Community: Hanging with the MAWGs

I spoke to two thousand high school students who were holding a mock political convention and said that unless their generation helps create a “new politics” in this country, all our future political conventions were destined to be “mock” ones. The popular wisdom says young people don’t care about public life. The popular wisdom is wrong. Breaking the death grip of money over politics and dealing with real issues like child poverty in the midst of prosperity are things they really care about.

~Jim Wallis, God’s Politics, Harper San Francisco, 2005. Pg. 353.

Mostly, I hang out with mawgs.

What’s a mawg?  you ask. Sounds like something out of Harry Potter. “Mawg” is an acronym I dreamed up. It means, “middle-aged white guys.” I go to meetings and look around the room and there they are. Oh, all right, there WE are—balding, graying, a little too heavy, some of us in un-cool polyester pants. We are the mawgs, and there are lots of us. We’ve been in the church for a long time and we’re at the top of our game, the peak of our influence. It’s not that we clamored to get here, walking over anybody that got in our way, we’re just here, unwitting beneficiaries of the cultural tilt of the church community in many American cities.

Don’t get me wrong. Some of my best friends are mawgs. It’s just that I get the feeling that God wants more for his church than stratification. He expects more than neatly divided churches, the rich from the poor; men from women; white from black; white collar from blue; young from old. He probably isn’t all that excited about denominations, either, but what I’m most concerned about right now is the young versus old thing. What’s more, I think God is concerned about it, too.

Some time back, I was walking and praying. I was thinking about Malachi 4:6. It says, “He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse (NIV).” Evidently, before he wraps up the story of the ages and puts everything to rights, God intends to see the generations united, young and old turned toward one another. Anything short of that and the whole thing is bound for the ash heap.

With that, the Old Testament was complete. Those were God’s last expressed thoughts for a long time. He spoke of the hearts of fathers and children joined together, and then silence. The spiritual airwaves went quiet. WGOD signed off the air.

Then, one day, some 400 years later, an unsuspecting priest named Zachariah stepped into the Holy Place of the temple of the Jews. He had no way of knowing that God had chosen this day to break the silence. He couldn’t have suspected that he was about to hear the first words of God concerning a New Covenant. And what was on God’s mind after 400 years of silence? Listen:

Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John”¦And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous,  to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. (Luke 1:13-17 NIV)

I have italicized the last sentence of the angel’s announcement because it’s important. It is drawn from those last words of Malachi, the last words of the Old Testament: “turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.” What was on God’s mind at the beginning of the New Testament? The same thing that was on His mind at the end of the old: generations in one accord. Is that a coincidence? I bet not.

I believe God is waiting for we mawgs to turn our hearts and receive younger brothers and sisters as partners; to forsake our comfortable meetings and places of privilege; to invite the young into the circle, or better yet, go work side by side with the church as God is shaping it among our sons and daughters; emerging church and established church. I suspect He is waiting for the young to value the contribution of those that have gone before and seek opportunities to build upon the foundation they have laid. God is anticipating a new generation, not defined by its age, but by its passion; not divided by different experiences but joined in the determination to apply those experiences to the advancement of the Kingdom; young and old united together in faith and obedience, a people prepared for the Lord.

Spirituality: A Meeting with Father

Sometimes in prayer I get the feeling that I have had a

meeting with my Father. I pray and ponder; speak and go silent without realizing that the world around me has retreated and I am in this place of muffled isolation. I am aware of the city

sounds and the birds but, as it were, outside of where I am. My thoughts consume my conscious world and my imagination flickers with thoughts that are not fully my own.

I am aware that I am in the presence of the Father.

Then the moment is over, as though my prayer has been caught up, like a wisp of smoke and drawn away. I am suddenly in the midst of the world-sounds, sharp, crisp, immediate—the contrast is jarring. I remember the warm, insulated sense of prayer, like being wrapped in a blanket.

Community: Free Market Church?

A major source of objection to a free economy is precisely that it … gives people what they want instead of what a particular group thinks they ought to want. Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.
~ Milton Friedman, teacher of economics at Chicago University; winner of the 1976 Nobel Prize in economics; winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1988.

Friedman, is an influential character in his field, but his record is not without stains of controversy. His excursions to Chile during the 70s and his mentoring of what became known as “the Chicago Boys,”  a group of Chilean students who later became key figures in that nation’s government, irritated many because of Chile’s repressive regime at the time.

