Archive for April, 2006

Beyond Brokerage

This is an amazing passage from Shane Claiborne’s The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical. There’s so much to glean from this little section of the book, but please read it all if you can. Allow it to shape you as it shaped (and challenged my socks off!) me when I read it yesterday.

Beyond Brokerage

Layers of insulation separate the rich and the poor from truly encountering one another. There are the obvious layers like picket fences and SUVs, and there are the more subtle ones like charity. Tithes, tax-exempt donations, and short-term mission trips, while they accomplish some good, can also function as outlets that allow us to appease our consciences and still remain at a safe distance from the poor. Take this poignant example you may have caught wind of: it was revealed that Kathie Lee garments, which have earned Wal-Mart over $300 million in sales annually, were being produced in Honduran sweatshops. These girls, as young as thirteen, worked fifteen-hour shifts under the watch of armed guards and received thirty-one cents an hour. But the great irony is that the garments they were making for Kathie Lee were sold under a label that promised that “a portion of the proceeds from the sale of this garment will be donated to various children’s charities.” More recently, Kathie Lee has been an advocate for workers’ rights. Charity can be a dangerous insulator.

It is much more comfortable to depersonalize the poor so we don’t feel responsible for the catastrophic human failure that results in someone sleeping on the street while people have spare bedrooms in their homes. We can volunteer in a social program or distribute excess food and clothing through organizations and never have to open up our homes, our beds, our dinner tables. When we get to heaven, we will be separated into those sheep and goats Jesus talks about in Matthew 25 based on how we cared for the least among us. I’m just not convinced that Jesus is going to say, “When I was hungry, you gave a check to the United Way and they fed me,” or, “When I was naked, you donated clothes to the Salvation Army and they clothed me.” Jesus is not seeking distant acts of charity. He seeks concrete acts of love: “you fed me…you visited me in prison…you welcomed me into your home…you clothed me.”

With new government funds and faith-based initiatives, the social-work model can easily entangle the church in the efficiency of brokering services and resources in a web of “clients” and “providers” and struggling to retain God’s vision of rebirth, in which we are all family. Faith-based nonprofits can too easily be the mirror image of secular organizations, maintaining the same hierarchies of power and separation between rich and poor. They can too easily merely facilitate the exchange of goods and services, putting plenty of professionals in the middle to guarantee that the rich do not have to face the poor and that power does not shift. Rich and poor are kept in separate worlds, and inequality is carefully managed but not dismantled.

When the church becomes a place of brokerage rather than an organic community, she ceases to be alive. She ceases to be something we are, the living bride of Christ. The church becomes a distribution center, a place where the poor come to get stuff and the rich come to dump stuff. Both go away satisfied (the rich feel good, the poor get clothed and fed), but no one leaves transformed. No radical new community is formed. And Jesus did not set up a program but modeled a way of living that incarnated the reign of God, a community in which people are reconciled and our debts are forgiven just as we forgive our debtors (all economic words). That reign did not spread through organizational establishments or structural systems. It spread like a disease — through touch, through breath, through life. It spread through people infected by love.

Often wealthy folks ask me what they can do for the Simple Way [the neo-monastic Christian community of which Claiborne is a part]. I could ask them for a few thousand dollars, but that would be too easy for both of us. Instead, I ask them to come visit. Writing a check makes us feel good and can fool us into thinking that we have loved the poor. But seeing the squat houses and tent cities and hungry children will transform our lives. Then we will be stirred to imagine the economics of rebirth and to hunger for the end of poverty.

Almost every time we talk with affluent folks about God’s will to end poverty, someone says, “But didn’t Jesus say, ‘the poor will always be with you’?” Many of the people who whip out this verse have grown quite insulated and distant from the poor and feel defensive. I usually gently ask, “Where are the poor? Are the poor among us?” The answer is usually a clear negatory. As we study the Scriptures, we see how many texts we have misread, contextualized, and exegeted to hear what we want to. Like this one about the poor being among us, which Jesus says in the home of a leper and after a poor marginalized woman anoints his feet with perfume. The poor were all around him. Far from saying in defeat that we should not worry about the poor, since they will always be among us, Jesus is pointing the church to her true identity — she is to live close to those who suffer. The poor will always be among us, because the empire will always produce poor people, and they will find a home in the church, a citizenship in the kingdom of God, where the “hungry are filled with good things and the rich sent away empty.”

I heard that Gandhi, when people asked him if he was a Christian, would often reply, “Ask the poor. They will tell you who the Christians are.”


tough situation in tanzania

A friend of mine and his wife are beginning a degree at ACU in preparation to join some teammates in Tanzania for long-term missions. (two couples, I think, are already in Tanzania planting churches in Mwanza) One of his teammates told my friend that a famine in the country has gotten so bad that providing for physical needs had become priority numero uno. Folks from the church (and from around the congregation) are really feeling the effects of constant hunger because of the famine, resulting in sickness and probably death (he didn’t tell me about deaths, but one can only assume…).

