Tag Archives: radical

Standoff: We have treasure to apply to the trouble

There was another standoff on Saturday night.

Image result for white house correspondents dinner
Michelle Wolf’s performance, which included a harsh skewering of White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, left the media sharply divided over its level of propriety. — CNBC

White House Correspondents Dinner

President Trump did not go to the White House Correspondents Association dinner in Washington Saturday night (although Ivanka, Kelley and Sarah did). The headliner was comedian Michelle Wolf, and she took no prisoners. She was not really that funny, just kind of mean. For instance, with Ivanka watching this was her joke: “There’s also, of course, Ivanka. She was supposed to be an advocate for women, but it turns out she’s about as helpful to women as an empty box of tampons. She’s done nothing to satisfy women. So I guess like father, like daughter.”

In a speech that lasted for more than an hour, President Trump sought to reinforce his position as a Washington outsider victimized by a system threatened by his presidency. — Credit Tom Brenner/The New York Times

Trump rally in Washington Township, Michigan

The President was in Michigan having an oppositional event. And he did not take prisoners either, beginning with a harangue against the “dishonest people” in the media and the “phony Washington White House correspondents thing.” Following a string of tweets on Saturday morning that blasted Senator Tester, who made it plain that Ronny Jackson was unfit to head the VA, Trump told the crowd that “what Jon Tester did to this man is a disgrace,” and said that the concerns raised about Jackson were “vicious rumors” designed to “destroy a man.” The President also issued a threat: “I know things about Tester that I could say too. And if I said them, he’d never be elected again.”

It was a liar standoff. Mean people being mean. We apparently like that stuff. And if we stop liking it, Laurence Fishburn’s career may be severely diminished.

Will the church completely adopt standoff relating?

I hate to say it, but I think we like stand-off relating in the church, too.

The church tends to be very adaptable to whatever culture Jesus wants to redeem. Sometimes it is TOO adaptable and ends up sponging up than sponging out, sucking up poison instead of releasing antidotes. The church has been divided up by politics for years. Us Anabaptist types try to hold on to our third way, but we often end up mimicking the fights of the world and dividing up over them as if Jesus weren’t our unity. Our church is not immune from standoffs that end in walk outs that result in cut offs. In an era in which forgiveness is finally super relevant, we’re tempted to forget about forgiveness and go ahead and try to win the stand off or at least adapt to standoff reality as if it were reality.

A new book by Bill Schneider (you may have seen him on CNN) shows just how bad it has gotten. It is called Standoff: How America Became Ungovernable. He’s been covering politics since 1976, and in the book he traces the development of a massive cultural divide that developed over that time between what he calls “Old America” and “New America.” Old America privileges tradition, religion, guns, isolationism, “street smarts,” and whiteness; New America favors progressivism, the environment, gender and racial equality, globalism, education, and diversity. Trump, observes Schneider, did not invent this divide, he merely capitalized on it.

I think I joined the New America about 1974 in many ways. Thank God that was also about the time I was signing up for radical Christianity. I think many of us in Circle of Hope are members of the New America mainly because so many of us are new and the old America is old, but also because we’re diverse in many ways, we are living into climate change, and equality seems like it should be moot, not a fight.  I can only hope that people who start new can also get radical with Jesus, who is so old he always seems new.

We have treasure we should not squander

What I want to suggest is simple. In 1976 a lot of things seemed new in the United States, too, to us 20 somethings and the old stuff sucked. Latching on to Jesus made more sense then and it makes more sense now. After many years of sticking with faith, I can tell you it offers a lot more than the interchangeable solutions of the world. The alternativity of the church is the best hope for the world that keeps inventing new ways not to fix itself while totally believing the opposite is happening. Like Jesus says, “Every[one] who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Matt. 13:51-53). We’ve got treasure that winning a standoff will not supply. From that treasure, we might even win a few standoffs. But even better, we would win if we lost them.

Our faith is more precious than the drama or despair of the present moment. Though we suffer great torment, we dare not give in to the temptation to pick up the fights and weapons of the world and squander the treasure we have to offer to the pains of our passing-away era. The healing alternativity of our faith supplies what is needed for the constant trouble of loving our mates, loving unfinished people in the church, and caring for coworkers and neighbors. It is certainly a better direction than creating and dying from a standoff. And the treasure of our faith applies generally. We care about every troubled person and the systemic issues that trouble them. But we care from a deeper place than any standoff demonstrates. If we can’t care from a heart that knows the love of God, I wonder if our “caring” is not more empty promises leading to more standoffs, just more lies from mean people.

Are we visible enough?

visible as the mike brown vigilWe are embodying something beautiful. It is sensible – one can sense us.

But are we “visible” enough? Are we a “contrast society” like we aspire to be? Perhaps the most visible we were last year was during our Mike Brown vigil outside the future police headquarters.  It made some of us feel like, “Finally! We made ourselves known in some way.” Others are still talking about the relational damage they experienced when we appeared to be anti-police and declared some extreme versions of a political stance.  Some of us are eager to be visible. Others seem opposed to it or experience being visible as being exposed, even shameful.

