Tag Archives: North Korea

Alternativity in the era of Trump, Kid Rock and Charlottesville

Deactivating creates some alternativityMy Twitter account is dead. It was compromised somehow and I started following a growing collection of interesting, and unknown people. I did the first steps of repair – changed my name and password. When that did not work, I discovered other repairs to try. Instead of trying them, I hit the “deactivate” button. You probably have done similar things by now that provide a strange sense of liberation from the web.  I will miss my connections with the Congo and the Middle East; we’ll see if they lure me back. But I won’t miss fame-seekers, marketers and hackers.

I have twinned my Twitter experience with last week’s exploration of alternatives to COBRA health insurance. Gwen retired from her job, so our health insurance was deactivated. We could no longer ignore what had been hidden in the gobbledygook of her pay stub. I plunged into the indignities of the AHCA website for the first time. I was hit, again, with the realization that the one percent has, indeed, managed to extract an extraordinary entry fee for the privilege of using their medical system.


Image result for kid rock for senate
Wants to be alternative

My twin experiences end up being a parable for this new era in which we live: the hopefully brief era of Trump/McConnell, Bannon/Kid Rock, the era of survival of the fittest effectively applied to the state-run economy, the era of scarcity among the wealthy and lack of community among the inextricably connected. I fled to prayer this morning when I woke up to it all. We are up against a lot.

False scarcity

Big communicators, like the Koch Brothers, convince people that there is not enough to go around, so you have to fight hard for what you get and protect it. Their evil message trickles into everything, as if we were not sinful enough to think it anyway. People are scared of losing their jobs, their homes, their future retirement money, so they give whatever it takes to stay afloat.

Fear mongering

Now it is threats against North Korea and Venezuela that the mouth-in-chief is piling up in the airwaves — and his approval rating actually goes up! Perhaps his followers in Charlottesville will succeed in creating the same kind of atmosphere that propelled Nazis into power! People are scared of violence, of losing security, so they cut off from people and demand protection.

Colossal foolishness

It remains hard for me to believe, for some reason, that the one percent is really wicked enough to follow the gospel of maximum profit for minimum expenditure as if it were salvation. As Weber famously explained it, the “spirit of capitalism” has profit as its end, profit as a duty, and cultivates industry, frugality, punctuality and honesty as the means to that end. Most Americans, especially Protestants, are completely conformed to this foolishness.

Christopher Carter’s complaints about it all made the rounds of my Facebook friends:

A car plows into a crowd of peaceful counter-protesters to the white nationalists marching in Charlottesville. This is evil. And in the midst of it all, our administration (president and speaker of the house) release statements that say nothing of substance in order to declare that they said “something” to those who chant their names at these rallies.

I am not surprised by the racism of white people as I encounter it all too often. I am, however, hurt, and continue to be fueled by a righteous anger by the fact that 58% of Protestants and 52% of Catholics voted for a President whose life and politics are antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus.

We are in the throws of a theological crisis. Similar to times past when white Christians theologically accommodated slavery, then Jim and Jane Crow and lynching, and then segregation. Too many Christians mistake the individualist freedom of the State with the freedom we find in Christ. For these Christians, the State and the freedom (i.e. entitlement) they find in the racialized oppressive practices of our country, has become their idol. We must call this idol worship what it actually is, heresy. Unless your faith is rooted in the state, bathed in whiteness, and dried on the backs of the poor and people of color, it is incompatible to be a person of faith and support a president who does not speak out against this violence and who’s name is chanted by white nationalists.

What do we do?

We are trying to do it every day, no matter who hacks us or what it costs.

The Bible verse that sums up the proper response for me today should be much more widely applied than it is:

God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. – 1 Corinthians 12:24-7

The answer comes from being the Body of Christ, not just a reaction or a resistance, but an alternative reality.

The body of Christ is alternativity


Scarcity is met with mutuality and generosity in the body of Christ. We will have to do better than to think about it. But we are trying.


Fear-mongering is met with trust in what God puts together, not in what the invisible hand creates. We’ll need to integrate our faith into the actions of our daily life more. But we are trying.


Foolishness is met with truth telling, just like Paul boldly states the new reality Jesus is making. We’ll have to listen to the Spirit directly and in one another and test it out, not just flee, resist and resent. But we are trying.


Alternativity is the word we use to sum it all up. We are trying to live in it. Deactivating Twitter is my act of defiance as much as self-preservation. Tackling the health care debacle is about perseverance as much as survival. Writing this little post, complaining about our terrible experiences, griping about Charlottesville, denouncing Trump, quoting Paul, insisting that there are better ways and that we are living them right now is how I keep myself on track. And I hope it has helped you, too. We have an alternative reality to build with Jesus, and it can’t wait for things to get better.

