Subverting Capitalism: Pentecost Project

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I’ve been thinking a whole lot more in the past year about how to move from discontent with how things are around Christmas and Easter (the mountaintop peaks of the Christian calendar), how commodified the events are, and how we feed them by participating in them even as talk about the “real meaning.” In many ways, the “church” is more complicit in commodifying the holidays than different and non-conformist in our message. Even if we do get a little angry that the greeters at Target don’t say “Merry Christmas” and therefore don’t shop there for Christmas, how many Christians have the guts to do that year-round?

I tend toward cynicism, but as I contemplated how to be the change that I want to see in the world, I happened upon the fine folks at the Advent Conspiracy before Christmastime who have done some great thinking about how we can put into practice ways to act faithfully and give faithfully in preparation for our remembrance of the birth of Christ.

Today I found some folks doing some more of that great subversive thought and action.  They go by the name Pentecost Project, and I’ll let them speak for themselves.

The Pentecost Project is an experiment towards a more true and loving economy. Recently, the U.S. Congress passed an economic stimulus package that the President then signed. Beginning in May, most Americans will receive a rebate check that they are being encouraged to go out and spend in order to stimulate America’s sagging economy.

What if, instead of becoming greater consumers, we encouraged people to move towards an even better economy, an economy of abundance? What if, instead of accumulating more stuff, we encouraged people to give things away? What if, instead of the possibility of making a down payment and opening new credit, we encouraged people to pay down their debt?…In this Spirit, we undertake the Pentecost Project: invest in others, share possessions, reduce debt.

Last I checked, that sounds like a good three-week foundation for a series of talks in a church, small group, or some other gathering to guide our thinking beyond the tax break FOR ME (private), to thinking about the tax break FOR US (personal, but within a series of relationships).

In addition, whether your church gives a rip or not, let this drive you to consider, along with me (I’ve already been surprised and convicted by this kind of hopeful thinking), how we can use this unexpected gift to celebrate our abundance by giving it to those truly in need…that and hop on to the chance to thumb our nose at the god of consumerism who expects us to lay down a gift at His altar. It may hurt a little not to be selfish, but it’ll sure feel better over the long term! Seems that Jesus guy had something to say about the life he expects from his disciples that may not feel too good in the short-term, but sure pan out over the long run.

On Paradoxes (some Monday thoughts)

A mini-letter to the church, and some honesty to challenge me.

I am needed.
I am important.
I am special.
I am not needed.
I am a grain of sand in a seashore full of them.
This world will go on without me.

Sound contradictory? Explanation provided by Barbara Brown Taylor in Leaving Church;

“I decided to take a rest from trying to be Jesus……not today. Today I will consent to be an extra in God’s drama, someone off to the side watching the scenery unfold with self-forgetfulness that is not available to me at center stage. Today I will bear the narcissistic wound of knowing that there are others who can say my lines when I am not there, including some who can say them better, and that while God may welcome my willingness to play a part, this show will go on with or without me, for as long as God has breath to bring players to life. Today I will take a break from trying to save the world and enjoy my blessed swath of it instead. I will give my thanks for what it is instead of withholding my praise until all is as it should be. If I get good enough at this, I may be able to include my sorry self in the bargain.” (141-42)

Catch the paradoxes? Barbara struggles with “narcissism” and yet sometimes views herself as “sorry,” wants to be “center stage” and yet wants to be satisfied with being “extra,” needed, yet not needed.

Psalm 113 speaks;
“Praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord, you his servants.
Praise the name of the Lord.
Let the name of the Lord be praised,
both now and forevermore.
From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets,
the name of the Lord is to be praised.
The Lord is exalted over all the nations,
his glory above the heavens.
Who is like the Lord our God,
the One who sits enthroned on high,
who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth?
He raises the poor from the dust,
and the needy from the ash heap;
he seats them with princes,
with the princes of his people.
He settles the childless woman in her home
as a happy mother of children.
Praise the Lord.”

Paradoxes; the Lord is exalted above the nations, far above the heavens. He doesn’t need any of us, or even the Earth for that matter. Multiple times in Scripture it seems like God is considering cleaning the slate and starting all over again with us pesky humans. And if he did, he would be justified in doing so. We’ve really made a mess of things. And yet, this exalted God stoops down into the dust and ashes for the sake of the poor and needy and walks alongside the barren mother. We matter; especially those who have been told they don’t matter by twisted human society.

