Missed Opportunities by Christian Community Development to Alleviate Entrenched Local Poverty (Part 1)

Please read this:

Federal Bill Aims to Boost Troubled Chattanooga Neighborhoods

Where are local Christian community development efforts on issues like this? It seems that their focus is on helping local churches more wisely distribute benevolence funds. Great. Or maybe training a handful of people to navigate a job interview or manage their personal finances. Great. All of that is needed, but what about incentivizing businesses to provide jobs in locations that are accessible to residents of poor communities? What about addressing unjust structures and policies that inhibit home ownership by the poor? What about investing in schools attended by large numbers of poor children? Or CCDA’s justice initiatives (immigration, educational equity, and mass incarceration)? Are we are convinced that chipping away at the problem through microfinance is the solution? Are we content with the result – that generational poverty grinds on for decades or centuries?

It seems that, for many Christians, everything is limited to the small, the private, the alternative universe of the evangelical subculture. I’m convinced we’ve bought into a worldview shaped by market (worldly) values and divorced from historical realities. There seems to be no public dimension or public expression of Christian faith. The funding mechanisms of faith-based organizations depend on private funders, and they are thus intimidated from addressing institutional poverty and social justice issues.

Many say that only “church-based” efforts really work. But, for them, church is defined as a building; its property, patrons, and pastoral staff; its lay leaders and the budget they steward. Are those budgets (or even those of their non-profit spinoff organizations) really big enough to put a dent in the huge problem of poverty in a city like Chattanooga? Where is the research to back that up?

We need to return to a parish model of church life. Are the people who show no interest in attending our worship services or our Christian schools no longer our neighbors? Are they hopeless naves from whom there is nothing to learn? With those attitudes, it is no wonder that there is no serious evangelistic engagement with them.

For centuries, western secularism has taught that religion is be tolerated only if it is privatized, confined to the private realm. Some Christians have rightly pointed out that Christianity cannot be so confined. It has a vital voice worthy of being heard in the public square. They have plunged themselves into the world of electoral, party politics. They have also tried to do a better job of connecting individual Christians through small groups, racial reconciliation, Christian networks, and alternative institutions.

We have heard that, while individual, personal piety is a priority, the Christian faith is not strictly private. Personal relationships are equally important. One’s relationship with the person of Jesus Christ is central and pivotal to our faith. Relationships among fellow believers are an essential means of God’s grace and our spiritual development. We must continue beating those drums – to ourselves and to the world.

But there is a third “p” that describes an essential feature of the Christian faith, but it is often either ignored or distorted in our understanding. That word is “public.” Some Christians have sensed the need for sustained engagement on moral and policy issues that affect large numbers of people. These Christians have immersed themselves in the world of media-driven electoral politics. Just elect the right politician, pass the right laws, appoint the right judges, and our obligation to public service is complete. But there is more to it than that, and our failure to adequately serve the poor (particularly, their educational and housing options) in Chattanooga is but one piece of evidence. To be continued …

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To My Younger Friends Who Really Hate Being Bored

bored2The default reality of both childhood and adulthood is that much of life is boring. If you think opportunity and excitement will drop into your lap when you turn 16 or 18, when you finish college, or when you get your first job, you are simply mistaken. Neither does it entirely disappear at any of those thresholds. One important key to feeling fulfilled and to experiencing a degree of success is learning to cope with boredom productively. You can try to compensate for a lack of the excitement to which you feel entitled by frequently pursuing cheap thrills (drugs, promiscuous sex, athletic competition, video games, television, or social media), but the dopamine or adrenaline that they produce wears off and you go broke and stay broke by trying to retrieve the excitement and keep it. It just keeps slipping away.

One alternative to being trapped in perpetual adolescence well beyond your teen years is to read books right now that will realistically expand your horizons and help you envision and pursue better opportunities. Another alternative is to step out of your comfort zone and associate with level-headed people (celebrities are excluded) who are moving in a direction that you desire to be moving. Another alternative is to work hard and grow in maturity while working in a less-than-ideal job. Don’t accept the idea that you’re are stuck there or that not advancing is the fault of someone else. Be responsible with present realities, while also pursuing better opportunities. Sometimes, you may find yourself alone when pursuing these alternatives. You don’t need to isolate yourself (“just keep to myself” because other people have disappointed me). Dig deeply enough into God’s Word and into having a relationship with Christ that you can be okay with being alone sometimes.

boredRefusing to do something productive (including doing what it takes to make good grades) because it seems boring is basically to volunteer for an empty, impoverished, and unfulfilling life. You have to accept boredom, prepare yourself for it right now, and use it to your advantage. Embrace the boredom, defer the excitement, and make life more interesting -and fulfilling by setting, pursuing, and achieving worthy goals. Find an adult who will help you and will hold you accountable. No more excuses.

