Last week I read an article in Rolling Stone about Goldman Sachs (ht Br.Maynard) and the massive economic failure resulting from unchecked greed and corruption. Some of the comments after the article indicated that a revolution – an overthrow of the controlling powers, both political and economic – is the only solution. However, the controlling powers assure us that this is simply conspiracy rhetoric and that we should continue to trust them.

A few days later, I read both of these posts:

SERENE JONES: Right now, the whole system’s collapsing and the margin looks like a very big space. And a Christianity that speaks to those margins can be a powerful presence in that.

GARY DORRIEN: You get an economic oligarchy, a financial elite that rigs the game and its system. And they pile up a mountain of debt and they overreach in good times. And then the whole house comes collapsing down on everybody else. And then you end up having to deal with, you know, the mess.

And if you’ve got an oligarchy, which you always have in these cases, they are always very good at taking care of their own. That’s what elites do. And so, the question becomes, are you going to let them organize the recovery on their terms? Or are you going to break the power of the oligarchy. And then maybe get or build something better than what you had before.

CORNEL WEST: The question will be for churches, you can’t have a prosperity gospel anymore. The prosperity’s gone. You can’t have a market spirituality and an imperial religiosity because the empire’s in trouble. It’s wavering and wobbling. And the market is no longer a model, at all.

So where do we go? Transitional moment. This is a moment of the interregnum. We are looking for new ways.

BILL MOYERS: And, yet, the prosperity gospel, the gospel that began in a lot of big American churches, saying that God wants you to be rich, is spreading like wildfire to the rest of the world.

SERENE JONES: That is what turbo capitalism does – the biggest, sort of, war zone is interior to us – it takes over your desire. And it’s in the churches that another kind of desire should have been being crafted.

The Practicing Church – Tyler

And this:

Czech president Vaclav Havel and other dissidents began to ask, ‘How can we live the truth in a culture based on a fundamental lie, especially since the lie is in our heads? How can we begin to live into the truth? We desire so much more than just things. We want something to hope in, a reason to believe.

So in his country as in other iron-curtain countries, people began to set up what he called ‘parallel cultures.’ It was not a counterculture because, he said, it was impossible for us to live totally outside the system.

You cannot live outside a culture. But you can create within it zones and spaces, where you can become who you really are. It is in such places that one can speak the truth, where one can gather with others who share that truth.

This went on for years, not without difficulties, but for years. Over time, the truth became stronger and stronger, and at a certain point people began to walk in the streets and to say to the system, ‘We don’t believe you anymore.’ And the system fell.

It fell, not because of the power of Western nuclear equipment, but because the people said within the system, ‘We don’t believe you anymore.’ It was a vision that had been nourished within those parallel cultures.

– Mary Jo Leddy, excerpts from essay in Confident Witness–Changing World
( ht John LaGrou – Be Not Conformed)
(More on Coffeeshop Poets by Brother Maynard.)

I don’t know if there is hope for economic and political change or revolution in that arena. That isn’t what I want to address. These articles highlight the depth of failure by the church to model an alternative truth.

A few thoughts…

  • The dominant cultural model of our churches has been to copy the models of corporate business in organizational structures, leadership styles, productivity, performance, and marketing.
  • Perhaps those systems that mirror the corporate culture will also mirror their collapse.
  • Should we look to these same systems to organize the recovery of a church that could be different?
  • The church that exemplifies the kingdom is not conducive to the powers of an elite oligarchy.
  • The church that is an alternative witness to this culture will look radically different than the celebrity-led, consumer-fed, mega-campus complex.
  • God forgive us for the turbo-capitalism that drives us to success rather than faithfulness.

Sometimes the failure of all that previously worked is the doorway to an opportunity to be stripped of what is unnecessary and introduced to the beauty and simplicity of life in the kingdom. I have a glimmer of hope that the church is being turned in this direction.

Honestly, I feel like I only scratched the surface of all there is to say about this.
So have at it!


11 thoughts on “Subversion

  1. I am impressed with your depth of insight and discernment. You seem to be able to connect the spiritual dots from rather seemingly unrelated sources. Now that I see it, I think you’re really onto something here. All of my experiece (including serving with the suffering church behind the curtain when the curtain fell), really makes sense. I see thousands in our current culture walking away from the business modeled, organizational structured, leadership styled, productivity/performance driven, and marketing modeled churches saying “We don’t believe you anymore. We want something more authentic.” Most leave not knowing where they are going, but satisfied that they are at least looking to go there.

    I firmly believe there is hope, because the church belongs to Christ.

  2. Xlnt insight, Grace. This is the very essence and struggle of the human condition – greed, power, envy, desire for things that will ultimately harm us. We’re all dealing with these dynamics in one way or another, every day of our life.

    Rushkoff has a new book which addresses the ways in which coporatism (like Islamism, or Christianism, perhaps) mirrors human failure on a grand scale. Alas, all systems mirror this failure, which is why, I think, Jesus promoted a Kingdom not made with hands, not corrupted with desires for power. We’re straddling those two worlds that Havel speaks of, the facade kingdom and the eternal Kingdom.

    I think it’s our duty to resist the lowercase kingdoms, the churches of desire and fame and power centralization, the churches that mimic and model politics and corporatism, and even promote such models as ecclesia. Not an easy task.

  3. “I don’t know if there is hope for economic and political change or revolution in that arena. That isn’t what I want to address. These articles highlight the depth of failure by the church to model an alternative truth.”

    Yes, exactly. The church has been coopted by a false system, many with a great deal of naivity, it seems.

    Or perhaps, the church has been seduced, and has embraced the promises of this false system with much too much enthusiasm – to the point that we became promoters and evangelists of world systems (which are in fact at odds with Christ) in the name of Christ. But I am encouraged as the right questions are increasingly being asked, and our idols confronted. God is refining us and restoring us.

  4. The church has been following these type of systems since 385 A.D. when Constantine’s sponsorship kicked in! Who or what are the modern Constantine’s?

  5. Great thoughts Grace. What do you think a recovered church will look like? Will it be prominent like those doomed to collapse or it will it be more inconspicuous and insignificant—like natural woodland growth—everywhere but not pretentious? Will it affect the world by strategy or by gently replacing fallen structures?

  6. These thoughts are from where I stand true and all it has produced is religion and not relationship with a Living God – kind of like the established models of church are to build their towers of Babels – ampty, shallow and hollow.

    Grace, you have a great day.

  7. I so agree with what you are saying here Grace.
    I was a part of one of those mega churches that was so like a corporation. In fact I was pretty blinded to the reality of it until my wife told me that she couldn’t keep going there but she wouldn’t try to keep me from going. Our conversations after that really opened my eyes to see what was really going on there.
    There were many good things happening there but there was this attitude of business that was so like corporate America.
    I hope there is an exodus from the status quot and that we can get real with each other about what really matters.

  8. Many would agree there is a significant transition occurring. As I read these thoughts by Grace and others, as well as the comments, the issue is how do we define “church”. If by that we mean the institutional organization then my opinion is that it will not survive over the longer term. We see huge cracks in its foundation that will lead to its collapse. This may take decades but is coming.

    If we mean church as those individuals who follow Jesus then yes it will most certainly survive and be much more organic. Nevertheless, there are likely to be multiple expressions of church, some more organic, some less so. The age of the monolithic expression of church, so-called Christendom, is over.

  9. Great thoughts everyone! I would love to discuss this more, but I’m a bit overwhelmed and preoccupied at the moment. Hopefully I can be around more next week.

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