Six reasons why we can’t care about Palestine

Why can’t we care about much of anything beyond getting through this week?

I suppose a few of us feel some crushing guilt when we hear such a question. A few of us effectively screened out questions like “Why don’t you care?” a long time ago; we exempted ourselves, because we don’t want to feel guilt anymore. It crushes us.

Ideally, we think of ourselves as caring people. If we are Jesus followers there is quite a bit of pressure to care about others. I think most of us think we are doing OK at meeting the standards. We are probably more caring than other people — especially Israelis who are creating an apartheid system in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, and Palestinians like Hamas who would sacrifice their whole people for their ideology.

college gilr

You probably are more caring than they are, and I like to think I am too. But let’s face it. When it comes to the Israeli/Palestinian tragedy the vast majority of us have just barely heard about what is going on. That’s true even though our own church people have been talking about it regularly for over two years.  We didn’t read a blog post, we didn’t go to the movie, we didn’t read a newspaper or listen to a broadcast. What’s more, we did not pray about it; we did not figure out how to give money to help suffering people; we did not support others who care more than we do; we did not protest to our elected officials who fund the whole thing; we did not demand an end to weapons production and distribution, etc. If we care at all, why don’t we do something?

I think there are a lot more reasons for not caring about Palestine than we are just wicked, guilt-resistant, pseudo-Christians.

I think we may be dramatically underestimating just how powerful and demanding the powers that be really are and way underestimating just how damaging it is to buy the philosophy of self-reliance and “freedom” capitalism keeps selling.

Here are some good reasons you don’t care, or at least don’t do much to show that you do:

1) You’ve got student loan debt that must be paid off. It is the all-purpose excuse for millions of people for tunneling in to their careers and keeping whatever job they have at all costs, working whatever hours are required to do so.

2) You either have high rent or you are stuck with a high mortgage. Nationally, 50% all renters are now spending more than 30% of their income on housing, according to a comprehensive Harvard study, up from 38% of renters in 2000. In PA the average renter needs to bring in about $17.21 an hour to make the average rent for a two-bedroom. The stats show that the phenomenon of twentysomethings living at mom and dad’s home is proven by more than anecdotal evidence; the few who have ventured into their own homes spend all their hours making money to make the payments.

3) You need to pay for private school for your kids because people do not want to pay taxes or sensibly elevate standards for public education. The average private school tuition in the U.S. for a non-sectarian elementary school is $15,945 a year, and $27,302 a year for secondary school. Catholic elementary school will run you on average $4,944 for elementary school and $7,826 for secondary school; other religious schools average $6,576 for elementary and $10,493 for secondary. Everywhere we turn, some giant institution is costing a lot!

4) You have to master the insurance system and might need to pay exorbitant rates because people do not want to share in each other’s well-being. In PA the average monthly health insurance cost for a single person is $271 but could be as high as $1200. If you actually go to the doctor, be prepared to take the day off as the system tries to frustrate any use of it.


5) You have to master technology that is too complex to master in order to participate in the society. Plus, you have to pay a fee to do so at every step: internet, phone, TV, security systems. And those are just the systems we can see. Behind every institution from law to transit the complexity is increasing exponentially. Many of us would love to respond to injustice if we could get our computer to work.

6) You have to master consumer capitalism. We did a kitchen in our home a few years back. We already replaced the dishwasher. Last week we paid $350 to fix the fridge. Our beloved repairman told us there were no better machines available. They all have the same problems and they are all junk because people have learned to expect them to fail and to change them like they are fashion, not utilities. It is a business strategy. To stay on the treadmill takes economic staying power. Which means a lot of time on the treadmill, which does not leave a lot of time for Palestinians.

I sometimes ask my favorite twentysomethings why they are not more rebellious. A lot of them gave it a whirl with the Occupy movement — and some are still engaged in the aftermath of that. Some are implementing beautiful responses to the traps the culture has set for them. But most of them are just too busy and tired to do anything. I feel their plight. It is hard to be an agent of transformation when the powers that be are so damnably well-outfitted. For instance, whatever they might try to do just might be filmed.  That alone could make you want to hunker down with a good video game. If anyone is choked by the cares of the world, they are. If they complain, they are told that they have the freedom to make any changes they want, “Just DIY. You’re special and your country is exceptional.” Honestly! It takes a lot of energy to be special when you’re not feeling it.

I hope my honesty about what it is like for many people also sounds like sympathy. We want to care about Palestine and much more. But a lot of us are pretty busy just trying to get through this week. Even saying “Jesus will give you strength,” just sounds like there will be another duty to perform if he does! But Jesus is the master of overcoming gigantic powers. If you are doomed to some kind of slavery, He’s your savior.