Visible as radicals

These are thoughts we considered when we did some theology last week around the question, “What is radical?” We had John Wesley for our example of someone who fits the criteria for being such a person. Part of what made him so radical was his willingness to be visible, and often in striking contrast to both church and society. For instance, Curtis Book quoted him saying, “Money never stays with me. It would burn me if it did. I throw it out of my hands as soon as possible, lest it should find its way to my heart.” That certainly contrasts with common sense in the U.S.!

Not visible like JustinWesley’s sincere convictions made him notorious. But there is a much more common form of being visible that we want to avoid. A contrast society is not visible in the way the world vies to be more notorious than someone else.  Take Justin Bieber and Adele for example. They  have been competing for #1 on the charts with songs about being forgiven, of all things! We are all for forgiveness to get on someone’s screen, right? But we hardly want to make the forgiveness of Jesus visible like a pop artist gets famous, do we? There are certain kinds of visible we just don’t want to practice: publicity-seeking, or political theatrics, or “show,” in general

Matt 6:3-4: “When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,  so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

We think seeking notoriety or fame is a temptation, not an aspiration. A contrast society built by Jesus needs to rely on its radicality becoming visible, not rely on visibility to make it seem radical.

The little way

We agreed that the “little way” is better. It is the way of not trying to be visible. If you are trying to be visible, you probably have nothing from Jesus to show. The kind of contrast that makes us visible is: our palpable authenticity — you know it, you see it, there are no deceptive frills, it is frank. Our radicality says, “Do you want to? I do!” It is sincere. We need to let that smallness become visible, something like the widow’s worship became visible to one with eyes to see it.

Mark 12 :41-44:  “Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.  Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.  They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.’”

We build the visible people of God. That's our lead.When we tried to figure out what, if any, balance there was in all of this, we decided that being visible is a matter of what we lead with. We could lead with techniques that make us visible. Or we could rely on the revelation to push us to make it known. Our lead is very rooted, practical and, by nature, visible. We build the people of God – that’s the lead. Other things might follow or coincide, but being “the together,” the anti-polarization – that’s contrast. This thought matches 1 Peter 4 10-11 in that it shows how the outward (people who yearn to be visible) and the inward (people who fear the attention is contaminating) connect:

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks [an outwardly visible act], they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves [a small way to be called], they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.

Some people will be, by nature and gifting, more “visible” (like Gandalf) and others will be, by nature and gifting, “smaller” (like Frodo).  We are all both, in that we share in one body and seek one end.

Visible and small together

Leading by building the church is always going to be radical, and so prone to temptation and danger. When it comes to building the church with new disciples, the “visible” people may be prone to wanting instant results in response to a speech, or an ad, or an action. The “small” people are more likely to be content with the more common reality that conversion is, more times than not, about “Chinese water torture” evangelism – drip by drip. We do not change quickly. We may have to drag many people along the way until they can walk. When it comes to keeping the church built, the “visible” people may want to show the sword and induce a miracle to solve problems. Sometimes they should. The  “smaller” might try to diminish our polarized environment, in which every problem becomes a me-centered social justice issue. Sometimes conflict should be avoided, too.

We did not come to every conclusion needed. But we were glad for our ability to do some theology. We are embodying something beautiful. It is sensible – one can sense us. So we were glad that we could conclude where Wesley did, even when he was content to work among the smallest and yet became so notorious. He was fond of quoting Paul in the middle of temptation and danger: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6).

 

Radical energy at 30,000 feet

There was not a lot to do on the 11-hour flight to Alaska but look out at the big sky, big world and consider the radicals at home that so well-represent the radical in the book I am reading: the Radical Wesley: The Patterns and Practices of a Movement Maker.

In January we are going to emphasize the book in our Doing Theology meeting and in Circle of Hope Daily Prayer – Water (a new resource for people in it for the long haul). I was so excited about the nice summary the author, Howard a Snyder, made of radical Christian distinctives that I thought I’d pass them along to you. They reflect our proverbs and our practices as Circle of Hope – so that’s nice. But more profoundly, they clear away some confusion and reiterate just what we are trying to do in this crazy world. It is hard to remember what it is basic to faith, especially when so many despise it and when even the Christians act undermine it all the time (I won’t even get started with what Christmas has become!).

So here is a little gift of Snyder’s seven elements that make up the radical protestant model of being a missional community in Christ

Continue reading Radical energy at 30,000 feet

Trayvon and Jesus Lost in the Verbiage Grinder

My friends had a good response to the verdict regarding the man who killed Trayvon Martin so they put it on Facebook: 

jesus abstractWife: Whether Trayvon Martin was a neighbor or enemy of George Zimmerman, Jesus’ instruction would be for George to have loved Trayvon regardless of who he was in George’s eyes. Whether George Zimmerman is a neighbor or enemy, Jesus’ instruction is to love him regardless of who he is in my eyes. 

