Tag Archives: Congress

Chaos and creation for Holy Week: Demise and rise of your institution

No metrics exist to measure life without institutions, because they’ve been around as long as humankind. The first institution was the first family. The tribe was the first community. The first tribe’s leader was the first politician, and its elders were the first legislature. Its guards, the first police force. Its storyteller, a teacher. Humans are coded to create communities, and communities beget institutions.

So what institutions are being created now?

What institution does a robot make?
Look out Pizza Dads

When the present disaster is over, what institutions will have been created? Something is happening. CBS Sunday Morning suggested it might be created by robots. Gwen and I suggested it might be creating more anxiety and depression, the life disorders that can be associated with severe self-interest, a turning in on oneself, the mental illnesses of being alone.

Social prophets keep talking about chaos syndrome as the trickle down contribution of our present elites. In general, the idea identifies a chronic decline in  a system’s capacity for self-organization, especially the political system. It begins with the weakening of the institutions and brokers—political parties, career politicians, and congressional leaders and committees—that have historically held politicians accountable to one another and prevented everyone in the system from pursuing naked self-interest all the time. As these intermediaries’ influence fades, politicians, activists, and voters all become more individualistic and unaccountable (and anxious and depressed!). The system atomizes. Chaos becomes the new normal—both in campaigns like Donald Trump’s and in government actions like the House of Representatives considering healthcare.

Among the disintegrating institutions of government
Some of our reps in DC last night

Government is all most people think we have for an institution, but there are a lot more disintegrating before our eyes. There are four ex-Catholics for every new one in the United States, for instance. Local schools cope with chaos every day. We had people deployed to pray on the steps of our governments last night in honor of Jesus doing the same; it was very hard to find any radicals to believe in prayer, to believe in extravagant gestures of prophecy, or to believe they should even think about what disintegrating institutions are creating.

What is the solution to disintegrating institutions?

Frustrated people are trying to fill the vacuum left by disintegration. We don’t trust any news outlets, so like-minded “followers” and “friends” feed us news online. People sometimes barter on eBay, even start local businesses rather than bow to Amazon. Parents increasingly homeschool their children rather than expose them to under-supported public schools. But most of that is coping, not creating nourishing institutions. Any Sociology 1 student can tell you we need the organizing institutions provide; it’s how things get done. But by Sociology 2 they can probably cite a study that shows how many people despise all institutions; they even hate their church if they think it is institutional, since they don’t like “institutionalized” religion.

When people trust their institutions (you may not remember such a time), they’re better able to solve common problems. Research shows that school principals are much more likely to improve struggling  schools where people have a history of working together and getting involved in their children’s education. Communities bonded by friendships formed at church are more likely to vote, volunteer, and perform everyday good deeds like helping someone find a job. And governments find it easier to persuade the public to make sacrifices for the common good when people trust that their political leaders have the community’s best interests at heart. Institutions — even dysfunctional ones — are why we don’t experience common chaos.

The heart of the institution
Click pic to go to info site

At least for a while we may not experience total chaos. I pray chaos does not engulf us. Which brings me to praying during this holy week. Some people  probably saw Jesus riding into Jerusalem yesterday as the perfect agent of much-needed, anti-institutional fervor. They will follow his movement all week as he upends retail business on Monday, invades higher learning on Tuesday, subverts family and social norms on Wednesday, performs alternative religious rites on Thursday with his subversive cell, defies government authority on Friday and undermines the supposed laws of nature on Sunday. They see him as a big ball of chaos. I agree that he is the great disrupter.

But all through this holy week  Jesus is doing a lot more than being an amazing individual who can stand against all forces, alone and in control. Much deeper, what is happening all week is this: Jesus is God, again brooding over the chaos and exercising his redemptive creative touch. What Jesus is doing, for anyone with eyes to see, is creating something new in the chaos of the fallen institutions. The main new institution he is creating is the church. One will not be able to summarize what he is doing in a sociology book; he is not institutionalizing something alongside all the other institutions. He is the metric by which life is measured — and his grace is new every morning, like this one. He is happening no matter what happens.

Last night our reps in Washington DC, Harrisburg, Trenton and Philadelphia prayed a common liturgy that restated the heart of our revelation in these troubling times. It ended with:

It all happens on a cross
it all happens at a state execution
where the governor did not commute the sentence
it all happens at the hands of an empire
that has captured our imagination
it all happens through blood
not through a power grab by the sovereign one
it all happens in embraced pain
for the sake of others
it all happens on a cross
arms outstretched in embrace
and this is the image of the invisible God
this is the body of Christ.

But can anyone still be part of the body of Christ? Are we so reduced we can’t connect? can’t covenant? can’t marry? can’t build anything together? Our church is living proof that is not so. We are doing it. But the chaos does not stop undermining us. Each Holy Week is a test of our capacity for living. If there are no holy people to experience the Holy Week, if no one makes the connection between what Jesus did and what He is creating through us, our institution isn’t the body of Christ, it is just one more thing we mistrust and destroy.

