Category Archives: unlearning

ENDING POVERTY: Step 3 Sharing what is beyond sufficiency

Most people share from their leftovers, that means they don’t share much. The definition of ‘enough’ tells us we still need more. If that’s true, what are we going to share? It ends up being what we won’t miss. A couple bucks in our wallet (I use my cash card anyway), the change in my pocket (it isn’t really worth much after all), or maybe something that will be advantageous at tax time. The world won’t survive off the leftovers of those who can’t distinguish their need from their greed. The purpose of recognizing what is sufficient is that is allows us to choose what to do with the rest of our bounty. God has the life-giving idea that we share it!

We may want what is beyond our sufficiency, but others need it. Preventable forms of poverty and the illness, injustice, lack of opportunity, education and hope that come from it are just that – preventable. We can change them!

Sharing what is beyond sufficiency is also key because it isn’t only others in need who stand to benefit from our abundance. There are times and situations when it is us who need to rely on the abundance God has provided for us through someone else. When that time comes I bet we really hope that those others have understood and embraced the truth of sufficiency. What’s the best way of making that happen? Learning and practicing how to share what is beyond sufficiency ourselves right now.

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ENDING POVERTY: Step 2 It is about us all learning to desire what is sufficient.

Between us and sufficiency is the word “Enough.” There is no such thing as enough – it is always a little more than what we have – so as long as we keep chasing it we never get to what really satisfies us. God promises to provide what we need, to which we say, “yes” and wink because we don’t really believe it. When we hear God say “what you need” we hear “what we want” and are secretly afraid that it won’t be “enough.”

We need to learn to desire that which is sufficient. Clearly we haven’t been good teachers or models of it for one another. We need to ask God for some direction on this.  The promise of it is that if God can quiet our drive for what we don’t have, then we may discover peace with what we do have. That in itself would be a very good thing. But it also allows us to take the next step.

ENDING POVERTY: Step 1 It’s not about everyone having more.

Prologue: Jacob’s Well, the church I serve, has  been working it’s way through a worship season called JustStart> (developed by a collaborative of people and agencies) and it has helped us learn a lot about being the church, not just having a church. I’ve been learning a lot too. The next entries are a way for me to put some of what has emerged as particularly compelling to me out for others to read, comment on, challenge, borrow, whatever.  Thanks for reading.

Poverty doesn’t end by everyone Having MORE.

When we say that the poor need more, what we tend to think is that they should have something closer to what we have. Can’t work. Thomas Friedman, in his book  Hot, Flat and Crowded, discusses a unit of measure first developed by Tom Burke,  called the ‘Americum.” It is any group of 350 million people with an average income greater than $15,000 and a growing penchant for consuming. It is an America. There are now approximately 2 Americums in the world. One in North America, and the other in Europe with some help from spots in Asia and South America. But by 2030, with economic growth and the development of a middle class around the world, Friedman tells us there will 8 or 9. The problem is that this planet doesn’t have enough resources to support that much consumption.

If the world is going to level off, it isn’t going to be at the energy intense, hyper-consumption mode we have here in the U.S. And besides the resource impossibility, if we stop and think about it we also know that it isn’t our ‘ stuff’ that fulfills our lives anyway.

This is Step 1 because it is an illusion we all just have to get over: we aren’t going to save this world by helping them become wealthy in the fashion of the west.

What is ironic is that while the earth isn’t nearly big enough for us all to share in the American dream, it is more than big enough for us all to share  in God’s dream for us. It’s time to look elsewhere for what will satisfy our and everyone else’s needs.

When you just couldn’t make it happen

I got an email from a friend who told me about a project that she had been working on. She was a little disappointed. She and others had high hopes, but it wasn’t panning out so great. To quote her,

“I’m doing my best, but it’s a big job … and I wasn’t as successful as I had hoped. Not for lack of trying … or dedication. It’s just a lot.”

I know her. She’s great, talented, hardworking. I believe her. I don’t think she should be so disappointed, though. We tend to think about the things we do as isolated successes or failures while most of the time they are neither. They are parts of a journey of which we know neither the true beginning nor ending. We see a little way ahead and behind us and understand our world and lives from it. God looks and works a long, long, long way further before, beyond and within what we experience.

I suppose it is impossible for us to turn off our instinct to size up and evaluate, but in truth we ought to restrain ourselves so we can be open to the journey too vast and cosmic for us to measure. We need to trust that what we do, fail to do, mess up, excel at – all of it – is something God can and will use. This is where confidence comes from: not from our ability to ‘get it done,’ but from God’s determination to make the really important stuff happen anyway.

More on Churches and Buildings

Some great comments on the last post have generated more thoughts.

Laurie, you DO make sense. Church buildings are an UnLearning issue. It is hard, and we are truly at a loss of how to operate and relate to THE church when the building isn’t there.

Monica, thanks for your thoughts too. First, this posting is meant to be an extreme statement to get us thinking, not a final and complete declaration. I would point back to Laurie’s comments though. Thinking outside the building, outside this church-box, is a hard adjustment. There are good uses and purposes of a building, but I’d challenge us to be more creative in how we meet those space needs.

Do we need to own buildings to house our presence? Can we rent, share, multi-use facilities? Cooperate with other, even non-church, organizations? There are many examples of this already. Unfortunately it is not the norm, and it is often perceived as a sign of weakness that a church borrows, rents or shares space.