I believe Jesus doesn’t allow for loop holes like self-defense. There are no exceptions to who we are to love and care for. This is the radical, turn everything upside down, seemingly nonsensical, nonviolent love that we Christians are called to live out. God help us to figure how to do it.                                           

FB friend 1: Easy to say when it isn’t your head being bashed against the sidewalk.
I don’t
know what happened none of us do. But if I am assaulted I will defend myself. 

Husband: What would Jesus do FB1? And what would Jesus expect us to do? I think that is the point my wife is making. 

FB friend 1: Jesus would have most likely died that evening. Turning the other cheek is a difficult thing is what I am saying. If Zimmerman was attacked he had every right to defend himself. 

FB friend 2: It seems to me, FB1, that Zimmerman provoked the ensuing contact with Trayvon Martin when he got out of his car in pursuit of Trayvon against the instructions given to him. 

FB friend 1: I don’t agree at all with Zimmerman pursuing the young man. But that doesn’t change that all the forensic evidence says it was Zimmerman who was attacked.

This dialogue went on. I wanted to replay it at this point to observe how people think these days. We Jesus-followers keep trying to make points that support Jesus in a system that has nothing to do with him. FB1 above shows this very clearly. I think we should make the points, but I don’t think we should be surprised if we don’t win the argument.

1) The wife makes a very obvious, irrefutable point about Jesus and prays. She typifies her statement as “radical,” which it has unfortunately become.

2) FB1’s first response is mainly personal, displaying a belief that violence is the solution to violence. His personal view has nothing to do with promoting the common good or with listening to a power beyond himself from whom to receive direction. He is well-trained by almost every movie that came out this summer (again) to believe that a good fight makes right. Even the Man of Steel, who has many other ways to be violent, ends up in a giant fist fight at the end of the movie.

The husband objects to FB1’s response by mildly suggesting that a person should consider what Jesus wants them to do, regardless of the situation.

3) FB1’s second response is mainly practical. If it is too difficult to turn the other cheek, then don’t do it, certainly not if it might result in your death. I can honor this, since without the risen Christ with us and without hope of eternal life, one’s existence would be a logical thing to protect at all costs, including someone else’s death.

What Christians don’t seem to understand, especially when they are arguing with Christians, is that there are many people who do not think following Jesus is practical. They do not trust him to save them and have no real hope apart from their own power to protect themselves. They do not believe they have eternal life.

FB2 wades in and tries to interpret the “evidence” to argue that Zimmerman made the fateful decision about his actions early on. That kind of arguing can go on forever and possibly result in a “stand your ground” law. That kind of arguing is all CNN usually has to offer.

csi4) FB1’s third response is legal and scientific. He says that he doesn’t think Zimmerman should have followed the boy, so he understands that the killer had some kind of moral decision to make. However, moral decisions mean nothing compared to the trump card of the 21st century: what does the law say and what did CSI prove? The younger one is, the more one seems to be subject to the “facts,” especially facts that deliver “evidence” that proves a hypothesis. Every argument, such as the one above, is turning on loop holes in the law, procedures, and factoids. There is a constant societal din of verbiage being ground up into tiny bits and reformed into “scientific” conclusions, which are always supposedly “true.” This grinder rarely turns out justice and often creates strange things out of its own churning (like corporations accruing the rights of persons, and so on).

The tragic thing is, the Christians believe in the verbiage, too, and operate the grinder! They do their theology the very same way and their pastors deliver factoids every week while missing what the wife did to begin with: telling the simple truth. They don’t do what the husband did: clarify that we’re really trying to follow Jesus, not engage in the world’s endless, self-protective and other-destructive, perpetual loop.

Related posts:

Why people might not care to be radical Christians

Why people might not care to be radical Christians: Part 2

Drew Hart: Pain Medicine

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Damn the spiritual torpor!: Resist acedia

[Warning: obscure historical reference with mild linkage to Philadelphia ahead].

Our church is full of people committed to being full-on Christians. That’s great! Last week their imagination and love was flooding out all over. June has not vacationed them into a stupor at all.

But there is danger. Some of us are running in to what has always tormented radicals:

  • Once you are no longer aspiring to discipleship, because you are basically there…
  • Once you are no longer gulping in knowledge about life in Christ, because you already have it…
  • Once you are no longer strikingly tempted, because you have overcome the big stuff…

what happens?

It is easy to get bored.

I mean, really,

  • how many meetings can one attend,
  • sing moderately-produced songs,
  • listen to speeches that don’t offer any surprises,
  • and have conversations with people whose next words can be predicted

before that seems rather old?

