Saturday, April 07, 2012

To Heck* with "Change the World" or Barabbas over Jesus one more time- *insert a stronger expletive

It's Holy Saturday and I was cleaning out my e-mail and I came across an e-mail from United Methodist Communication inviting me to an event in May (not sure where) on the topic of "Change the World." For the last several years the United Methodist Church has put together events - at least one here in Indianapolis -- on the topic of "Change the World."

Earlier this week I'd been reading "Power & Passion" by Samuel Wells and came across these words: "The choice between Barabbas and Jesus, a choice that I am suggesting is a central choice in the whole gospel story, is not a choice between a man who took a political route and a man who took a spiritual route. It is not a choice between a man who wanted outer change and a man who called people to inner change. It is a choice between a man who changed too little and a man who changed everything."

Here is what the advertisement for the "Change the World" event literally says, "This year you will get a free marketing kit if you register online. The kit includes a re-usable lawn banner, a Change the World t-shirt and a sermon series DVD." Sounds about the same as Well's doesn't it? (okay - the dripping sarcasm is probably a bit much)

It goes on to say...

"Here's what others are doing:

Clever spins on Outreach: Distributing coins and detergent at a local laundry; Mother's Day dinner for homeless moms; dog runs and pet care; gas giveaways for single moms; gathering for bikers that includes food, music, sharing...the list goes on!

Fun Runs, Bake Sales and even Dinner Theatre in support of Imagine No Malaria: United Methodists around the world are fighting malaria in diverse ways.

Health Fairs and Nutrition: Many are teaming with local not-for-profits and government agencies to bring health care and food to neighbors in need.

Each year United Methodists demonstrate God's boundless love through Change the World community projects. What will you do?

Change the World is not just about strengthening the discipleship of those who follow Christ now. It's about inviting new people into Christian community."

Now - I do not have one problem with the United Methodist Church and its peoples doing any of these things. That's fine. But packaging it as "Change the World" is not only false marketing it's's what Bob Lupton has called in his book of the same title "Toxic Charity."

The problem is not with doing these things - it is that this is what we in the church, package and present as Changing the World. It would be appropriate to say - if you'd like to help someone out and do some good here are some things you can do. But this is not a serious discussion about changing the world. It is severely dumbing down that conversation.

There are serious conversations going on around the world - including in the United States - about changing the world. Some of these conversations involve and even are led by people who are United Methodist - yet those conversations are not highlighted and those persons are not noticed as those doing these things. And we aren't helping our sisters and brothers in churches who are leading and involving themselves in these congregations with spiritual support. In fact, we are - as the advertisement makes clear - completely ignoring them. I'm tired of this.

It is like the embarrassingly reductionistic "Vital Signs" dashboard we are to report on every week that among other things ask "Total number of persons from the congregation engaged in local, national, and international mission/outreach: Enter here the number of persons who participated on behalf of the congregation in ministries intended to transform people in your community, your region, and the world." Now - in a sidebar - let me just say that I have real problems with the theology that we are transforming people that I believe God has already transformed (i.e. Matthew 11 - Jesus' report back to John in prison). Our work at Broadway, for example, is not to transform people locally - it is to celebrate and help make clear the transformation that God has truly wrought in the lives of our neighbors in the life of the world. As Stanley Hauerwas once said at a gathering at Broadway Christian Parish UMC in South Bend: "God's God, and you're not." God has transformed the world - and has done so gloriously, miraculously, mind-blowingly - and yet the world (and too often the Church) still don't recognize that.

But my main problem with this question is the idea that is fairly clear that somehow every member of our congregation is not in mission/outreach/discipleship through every aspect of their life. Whether that is the woman who works at Lilly, the man who is a stay-at-home-dad, the waitress at Johnny Rocket's at the mall, the retired military officer in the retirement community on the north side, the young man in school at Fall Creek Academy or Broad Ripple High School, the young woman in school at Lawrence Central, the woman who is a single mom with 8 kids still at home, the young man going to Martin University and working to be the best single dad he can be, the 98 year old woman who leads a prayer group and meets with the United Nations group, the woman who works for Red Cross and spends time talking with young people who are her neighbors, the man who works for a travel company, the man at the state unemployment office, the woman who works in administration at Ivy Tech, the woman who is a principal at an IPS elementary school. I could go on and on and on. Every member of our congregation is in mission - and so is every member of every congregation I know. The issue more than anything is that we in the church have convinced people that a) mission is only what happens in and through the agency of the Church and b) that doing good is the same thing as changing the world. Neither of these are true and accurate and worse than that they are dangerous and blasphemous. The word "toxic" has rarely been more true.

When the Indiana Annual Conference is held here in Indianapolis this June - they will "send" people out in mission at local food pantries and social service agencies. All of those are good things to do. But I weep that what is not asked of us is to (also) convene conversations with the incredible people from around the state who will gather - with folks from our local communities - to talk about the ways in which God has transformed our lives - and how we, working together, can change the world (that has been transformed by God) to see and celebrate that change. Why can't we - alongside of working in social service agencies - have people get together and talk about how to do something about the economics of our communities (so that perhaps food pantries may not be needed any more - is that not changing the world?)? What would it look like to have folks from around the state who are interested - get together and talk about education (a pretty big issue in our state right now - not to mention around the country and world) - we have students and teachers and parents and administrators - what a rich resource - are we really only going to ask them to put together school backpacks? And what about in the arena of health? Why wouldn't the Bishop invite a conversation with people in our congregations and community who work for the state health department, who run health care institutions, who work as doctors and nurses and aides and dieticians and physical therapists and more, who care about health and pregnancy, to come together - pray together, celebrate what God is doing and see how we can build on that so that people can see the healing that is right in our hands (rather than just putting together packets of handy wipes and bandaids and aspirin for the homeless)? Is the reason we don't have these conversations because they are too touchy - too dangerous? Doesn't Holy Work remind us that we can have dangerous conversations and keep on going? For crying out loud!

On this Holy Saturday why are we selecting Barabbas over Jesus all over again? Isn't it about time we chose Jesus? Isn't it about time we stopped settling for so little? Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Kyrie Eleison...