Common Good

What we see in Acts and the writings of Paul is that our material possessions are a barometer of our hearts:

“What we do or do not do with our material possessions is an indicator of the Spirit’s presence of absence”.

There is not a confiscation of private property. There is also not a command on how much everyone should give to the poor (there’s no commands to give 10% in the New Testament). But there is an understanding that those who have more will give more, and that  “with a mindset of unity we will view our economic resources as available to meet others’ needs”.

Private possessions are not a problem. The problem is possessiveness.

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Jesus, friend of sinners

Jesus,I’ve been reading Sarah Bessey’s book Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith, and something I appreciate about all of Sarah’s writing is you can see how much she loves Jesus. Not the idea of Jesus, but Jesus himself.

There’s a difference.

Jesus, the guy who lived 2000 years ago in Palestine, who was a devout Jew but still showed grace to Gentiles, who taught crowds and healed broken bodies, and said really confusing things.

She talks about sitting on a gym floor singing praise and worship songs as a child, and just knowing that Jesus was there with them by his Spirit. (It sounds weird if you’re not a Christian or churchy person, but yes, we do actually believe that the historical Jesus who died 2000 years ago really was God’s Son and is alive, and is present by his Holy Spirit).

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Subverting the empire with prayer and other whispers of hope

http://www.dirtyandthirty.com/hot-mama/hope-floats/

These past few months, I’ve been spending less time in Sweetwaters/Mpumuza and more time in the comfy suburb of Hilton… and it’s been making me quite bitter. For some reason, it’s easier for me to hang on to hope in Sweetwaters. There’s poverty, there’s suffering, there are things that make me want to cry, but you can see the Kingdom pushing through. The fieldworkers are there every day loving those kids, there are stories of changes, and even when it’s two steps forward one step back, there’s this feeling that you’re going somewhere. A feeling that God is here and things will change.

But I’ve been hanging out more in the world of Hilton (due to scaling back my hours at iThemba to work on my masters), which is just as sick and just as in need of redemption, but here it’s been hard to hang on to hope. It wasn’t bad at first. I was all fired up, ready to be a part of building bridges, ready to intercede, ready to see God change… well… everything.

And then it was the lead up to the elections, and whitefear was choking people’s conversations, and everyone was still thinking about how to protect their own interests, moaning about the government and longing for the good-old-days, and tightening the bubble closer around themselves.

And the stuff I was reading for my masters showed story after story of how verbally white South Africa has said yes to democracy and unity and reconciliation, but actually is still trapped by fear and prejudice and is even passing that along to their children. I went on holiday to the coast and the very kind Christian people who were letting us stay in their self-catering accommodation made racist comments. Then I read a report that proved that over 1/3rd of the time, black South Africans will be refused holiday accommodation on the KZN  coast, simply because they are black. And then all my readings were full of people throwing around big words like ‘transformation’ and ‘hegemony’ but after a while, they started to sound like they were just that—words—being used to publish papers, not to actually change anything.

And even the Christian community was stifling me with how dedicated it was to same-ness. How dedicated it was to being stuck in a rut, and being okay with that. How blind it is to how someone from another income bracket, another culture, another race, another family type, another sexual orientation might feel in their group. And I realized how entrenched all these things are, how stubborn, how deeply, deeply rooted. In Sweetwaters, I don’t have to have awkward conversations where someone assumes I agree with their view about how badly the blacks are running the country (usually veiled in nicer language than that, of course). What do you do in that moment? Sometimes I say nothing because I’m scared to rock the boat and I don’t want to offend them. But sometimes I say nothing because I literally do not know what to say—how can you let comments like that slide, but how can you address it when this poor person clearly just wanted to make small talk, and deconstructing the racism actually embedded in their comment will probably get nowhere. (And then sometimes I do say something, but come off holier-than-thou and alienate people even more, which is just completely the wrong way to engage people and I just make everything worse).

And so slowly paralysis set in. And prayers trickled off.

It wasn’t prayers for revival anymore. It wasn’t prayers that this insulated, inward-looking community would become a radical out-ward focusing light to their neighbours. It was just the occasional, “Oh Lord, help!” (And often in the form of  a sarcastic muttering under the breath after something I heard or experienced). I was Elijah saying, “Enough of this, God. Just take my life and get it over with. That would be much easier than this. I’ve been working my heart out for you, and your people don’t give a rip and now they’re even trying to kill me.” (Okay, okay, it wasn’t that bad. But it feels like it sometimes).

But God quietly whispers to Elijah in the midst of his anger and bitterness, he whispers gently that he’s not alone (in fact, there are 7000 others who love God, too), and there is still work to do.