The radicals we call the desert fathers and mothers, saw this post-conversion sense of being OK, or just static, as one of the most dangerous places to be, as far as life in the Spirit goes. They would actually court temptation; they would really dig in to their desires and passions — because in the process of overcoming temptation they were acquiring essential energy. Whenever we’re bored around God or God’s people, we’re in danger. Whenever we feel self-pity or ennui because our spiritual experiences aren’t what they used to be, we’re under attack. Whenever we are just on “off” because we’ve let ourselves drift into torpor, we’re in trouble.

Check for acedia

Sermons and small group discussion can be a real danger zone for torpor. If you become accustomed to falling asleep during them, or if they seem like a lot of “blah, blah, blah” it is a good time to check for acedia. Teaching and dialogue will always be important. But once you’ve been taught and once you’ve had the dialogue — that can be a dangerous part of the journey.

There are many reasons we might find ourselves wandering into spiritual danger. It comes from not developing good judgment, not confessing our sin, not confronting our excuses, or not gaining understanding about how to deal with difficult circumstances so our hearts can stay soft.

Once we confront those dangers, we will certainly be saved, but that is just the beginning. It is exercising mercy and love that breaks through our scabs, confusion and hardness and helps us heal and develop. Sitting around being smart about the faith or just being well-processed psychologically often leads us to boredom. Aren’t quite a few of us smart, therapized and listless right now? Acting in mercy and love and truly receiving it keeps us energized. John has got it right when he says, “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18).  Anything else leads to isolation and that feeling you get when you are in a room full of people and you just don’t want to connect.

Vivian van Blerk, The Seven Capital Vices : Acedia (Sloth), 2008
Vivian van Blerk, The Seven Capital Vices : Acedia (Sloth), 2008

The well-recognized roads to acedia are even broader in our era because people are not conversant in sin. The rules now say, “You’re OK.” And, really, no one is supposed to say much about whether they think that is true. So when we are confronted with the feeling that something is wrong, we tend to say, “I’m OK, so this feeling must be someone else’s fault or something else’s influence.” Like the picture above suggests, we end up alone on our chaise, zoning on TV, always in reach of the fridge, perfectly “OK.” Our wide choices of distracting media give us endless opportunity to engage in conversation about nothing, watching stories that have been repeated a hundred times. We end up in despair, since we are supposedly OK, but it does not feel like that. We stop working on being forgiven, since prevailing thinking says there is no need for forgiveness. So it is more,  “Pass the Doritos” for us. (Or “Pass the Garden of Eatin’ Organic Blue Tortilla Chips,” if “the Garden of Eatin'” that what what passes for spirituality with you, now).

Damn the spiritual torpor!

So often we have a great deal to bring to the community and its mission, but we are just too spiritually exhausted and relationally put-upon to offer it. Instead of seeing our burnout, resistance and resentment as temptation, which could fuel change and renewal, we come late to the meeting, plan a vacation, or take a pill for our “depression.” But I say, “Damn the spiritual torpor!”

[Here’s the obscure reference]. Most days I ride my bike on a street near my house named Farragut. He’s the civil war admiral who said, “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” He was charging through a minefield in Mobile Bay. I wrote this piece with Farragut in mind. We have our own spiritual minefields to move through:

  • submerged temptations to stop being radical because that’s a lot to deal with
  • resistance to something new because to get to it we’d have to move through what is
  • fear of relational dangers that seem impossible to navigate
  • homeostasis in some infantile spirituality

We could sit outside the battle in torpor. Damn the spiritual torpor! Let’s wrestle with the temptations, instead, and cooperate with our development.

Why people might not care to be radical Christians: Part 2

Who are radical Christians? They may not look as wild as you might expect, or be famous for being “out there.” But, like I said last week, they will have some basic characteristics. For instance:

  • They are devoted to being at the heart of the kingdom and to having the kingdom at the heart of them.
  • God is not trying to get them to do things with moderate success; they are trying to get God to do things.
  • Following Jesus is not a side job, it is their vocation.
  • The church is not one of many options; it is their tribal identity.
  • Mission is not a leisure time activity; they will use their money-making work to make it happen.
  • Believing is not exhausting for them; it is exhilarating

My whole Christian life has been devoted to being a regular guy who is a radical Christian. When I became a Christian, I never thought it was about joining a club or being on the right team. I just picked up on what the Bible was saying and went with it. And I did not miss that the Bible was written by regular, flawed people who were saved, not superpeople, or people who even thought they could get it right. It seems to me that the Bible is written “in the face” of people who think they are great or who think they need to be great to make God look good. Regular people who are filled with the Holy Spirit living heart to heart with God: that’s radical. What they do may never get into the news cycle, but that’s not the point for them. The are at the heart and they do from the heart like good trees bearing good fruit, their roots sinking down into eternity.