Posted in 1 Spiritual Discipline | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Imagine something beyond your “state.”

you can't killWe often sing this revolutionary song at the PM: “You can’t kill the Spirit; she’s like a mountain; she goes on and on.” But even so, it sometimes feels like the Spirit is quite dead –  particularly in our own hearts.

So what kills the Spirit, if in fact it can’t be killed? I think we don’t feel alive enough sometimes because we can’t imagine not being dead. We can’t imagine not being subject to what is killing us. We can’t imagine being alive because our dominant image of where we live is in a “state” and not in love. It is so often that “state” that is killing the Spirit, who just goes on without us. So let’s imagine.

Revolutionary imagination has always been basic to radical Christianity. The Anabaptists honed their distinctives on 1) their basic refusal to live in the arbitrary construction of nation states and 2) their basic conviction to live in the kingdom of God. They resisted and restored. Everybody else crammed their Christianity into the idea of the nation state and let their faith be ruled by whatever king or political philosophy ruled the state. Most people still do that and get mad at you if you don’t. It might sound like basic Bible to be ruled by God, not by humans. But even when Anabaptist practice sounds like an obvious and attractive idea, it is hard to realize.

In our era the “state” has effectively become the end-all of most people’s sense of authority. It has captured our imagination. We belong to our country. We are Americans. It isn’t even a discussion item. So if you want something done, you have to get the state to do it. The liberals and conservatives in the United States argue about how much the federal and other governments should do, but I don’t think any will argue that the governments (at least the kind implemented in our exceptional country) are not the inevitable arrangements civilization requires. When we ponder the big problems confronting society, like poverty, disease or environmental degradation, we don’t ask, “What should the church do?” or “What should General Motors do?” We think about governmental policies and action. We are used to thinking about the state as the chief social actor. Even at the BIC General Conference meeting on Saturday there were many times when the leaders told us how they formed their proposals on the advice of lawyers and by imagining future relationships in relation to possible lawsuits — in the back of our minds the state was imminent and the Kingdom distant. The kingdom was preferable, but the state is practical.

All over the world, the commitment to the power of the state has become so complete and overriding that people lose their imagination for a world without nation states that is better than the present order of things. We even end up thinking of ourselves in terms of our “state of being” rather than in terms that are much more familiar to Jesus. For instance, in John 5 the Lord confronts opponents who object to him healing on the Sabbath. They object to what he is doing because it is outside what they think everyone agrees are the God-given boundaries. He has what seems to be a strange notion of how things work when He says, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working….Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.  For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it” ( John 5:17, 19-21).

How Jesus responds demonstrates the kind of mindset that allows the Spirit to live freely. Jesus could never have a red state/blue state argument because it would be too static to talk about. His “argument” is an act of love that doesn’t even recognize the state of being dead as relevant!  You can’t kill His Spirit. The working of God that Jesus demonstrates is alive, moving. You can experience it, but you cannot capture it. You might be able to harness it, but you can’t manufacture it. It produces; it gives; it creates. It is outside of death and brings life to that state. It is a positive force spoken into being by God in every circumstance so that it always has a relational sense to it — relating to people as they are in their present condition, insisting on being heard, on touching. The working is about connecting, embracing, collaborating and reconciling. It is truth revealed in love.

Resistance and restoration are always possible. The Spirit-born love that graces us is a world-recreating power. It cannot be captured in one social, political, economic or cultural form. We are always working with God who is always working regardless of the present form, which may or may not be useful to His cause. Every act of love is leading to another as we keep following the Truth. We are given the life and what we can do with it is amazing, if we can lift our imaginations beyond the godless forms that demand our attention and allegiance.

Posted in Theological Help | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

We need spiritual resources

What will you do when you get to the end of yourself? In Frozen, the main character goes a typical route. First, she withdraws in order to save everyone from having to deal with her and then enjoys the perverse freedom of being alone to be fully herself without any responsibilities. Her sister goes another route. She teams up with bad people and good, but their combined strength saves the day. What will you do when you get to the end of yourself? Do you typically go for autonomy? Or do you react by turning to the community? Most of us try both. Sadly, they both supply about equally dissatisfying results.

We need what seems like a “third” way to us. We need spiritual resources, not just personal or communal resources. Think of the pursuit of spiritual resources as “paradigm shift.” If you think you have to solve it yourself, or if you think you have to solve it with all these people because, in either case, those options are all you’ve got, then think again. In Jesus, you have God to give you resources beyond what you have inside or at your fingertips. Beyond your ordinary awareness or even your spiritual awareness, is strength from the living God. When we have become a wound or we are being wounded and we can’t stop it, where do we go? Dig deeper? Connect closer? Those are not the worst ideas unless that’s all you think there is to do. Because there is more.

