Life, Faith and Urban Farming

The life and happenings of an unconventional pastor and urban farmer living in the city with a family of five.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The Trouble With Normal Is It Always Gets Worse



Name the title quote of this entry from one of my favorite artists! This quote, taken from a song about economic social injustice, has spoken to my heart for years. Currently I'm reading a book called "Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire." The second half of the title is very important. This book is a must read for anyone serious about scripture and serious about believing the church, through Jesus, should be in the business of transforming culture. And there I go, doing one of the things the authors, Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat, say is a symptom of our culture. Did you see, I said the church "should be in the BUSINESS of...". Capitalism, greed, and the desire to consume has defined the dominant global culture. Much of our metaphorical and symbolic language in the church and outside the church is shaped around consumerism, business and marketing. Walsh and Keesmaat see this as a sign of our obsession. In reality the church is not in the business of anything. I've also caught myself saying things like "the bottom line is..." or "I don't buy your political views on...". Keesmaat and Walshs' point here is that this kind of economically driven language ends up distorting our lives. I would say this language is a symbol of our imbeddedness in an empire of hyper-consumerism. My title quote comes in here. We are so imbedded in this culture, as individuals and as the church, that we don't even realize it. We have accepted the empire as normal and even good. Jim Walace of Sojourners says that God is never in favor of an empire, at least not in scripture. And Walsh and Keesmaat say:
"God hears the cry of those who are ground down by the empire and acts not only to free this oppressed people from the
imperial oppression but also to defeat the empire: 'horse and rider thrown he has thrown into teh sea' (Ex 15:1)! Who is
Yahweh? The One who overthrows empire, that's who!"
There's little doubt, according to the scriptures, that God acts on behalf of those who are used and abused by the empire. I beleive though that God's most common way of acting in a society is through His church. Problem seems to be that the church has accepted the empire as "normal," and as the song goes, "the trouble with normal is it always gets worse!" Global capitalism and our obsession with consuming (ignore my post from last week on the ipod) has infiltrated the church and made us a part of the empire instead of a prophetic voice for change. Infact, it seems many churches are not communities transforming culture, but churches are things to consume. A friend of mine was speaking today about families leaving his church to find a bigger and better church to give their time and money to. A church where they could, in my words, consumer more and be fed more. Church for many people is about being fed, aren't we full yet?

Here are some questions I've been asking myself, please comment:
1. Who is being used and abused under the empire of capitalism? The environment deffinately, if that "counts in your book". Uh Oh, is that capitalistic language?
2. Has the church really been blindfolded and enculturated into this empire of money and consumerism?
3. What can the church do to make it's way out of the empire?
4. What can the church do to subverse the empire?
5. How are we subverting the empire now if at all?

We at the Open Door have heard this stuff before. We're attempted to subvert the church first, to create a community outside of the empire. It's not easy at all. Sometimes it feels like paddling a giant ship up stream with three foot oars! But I beleive there are enough of us around the globe to begin subverting this empire!

7 comments:

marlaena said...

john,

your comments remind me of a section in donald miller's book blue like jazz. he writes about attending a lecture where the professor talks to them about areas of our life where metaphors cause us trouble. one such areas is relationships. we "value" people, we "invest" in people, relationships can be "bankrupt", people are "priceless." we've adopted an economic metaphor for relationships and think of love as a commodity and use it like money. how do we spend our love? in exchange for something in return? because someone is worth something to us? it was a thought provoking section.

i appreciate your comments about consumerism and "being fed" in the church. it is very much a part of church culture. i'll think about your questions.

John said...

great examples marlaena. I recently also heard of a church that called the really committed people "investors." The idea was that the investors would give of their time and money to support the church. Sorry, I'm not liking it!

Keith D said...

John, I understand a lot of what you are saying. I agree the church has become too consumerist. I think a lot people discussing this problem have to be careful with terminology though. You use capitalism like it is an evil, dirty word. I happen to believe (as do many other Christians) in capitalism as an economic system. I think you almost have to seperate cosumerism as an abuse of capitalism, although I think it is a very fine line seperating the two. I feel if this disctinction is not made, the discussion of consumerism in the church will fall on a lot deaf ears(whether that is right or wrong).

John said...

I think, and I definately need more knowledge on all this, that capitalism has served Westerners very nicely, but often not those in Africa, South America, etc. But, I don't mean to vilify capitalism, maybe it's the best way. Maybe it is our abuse of capitalism that has caused such harm to the poor of the world.

marlaena said...

i agree that terminology can be tricky. and we have to be so careful to not get caught up in the terminology that we change our words but not our hearts.

what motivates, why do we what we do. why do we love - to get a return on our investment? why do we give - to get something back?

keith d said...

I know we have strayed from your original point but I must agree with your statement "our abuse of capitalism that has caused such harm to the poor of the world".
While I feel there are other important reasons (which have nothing to do with the west) for problems in the third world, this is a big problem and a viewpoint like that statement is a great place for all political views to find common ground and start working on those problems.

keith d said...

BTW John, thanks a lot. I haven't been able to get "The Trouble With Normal..." out of my head since I read your post.