I asked my friend if his missionary teammates had considered facilitating any simple development projects that might bring more sustainable relief to the area around their church. He said that this probably wouldn’t be possible, seeing as how at least one of the supporting congregations specifically said, “No development projects. Just church planting/evangelism.”


proud of the little bro…

…for this column that will be published in the Optimist soon.

Poverty exists for many reasons.

All situations are different One simple explanation can’t be blanketed over everyone living in a state of economic suffering.

Many publications have tried to tackle the subject in the past, offering reasons for economic suffering in Americans; many of these have failed.

An article printed in Issues & Views, a conservative publication for those “concerned about liberties lost, especially through the ongoing exploitation of race,” delivers one explanation for poverty:

“In economically mobile, relatively free societies, the poor are often guilty of failing to take steps to prosper. They marry too early and have too many kids and thus arrest their own development and, also, those of their children. They stick with bad jobs because they have gotten themselves into debt too early. They do not take time to get educated because they are in the hurry to have fun.”

This “economically mobile, relatively free society” mentioned in this article, entitled “Modern Liberal Condescension,” is an obvious reference to the United States. The writer didn’t just come out and say it, but he basically thinks that poverty can be attributed to laziness, irresponsibility and stupidity.

This argument sounds right from our middle-class American perspective. However, we don’t know what goes on in the lives of the poor individuals in this Abilene society. The true ignorance in the above argument rings clear to those who have experienced poverty.

Meet hypothetical Andrew. He was born into a five-member family and is the youngest of four siblings. His father left after he was born, and he’s lived with a single mother who has worked a $7.50 per hour job his entire life to support the large family but still depends on a Welfare check each month to get by.

The only thing he’s ever known is a less-than-adequate school system, a chaotic family life and the idea that he’s never going to break the barriers of race, location and economic status to become a successful person, in the standards of this capitalist America.

Andrew was doomed to lifelong poverty from the moment he was born &emdash; or at least that’s what he’s been led to believe. He isn’t simply “in a hurry to have fun,” as the above excerpt states.

So, with this young man’s acquired taste for being down-and-out and having nothing to lose, he resorts to outlets that seem the best choice for the situation &emdash; gang affiliations, violence, petty crimes and taking what he needs to survive.

Every story isn’t like this, but many of them are similar.

According to the Global Development Research Center, an educational resource that specializes in issues about the economy, environment, urban centers and community, many different reasons for poverty exist.

Lack of educational preparation, physical handicaps, culture of poverty and gender and racial discrimination are all reasons people live in poverty, according to the organizations Web site.

Laziness might be the immediate reason people live in poverty, but the true, underlying reason has everything to do with where a person comes from. Poor education or physical infirmities are not the fault of the child &emdash; neither are the lifestyles an individual learns from his or her family or the neighborhood in which he or she grew up.

Technically, each person has a choice on how to live but, in reality, he or she really doesn’t.

But America needs to realize this; Abilene needs to realize this. The sooner the haves start helping the have-nots &emdash; intertwining values and culture and breaking down racial and socioeconomic barriers &emdash; the sooner the poverty level will drop.

Too often those with financial security, a strong support system and a strong educational background are so quick to judge those who are different that the aforementioned barriers of mistrust grow.

A change in attitude is in order for everyone, and the beginning of this change is trying to understand the lives of the poverty-stricken.

by Mitch Holt, 2006

Let Mitch know what you think — good and bad — in the comments section below. Also, Mitch is in a band called Homer Hiccolm and the Rocketboys, which will be playing at the Cornerstone Festival, the largest Christian music festival in the world, in Illinois this summer.

Please click here to vote for HHRB to play on the main stage at Cornerstone in front of 40,000 screaming indie rock fans.

“come back to the kitchen”

I found this quote on a March 23 post from Tall Skinny Kiwi. It reminds me of what I said on this post a while back, except more concise.

The church began with a meal. The Church needs to come back to the kitchen and get itself sorted again. The Church needs to rethink the puny wafer and thimble ritual and get back to the love feast which is a MEAL that takes TIME and happens MORE than once a week and has LEFTOVERS which can given to the POOR (the justice element) and resembles a PARTY that is full of HOPE towards the FEAST that awaits us with our SAVIOR who is not drinking wine until we get there to toast with Him. Jesus said DO THIS in remembrance of me. We would do well to ask “[DO] WHAT?”

puts a new meaning on “become all things to all men”


OK, that’s good for cutting-edge, emergent-style churches. But what about for Churches of Christ? Here’s a start, maybe:

sola scriptura camisole

Hey, get that “gospel message” however people will lust after it….I mean, hear it.

(did you notice that “MADE IN THE USA” banner on the camisole? I mean, how could you not. I can see that guy somewhere in, let’s say Alabama or Georgia, surfing the Web for gifts for wife, coming across this fabulous item, and saying something like, “I don’t know what the heck this means, but at least some Chinaman didn’t make it!”)

Christ: The Model for Ministry and Service

Here are some things I’ve been wrestling with lately.

This might be obvious, but the person of Christ is our model in service and ministry.

From John 1:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

How can we “dwell among” our neighbors as fellow travelers in order to see transformation in their lives?

