Bruxy Cavey was excited the other day when the pioneers of the Jesus Collective met for their monthly “hub” meeting. He rushed into the zoom room to meet us direct from recording the audiobook for his rewritten and repurposed best seller, The End of Religion. I’m the rep to the Jesus Collective for Circle of Hope, so I got to listen to him riff on the themes of his writing. He’s great at giving voice to what moves churches from around the world to form the Jesus Collective. Many of us are hungry for a Jesus-centered life together.
Bruxy is the main teacher from one of the few Anabaptist megachurches: the Meeting House in the Toronto area. He is onto what we, as the Circle of Hope and others who read this, have been onto for decades, only he says it better and sometimes bolder.
I want to share some of what he said last week. I won’t try to quote him (I was just in a zoom, after all), and I will expand a bit, but I want to offer you the gist. Here are some examples of his teaching that I think will get your spiritual juices flowing.
You can’t bolt the Old covenant on to the New. Paul clearly teaches that the Law is a tutor for life in Christ. But plenty of church people apply the whole Bible as if nothing ever developed both in the history recorded in the Bible or since the book took shape. As a result, they use Old Testament ethics and examples like Moses or David to justify violence, patriarchy and all sorts of things that undermine the message of Jesus. In Jesus God birthed something new from the old, just like he is doing in us as individuals and a church. We need to move with that new birth.
The previous mentality noted is an example of what Cavey calls a “religious spirit.” He says having a religious spirit is like spiritual hoarding. Perhaps most people are not threatened by what is new – they just never let go of the old. They ponder an old worship style like a hoarder ponders a stained piece of Tupperware the cleanup crew wants to clear out. Risking change is not easy, but it is much easier when we live in relationship with a loving God who personally guarantees the future. We should boldly imagine the end of what we are doing now so we fight the temptation to perfect what is passing away, or fight yesterday’s battles when new foes demand our love and courage.
The Anabaptists were the radical reformers when many Europeans wanted to get out from under the corruption and warped theology of the medieval Roman Catholic Church. These radicals were good examples of letting go of the old and grasping the new. The main Reformers wanted to always be reforming. But as it turned out, they freeze-dried and shrink-wrapped their faith around statements and catechisms written in the 15 and 1600’s. Unlike them, the Anabaptists were organic and Spirit led. The scriptures were a beginning point for them, not an end point, because they were following the risen Jesus and doing the word. Over the years Anabaptists, like our Amish friends in Lancaster Co., lost their change-the-world passion and spent their energy trying not to engage it. They preserved compassion, simplicity and peacemaking, but they also became preserved as sort of a curiosity. Every movement has a shelf life. It cools off like lava flowing into new territory and hardening into something quite permanent. Bruxy wants us to break open tradition and let reformation flow.
Early radicals believed the risen Jesus spoke to the church in the scripture and in the lives of their covenant partners. Their “community hermeneutic” made the voice of Jesus clearer and louder — when individual Spirit-receptors come together they amplify revelation. They weren’t looking to go beyond the Bible. But the Bible says: “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I am leaving; for if I do not leave, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you” (John 16:7). There is more access to God now that Jesus is not walking in a body with us and the Holy Spirit multiplies ways to connect to God. A few hundred could follow the man; thousands could, now billions can follow the Spirit.
I’m excited to be part of a movement that wants to get out from under the hardened lava of Eurocentric/Roman Empire Christianity. Not that I don’t deeply admire all the wonderful people of Europe and North America who have followed Jesus with abandon — they are the salt of the earth right now, too. But the Jesus Collective, including Bruxy Cavey, represents what is coming next.
On December 10 I will represent Circle of Hope at a brief ceremony inducting the first partner churches who will form the Jesus Collective. Some of you reading will be there from around the world. I am honored to be a part. I know there is always something new to grasp. Even Circle of Hope, which was designed for flexibility and change, has ways that can get solid. We could lose our fire and stop flowing. But Jesus has sent us the Helper and I doubt we’ll ever get hardened enough to be impervious to her persistent grace.
