taking on the condition of a slave. It is much more realistic, isn’t it, to see how humankind oppresses Jesus than to see Jesus as serving up salvation to us as we decide whether we want it or not.” Jesus became a slave for us so that we could know freedom. Isn’t it indeed wrong-headed then to see him “serving up salvation to us as we decide whether we want it or not?”

We want it, don’t we?!

Having been set free, we follow the example of our Lord and choose to be slaves of and for Christ, for unlike that of those earthly impostor-“lords” that would enslave us if they could, Jesus’ yoke is easy, and his burden is light, and in him we will find rest for our souls. Mother Pollard knew something about both the legacy of slavery and finding rest in Jesus. Though Rosa Parks is much better known when one thinks of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Mother Pollard played no less an important role. As this site notes:

Mother Pollard was part of the African-American community in Montgomery, Alabama, during the start of the historic 1950s bus boycotts. Despite her advanced years, she refused to take the bus and was adamant that she would walk to see change happen, making the statement, “My feets is tired, but my soul is rested.” Pollard was also a valued source of love and inspiration for Martin Luther King Jr.

We’re saved from cycles of captivity, and saved for the work of the “family business” of reconciliation that God calls us to. Having been indeed set free, our souls find rest not just in “Paul’s slavish shoes,” but in Jesus’. Our “feets” may get tired, but I for one wouldn’t miss a step along the way. Like William Wilberforce, we’ve got work to do, after all.