With a deeper sense of purpose and a more patient approach to potential boredom, you may find that people and activities that you’ve written off as “probably boring” may actually prove to be more interesting and durably enriching than the cheap, seemingly exciting substitutes that our culture wants to program you to embrace.

Overcoming the Challenges of Developing Public-Mindedness in the South

Here is help for breaking from the secular individualism that grips and undermines the fabric of our society. The influence of hyper-individualism transcends political labels, and even politics per say. Its Western expressions are grounded in the Enlightenment notion of the social contract, with its faulty assumptions about human nature and the nature of human societies. An alternative framework that has proven useful for maintaining free and virtuous societies is the idea of covenant communities.

In Politics Reformed by Glenn Moots, Moots provides a detailed summary of its cultural influence in the Anglo-American world. Most people are not aware of the influence of this framework before and during the era of America’s founding. Moots is careful to point out its deficiencies and historical misapplications. However, I believe it is suggestive for southern Christians trapped either in radical individualism or in old world, antebellum aristocracy. It might help us develop virtues of citizenship aburning of memphis schoolnd public-mindedness, virtues with a longer tradition of flourishing in New England, for example. Our region needs those values if we are to significantly improve our public schools and sustain other public and cultural institutions, including churches.

Theology of the Cross, AD 2017

This Easter, the contrast between the theology of the cross and the earthly-minded theology of power and glory has never been sharper. From Martin Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation:

Thesis 22: That wisdom which sees the invisible things of God in works as perceived by man is completely puffed up, blinded, and hardened.

Proof: This has already been said. Because men do not know the cross and hate it, they necessarily love the opposite, namely, wisdom, glory, power, and so on. Therefore, they become increasingly blinded and hardened by such love, for desire cannot be satisfied by the acquisition of those things which it desires. Just as the love of money grows in proportion to the increase of the money itself, so the dropsy of the soul becomes thirstier the more it drinks, as the poet says: “The more water they drink, the more they thirst for it.” The same thought is expressed in Eccles. 1[:8]: “The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.” This holds true of all desires.

Thus also the desire for knowledge is not satisfied by the acquisition of wisdom but is stimulated that much more. Likewise, the desire for glory is not satisfied by the acquisition of glory, nor is the desire to rule satisfied by power and authority, nor is the desire for praise satisfied by praise, and so on, as Christ shows in John 4, where he says, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again.”

The remedy for curing desire does not lie in satisfying it, but in extinguishing it. In other words, he who wishes to become wise does not seek wisdom by progressing toward it but becomes a fool by retrogressing into seeking folly. Likewise, he who wishes to have much power, honor, pleasure, satisfaction in all things must flee rather than seek power, honor, pleasure, and satisfaction in all things. This is the wisdom which is folly to the world.

Thesis 24:  Yet that wisdom is not of itself evil, nor is the law to be evaded; but without the theology of the cross man misuses the best in the worst manner.

Proof:    Indeed the law is holy, every gift of God good, and everything that is created exceedingly good, as in Gen. 1. But, as stated above, he who has not been brought low, reduced to nothing through the cross and suffering, takes credit for works and wisdom and does not give credit to God. He thus misuses and defiles the gifts of God.

He, however, who has emptied himself through suffering no longer does works but knows that God works and does all things in him. For this reason, whether man does works or not, it is all the same to him. He neither boasts if he does good works, nor is he disturbed if God does not do good works through him. He knows that it is sufficient if he suffers and is brought low by the cross in order to be annihilated all the more. It is this that Christ says in John 3, “You must be born anew.” To be born anew, one must consequently first die and then be raised up with the Son of Man. To die, I say, means to feel death at hand.

Thesis 28:  The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it. The love of man comes into being through that which is pleasing to it.