The more I read about this God in Scripture (which confronts and challenges the God I thought I knew of by myself), the more I am astounded at how distinct and set-apart and glorious He is, and even more so by the mind-blowing care he gives to this flawed, twisted creation he has made. The length and breadth and depth of this God, who expects us to interact with His creation in the way He does; to tend to the earth that he has called “good,” to invest ourselves in other humans whom he has called “very good,” and to elevate the status of those our world deems unimportant to stand alongside us as brothers and sisters. This is who this God is.

And this God is sharply distinct from the God the Christian institution has often presented in the past and present.

Sometimes (shoot, a LOT of times), I get angry that we the church have allowed ourselves to be so swallowed up in our cultural environments that we neglect the poor in favor of economic security, neglect the barren mother because her problems aren’t answered by a Max Lucado devotional, neglect our enemies in favor of national security, and neglect an honesty about ourselves that we aren’t the center of the universe. God is clear about this sort of lifestyle in Scripture. He will curse us when we live in this fashion.

Do we care enough about this situation to seek to change it? And do we have the humility to know that it doesn’t all, ultimately depend on us? Will we have the guts and courage to seek to work hard at times and take time to enjoy this astounding creation around us other times? Can we have hope, the kind that’s grounded in the reality that things are not as they should be? Will we have the guts and courage to know that life is a series of conversions from our limited, twisted perspective to a more whole, more true, more life-giving, more God-centered, God-glorifying life? Do we have the guts and courage to know that this commitment touches everything from sexual purity and marital faithfulness to questioning consumerism and individualism and nationalism and patriotism, as well as a deep concern for the health of the earth we have had entrusted to us to tend?

How can we faithfully think and pray and act?

Paul in Philippians 1;

“(I) will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two; I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…for it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him…”

We are needed, but we are not. Life is complex and sometimes sucks, but we cannot change the gospel so that it denies the complexity and suckiness and tells us to forget the world around us as we wait for heaven (only to find that this lack of action may lead us to another place entirely). We will get frustrated, but we cannot quit. We will hate to be in the company of people who call themselves the church but look much more like the world; people who talk of the world’s sins but ignore their own. We will find that our discomfort with hanging around them is usually a projection of our own individual failure to love others (a hidden indictment that we are as guilty as they). We will want to leave them for the blissful comfort of our individuality and denial of our complicity in the problem, but we are called to find that we are called into community in all its discomfort and joy.

The truth is uncomfortable, but that is why it’s the truth, in all of its uncomfortable suckiness.

Attention to process…

gandhi  

As I make the journey from idealistic-yet-not-willing-to-do-the-hard-work-to-be-change twenty-something to something more in touch with reality, I’m noticing something really big;

Change does not take place typically in one big-fell-swoop moment.  Change comes from consistent attention to both the big-picture and the details, with constant readjustment and moments of needing to take account of failures and successes.  In short, change is a relationship, just as being in relationship brings change. 

 My grandfather told me about two years ago, “Nate, ten years from now, people aren’t going to remember the words of your sermon or even what you preached about, but they will remember the times you came to visit, and times you cared enough to listen to them.”  Those were wise words I needed to hear at the time, because I had the naive view that pastors would be remembered for the way they presented themselves and how compelling their sermons were to those participating in worship with them.  And this is true, but my grandfather was calling me to an even deeper reality; they’ll remember you more because of how much you invest in relationship with them.  This is such a compelling thought, and has come back to me time and again since he said that; sometimes it is comforting to me, sometimes a bit challenging, sometimes shoves a metaphorical knife in my ribs in my failures, but always calls me beyond the temptation to think that as a pastor, I will be defined by what I do “up front” of our church family. 

 I thought about it yesterday when I had maybe the biggest challenge yet of me being a pastor.  A 17-year old young woman named Amy Caracofe was tragically killed in a car accident last Thursday, one that is the second of the year for Fort Defiance High School.  The other was senior Travis Williamson.  I was given a tremendous responsibility by the family to give the message at the memorial, which I wrestled with and wrestled with and wrestled with before I had to prepare something to say.  There were 600 people there seated all over the church; from the main sanctuary to side fellowship halls with only speakers to follow along with to people sitting in rows in the nursery with one small speaker to people sitting in the courtyard looking in the windows.  That certainly didn’t help my nervousness, but Amy’s mother was so encouraging with her eyes even in the midst of her deep sorrow, and I heard from many that they had prayed for the memorial service, with some going to the extent of fasting, and I sensed that I was being carried through this challenging time; along with a deep sense that God can work far above and beyond my words in that time.