And I’ve heard God’s whispers lately (when I’ve stopped ranting enough to hear them).

http://www.raisinggenerationstoday.com/reach-out-for-hope-by-stacey-thacker/

I heard him whisper in the all-Hilton church prayer meeting before the elections, where the body of Christ came together and prayed not for ourselves, and for our lives to be comfortable, but for justice, and widows and orphans, and hungry people, and servant-leadership.

I heard him whisper in our church small group, as we’ve been discussing Generous Justice, by Tim Keller, and how our small group and church and our individual lives can express the generous grace and justice of God.

I heard him in a woman who came up to me after church one day and said, “When you sing, I can see that you really are worshipping. Thank you. It moves me to worship him, too.”

I heard him when our small group pitched in to sponsor a child for iThemba kids camp.

I heard him in the burn ward of the hospital.

I heard him most loudly in this statement, made by the leader at the all church prayer meeting:

Prayer is a subversive activity. By gathering to pray, we’re making a statement. We’re saying we believe we have a God who can change things. We’re not okay with the way things are, and we’re subverting the empire by coming before the true King and saying, “Your will be done.”

And the Holy Spirit slapped me upside the head and said,

You don’t believe this anymore. You whiney Elijah, thinking you’re the only one left. You think this all depends on you. You think I’m sitting back and doing nothing. You think I don’t have power to change anything. You’re wrong. Join me, Steph. Get praying real prayers again, prayers that believe you’re talking to the one with ultimate power. Stop whining and subvert the empire with me.

This is MY people,

this is MY church,

and the gates of Hell

(and materialism, and self-centeredness, and prejudice and fear)

will NOT prevail against it. 

_____________________________________

So, what do you all do to rekindle your hope? What encourages you when hope runs dry?

 

 

Dance of Service

Fun games at the Bennetts where we had our starters. Find your partner!
Fun games at the Bennetts where we had our starters. Find your partner!

“Isn’t it awesome seeing the Church being the Church?” Sam commented to me, as we were discussing the Kids Crew Christmas thank you dinner. She didn’t mean this specific church–although Hilton Baptist played a huge part in providing volunteers to make the evening happen. She meant the Church—us, followers of Christ–actually being the body of Christ.

So often churches get caught up in themselves–the color of their carpet, the specific style of worship music, who’s doing the flowers–and often these petty grievances are framed with, “But we want to do all we can to accommodate those outside the church. What will they think?” However, when the Body stops being so introspective and starts doing what its meant to, starts using its hands, feet and heart to be a blessing to others, that’s pretty awesome.

Kids Crew is the name given to the teens from Sweetwaters who help out every Saturday at Jabulani Kids Club. They help play with the kids, lead worship, and then break the kids up into groups and teach a Bible lesson and memory verse. Not something many teens would want to do on a Saturday morning for 3 hours! To say thank you for their commitment we organized a progressive dinner (or traveling supper, or whatever people call it). Various friends of iThemba in Hilton hosted the different courses at their homes.

We were served by the home group!
We were served by the home group!

It was fun playing the silly games and eating the amazing food provided by the volunteers. But my favorite part was seeing the Body in Hilton serving the Body in Sweetwaters. The Trinity has been described by many Christian philosophers (Lewis, Plantinga and Tim Keller) as a dance of self-giving love. Each member in the godhead pouring out service, love and delight into the other. Each revolving around the other, not himself.

Our delicious main course, hosted by Hilton Baptist home group!
Our delicious main course, hosted by Hilton Baptist home group!

Hilton churches delighting to serve Sweetwaters teens, who delight to serve the kids in Sweetwaters who don’t know Christ. That’s how it should be. That’s what draws people to Christ, not the color of our carpets.

The incarnation is all about the body. God coming to us, in a body. God coming for us, breaking his body so we could be with him, so we could be included in the dance. This Christmas let’s all challenge the Church to really be the Church.

Thulani (iThemba fielder) and a Kids Crew leader.
Thulani (iThemba fielder) and a Kids Crew leader.

“In self-centredness we demand that others orbit around us. We will do things and give affection to others, as long as it helps us meet our personal goals and fulfils us. The inner life of the Triune God, however, is utterly different. The life of the Trinity is characterised not by self-centredness but by mutually self-giving love. When we delight and serve someone else, we enter into a dynamic orbit around him or her, we center on the interests and desires of the other. That creates a dance, particularly if there are three persons, each of whom moves around the other two. So it is, the Bible tells us. Each of the divine persons centers upon the others. None demands that the others revolve around him. Each voluntarily circles the other two, pouring love, delight, and adoration into them. Each person of the Trinity loves, adores, defers to, and rejoices in the others. That creates a dynamic, pulsating dance of joy and love.” [Tim Keller]

Praise God for an amazing Camp! We had great weather, a great speaker, and (we pray) real spiritual growth among the teens.  Pray for them these holidays, that they will continue to read their Bibles and grow.