But there are reasons people might not want to be radicals these days. Here are four more, that are a bit more personal:

5) They probably don’t have a taste for community

So many churches in the past fifty years were just political fronts for the Republican party or the new age movement — they weren’t communities gathered around Jesus. One time I had to demand that my deacon not put local Republican voting guides on the church’s info site – that in a supposedly Anabaptist-tradition congregation! More often I have had to defend why Jesus is the loving center of what we are all about and not just a figure of intolerance — and that to people in covenant with me! It is no wonder that people feel liberated when they get out from under the thumb of the church’s dialogue-stifling system– if that is Christian community, count me out, too! But as people get free of the nonsense, they often end up inoculated against true Christian community by the faux community they have experienced.

Even more, in general, “churched” or not, the population seems to be losing their capacity to connect (could this be true?). People have grown up in detached families. They are immigrants who have left their culture. They have moved to the city to get away from community and be themselves. They live virtually. The hand held computer has taken all their attention. The church comes around and wants consistent relating and it seems like it might be from another planet. But they are going to be gone for the next three months on a job anyway, so the temptation to care about that is fleeting.

church scene of the crime6) The church was the scene of a crime.

This might be the most under-reported reason why people lose their faith. Something bad happened to them while they were part of a church and they did not have the resources to get over it without leaving the church – or the church did not have the resources or opportunity (see the first point) to help them.

  • They got a divorce and only one of them got custody of the church.
  • They had a messy break-up with someone and couldn’t face sitting in a meeting with them.
  • They had a conflict and never faced it or forgave it.
  • They unwittingly got connected with a mentally ill person and didn’t want to handle it.
  • Their children did not get along with other children.
  • The leader said something that didn’t sit right and they were too afraid of him (generally) to talk about it.

If you have a relationship difficulty, it is tempting to not grow through it but to just move on. Most conflicts require confronting something in oneself, but the habit for many is to blame and cut off. People tend to be “slash and burn” relaters. We’ve all become samplers. So it does not take much to scatter us. Once we get scattered from the church, it is easy to see it as the scene of the crime we are trying to escape.

7) Perfect love does not cast out their fear.

Being a radical Christian is not a sociological phenomenon. If the society is open to Jesus or not, following Jesus is still going to be a matter of having a living relationship with God. One will have to lose their life to save it. Jesus will have to be accepted as Lord. It is a scary proposition.

  • If one lives by the detailed laws of science and relies on a few significant relationships for comfort, then the demands of Jesus are very big. Not only does Jesus insist he is the law and the most significant relationship we have, he insists from an eternal perspective.
  • If one is convinced that being an individual is the height of self-realization, if one is acclimated to the rewards of the economy, and if one believes love is all you need, then Jesus might seem like he is way too abnormal.
  • If one is mostly reacting rather than thinking and feeling things through, Jesus is way deeper than what seems possible.

Faith can be overwhelming for some people. They don’t have the heart for it. They are even defensive that I said that and then talked about saying it.

Christ’s love is the key to being other than what I just listed. Otherwise, being a Jesus follower from one’s heart is too huge to try.

8) Church people will not do evangelism.

Given all the problems enumerated above, and last week, Christians are loathe to make disciples. Just the thought of “making a disciple” seems like it must be against the law, or certainly some relic of a colonial past. They won’t even tell their story of faith, since it is up against the big alternative narratives that have taken over the airwaves. They wonder if everything that is important to them is just socially constructed anyway, so why would they infringe upon what someone else has constructed for themselves from all the bits and pieces of spirituality readily available? They won’t even give people a chance to discover the Gospel and change.

I think the main reason people might not want to be radical Christians is that they don’t really  know one. They may never have a dialogue in which the Holy Spirit gets to play an intimate part. All those spiritual experiences they are having may be left to be organized by their own imagination rather than the risen Lord. They will still be interesting, mysterious and moving experiences, but they won’t be radically Christian.

I think all Christians should speak up about what brings them life — especially the radical ones guarding the integrity of the faith for the next generation.

Thanks for all the dialogue last week about these ideas. The process of thinking together makes being a new people in Christ possible.

Why people might not care to be radical Christians

Who are radical Christians? They may not look as wild as you might expect, or be famous for being “out there.” But they will have some basic characteristics. For instance:

  • They are devoted to being at the heart of the kingdom and to having the kingdom at the heart of them.
  • God is not trying to get them to do things with moderate success; they are trying to get God to do things.
  • Following Jesus is not a side job, it is their vocation.
  • The church is not one of many options; it is their tribal identity.
  • Mission is not a leisure time activity; they will use their money-making work to make it happen.
  • Believing is not exhausting for them; it is exhilarating.

That sounds great. So why wouldn’t everyone want to be radical Christian? Thank God, many people do! But let’s be honest, Christians are feeling on the defensive. They’ve lost their home field advantage in the society. The “cultural” Christians who used to give a high five to Jesus are changing to the “nones” the Pew survey is tracking. Christianity is no longer first choice among many seeking spiritual meaning. You don’t have to identify as a Christian to be accepted in society like you used to. If your faith is squishy, it is better to identify as “spiritual” — Ed Stetzer is an optimistic church expert guy, but even he admits that.