Free Market Boogie

Recently, I was listening to an account of Friedman’s legacy to the Chicago Boys who, in the midst of the Pinochet regime, brought about free market reforms in Chile. In spite of Pinochet’s egregious human rights abuses, “free-marketeers” find a lot to applaud in the economic turnaround that happened in Chile. Indeed, the work of the Friedman and the Chicago Boys has become part of what has been called the Capitalist Revolution, which has contributed to an increasingly global economy.

Moreover, Friedman argues that a free market and a free society are corollary. Arnold Harberger, widely considered to be the leading spokesman for Chicago School of economics, paraphrases Friedman saying,

…you cannot have a repressive government for long within a genuinely free economic system [because] freedom is going to have to pass over to the political side, and that of course, is exactly what did happen in Chile. The evolution took quite a number of years to make, but it happened, and in that sense, Chile is an example of a peaceful transition from [authoritarianism] to a civilian democratic government.

It should be remembered that during the evolution Harberger mentions the disparity between the wealthy and the poor increased exponentially, unemployment skyrocketed above 30% and the poor suffered most through the transition. Nevertheless, the transition did happen both economically and politically.

Friedman may be right. But it occurs to me that the free market, and its attendant free society, tends toward entropy, that is it begins to break down at some point. Consumers become fond the twin luxuries of cost and convenience until competition eventually takes its toll on more and more companies. The lure of growth is an enticement to sell the corporate soul to satisfy the appetite of its stockholders and executive class. Mergers gobble up competition until only a few producers survive; monopolies tempt government involvement. The end result can be similar to “governmentization.” Mega-corporations within free markets have a dampening effect on the economy. Furthermore, as business owners and investors ride the economic wave they often are swept away — the boardroom becomes a kind of boat — from their “soul” namely the workers and consumers upon whom they depend, drifting until there is little relationship between the two.

Church, INC.

So, am I a socialist? Am I an opponent of the free market system? No. Neither am I an economic critic. My point here is to draw from a few observations what is relevant to the community of the Jesus Way. As followers of Jesus we may not have a lot we can do about global economics, but there is plenty we can do about godliness and relationship at an interpersonal level.

Here is the lesson followers of the Jesus Way can learn from the free market: the further management gets from local economies and local people, the more distant it becomes from the values that are near the heart of God: virtues of compassion, equity, generosity, kindness and self-control. Such virtues define what we sometimes call “godliness.” They are qualities that are fundamentally human and not institutional. When corporations become top-heavy they subdue the soul of the people who can no longer influence the organization that governs the market on which they rely. Organization, hierarchy and institutionalism overwhelm the interpersonal relationships needed to create the environment in which godly qualities flourish.

In other words, the free market may well feed political democracy, but in the end it creates institutions estranged from the world of the interpersonal — the institution loses its soul. And as it does it destroys economic democracy. Without both political democracy and economic democracy, neither can endure.

Church Beware

Similar consequences can impact the church. As a body it is up to the church not to become distant from its soul, namely compassion, equity, generosity, nurture, kindness and self-control. These only flourish at the level of the interpersonal. The journey of the soul of the church is from relationship (with Christ), through relationship (with one another), and to relationship (with the Father). If Christ’s followers become “free market churches” turning to economic principles and institutional values as a model for church life, they will find themselves being swept along, even if slowly, by a continental drift away from relationship and toward organization.

Practically, this means that the faith community should not be characterized by a large, corporate organization that mandates the “soul-duties” of nurture care and compassion by official policy. Rather, faith communities ought to be small, simple and devoted units, ”its members fully known to one another” functionally autonomous, yet voluntarily interdependent. Without such interpersonal emphasis, the church, too, can tend toward relational entropy as “capitalist ecclesiology” encourages competition for ever-larger chunks of the market. Christ-followers should not be consumers in the marketplace of church. They ought to be small, interdependent communities of faith (think households) whose primary focus is not program, service or even “getting fed” but commitment to expressing godliness, the soul of the church.

Random Thought: Cross Purposes

He who looks at the pain and suffering in the world and concludes that there is no God is like a hammer that complains that a pile of lumber and a box of nails is not a house. It forgets that there is an architect, and a carpenter, and that it, after all, is a hammer.


