Stand against the hand: share and pray

When capitalism organizes your money, it undermines community. Worse, when capitalism channels your desire it warps prayer. The main things our church may be lacking the most right now are money and prayer. There is a good, macro reason for that lack which we might not even notice: we are in the grip of the “invisible hand.”

Let me say right off the top, in case you don’t read too much further:

1) We cannot sustain community without sharing money. Practically, we have made commitments as a group that require money, of course. But more profoundly, if you opt out of contributing to the whole you diminish it, even mock it, name it unworthy. You put a hole in our mutuality. Give ten dollars or a tithe, but stay in the game with us. We could lose the game.

2) We cannot keep praying if we let the Jesus-free economy deform our desire. Practically, if the consumption-driven economy drives you, you have another god. If you have stopped praying because, in reality,  your “needs” are met by your place in the economy and your desires are driven by the market, you look like a foreigner in the Kingdom of God. Pray one minute or make praying your vocation, but connect with the Spirit. You could die. And the church could die with you.

What is capitalism again?

capitalism -- suffering fromCapitalism was identified in the 1700’s by the likes of Adam Smith and others as an economic reality in which the “market” is not something that is extra to your life, it is in the center of your life. For centuries, markets were places where you could go trade for something you could not produce yourself. Now markets are the only means you can obtain anything. We always hear about the “free” market, which means the market, as an abstraction, aspires to be free from external constraints and obstacles. By this time, not only is the market central to everything, but everything is also subject to the rules of the market. The market is free, but we cannot be free from the market.

There are many schools of economics. The one that has been steering us since Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, followed up by Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, advocates the complete marketization of life. It is all for overcoming obstacles and inefficiencies brought on by the so-called “welfare state” and increasing the integration of the globe into one market. This school is, in a sense, “anti-government” since governments interfere with the invisible hand. But its proponents are usually for small, lean governments that have strong militaries to face threats to the market.

Did you miss this debate? While you were growing up, the invisible hand of capitalism firmly took over your territory. It is global and it has armies. For instance, during the recent downturn, the 1% we talk about have taken advantage of their opening to gain world domination; now a huge percentage of global wealth is in their hands. The triumph of the invisible hand — a reality most of us don’t even recognize — might be why we don’t share like we could and might even discourage our prayer. Yet the church needs sharing and praying more than ever if it is not going to be ground down even more by this powerful force.

We cannot sustain community without sharing money.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

In God’s economy, sharing is motivated by the desire to create community because that is elemental to God’s desire. The work of the cross joins us to Christ as his body. Former motivations from the world system that drove us are healed. We are freed from self-absorption, obsession with our own interests, and fear of scarcity — our desire is turned outward in humble vulnerability and generous service to and with others. Jesus demonstrated that love as God shared life with us, even to the point of death. That’s the basis of the new economy in Christ — unless it is not.

kingsandpawns253A good half of us have a terrible time sharing because we are still consuming church like a product and are still too afraid of our own present or prospective poverty to share. Lack of sharing kills the church. It is not so much that the church needs a lot of money to survive. We can survive as the church at all sorts of levels. What is important is this: when we don’t share, we do not subvert the anti-sharing of capitalism and we worship the invisible hand by default. We become individual marketers in competition for scarce resources, individualized products selling ourselves daily. We become mere pawns in the 1%’s market pretending that our freedom to buy a new gadget or buy the monetized thoughts of the internet is actual choice.

2) We cannot keep praying if we let the Jesus-free economy deform our desire.

You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God (James 4:2).

All economies are based on desire. Capitalism has mastered the art of making everything about what we want and don’t have. Long ago, James rightly prophesied that such misplaced desire would cause nothing but conflict. The recent, ongoing U.S. wars have proven James right in a large way. They are all about our desire for revenge, desire to be protected and our desire for oil and our “way of life,” aren’t they? Did anyone ask God? “Asking God” does not mean getting God to give us what we can’t get in the economy. It means being part of a new economy based on God’s generosity, being in full communion with the one true God and putting the invisible hand in its place.

danceMany of us have a secret. We stopped praying long ago because we believe the bible of capitalism when it says that education and hard work will get us what we desire. We don’t have time to pray because we are at work or at school. Our schedule barely leaves time for our families, much less some alternative economy. We are content to have a privatized faith, a leisure time faith that we visit a couple of times a month at the PM. Our desire is deformed. It is so conformed to the way the world is post-Reagan that we believe it when people say it has always been this way, only now it is better.