Buildings tend to isolate us and separate the many Bodies of Christ from one another. We each need the ministry going on in our church. Ultimately I like the idea that we learn to head to people rather than a place when we have needs. After all, people, not places, will be how God acts sooner or later.

And face it, if I really want to go to a quiet place to meditate, I probably wouldn’t head to the kind of place we would be able to afford to do it, but would go to God’s great sanctuary out-of-doors, or to the Basilica, or maybe on the sidewalk outside our local police precinct, or the emergency entrance of HCMC anyway…

Lots of stuff to think about. Let’s be creative.

May churches build people always, and buildings when we must.

Olympic Protests or National Accountability?

Olympic Torch Protest in Paris

The protests over the Olympics have really gotten my attention.  My very first reaction was why would people mess with this wonderful tradition of the Olympics and the carrying of the torch.  I mean, what could be better than that?  But that isn’t the point, is it…  People aren’t protesting the Olympics, but they feel compelled to speak against the host country.  They are saying ‘something is rotten in Denmark’ (or China, in this case) and we can’t just say, “Rah Rah Olympics” when the host is oppressing a nation (Tibet, again, in this case).

Now I’ve no intention to comment on human rights abuses in the People’s Republic of China.  But I find the idea that the world (i.e. citizens of other countries a long, long way away from them, and with little or no say in that country) feel it is within their rights, responsibilities, even duty to hold China accountable.  I realize expatriated Tibetans, who are very involved with the situation are doing a lot of the protesting, but their support comes from their new countries of residence.

One of the unhelpful responses is for us westerners to point our fingers at China and say, “Ha, teaches you right.  You are doing bad things and the world is unhappy with you.”  We are tempted to do that because China has us all scared silly with their growing muscle in the economic, research, population, manufacturing, etc worlds.  You name it, after being in the lead so long we don’t know what to do with the fact that we see a much bigger vehicle approaching quickly in our rearview mirror.

The fact is that the world is shrinking.  While the world is getting more and more sophisticated and urban anonymity is more and more available to us, we are also getting closer and closer to each other.  We have a million ways, and a million watchdogs helping us look over each others’ shoulders.  And so our noses are in each others’ business.  Rightly or wrongly… doesn’t matter.  We are doing it.

Here is the other fact, lest we be smug Americans (this could also be written for Europeans, Australians, Japanese, whoever… but I’ll let them speak for themselves).  If the Olympics were to be held in the U.S. the torch bearing would be going no more smoothly.  Can you think of any nation whose citizens wouldn’t be stopping the torch and saying, “Out of Iraq!”  or “You’re not our policeman!” or “Clean up your industry before you tell others to do it!” or “Free the detainees in Guantanamo!” or “Restore Civil Rights in your country!”

Again, I’m not endorsing those critiques (although I do have my opinions; you have to buy me a beer, not just read my blog to get those), but I am saying that the same accountability the ‘world’ is leveling at China would also be leveled against us.  And we’d have to face it.  Here’s what we can have control over… actually two things:

1. Is it a good thing?  Is this just entitled judgmentalism on a global scale?  Or is it a global conscience learning how to flex its muscle? I’d venture a guess that it is a little bit of both and that such attempts are probably the only way the global community will learn to be mature with its new found power.  Besides, its going to happen, might as well get the adolescent acne stage going so it can be over with.

2. Are we going to seek to be ‘above scrutiny’ or not?  Is there, at least some, truth in the charges coming from all quarters that we can learn from? Again, I’ll venture a guess and say, “yes.”

Are there some early sounds of the kingdom of God in these groans of childbirth?  Hmmm…

UnLearn Religion… again

A few more thoughts from Sunday at Jacob’s Well:

“The greatest UnLearner of all time is God.  Face it,  God had a problem.  God created us with so much hope and promise and it wasn’t panning out.  We turned away and kept walking.  So God decided that to learn how to truly be what God wanted to be for us, God would need to unlearn what it meant to be God.  We call that unlearning event, ‘Jesus.’  And it was hard.  It is always hard when we leave the competence of what we know how to do – even if it wasn’t working – and we have to learn a new way.  It was about 30 years of the toughest unlearning and relearning that could be imagined, so that God could come out of that experience and provide 3 years of the greatest leadership that this world will ever see.  It changed the world forever.

If God had to UnLearn being God to offer the true relationship God sought to have with us, who are we to think we don’t have to UnLearn what it means for us to be followers of Jesus?”

– – – – –

“Why do we need to UnLearn?  To be ready for a world that has seen too much, gotten too big and too interconnected to swallow ‘Christianity’s’ certainties – which are really an illusion of knowledge, a disguise of ignorance, a refusal to unlearn and relearn – so that we can touch humanity as God wants us to.”

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Both of the quotes above from my message on Sunday (they are approximate, I don’t use a script) are inspired (and maybe partly created?) by Ron Heifetz of the Harvard/Kennedy School of Govt.  I heard him speak at a Leadership Network event in Dallas some years ago.  He, along with Jim Collins, Neil Cole and others really drove the unlearning concept home.  I heard him speak again at the Carlson School (part of the U of M) last week which made me pull out my old notes.  Good stuff.  Smart man.