On Hunger Games and other rules we make up as we go along

March 24, 2012 at 9:21 pm (Things I'm thinking about) (, , , , , , , , , )

Recently, the justice circuit in Philadelphia has been active as churches, non profit groups, activists and anarchists and OccupyPhilly have all been wrestling with the new Board of Health regulations around sharing food  with homeless people in the city. This is not that story. But it is intricately linked to it.

This is not the story of me and my community making teeshirts and sandwiches and going down to the Municipal Buildings and having a “family picnic” in protest of these laws. This is not the story of The Simple Way’s public statement and the organization’s navigation of its history and its convictions in seeking justice in this particular area.  No, this is a different story; one that is altogether more sinister, shameful and hypocritical. This is the story that speaks to the “deceitfulness of the heart of man” (Jeremiah 17:9). This story begins with me making supper…

Two weeks ago I got an urge to cook. I was home alone, and the chicken was already defrosted and so I set to work, vaguely following a recipe but making a lot of it up as I went along. Experimenting with spices and marinade and yogurt and couscous and walnuts and spiced butternut. The end product was beautiful and so I took it out of the oven and placed it on the counter and took a photo to boast post on facebook. There was a witty and trite status update to go along with it – something about the irony of cooking sunday dinner on the one night noone was around to share it with me. As I was about to send, someone knocked on the door. I snuck quietly across the kitchen and inched open the curtains. Someone was looking through our trash, their back turned to me. I quickly turned around, grabbed the chicken off the counter and hid it in the oven. I then stood debating with myself whether to go and talk to the person and if so, what food I could give them. By the time I got to the door, they had left. And I was struck by deep shame at what I had just done – shocked at the deceitfulness of my own heart.

See I have realized that there are stories that I tell that I “wear like badges” – stories about how hard my life is, or the challenges I’m facing, or how spiritual I am, or how compassionate, self-sacrificing and filled with loving-kindness I am. Well, this story isn’t one of those. This one tells the dark side: the turning away and hiding my food as a brother went through my trash, when just a second before I had been ruing the fact that I had this beautiful meal and no-one to share it with. Truth is, I had noone that I wanted to share it with. It’s easy to stand in a hall and denounce homeless feeding laws; but harder to acknowledge the hunger games we all play. The needs we choose to meet or not meet, the set of usually selfishly driven rules that govern when we  feed, clothe, visit, and take in “the least of these” – the rules based on a confluence of feelings, comfortability, energy, convenience and, often, face-work. I can feed a hundred people a day – prep the food, put aside the time, invest energy and resources – but I wonder if they truly are “the least of these”  if I think they are.

Maybe the “least of these” is the one that interrupts my time and intrudes on my space and comfort with his inconvenient and messy needs. The one I have not prepared a face to meet. The one I have not decided to respond to in advance. The one that catches me off guard. The one who interrupts my quiet Sunday night, my boastings and postings, my puffing up and my pinning of badges. The one who goes through my trash while I hide my chicken in the oven… and later, my head in shame.

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on immoral wealth

December 27, 2010 at 6:27 pm (People I have known, Things I want to see changed, Things I'm thinking about) (, , , , , , , , )

It is months since I have last written and months since I had the privilege to attend the Lausanne Congress in Cape Town. The months since have been full and busy and I have not had the time to think or integrate or even remember all that happened at Lausanne. I think the time is now – to start at least.

I do remember one conversation. I was in a session in which Richard Stearns (The Hole in our Gospel) gave one of the first unequivocal positions and statements on immoral wealth, greed, capitalism, consumerism, the creation of desire, and entitlement I have ever heard. During the comment session, I got up and said so. As I left the building a man approached me and asked if we could meet to chat about something I had said in my comment. During supper, I went and sat down with him and he introduced himself as a German MP and asked me what I had meant by “the creation of desire”. I went blank for two reasons: first, he was an MP and I felt completely out of my depth even sitting down to dinner with him. This was excacerbated by the fact that as he asked the question I realised I had nothing more to say on the topic. I didn’t really know what I meant by it. But it was something that stirred me, something that had come up in the past week and somehow felt like one of the keys. And so I sit now with the sense still that all of this – poverty, immoral wealth, consumerism, the prosperity gospel, the creation of desire – is all vitally linked and must be spoken too. I guess I am trying to “understand the times, with knowledge of what [the Church] should do” as the men of Issachar did (1 Chronicles 12:32). Someone else at Lausanne spoke of the need for a prophetic critique of how we live – but what must be said?