I get a sinking feeling some days that we are going to lose the battle. As alternative as Circle of Hope is, as radical as some of us are, as amazing as our thinking and acting really are, the forces sometimes seem stronger. The post-9/11 generation is so scared. The institutions are so much bigger than they were before the attack and before years of warfare, homeland security and recession. Are we still a circle of hope? — or is that just a brand name, now? If we don’t share and we don’t pray, if we don’t do what the church really needs right now, what are we?

God rescues me when I am sinking, just like he pulled Peter from the sea that time. Paul also said in Romans 5: Hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. And James also said in James 4 God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Whether we share or pray, God’s grace is greater. That grace has made us and will keep drawing us toward home.

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Paean to partners

Someone sabotaged our computer. We discovered what they did right before we wanted to do a few things for the meeting last night. Three of us were huddled in front of it lamenting, offering ineffectual suggestions and generally having some mutual anxiety — and that just before we were to lead an evening centered on “not worrying!”

Now that everything worked out fine-if-not-perfectly, I look back fondly on the scene – back on how our strange little partnership in the gospel was revealed in that moment. We were anxious about something only Jesus could get us together to be anxious about. Each of us had travelled a long distance geographically and culturally to become important in a new kingdom and tribe. I like it when I notice that blessing.

I’ve been thinking a lot about being partners lately and feeling thankful. I think my feeling is a lot like what Paul felt about the Philippians when he started a letter to them with: “I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Philippians 1:4). From the first day of Circle of Hope until now, I have had such amazing partners, beginning with my wife and family and then one person after another who Jesus drew together to form our incendiary community of faith: partners in building community, making disciples, showing compassion, doing business, inventing administration, weathering crises, sharing money and standing together in problems a lot worse than a sabotaged computer! What a blessing!

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Second Act

We’re warming up to enter the future. Lot’s of important dialogue ahead!

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An old story: loving our neighbor on Tenth St.

tenth and locust windowsWhen we first got started as Circle of Hope at Tenth and Locust I was determined to stay under the radar of the Philadelphia authorities until we were established. I did not expect them to understand us, much less love us, and I have been generally right about them.

So I was pretty horrified when I showed up late for a concert one night and about six police cars were flashing outside our door! So much for staying under the radar. I think it got too hot in the mosh pit so they opened up all the windows and welcomed the neighbors to enjoy the music. One of the higher up, white-shirt policemen was about ready to go upstairs so I asked him what was going on.

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Ambition in hard times with Teilo

teilos headWhen we went to Llandaff Cathedral, outside Cardiff, Wales, the lonely docent said we should go find a special cupboard with Teilo’s head in it. We found one in a musty, dark corner way in the back, behind the altar. When we opened the creaky old door we got a peek at a dusty skull. As it turns out, the famous skull was in another cupboard, as you see. I don’t know who’s skull we were disrupting. But we were still excited to make the connection. The great church planter’s skull was preserved in the church, displayed in memory of a life admirably lived. He died sometime after 560, which was not an easy time to live. He had helped establish the church in Wales. Feb 9 is St. Teilo’s Day. Church planting types should mark that one their calendar. We need all the encouragement we can get.

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The mustard seed — faith you have, not faith you don’t

Mustard-Seeds-PlantsHere’s another Bible problem for you. What’s with faith-as-small-as-a-mustard-seed moving mountains?

We sing:

Si tuvieras fe como grano de mostaza
Eso lo dice el Senor
Tu le dirias a la montana
Muevete, muevete 
Esa montana se movera, se movera, se movera

Shouldn’t that little song come with a little warning label? Shouldn’t it say something like: “We don’t really think this is true!” Or “No mountains were injured in the performance of this song!”?

Why does Jesus say,

“I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matt. 17:20)

if He doesn’t really mean it?