James 1:22-25
James 1:22-25

Circle of Hope was founded on the premise that we could find a group of radicals in the Philly metro who would form the next church as the old one died around them. It is totally amazing that we’ve managed to get together nearly 700 of them and have touched the lives of 1000s of others who have received compassion or just passed through and taken away something good. But being a radical is tough, over the long haul. And these days, it seems like finding more radicals is even harder than it was to begin with.

I think there are eight big reasons people don’t want to be radicals. I don’t enumerate them to be critical, just honest. And, I admit it, I am trying to get God to do something – I want him to draw together the next 700 people God is calling to reveal the kingdom in the Philly metro as they band together as the next church.

What is in the way of that? Here are the first four reasons. The other four will show up next time.

1) People worship at the altar of scientism these days

Ronald Miller says: “We have scientific (psychological) experts giving us moral guidance not because their science allows them to know what we should be doing with our lives but because they cause so much less harm than their religious and political predecessors. Of course, for this moral disarmament to work effectively the scientific experts must be convinced of the truth of their message and the consumer assured that no better advice is available. These are two conditions that are rather easily met. In the presence of oppressive forces stifling individual freedom, self-exploration, and self expression, scienticism as a moral system had a balancing effect within Western society” (in Facing Human Suffering, p. 101-2).

After 100 years of this, the new “priests” of science are firmly in place and have new laws to back them up. But the religion of science has de-moralized the populace and become a spiritual problem, itself. Nevertheless, most 19-year-olds are committed to it and it is hard to convince them to change their no-religion religion.

2) People believe the narrative of human rights

The Jesus story is the ultimate story of human freedom. But the church allied itself with all sorts of colonial enterprises, endorsed slavery, oppressed minorities and women and started wars. The Vatican is a kingdom, for pity’s sake! Much of the church sold its birthright for a mess of pottage. People noticed.

The United States’ narrative is about how political rights bring salvation; it is the gospel of democracy. This philosophy supposedly guarantees freedom to succeed and freedom from oppression. People believe it, even when they don’t succeed and are enslaved! When the church comes through with another narrative based on God, not human freedom, following a suffering servant, not one’s desires, there is an argument.

3) Sex is unleashed from the sacred and from community

For many people, these are the unspoken truths they live by: “If someone will love me, I will trade Jesus for them. If something threatens my orgasm, I will sacrifice that something.”

Too bad the image of sex in Christianity is celibate priests who aren’t celibate and dour Puritans telling everyone to “just say no!”  Paul’s teachings on sexual purity and marriage were adopted as liberating in the pornographic, sexually exploitive Greco-Roman culture of his time, which especially exploited slaves and women, who men valued mainly for their ability to produce children and provide pleasure. Faith in Jesus worked a cultural revolution, restraining and channeling male drives, elevating the status of both women and of the human body, and infusing marriage, and sex, with love. Christian marriage was as different from anything before or since as the command to turn the other cheek.

“Christendom” did not bring in a golden age of social harmony and sexual bliss. But Jesus reformed sexual instinct, embedded it within a community, and directed it in positive ways. The younger one is, the more likely they are to view any restraint or direction as oppression, especially in regards to sex. Even talking about sex probably violates the right to privacy they invented last century. People are done with Christian meddling. The main thing they are getting rid of is Christian nonsense, but they are throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

4) Radicality takes a time commitment

I’m drifting into the more personal and less philosophical area that I will explore next time, but not completely. Questions of time are economic questions, and the people of the world have been forced into “economies” for some time now by the powers that be. We are expected to find our meaning in what we do: what we produce and what we consume. We sell our time for money. Time is money.

Not conforming, Christians do what they do for God’s glory as carriers of that glory. The abiding metaphor is that we were ransomed from sin and death and set free in a safe place under a loving regime. This reality puts Jesus followers in direct opposition to the powers that demand all our time — now machines can contact us and track us 24/7!  Being and building the alternative to that life-sucking regime takes time. Compassion is demanding. Relationships take effort. Mission is preoccupying. Commitment means we do not save our lives in the present system at the cost of our true selves. It is harder than that last sentence might make it seem.

So there are four big reasons why people might be daunted when it comes to being a true Christian. The Bible writers are always quite frank about the problem of being at odds with the powers that be: “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6). We’re honest about that, too.

Read on for some more personal reasons in Part 2.

Do we need simplicity skills?

Jonny Rashid often calls me a monk, which is more than a little bit true. It is very true that I admire the Christian radicals who created intentional communities in reaction to fellow-believers getting swallowed by the empire, and I admire how they multiplied monasteries when the Roman Empire fell apart. Believers gathered around Jesus and formed an amazingly creative response to the utter chaos and violence around them. They responded to their challenges with radical simplicity. As a result, their network of intentional communities preserved the truth about Jesus, provided a social safety net, and formed centers of creativity and charity that were rare points of light in Europe for hundreds of years. I think they flowered with Francis of Assisi. All the values that held the communities together: poverty, chastity, and obedience are extremely unpopular today. So people often ask the question, “Do we need to think about simplicity?”