Proof: The second part is clear and is accepted by all philosophers and theologians, for the object of love is its cause, assuming, according to Aristotle, that all power of the soul is passive and material and active only in receiving something. Thus it is also demonstrated that Aristotle’s philosophy is contrary to theology since in all things it seeks those things which are its own and receives rather than gives something good. The first part is clear because the love of God which lives in man loves sinners, evil persons, fools, and weaklings in order to make them righteous, good, wise, and strong. Rather than seeking its own good, the love of God flows forth and bestows good. Therefore, sinners are attractive because they are loved; they are not loved because they are attractive: For this reason, the love of man avoids sinners and evil persons. Thus Christ says: “For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” This is the love of the cross, born of the cross, which turns in the direction where it does not find good which it may enjoy, but where it may confer good upon the bad and needy person. “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” says the Apostle. Hence Ps. 41 states, “Blessed is he who considers the poor,” for the intellect cannot by nature comprehend an object which does not exist, that is the poor and needy person, but only a thing which does exist, that is the true and good. Therefore, it judges according to appearances, is a respecter of persons, and judges according to that which can be seen, etc.

 

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The Protestant Reformation (1517) and the Brainerd Mission (1817): Outposts That Undermine the World

I continue to be struck by G.K. Chesterton’s description of the Bethlehem stable as an outlaw’s den. It is, among other things, an outpost for undermining the world:

Christmas for us in Christendom has become one thing, and in one sense even a simple thing. But like all the truths of that tradition, it is in another sense a very complex thing. Its unique note is the simultaneous striking of many notes; of humility, of gaiety, of gratitude, of mystical fear, but also of vigilance and of drama. It is not only an occasion for the peacemakers any more than for the merry makers; it is not only a Hindu peace conference any more than it is only a Scandinavian winter feast. There is something defiant in it also; something that makes the abrupt bells at midnight sound like the great guns of a battle that has just been won. All this indescribable thing that we call the Christmas atmosphere only hangs in the air as something like a lingering fragrance or fading vapor from the exultant, explosion of that one hour in the Judean hills nearly two thousand years ago. But the savor is still unmistakable, and it is something too subtle or too solitary to be covered by our use of the word peace. By the very nature of the story the rejoicings in the cavern were rejoicings in a fortress or an outlaw’s den; properly understood it is not unduly flippant to say they were rejoicing in a dug-out. It is not only true that such a subterranean chamber was a hiding-place from enemies; and that the enemies were already scouring the stony plain that lay above it like a sky. It is not only that the very horse-hoofs of Herod might in that sense have passed like thunder over the sunken head of Christ. It is also that there is in that image a true idea of an outpost, of a piercing through the rock and an entrance into an enemy territory. There is in this buried divinity an idea of undermining the world; of shaking the towers and palaces from below; even as Herod the great king felt that earthquake under him and swayed with his swaying palace. (from The Everlasting Man.)

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Herod’s Palace

Chesterton describes both the birth and the essence of the Christian movement as “a piercing through the rock and an entrance into an enemy territory.” (C. S. Lewis riffs on this image in his various writings.) The humble “court” of King Jesus was, and is, an outpost that undermines the sinful world. Indeed, it is an outpost which “shakes the towers and palaces from below.”

luther-95-thesesAs a Roman Catholic, Chesterton might shudder at the thought of applying his description to two historical events that many of us will commemorate this year. Of course, 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 theses on true repentance and saving faith. The posting of these debating points (on the equivalent of his university’s bulletin board) provides a convenient date for the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. That particular reform movement had profound, wide-ranging repercussions that reverberate to this day.

DSC00193The other commemoration I have in mind is the bicentennial of the comparatively little known Brainerd Mission, located here in Chattanooga. In 1817, a group of New England Congregationalist missionaries established a boarding school and a church in which their own (Anglo) children studied and worshiped side-by-side with the native Cherokee, as well as with African-American slaves. The contours of their story are familiar to local history buffs. For too many, however, the amazing history of their frontier, kingdom outpost remains largely unknown.