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How to follow Jesus at work

Sometimes going to work can be tough for a Jesus-follower. Do we just shut off our hearts and souls and get the money, or do we dare to ask the questions that keep bubbling up? “Can I do what I am assigned to do and still honor Jesus?” Even harder, “Can I think as I am supposed to think as defined by my employer and still be a Christian?” We have to answer the question, “Can I dare to serve Jesus without reservation and still have a normal job?”

You’ve got to know who you are in Christ before you can know what to do. We are good trees that bear good fruit. So think about how Jesus-followers approach the idea of work.

We think everything we do matters

When we attend to our regular duties, they are made holy because God is with us in the process and we are in God’s world. We don’t do anything that does not matter. No matter what person or institution claims to own us, we know better — we are children of God. Even when we do wrong things, we know God can turn them to good because we love him. That’s how we go to our jobs.

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Eight reasons to feel better about what is happening in your ruined place

When I was on retreat last week, I felt guilty about being on retreat. Then I read an entry in my journal that said, “I am probably better for the church on retreat than I usually am in my office!” It was a good reminder. I felt less guilty about my luxuriant silence.

My review of my journal kept demonstrating other troubles that disturb my peace. Like how I swing from utter confidence in God to being “daunted” (that is the usual word). Silence overcomes what daunts. To be confident in God in the face of what is daunting takes enough silent time to recognize how God is present as I am present.

I am not sure I had enough time. I stayed in town, so now I remember why people go to the desert. But making the effort to retreat into some silence was richly rewarded, if only for the eight reasons I am about to share with you.

tree in concreteAs I meditated on my journal, looking for how Jesus has been leading me, these remarkable moments of grace kept popping up. Sometimes I feel, overall, like life is kind of overwhelming and my journal reflects that. It is like one of David’s Psalms where he is stuck in a cave somewhere and Saul is looking for him —  but then there is a paragraph in my journal entry that looks like the end of one of David’s laments when he, too, remembers how God has worked and praises him. “This is troubling…BUT God is glorious.”

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Our deep desire: non-chemical ecstasy

When we imagine the far reaches of prayer, it includes how we feel. There is plenty of thinking, of course, but it feels good to know God. We followers of Jesus are being transformed by our relationship with Jesus. We are opened up to the influence of the Spirit of God in places we are built to receive it.

The word ecstasy is not used in the Bible all that much, but people in the Bible are experiencing it. When people are having visions and are caught up into spiritual experiences it is called an ecstasy. So the word comes to describe an emotional/psychological place: “I am experiencing ecstasy. I am in ecstasy.” It is overwhelming feeling: happiness, joy, excitement. It is so overwhelming it can be like a trance, rapture, self-transcendence – it is beyond rational thought and self control. You might naturally associate the feeling with graduating, or falling in love, or having an orgasm. Spiritually, we might associate it with worship, speaking in tongues, or being brought to tears — the feeling of entering into a “huge space of grace” a friend once called it.

aguilera ramonesYou may or may not have had many experiences of ecstasy. You may not want to have them. There always seem to be two kinds of kids in high school when it came to feeling experiences. There were the Christina Aguilera kind who “just want to feel this moment.”  And there were always Ramones kind who want to be sedated.  I think most of us were in the middle somewhere kind of hovering on the edge of feeling and on the edge of sedation.

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My revelation from the past week

I was encouraged by Michiko’s bold, vulnerable, faithful writing. So I asked her to appear as a “guest writer” on my blog this week. Here is her revelation:

It’s easy to look at the world right now and think that maybe there is no God.

On a personal level, as I’ve watched my son descend into addiction, I’ve at times wondered what God was doing.  Where was Jesus – when was he going to wake up and talk to him and bring him out of the hell he, and I were in?

Now that he’s going to NA regularly, I’ve started going with him.

Yesterday I was witness to the kind of love that I only see at Circle.  One young woman freely admitted her brokenness.  She was in full relapse, of food disorder, substance abuse disorder, and starting on the self-harm scale.  She also said she was apathetic.  She didn’t care.

One by one, the group acted as one.  It was one huge encouragement through many voices — One saying “You’ve done great to be here.” Another saying, “Push through; you’ll be OK.” Another saying, “We love you and are here for you.”

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