Monday, April 20, 2009

The Catholic Worker

We have been parked at a Catholic Worker House for the past week or so, it is located in the predominantly African American neighborhood of West Las Vegas. If you don't know much about the Catholic Worker movement, read here or here, it is well worth your time. If you don't want to go read those links, I will give you a short overview in my own words and experiences: Basically, the Catholic Worker is a loosely connected group of people (and the houses and farms that they live in) who live incarnationally amongst the poor and meet their basic needs through a gospel centered hospitality. The CW is not under the auspice of the Catholic Church, and in many ways is contrary to the Catholic Church. The term Catholic is from it's very beginning roots meaning "the universal church of the apostles" or simply "the Church" or "Bride of Christ." We have come across "protestant" Catholic Worker houses, and unfortunately, we have come across some Catholic Workers who were non-believers and atheists and distributed hospitality based on a skewed humanism that focused on social justice for social justices sake as well as a lot of activism. Overall however, it is a group of believers who are loving Christ by loving on the least of these in a simple and incarnational way in broken parts of this kingdom.

Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day founded this network of hospitality houses and farming communes in 1933, in the midst of the Great Depression. Day gets most of the credit for starting the CW. She was a remarkable woman and fully understood the need for more than hospitality as she was quoted once as saying "Food for the body is not enough. There must be food for the soul."

What is so very interesting to me is that most times when two people of the opposite sex start something, usually the male ends up with all the credit, even when he doesn't deserve it. In this partnership, Day usually gets most of the credit, and from everything I have read, including autobiographical writings by Day herself, Maurin should receive more of the credit than he did. Which is probably just the way he would have wanted it, the glory going to God and the attention going to others, including the men and women he served. He was more of the philosophical and theological engine behind much of the outpouring. When Maurin was on his death bed, literally the last few years of his life, he refused to live inside of their house in New York City, rather, he lived in the old shed in the back that had just enough room for his bed and some of his reading and writing materials. He didn't want to take up any room that could be used for sheltering and feeding the poor.

"So the last will be first, and the first will be last." Matthew 20:16.

Maurin wrote short "essays" or poems with the core of many of his ideas and philosophies running throughout. He called them "easy essays," here are a few of my favorites:

Christianity Untried

Chesterton says:
"The Christian ideal
has not been tried
and found wanting.
It has been found difficult
and left untried."
Christianity has not been tried
because people thought
it was impractical.
And men have tried everything
except Christianity.
And everything
that men have tried
has failed.

Feeding the Poor at a Sacrifice

In the first centuries
of Christianity
the hungry were fed
at a personal sacrifice,
the naked were clothed
at a personal sacrifice,
the homeless were sheltered
at personal sacrifice.
And because the poor
were fed, clothed and sheltered
at a personal sacrifice,
the pagans used to say
about the Christians
"See how they love each other."
In our own day
the poor are no longer
fed, clothed, sheltered
at a personal sacrifice,
but at the expense
of the taxpayers.
And because the poor
are no longer
fed, clothed and sheltered
the pagans say about the Christians
"See how they pass the buck."

Better Off

The world would be better off
if people tried
to become better,
And people would
become better
if they stopped trying
to be better off.
For when everyone tries
to become better off
nobody is better off.
But when everyone tries
to become better
everyone is better off.
Everybody would be rich
if nobody tried
to become richer.
And nobody would be poor
if everybody tried
to be the poorest
And everybody would be
what he ought to be
if everybody tried to be
what he wants
the other fellow to be.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Fast Food Folk Song

Completely off topic from my usual rants, but my friend Heath posted this on his blog and I had to follow him up. Personally, Taco Bell is my favorite fast food joint, mainly for the price, not necessarily 3 hours later. Watch the whole thing, the most amazing part is after they get done singing.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Scandalous Gospel

I'm wondering how scandalous we as Christians really believe the gospel is. Have we done everything we can to fit it into a box that our culture says is acceptable? I don't think that the gospel fits in that box, I think we have made it fit by believing the lies that maybe Jesus wasn't speaking literally and that the things in the Bible don't necessarily apply to us today. The opening of Jesus' ministry, the Sermon on the Mount, gives us a glimpse of the radical demands Jesus was asking of us:
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.

But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

All quotations come from the Sermon on the Mount - Matthew 5-7
While we were in San Diego we ran into a group of Rainbow Gathering folks. The Rainbow Gathering found its roots in the counterculture activity of the 1960s and as you can probably guess, is based in hippie culture. We came across a group of these guys back in Rock Springs, Wyoming. They had come down out of the mountains because of a forest fire nearby their camp (according to them was set by the federal government to force them to leave). One of the leaders of the group began spewing theology on all of us that was skewed at best if not complete blasphemy. I couldn't handle it, I wasn't going to argue with the guy, but I wasn't going to listen to him either, so I just went inside and found something to do for a while while Serenity and Tim and Jenn carried on a conversation with him. In San Diego, Captain Kitten (one of their Rainbow Gathering nicknames) spewed much of the same theology, a type of universalism where everything is OK, eventually we will be like Gods, and that Jesus wasn't the Son of God, but just another good man, a wise prophet. I couldn't handle the dialogue with Captain Kitten either and I found something to do while Serenity tried rationalizing with them (it doesn't really need to be said, because all of you know it, but she has much more patience with this sort of thing). I was listening to the entire conversation though and at one point I became so angry that I had to stop and interject. Their main point was this: who is God to demand our respect? What? If God is the creator of everything, the one who created DNA and sunsets, photosynthesis and waterfalls, then we should have no other response other than to fall down on our knees and worship Him. But because of their own self-centered view of the world and of God, these guys wouldn't hear it, they wouldn't listen, although they wouldn't admit it, life was all about them, so I went back to cleaning up and found more to do.

We as Christians however, may be worse - we dumb down the Gospel. We may not believe in some weird universalism, but we are just as self-centered. As Brennan Manning writes in his book The Importance of Being Foolish:
The suspicion grows that the gospel ethic is impractical, impossible, and therefore irrelevant. The words are nice, but who pays them any mind? After all, I can't be asked to do all that! I can't survive in the jungle out there if I take Jesus's revelation seriously. I can't be always giving. There must be a limit.
When we don't take Jesus's words literally, we are missing the point of grace. God's grace winds up being meaningless. Manning goes on to say:
If the radical demands of the Christian life are never proposed, if we settle instead for the tepid observance of a lukewarm set of precepts, how easily we become pharisaical and self-righteous. We try to save ourselves by our own works. . . . The radical demands of Jesus daily remind us of our shortcomings and make us realize that salvation is God's free gift.
When we hold our lives up to the true gospel we have no other response other than to see our own wretchedness and our need for grace that only comes through a relationship with Jesus.

When we hold our lives up to the compromised gospel, the one that fits into our American culture box, we begin to think we can do it ourselves. We take scripture and write it off as something that no longer applies to the 21st century or we find a meaning that doesn't convict but rather confirms. Love your enemies (except if they threaten national security), do not store up treasures on earth (unless the Lord has blessed you with abundance).

We must not filter the gospel, we must let it be what it is, scandalous - Jesus's words meant something when He spoke them 2,000 years ago and they mean just as much today. Just the same, Jesus dying on the cross in our place, His Father giving us a gift that is impossible to earn, but must be simply received, that is scandalous and means just as much today as it did 2,000 years ago.