Jesus-in-GethsemaneIn the famous scene of Jesus praying in the garden the night before his crucifixion, Jesus came back from praying alone to find his community. It says in Luke: “When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. ‘Why are you sleeping?’ he asked them. ‘Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.’”

Luke is generous to say that the disciples are “exhausted from sorrow.” It is also likely that they have not learned to turn to prayer when they are exhausted or exasperated or confronted with their typical temptations. They came to the end of themselves and conked out. Many of us have a habit of falling asleep right when we need to pray. Many of us come to the end of ourselves and purposely put ourselves to sleep with some drug or media. Frozen has anesthetized millions, for instance. When Jesus is crucified the next day he demonstrates how he has accessed resources beyond his personal strength or the power of his community. When he receives the wounds of the world, he cries out, “Father forgive them.”

What do you cry out? The other day when I was praying, I realized I have a few places in my daily life that provide regular temptations. I have unhealed wounds that are easily injured, typical exasperation points, and things that make me want to take a long nap somehow. I have some things I often cry out, but I need to follow Jesus and access resources beyond myself rather than just sitting at the end of my meager capacity feeling alone and resenting my meager community. What are those places for you? A few of mine are:

  • Leaders who are out for themselves and do not listen, do not serve, do not know.
  • Cars parked in bike lanes.
  • Parents abusing their children because they are at the end of themselves.
  • Being falsely accused by customer service people.
  • When the power of my convictions are eroded by the apathy of my colleagues.

Like Jesus, we are also dealing with the wounds of the world. We are exhausted and exasperated. I think Jesus is frustrated with us because we prefer sleep to prayer. But I also think he looks on us fondly even when he is frustrated because he knows we are mostly dust in our own eyes. He is calling attention to that place deep within us that we can access by prayer. We have access to resources beyond ourselves and our communities. Our perverted instincts might tell us otherwise, so it is going to be a battle to get healed. Some things will have to die. But in the midst of that battle, amazing capacity is gained and we give birth to the wonders of God with us.

Posted in 1 Spiritual Discipline | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Set the Holes Aside for a Day and Eat Cheese

Rod White:

Jonny gave a replay to this. Why not?

Originally posted on Rod's Blog:

I am one of those people often accused of being anti-American. That’s not true. I am not anti-American, I am just so pro-Kingdom of God, it looks like I am anti-American in comparison. If I get thrown in a lion’s den  (like Daniel) or if I get run out of Thessalonica, (like Paul) for not pledging my allegiance to whatever power is usurping God’s place, that would be an honor. So I suppose that compounds the issue.

But I don’t think Jesus is anti-American in the slightest. So I am not. I doubt that he’s happy about everything the government does, but I leave that to him to work out. While He is working on that, I have no doubt that he loves every American right down to the hairs on their heads — and I know he loves his people who are all over the fifty states. Did you know there are over…

View original 369 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

From here to there — the right people in the right seats on the bus

No, not the next t-shirt.

No, not the next t-shirt.

First of all, are there any wrong people on the Lord’s bus?

The answer is emphatically “NO!”

We’re all Bozos on this bus. God is not accepting us because we eradicated all of our bozo-like attributes. Much the contrary: “one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people (Romans 5:18), bozos included — even those who don’t admit what a clown they are. “All people” includes anyone reading this. So don’t worry, you are the right person on the bus.

I wanted to start there, since this bus analogy could take the wrong off ramp rather easily. We have been talking about how to apply one idea from Jim Collins to our dialogue about how to get down the road as a church. When Collins talks about deploying leaders and staffing strategically, he talks about getting the right people  on the bus and getting them into the right seats. He’s one of the business gurus that everyone listens to — partly because he comes up with good metaphors to help us get his points. Since Circle of Hope is a unique family business, in our own way, we listen to business gurus who might have some good ideas for us.

The idea we’re listening to has to do with how to lead and how to staff for meeting the goals God gives us: We get somewhere when we have the right people on the bus and get them in the right seats. Here’s the idea:

You are a bus driver. The bus (your church, in this case) needs to go further and it’s your job to get it going. You have to decide where you’re being led, how you’re going to get there, and who’s going to lead the expedition.

Most people assume that great bus drivers (read: pastors and other church leaders, including cell leaders) immediately start the journey by announcing to the people on the bus where the bus is going—by setting a new, improved direction (something like we do when we publish our yearly Map).