Our beloved neighbors in our little Pocono community had to move and were replaced by an interesting new clan who are making quite an impact. In some ways, these new neighbors represent what is happening in a lot of places where people are devoted to taking care of themselves instead of building common structures that take care of everyone. Any assumptions I may have about what it means to be a “we” should not be taken for granted anymore.
In our little lakefront community, an extended family, including 95 year old grandpa who still drives, moved into the association but did not want to follow many of the rules – at least they don’t so far. I’m not sure they even read any of them before they signed the deed. So our board has the dreadful responsibility of enforcing some restrictions on them. They put up an above-ground pool, which is forbidden. They blare karaoke into the late-night peace of the forest. They claimed they were going to paint their house purple and that would meet the forest-colored aesthetic required, since there are purple flowers native to PA. Several board members are wondering to what extent they will be dealing with the matriarch’s “crazy” and “bitch” tattooed on opposite arms.
I think I have a similar disquiet when I notice the sign in the subway that tells riders (primarily males) “It’s rude dude!” when they don’t offer their seat. Does SEPTA really expect people who are rude to be moved by a blanket shaming from some anonymous source of authority? Aren’t they already sealed in a cloud of headphone noise and going it alone? I suspect my neighbors up the hill stopped listening a long time ago, as well, and might feel any seat they manage to get needs to be kept, not shared.
An article in the NY Times[link], which is undoubtedly no source of inspiration for my Pocono community or my subway companions, had an article about rural Arkansas and why it was likely to stick with Trump which highlights the challenges of making covenants, building community and even considering something “collective” these days. It all came down to whether the county should fund a library.
[P]eople here think life here has taken a turn for the worse. What’s also true, though, is that many here seem determined to get rid of the last institutions trying to help them, to keep people with educations out, and to retreat from community life and concentrate on taking care of themselves and their own families. It’s an attitude that is against taxes, immigrants and government, but also against helping your neighbor…
That was the crux of the issue — people didn’t want to pay for something they didn’t think they would use. I suspect that many residents are willing to pay for some institutions they see as necessary, like the sheriff’s department, but libraries, symbols of public education and public discourse, are more easily sacrificed…
Economic appeals are not going to sway any Trump voters, who view anyone who is trying to increase government spending, especially to help other people, with disdain, even if it ultimately helps them, too. And Trump voters are carrying the day here in Van Buren County. They see Mr. Trump’s slashing of the national safety net and withdrawal from the international stage as necessities — these things reflect their own impulse writ large.
For Jesus followers, the “impulse writ large” is always the big picture they care about. We would like our impulses to correlate with the new law written by the Spirit on our hearts. That desire connects us to the whole world Jesus loves. Jesus did not come to condemn the world, we can certainly do that ourselves, but he did come to save it. If you’re following the master who loves the whole world, individually and collectively, you’ll need to figure out where you fit in that picture. You certainly won’t be able to do it without a real time relationship with Jesus, and if you enter that relationship, it will relate you to all the others who share it.
Covenant is an antidote
The NY Times thinks people who live in cities in the Northeast are much more enlightened than rural people in Arkansas (and the poconos) who vote for Trump. But I am not so sure. Just try to build a church on the sharing of people who make a covenant together to be it and people begin to look quite similar. In an age of perceived scarcity and self-reliance, it is hard to rely on people sharing their lives and resources. Many people tend to see their contributions to our common fund as another tax required by an institution they don’t completely trust or which pays for services they don’t personally need. Just because they follow Jesus does not immediately mean they have taken out their headphones and offered the Lord a seat on their conveyance, public or otherwise. He’s not with them in the Uber, as they get the cheapest ride no matter what it costs the driver. He’s not on their bike with them as they dodge the potholes the city cannot afford to repair, maybe because half the new developments got a tax abatement. They might not even get up for Him on the El.
