Posts Tagged ‘wealth’

A quick thought on Power

August 11th, 2010 2 comments

Throughout Scripture there are some dominate themes regarding power:

  • God holds power but entrusts it to humanity.
  • Dominate (oppressive) power structures are always subverted.
  • The coming of the Kingdom of God results in the weak gaining power and prestige.
  • Power comes in weakness and sacrifice, not through dominance.

The examples of this are endless:

  • Jacob was the weaker, younger brother but fathered the 12 tribes of Israel.
  • King David was the runt of the bunch but became the most powerful King.
  • Gideon was chosen as a warrior leader because he was the least of those available; furthermore his army was culled to exclude the strongest.
  • Jesus was not a conquering King, but lived a submissive, sacrificial life.
  • The disciples were not leaders or scholars, they were regular guys entrusted with the future of the church.

The list goes on…

Despite this clear trajectory of power (re)distribution in the Kingdom, we still live in a day and time where the rich and the educated and the privileged lead the way.

What pains me the most is when scripture is used to justify and embolden the (oppressive) power structures – especially when it happens in the church.

When will we learn?  It is time for educated, rich, white, western males to step down and learn from those on the fringe.  I am convinced the gospel and Christianity can only truly makes sense when it includes and is led by those society has overlooked and disenfranchised.

My friend Terry posted a quick blog entry the other day on similar issues.  You can read it here.

Would Jesus wear a Rolex

January 11th, 2010 No comments

I don’t know if you all have seen this yet, so I thought I would share.  It is a satirical piece by Ray Stephens entitled “Would Jesus wear a Rolex.”  In addition to the video, I have included the lyrics below.

Obviously the song is written in a humorous way, but many truths are told in jest. Would Jesus wear a Rolex? Would he have a 52″ television? Would he drive a Lexus? Would he drive at all? Would he take a $100K+ salary? Would he take any salary? Would he live a life of luxury? Would he live like an average American?

I have a sneaking suspicion we all know the answers to these questions, but are we bold enough to try and follow his standard?

Woke up this mornin’, turned on the t.v. set.
there in livin’ color, was somethin’ I can’t forget.
This man was preachin’ at me, yeah, layin’ on the charm
askin’ me for twenty, with ten-thousand on his arm.
He wore designer clothes, and a big smile on his face
tellin’ me salvation while they sang Amazin’ Grace.
Askin’ me for money, when he had all the signs of wealth.
I almost wrote a check out, yeah, then I asked myself


Would He wear a pinky ring, would He drive a fancy car?
Would His wife wear furs and diamonds, would His dressin’ room have a star?
If He came back tomorrow, well there’s somethin’ I’d like to know
Could ya tell me, Would Jesus wear a Rolex on His television show.

Would Jesus be political if He came back to earth?
Have His second home in Palm Springs, yeah, a try to hide His worth?
Take money, from those poor folks, when He comes back again,
and admit He’s talked to all them preachers who say they been a talkin’ to Him?


Just ask ya’ self, Would He wear a pinky ring,
Would He drive a fancy car?
Would His wife wear furs and diamonds, would His dressing room have a star?
If He came back tomorrow, well there’s somethin’ I’d like to know:
Could ya tell me, would Jesus wear a Rolex,
Would jesus wear a Rolex
Would Jesus wear a Rolex
On His television show-ooh-ooh?

Categories: Faith Tags: , , , , ,

The Masturbating Church

December 7th, 2009 8 comments

Masturbation is the epitome of selfishness and represents the degradation and perversion of something selfless and beautiful.  Unfortunately the church (especially in America) can, and often does, display this same behavior.

However you look at it, masturbation is completely self-pleasing.  There is no consideration of others; all actions are based on selfish desires that are fulfilled in the easiest way possible.  It is often based in fantasies that are degrading and show fictive dominance.  It replaces relationships with internal transactions.  What is most troubling is that masturbation is based on something that is sacred and special: the sexual relationship between two people who love each other.  Sex provides intimate depth to relationships and has the potential to be an amazing example of self-less mutual pleasure.  Masturbation short-circuits all of this.


