In his essay, Brown reflects on the consumer nature of the Christmas season, realizing that everything he loves about Christmas has more to do with the social traditions than religious ones. As a Christ follower, he knows that Christmas should be about Jesus, the implications of the incarnation, and the impact of his kingdom; but he still struggles (as do many others) not knowing how to celebrate this holiday differently than he always has. He loves the shopping, the lights, sounds and smells, the hustle and bustle of the season. But where, Brown asks, does Jesus fit into all of this? Brown goes on to discuss how the love of the Triune God transforms Christmas by breaking down the societal structures that equate love and fulfillment with the purchase and consumption of products. He does this by pointing out the problems that come with a consumer based society, by showing that Jesus has no room in the Inn of our consumer structures and explaining how God’s love transforms the “Inn” to allow us to give ourselves relationally to Jesus and to others.
Archive for February, 2008
In Dr. Martin Luther King Junior’s last speech, “Unfulfilled Dreams,” which he delivered the night before his assassination, King talked about how he wanted to be remembered after his death. He talked about wanting to be remembered as a drum major for justice—the leader of the marching band for justice. In this sense, King followed in the footsteps of Jesus, the ultimate drum major for justice. The Lord Jesus led people to the beat of a different drum—to the drumbeat of love, truth, and justice as he journeyed to the cross. He proclaimed the whole gospel of the kingdom in word and deed to make individuals and their communities whole.
Today, there is an urgent need to proclaim the life-changing and society-changing Gospel in word and deed. Dr. John M. Perkins and Dr. Paul Louis Metzger consider themselves drum majors for love, truth, and justice: love because our world is full of hate, and people desperately need to know God’s love through his Son, Jesus Christ, whom God sent to save the world; truth because individual and community life is often built on the shaky foundations of hearsay, fads, and whatever feels good, and people desperately need to build their lives on the authoritative and unshakable teaching of God’s word; and justice because equity is often a commodity that can be bought and sold, and the marginalized desperately need to see that there is justice for all.
As drum majors, Drs. Perkins and Metzger want to inspire people across the nation to pursue a biblical vision of love, truth, and justice where the all-consuming love of Jesus revealed in the Bible consumes those things that divide us, like race and class barriers. They will be speaking in different locations nationally, working with churches and community groups to raise up well-trained and educated Christian leaders who are passionately engaged in proclaiming the whole gospel of the kingdom in word and deed through the church, to the whole person, in the whole community.
They view their roles in this Drum Majors partnership as instruments of inspiration and consultation, helping to mobilize communities to take ownership and address the issues they are facing, impacting their cities and towns. Thus, they are not looking for those who stand by and clap as the band passes, but for those who will join them on their march, playing their parts in the love, truth, and justice band.
Homola’s essay asserts that by buying into consumerism, church leadership has fallen prey to the commodification of humanity and a utilitarian use of people in the name of bigger and better programs. In the process it has left behind the life-breathing relational nature of its God and its people. He contends that this problem is significant because people are dying void of dignity and purpose inside and outside our churches. In the process of making church attractive, leaders in the church have commodified human
identity, and are in need of a revisiting of what Trinitarian leadership really looks like. His paper briefly analyzes the problem of consumerism as it affects the church, focusing on the commodification of human value and the subsequent turn to utilitarian use of humanity. Homola presents his vision
of a two-part solution to this problem: the Triune relationality of God as it impacts the value of humanity—and its subsequent impact on leadership philosophy.
Sermon recording of Dr. John M. Perkins, founder of the John M. Perkins Foundation for Reconciliation and Development, and Dr. Paul Louis Metzger speaking about their Drum Majors partnership at Imago Dei Community in Portland on February 17, 2008.
Book reading and Q&A from Paul Louis Metzger’s book, Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church reading at Powell’s City of Books on February 13, 2008.
In his essay, Matthew Brooks advocates the importance of church discipline, explaining how our culture of consumerism has undermined the biblical model. He presents the case for reclaiming biblical church discipline by, “pursuing a Trinitarian model of compelling community based on our unity in Christ.” He states that the root of the problem is that our consumer-driven individualistic society undercuts church discipline by viewing it as archaic and oppressive, thus leading people to believe that the church is merely a “vendor of religious services and goods,” where churches compete to offer the most attractive array of programs to gain ‘customers’. In this sort of environment it is not difficult to see why church discipline is ineffective, when people can easily move on to another church willing to serve their needs. Brooks asserts that real Christian unity cannot be achieved apart from the Triune God who unites us both to Him and to each other. He concludes that, “with a renewed desire for biblical discipline, the church will be more capable of transforming the wider culture by shining forth as an example of holiness and love, thereby attracting many to be transformed by the holiness and love of Christ himself.”