There is enough beauty in the world to assure us there is a heaven and enough ugliness to remind us that it is not here.


The tragedy of the church is that we are often about cross purposes instead of being about the purposes of the cross.

Church & Social Conflict

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore”
And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over

Like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Harlem: A Dream Deferred by Langston Hughes

social conflict
The message of the Occupy Wall Street event is clear

How long will the poor remain docile? How long will they patiently endure as more and more wealth becomes concentrated in fewer and fewer hands? The poor are powerless as long as they are few, but when they are many that balance can change quickly. Social conflict can escalate. Historically, underprivileged classes have shifted the balance of power, overthrown governments and formed nations when the rich failed to recognize a moral imperative toward the poor. Those with the most to gain and the least to lose have been the spark that has ignited many a revolution.

Here’s an excerpt from :

Not since 1929 have so few people controlled so much of the wealth in our country. In his new book, Perfectly Legal, New York Times reporter David Cay Johnston reports that between 1970 and 2000 average income for the top 13,400 households in America increased from $3.6 million to nearly $24 million. That’s a staggering 538% increase. At the same time, the average income for 90% of US households actually fell from $27,060 to $27,035. These 13,400 households account for just .01% of the population, according to Johnston.

The Gulf Widens

A widening gulf between the haves and the have-nots is a dangerous condition. Left without remedy it is inevitable that those without resources will feel justified in taking what they need from those have more. Even now, a kind of class conflict is beginning to emerge. At its baser level, it is substance abuse that drives some of the poor, either toward an escape from hopelessness or toward the promise of wealth from drug trafficking. Of course all those who live in poverty are not substance abusers. This is no organized warfare of the weak and poor against the rich and powerful, but it is a redistribution of wealth from one class to another, fueled by the drug trade and a rising indignation over persistent inequality. Either way, those who have a surplus or at least enough, become the target for those who feel deprived of what they need.

In fact, there is a growing crowd of clear-thinking poor, victimized by an unsympathetic economy, who may well be growing impatient for opportunity. This was the message of the Occupy Wallstreet Movement. “We are the 99 percent!” became the slogan of an economic class increasingly dissatisfied with income inequality.  What will be the outcome of their dream deferred; of the wasted potential of their children, and their shame? Will there be a tipping point when the “99%” explode with contempt toward the rich and aggressively intolerant of the powerful?

Can it happen in America? History argues that it can. All the more likely because nothing inflames and aggravates social conflict like frustrated goals and un-kept promises — “a dream deferred.”

Social Conflict and the Church

And where will the church be when the impatience of the poor becomes rage? I suppose it depends on whose side the church appears to be on. Will Christ-followers be found in the camp of the Republican economic agenda or among the power brokers of the Democrats? Will the church be perceived to be among the “Republicrats?”

Will the church be found washing feet or toasting the elite? Will they be found in the home of the beggar or in the back pocket of the wealthy? At the moment when social conflict becomes revolution, will churches be burning along with courthouses and corporate offices?

Or will the followers of Christ be found among the poor? Will it be understood that followers of Jesus are advocates of those who have the least? It is an important question that will need to be answered if the poor are to be ignored much longer. Perhaps it is time for churches to consider the parable of the shrewd manager in Luke 16:

The manager said to himself, “What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig; I am ashamed to beg. I know what I shall do, so that when I am removed from the management people will welcome me into their homes” And he summoned each one of his master’s debtors…

When the manager recognized that he could no longer hold on to his status among the powerful, he became a friend to the poor. The motive of the church ought to be more noble than that considering that Jesus came to the poor first.


Community: Quotes

I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community. And as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it what I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle for me, it is sort of a splendid torch, which I’ve got hold of for a moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.
~George Bernard Shaw

“But Jesus didn’t stop with stories; he also gave us way to authenticate them…He told us…that you tell whether a story is true by the lives of the people who tell it. You judge a story by its teller…You will know them by their fruit, he said. A good tree bears good fruit, and a bad one bad fruit. If the people telling a story love each other and live together with depth and grace, then their story is true. If they don’t, then their story is silliness—or worse. A good story enables people to lay down their lives for each other and become one.”

~John Alexander, The Secular Squeeze, pg. 114.

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