Location. Location. Location.
After house hunting for a while, I'm really tired of that word. The reality of the real estate market is that location is more valuable than the land upon which a house sits, the quality of the structure, or the cost of the materials and amenities in the home.
On the surface, this makes some sense. We want to live in good neighborhoods that have access to good schools. We want a location convenient to our work, necessities, and hobbies. Location does matter.
But let's be honest: We mean something much more negative when we talk about location. That value comes just as much about what, or who, is not around, than any positive attributes.
Property values rise when marks of poverty are completely out of sight. A great house in a lower income neighborhood costs less than the same house in a location with high average earnings. The value, then, has nothing to do with the house, but with the people around the house.
What does that say about our culture? Foremost, that we have a dysfunctional view of value. The real estate market places values on people based on how much money they make, and sells homes based upon that metric. But let's not depersonalize this. We constitute that market. We, human beings, judge other human beings as more or less worthy to live with, and pay accordingly when we purchase a home.
We need a reformation here. We need to repent of this. Why?
Because God became incarnate in a Bethlehem stable rather than a Jerusalem temple. Because living water appeared in Samaria rather than Israel. Because God left the security of heaven to take on the insecurity of earth. Our value ultimately comes from God's presence with us, from God's choice to invert real estate economics and instead place the divine image in all humanity, regardless of cash flow or earning potential. Location does matter because God brought the kingdom to this land and all lands, to this place and all places. All locations have value, all locations have an equitable worth, because God chose to be with all of us.
Earlier today while at the gas station, a man approach me at the pump and asked for a few dollars to help fill his tank. His pregnant cousin was in the car, and on a recent trip to the ER, they'd parked in a fire lane to get her in immediately. While inside, the car was towed and they had to pay an impounding fee to get their car out of the lot. All this meant they were short on the cash to get back home a few hours away. After listening to his story, I gave him $10 and told him I'd be in prayer for his cousin's health and their safe travels. I felt bad for not giving more.
I turned back to the pump, topped off the tank, and then heard shouting across the lot. A police officer was yelling at the man to whom I'd given some small piece of charity. The officer indicated this man's image was posted inside and in other area businesses because of his repeated begging attempts. Rather than a passerby with an emergency, apparently this man is a local with a habit of begging.
My first reaction was, "I should be angry." My second reaction was, "Why am I not angry?" My third reaction was something like sadness as I watched this man drive away with a woman who may well be his pregnant cousin, in his car who still may well be fresh out of impound.
In Matthew 5:42, Jesus says, "Give to those who ask, and do not refuse any who want to borrow from you." The NRSV pushes the translation even further, saying "Give to everyone who begs from you." That's an incredible image, and one that has become more and more important to me as a person of faith.
People use a plethora of reasons not to give, whether fear about how the person begging might use the money, or anxiety over a personal lack of money, or a conviction about work ethic based in the aura of American exceptionalism.
Christians, however, must deal with this command from Christ. Give to everyone who begs from you. There is not exception to this from Jesus' point of view.
But, you may ask, what if they use the gift for ill? Well, since we know full well that the consumption of alcohol is not only a recent phenomena, I'm pretty certain Jesus already knew that some people make bad decisions with their money. Even more importantly, we also know that some people struggle with a verifiable disease called addiction. It is dangerous to give precisely because we give up control of the gift to the person that receives it. And yet, Jesus said give to everyone who begs from you anyway.*
But, you might ask, what if I was going to use that money (or food or other type of resource) for something? Apparently Jesus has something in mind for that money as well: blessing those who are asking you. And so he said give to everyone who begs from you anyway.
But, you could also ask, what if they're lying about why they want it or need it? Jesus knew all about deceptive people (I'm looking at you, Peter and Judas). But was did he do? Blessed them anyway. And so he said give to everyone who begs from you anyway.
Ultimately, giving to those who ask is not about rewarding a good behavior or supporting some sort of lifestyle change. It is about blessing in the image of Jesus, the one who blesses despite the fact that we do not deserve it at all. To give to everyone who begs is to take on the identity of a God who gave everything to a world full of beggars, as we all begged for mercy from the depth of our sin.
Today, I think the Holy Spirit just got the better of me, because if I am honest, I all too often do not give when I am asked. I use the reasons above, or a myriad of others, to justify what is truly my own selfishness and prejudice. To give to those who ask is an exercise is choosing someone else over yourself, an act at the heart of God's steadfast love. To give to those who ask is to grow in the image of God, to bless someone simply on the basis of grace. The point is living the life of Christ, who gives to everyone who begs, and we are surely beggars in need of that gift. I want to learn how to give more freely because I want to learn more about those in need and I want to become more like the Giver upon whom we all rely.
So, really, why should we not give when we are asked?
*To be clear, I am not saying we should just leave the pandemic of alcoholism untouched, especially amongst low income communities. Rather, we must both give to those who ask as well as help to create access to avenues for deliverance from addiction. And of course, when called to give to those who ask, that means much more than money. If someone indicates a need for food, give them actual food. If you just stopped at the store, give some of those groceries you intended for yourself or your family to this person, part of the family of God. In these situations, our responsibility becomes greater, where we are called not only to give to the person who is asking of us, but also to work toward systemic change that offers hope and deliverance for those who suffer from such terrible diseases.