Seven ways we are avoiding the temptation to institutionalize


I innocently wandered into institution land” the other day. Someone lumped our church into the category. It felt strange when they politely said, “I don’t believe in institutional religion.” Meanwhile, here I feel like that bird above — and dead institutions are the cage! I’m one of the people who could have rejected Jesus because of bad institutions! It was a memorable moment  — memorable enough to write about.

The broad definition of “institution” is: a society established/organized/founded for a purpose, often charitable, educational or religious. That sounds fine, right? Then you remember that institutions become big, controlling establishments run by the funders or the leaders for themselves quite often. But Jesus was about as “anti-establishment” as you can get, wouldn’t you say?—isn’t that why the funders and leaders got him killed? When they were about to do it, he said:

“Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” — Jesus in John 12:31-2

I’m a Jesus-follower, so I have nothing BUT fear when it comes to being a mere institution. They are, by definition, not all bad. But they are often led by the “princes of this world” who are not drawn to Jesus and are prone to merely preserving themselves. When it comes to the institutionalized church, I am as tired of it as anyone else [previous post]. I even protest its origins [previous post]. I am not interested in turning my relationship with Jesus into a program housed in a corporation that is mainly designed to preserve itself and profit the insiders who own it. So how do I keep people from labeling me “institutional” just because our Circle of Hope “society” resembles other religious people in various ways?

Here are some ways we’ve been trying to have a common purpose without becoming the establishment.

  1. We try to provide real help for people in real need.

Our greatness is in serving others. That’s why we are organized in cells, so everyone gets a chance to be served and to serve. That’s why we support compassion and mission teams so people get a good chance to express their passion, not just conform to expectations.

And that’s why 20% of what we share in our Common Fund is designated for people who are in need or are not us. For an example, read this post about caring for North Koreans. Our thrift stores kick in about $100K a year more for the same purpose.

What’s more, one of our main goals in the next five years is to perfect our mutuality system, so we can help people with debt and other challenges. We also want to help start businesses so we can provide jobs and have alternative sources for funding what we want to do. What’s even more, that’s why we are not building temples but trying to find out how to do church planting in an expensive market without busting the bank.

  1. We dial down the hype.

We are committed to transparent truth telling, even if it makes the leaders look less than perfect (since we are less than perfect, that is not hard). The leaders don’t particularly trust anonymous, entitled institutions either, so we don’t want to excite everyone’s inauthenticity meter every five minutes.

  1. We are a team. We lose if people don’t play.

People mock the fact that many of us grew up on soccer teams that gave everyone a trophy at the end of the season. Maybe that idea has problems, but we still think everyone is important, whether they are on the travelling team or not. You don’t even have to like soccer analogies or feel comfortable not calling it football/futbol. Older people and younger people lead our church, men and women, people of all backgrounds. Everyone counts. We are a living body, not a program. And if people don’t live it, we are set up to die quickly.

  1. We are honest about debt.

We share money. We make big plans with our money. And we also know that debt keeps people from being a part of sharing or dreaming.

Let me go off on this for a minute, since this is a bigger relationship killer than people think. Debt is the big fact of life for most normal people. Factoids: 1) For households with credit-card debt, the average is $15,799. We know that so-called “millennials” feel the vise grip of debt more painfully than most. 2) We know that the average debt for graduating college seniors is more than $23,000, and recent graduates stumble in paying this back—since the jobs they’re finding are often part-time, lower-paying, service-sector.

When you add in a car loan, and an occasional bad spending decision, and people wonder if they can ever be legitimate members of the tribe. They have little to share. When the church is trying to get some money together for our common purpose the process can feel like another debt collection.

We’re trying to be honest about the struggle.  We need to be part of our common financial life for our spiritual health, for our connection to the body of Christ, and for our own dignity. So we talk about it; we share the problem; we help each other.

  1. We try to stay relational in the virtual age.

Tech is helpful, but God help us if it replaces face-to-face relating!. Even our websites (like this one), blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc., are for beginning and extending relationships. Even if you see us on YouTube it is still very easy to see everyone in person. We’re in cells and we keep the Sunday meetings small enough to be touchable. We’re an anthill more than an agency. We are a gathering more than a show.

  1. We set goals we can meet.

Obviously, we do not meet ALL our goals. But we keep moving right along every year according to what we all think we should be doing. Everyone gets a say, if they want it. Our last few “maps” have been especially visionary, I think. We are in the middle of a lot of productive disruption and growth. It is challenging and exciting. But even when we have big dreams, we are also realistic. We want 100% participation from our covenant members and regular meeting attenders. So we don’t set the bar so high that many people won’t even consider getting over it. Our five-year plans did not come from some faceless bureaucracy; they came from our own dialogue with God and each other.

  1. The leaders are unafraid to be who they are.

Well, maybe we are a little afraid. After all, it is a labeling era—you think you are trying to follow Jesus and people tell you you’re just an institution as untrustworthy as all the others!