I need to build. I need to care. I need to build with care.

For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building. By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it.  But each one should build with care. 1 Corinthians 3:9-10

The reason we do some things and don’t do other things isn’t always to satisfy some abstract sense of rightness or to avoid the repercussions of being wrong. We do or we don’t because we are building with care. Let me try to say it again: It is not worthy of us to make decisions based merely on desire or out of our survival instinct. We are building something with God that is greater than trying to stay alive and pass on our genes. Let me try it another way: It is beneath us, as Jesus-followers to always live off what other people do, we need to do — God needs us to build something next.

Am I wrong, or is that what is behind what Paul is teaching the Corinthians? He is answering the important questions.

Who am I? I am God’s co-worker. Not because I am a dominated slave who better do  something right or I will get fired (literally), but because I am remade for being redemptive and creative like God.

Who am I? I am God’s field, God’s building. Obviously, I am not an inanimate object, but in the same way one can understand working in the field, or constructing a building, I am tended and strengthened for my purpose by God-the-one-who-cares-for-me. What an honor!

What do I do? Now that grace is at work in me, I also create. I am farmed to farm, built to build. Individuals and congregations are like farms — they either produce fruit or death ensues. They are like temples that are built to house our deepest honor; they are like houses built to provide a safe place in which we thrive and from which we explore.

Freedom Tower Aug 2011

I wish I had a more cogent collection of evidence, rather than a sneaking suspicion. But I think we, as a society, got less adept at building things over the last decade. The most  visual evidence of this is how long it has taken to get the Freedom Tower going, even though people were very invested emotionally in getting it done. It has become a symbol of flabby determination and the endless wrangling and self-interest that marks most of our dialogue. Doing something new or big seems more difficult these days. We seem to be living off the excess our empire stored up until it is gone. There is a lot of fat in the United States if you want to live off the fat of the land. I think a lot of us have been trained to do that. But eventually, someone has to build something.  I’m afraid the Christians are just as likely as anyone else to feel entitled not to do any work!

There are certainly entrepreneurs around. But they are often repackaging the fruit from someone else’s farm. Doesn’t our whole “economy” work like that these days? U.S. people are best at advertising what other people do. [I am certainly hoping to be proven wrong, here, so let me know]. We often experience this lack of creative initiative in Circle of Hope whenever we talk about building relationships. People have so many reasons why they just don’t have the time and energy to do that.

For instance, we were talking about people in Shalom House starting a cell and someone said, “The housemates might like to be in a cell with someone else so they could talk about the people in Shalom House!” It was like they were protecting them from too much demanding relational work. “Surely you wouldn’t ask someone to build an intentional community for two years and love the people in it every day in the pursuit of making  peace! It might kill them! They would quit over the stress. They would feel unhappy that they had to focus and could not follow their free-range desires leading them ‘wherever!'”

If someone asks you to build a relationship from scratch according to how God might like to build one, surely you won’t be at a loss, will you? If the relationship does not fall into your lap fully-formed and functional, surely you won’t be distress, will you?

There are certainly radicals around. But they are often just talking about things instead of actually building something that does something. Doesn’t the educational system generally work this way? My whole doctorate might be mainly devoted to re-quoting scholars quoting other scholars rather than learning how to produce the fruit of creativity.

For instance, we loved Jesus, Bombs and Ice Cream the other night. I even ate my annual hamburger with lovely people I rarely see, so I was even more pleased. But one of my friends said, “That was nice, but what was it for?” I told them I thought the whole thing was designed to be good communication. There was no illusion that anything but informed and changed minds should result (at least as far as I could tell). That happened. But it was a good question: “Now what? So what?” Circle of Hope often gets stalled out at the talking stage, too. We have the best theology! But what are we going to do? I think God wants to have a building that is built on rock that not only withstands the weather of this evil age, but actually shines an effective, transformative light on it in such a way that people can take the next steps they need to take.

Oh my, that is a lot of work! Talking about it, having the right DVDs for my kids, reading the Bible some times, listening to speeches, etc. is a lot easier than building an alternative  community that demonstrates the love and truth of Jesus in every way it is gifted to do so. We can process information, but can we produce what the info calls for?

Even with all my suspicions that we have lost the know-how, I certainly think we are trying! But I think we might have more productive farms and stronger buildings in the Spirit if we would admit that we might need some new capabilities when it comes to getting some work done. Let me say it again: We need to remember who we are as co-builders with God. That identity might inspire some action. Good trees bear good fruit. One more time: We need to not only be wise in how we build, we need to build the wisdom of God right back into our environment in completely practical ways, like building the alternative called Circle of Hope.

“Each one should build with care,” Paul says. I agree. I need to build. I need to care. I need to build with care.