 So, given that I’m writing this post in light of my grandfather’s wisdom, was my leadership during the memorial important?  Of course it was; people were there yesterday that needed to hear something that could help shape them (along with me) to live for what they’ve been created for.  They needed something that could hold the power to transcend the surface of the tragedy to go beyond.  That’s the power of spoken language in times of crisis like this memorial service.  

The above being said, is the message at the memorial the most important thing in the crisis and beyond?  With all my heart, I believe, “No“!  It will be the commitment to walking beside Doug and Angie (Amy’s parents), speaking when needed, and silently being with them when silence is needed.  Because almost anyone can come up with something to say (even something deeply compelling) at a time like the memorial, but the real challenge is whether I (others in my church family, and others surrounding the Caracofes) have the guts, the patience, the trust, and the room for Doug and Angie to show the wide range of emotions that will take place; all of this within the context of consistent relationship.  

For those reading this who have different roles in life, I believe that my grandfather’s wisdom applies across a spectrum of roles, though, far beyond “pastoring.”  It applies to coaching, dating and marital relationships, work relationships, friendships, public service roles, and a variety of others.  Effective leaders don’t have to be the ones “leading from the front,” but can be in the most obscure of roles, and through their attention to long-term vision and details can transform the relationships of those surrounding them; in more situations than not these persons can bring about positive change much more than the person who’s supposedly the one leading…the one everyone sees.

I guess I would like to say that I don’t ever want to be defined by Nate the “pastor.”  I could talk for hours about how unhealthy it is to take one spiritual gifting, yank it out of the context of the church family, make it a professional role, and impose persons on church families who supposedly “know what they’re doing” who don’t know the slightest thing about the unique personality of the group.  But that’s not the point I’m trying to make.  If you check out the link to the message (also above halfway down the post), you’ll find that I emphasize that every single one of us through the basic act of living influences our reality in ways we could never even conceive of.  Every thought, prayer, speech, and action that flows from our life out has a ripple effect out from our most immediate relationships and beyond, helping to shape the world in ways that benefit it or destroy it. A simple look at Genesis reminds us that we have been called to cherish the world the way God does in all its fullness and astonishing variety.  This sounds like business leadership gobbledy-gook, but I do believe it is true.  We are all connected in relationship with the rest of the world in obvious and deeply mysterious ways whether we’re intentional or not; I intend to do my best to maintain consistent attention to who I am in relationship with others.

Don’t let ’em put a name on you…

 books

 There’s no categories, just long stories waiting to be heard.

 As I was casting my eye around my room this morning that looks like a federal disaster area  (thinking semi-seriously about cleaning it), my gaze happened to rest on a stack of books I have precariously sitting  on another stack perpendicular to it.  And as I looked at this stack, I noticed two big things;

1)  These books represent a nice survey of the things I care about (centrally defined by the lifestyle I claim as a disciple of Jesus), and

2)  I’m not a hypocrite (at least, not completely) when I say that I am neither liberal nor conservative (politically and theologically), pro nor anti-science,  sacred nor secular, along with other typecasts; and I hope to stay that way for a lifetime.

I’ll explain.  

First, I love the Bible, for many reasons.  One of those reasons is that it is so incredibly messy and beautiful.  It’s so honest in a way that at times is mystifying (sometimes I say, “I could never confess something like that to someone else because of a lifetime label slapped on me from that point forward).  

For example, the Bible presents a picture of a holy, righteous, and distinct God in need of nothing who for some odd reason repents at times, other times expresses some degree of angry confusion that his people don’t get the picture at other times.  Crazy, right?  This is not some hare-brained theological scheme of mine, it’s letting the Bible speak for itself. Among other things, this simple example shows me a basic principal about God (and by extension, the Bible);

You can’t lock this God down into any easy categories, and therefore his people shouldn’t allow themselves to be locked into easy categories.

 In other words, knowledge of the Bible and its impact on life won’t make me a well-adjusted white conservative Republican or a wild-eyed liberal Greenpeace member; though the Bible could be quoted for evidence that we should be one or the other (the conservative Republican one is just the more prevalent because it’s less of a challenge to the way things already are). So, in keeping with the above “principle,” I commit myself daily to the mantra, “You don’t know everything, let yourself be challenged, because you may find God speaking to you in surprising ways.” Which leads us to my precarious book-stack.

