On The Economies of Church (Us Being Us While They Are Them)

“Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” Hebrews 13:3

*****

I’ve been considering the us-versus-them divisions in life. Do you see them? They are the implicit lines that we navigate with an everyday sort of sixth-sense. Consider them:

We are the producers; they are the consumers.

We are the educators; they are the pupils.

They are the lawmakers; we are the constituents.

I suppose that these lines of demarcation, the dichotomies are, in one sense, helpful. The divisions help define the parameters of relationship, assist in setting expectations. And in an economic sense, the definition of roles facilitates production and consumption, governance, and the rule of law (otherwise known as “order”).

There is a tricky business here, though. While some dividing lines may be helpful in an economic sense, what if they are destructive in another sense? Consider this–by the drawing of more and more divisive lines, are we commodifying each other? Are we seeing each other as objects to be used to reach an end goal?

The producer sees the consumer as a pocket full of dollars.

The educator sees the child as the producer of metrics (test scores) which bear on the educator’s metrics (job-security).

The lawmaker sees the constituents’ votes as a means to an end (reelection).

And though this may be a more cynical analysis, stop and consider it. Is it an unfair analysis?

There is no doubt, dividing lines can be economically and societally useful. But what happens when these kinds of divisions creep into religious institutions, into Christian machinations? What happens when the church at large begins to call them “useful,” begins to unintentionally commodify its own people?

We are the ministers and they are the poor, the broken, the marginalized.

We are the missionaries, and they are the third world.

We are the authors, the speakers, and they are those in need of the message.

We are the musicians, and they are the audience.

These are the dividing lines I’m seeing drawn in the church these days. It’s the perpetuation of a Christian hierarchy, an us-versus-them religion. It is a separation of the religiously adept ruling class from the blue-collar, simple faith bearer. Perhaps it’s sometimes used as a way to solidify relevance, economic security, maybe even power.

Jesus, I think, came to dismantle the majority of these lines. His ministry was not marked by these sorts of dichotomies; instead, he identified with humanity through brotherhood, becoming “fully human,” and making himself “nothing by taking on the very nature of a servant.” He stood among the hierarchy peddlers–both religious leaders and his family alike–and claimed both brotherhood and sonship with those who do the will of God. (Luke 8:21). Jesus was less about us-versus-them ministry, exemplified a we-the-people sort of ministry.

And this leads me to the grand point: I trust less the church that ministers to the poor, broken, and marginalized and more the one that ministers with the poor, the broken, and the marginalized.

I’m trying to figure out this kind of living.

 

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  • John Ray

    Consider taking that one step further, a Church that ministers as the poor, the broken and the marginalized…

    • http://therunamuck.com amber@therunamuck

      Yes sir.

    • http://annieathome.com/ Annie Barnett

      Really appreciate this discussion. Every time I see my bias, and lines are eliminated, I seem to find more, and there’s this process that keeps repeating, and I keep seeing how deep my own poverty is. When I think I’ve got it figured out, I discover I’m just beginning to understand how much I have to learn. I’m moving from pencil to paint, from a focus on line to study of color and light.

      • sethhaines

        Annie,

        Don’t I know this to be true. It seems like the well of poverty is unending, and I wonder whether that realization in itself is a sort of mercy. You know?

        I’d love to hear more.

    • sethhaines

      This is the right call. For sure.

  • JimC

    “The people in the parks, the alcoholics, the homeless, they are looking at you. Do not be those who look and do not see. Look and see.” – Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

    • sethhaines

      That’s such a good quote. Look and see. Yep.

  • Tonia (studyinbrown.com)

    Exactly. Exactly. Exactly.

  • thelifeartist

    you would love one of my favorite quotes of all time: “if you have come to help me, then you’re wasting you’re time. but if you have come because your liberty is bound up with mine, then walk with me.” -lilla watson

    • sethhaines

      You are right… I DO love it. And I think it’s so true. How often do we make people projects (especially recovering people), when want they really want is a companion, some one to hoe a row with them.

  • pastordt

    I’m trying to figure it out, too, Seth. And I love John’s point – because it’s TRUE. We are ‘the poor’ and ‘the broken.’ But we so need to acknowledge that. And it’s so damn hard to do.

    • sethhaines

      So hard. And everything in society tells us not to acknowledge it, to tell ourselves that we’re okay and everything is fine We ignore our own poverty for the sake of appearances and then minister *down*. I’m guilty too often myself.

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  • http://www.lovewellblog.com/ Kelly @ Love Well

    Yes. It is all us. That’s the starting point. If it’s us helping them, we are wrong from the get-go.

    After God remade me, as I detailed a little at Amber’s, one of the most striking differences in me now is that I identify the most with the broken. I want to sit among the addicts and the whores and the weak and sing my hallelujahs from in their midst, because I am them. We may look different on the outside, the lyrics of our lives may be from different languages. But our melody is the same. We move to the rhythms of grace.

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