I guess I am tired of a “Gospel that protects the injustice of the status quo” (Richard Stearns). I am tired of wealth that perpetuates and sustains itself at the expense of the majority. I am tired of greed that justifies itself by itself . I am tired of a christian culture that buys into consumerism and the creation of desire. I am tired of the problem continually being defined as “poverty” without any consideration of the counterpoints of wealth and greed. I am tired of a prosperity doctrine which is insiduous in “western” conceptualisations and responses to wealth – “I am entitled to all the wealth I have because my wealth is a sign of God’s blessing. I deserve what I have”. I am tired of all the justifications that absolve our consciences – that say that conviction is condemnatory and therefore can be ignored. I am tired of not knowing how this all fits together and what is right and how much is too much and how this plays out in my life. I am tired because I think this is another one of the myriad things that is “too big for a divided church”.

And after all I am left thinking about two things:

“Use honest scales, honest weights, and honest measures. I am the LORD your God, and I brought you out of Egypt.” (Leviticus 19v36)  In other words, “don’t you dare oppress people when I’ve just gone to all this effort to save you from being oppressed.”  (Peter Houston – http://conversation.lausanne.org/en/resources/detail/10767#article_page_1)

And this:

“I was hungry; while you had all you needed. I was thirsty; but you drank bottled water. I was a stranger; and you wanted me deported. I needed clothes; but you needed more clothes. I was sick; but you pointed out the behaviours that led to my sickness. I was in prison; you said I was getting what I deserved.” (Richard Stearns; paraphrase Matthew 25:42)

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on schizophrenic love…

June 24, 2010 at 11:26 pm (People I have known, Things I'm thinking about) (, , , , )

I met a guy today. I think I gave him a fright as I entered the Vineyard prayer room in the Neelsie. He was huddled in front of the kettle talking loudly to himself. He quickly recovered and offered me something to drink. I went foward to shake his hand and, when I asked him why it was bandaged, he said he had fought with a lion. Jokingly, I asked him who won. Then the games began. For the next five minutes I was taken on a rollercoaster ride of word salads, outrageous statements and apologetic retractions, whispered self-beratement, four different voices, provocation, misplaced words left hanging in the air. Thinking he was messing with my mind, I eventually walked out but he came to ask me back. We tried to start over. His words and thoughts and voices and pacings surrounded me. He apologised for tearing down the posters and scribbling on the walls. I left. I wrote him off.

See, the most profound thing about the second part of that revolutionary command, love your neighbor as yourself – you know, the one that all the law and all the teachings of the prophets hinges on – is that a lot of the time people are incredibly difficult to love. I think Jesus knew this when he said it. I think he knew that our neighbors would dissapoint us, hurt us, confuse us, frustrate us, rip our stuff and leave it a mess, scribble over our religious acts, trample on our hopes and dreams and passions, mess up our hard work, anger us, and fail us. I think he knew they would be difficult to communicate with, be in the same room as, and understand. I think he knew that the loving part would not always come naturally or easily or gracefully.

In fact, I think the love and the life he calls us to is schizophrenic. It is characterized by abnormalities in perception, content of thought, and thought processes. It is counter-cultural, counter-intuitive and contrary to ‘normal’ assumptions and behaviour. It results in, or perhaps emanates from, an ‘abnormal’ perception or expression of reality. It most commonly manifests with significant social dysfunction… It does not make sense. It is not easy to be around. It confounds those around us. Perhaps it even frightens them a bit. It flies in the face of the way things are. It turns common sense and social convention and religious piety and illusions on their heads.

I wish I had gone back and hung around that guy a bit more, instead of hiding out in anger and frustration because he messed my stuff and my head. I wish I had gone back and loved him.

but I thank him. Because, although I wouldn’t recognise his face again, and I had to ask twice for his name, he has challenged me more directly, thrown me into deeper self-examination and more candid awareness, than have some people I have known for years. If I do meet him there again, I’ll take him up on the offer of coffee….

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