I have been in too many situations where local churches also short-circuit a beautiful design and replace it with something self-seeking.  The church is called to be the bride of Christ, the very hands and feet of an incarnate God.  The church is God’s agent of reconciliation in this hurting world.  The church is called to see a a better world and to partner with God to bring that about.  The church should be an outpost of hope by being a collection of broken people who find hope and direction in the promise of something more.  Yet all of this can get traded for a structure that is self-pleasing, lacks consideration for others, seeks easy fulfillment for selfish desires, can be degrading and dominant, and replaces relationships with internal transactions.  The existence of many churches is nothing more than a source of masturbatory fulfillment for its members.

This critique is most evident when one explores the finances of most churches.  Members “tithe” and “give their money to God” yet if you follow the paper trail, most of that money comes back to the members.  It is like a pay-as-you-can country club.    Consider this:

  • In the United States roughly 1/3 of all tax-deductible donations went to houses of worship.
  • That amounts to over 103 BILLION dollars ($130,000,000,000.00)
  • Of that, “85 percent of all church activity and funds are directed toward the internal operations of the congregation”
  • That means “Christians” spend over 87 BILLION dollars, money that was supposedly “given to God,” to benefit themselves.

According to a recent Christianity Today article:

The money given by the people in the pews, it turns out, is largely spent on the people in the pews. Only about 3 percent of money donated to churches and ministries went to aiding or ministering to non-Christians.

Talk about self-pleasuring!

It is troubling enough to see how selfish church budgets actually are. But, what is most devastating and deceptive is the fact that we do this in the name of God and think we are fulfilling his will.  We take the image of being faithful and stroke our own desires and needs with it.  We convince ourselves we are being self-sacrificing, but at the end of the day we are only meeting our own needs (not only within the church, but our need to feel we have contributed).

Lifeway Research presents similar findings.
Lifeway Research presents similar findings.

It goes beyond just money.  Think about volunteer work within the church.  In your congregation what percent of opportunities to serve are simply tasks that are necessary to perpetuate the current structure.  Are these things actually furthering the Kingdom of God, or are they simply making sure we can enjoy the worship services and opportunities we have come to expect.

This self-seeking understanding of church and Christianity is deeply ingrained in how we think:

  • We choose churches where the worship matches our preferences and the pastors are entertaining.
  • We expect churches to provide programs that meet our needs.
  • Welcome gifts are the norm – we are literally spending money on people so that they are more likely to join our selfish structure.  Tell me this, if someone comes in church with real hurt and needs redemption, is a coffee cup going to heal them?
  • We market our churches (intentionally and unintentionally) so that we can appeal to the aesthetic needs of people and not the spiritual needs of people.
  • Our sermons tend to focus on feel-good motivation and “practical application” and often avoids the difficult reality of who we are and we are called to be.  There is no expectation of real sacrifice.
  • Very few churches reflect the diverse tapestry of the communities they serve.  How often do prostitutes and CEOs find themselves in the same Sunday School class?

We expect churches to meet our needs.  And by participating we not only personally reap the benefits, but we feel like we are fulfilling our spiritual obligations.  Instead of spiritual masturbating in private, we flaunt it in public, which makes it all the more disgusting.

Church Staff and Porn

If we are going to explore the nature of the church, we have to be willing to examine how church staffs operate.  The typical church budget pays out 50% for staff salaries.  A full half of our giving goes to pay professional spiritual people.  If churches themselves are examples of auto-erotic hedonism, then I believe the way we view church staff is not much different than the way individuals use pornography.

  • Porn employs professionals to “do the dirty work” so actual relationships are not needed.
  • Porn stimulates you so feel like you are in the experience when actually you have no real connection to what is going on.
  • Porn is on demand you can call on it when you need to.  They work to fulfill your needs.
  • Porn stars fake it so you get a better show.

Having worked at a church for several years, I know first hand that these are true of how staff are utilized as well.

  • Parishioners feel like they are connected to “God’s Work” because they pay the salaries of people to actually do the things.  There is little need connect with actual people.  We expect the pastor to visit the sick, study the word, pray with the dying, help the needy.  As long as someone is doing those things we feel fulfilled.
  • We expect church staff to not only do our spiritual dirty work, but also to meet our needs.  As long as our kids have good programming, the sermon is not boring and worship is engaging, we are happy.  We are more likely to criticize a pastor for not providing us with what we expect than we are to criticize the work they do beyond the walls of the church.
  • Church staff members know they have to make things look good.  “Spiritual” words are sown into conversations to make things appear to be more important than they are.  We call mundane upkeep “ministry” so that people don’t realize we are still just reinforcing a selfish structure.