Church Discipline in a Consumer Culture: A Call for Compelling Community
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Emma Lazarus’s “The New Colossus,” which Metzger refers to in his introduction (p. 2), paints a hopeful picture of a young, eager nation, ready to open her doors and give relief, freedom, and hope to the “homeless” and “wretched refuse.”
But something happened along the way, which affected these bright, optimistic ideals.
Greed happened. And along with it oppression, vicious cycles, barriers, and injustice.
Fallen human nature happened. Sin happened.
I realize that this is our country I’m discussing, not the church. But our church is in many ways a by-product of the nation to which she belongs. I can’t deny the parallels: both in the optimistic, passionate foundation and the broken reality which we experience daily, even though we still long deep down inside for those foundational ideals to be realized. That is where grace comes in, thank the good Lord, but that’s also where a careful, honest response and reform need to come in to play as well.
And now I see us, the church, trying to put the pieces back together—frantically, hurriedly, and ashamedly. When I talk with fellow Christians, I sense a weariness, a mutual acknowledgment that yes, something is deeply broken, but that we’re not quite sure what the remedy is, or what exactly is broken. That, to me, is discouraging, but also, in light of that, it is reassuring and irresistibly motivating. I am confident that this is where our sovereign creator has called us to be: discouraged so that we can respond. Upset so we can redeem. Disrupted so we can reconcile. But it will take time.
We all want quick fixes: quick meals, quick results, quick answers. But there’s no slow cooking oatmeal on this American stove. And if there is, the entire camp has left to find the closest McDonald’s. Can you blame us? With all of the opportunities, ideas, and limitless boundaries we have acquired with technology, mass communication, and globalization, we now have that much more at our fingertips. That much more to respond to, that much more to fit into our Blackberries. And with all the pollution in the air these days, who knows how long we’re going to be able to breathe to get it all done?
That’s the sense I get with the American culture at large as well as with the church. Don’t get me wrong. I believe that the church is full of authentic, genuine people who love God. I don’t think that’s the issue. And just that fact gives me hope. I believe the issue is how we—myself included—view this thing called the church. How we view this faith we profess. How we view the Biblical concepts of redemption, reconciliation, restoration (reminiscent of John M. Perkins’ vision of relocation, reconciliation, and redistribution for the church, which is discussed in the Afterword, p.176).
In Metzger’s introduction, he makes the connection between the disillusionment with the immigration clerks he and his wife experienced, and the church we find ourselves in today. “I have been sensitized by these and other similar encounters with structural coldness and insensitivity to the issues before us: race and class divisions in the consumer church. For we are also speaking here about those who are in and those who are out” (p. 2).
I often cringe when I watch church scenes in movies. A movie I watched last night portrayed the typical stereotype: an uptight, all-white, stuffy congregation, afraid to cough, laugh, or sing off-key. It paints the picture of a religion where people go to hide, to pretend to be un-human, or perhaps super-human. It breaks my heart, because that is not reality. That is not what the brokenhearted crave, that’s not what the poor need: a place to pretend, a place to deceive themselves and others. A place where you must look, dress, and think like those sitting on each side of you.
I believe this is partly what perpetuates the “culture wars” and “consumer culture” that Metzger refers to, which stifle our ability to communicate a truly loving, all-inclusive, compassionate Jesus (p.2). That is not what our culture sees in the church. I saw something entirely different when I was not a Christian. I saw ignorant, closed minded, oblivious, rich people who knew no true cares—and if they did have any, their problems were shallow and quickly resolved. Judgmental on my part? Yes. But that is what the church and her messages portrayed to me on a consistent basis.