  First off, I should note that you can see my New York Giants hat on the right of the picture.  I didn’t mean for that to be included, but clearly God ordained for it to be included because it is objectively true that God is a Giants fan, which according to this website is defined by “something I believe AND it is actually true.” Using this objectively-true definition of objective truth, it is clear to me from my personal belief and the greater sense of truth I carry when I contemplate the possibility that, clearly, God is a Giants fan (*tongue planted firmly in cheek*) But I digress.

 On my bookstack, you’ll see a well-respected, wise champion of the evangelical church (Stott), a UVa professor (a Christfollower) acknowledging the deep sin (often driven by “Christians” in the South) of racism (The Last Days), a Chuck Colson-endorsed book on faith-based social initiatives (Rev. of Compassion), a brilliant book that *gasp* uses the f-bomb liberally (Moneyball), the most functional, weeping-inducing book on discipleship ever (Foster, in my objectively true opinion), a study on Psalms from an incredibly wise man and mentor-through-proxy-of-books (Where Your Treasure Is), a warning of the consequences of ignoring God’s earth he has given to take care of (Earth in the Balance), an excellent book, “Exiles,” by the clearly heretical Emerging Church crowd (in my objectively true opinion), an incredible little book by a white man with an afro (Yancey and “Church, why bother?”), a book, “Following in the Footsteps of Christ,” about the Anabaptist movement of the 16th century (called heretics and executed in droves by objectively true Reformed, Catholic, and Lutheran folk) that I claim as the stream of disciples I swim in, a great commentary, “The Story of Romans,” on one of my favorite (and most frustrating to grasp) books of the Bible, a Hymnbook I sometimes play piano out of (also co-published by two groups of those confounding heretic Anabaptists, the Brethren and Mennonites), and a book full of stories of persons who actually followed Jesus in the “impractical” and “not-really-meant-to-be-followed” admonition to love one’s enemies as yourself. A little eclectic brew, huh?

This beautiful little mess of life on my desk gives me guidance when I come to things such as a little nugget I found on Jimmy Eat World drummer Zach Lind’s blog (who also happens to have a button on his blog that associates him with that clearly heretical organization Emergent Village); it’s Mike Huckabee, the evangelical “born-again” Christian from the South, talking in clear conservative terms about the death penalty.

 

Huckabee’s response sounds very practical until you read the words of Jesus on the matter.  It seems Jesus faced this very same conundrum.  I wonder how he responded?

I guess the natural outgrowth of this self-introspective, light-hearted-yet-honest post will be the greater challenge of those I interact with to represent Christ in all of his astonishing fullness.  I welcome that challenge, as well as the inevitable failures that will come.  Oh, surprising and mighty and graceful and merciful and holy God…help me!  🙂  

The most clearly laid-out reality that every movement (or revolution) must become an institution; or die

From Brian P (who I do not know), comment #7 on this site.

Before you read it, which I highly, highly recommend, I should tell you that I italicized some parts myself for emphasis, the first two quoted sections are Brian responding to the site owner, when Brian says “IC” he’s referring to the “Institutional Church,” and if you want some great reflections from Scot McKnight related to Barna’s insights in Revolution that go beyond his more surface findings, listen to this podcast. I yield the floor to Brian;

“I’ve come to a point where I’m at peace where I am, and I enjoy being with ICers, nonIcers etc etc.”

I’m very happy for you!

” It’s just enjoying life and walking with Jesus, no labels”

Heh heh.

That works as long as it’s just you by yourself.

When it will fall apart is when you get together with your fellow Revolutionaries to do something together. Especially if they start having kids. When the blessed moment arrives, everyone in the church will be happy. But then the questions start coming:

So do we baptize the baby now, or wait until he/she is older?
If/when we baptize, do we do it by sprinkling, or by physically dunking people in water?
What exactly are we going to teach this child? Will we use a formal list of teaching points?
And of course now it’s time for Junior’s first communion. How often does that happen anyway? Once a week? Once a month? And what exactly is Junior drinking, anyway?
Wine? Grape juice? From little dixie cups or from one big communal cup?

I’m just getting started.

Think this stuff is trivial? Well, yes, yes it is. But you’re going to find that, in this and in so many other decisions, you have to make choices as to what you will and will not do together. And when you do, sure as sunrise, you’re going to have a small, offended minority who will walk out, convinced that you’ve fallen into error.

Eventually you’ve got a “way things are done”.

And after the first few times you have guest speakers come in who tear that order apart, you’re going to start making sure anyone who gets in your pulpit (or whatever) has the proper education in the way things are done, AND in the Bible. That means your own seminaries.

Until the day you wake up in about thirty or forty years with your own seminaries, your own governing structure, your own specific doctrine… and you realize that you’re a denomination in all but name. But of course you don’t call yourself a denomination. You call yourself “the community who seeks after God”.