Don’t get me wrong, I know a good number of pastors and staff members who are embodying and expanding the incarnational love of Christ.  We can’t blame staff for the problems of the church — we are all in this together.  That being said, we must all acknowledge that paying pastors 6 figures while ignoring the plight of the poor and marginalize can be described as nothing short of sin.


In a world where 30,000 children die every day of preventable diseases, malnutrition and unclean water, and where the poorest 40 percent of the world’s population accounts for only 5 percent of global income, it is unacceptable for the church to sit around pleasuring itself.  We can no longer be content with a view of Christianity that encourages selfishness while feeding the illusion of spiritual depth and community impact.  If the result of our involvement in church is that we feel better about ourselves, but do not understand how we can participate in the larger redemptive work of a loving God, then we are done nothing more than masturbated our needs and egos in the name of Christ.

A Simplified Life

September 29th, 2009 5 comments
Family at Jackson's Orchard

Family at Jackson's Orchard

I was talking with someone the other day about my ability to work at Kaleidoscope without compensation.  She was very confused… how could Beth and I support ourselves if I was only working minimal hours a week at a low rate and us practically living on a teacher’s salary.  It was easy I told her… we live simply.  We drive old cars, don’t buy new clothes, have a modest house and save our money.  Unfortunately these simple exercises are entirely foreign to too many people.

In the last year our take home income has decreased by over 30% and we have a new member in the family.  At the same time, our savings have gone up and “happiness” has significantly increased.  In the last year, my primary job has gone from full time to part time to very part time to no time.  Instead of stressing about money, we have actually been able to give more and save more.  In fact, since Mikayla has been born, our monthly expenses have continued to drop.

What accounts for this?  Have we fired our butler?  Have we sold off hidden assets?  Have we joined a commune?

Not at all… we have just continued to re-evaluate our priorities and moved towards a simplified life.  Time with family is more important than extravagant vacations.  Food from the garden is better than eating out.  New clothes are not needed when you aren’t trying to impress people who do not even care about you in the first place.

Sure we don’t drive the nicest cars (when they run), and Lord knows we don’t have the slickest attire.  We aren’t on everyone’s “Who’s Who” list and we don’t get to experience the newest greatest things, BUT…

We are as happy as we have ever been, we stress less, and the time we spend with family and friends outweighs any possession or experience one could buy.  I regularly wake up excited about what the day holds and not worried about what I have to get done.  Those things are priceless.

There is no way I could go back to the rat-race of life.  In only people knew the peace and happiness that comes from a path of downward mobility….  There is a reason that Jesus told his followers to sell all they have to give to poor.  It is not so that the poor can be liberated, but so that the wealthy can.

Thinking about Wal-Mart

September 9th, 2009 2 comments


I shopped at Wal-Mart the other day.  It is not something I am proud of, nor is it something that happens very frequently, but it happens.  After reading Nickel and Dimed by Barbra Ehrenreich and watching the documentary The High Cost of Low Prices I become convinced that the ideals of the Wal-Mart corporation are not the same as my ideals and thus largely quit shopping there.  I admit, since my objection with Wal-Mart largely centered around their treatment of low-wage workers and their effect on Mom and Pop type stores, I considered my boycott to be taking the moral high ground.

During my quick visit to “The Superstore” I noticed something: Things here are dirt cheap!  Raspberries for $2! A gigantic bag of Doritos for $2.50!  That is like 30% cheaper than what I am used to paying.

Realizing this brought my mind back to a blog post by an urban pastor I the utmost respect for: Aaron Mansfield.  (If you are looking for a guy who shoots straight, and constantly acts on his love for Jesus and people, then you need to read his blog Apostolic Obsession).  After a trip to Estonia, Aaron wrote a post about the luxury of the higher moral road when it comes to shopping (read the whole post here: Thinking About Estonia).

Aaron challenges the “elitist” (my word, not his) view of Wal-mart:

I like Wal-Mart. As I have said before, given my ministry and given my economic situation, a store that focuses on families making 30k or less is very helpful. Much as I might like to buy organic produce at a pachouli co-op, or buy my hemp clothes from a fair-trade boutique, I can’t. Artur asked me why some people from America told him he should not shop at Wal-Mart when he came to America? How to explain it, this luxury of pointless opinions? He only said he could not get clothes that cheap anywhere, and when you don’t have much money… I guess I just reiterate my point: part of the attack on Wal-Mart becomes an attack on the lower classes.