Or, consider this passage from Philippians 2:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death&emdash;
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus left the “success” and “greatness” of living in community with God and the Holy Spirit in Heaven to become one of us so that he could exemplify the redeemed life and continue to unveil God’s reign. How can we deny our ideas of “success” and “greatness” to take on the very nature of servants with the people we encounter?

I think we see Jesus meeting people on their turf &emdash; Zacchaeus, for example &emdash; to walk with them as they experienced life transformation. I’m convinced that we need to seriously consider how we more effectively and compassionately walk with people as they begin to trust Christ and let Him help them up out of the bondage they are experiencing.

I would suggest that little life transformation can happen with people outside of the context of relationship. Can we really chunk gospel seeds from afar and expect people’s lives to change? If this was possible, wouldn’t God have done this with us? Are we willing to, on some level, “become flesh” with people in order that they might experience holistic transformation in their lives?

Furthermore, can we begin to see our neighbors more for their assets than for their needs? To a large degree, these are people who have something to offer this world and desire dignity and purpose, but many of them have never been told they have worth and something to offer.

Jesus did this, though, didn’t he? I love the story of Zacchaeus, a conniving and broken man. He was in a tree searching for Jesus, not unlike many people we come in contact with. Jesus didn’t scold him immediately for his previous actions, but said, in a sing-songy voice, I’m sure, “I’m-a-comin’ to your house to-day.” It was in the context of sharing a meal &emdash; one of the most intimate activities in the ancient world &emdash; that Jesus challenged Zacchaeus about a “different way.” He acknowledged Zacchaeus’ worth. He maintained his dignity. And as a result, life transformation occurred.

I am praying for more Christ-like eyes to see all people — rich, middle-class, and poor — with his eyes.

Will you join me in this prayer and on this journey?

close call

After a couple days of wild rumors, the truth finally came out, and not to a few relieved exhales from devoted Christians: Paris Hilton will not be playing Mother Teresa in an upcoming feature film. Filmmaker T. Rajeevnath allegedly told reporters that he was speaking with the racy hotel heiress about playing the part because of her resemblance to a young Teresa of Calcutta. Miss Hilton denied any such plans to play the part, as reported in the Malaysia Star on Monday.

Seriously, folks…this is not a joke.

But now that we can all breath a collective sigh of relief, I am perplexed how this was ever thought to be a plausible option. How could one possibly see the deeply spiritual person of Teresa in an actress with about as much depth as the Gobi Desert. Facial features aside, this casting decision would have been disastrous. But alas, it didn’t go down (or at least, it would be the biggest flip-flop since John Kerry if it does…).

I’ve been thinking about Mother Teresa a lot lately, mostly because Shane Claiborne mentions her a lot in his book The Irresistible Revolution (he did a summer internship with Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta. (I’ll plug this book a lot in the coming months, so get used to it — go buy it and read it.)

I’ve been thinking about Teresa’s life, which took the life and words of Jesus at face value (as few humans have done in the modern era). She owned nothing. She poured herself out for the least loved people on the planet. She embodied and proclaimed Christ. She said some profound things about the cost of discipleship that are frankly pretty offensive to most American Christians. Maybe that’s why we don’t hear her quoted in Church on Sundays very often.

But let’s hear this prophetess afresh today as we consider what following Jesus really means (I have no idea) and how Christ-followers live in this temporal world:

“Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.”

“Do not think that love, in order to be genuine, has to be extraordinary. What we need is to love without getting tired.”

“Each one of them is Jesus in disguise.”

“Everybody today seems to be in such a terrible rush, anxious for greater developments and greater riches and so on, so that children have very little time for their parents. Parents have very little time for each other, and in the home begins the disruption of peace of the world.”

“I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.”

“I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I don’t know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, he will NOT ask, How many good things have you done in your life?, rather he will ask, How much LOVE did you put into what you did?”

“I try to give to the poor people for love what the rich could get for money. No, I wouldn’t touch a leper for a thousand pounds; yet I willingly cure him for the love of God.”

“I want you to be concerned about your next door neighbor. Do you know your next door neighbor?”

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

“In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.”

“It is easy to love the people far away. It is not always easy to love those close to us. It is easier to give a cup of rice to relieve hunger than to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved in our own home. Bring love into your home for this is where our love for each other must start.”

“Let us more and more insist on raising funds of love, of kindness, of understanding, of peace. Money will come if we seek first the Kingdom of God – the rest will be given.”

“Let us not be satisfied with just giving money. Money is not enough, money can be got, but they need your hearts to love them. So, spread your love everywhere you go.”

“Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work.”

“Many people mistake our work for our vocation. Our vocation is the love of Jesus.”

“Our life of poverty is as necessary as the work itself. Only in heaven will we see how much we owe to the poor for helping us to love God better because of them.”

“There is always the danger that we may just do the work for the sake of the work. This is where the respect and the love and the devotion come in – that we do it to God, to Christ, and that’s why we try to do it as beautifully as possible.”

“There should be less talk; a preaching point is not a meeting point. What do you do then? Take a broom and clean someone’s house. That says enough.”

“We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.”

“Words which do not give the light of Christ increase the darkness.”

“Jesus is everything.”