Just like all the other denominations :). You’d be surprised at how many of them insist that they are *the* true church, usually started by rebels not much different from yourself.

And then in the second generation your kids start noticing all the flaws in the edifice you and your fellow revolutionaries have built. They make a noise, and pretty soon THEY are starting a revolution against YOU and complaining about the IC (or whatever the cool buzzword is) and how it ‘doesn’t get it’. And the cycle starts anew.

I say this, because I’m from a country that was started by just such religious movements. Ever hear of the Puritans? The word originally meant those who wanted to ‘purify’ the Church of England from what they considered it’s idolatrous practices … to make a clean church that would just follow Jesus without all the baggage. When they were run out of England, they came to America to build this ‘perfect church’ from the ground up.

The end result of that, four hundred years later, is places like Church O. How well would you say the experiment worked?

I’m not saying that a new denomination is necessarily bad. Very often, the IC *doesn’t* get it. I am banned from my parent denomination’s most prestigious university because I speak in tongues. A new denomination can very well be a move of God to prod the church *as a whole* in a new direction.

What I am saying is that what you and your fellow revolutionaries are doing has been done before many, many times in the history of the church. It can be a very good thing, as long as you don’t expect too much.

After all, what alternative do you have ? Quit associating with Christians altogether and go totally solo? That, IMO, is the biggest mistake of all.

Why? Because the fundamental lesson of Jesus is *love*. Love means learning to live with people who are very different from you. Church — revolutionary or not — is a perfect laboratory for this, because you find all kinds of rude, arrogant people whom you would otherwise have nothing to do with. Learning to function with such people in love is as good a lesson in being Christlike as anything else I can think of.

Respectfully,

Brian P.

Five Questions your Pacifist Friends are Tired of Answering

My title is the title of a good article by a fellow named Jonathan Fitzgerald at the Burnside Writer’s Collective (BWC). The BWC is a solid site started by Donald Miller (author of Blue Like Jazz) and a few of his friends that deals with social justice, sports, general rants or thoughts, and other things. The reason I like the site is because they identify themselves as “an online magazine presenting an alternative to franchise faith.” In other words, they’re not afraid of disagreeing with some “Christian” perspectives on issues that are in fact twisted and not reflective of what Jesus cared deeply about.

And so, knowing this reality, Fitzgerald explores an area (pacifism) that is often marginalized in the church (some call it the ultimate and vilest form of immorality), with five subpoints of questions he’s often asked as a pacifist:

1) What if your (insert loved one here) was attacked?
2) What about the Old Testament?
3) Didn’t Jesus mean to live non-violently in our personal lives, but not corporately
4) What about Romans 13?
5) So, you’re suggesting Christians sit back and do nothing?

Now, I don’t always toe the same line as Fitzgerald, and I don’t mind talking about these questions (I’m, in fact, deeply passionate about talking about them), but as a pacifist I often grow tired of people hauling out these questions as trump cards that trivialize and pass over central issues that drive those of us who believe Jesus called all of his followers to nonviolence.

Here’s the link to the article.

p.s. I disagree with the picture I posted above. Just posted it for the sake of kickstarting the discussion.

Authenticity. And honesty.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, because I hear it often. In one of my classes, the authors of a book kept talking about “authenticity” this and “authenticity” that, and that a leader is full of integrity and knows who they are…but they never really defined what authenticity is, and the temptation I think we carry to do and be something and justify it by saying we’re being authentic…as if that’s the trump card in a conversation that should cause people to step back and concede our point…

But doesn’t being a Christ-follower kick up the conversation another notch?

I’m reading Erwin McManus, and he puts the itch I’ve been experiencing well.

“In recent times in our culture we have put an increasing value on authenticity and a decreasing focus on integrity…when calling for authenticity, we need to take seriously the brokenness and sinfulness of the human heart. Our claim that we are committed to being authentic can actually be a facade for self-indulgence. If we’re not careful, authentic can be the new word for arrogance. As long as you’re true to yourself- say what you mean- just get it out- how can anyone fault you in any way?

Authenticity can establish a self-righteousness that justifies abuse..

If we’re committed to being the genuine article, we’d first better look closely at what we’re made of. Authenticity without integrity is lethal. To be authentic when our hearts are dark and corrosive is equivalent to opening Pandora’s box...”

I’ll add some thoughts to this (maybe) after the youth gathering tonight but does that strike anyone else as they think and live?