Nevertheless, our pastors, in particular, are “out there.” They are honest, they are open to hard questions—even if they can’t answer them! They try to go through depression and anxiety with the same mutuality and hope they suggest to others. They pray, and listen, and try to stay free from the temptations to get established in something that no longer needs Jesus to operate.

So if you think all churches are institutions in that bad, coercive, uncaring, unchanging establishment kind of way, is there any way you can give us an exemption? Jesus doesn’t fit the label, do we have to wear it? It would be interesting to hear your honest opinion when you came to visit us, or, better yet, got to know us. We’re doing something new over here that doesn’t match your stereotype. If we ever stop moving with what the Spirit is doing next, we’d like you to tell us.

Stop the Repression

Sometimes it looks like the only “safe place” we can understand is the self-protected heart-space we keep free of outside influence.

Sometimes we extend the idea of “having good boundaries” so far we can no longer get out of ourselves and express the love of Jesus.

Meanwhile, God has violated the boundaries of space and time to come to us in Jesus. Today in the liturgical calendar, he is in the heart of Jerusalem teaching us how to live. Nevertheless, self-protection, self-discovery and self-protection seem reasonable to us. But those reasons rarely lead to strength, tenderness or faithfulness, just more self-ness. Stop the repression!

Your poor child

barbed-wireA woman who was abused as a child finally felt like she needed to cut off her mother. She was an evil woman who would rather destroy her daughter than admit her husband had abused her.* For years the daughter “set appropriate boundaries” and “took care of herself.” These are such basic recommendations from psychotherapists that they have become cliches.

She applied their teaching and definitely experienced more peace and less anxiety as a result of keeping her mother at a distance. But she did not become more gentle or experience much joy. She was supposedly loving herself, but the way she did it cost her the thrill of giving herself to another. To maintain her new defense system she had to continuously reaffirm the necessity of protecting herself. She was like North Korea, expending costly efforts to maintain big weapons while the heart of her country starved. Hardening her heart to her mother’s horrible life did transform her from a passive, frightened pawn. But the hardness also moved her toward being an angry, tough woman who, ironically, was willing to destroy her love rather than let down her defenses – a lot like her mother.

Our abusers have no qualms about remaking us in their image. Evil has no reticence about expressing itself through us. Jesus wants to stop their repression. Love requires we lose the ways we have been saving ourselves in the face of what threatens us and find our true selves in relationship with our Savior. Then we might even gain the strength to undo the evil done to us.

Love feels so risky to the abused

Our network talked a lot about this risky love last week, here and there. We are trying to figure out how to love and it hurts sometimes. We are especially afraid of abusers and evil people who don’t mind telling us we are fools to follow Jesus, who ignore us, or who aggressively impose their Christ-less ways as if they were moral, even while they tell us to not be so aggressive. We are tempted to be passive in order to not be a nuisance or to cut them off contemptuously, or become like them in other ways.

When I see Jesus in the center of Jerusalem today, teaching in the Temple courts in full view of people who are plotting to kill him, people who can’t see the peace he would bring to them, I take heart and keep learning the lessons of love. His objective is obviously to bless people, not just make sure he is not abused. He refuses to live in fear. He is not so dominated he maintains some semblance of peace instead of being his true self. To love is to be more committed to the other person than we are to the relationship, to be more concerned about their soul than with whatever comfort not rocking the relational boat might bring to us.

We need to honor the dignity and admit the depravity of the ones we love in order to truly love them. We cannot love if we distance ourselves or overlook the damage of another’s sin; neither can we love if we fail to move into another’s world to offer a taste of life. Like Oscar Romero, we might have to sacrifice personal comfort for the sake of helping another experience their own longings and need for grace. The risk to love like Jesus is worth it. We need to stop the repression dominating us and stop the repression of others to experience the freedom and fullness of self-giving love.

Yesterday was Oscar Romero’s martyr’s day. Let me leave you with a quote from him, since he inspires me to risk love like the Lord’s, even though I have been abused, even though I am afraid, even though others might be evil and I might prefer evil in some ways, too.

 romero    I would like to make a special appeal to the men of the army, and specifically to the ranks of the National Guard, the police and the military. Brothers, you come from our own people. You are killing your own brother peasants when any human order to kill must be subordinate to the law of God which says, “Thou shalt not kill.” No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God. No one has to obey an immoral law. It is high time you recovered your consciences and obeyed your consciences rather than a sinful order. The church, the defender of the rights of God, of the law of God, of human dignity, of the person, cannot remain silent before such an abomination. We want the government to face the fact that reforms are valueless if they are to be carried out at the cost of so much blood. In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cries rise to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: stop the repression.
      The church preaches your liberation just as we have studied it in the holy Bible today. It is a liberation that has, above all else, respect for the dignity of the person, hope for humanity’s common good, and the transcendence that looks before all to God and only from God derives its hope and its strength (Last Homily).

* freely adapted from The Wounded Heart