Saturday, April 28, 2012

Jam It Up and Let It Flow!

    Culture is such that we live in many times at once.  There are people who read newspapers very day.  There are people who listen to news radio every day; people who watch news TV all the time.  There are people who read the news on eBooks and websites and PDA’s; people who take in news in every form.  There are people who never take in news in any form.
    And then in moments when culture collides with history, people who read the news and people who don’t read the news make news. Drawn together and emboldened by numbers, they challenge entrenched power through every outlet available _social media, cable news stations, major media stations, newspapers, web, radio, text, voice, and home-made video_  to create force and energy, and without a single bullet, change the course of history forever (a la Arab Spring).  On these amazing occasions we see 19th, 20th and 21st century cultures and technologies jammed up together and pouring forth with fury.
    This mélange of cultures and histories is the make-up of Christendom today.  Except instead of three, the church is an institution of twenty-one centuries, all at work today.  Yet with all the outlets available and the power of the Gospel message, the so-called mainline church struggles to transmit ancient traditions to today’s generations.  As if stuck in all of its yesterdays, the church has not yet figured out how to use new forms and methods to teach very, very old things. 
    The church must find new ways of being.  Christian leaders must decipher the new religion of economics which commands the hegemony today that spiritual things did in ancient times.  It is not a matter of getting rid of the old and replacing it with new.  Rather, it is living out that phrase in the Lord's Prayer:  your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.  The church must find ways to jam up twenty-one centuries together, so that God will send the Holy Spirit, pouring forth with the fullness of life as God lives it, the life of abundance that is God's plan for humanity and all creation. 

Monday, April 2, 2012

Christian Charity is NOT Enough

Churches are champions for social justice, provide food, clothing and direct assistance to the poor, and advocate for legislative policy that can reduce poverty.  Unfortunately, that's not enough. 

Our organized protests and advocacy initiatives are not connected to broader strategies.  Cause-related giving is contingent and episodic.  We move hundreds of millions of dollars around.  We get quick hits from the news media.  Yet these mission-focused actions fall mostly within the ‘give-a-man-a-fish’ category.  Instead of using our millions to empower, we use them to increase dependence.  We do not ‘teach how to fish’. The people we help today need fish tomorrow.
Christians individually and our churches collectively control billions of dollars in the global economy.  Our wealth is distributed widely, is not organized, and is not very liquid.  However, if we are as committed to social change as we believe ourselves to be, Christians can no longer ignore God’s call to use the economic power within our grasp to advance our primary mission, to help the economically distressed (hungry, naked, and sick). 

We can begin by asking ourselves questions about ways our personal resources benefit our neighbors and our communities.  Are we banking with institutions that hold our money, but provide few services, pay little interest, and do not lend to local businesses or approve mortgages in our communities?  Are we purchasing from local businesses that invest and employ locally?  How much of our retirement investments are in companies that do business where we live or hire local residents and/or invest in our local economies?

Are churches asking the same questions about  purchases, banking, and investments?  Are we conserving energy in our buildings, or looking into solar panels or other renewable energy solutions that allow us to enhance the environment and devote more dollars to mission?  Are we participating in local food initiatives that encourage better nutrition, reduce hunger and generate local economic activity?  Are we using our cumulative economic power to create jobs and investment as we advance the mission of the church?

Our charitable inclinations make church folk feel aglow in innocence.  For Christians, however, charity is not enough.  Our global economy is in the hands of wolves.  It is time for Christians to be wise as serpents.

Patrick Duggan leads Abundant Communities Together, Inc. (ACT) a church-affiliated community development corporation.  ACT’s May 23rd conference, On Purpose: The Church in a New Economic Paradigm will feature conversations with church leaders that excel in mission focused economic activities.   Click here for conference information.