I will contend that within these movements there lie untapped resources for addressing vital issues such as race relations, education reform, economic justice, and the role of government. This year, I hope to regularly share reflections based on my own limited research of these events, along with links and excerpts from those who have engaged in much more substantial research. I hope these posts will help us better recognize and breathe-in the “lingering fragrance” of Christ’s birth, of His redemptive work, and of His reign. I hope we can more fully appropriate the enduring wisdom to be found in these remarkable, culture-creating movements. And I hope that their prophetic pushbacks against the encroaching sinful world will inspire greater faithfulness among us.

The Investment of Our Attention and the Credibility of Our Witness: Some Eleventh-Hour Reflections on Citizenship and Voting

The authenticity of our citizenship is not determined by whether or how we cast our vote. It is rather determined by where we invest our time, attention, and resources. It applies this week, next week, the next four years, and beyond. If we, as Christians, invest ourselves with fidelity to our true citizenship, our highest loyalty, our deepest solidarity, and our ultimate allegiance, the policy issues that too-often consume our attention will resume their properly marginalized status.

in_search_of_eternal_destinyDecisions involving the investment of our attention require Christians in a participatory system to consider which is more valuable: the credibility of our witness to the public truth of the gospel or the glorification (or even the survival) of a particular worldly regime? Our endorsement of either of the two major candidates for President will, it seems to me, certainly compromise (if not destroy) that witness. The election of either of them may also endanger the survival of the regime within which we sojourn.

The integrity of that witness should be our primary consideration. The survival of the present regime is an important but decidedly secondary consideration. Those two factors, in that order, will inform how I cast my ballot next Tuesday. Also, it will not be the most important thing that I – or that any of us – will do that day, next week, or this year.

This Election Is a Showcase for Self-Centered Love and for the Lust to Rule

karl_theodor_von_piloty_murder_of_caesar_1865Well, the libido dominandi (lust to dominate or to rule) is making yet another of its frequent and sordid appearances this election season. According to St. Augustine, it is what characterizes the City of Man, of which our republic is a specimen. It should remind us that our true citizenship is not in America but in the City of God and that the two entities are in no way one and the same. Our rightly ordered trust is to be placed not in election results or in any sort of return to national greatness, but in the Lord and in His enduring love, mercy, and faithfulness. Our circumstances, no matter how dire, do not compel us to carry water for any of the pretenders to His throne. (http://www.thenagain.info/Classes/Sources/Augustine-City.html)

Augustine observed that the City of Man’s lust to rule is a symptom of humanity’s deeper love for self at the expense of love for God (and love for others). (https://intotheclarities.com/2016/02/19/peter-brown-on-augustine-on-the-libido-dominandi/) All of our lusts – our disordered desires or loves – wreak chaos and destruction that reverberate in the lives of others, both near and far, in ways that we can’t begin to imagine. Augustine emphasizes that the pursuit of self-glory inevitably leads to the ruin of individuals, as well as republics formed to check the vices associated with political power. He saw it in the fall of Rome’s republican experiment and in its subsequent path toward empire. He asserted that the Roman Empire, inspired by its presumed divine destiny to rule, eventually crumbled under the weight of its moral debauchery, its aspiration to omnipotence, and its thirst for brutal violence.

We frequently see the libido dominandiI – sometimes in the form of unbridled sexual lust, at other times in petty power struggles – tear apart families, neighborhoods, and entire cities. But we occasionally see contrition, repentance, and renewed faith in God’s promises to forgive those who rest on salvation in Christ. That sort of new life is an undeserved gift, a blessing from above. It provides a much-needed respite from this exasperating political season.  It is true greatness. It is true freedom. And it causes God’s City to “shine with a brighter luster” amid the darkness of lusting for control.

More from St. Augustine’s City of God on the tyrannical libido dominandi:

“Thus, a good man, though a slave, is free; but a wicked man, though a king, is a slave. For he serves, not one man alone, but, what is worse, as many masters as he has vices.” –

“[T]he lust for domination is perverse imitation of God, rooted in pride, from which all sin springs.”

“[P]erverse self-love, rooted in pride, is the basic disorder in the human self and the basic force disruptive in society: it isolates the self from community with its fellows. ‘Private’ and ‘sociable’ are two fundamentally opposed forms of loving: the one enclosing the self in its own narrowness, the other setting it free in sharing with others. These are the two opposed ‘loves’ which define the earthly and the heavenly Cities: the heavenly City is structured by mutual love and sharing, the earthly by ‘possessive individualism’.”