We've said goodbye a lot lately. We celebrated a year of ministry with USC students before sending them off to summer jobs and graduation. Many friends have already moved on from Columbia to pursue first calls as pastors. One of our favorite professors is soon leaving for a new teaching position in Northern California. My family dog died just a few days ago. We've said a lot lot of goodbyes lately.
A little over a year ago, as we said goodbye to the Duke Lutherans, I began to think about the purpose of this ritual of saying goodbye. As I mined Christian theological traditions, I found a treasure trove of liturgical resources that commended a different approach: godspeed and farewell. I even wrote a song about it, called (shockingly enough) Godspeed and Farewell.
Of course, this seems only a subtle semantic change, if not a slight of hand, since the etymological origins of goodbye are actually, "God be with you," or colloquially, "God be wit ye," from Celtic English speakers. So what's the difference?
Goodbye, whatever its origins, retains almost none of the divine intent originally behind the word. God, and therefore theology, need have nothing to do with goodbyes.
But godspeed and farewell retains not only the sense of divine presence in the relationship, but also the sense that, in God, this parting is not the last time we will be together. We are bid godspeed to journey toward the Kingdom of God and farewell that our journey might be successful.
For the relationship, this means something significant: neither party retains ultimate control of the future. When we say goodbye, the future is entirely up to us. When we say godspeed and farewell, we know that our failures and our frailty cannot prevent our reunion.
So, hopefully, we've said more godspeeds lately. Godspeed and farewell lives in the hope wrapped up in the cries of the father of a dying child: "Lord I believe; help my unbelief." Sometimes even our belief is not strong enough for assurance, and so we say goodbye in the hope that, despite our struggles, God will reconcile all things in and through Christ.
Television and cinema reboots have been all the rage lately. Girl Meets World follows the family of Cory and Topanga years down the road. A rumored revamping of Stargate promises to leave behind the legacies of the SG-1, Atlantis, and Universe franchises, something that continues to rankle avid fans of the television series (and if those words mean nothing to you, use the Google to find out).
I'm particularly impressed by the Star Trek reboot for a number of reasons. It stays faithful to the old storyline by leaving it intact through the use of a common science fiction device known as the multiverse. This actually borrows from the mutliple universe hypothesis within the field of physics. In short, multiple universes exist, and the former Star Trek franchise (Shatner, Picard, et al) exists within a different universe than the new franchise (Chris Pine). Yet, these universes remain inextricably linked as a part of all reality that is within the overarching multiverse, and so homages to the original series exist within the new franchise (no spoilers, but Khan).
Are you confused yet? Or just distracted by my nerdery? That's fine, either way.
But here's why I find that fascinating for the church. I think we need to constantly envision ourselves as within the multiverse. As the church faces postmodernity, we should consider the reality that the world we live in is ridiculously different than the ages once faced by Christians in the past. But, it is not totally disconnected from that world either. We live in a world different from but inherently related to the world of history. Perhaps the church requires not complete newness, nor complete tradition, but rather, a reboot. Something new that faces the world in which we leave, but something that honors the world from whence we came.
For church planters and redevelopers, this means that we can't simply repeat our past behaviors, regardless of their success. Yet, we cannot abandon them either. We remain inextricably bound, not by a multiverse, but by our God, who created us, redeemed us in Christ Jesus, and give us new life in the Holy Spirit. As the church, we gather with the worlds past, and the worlds of the future, as we minister in the present, all in the hope that God reconciles all things through Christ Jesus.
In this reboot, things will not remain the same. They should not. But our life as the church will remain bound up with the church of the past as we work alongside Christ, not casting out the past, but working to incarnate the love of God in our present circumstances, which is a fitful homage to our forebears, and an active life in Christ.
Recently I found myself inspired to tidy up the house. I vacuumed, dusted, washed dishes, and mopped a bit.
I also cleaned the toilets, though not without trepidation. In the entire process of house cleaning, and particularly in the face of toilets, you can't ignore the effects of your existence upon your surroundings. Even our natural functions have unseemly consequences that we must face, deal with, and sometimes, clean up.
One time as a college student, a recently converted Catholic friend (who now lives as a part of a monastic community) and I were on a service day together in Ashland, OH. When I asked this friend why he decided to come out that day, a bit of an awkward pause followed. He then told me he came out not as a choice, but as an act of penance recommended by his priest during confession. While my friend didn't share his sin, he shared this incredible insight into how penance worked in this instance: his penance helped him manifest his contrition for his sin through an avenue that enacted a work of reconciliation between him and the offended party.
To me, a snarky 20-something Lutheran, this broke open the doors for my consideration of penance. For my friend, penance provided an opportunity, albeit imperfect, to not only apologize, and not only to make amends, but also to foster within himself a newfound appreciation for that part of God's creation he offended.
Penance of this sort can grease the wheel for reconciliation, for it both cultivates change within the offender as well as offers recompense to the offended.
