The alternative can’t be boring, polarizing, or partisan

Don’t abdicate your creativity to the state and the market

Last week I wrote on my blog that Christians couldn’t lose their prophetic voice in the age of Trump. I could’ve written the same thing about the age of Obama, or the age of Constantine, or the age of Nero, or the age of Herod even. We can’t lose our voice, the voice of God spoken through the community, despite the evil that surrounds us. What makes prophecy unique, and specifically prophecy within Circle of Hope unique, is that we have not abdicated our voices to the primary agents of change in this American political economy. Let me unpack that statement; we need to be change agents in the world, but we can’t submit ourselves to the tools that engender change in the United States: money, political power, and violence. Living in the U.S. might trick you into thinking all you need is to win the lottery, win an election, or win a war. But Circle of Hope, and the way of Jesus are an alternative to that. As we say when we describe what we are given to do: We create an environment where people can connect with God and act for redemption. Loving the thirsty people of our fractured region, we keep generating a new expression of the church to resist and restore with those moved by the Holy Spirit.

How do we resist? Start with naming the problems.

We start with prophesying against the evils in the world, they could be sinister or more obvious. This ranges from systemic racism to environmental degradation and market-driven notions of sex and romance (that are too often reduced to individualism or commodification). We need to deconstruct what is not working right. Many of us get stuck in this box. But because we have a propensity to get stuck here doesn’t mean we shouldn’t enter it. Look around, the world is broken. Jesus says the world will give you trouble. But take heart, friends, Jesus has overcome the world. We can’t ignore the despair and horror around us because we’re afraid; the perfect love of Jesus casts out fear. We can face the horror and name it as such. Circle of Hope has done pretty well with this: we have no issue naming the sins of racism, materialism, and militarism in our proverbs (check them out here).

Partisanship doesn’t have to capture prophecy

When we’re naming the problems, it can be tempting to use the talking points of political parties as ours. While I think sometimes those limited options in the U.S.’s partisanship have decent ideas (and often times the experts are worth reading), I don’t think we should limit ourselves to them. Do not allow your prophecy to be captured by partisanship. Jesus is not leading us to be a Democrat or a Republican (or some other political party).

Most Christians do not consciously do this, I think, but we can inadvertently look like we are doing this when we are exclusively critical of “one side,” but also when we lack an alternative vision. We can decry the evils of the world, and we can even vote if we feel like it, but our work doesn’t stop at naming evils in the world. We have to acknowledge that much of the time our decrying of evil is made by very partisan people. The newspapers and blogs are full of people deconstructing the world and naming evil. What they lack is an alternative option, one that isn’t captured by partisanship or by my aforementioned agents of change.

So how do we build the alternative?

The question at hand is really about discernment of God’s mission in the world. How do we hear what God is saying? What is the alternativity? And how do we discern it?

The Wesleyan Quadrilateral was how John Wesley decided we discern. Have you heard of it before? Wesley cites Scripture as our primary source of revelation with tradition, experience, and reason as the other parts of it. I think that’s a good basis. Circle of Hope has a similar idea, though it isn’t based on Wesley’s strictly speaking. We say it like this: The truth in and from Jesus is revealed in many ways: through the Bible, through the members of the body, through the creation, through the Holy Spirit.

🕮 Through the study of the Bible

Some of us are going to bring more expertise to this than others, but you do not need to be smart or fully trained to do this. And to all the scholarly types, remember, you can’t and shouldn’t discern the Bible alone. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read by yourself, but you shouldn’t conclude by yourself. I’m currently taking a Koine Greek class (which is the common Greek used in the Bible) and it is a useful tool, but I’m afraid too many scholars think their expertise is all they need. They need more than that, and they need the group project of studying the Bible.

The humility that it takes to study the Bible and learn and apply it today is elemental to listening to God. God has been speaking for people for thousands of years, and we have a rich tradition from which to draw. The Bible is the heart of that. It is an authoritative compilation that has guided the church for millennia. Its lasting influence is noteworthy on its own. Some of us will commit more time to studying it than others, but we are all capable.

When a lawyer asked Jesus to summarize the heart of God’s teaching in the Bible? He offers a simple, but never simplistic, thought:

‘Which commandment’, the lawyer asked, ‘is the first one of all?’

‘The first one’, replied Jesus, ‘is this: “Listen, Israel: the Lord your God, the Lord is one; 30 and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your understanding, and with all your strength.” And this is the second one: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” No other commandment is greater than these ones.’

Of course, the question that follows is how we apply loving God and loving each other. Circle of Hope looks the parts of the Bible that model peace, mutuality, and self-giving love as the basis of our church. How the Jerusalem Church acts in Acts 2 is essential to our life. But so is Jesus’ instructions in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. We find more themes like this in the radical and mutual actions of the church in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 13, and the whole corpus of 1 Peter.

The Bible has even more clues, but it is not alone sufficient. We need each other, too.

👂 Through listening to the body

The entire church right now is engaged in a discernment process. In a sense, this is among the oldest things Christians do. In the book of Acts, the Apostles get together at the Jerusalem Council to discern the future of the church, how to make it distinct from other philosophies while also making it inclusive of different people. This balancing act is tricky to do, but the tension it creates grows us. And we do it best in community.

So we listen to each other. We are always listening, sometimes formally, and sometimes not. But our general posture should be humble enough to be hearing one another all the time. That requires silence, for one. The backdrop of our lives should be silence, especially if we want to hear beyond the loud voices of the world around us that seem to dominate the airwaves.

Another part of this? Study the culture around you. Pay attention to the zeitgeist. See what the world is offering, become aware of current philosophy and be prepared to learn from them and challenge them. Our church needs to be an alternative to the world today, not just what it was in 1996. We need to touch the wounds and the wounded of the day and bring about liberation and reconciliation.

🌳 🕊 Through the creation and through the Holy Spirit

The silence of which I speak is helpful, especially, in listening to the voice of God in creation and to the Holy Spirit around us. We need worship, prayer, contemplation, and silence to hear from God. We need an interior life to find peace and not to react out of anxiety, or react to the evil in the world. My advice? Starting journaling, maybe even just once a week. Schedule a quarterly personal retreat, we have a list of retreat centers here. Develop a spiritual friend. There’s more to say about this, and I will revisit it soon. In the meantime, you may want to listen to Ben’s talk about it.

Something new, something distinct

We are looking to create an alternative church that doesn’t polarize us. We want to bring people closer to Jesus and that requires a distinct, radical message. It is not one rooted in the banality of neutrality. But division and polarization is not a mark of prophecy or discernment (or even radicality—you might just be a jerk, after all). We need to discern the way of Jesus, the way of love. And we need your help to do it. There’s room for you at the table. This whole group project requires more voices and more ears. Can you help us listen the where the Spirit is going next?

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