Yes.

You might like to start with my favorite movie: Brother Sun, Sister Moon. In this clip [link], Francis and his newly-minted band of monks are working in the fields outside Assisi and dealing with the new poverty they have chosen. I like the heart of what they are doing, especially the way Francis receives the bread he’s begged with radical gratitude. His single-minded focus turns the hot, impoverished day into worship.

I don’t know what you think of these monk people: scary maybe, from another planet, embarrassing, quaint. Regardless of how you feel about them, they are successfully working on being simple. God did not give it to me to be a monk, but it was given to me to be simple, same as the rest of us.

The heart of simplicity

To get started on disciplining ourselves for simplicity, we will one main thing. That is, we focus on Jesus and let everything else follow who we follow. Jesus said,

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy (or single), your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (see Matthew 6:19-24).

That is probably the key teaching on simplicity. Simplicity is about being basic, unclouded, whole. Simplicity is about being radically centered, not just frugal or generous. Simplicity is not mainly an economic matter. The pure in heart, the simple, the single-minded, will what they do from one reality: faithfulness to Jesus, no matter what their circumstance. That willingness is the character trait upon which simplicity skills are founded. Eternity is centered in our hearts so that reality gives our hands their focus.

We usually think of simplicity in terms of money. We are living in the United States, after all — and those people care about money! Not that everyone in the world isn’t pretty much obsessed with it, too, but Americans are schooled to see themselves as part of an “economy” and to see their consumer choice as an expression of their “freedom.” No matter how many times we are instructed that the president can’t really do all that much about the economy, the presidential election is going to be about jobs, when it should probably be about drones.

We need simplicity skills because our relationship with money (and with most everything else about us) is not so simple. We are at the center of a schedule that cannot be juggled properly; we are at the center of a communication system that overwhelms us — we can’t even figure out how to use the machines we have to use to run it; we are expected to be the center of an enterprise that sells our time, our communications, and our future — in terms of debt. The decisions we have to make are weighty.

Here are two ideas that I find important as part of my own simplicity skills for dealing with money. I wouldn’t say they are easy, but they are basic skills for using the tool of money in a radical way.

Be frugal. Budget with a vision. James 4:13-17

We should not construct our budgets as if our lives came from ourselves and as if the future were in our hands. This is basic Christianity. We say things like: “If I live, I live to the Lord. Whatever is at the heart of God, that is what I want in my heart.” I don’t think anyone writing the New Testament is sitting around waiting to find the perfect choice to make so they don’t mess up eternity. God can be trusted for the future. They are moving with the Spirit and focused on that one thing.

I have had the distinct pleasure of walking with people who are getting married this year. Some of them have already talked a lot about their finances and others almost not at all. Some are easy-going about how to organize their budget and assets and naturally want to share. Others are quite nervous about how sharing is going to work out and are naturally protective. Maybe that reflects how they first attached to mom and felt she was generous or withholding. Who knows? But how we handle our money as partners and as a community is important.

A basic simplicity skill is budgeting our money. We should know what we have, what we usually spend, what our goals are. We should not have to go to the ATM to find out what we have before we buy a snorkel for our vacation. We should not put it on the credit card and fix things up later. We should have a radical strategy for how we spend so our money is used for eternal purposes.

Be focused. Know when to kill the fatted calf. Luke 15:29-30

Throwing a lot of cash at an over-generous party might seem like the opposite of having a disciplined budget and being aware of how one is spending down one’s assets. If we did not live in eternity, scarcity would, indeed, be a huge  problem. If you kill the fatted calf too often, there isn’t another calf to eat! You know about the calf, right? If you are a subsistence farmer/cow raiser, the succulent meat of the cow you fed a special diet to plump it into shape is a very rare treat. You don’t eat it until you are celebrating the Eagles winning the Super Bowl, or your sister finally gets her BA.

Simplicity is also about knowing when it is time to kill the calf and celebrate. Simplicity is not all sweating in the field being poor. It is sharing our bread and praising God. Of course, some of us kill calves we don’t even own yet, hoping we will get some joy out of it — that is a little backward. The skill is to have the joy of eternity in our hearts and to celebrate it, not to celebrate in order to get some joy. We might see some joy looking backwards, but we get it by living forwards.

Maybe we should all have a “fatted calf fund” as part of our budgets.  Some of us may be living under our means already, so we always have money with which to bless others. But some of us have not mastered money-making and spending yet, so we might need to deliberately put some money away for the time when we need to buy the piece of jewelry, or send someone on a trip, or take a friend to dinner, or buy a forty dollar piece of meat or  a wonderful carrot at Vedge. That’s radical budgeting, too.