Like cleaning toilets, penance forces you to come face to face with the results of your actions, however unintentional.* Lutherans and other Protestants must consider that the lack of this formal practice may make acts of reconciliation harder for us. Without a safe space for brothers and sisters in Christ to commend acts of contrition to us, our confessions and God's forgiveness remain in the private realm, without a communal experience.
Now, we don't need to install confessional booths in our Lutheran churches, but we must begin to make spaces for penance in our own lives. Of course, this means we must first make space for confession with one another, for the sort of spiritual intimacy inherent to that act, and the sort of trust necessary to carry out the penance suggested by the one to whom we confess.
Sometimes, we need to be told to clean our toilets, and to embrace the ensuing humility.
*If you don't think ignorance or unintentional actions may bring sinful results, consider this earlier blogpost.
"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free." When Paul wrote these words to Galatian Christians in the 1st century CE, the American Revolution was over 1700 years in the future. The Declaration of Independence was spatially, politically, and temporally the furthest thing from Paul's mind. But for American Christians in the 21st century, the relationship between political independence and spiritual freedom now seems inextricable.
But on this July 4th, we have to remember something: While we are free, we are not independent entities.
As Christians, we proclaim that Christ set us free for freedom. We are not self-liberated individuals. In fact, our liberation belongs to the God who accomplished freedom for us in the person of Jesus. The typical construct of American freedom is freedom from: free from constraints, from tyranny, from obligation.
Divine freedom, true freedom, is freedom for: freedom for justice, freedom for others. Oddly enough, even this freedom doesn't belong to us properly, but comes as a gift of the Holy Spirit who meets us in baptism, who confronts us through the image of God in the people we meet, who stirs up in us a desire for God's kingdom.
Even in our freedom, we remain bound to God. Of course, this God sets us free from sin, death, and the Devil. But God does not end there. God remains with us and offers us a freedom for becoming more and more like Jesus Christ, the one in whose image we all are made.
So tonight as we set off an absurd number of explosive devices, overeat, and talk about America the Beautiful, let's remember that our freedom from British rule pales in comparison to the kind of freedom we receive at the foot of the Cross, freedom for the sake of the world.
Fair warning: Like most of my blog posts, this promises to be more of a patchwork quilt of thoughts rather than a deftly directed argument.
In the past few months, multiple reports revealed attempts to prevent homeless persons from sleeping in certain areas, including the exterior windowsill of a supermarket and space under an awning near a luxury housing facility. In particular, these include various types of spikes, from pyramids to punji sticks, all with the expressed intent to prevent people from taking up residence, sleeping, or even resting in public areas that offer protection from the elements. This article includes a number of pictures to give you an idea of what these areas and spikes look like.
In at least one instance, pubic outcry combined with civil disobedience led to the removal of such measures. Even so, this practice of further endangering people already suffering at the margins of society seems to be growing.
At about this point in the discussion, if not much earlier, some people bring up the topics of private property and ownership. The argument, as it has been presented to me, is quite simple. Someone can do whatever they want with private property (like a supermarket or a condo complex), regardless of detrimental consequences to others, simply because it is privately held. Now, of course this is a uniquely American conception of privacy and property. Consider, for instance, the commonality of Everyman's Rights across Europe. But even so, this belief in the ultimate privacy of property is frequently held. Whether that is right or wrong, it is a current political reality with which we must deal.
But that's really not the point of this discussion, either, because you'll also notice in the first article mentioned that many public spaces, including park benches and the undersides of bridges, also include these spikes bent on preventing stability in the lives of homeless persons. In the name of public safety, we have prevented public use of public property to meed a very public need of shelter from the elements, of rest for the weary.
Part of the problem at hand is that we live in a culture of fear. Cable news, from MSNBC to FoxNews and everywhere in between all convince us that we ought fear those we do not know, or those who are unlike us in some way. Even more so, they strike in us the fear of not having enough, that scarcity is akin to some sort of evil.
With all this in the backs of our minds, when we see people without homes struggling to find some sort of safety or refuge on the street, we respond in fear. Rather than realize we actually operate out of an embarrassment of wealth - "Think of all the open public space that might serve to meet the needs of our society!"- we respond out of a deep seated and ill founded fear. We decide that since we own something, whether privately or as a majority of the public, we then decide that others cannot use that property for any purpose, however actually harmless it may be.
Perhaps the worst part is that we deny ownership of something else, namely that the structure of our society helps to create problems like poverty and homelessness. We grasp with white knuckles on to our land and objects, but refuse to even touch the problems that our fear and greed create.
So what does this all mean?
It means that there is a better way. It means that we need to do better. It means that perhaps the best use of our window sills and underpasses is to offer a shelter to someone who cannot otherwise afford one. It means that our fortunate circumstances ought to become a platform for sharing rather than one of societal divisions. It means that rather than spikes, we ought to offer weather resistant pillows. It means that we put the issue of ownership below the issue of human thriving. It means that, above all else, we recognize the image of God in others, and work to offer hospitality to the person, and to the God in whose image they are made.
Simultaneously a sinner and a saint.