In fact, good strategists do not start with where but with who. They start by getting the right people on the leadership bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. And they stick with that discipline—first the people, then the direction—no matter how dire the circumstances. If Jesus is not doing this when he chooses his first disciples, I don’t know what he is doing. He told them, “I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.”

Here is an example from Collins’ business research. When David Maxwell became the bus driver (CEO) of Fannie Mae in 1981, the company was losing $1 million every business day, with $56 billion worth of mortgage loans underwater. The board desperately wanted to know what Maxwell was going to do to rescue the company. Maxwell responded to the what question the same way that all good bus drivers who want to get somewhere respond. He told them, “That’s the wrong first question. To decide where to drive the bus before you have the right people on the bus, and the wrong people off the bus, is absolutely the wrong approach.” He was a great bus driver for ten years. As you might know, his successors almost drove the bus off a cliff.

When it comes to getting started on getting somewhere next, we need to understand three simple truths:

First, if you begin with who, you can more easily adapt to a fast-changing world. If people get on your bus because of where they think it’s going, you’ll be in trouble when you get ten miles down the road and discover that you need to change direction because the world has changed. But if people board the bus principally because of all the other great people on the bus and, of course, because of the One person riding with all of us, you’ll be much faster and smarter at responding to changing conditions. Like Jesus says, “Good trees bear good fruit” wherever they are planted.

Second, if you have the right people on your bus, you don’t need to worry about motivating them. The right people are self-motivated. They want to do it. It is fun to do it with them. Nothing beats being part of a team that expects to produce great results. Like Jesus says: “I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things.” It will be an “abundant life.”

And third, if you have the wrong people on the bus, nothing else matters. You may be headed in the right direction, but you still won’t achieve greatness. Great vision with apathetic or preoccupied people still produces mediocre results. Like Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” Great Christians are bozos moved by Jesus; they discover what they have been given and find the best way to give it. Their passion makes them transforming transformers.

So why get all corporate-sounding about Circle of Hope?

matches-flame1) We have a lot of leaders and we want them to be happy and passionate

We deploy a lot of leaders to drive our rather large bus. They have a lot of space to be creative and everyone is personally responsible for the success of our ‘business” in all its permutations. At least that is how we set it all up to work.

As we think about staffing and as we engage people who don’t get paid for serving (the precious “volunteer” – or as one might name them: “the people who have a life in Christ”) we sometimes run into the complaint that we are not providing “career level” staff position or well-delimited volunteer positions, so we don’t get the people we need to lead.

I wonder what people are talking about. Do people really just give what they are paid for? We are relying on more than that. Will our staff really reduce their “job” down to something that is commensurate with their pay? Will volunteers really prioritize the paying side of their time and be left with not time to serve our cause in Christ? The fear that people might do such things seems like a negative view of people! –  are they doomed to be that subordinate and “slavish?” I don’t think so. On the contrary, I think we have found a lot of people who are called – the kind of people who would make tents to be able to be an apostle. It’s true, we want to pay our staff well and we aren’t looking for people who only work and never rest; but we know leading and serving with passion is also rest for our souls, not just a job.

2) We want to make sure people are in the right seats on the bus.

I think we are amazing. The fact that we survive, adapt, inspire, serve, grow and make new disciples is great. I’m happy. We have done well and we are doing well.

However, basic to our goal is also to make many new disciples and grow in number and capacity for transformation. It is hard to be satisfied in the middle of a burgeoning mission field! Our main “product” is new faith and deeper capacity to cause transformation. We don’t want to grow for growth’s sake, but we didn’t get called to be a Circle of Hope to end up as an island of faith in a post-Christian world! Our bus door is open.

The quality and discipline of our leaders (paid and not) are the keys to getting from here to there. We want to get the right leaders in the right seats: hiring who we need to hire and training and encouraging the many more servants who give their lives to follow Jesus. Being in the wrong seat wears people down; being where you belong makes momentum happen. When people are exercising their gifts, their passion revs up the bus; when they are feeding the institution because they are dutiful or kind, things get stale. When we’re well-deployed we don’t need to be tightly managed or constantly fired up; we are self-motivated by our inner drive to fulfill our calling, make a difference and be our part of creating something great.

We obviously want to create something great. We did it — and we are doing it all the time. What now? Change is on the horizon. The world certainly does not stay still! We need to do what it takes to keep doing the best we can with what we’ve been given. When we map this year, let’s expand our vision, ask the right questions and even have any healthy conflicts we need to have in order to express who we are and imagine the possibilities in store. Like Jesus says, “Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together.”

Posted in 2 Life as the Church | Tagged , , | 1 Comment