I hope my two suggestions spur your imagination for how you can be simple in practical ways, in that you discipline your money, and other things, to move with Jesus in this wild world. One person told me, “Wow! Being simple is complex!” Well, I guess so. But the heart of all that disciplined living is simple. The main thing is being faithful to the Lord who is so single-mindedly devoted to us.

I think we should not get the drift, at least in a bad way

The “state” has sucked up the majority of everyone’s allegiance and made the church a private, leisure time matter. That makes our public covenant-making with the people of God a radical, countercultural act. We still think Jesus is Lord and he personally leads a kingdom. On vacation I read a stimulating book that stoked the fires of my covenant convictions. I’ll get to that in a minute. But here’s the gist: I got excited about how it made me think about a piece of our “about making a covenant” teaching that has just become more radical since we started teaching it.

The covenant is a life, not a concept

It should be an obvious teaching — elementary Christianity. In my estimation, it is stating the obvious to teach that a Jesus follower will not be one in name only but will, by nature, demonstrate their covenant with Jesus and His people with some basic activity. In the case of Circle of Hope:

  • they will obviously be part of our weekly meeting when the community shows herself to the world in worship and truth-telling (1 Cor. 14);
  • they will obviously be part of a cell where we share our gifts face to face, are given basic care,  and share in basic faith dialogue (Acts 20:20);
  • they will obviously be  part of some expression of our mission as part of one of our many teams or, if they are blessed, through their occupation (1 Cor. 2:4);
  • and they will obviously share their money in our common fund (Acts 2:44).

In our teaching about what it means to make a covenant with real people in real time, we note that we all have resources of spiritual gifts, time, care, and money. We actively put these resources into practice as a part of the body. All this seems like basic Christianity to me. But I think it has become radical. Circle of Hope is a community of activists in a lowest-common-denominator Church and world.

Are most American Christians followers in name only?

I’m coming to the conclusion that American Christians love nominalism; they like being Christians in name only. They are having a tough time right now because the culture changed on them and the nation is less inclined to protect their “freedom” to sit in their Christianity, having it unmolested by any need to exercise it. When Circle of Hope got started, we flourished by picking up a lot of the radicals who could not find a place in a nominalized Church, and a lot of new believers who never found Jesus from knowing inactive Christians. We are still going against the grain. But our capacity is going to be tested in postChristian America. Circle of Hope has also had some freedom to sit. Now we might have to mean what we teach.

The drift away from consensus building

Rachel Maddow explains driftThat brings me to my book. I have been reading Rachel Maddow’s Drift. It documents how the presidents have slowly become the sole deciders of when the U.S. goes to war, without the approval of Congress and certainly without the input of us citizens. The book shows how the privatization of what used to be soldiering and the expansion of secret operations has led to perpetual war that is off the radar of the nation. The leaders make sure we aren’t disturbed by war. Maddow is generous enough to say that this was caused by “drift,” not decision, starting with Ronald Reagan and added to by every president since.

I could not help but think that in the same era the BIC leaders have drifted the same direction (and I think that includes a lot of us pastors). They also do more in secret and ask the constituency to trust their advertising. We are not disturbed by our body life. It seems that the BIC started going this direction when people misapplied John Maxwell’s leadership training. I don’t think Maxwell meant to install the “my way or the highway” style that characterizes congressional debate these days. But it got installed.  I think the leaders drifted out of what they considered ineffectual consensus-building and into “over-anointed” leadership.

The radicality of covenant

I’m thinking about that drift in relation to maintaining ourselves as a group of activists. What I am working on is that Circle of Hope is growing up in an era where radicals are less likely to float to the top of a placid sea of nominalism and collect as a new, cool church. The sea of the nation and the Church is too stirred up, and the people who lead the nation and church have drifted into an authoritarian style that keeps people from handling too much reality. We might need to really choose to live by faith. We might have to be thoroughly disturbed. Honestly, I am delighted with that challenge. Good trees need to bear good fruit (Matt. 7).

The Jesus way honors us all as crucial “members of the body.” Our way of life as Circle of Hope demands that we act on the reality of our life in Christ – at least that is what we teach. We are going against the grain when we insist that we all make a difference, not just the leaders, in a world where Occupy sputters into distrust and ineffectiveness, and we don’t take to the streets when the president fights secret, debt-exploding wars that no one is required to pay for while the bankers run us into the ground economically with impunity. It is good to go against the flow if the flow is going down the spiritual drain.

When the thirty-or-so people showed up to consider making a covenant with us the other night, they were exploring something that has become even more radical than when we imagined it. Imagine! – people who would consider coming right out in the public, as it is now, and pledging their allegiance to Jesus and his people in a way that is not just in their secret thoughts but in their hands and feet and relationships, in a way that impacts their loves and their finances. That’s not a surprising thing in the Bible, perhaps, but it seems rather rare these days.