The loud, dominant messages that carry the voice of evangelicals seem to be those of or similar to Rev. Jerry Falwell (p.3 ). Although he did apologize for ostracizing and blaming homosexuals, secularists, and materialists for 9/11, the damage is loud, clear, and pervasive. And once spoken, it’s out there for all to cling on to, reject, or accept as “the voice” of evangelicals. I look forward to a day when the strong, pervasive message among Christians is justice, compassion, and equality (similar to what the prophet Amos anticipates in Amos 5:24). Not polarization, homogeneous units or seeker-sensitive messages. The message of our Messiah is uncomfortable. It is scary. It’s risky. And I can’t help but get the feeling that so often when I am in a room of Christians singing worship songs that ask our creator to use us, and to help us “die” to ourselves for him, that we are failing to truly seek that. I can’t help but get the eerie feeling that we are begging, begging, begging with our mouths, but resisting, resisting, resisting with our hearts. That we are crying out with our words, but shutting down in our souls. I can’t help but get the feeling that the words we sing are empty. That we know the right things to say, but we don’t really want to be captured and led into the depths of reality and an abandoned pilgrimage, because maybe it won’t be pet friendly, or low-fat, or non-smoking. Our preferences will neglect us, our options will betray us, and suddenly, we will be going into unknown, uncharted territory. The control we are addicted to will no longer be in our hands. We would have to surrender all control to the Lord—the sovereign, almighty, compassionate Lord. But as scary as surrendering control and comfort to our creator can be, desiring the all-sovereign Lord is liberating and life-giving, and truly comforting. We can trust him with our lives.
If I don’t trust someone fully, I won’t follow that person into a forest. So the question that haunts me is, do I even trust my creator to lead me into his territory? Or do I simply want him to walk beside me and guide me in my own charted, plotted, temperature-controlled island and give me comforting words of affirmation? What does that do for his kingdom? If I truly believe that Yahweh acts out of love, then what do I have to fear? What do I truly believe, not just say I believe? I want to break free from my self-absorbed, homogeneous island and take off for distant lands right next door and down the street and across the track in search of peace and reconciliation. The flight and journey will be awkward, uncomfortable, and humiliating. But I want there to be unity in God’s creation, not millions of lonely, segregated islands. Just as America is supposed to be that land where those from distant lands and islands come in search of hope, longing to be free, so too is the church to be a haven of rest for all God’s children so often “tempest-tost,” longing to find home, longing to be free. But unlike the statue of liberty of which Lazarus’s poem speaks, the church is a people, not a stationary statue, waiting for the masses to come. The church must go to them.
Are we willing to go? Are we willing to move outside our comfort zones? The thing that breaks my heart is that Christ’s soul was “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Mark 14:34 NIV) and yet still he earnestly prayed that not his will, but his father’s will be done—knowing full well that meant intense humiliation, suffering, and death. And not only did he accept the cup, but he drank it. He didn’t politely decline the offer.
Metzger argues that “all forms of disunity in the church can be traced, in the end, to an absence of practical love, an absence that hinders our outreach to the world” (p. 4). The thing that strikes me is that Metzger hopes that the all-consuming Jesus and his John 17 prayer will not only change the reader’s life, but more importantly, that it will change the church, so that “the world may come to know that the Father has sent the Son—not just for some, but for all” (p. 4). I believe this is an appropriate admonishment. I have been convicted that, like Hugh Grant’s character in the movie “About a Boy,” we live and view our existence as isolated islands, occasionally coming into contact with one another, but really, our existence is autonomous from everyone around us: millions of islands with our own appliances, gadgets, dreams, and hopes. This entirely undermines our social responsibility and our influence on structures and systems which make this country and world function as a whole. If the change stops with each of us, what good is that? We can sleep more soundly? Maybe, but it must go further than that for change. It must go further than our family or our social network. Jehovah is bigger than individuals in isolation. Jehovah is bigger than a neighborhood, a school, a city, a country, a nation. And he’s bigger than the powerful structures and oppressive systems which have deceived us, controlled us, and exploited his children.
My heart yearns for a day when I can stand in church as equals with others from different ethnic, economic, and equally diverse backgrounds, with our hands wide open and our hearts truly daring to enter into the “good, but not safe” narrative (referencing the beaver in C.S. Lewis’ Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe). Our hearts deceive us, pretending they don’t really hear his gentle pleading for us to go so much further than this. I pray we dare to enter into our creator’s story with fear and trembling, faith and reverence, awe and joy.
A friend of mine used to always say, “Without him we can’t. Without us he won’t.” It’s his story, and we are those whom he chose to be the messy characters. Let us be those characters, and dare to break past the barriers, systems, and structures that keep his children segregated, detached, and oppressed.