I’m not really shaming everyone, I hope. I’m not a sign on a subway train anonymously telling rude people they are rude. I’m not a government official enforcing mysterious laws that eat away at our minimal disposable income. I’m just trying to deal with how “conservative” even the supposedly “liberal” people are when it comes to sharing life together. In an age when even rich people feign scarcity, the first thing to exit the budget is often sharing.
Unlike so many other churches, ours decided the ultimate goal for each disciple was to be a person who could live in a covenant of love as a responsible, joyful member of the alternative community Jesus empowers: the body of Christ. That seemed crazy enough to be miraculous and so worthy of Jesus when we started, but covenanting seems to be getting harder all the time. I wonder if our pastors are tempted to downplay it, or even scrap the idea, since it cuts out a lot of people who don’t trust like they used to. Donald Trump makes us feel like everyone must at least be on the spectrum of untrustworthiness somewhere. People beg us for money to feed their substance addictions as soon as we get on the sidewalk and the governments seem addicted to spending money in secret for which we get no direct benefit. We’re hit up coming and going, even while our bosses and landlords squeeze as much they can for as little in return as they can get away with. When the church says there is not enough money, even the covenant members, who ARE the church feel justly suspicious.
Can we even talk about being a “collective?”
Last week I spent a couple of days in Toronto by invitation of the Jesus Collective. The “Jesus Collective aspires to unite, equip and amplify a Jesus-centered, third way movement” of the church in our changing era. People from all over the world are fed up with the potholes in their antiquated institutions and are getting back to the basics of being Jesus followers. They are becoming what Jesus Collective often describes as “Anabaptish,” just like Circle of Hope. They read the Bible and their contexts through a Jesus lens, which often makes them at odds with traditional and systematic approaches from the past, while also making them much more effective in relating to people who trust the church (and God!) about as much as they trust anything else.
As I experienced the meetings and made new relationships, I developed a nagging doubt. Can anyone even tolerate the idea of being a “collective” these days? Conservative people will feel their pockets are about to be picked and liberal people won’t tolerate being connected to someone who is not on the same page with their justice issues. People collecting themselves around Jesus and the basic truths and experiences every follower can share seems quite radical in this era. I wonder if people will do it.
After all, we have been this “new” Jesus collective, writ small, in Philadelphia for a couple of decades now. So we have some experience with the problems. And while we are wildly more successful than I hoped when we got started, there is no doubt that, post 9/11, the next generation is pretty suspicious about “collectives.” They feel scarcity and they feel condemned to go it alone for the most part. I’m not even sure they feel like they are “going it alone,” most of the time, because they have always been surviving a perilous journey with little more than their own resources to rely on. Many people can barely attach to another person successfully, to love and be loved, much less can they imagine building a collective. Creating a Jesus-centered community requires some things that are generally in short supply these days: the agency to create not just survive, the ability to trust in Jesus despite the horrors church leaders have perpetrated, the capacity to center on something (marriage, locale, vocation included), and the audacity to hope for the fruit from long-term laboring to build a countercultural community in the world.
I immediately signed up to help build the Jesus Collective. My new friend, Matt Miles, said he left his finance job to lead the formation of this new organization because he could not imagine a better place to serve in this time. While I couldn’t help looking at all the problems associated with birthing something so hopeful in the world, I had to agree with him. The fact is, the worse the world gets, the more Jesus becomes our Savior. When we are prosperous and feeling good, it is easy to give God a high five and move on with our self-controlled lives. When the world-as-we-know-it and the church-as-it-has-been seem to be sinking, many will jump ship. But in such times, there have always been large numbers of Jesus followers, who listen to the Holy Spirit moving wherever there is an opening for new life (just like dear Francis of Assisi who we celebrated last Friday). They band together to represent Jesus coming alongside everyone with ears to hear and hearts to follow. We are on that edge in Philadelphia and it looks like the path we have been following is becoming more obvious to people all over the world. I want to move with them.