He takes it further by discussing the concepts of buying local and organic.  He poignantly asks:

Is eating local really an ethical choice, one that is moral in a universal way? Or is it just another cool thing?

Now, I know (and I am pretty sure Aaron knows) there are very good reasons to eat local and support the local stores over the multi-national corporations:  It does not contribute to the widening gap between rich and poor; you know where your food comes from and what goes into it; it decreases the likelihood that oppressive systems were used in producing things; it cuts pollution from production and transportation; the money goes directly to the people who work the hardest; even though Wal-mart and similar stores are cheap, they often cut costs by taking advantage of lower skilled workers .

I don’t shop at Wal-mart (much) because I don’t want to contribute to the system of production it relies on.  However, Aaron makes some very good points.  Because of places like Wal-mart, people can get more for less.  As such, we should never critisize people who shop there by choice, necessity or ignorance.  At the same time, we must realize that the same system that provides these low costs often contributes to the problem.  Large  corporations epitomize the growing divide between rich and poor as executives sin in far off plush offices make mbillions (4 of the 15 richest people in the world have amassed their wealth through Wal-mart with a total net worth of 70+ Billion dollars) while an army of minimum wage workers (who are often uninsured) keep the machine running.  When you work 40 hours a week for minimum wage, you have to shop at places like Wal-mart.

I don’t think there is a “right” answer here, but it is obvious our discussion must account for the individuals on both side of the equation.  We must understand individual situations as well as the larger system.  Personally I am thrilled when people are willing to asks about the ethics of their individual decisions rather than just sticking their head in the sand and living without thinking.

What do you want for Christmas?

December 15th, 2006 1 comment

Ya gotta love this time of year – when family members you only talk to at the holidays begin calling and asking what you want for Christmas, or more likely, telling you what they want. At least that is how it has been at our house. So what do you tell them? Have you thought about asking for a cow? Or better yet, asking to be an international financier? Check out these alternative gift ideas…

  • Oxfam America Unwrapped – Great website where you can buy gifts for other areas of the world such as a cow to provide milk for a village ($75), or a buy an emergency toilet for distaster areas ($50). Of course if you are a bit more conservative, you can buy a heigne kit ($22).
  • Heifer International – Perhaps the best know of organizations like the one above. Here you can buy any of a variety of animals (or other gifts) to help families in need. Families in need can use a sheep way more than you can use that cashmere sweater.
  • – Loans that save lives. Perhaps you are familiar with Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank, who just won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work in micro-financing. This is the same idea, but on a small scale. You can loan money to deserving people world wide so they can establish what they need to sustain themselves.

It is easy to complain about the capitalistic, materialistic atmosphere of Christmas, but here is something you can do to actually make a difference.

What if we celebrated the birth of a King by fulfilling the Kingdom?

Global Rich List

November 16th, 2006 No comments

In our last gathering, we spent quite a while talking about communal living and how we can made a practical and tangible impact in our situation. I have been very intentional about making sure I don’t understand my world to be the world! One of the most humbling ways to acheive this is to place ourselves in the global context. Go check out the Global Rich List website to find out how you rank in world-wide wealth. I independently sit in the top 8% richest people in the world – however, if you combine my income with my wife’s, we find ourselves sitting pretty amongst the top 0.92% of the worldwide population. [note: Global Rich List does not take into account Purchasing Power Parity, and therefore will yeild more extreme numbers.]

Did you know that the overall average income worldwide is around $6,000 to $8,000? And that is even after being adjusted for purchasing power. Here in the US, our per capita income is around $43,000.

When we understand where American Christianity stands in the global community, it becomes increasingly difficult for us to maintain business as usual.

So where does the emerging church and communal living come into the picture? I am convinced we will only find the courage to be the Kingdom of God if we band together and are willing to embody Kingdom ideals together. That is what the Acts 2 church was about – not being radical for radical’s sake, but rather being loving and embodying the Word regardless of what it takes. Holistic salvation isn’t just cared with redemption from personal sin, it is concerned with redemption of a people, and redemption of the World!!

Categories: Politics Tags: ,