But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.
-Rev. Martin Luther King, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”
When crowds gather, to check out this new source of entertainment or outrage, to see if he’s conducting himself like a teacher or a prophet or just possibly like a guerrillero looking for recruits- when the crowds gather, he sits them down in the sheep pasture, and he says: behave as if you never had to be afraid of the consequence. Behave as if nothing you gave away could ever make you poorer, because you can never run out of what you give. Behave as if this one day we’re in now were the whole of time, and you didn’t have to hold anything back, or to plot and scheme about tomorrow. Don’t try to grip your life with tight, anxious hands. Unclench those fingers. Let it go. If someone asks for your help, give them more than they’ve asked for. If someone hits out at you, let them. Don’t retaliate. Be the place the violence ends. Because you’ve got it wrong about virtue. It isn’t something built up from a thousand careful, carefully measured acts. It comes, when it comes, in a rush; it comes from behaving, so far as you can, like God Himself, who makes and makes and loves and loves and is never the less for it. God doesn’t want your careful virtue, He wants your reckless generosity. Try to keep what you have, and you’ll lose even that. Give it away, and you’ll get back more than you bargain for; more than bargaining could ever get you. By the way, you were wanting a king? Look at that flower over there by the wall. More beautiful than any royal robe, don’t you think? Better than silks; and it comes bursting out of the ground all by itself, free and gratis. It won’t last? Nothing lasts; nothing but God.
Sometimes a swift kick is needed to remind me of how shocking and beautiful Jesus’ teachings are. Spufford does so repeatedly in this odd and wonderful non-apologetic about Christianity’s emotional resonance.
The big, sprawling multi-season dramatic series that have received the greatest commendation in recent years — from The Sopranos to The Wire to Deadwood to Mad Men to Breaking Bad — have never seemed to me to be worth the enormous investment of time they require. The one that I followed the most closely, The Wire, is really fantastic — but I have to say, if a genie emerged from the lamp and told me that I could have all the hours spent watching The Wire back, and my memories of the show completely erased, as long as I used that time to read books, I would certainly take that deal.
That’s most emphatically not because I think written narrative intrinsically superior to filmed narrative. I don’t. It’s just that reading is the thing I do. Watching TV and movies, not so much. I’m far more likely to read about a TV show than to watch one; Breaking Bad is just the most recent illustration of than tendency. So sue me.
Exactly. The other night some friends were enthusiastically explaining why The Wire is the best television show ever. They kindly offered to let us borrow their copies of each season any time. This has happened lots of times with different people- usually it’s The Wire though these days the show not-to-be-missed is definitely Breaking Bad. And I’m sure they are very interesting, thought provoking, creative shows and I harbor no – zero! – condescension for their enthusiasts. But, like Jacobs, I love to read and have a really hard time imagining committing so much time to a television show. Maggie still thinks it’s funny and, probably, a bit strange that I petered out on Lost after sticking with it for a few seasons. I genuinely liked that show but eventually just couldn’t keep giving it my few and valuable recreational hours.
Of course, the downside of not watching the current “it” show is how many conversations I sit awkwardly through after admitting my ignorance.
Occupying a park is very different from, say, marching down a street. A march has a destination and a goal, passing through space and time and then disbanding, leaving space before and after for others to flow into. And because marches flow through space and time, they can grow, including more and more people in their train; they can ebb and adjust to the shape and capacity of the spaces they pass through, and (unless marred by opportunistic or deliberate violence) they can coexist with other uses of space in ways that an “occupation” cannot. To “occupy” a space is to completely master and dominate its use, and to do so in a way that cannot easily scale or grow beyond that space’s fixed capacity… Such a context is zero-sum – two people, or two groups, cannot “occupy” the same space in the way that they can join together in one march. To march is to embody hope – hope that others will join, that a momentary demonstration can lead to enduring change, that there is a symbolic goal we are moving toward. To occupy is to take a much grimmer view, planting oneself in determined and static resistance to implacable forces on the other side, and to hope that one’s cause will triumph in a kind of metastasis, driving out the others.
-Andy Crouch, Playing God (2013). I’m just a few chapters in, but so far this book is proving insightful, readable, and very helpful.
We do not live by building ever more secure fences of possessions around ourselves, but by giving to others space to live. This is to give life to others. The human animal, human society, flourishes, not to the extent that it possesses riches, but to the extent that we give life to each other, to the extent that we imitate the creativity of God. Of course, as creatures we can only imitate it from a distance, We cannot act, as God does, for no benefit to ourselves. But we can live (either more or less) by the free gift we make to others. It is a question of which direction we are aiming for.
All this is just the platitude that the human animal lives by friendship and that human society perishes without it. But to aim at riches is to go away sorrowful because they are, in the end, corrosive of friendship. To aim at poverty, on the other hand, is to build friendship. And to aim at poverty, to grow up by living in friendship, is to imitate the life-giving poverty of God, to be godlike. The gospel does not tell us to have no possessions. It tells us to aim at poverty, to move towards it, and certainly not to aim at riches. We cannot serve both God and riches. There is something bizarre about the present popularity of the word ‘market’ as a metaphor for human society. Markets are surely a good and necessary part of living together, as are law courts and lavatories. But not of these are a useful model for what human society essentially is. Personal friendship is such a model. I am not saying that society should consist of nothing but personal friendships, for this is a greater friendship that belongs to our community in Christ. But personal friendship is an illuminating image or metaphor for a human living which would be an imitation or reflection of God’s creative poverty. The cares and insecurity of Mark’s rich man sent him away in sorrow. By contrast, to aim at poverty is to be given the joy by which we live in the Spirit – not only in this life but in eternity.
-Herbert McCabe in a sermon titled “Poverty and God,” collected in God, Christ and Us (2003). It might seem that McCabe is glorifying poverty but he dispels this earlier in the sermon. I’m interested in how he connects the aim toward poverty (in the pattern of Christ) with the priority of personal friendships for Christian people. I hope to preach a short series about friendship – a topic we Protestant people seem to neglect – and McCabe has been helpful a couple of times as I begin preparing.